CRUISE TO ALASKA                                                                AUGUST 20-28, 2012


            In August of 2012 I went on a seven-day cruise to Alaska.  It is something that I have wanted to do for years, and when I learned that my brother and his wife and her relatives and their friends were going I decided to go too.  There were 42 in our group!  The ship left from Seattle and went first to Tracy Arm Fjord, then up to Skagway, and back down to Juneau, Ketchikan, Victoria BC, and Seattle (see PHOTO 1, which is from The Alaska Cruise Handbook by Joe Upton).   I first will describe some history of Alaska, then my experiences in Seattle, on board the ship, and in the other cities. I have described below 40 photos that are posted at



            I learned about Alaskan history from the State Museum and the City Museum in Juneau as well as other places on the trip.  Humans first came to Alaska from Siberia about 30,000 years ago across the Bering Strait (PHOTO 2).  Genetically they were Asian and there appear to have been two different groups that migrated when sea levels were low, looking for game.  Fishing and hunting were subsistence activities, and the cultures that developed reflected different geographical regions on the coast and inland of Alaska.

            Vitus Bering, a Danish sea captain serving in the Russian Navy, is credited with the discovery of Alaska in 1735, but earlier Russians had sailed in the strait in 1648, and indigenous peoples had sailed back and forth for centuries.  Russians were attracted to Alaska for the rich fur trade, and established settlements, had conflicts and intermarried with local people, and spread Orthodox Christianity.  

            Russia feared that Alaska would be seized by the British after fighting them in the Crimean War, and agreed to sell Alaska to the US for 7.2 million dollars (2 cents an acre), in a treaty signed by William Seward, who was Lincoln's Secretary of State, in 1867.  It was called "Seward's Folly" since Alaska was considered a frozen wasteland.   At the time there were hundreds of American whaling ships which decimated whaling populations, and when petroleum broke the market for whale oil, they killed a hundred thousand walrus for oil and ivory between 1870 and 1880.

            In 1880 gold was discovered in Juneau, and two large mines began operating there, with Stamp Mills that pulverized ore brought up from the ground. Then in 1896 placer gold (small nuggets in streams) was discovered in the Yukon, across the Canadian border, and Skagway and other places became major gateways.

            Due to previous deaths by starvation, the Canadian Mounties would only allow prospectors to cross the border if they brought a year's worth of supplies, which weighed a ton (PHOTO 3).  So the prospectors using the White Pass or Chilkoot mountain pass had to make many trips, going a thousand miles to bring supplies 33 miles (PHOTO 4).  Many pack animals died, were left in the snow, and were trampled by other prospectors.  By the time the Yukon & White Pass Railway was built, there was little placer gold left to claim.

            While sixty thousand prospectors came to the Yukon, less than a hundred became very rich from gold.  Others became wealthy, however, providing supplies to the prospectors.  Alaska first become a US Territory, and then became a state in 1959.



            I flew from Long Beach to Seattle on Monday afternoon.  It was the first time I had flown on Jet Blue and I was pleased with the service, as well as the convenience of flying out of Long Beach.  I was able to reserve a front row seat in advance so I had enough legroom for the 2.5 hour flight.  I was met at the Seattle airport by my cousin and his wife and we chatted at their home in Seattle, before having dinner with their daughter at a restaurant overlooking Puget Sound in Edmonds (PHOTO 5).

            That night I stayed with a second-cousin whom I had met in a faculty wine tasting group when we both were teaching at the University of Washington before I came to Whittier College.  When talking about ethnic backgrounds I learned that his great-grandmother and my grandfather came from the same German village in Russia in 1903, and I recognized from the names that they were sister and brother! 

            The next day we visited that cousin's daughter, and his brother took me to the Pike Street Market while waiting to board the ship (PHOTO 6).  That is my favorite place in Seattle, and where I had realized a part of my philosophy of life years ago.  I had been selecting four ears of corn from one of the beautiful displays of produce, and the seller told me you can't have those -- you have to take two from the front and two from the back, two good and two bum.  Life is like that -- you get both good times and bad times.  So appreciate the good, and don't let the bad get you down.



            Tuesday afternoon I boarded the Carnival Spirit ship (PHOTO 7) along with 2400 passengers and 940 crew.  The ship had been built in Helsinki, Finland in 2001 for $375 Million.  The ship had 10 decks for passengers to use, and 3 decks below for crew's quarters and other functions.  It had a formal dining room, casino (PHOTO 8), bar in an atrium (PHOTO 9) with glass elevators (PHOTO 10), an auditorium, a dance club with live music (PHOTO 11), a dance club with a DJ, and lounge areas on the second floor. 

