Thailand – 2 Days in Bangkok

Grand Palace

We spent two days in Bangkok earlier this year as part of a month cruising around the South China Sea and those two days were the highlight of the trip. Visiting Bangkok is an exciting experience. The culture is rich and peaceful, the food is plentiful and diverse and there are many things to see and do. If you arrive on a cruise ship, you dock at Laem Chabang which is a minimum hour-and-a-half drive from the city. If your ship is only there for the day, it is difficult to get into the city and back and still manage to see a lot. If you are lucky, your ship docks one morning and departs the next evening providing you time for an adventure.

Even the trip into Bangkok is interesting as you realize how modern the area is. There are many factories and businesses along the way and rest stops which stretch great distances provide a large number of restaurants and coffee shops with many American offerings.

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

Once into the city, there are numerous temples and markets to visit along with museums and other historical properties. Thailand’s main religion is Buddhism so getting to a temple or two is a must. Keep in mind that there are specific dress codes (i.e. no bare shoulders or short pants) and you probably will be required to remove your shoes. Some temples do not allow photos. The word for temple in Thai is Wat.

Altar and Buddha in the Western Viharn

The Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) is probably the most famous and it is on the grounds of the Grand Palace (established in 1782) so you can visit both at the same time. The grounds are huge and include a number of temples and palaces, magnificent statuary, works of art and jeweled walls. There are small admittance fees but you can claim a beautiful brochure once you have paid. The Grand Palace closes from time to time for events/ceremonies so this could affect your visit.

Within a short walk of the Grand Palace is Wat Pho which is home to the Reclining Buddha (covered in gold and 46 meters in length), several other Buddhas and a variety of stone figures. Another famous temple in the area (not walking distance) is Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) on the Chao Phraya River. It can be enjoyed on its’ own or as part of a river/canal tour.

Maeklong Railway market

While in Bangkok we were urged to try a number of “street” foods, which are everywhere. Mostly what we sampled were fresh fruits with one highlight being a cup of strawberries dusted with salt, sugar and chili powder. Freshly opened coconuts for coconut water were available everywhere. Other foods included grilled chicken, fried bananas and pineapple. After checking into our hotel we went into the shopping district and stopped in a sports bar for a beer. We ordered chicken wings and were served the tiniest wings we’d ever seen, about an inch long.

We spent the night at the Centre Point Hotel Chidlom in the Central District. The hotel was recommended by some Australian friends and was very nice and not too expensive. It was just a few blocks from Bangkok’s major department store, Central Chidlom and a number of nice restaurants. We set out early the next morning for the Maeklong Railway Market.

Water Market

The Maeklong Railway Market is 50 miles outside Bangkok and is the most unique market in Asia. The trains run down a stretch of track right through the market with shops only a couple of feet from the tracks. It features vendors (mostly food) on both sides of the tracks. They display their products along the tracks and, when the train is coming, they drop awnings and quickly pull everything back until the train passes. Afterwards, all goods go back by the tracks. This process happens seven times a day but it is best to visit early in the morning when the temperatures and smells are both lower. Food is the main item sold here.

There are many floating markets in Thailand but one of the more interesting ones is Damnoen Saduak, about 60 miles from the city. Products are displayed in boats and around the canals and you can purchase food items that have been cooked on the boats. You can hire a long boat and the operator will row you around the canals to shop and observe. Bartering is a must and payment in local currency (baht) is expected.

Backyard Shrines

Some excursions can be arranged with your ship and hotels in Bangkok also offer access to tour companies. A better alternative, if you are there overnight, is to hire a private travel company like Travel Hub as they have good itineraries and will pick you up at the ship, provide touring, drop you at a hotel and pick you up the following morning for more touring and the journey back to the ship. There are fixed itineraries with a little flexibility and each group includes a guide and driver; the smaller the group, the more personal the tour. Pricing depends on the number of people in the group.

