My Alaska Uncruise Adventure

 

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.

Day Two: Glorious Glacier Bay

The first morning I awoke on my Alaskan Uncruise, I peeked out my window to find glorious sunny skies. Reflections bounced off the calm water of Glacier Bay and the snow-capped mountains of the Fairweather Range. The SS Legacy sat somewhere in the middle of Glacier Bay National Park surrounded by truly breathtaking landscape. This was a wilderness image I’d dreamed about: bright white snow-covered mountains, a cloudless blue sky and shimmering water. To top it off, near miraculously weather conditions proved incredibly mild and warm, a real bonus especially for a Floridian.

Glacier Bay National Park extends some 65 miles from Icy Strait to the northern tip of Tarr Inlet. The famous site includes 11 tidewater glaciers that look like frozen rivers. Many more small landlocked glaciers lie on the interior, but most are hidden from view. We passengers would see our first glaciers from the boat in the afternoon.

My partner, John, was happy to find an espresso machine in the lounge available 24/7. Early risers can grab coffee, juice, yogurt parfaits, bread and fruit after 6 am. Many congregate in the glass surrounded area enjoying the view. Breakfast, a plated meal served in the lower level dining room, begins at 7:30. The kitchen offers two main choices – one an egg dish and the other a carbohydrate option. This day I chose blueberry pancakes. Guests may always order eggs and breakfast meats any way they desire.

FYI: The bacon is yummy: thick and not very fatty. I believe it’s roasted to the well-done stage in the oven. Secret Tip: If you’d like to order a BLT for lunch, you must place the order at breakfast to ensure bacon is available.

After breakfast and announcements by the Expedition Director, the entire group went up to the top deck. We received a lesson on safety and the logistical points of getting in and out of a kayak and skiff boat (sometimes called Zodiacs). The SS Legacy pulls the Sea Dragon behind the ship. This clever device allows kayakers to get in and out of their boats from a stable platform, and then be launched into the open water.

John and I signed up for the river hike, which was to include a skiff ride to the shore, followed by a muddy walk. However, as we approached the beach-landing site, a brown bear was foraging at the shoreline for mussels. Another welcome surprise, but we certainly couldn’t land there!

Everyone tried to photograph the distant critter from the moving boat, but my picture is not quite sharp. Still, it’s good enough to recall an unexpected Alaska moment, now a fond memory. Our skiff group ended up beachcombing followed by a guided bit of bushwhacking through the forest. We found a moose antler and returned to the Legacy in time for lunch.

Another group of passengers signed up for a more steep and strenuous hike to see mountain goats. They managed to find one near the end of their long trek.

Still others chose to kayak on the calm water in the bay, making a nice photo op for me. John and I once endured a dreadful night kayaking experience through mangroves in Puerto Rico and decided kayaking wasn’t our thing.

Jamie, a National Park Ranger, came aboard the Legacy early in the day to answer our questions. She’s an expert on all things Alaska. In the afternoon, she hung around the ship’s bow as we sailed toward the northern end of Glacier Bay to see Margarie Glacier. We seemed to approach for a long time, and I found the size and height of the glacier very deceiving. Without a frame of reference, it was difficult to estimate. Jamie told us the glacier was about a mile wide with glacial columns towering over 200 feet high. The base continues down about 100 feet below sea level.

Margerie Glacier remains an icy highlight for many who visit Glacier Bay National Park. It’s a primary destination for visitors on sailboats, kayaks, tour boats, and cruise ships, but at this time of year (end of April) we were the only ship in sight. How nice!

According to the National Park website: The glacier begins in snowfields in the Fairweather Range where elevations exceed 9000 feet. The ice flows about 2000 feet per year or about 6 feet per day.

Today, Margarie lies near neighboring Grand Pacific Glacier but appears very different in shape and color. Grand Pacific is covered in rock debris. Margarie was once a tributary to Grand Pacific, but it receded over time. Back in the 1700s, Grand Pacific Glacier filled the entire bay and reached all the way to the Icy Strait. (Hard to imagine.)

The Legacy got as close to the glaciers as was safe and we marveled as giant icebergs broke off at random and created big waves. In Alaska, you can literally feel nature.

After dinner Ranger Jamie presented a slideshow about her research. I confess I was still tired from travel and the Aurora Borealis wake-up call, so went to bed shortly after the evening meal.