            In the auditorium there were musical shows on two nights; other times they had nature talks, bingo, and trivia contests there.  Down a flight of stairs was a comedy club.  Occasionally a jazz band played in one of the lounges.  There was something happening on the ship all the time, and a daily schedule was left in our rooms when the stewards made the beds.

            The third floor had an area for displays of photos taken by photographers on the cruise for sale for $20 each.  The ninth floor had a buffet eating area with different kinds of food at various counters, plus an outdoor pool area with lounge chairs (PHOTO 12).  Up a flight of stairs was a steak house and outdoor area with two water slides and a promenade for walking or running around the perimeter of the ship (PHOTO 13).

            In between the second and ninth floor were rooms for passengers.  I had an inner room (PHOTO 14) that I shared with my brother's father-in-law, and my brother and his wife and some others in our group had outer rooms with small balconies (PHOTO 15).  All 42 of our group had dinners together at five tables in the dining room.  

            I often saw others in our group at breakfast or lunch on the ninth floor, or hanging out in one of the lounges on the second floor.  We spent most of our time eating and chatting when we weren't in port!  I heard that you gain a pound a day on a cruise, and it is easy to do that with some food available 24 hours a day!

            On the last day of the voyage I took a behind the scenes tour of the ship.  It was one of the most interesting parts of the trip.  We weren't allowed to take pictures on the tour, but I was given a photo of me with the captain on the bridge (PHOTO 16).

            At the control room for the engines, we learned that there are six diesel engines that can run generators to power the two electric engines that turn the propellers, and which can rotate for maneuvering into and out of port.  They also power the air conditioning and other electricity demands.  The voyage used 260,000 gallons of diesel, which was about 100 gallons per passenger, and a large carbon footprint.

            We visited the galley and the walk-in freezer and thawing rooms, and learned that there are 110 cooks that prepare two thousand meals in 45 minutes.  All of the 360,00 pounds of food for the voyage was loaded in Seattle.

            We also visited the crews' quarters, and learned that most of their rooms have two stacked bunk beds, a closet, and a small TV. They have their own dining room and cooks.  The Captain and senior officers were Italian, and the other crew members were from fifty countries, with the largest numbers from Indonesia and the Philippines.  They were very friendly and provided very good service.

            In the laundry area we saw large washing machines, as well as a huge roller that irons and folds sheets and a machine that folds towels.  In the waste management area we saw machines for crushing glass to be recycled.  Paper is burned out at sea, and waste food is compacted and released into the ocean.



            We left Seattle (PHOTO 17) at 4 PM Tuesday night and spent all day Wednesday at sea.  Thursday we entered Tracy Arm Fjord (PHOTO 18), and cruised past waterfalls (PHOTO 19), and icebergs floating in the water, which are a pretty blue in color due to refraction by the compressed ice (PHOTO 20). They periodically break off of the edge of glaciers as ice behind pushes toward the water.  About a hundred feet of snow falls on the glaciers each year, in comparison with a hundred inches of snow in some Alaskan cities.  But the ice is melting faster than compacted snow can replace it, so the glaciers have been retreating great deal.

            I saw the South Sawyer glacier from the distance of about half a mile (PHOTO 21).  I could have paid $200 to ride in a small boat closer to the glacier, but decided not to.  There weren't any icebergs breaking off, called calving, while we were there.



            We docked in Skagway by 7 AM Friday morning.  I walked off the ship and boarded a train alongside that took me up the mountain (PHOTO 22) to White Pass, along one of the routes of the prospectors (PHOTO 4).  It was a beautiful ride along a river through the woods, and across the ravine I could see a parallel trail also used by prospectors (PHOTO 23).

            That afternoon I walked around the town (PHOTO 24), and took a free historic tour provided by the Park Service.  All of the other tours on the trip were booked through the cruise line at extra cost, which adds up quickly!

            Later I returned to the ship to ride a bus back into town for a Good Time Girls tour.  We saw the building where Soapy Smith would lure people to put money in his safe, where they would be robbed by his henchmen, and learned that he was supposedly killed by one disgruntled victim who later died, but the autopsy revealed that many others had put bullets into him too, after a meeting at which citizens complained that he was hurting business. 