Rest Stop on Hiway 7 South of Bangkok

A couple of important notes about visiting Thailand: The people love and respect their king and do not tolerate disrespect. Most Thai homes include photographs or art depicting the king and his family. One story recounts an incident where someone dropped Thai currency and stepped on it to keep it from blowing away. The act was considered an insult to the king because his picture is on all currency. Another note regards the Buddha. Thailand is a Buddhist country and disrespect towards the Buddha is not permitted under Thai law. There are billboards and posters all over the country pointing this out.

If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia you need to put Thailand at the top of your list.

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Hawaii – Planning a Trip

Hawaii is a destination on many bucket lists and if it’s not on yours you should add it. There are eight major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago so it is important to decide how to handle a visit. Our first choice is cruising as you are able to see several of the islands in one trip. Alternatively, you can select an island to visit and just stay, with Oahu being our first choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches so be sure to do research before making your decision.

If you go with a cruise, only one company at present does weekly sailings around Hawaii and that is Norwegian. They offer 7 night trips in and out of Oahu with stops usually on three other islands. Alternatively, if you have around 14 nights available, you

Honolulu & Waikiki Beach

can sail round trip from several different California ports or one way from Vancouver Canada or even consider an Australia – Hawaii cruise. The advantage to the one way sailing is that allows you to spend extra days on the island where the cruise begins or terminates and only pay for a one way plane ticket. With any of these options, you are likely to visit four or five different ports giving you the ability to do some exploring on your own or taking a ship’s tour to see the island.

Rainbow Falls

The advantage to cruising is that you know many of the costs upfront and you know you will have good meals and a comfortable bed every night. You get sea days to relax and port days to see as little or as much as you want. You also have the option to try food and drinks ashore and see highlights in each port (like volcanoes), and shop at local stores and galleries. Some ships also bring on board Hawaiian performers and craft instructors to teach you things like making leis. Our last cruise had a naturalist on board giving lectures on whales and other things you MAY see. The disadvantage to cruising Hawaii is that your time in port is limited so you may not get to all the highlights on a particular island.

The island of Maui
O’hau
O’hau

If you decide to fly, you need to select which island you want to visit. Roundtrip air can be pretty expensive and, if you want to visit more then one island, you will need additional inter island flights, also not cheap. Flying is the main transportation between islands as there is only one ferry service and it only connects Lahaina (Maui) and Lanai. Hotels are also fairly expensive as many of the hotels are beach resorts. Food is more costly then what you find on the mainland, especially in restaurants. If you don’t mind fast food, there are lots of options available to help keep costs down and Hawaii has some unique offerings that we hadn’t seen before. Because of the Asian influence you will see lots of sushi and noodle places and don’t pass up the food trucks.

Once you get over how expensive Hawaii can be, having several days to explore a particular island is a plus. You can walk, ride public transportation or hail a taxi but if you want to do a lot of exploring, renting a car is the way to go. If you book in advance, rental cars are not expensive but you will need GPS either in the vehicle or on your phone (our Verizon iPhones worked great for navigation). The islands are easily drivable but the long and unusual road names make navigation a bit of a challenge.

Kona on The Big Island

Whichever way you decide to visit Hawaii, plan your trip in advance so that you can get the most out of it. There is so much to see and do, it will be difficult deciding on priorities.

 

 

To get you started here are a few ideas:

  • Visit the volcanoes on the Big Island and Maui
  • Take a walk on Waikiki Beach
  • Learn to surf and/or paddle board
  • Have a Dole Whip at the Dole Plantation on Maui
  • Go snorkeling among the 250 marine species that call the area home
  • Sample coffee on Kona*
  • Have a Hawaiian shave ice
  • Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu
  • Hike or bike one of the many lush nature trails
  • Spend time on a beautiful beach
  • Bring home Macadamias* or coffee

* Oahu now has a new coffee grower and café located in the neighborhood of the Dole Plantation

 

Honolulu and Diamond Head

**Hint: When you go shopping for Macadamia nuts visit the grocery and drug stores and save over the tourist stores. We visited the Mona Loa factory on The Big Island and their prices weren’t any better. Long Drug is the big Hawaiian drug chain and their prices are usually the best we’ve seen. They have also recently been acquired by CVS so if you have a CVS loyalty card be sure and use it and take your coupons and bucks with you.