Day Three: A Polar Plunge into Glacier Bay

Day Three of my Uncruise turned into a busy one. The morning started with coffee and a small granola/yogurt parfait in the lounge, followed by a sit-down breakfast at 7:30 a.m.

John and I then boarded a skiff to tour the Johns Hopkins Glacier from the water and to explore Lamplugh Glacier on land. Again, we were blessed with sunny skies and mild temperatures. I did not need the thermal underwear I’d packed, but was making good use of those near knee-high mud boots I’d purchased.

We motored over to the Hopkins Glacier, a stunning but desolate white world about a mile wide. The glacier’s leading edge gradually declines toward the edge of the water. It rose stately, almost arrogant, showing off its stark whiteness against the azure sky. National Park Ranger Jamie rode in our skiff and brilliantly explained the geology of the area. We did not see the glacier calving as Johns Hopkins is characterized by submarine calving – or calving below the water surface. Each new iceberg, called a “shooter,” bursts explosively to the surface, joining the others that drift to and from the glacier on the cycling tides.

Our skiff captain then motored the group on to edge of Lamplugh Glacier where we made a rocky beach landing. Lamplugh Glacier is about ¾ mile wide, 150 feet high at the face, 10 to 40 feet deep at the waterline, and over 16 miles long.

All of a sudden I felt I was in an exotic, otherworldly place, perhaps the set of Game of Thrones. Humbled by the massive white wall of ice, we explored shallow pools of water, mud bogs, icebergs and rocks scattered around. The intense blue in one area of the glacier resembled a gorgeous gemstone or as another guest called it, “Hawaiian Punch or Gatorade Blue.” Our group hiked part way up one side of Lamplugh hearing the movement of water underneath. Layers of sediment trapped within the ice hinted at the powerful trip that ice had made, scouring the mountainside the slow trip that would culminate it its ultimate return to the sea.

Upon returning to the Legacy, we enjoyed lunch followed by an Uncruise tradition: the Polar Plunge — for those who dare. “Why not,” I thought? I’m a bit crazy, and I might not get another chance to experience Glacier Bay. So, I’d jump and earn bragging rights.

I stopped by the lounge, downed a shot of scotch to fortify me and proceeded to leap off the back of the Sea Dragon platform into 38-degree water. Let me tell you, the bay was FREEZING—but invigorating. I quickly got out, (someone claimed I set a speed record), pulled on my terry robe and headed for the top deck and the hot tub. I slide into the divine warm water, basking in the joy and recalling the thrill, one of frivolity and adventure. This will be a tale to tell my grandchildren.

But, activities on the Uncruise were far from over. Though we made no afternoon excursion, everyone on board came out to observe hundreds of sea lions as we sailed past South Marble Island. Unfortunate timing for photos, we passed while facing directly into the sun. However, the animals were entertaining; one seemed to be king of the mountain and spoke in loud growls. Many were lazing in the sun, but others were yapping and pecking at one another. I recorded a video, but the smell remains in my brain- rather pungent!

After yet another scrumptious meal, we docked at Bartlett Cove, the only human-inhabited stop on the cruise. The National Park Service runs a visitor center, some lodges, a campground and hosts the Tlingit tribal house. Upon arrival, we took a pleasant walk through the woods. The lovely acres were filled with lush green moss, little ponds, huge trees and informative signage. Then, we strolled down to the native lodge, which was closed but painted on one side with impressive native symbols. Two intricately carved totem poles graced the grounds. The Tlingit (pronounced Klink-it) has a history as seafaring people in the Southeast Alaskan area. Their current day ancestors constructed the lodge and totem poles. We wished to stay longer, but darkness crept in and we didn’t bring flashlights.

I really enjoyed the evening exercise and stroll around Bartlett Cove, the daunting polar plunge and my time on Lamplugh Glacier. Once again I turned into bed and immediately fell asleep. Sea air, good food and exercise!

Day Four: A Show from the Whales

Uncruise Day Four began with what had become a pleasant routine: dress and head to the Legacy Lounge for coffee before a seated breakfast in the dining room. I planned to venture out on a morning hike, then spend the afternoon onboard hoping to catch sight of some whales.