            We saw several small buildings called Cribs where Good Time Girls plied their trade (PHOTO 25), and a house that was supposedly haunted.  Then we visited the Red Onion saloon where the upstairs had been a brothel and had the furnishings preserved.  We saw the beds and other furnishings (PHOTO 26), along with a few photos of the Girls.  The tour guide was an actress who dressed like those in the photos.  She said that train men would carry red lamps to the brothels, and that was the origin of red lights hanging in brothels (PHOTO 27), but I am not sure if this is true since red lights denote brothel areas all over the world.



            The ship left port at 9 PM, and by 7 AM Saturday morning we were in Juneau. Part of our group took a bus to see the Mendenhall Glacier.  Some of us walked 20 minutes from the Visitor Center to a waterfall that was closer to the glacier (PHOTO 28).

            The tour bus then took us to a salmon hatchery (PHOTO 29).  We were told that salmon die soon after they spawn, and lose quality for human consumption before then.  The hatchery slits open the female salmon and dumps their eggs in a pail.  They then squeeze the sperm out of male salmon into the pail, for efficient fertilization.  The dead fish are then used for animal feed. 

            After the newly hatched fish are large enough to put out in the river, they are kept in pens (PHOTO 30) for a few months to get used to the smell of the river, so those surviving will return after spending two or three years in the ocean.

            After the tour I walked around Juneau (PHOTO 31) and visited the State Museum and the City Museum, which had information about the history of the state and the city.  The ship left port at 3:00 afternoon.



            Sunday morning we were in Ketchikan (PHOTO 32).  I took a tour out to the Saxman Village where I saw totem poles (PHOTO 33), native dancers, and talked with those who were commissioned to carve totem poles.  One style of totem pole has only a few images on the bottom and one on the top with bare pole in between, while another style has images over the entire pole.  One pole had a statue of Lincoln at the top, since he was President when Alaska was purchased, but his legs were short since the photo that was used didn't show all of his legs! (PHOTO 34).  Totems were used as markers to identify families.

            I had just a short time to explore the Discovery Center, which included displays about timber, mining, and other industries in Alaska, before going to the Lumberjack Show.  Men competed in cutting logs with axes (PHOTO 35) and with saws, quickly climbing a pole, and balancing on logs in the water (PHOTO 36).   I heard that Lumberjack competitions are shown on TV but had never seen one since I seldom watch TV.



            The ship left Ketchikan at 1 PM Sunday and didn't arrive in Victoria, BC until 7:30 PM on Monday.  I had originally not planned on taking a tour, but then decided to take a tour of Butchard Gardens since others in our group were going.  We took a long bus ride there, and had only one and a half hours in the Gardens.  The flowers were pretty (PHOTO 37) with small floodlights on them (PHOTO 38), but I wasted 15 minutes in the maze of trails trying to find the Japanese garden since there were few signs and the map didn't show all of the trails.  I also had trouble finding the exit, and had to ask in the gift shop.  I was the last one on the bus but I made it just in time.  Overall, I didn't think the tour was worth the $95 I paid for it, while I felt the previous tours had been worthwhile.

            The tour bus stopped briefly downtown for a view of the Empress Hotel (PHOTO 39) and Parliament Building (PHOTO 40) with lights at night.  My brother and his family had taken a taxi downtown from the ship to see the lights, and stopped in a bar for a drink.  I should have gone with them!



            I got back on the ship at 11:30 PM just in time to pack my suitcase and put my zone number on it and leave it outside the door for the steward to take for delivery on shore. We were docked in Seattle at 7 AM, but were asked to leave the ship by zone number to avoid long lines.  That gave time for a leisurely breakfast, before leaving the ship at 9 AM and finding my suitcase on shore by my zone number.  I thought that was an efficient way for 2400 passengers to leave and find their luggage!

            My brother drove me to the airport where I had four hours before my flight to Long Beach.  I used that time to read some of my email on my Android phone, since I hadn't read it while on the cruise, as well as read part of a novel.   Internet service on the ship cost 75 cents a minute, and roaming charges for data would add up very quickly, so I had a vacation from email for a week!

            I had a relaxing flight to Long Beach, where my wife picked me up.  The next day I took a train to Ventura for an overnight faculty retreat, then Friday was the Mentor Workshop for advising new students, and Sunday the new students arrived for three days of Orientation before classes started on Wednesday.  So it has taken time to catch up after the cruise!