Snapshots from Alaska, Part 1
For our 60th birthday last year, my twin sister and I decided to go on a cruise to Alaska. We had had a rough year with our mom dying in August 2020, clearing out her house in six months to pay the reverse mortgage, then having to move ourselves twice in 2021.
Planning a trip gave us something to look forward to. Our first cruise, in 2007, was the same trip on Holland America's MS Oosterdam, and our mom went with us. Our next two cruises were on different lines to different places and I decided Holland America was the best one. Its last cruise of the season, on the Nieuw Amsterdam, was the last week in September, ending on Oct. 2, perfect timing!
Unlike our previous cruises, we had to get immunized for COVID, provide proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours of boarding the ship and wear masks when out in public on the ship or on shore, when not eating or drinking. I got my shot in May and had the test done the day before we flew up to Seattle.
We knew the weather was going to be cold and rainy but didn't realize the ocean would be so turbulent. The first night or two we felt like we were sleeping on waterbeds! The good thing about the stormy weather was that the captain decided to alter our itinerary and avoid Sitka, which is on the coast, and go up the fjord to Skagway.
Our first stop was in Juneau. We went on the gold panning excursion as our dad has wanted to go gold panning in Alaska but never made it up there. It rained most of the time we were out at the river but we managed to collect some bits of gold. Our guide said panning after a rainstorm was good timing as the extra water in the river would bring up the gold from the riverbed.
With just six other people on the excursion, the guide was able to give individual instructions on how to swirl the water in the pan and then pick the gold up with an eye dropper and deposit in a tiny glass bottle. The clear river water magnifies the size of flecks of gold in it. I have seven of them in my bottle.
The next day brought better weather with no rain and a little sunshine for our stop in Skagway which made our birthday extra special. We walked all the way to the downtown area from the harbor and had fun visiting the shops there, doing our part to help their economy as many shops did not survive being closed for over 600 days during the COVID shutdown. My favorite find was a homemade mask with a different blueberry pattern on each side.
We returned to the ship and had lunch before taking a trolley car tour to see the sights. Our tour guide/driver gave us the history of Skagway, stopping at the small town cemetery where early settlers were buried standing up to save space. She said there was a military base there during World War II because the ocean current comes directly from Japan and up the inlet so there was risk of an attack.
Skagway is small and 30% of its population left town during the pandemic, because of the lack of food as much as the lack of work. I asked our guide what she does during winter; she helps at schools elsewhere in Alaska and goes to school online, studying quantum physics!
Back onboard the ship, we found birthday cupcakes in our cabin with cards from the captain and crew, a nice surprise. With our Auto Club booking, we got a free dinner at one of the paid restaurants, so we had booked dinner at the Italian restaurant, the Canaletto. We had minestrone soup, braised beef rib with gnocchi, and a chocolate hazelnut tart for dessert, which was the best part. (We saved our cupcakes for the next day.)
Food service was different from previous cruises due to the pandemic, but I still enjoyed the salad bar. Instead of taking your own food, every dish was filled by servers who only handed it over when everything you wanted was on it. The salad ingredients were great and salads were made to order. They also had a pizza oven at one end of the ship where you could order what you wanted on it and be given a pager which let you know when it was ready.
The desserts were hit and miss in quality, but the breads were always delicious, which explains why I am still trying to lose the weight I gained that week!
Next week, I will cover our stops in Glacier Bay and Ketchikan.