John and I boarded the skiff for a short jaunt over to Pavlov Harbor State Marine Park. Now also routine (but rare for this part of Alaska), the sun painted beautiful reflections on the water and gave ideal weather for a hike. Our guide led us to a small waterfall bordered by a salmon run. Salmon season hadn’t started, so we saw no fish (and none of the resident fishermen). During the season, excursions leave the area to these bears, who feast on the spawning salmon.

We hiked some moss-laden hills, similar to the fairy tale forest views of the previous night, but this hike involved inclines. Many animal holes burrowed near the bottom of trees brought mental images of a gnome village.

We paused at a large beaver lodge, its dome jutting both above the water line, an abandoned shack and some beautiful yellow blossoms sprung by, of all things, skunk cabbage!

The most memorable part of the day (maybe the trip so far) came after lunch. Everyone came out on deck after Captain Tim announced a sighting of a mama and baby humpback in the distance. I could see the blowhole and spout of water in the air, but not much more.

However, a short time later, all our dreams came true. An enormous humpback whale decided to show off for the passengers of the Legacy. He banged his flippers on the surface of the water. He threw his body up into the air and slammed down with great force and spray of water. When he drove down the flip of his tail provided the perfect photo opp. Each whale’s tail has a unique design, – – this one, gorgeous, was a pure white.

All aboard watched in awe as this whale kept breeching. The joy on everyone’s face was evident, to witness wildlife at play was a rare gift, a treasured memory. Captain Tim claimed he had never seen a whale act this way for so long- about 45 minutes, and the bonus being up close to the boat. The seemingly happy beast finally swam away, but not before rolling on his side and offering up a long wave of his massive arm. No kidding, if you look, the bones in a whale’s flipper look strikingly like those of human arms and hands.

As if we hadn’t experienced enough, just as we all sat down to dinner, the PA system announced the arrival of more guests – – a pod of orca whales off our bow. Sadly for our chef, all abandoned the dining room for the rail to watch. The pod of five killer whales cruised with us for a bit, before heading off to what was undoubtedly their own evening feast. We finally returned to dinner, everyone agog and full of their communing with some of nature’s fabulous creatures.

The night ended with an impressive slideshow by professional photographer David Shaw. Some Uncruises include professionals who give advice and lectures onboard. David, a resident of Alaska, spoke about living in the state and his photographic journeys and workshops. David would lead a photo walk the next morning for any Uncruisers who wanted to join. I signed up!

Day Five: Rocks and Bergs around Frederick Sound

The first four days of my Uncruise fulfilled many of my Alaskan dreams. I’d watched a bear dig for mussels along the shore; I’d witnessed a spectacular display of power and grace as a humpback whale breached repeatedly, just off the bow of our ship. My gaze followed a pod of orcas (or killer whales) racing by, I gawked at gigantic glaciers calving, and I marveled at soaring bald eagles. Then there was the pristine landscape, imposing in its towering, glacier-gouged mountains. Beautiful, but stark, their striking shades of gray and blue came from a smoothness produce by slow, unstoppable glacial motion. A nearly ever-present sun (most unusual for the season) took advantage, its glancing rays producing more shades of amber against the backdrop of a soft blue sky. Alaska had given us her best, when even a lot less would have been more than enough.

The Legacy crew continued to wow the passengers, going out of their way to meet everyone’s needs. I felt like I was enrolled in a posh adult camp – – numerous activities to pick from and gourmet food and beverage. I found it hard to imagine what more Day Five would bring.

I didn’t have long to wait long for another surprise; it came with a morning excursion to Baird Glacier. Kevin, the skiff captain, motored carefully away from the Legacy, following a circuitous route over patches of very shallow water. The view from the skiff – just a few feet above the water line – showed an incredibly calm and clear bay. Approaching the shore, we passed shimmering icebergs, tiny birds feeding among them. We slowed to a landing on a sandy beach near Baird. Not rocks here, but an actual soft sand beach – who knew Alaska had beaches fit for sunbathing?

The out-washed beach gradually rose to a plain covered by large, smooth, round white rocks. This unusual and massive rocky landscape was set against distant snow-covered mountains, the glacier, and floating icebergs. The pinch-me, world-class panoramic scene, about 20 miles northeast of Petersburg, Alaska, should not be missed.

Photographer David Shaw led my group, and challenged us to take 10 photos, about 30 seconds apart. That was easy as there were so many different possibilities. Then, he encouraged us to take our time and capture just one photo that we carefully planned. I laid down on the rocky landscape to take this panorama with the rocks in the forefront, regretting that my super wide-angle lens was somewhere back in the room.