Disney World Fun for All Ages

 

Beyond the Parks there is a whole collection of experiences and things to do at Walt Disney World. Some are designed for all ages and some just for adults. Some are available year round and some are special events. Most require reservations that need to be made way in advance.

Here are a few selections to consider when you get “parked out.”

  1. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at the Fort Wilderness Camp Ground is one of the longest running and most popular dinner shows at Disney. A great evening for the whole family.
  2. YeHaa Bob Jackson at River Roost Lounge (  ). If you are staying at Riverside or Port Orleans try to catch Bob’s show in the lounge. Bob usually performs to standing-room-only crowds, so try and get a spot early. There is piano playing, comedy and of, course, sing-along.
  3. An evening at Disney Springs. Evenings at Disney Springs usually feature a number of free shows and concerts and a Strolling Piano (yes a strolling piano act that motors around the Springs). Plan on dinner, some shopping and fun.
  4. Eat with some characters. Pick from a number of restaurants featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner with the kids’ favorite Disney characters. Check with your hotel for locations and reservations.
  5. Take the family bowling at Splitsville (  ) over at Disney Springs or
  6. Have dinner or lunch with a movie at the AMC Dine-In-Theatre also at Disney Springs.
  7. Every evening the Boardwalk Resort area features a series of entertainers that include jugglers and magicians. Along with the performers you can enjoy funnel cake, ice cream, pizza, margaritas, popcorn and carnival games.
  8. The Boardwalk area also offers some adult fun at Jellyrolls Dueling Pianos (one of our favorite things to do). There is non-stop music, a full bar and free popcorn (admission is $12.50, higher on some nights like New Years Eve).
  9. Again, for the grown-ups, is the Atlantic Dance Hall  also at the Boardwalk. Dance the night away to selections from a DJ at an iconic Atlantic City boardwalk dance hall.
  10. Go over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for animal viewing and narrative by naturalists. At night they pass out night-vision goggles on the viewing patio. Relax around the fire-pits with a drink (both outdoors and in the lobby). Spend a little time looking at the exhibits in the lobby and strolling around the grounds.
  11. Play Fantasia miniature golf at two 18-hole courses based on Disney’s classic animated film Fantasia. One designed for family fun and one for people with some serious skills. The complex is located near the entrance to the Swan Hotel.
  12. Watch some fireworks. Find a location with a view of the evening fireworks. For the Magic Kingdom there are a number of good locations
    Fireworks over 7 Seas Lagoon

    around Seven Seas Lagoon. Some of the restaurants offer tables sited for watching. Over at the Boardwalk you can catch the Epcot fireworks from the bridge between the Boardwalk and the Yacht Club resorts or on the Boardwalk down near the Atlantic Dance Hall. There are also a couple of locations on the Boardwalk where you can catch a glimpse of the Magic Kingdom fireworks across the lake.

In addition to the four theme parks and the two water parks, the people at Disney World have added a few seasonal park specials and premium events. One of the most popular is “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” which is a special evening admission ticket to the Magic Kingdom on specific nights over the holidays. Similarly, there is “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween” at the Magic Kingdom in the Fall. You can purchase tickets through the Disney web site or at Disney Stores.

Epcot has two seasonal events that do not require special tickets. (Entry is included with your Epcot ticket.) Both festivals tend to be much busier on weekends then during the week as there are more lectures and demonstrations during that time.

The “Food & Wine Festival” in the fall, usually runs from early September to mid October. The festival has the look and feel of a street fair where you can purchase sample foods from around the world as well as a number of featured wines and beers. In addition there are cooking demonstrations and lectures. The other event is the “International Flower & Garden Festival” usually running from early March to late May. This festival is all about flowers, featuring sample gardens, topiary, lectures and demonstrations. Weekends during this festival also include music concerts.

There is also a selection of dessert parties around “The World” including:

Celebration at the Top – Sip, Savor, Sparkle

Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise

IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party

Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Tiana’s Riverboat Party

Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace

They all require reservations well in advance, some also require park admission and all have a fee involved.

