Day One: Exploring Juneau before Embarkation

 

After a three-flight journey that became a 20-hour saga, we arrived in Juneau the night before the ship’s departure. I immediately fell into bed, but oversleeping was no threat – – thank you four-hour time change. Up early the next morning, we dropped our luggage at Centennial Hall, the staging location for Uncruise ships resting across the street from the harbor. The helpful Uncruise reps held our bags, transferred them to our cabin later in the day, and provided free passes to ride the Mount Roberts Tram. They also offered an extended walking tour of Juneau, but we chose to explore on our own.

The smallest U.S. capital city is easy to cover on foot. We started with an unexpected climb up 146 steps toward the Capitol building. While catching my breath, I saw my first totem pole. (Yes!! I was indeed in Alaska, not Florida.)

The capitol building does not have a dome. The unassuming building presents just a basic brick and marble-columned facade, but we went in. Completed in 1931, the site first served as the Territorial and Federal Building prior to Alaska’s 1959 statehood. The exterior columns and lobby marble came from Prince of Wales Island, near Ketchikan.

Visiting the galleries of both the Senate and House chambers, we witnessed a vote in each. Members’ names and their vote (yea or nay) flash onto an electronic board and get locked. How exciting to see legislation in action – – even on mundane matters.

We roamed hallways adorned with dark hardwood, busts, photos, and memorabilia. I was drawn to the framed newspaper declaring Alaska the 49th state, something I remember from my childhood.

We left to stroll through the old gold rush town, finding many souvenir shops closed. They planned to open the following week when the big cruise ships start arriving in Juneau. (Ours was the first cruise of the season, running from April 26-May 3rd.)

A dazzling sun beamed down as if I’d brought the Florida weather with me. We continued down to the tram station, and rode the gondola up to the top. A recorded narration points out sights of interest and provides a brief history of the town. If the sun is out, don’t miss this scenic opportunity. If it’s not, enjoy a trip (literally) into the clouds and mist.

Afterward, we dined on fresh-caught halibut and chowder at The Hanger Restaurant that sits on the wharf. Our home for the coming week, the historic looking SS Legacy, docked off to the side.

We returned to Centennial Hall to catch up on emails and correspondence before losing Wi-Fi the rest of the trip. Around 4:30 pm, Dan Blanchard, President and owner of Uncruise welcomed us. Dan lives in Juneau. He spoke about being a former ships’ captain and then purchasing the line when Cruise West went bankrupt. Dan must be running things right – – the Uncruise line keeps adding more sailings in Alaska, Mexico, Galapagos, Seattle and on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. He described our itinerary as flexible; if whales are breaching, we stay as long as they do.

The group of about 46 cruisers then crossed the street and boarded the ship. The Legacy will hold 90 passengers, but this was the first cruise of the season promoted as Spring Awakenings.

Before embarking, our photos were snapped and later placed on a board, an excellent way to let us connect each other’s names and faces. We were questioned about food allergies and then escorted to our cabins.

Our berth was fitted with two twin beds, each with ample storage underneath: two large drawers and an open section for life jackets, duffels, suitcases and mud boots. Our closet contained a shelf with a first aid kit, two terrycloth robes, hanging space and another deep drawer.

A small desk and chair filled the space across from the closet on the opposite side of the room. The small bathroom (no surprise there) contained a compact shower, sink, and toilet. The shower included hanging bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath wash. I found the hairdryer under the sink. Maid service tidies up the room every day.

We toted our life jackets to the lounge for a champagne welcome, followed by introductions from Captain Tim, a review of pertinent information, and a jackets-on mustering to complete the safety drill.

A scrumptious dinner accompanied with wine followed; I chose salmon, of course. The decadent, flourless chocolate cake hinted at an exceptional pastry chef. Exhausted from travel but thrilled to be on board, we headed to bed.

Surprise!! A 2am ship-wide message through our room intercom called us to come on deck to witness the Aurora Borealis. I jumped out of the covers, threw on my jeans – – frustrated that I hadn’t organized my camera gear. I picked up my iPhone and headed out. The aurora was quite different than I expected, no colors except a strange whitish glow hinting green. The phone’s camera didn’t seem to know how to shoot it, so I sadly have no photos. Still, the view was something I will always remember and made a most fitting end to a first day in Alaska.

Story and photos courtesy of Debi Lander. 

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