Skiff captain Kevin gave us a bonus on the return trip. He slowly puttered through a field of enchanting icebergs. Some took the appearance of clear, crystal gemstones, others giant snow-covered chunks of ice. Looking strong, many rest on fragile, fleeting bottoms, water eroding their keels. The low-level ride made me feel one with the forlorn landscape. The breadth of the territory overwhelms, its vastness can’t be measured by any scale. I felt humbled.photo courtesy of Debi Lander

We eventually returned to the Legacy in time for a brief rest and then lunch. Most midday meals were hearty, more like my expectations for dinner entrees. This day, however, brought lighter fare – – gourmet sandwiches. I chose a delicious turkey and Brie. Desserts came with both lunch and dinner, a habit I’d have to break (later!).

FYI- Afternoon happy hour always includes snacks and appetizers. Believe me, Uncruisers cannot possibly go hungry

My afternoon excursion became a hike to Cascade Creek Waterfall in Thomas Bay. The lower falls were picturesque enough, but the climb to upper Cascade Creek was the best ever. The well-maintained trail included rock stairs, a bridge and a meandering pathway. Spring wildflowers bloomed, and moss-laden trees and ground cover shrouded the terrain. The roar of the waterfall followed as we meandered. If you choose to go on this cruise and only make one hike, Cascade Creek would be the one.

Day Six: Dance of the Dolphins

By the sixth day of my Uncruise, I’d fallen in love with alluring Alaska, the vastness of its wilderness soothing. Our itinerary avoided cities, save for the Juneau ends. In fact, our early season cruise didn’t see many signs of civilization, planes in the air, or even other boats in the Passage. We got lost among the mountains and wildlife, enjoyed the clean water and air, and made new friendships with like-minded folks on the ship. The lack of cell coverage and Wi-Fi consigned email and texting to a world far different from this week’s. We ate plentiful and beautifully presented food and drink. I’d become a small ship fan, an Uncruiser, surrounded and connected to nature with few distractions.

On this day, John and I took a morning skiff ride, wading ashore and bushwhacking our way through the Tongass National Forest. No machetes, although at times they would have eased the way. David Shaw, the Uncruise sponsored photographer, suggested a few close-up or macro shots. I got down to capture moss, fungi and skunk cabbage blossoms – – the last literally on knees and elbows.photo courtesy of Debi Lander

Our hike eventually brought us to a beach on the opposite side of the island. The tidal pool was full of exotic marine life and birds searching for food. The way back brought us past an abandoned wooden, crushed by a tree, left to decay, and reminding that week’s lessons about nature included not just beauty and majesty, but its will to win out in the end.

 

The walk, while invigorating, proved pretty tame by the afternoon outing. Skiff Captain Paul promised “the best skiff ride ever!” And how he delivered. Heading toward the distant Five Fingers Lighthouse and The Brothers Islands we first encountered otters alternately lounging and playing in the water. Then came a whale spotted off in the distance. Paul thought he looked too far away to promise closer views, but we kept watching. Eventually, the large humpback surfaced again. Off we went in his direction – – careful to respect his space. Unlike the powerful breaching we’d seen the other day, this humpback preferred playful slaps and snorts within 50 feet or so of our skiff. I was in awe.

Even that display was not to prove the highlight of the day. Heading back to the ship, a large pod of Dall’s porpoises appeared, apparently finding our skiff a temporary playmate. The Dall’s are compact, muscular porpoises that rival killer whales as the fastest marine mammals in Alaska waters. They popped up and down beside us like horses on a carousel; they leaped seemingly with joy, lead the way, crisscrossing and carving what looked like deliberate, coordinated angles across the bow. They stayed with us for maybe five minutes, tiring of us long before we of them. What looked like smiles on their faces may not have been, but there was no misreading the gleeful faces on the boat.

I had to try my long lens to capture the historic light station – – we had no time to motor out that far. Hard to complain, we’d formed lasting images of the glorious community that inhabits those waters.

Speaking of images, John had moved to the front of the skiff to stretch his sore legs a bit. At cocktail hour, he pulled out the video his iPhone captured of what he called our dolphin “fighter escort.” We relived the particular event and heard about the adventures of others. Cocktail hour always includes a drink of the day, hand-mixed by Uncruise bartenders. FYI: Can’t beat the open bar in the lounge, and it’s available all afternoon and evening.