For an up-to-date listing of special events around Walt Disney World click HERE.

The Geology of Hawaii

Hawaii

The Royal Hawaiian Waikiki Beach
Waimea Bay

When you visit Hawaii it doesn’t take very long to realize you have come to a place like no other on earth. Isolated from continental land by at least 2,400 miles of ocean. It is blessed with year round average temperatures in the eighties and abundant rainfall. Its history is both ancient as well as recent. First populated by the Polynesians over fifteen-hundred years ago it was not discovered by the European explorers until January, 1778, when the English explorer Captain Cook set foot ashore. The native Hawaiians speak a language unique to them and proof of this is everywhere from highway signs to greetings from the locals. Because of Hawaii’s isolation the flora and fauna are a blend of unique as well as introduced species from all around the world. Modern Hawaii has also the most ethnically diverse population found anywhere with seven races each representing over five percent of the population. This includes the Polynesians, Asians with Japanese being the largest segment, whites, Filipino, Blacks, Hispanics with twenty-one percent of the population being of mixed race decent. Even the geology and origins of this island chain are unique. Welcome to paradise…

The shore at Lanai Lookout, Oahu

Hawaii – a Geological Wonderland

Most of the earth’s islands are found at tectonic plate boundaries either from spreading centers (like Iceland) or from what are called subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another (like the Aleutian Islands). Hawaii is geologically unique because it is caused by a ‘hot spot.’

Illustration from the Jaggar Museum, Hawaii

 

There are a few ‘hot spots’ on earth and the one under Hawaii is right in the middle of the Pacific Plate, one of the earth’s largest crustal plates. A geologic ‘hot spot’ is an area under a crustal plate where volcanism occurs. It is easy to geologically explain volcanism at plate spreading centers and subduction zones but not as easy to explain a ‘hot spot’ where molten magma breaks through the crustal plate. (Some theories describe this as a particularly hot part of the molten magma).

Another hot spot under the American plate is Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and other thermal features. The Hawaii hot spot is under the seafloor producing undersea volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes build up to the surface of the ocean and become islands. Over millions of years the plate moves across the ‘hot spot’ and the original volcanoes become extinct and new volcanoes begin to form in the area of the ‘hot spot.’

Understanding all of this explains why in the Hawaiian islands, the more southeast you go, the more active the volcanoes are. This shows that the plate is moving northwestThe island farthest south is the big island of Hawaii with no fewer than five volcanoes with some active most of the time. The farther north you go, the islands are older and the more time erosion has washed away the land. Niʻihau is the largest and last lightly inhabited island before the ten islands and atolls in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

He iconic profile of Diamond Head east of Waikīkī Beach on the island of Oahu is the crater of a long extinct volcano.

Hawaii – The Big Island

Volcanoes of the island of Hawaii, Illustration from USGS exhibit

Kīlauea

The three largest volcanoes on the big island are Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Volcano National Park encompasses Kilauea with a number of different volcanic features.

Picture caption: Halema’uma’u, a pit crater, inside Kilauea Caldera started erupting in 2008 creating an almost constant plume of steam and volcanic gases (sulphur dioxide).

Halema’uma’u crater

On a recent visit to the big island we went up to Kīlauea. The caldera was shrouded in rain and fog so we didn’t have an opportunity to see much but we did get to Halema’uma’u. We spent time at the USGS museum and also hiked thru the Thurston Lava Tube.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube is part of a trail in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visitors enter through a ‘skylight’ (collapsed roof of a lava tube), walk a ways through the tube and exit via another ‘skylight.

Lava & sea at the edge of creation

Lava tubes develop as the lava flows and hardens on the outside. The inside continues to flow and may drain out of the ‘lava tube’ entirely. Some of these lava tubes are small but some are very large (as much as 20 feet in diameter). Many of the lava tubes have a flat bottom as the lava hardens when it slows down and look like subway tunnels. When the top of a lava tube breaks through it is called a ‘skylight.’