Evening brought another exceptional dinner. The meal began with baked Brie and fruit, then an all you can eat Dungeness crab fest served by Chef Harrison. Oh my! The crab was tender and juicy even before dipping it in real melted butter. Yummy. I must admit I probably ate too much, but when you’re in Alaska don’t skip this treat.

After dinner, we were all invited to the lounge to play a “gold rush” game. We divided up into teams and chose various options to reach the Chilkoot Trail. Along the way, we learned a lot of gold rush history. In all, another good day and good night – – nothing new here, but still enriching.

Day Seven: Clouds and Glaciers

Our last full day on the ship brought our very first glimpse of cloudy weather. Strangely, the gray brought a welcoming change. Exiting my cabin for the lounge and coffee, I felt like I’d entered the set of the movie, Titanic. Past cold air and dark sky, a mist loomed in the distance and a soft drizzle dappled the sea. Small icebergs and broken bits of bergs floated all-around producing a frosty feel. The jagged hunks of ice brought a small tinge of foreboding (but a fascinating and seductive kind). In total opposition to the sunny weather we’d experienced, this was the Alaskan climate I’d been told to anticipate, but had yet to see for nearly a whole, glorious, sun-drenched week.

phtoto from Debi LanderI shouldn’t have been hungry following last night’s Dungeness crab fest, but the French toast offered up sounded too good to resist. After the meal and announcements, many folks gathered on deck. Surprise—again!! This time our captain spotted a pack of wolves that had made a kill on the far shore. I was able to see them through binoculars but not capture a photo. For those passengers who had previously been to Alaska, this sight was a treat they had hoped for. Seeing any wolf in the wild is very rare. Their pale coloring and the chance to observe them alternately keeping watch and feeding hungrily showed life in the wild at its most basic, instinctual level.

Some brave souls decided to kayak around the foreboding icebergs, but John and I were happy to take the skiff tour. This morning our inflatable motored slowly, sometimes venturing close enough to land’s edge to feel sprays from tall waterfalls cascading down sheer, glistening mountainsides. Not gushing, their satiny streams and the soft sounds of their movement over the rocks brought to the mind visions of some magical source far above and beyond what can be seen with just the eyes.

One enormous iceberg looked to all like a vastly overgrown turtle. Only a photo with including kayakers serves to give a sense of how massive it was.

For the first time, this outing produced a chill, brought on by the cloudy weather and a light rain. Back onboard, many headed for a hot toddy or cocoa.

photo from Debi LanderAfter lunch, the Legacy moved toward Dawes glacier, a mass amazing even by lofty Alaska standards. It loomed in the distance, drawing many out on deck to gaze. A chance to get up close came with a skiff tour. Close is still a bit of a distance, especially given the active nature of Dawes. We gaped as large calving chunks fell from heights, even as shooters sprang to the surface after letting lose beneath the water. I’ll remember the spectacle of Dawes forever- different from any place I’d seen before, even on my trip to Iceland.

In the later afternoon, guests watched a documentary about a man who has been photographing glaciers around the world. It was then time to pack our bags, as we would leave them in the hall before breakfast tomorrow morning.

Our final dinner began with a charcuterie plate shared around the table. Many diners chose to combine their entrees into a surf and turf option – the fish being Alaskan Sockeye salmon. We finished with cheesecake and plenty of wine.

Post dinner, we watched a slideshow of photos taken by the crew during the week of our cruise. We were promised a link so we could enjoy the images again at home. Thanks Uncruise.

Day Eight: Return to Juneau

Early morning, we watched the Legacy pull back into the Juneau harbor, the day much cloudier and dark than when we embarked. We placed our luggage outside our cabins for transfer by the staff to the convention center. Our Glacier Country Uncruise ended after a send-off breakfast.

An unexpected guest at breakfast, Dan Blanchard, the owner of Uncruise stopped by. He came to listen to our sightings and stories, stopping personally by each table to speak with passengers. Dan wanted to hear both good and any negative comments. He assured us he would review our questionnaire responses. Having loved the whole experience, I’d be hard pressed to suggest any changes, except perhaps for a stop in either Sitka or Ketchikan. Since I’d likely not return to the Inner Passage again, I regretted missing those towns.

With plans to stay over in Juneau until very early the following morning, we left our bags at the UnCruise office, stored securely until 5 p.m. when we’d return for them. Thankfully, we had ridden the gondola the week earlier when the weather was sunny and bright. So, we set off on a souvenir shopping expedition, for lunch in the historic Red Dog Saloon and a visit to the Alaska State Museum.

photo courtesy of Debi LanderThe Alaska Museum, a real gem, sits just a block from the convention center. We had absorbed some Alaska history on the cruise (from the knowledgeable staff and an interesting on-board library) – – salmon fishing and the gold rush included. The museum truly helped put the timeline together. Exhibits from the native Tlingit community included original articles of clothing, ceremonial items, a Birchbark canoe, and a fascinating pair of salmon-skin fishing boots. Informative exhibits, documents, and other items explained the large role of Russian people in Alaska. We learned of the boom and bust cycles of Alaska’s natural resources and the continued importance of the federal government. The building, new in 2016 also houses the state archives. I would highly recommend any visitor with a few hours in Juneau to tour this museum.

We also stopped into the Hanger Restaurant overlooking the harbor for a bowl of chowder before catching a ride to the airport. We met some friends from the cruise (who had an evening flight) and the four of us were surprised when a limo appeared. We left in style, thanks to Uncruise.

John and I stayed at the Extended Stay America hotel across the street from the airport so we could walk over around 4 a.m. for our 5:15 flight. We would fly to Seattle, then Dallas-Fort Worth, before catching our last segment to Tampa. It would be a long day, but the terrific trip has been worth the hassle. I’d do it again any day.

I can now check off Alaska in my quest to visit all 50 states. I don’t know why I waited so long and certainly look forward to returning. But, I’ve still got Oregon and Iowa to conquer.

Uncruise Dining Review: SS Legacy

The SS Legacy, belonging to the Uncruise line, is a small ship that carries a maximum of 90 passengers. It is a replica of an 1894 steamship with Victorian décor. The Klondike Dining Room, with tin tiles on the ceiling, rests on the lower level or Deck 1. This is the only dining room on the ship, and three meals per day are served there. The cruise is very relaxed; there is no dress code for the dining room.

The window-surrounded Lounge or Grand Salon on Deck 2 offers coffee and tea 24 hours per day. An early risers breakfast, typically yogurt/granola parfaits, fresh fruit, juice and a variety of bread and pastries, begins at 6:30 a.m.

Seated breakfast in the dining room, typically from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., always offers two specials, usually an egg dish and a carbohydrate-heavy dish such as pancakes or French toast. You may request eggs any style, yogurt parfaits, toast and a fruit cup. Specials included various omelets, corned beef, eggs Benedict, a full English breakfast and specialty French toast.

Lunch and dinner are usually themed: Italian, barbecue, Mediterranean, etc. I enjoyed a delicious chicken teriyaki for lunch one day. The chef (from Austin, Texas) seems to have a fondness for spice. Lunch begins at 12:30 p.m. and brings three options (meat, vegetarian and salad). You may always request a hamburger. BLT’s should be requested at breakfast, so bacon can be prepared and saved for lunch.

Cookies were usually put out in the Lounge around 3 or 4 p.m., and during the daily happy hour (from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.), small bites were served. These ranged from cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, to smoked salmon and some hot appetizers.

photo courtesy of Debi LanderDinner starts at either 6:30 or 7 p.m. and features one appetizer and three entree choices (meat, fish and vegetarian). Appetizers included soup, family-style antipasto board, charcuterie board, salads, and baked Brie. Entree choices included filet, pork loin, chicken breast, beef short rib, rack of lamb, crab-stuffed trout, Alaskan halibut, and a few different types of salmon. The all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab fest is traditionally a big hit. Guests may order double entrees or split an entrée to make a surf and turf choice.

Every evening the pastry chef creates one special dessert, always beautifully plated. Each dessert was yummy! Should you have a hankering for ice cream, this option or sorbet, it can be requested.

Overall, I found the food excellent, not perhaps a five-star dining experience, but always better than expected. I was onboard during a cruise in Alaska. All passengers needing individual menu choices such as vegetarian and gluten-free versions can be accommodated but should be requested when booking the cruise.

Story and photos courtesy of Debi Lander.

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