Midnight off the southeast coast of Hawaii

Due east of Kilauea, lava from Pu’u O’o volcano travels downhill for miles in lava tubes to reach the ocean where it spills out along the shoreline creating large clouds of steam and volcanic gas. Our cruise ship crossed around the southern coast at night and around midnight moved to within one mile of the lava flows as they poured into the ocean. Viewing the display at night from the sea is an awesome event. There are also trails that allow hikers to get down near the area where the lava spills into the sea but we’ve been told that the hike down and back can take most of the day.

In addition to the volcanoes on the island of Hawaii there is a new eruption just south of the island called Loihi. This volcano has been erupting from the sea floor and currently its peak is at a depth of 3,000 feet. At its present rate of growth it will probably break the surface of the Pacific after another 10,000 years.

Maui

Looking down from 10,000 feet up on Haleakala

 Haleakalā Volcano

The summit of Haleakala
Haleakala

Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. It also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles from sea level to the top! Because Maui is north of Hawaii the volcanic activity is dying down. It is believed that the last major eruption was in the seventeenth century with only a few smaller events in the twentieth century. The USGS lists the eruption risk now as normal. A Normal status is used to designate typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase.

We visited the top of Haleakalā a couple of years ago and it is almost like traveling to another planet: bare peaks and slopes covered in a spectrum of colored rock, dirt and sand. Clouds hung near the slopes with vistas across the crater* that stretch on forever and views back across the island are breathtaking. The drive to the top of the volcano is an adventure in itself as the road snakes back and forth up the slope with temperatures dropping as you ascend and winds blowing as you reach the summit.

O‘ahu

The profile of Diamond Head on O‘ahu is the western rim of an extinct volcano and is perhaps one of the most recognized volcanic mountains on earth. In addition to Diamond Head there are a few additional extinct vulcanoes on the island including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Punchbowl Crater, Mount Tantalus and Aliapa’ak.

Diamond Head

Throughout the Hawaiian islands the high and jagged peaks catch the tropical trade-winds causing huge amounts of rainfall. This micro-climate results in a lush landscape crossed with rushing streams and dotted with beautiful waterfalls. The islands are noted for their vertical cliffs, isolated valleys, incredible beaches and acres of farm land. This tropical climate and rich soil yields plentiful cash crops that include pineapples, macadamia nuts, coffee and cacao nibs used for making chocolate. Welcome to paradise…

 

Shave Ice In Hawaii

Snow cones go way back. We have memories of walking the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD with a snow cone in hand. Even before that we used to mix up concoctions with freshly fallen snow. More recently our children, and now our grandchildren, also love this icy creation. In Hawaii it has become an institution called shave ice and the original was brought to Hawaii by Japanese migrants. Shave ice is literally that, ice shaved from a block of ice.

The undisputed king of Hawaiian shave ice has been around since 1951: Matsumoto Shave Ice located on the Oahu North Shore at 66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (808) 637-4827. They are so popular that on a good day the line goes out the door and around the courtyard. Matsumoto offers a couple dozen flavors and tradition dictates that you select three for your shave ice. As extras they offer mochi (Japanese rice cake), condensed milk, azuki beans (Japanese red beans cooked with sugar and water) and, of course, ice cream.

While shave ice is probably not worth the trip all the way from Honolulu (45 minutes each way), a visit to Haleiwa and the North Shore is worth it. The town has great shopping with art galleries, jewelry stores and numerous eating options including a wide variety of food trucks. The main road runs along beautiful beaches including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline so it’s easy to spend an entire day in the area. In addition, Waimea Falls Park offers a nature trail through lush botanical gardens leading to the great waterfall.

When we spent the day in Lahaina over on Maui we also treated ourselves to shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. Their main location is in a courtyard on the north end of Front Street in an area full of shops and galleries. In addition, they have five other shops and stands on the island featuring their Maui inspired flavors which, in our opinion, are even better then Matsumoto.

 

Art Festival at Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach, Sculptures By The Sea

On a recent trip to Australia we spent a day at Bondi Beach outside of Sydney. It turns out that besides being a nearby beach resort and a great surfing venue, Bondi is famous for the largest free sculpture exhibitions in the world. A sculpture event known as Sculptures By The Sea is featured each year in October-November.

 

Bondi Beach, in addition to surfing, is famous for the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. The walk is an iconic 3-km. paved trail along the coast between two well-known Sydney beaches. The walk offers sweeping ocean vistas of the coastline and sea from a paved trail beautifully fit into the cliffs between the two beaches. From mid October into early November the walk becomes an outdoor sculpture exhibit featuring works of art from all over Australia and beyond.

Anyone visiting Sydney, especially during this time should really try to fit in a visit to Bondi Beach. The town is easy to reach via a Sydney T4 train from central station to Bondi Junction where you switch to a Beach bus. We would recommend getting an Opal card to make the best use of the area transportation (See our post on the Opal Card).

The beach itself is a sweeping two kilometers of crescent sand and the bars and eating venues along the beach street have a resort boardwalk vibe. The real draw though is the surf and in the world of surfers the waves at Bondi are legendary. Even without the art it is one of Sydney’s “must see” destinations and don’t forget to pick up a “Surf Bondi” Tee shirt before you leave.

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Cruising Alaska

Icy3As we write this, we are just finishing our fourth Alaska cruise. Having done this a number of times before, we recognize that there are a lot of similarities but also some significant differences in these cruises. Because it is so vast, Alaska is a destination that is more easily seen by cruise ship. Cruising gives you an opportunity to view some of the towns, cities, glaciers and wildlife up close and personal. After a first trip, it is then possible to decide if you want to spend time further exploring by train, ferry, car or a combination. It is also possible to add a land portion before or after a cruise which could include places like Denali, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

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A lot of ships begin the cruise in Seattle or Vancouver, two wonderful cities to spend a few extra days before or after a cruise. They are easily accessible and offer an abundance of hotels, restaurants and things to do in a wide range of prices (hotels in Seattle are rapidly getting more expensive though). A lot of the cruises are seven nights and depart and return from the same port.

A common itinerary for Alaska cruises is up the inside passage. Normal port stops are Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau and Icy Strait Point and visits to the Misty Fjords and Hubbard Glacier. Some cruises also visit Victoria, Canada on Vancouver Island. A typical

Ketch1
Ketchikan before dawn

seven night cruise will include four or five of these places with lots of opportunities for tours arranged through the cruise ship or setting out on your own for independent exploration. If you spend a little time on the internet investigating your ports of call, chances are you can locate an independent tour operator who will take you to a glacier, panning for gold, etc. at a significant savings over the cruise ship tour prices.

One sure highlight of an Alaska cruise is a visit to a glacier. There are three which are easily accessible and each has a different character:

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Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is a National Park and the easiest to get to since it is only a few minute bus ride outside of Juneau. Ships offer a number of tours to Mendenhall but we would recommend the public bus service that departs from near the cruise ship docks with a round trip fare of $30 per person.

Hubbard glacier is spectacular and is a destination that a limited number of ships can visit. Hubbard would be high on our list of itinerary stops when selecting a cruise. The ships maneuver up near the face of this massive glacier as it calves giant chunks into the sea which makes for spectacular photo opportunities.

Dawes glacier is way up inside the Misty Fjords and also calves chunks of turquoise ice

Dawes
Dawes Glacier

that float down the fjord. In booking, be warned that a visit to the fjord does not guarantee your cruise getting up to the Dawes glacier as it depends on conditions.

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Hubbard Glacier

In addition to viewing from land or sea, there are also helicopter tours that can be booked that will take you to glaciers up on the Juneau ice field. These helicopter tours are usually booked in conjunction with stops in either Juneau or Skagway.

Because Alaska is on most U.S. cell service plans you can consider booking one of the helicopter tours directly. We did this in Skagway and saved almost half on the cost of the tour over booking through the ship. Because of scheduling concerns there are times that we would not recommended booking a tour other than with the cruise. In this case we were in Skagway all day, we booked for a morning tour and were back with hours to spare before the ship sailed. It also was the same tour provided by thehelos cruise excursion desk.

One of our favorite towns is Skagway and while its’ primary purpose today is as a seasonal tourist destination it is still a fun and interesting stop. The town is the home to the railroad excursion train known as the Yukon and White Pass Route that climbs up to the pass that was a primary gateway into the Klondike during the gold rush days. The Yukon gold rush was the event that gave birth to this boomtown and was the entrance point to the Chilkoot Trail, described as the “meanest 33 miles in history”. In 1897 the dreams of thousands were attached to the call “North to Alaska” and the promise of gold. Today

Skag
Skagway’s main street

the main street of Skagway is lined with gift and jewelry stores along with art galleries and a few bars. Because the cruise ships represent the heart of the town’s economy, once the “season” is over the population of the town drops to only about five hundred intrepid souls.

The largest cruise city and the state capital is Juneau and while the waterfront is dominated by jewelry stores and gift shops, tourism is not its’ principal business. Fishing boats come and go from its’ docks and it is home to a university and, of course, the government dominates the job scene. The famous Red Dog Saloon, founded during Juneau’s mining era, has been in operation

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Salmon Hatchery Juneau

for decades and still serves visitors and locals alike. For a time, “Ragtime Hattie” played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top. Later, in territorial days, the owners would often meet the tour boats at the docks with a mule that wore a sign saying, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.” Wyatt Earp is said to have lost his pistol in a poker game there. The saloon also hosted an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show just after Alaska became a state.

Near the cruise docks there is a cable car up to a mountaintop that offers a panoramic view of the area. Juneau is also home to the Mendenhaul glacier and during one cruise we visited the local fish hatchery. It is a remarkable operation that scoops up and processes tons of fresh “wild” salmon and is a good alternative to the controversial salmon farming which has become popular in recent years.

Ketch2
Ketchican

Ketchikan is another popular port where you can, depending on the season, book a fishing trip to bring back your own salmon or, if really lucky, a haddock. There are operations where your charter captain can have your catch smoked or flash frozen and express shipped home (expensive but worth the bragging rights). Again there are jewelry stores and gift shops everywhere and also one of the better opportunities to buy canned or smoked salmon to take home to family and friends. It does seem that each time we come back to Alaska, the price of salmon jumps in price, probably driven by of the growing popularity of Alaska cruising, so shop carefully.

Icy Straight Point is another popular stop with the big draw being whale watching tours. There are also some nice Alaska rain forest hiking trails and a new zipline. On one recent trip when we were anchored out we returned to the ship early and a large humpback whale spent almost an hour near the ship. We have been told that that was not that unusual an event here.

whale
Whale at Icy Straight Point

After taking several Alaska cruises, we decided to try something different this time. We selected a Celebrity ship, Solstice, which was doing its’ last seasonal cruise in September, beginning in Seattle and terminating in Vancouver. The ship was then heading to Hawaii and then on to Australia. We decided that we wanted to stay on the ship and disembark in Hawaii which meant we invoked the Jones Act. (See our post on the Jones Act here.)

Victoria
Victoria, Canada

To avoid a Jones Act violation, we needed to disembark and spend the night in Victoria, Canada, the last cruise port, and then board the ship again in Vancouver the next day. This requires special permission from the Canadian Government to disembark early, before termination of the cruise. The process is called down lining and can be arranged after your cruise is booked. The transfer to Vancouver can be made by helicopter, seaplane or ferry and we selected the latter for both convenience and price.

ferry
Vancouver Island ferry terminal

The disadvantage to transferring by ferry is that the ferry port in Victoria is some distance out of town and in Vancouver is not in close proximity to the cruise ship terminal (Canada Place). The BC Connector solves this problem by offering a ticket which provides bus service to the ferry port in Victoria all the way through to Canada Place. The bus literally drives onto the ferry where passengers spend the crossing in clean and comfortable lounge areas. Upon arrival in Vancouver, the bus drives on to Canada Place. Cruisers head inside for check-in and suitcases are given to porters for loading onto the ship. This service should be reserved and paid for in advance on the internet as there are a limited number of seats available.

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whales
Our ship passes a pod of Humpback Whales.