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Explorer Alaska 6/22/18 - 7 Nights RCLBlog Group Cruise!

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T minus 2 days. Bags packed.  Boarding pass printed.  SetSail pass printed.  Luggage tags ready.  Check, check, check and check.  I think I'm ready.  Amazingly I don't feel like I forgotten

And I can confirm that Twangster is not a robot. He is a nice human.

Day 3 - Juneau We had a noon arrival scheduled so we spent the morning sailing up the channel towards Juneau enjoying rain wrapped mountains on both sides of the ship.  The temperature in the mid

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Day 3 - Juneau, continued

Part 2 - Mendenhall Glacier

Part two of our tour brings us to a hike in the forest to the Mendenhall Glacier.  You can drive closer but part of our Photo Safari included this 1 mile hike.

Southeast Alaska has is home to some rain forests and is very lush.



Our first peak at the glacier comes just before reaching the official visitors center.


There is another hike you can take to the waterfall but that wasn't part of our plan today.


Here is the visitors center.


From here it is a short walk down to the lake.




There are plenty of wildflowers in this area just to attest to how lush this part of Alaska is.


There are small nature walks you can take.


Part of this is an elevated boardwalk where you can sometimes catch a bear eating Salmon when they are running later in the summer.  Here is the view of such a stream from the boardwalk.  No bears today but our guide pointed out evidence of recent bear activity.


Back to the port area here is Radiance of the Seas up close.


Compared to the earlier photos you can see how it is cleared up a bit.  It's hard to capture detail and sight of the mountains rising up above the ships.  You have to see it.


Here is Radiance pulling out just before we do.





Finally our turn we pulled and started following Radiance to Skagway tomorrow.  Here is the sunset at 10:30pm over Juneau as we sail South away.




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6 hours ago, JLMoran said:

Out of all itineraries I've looked at and heard about on the podcasts, Alaska is just about the only one where I consistently hear that a balcony is all but mandatory. Yes, you can do an inside or even an ocean view and just take advantage of outside public spaces to see everything; but if those get crowded you'll be wanting the privacy of that balcony to take it all in.

That said, I think if the ship had a panoramic ocean view room available, I'd probably book one of those instead so I could enjoy the sweeping views without freezing my buns off when the weather turns colder, as it's wont to do. And then use the public spaces for less-crowded or warmer times of day.

We had a panoramic ocean view 2 weeks ago. It was amazing! BB294E37-91B1-40F7-BF3D-A2BAB10BE3C7.thumb.jpeg.833c43bd789f0309eac1f7736d32f392.jpegF0CC3AEA-2D64-4895-8DD6-FBA33569DD2B.thumb.jpeg.65cbf962360c5dc068182469afe9be10.jpegDC911FAC-9D39-4225-B881-16D12F6EA85F.thumb.jpeg.262cfecd74ac823b6c47fdc97cb4a61a.jpeg

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Day 3  - Night

It's easy to forget when you are on an Alaskan cruise that RCI still does the regular cruise stuff.  Walking inside after taking pictures on deck 4 where it is still light outside after 10pm I decided to get a beer in the pub.  Suddenly it's The 70's Dance Party Night and I'm out of place in my outdoor multi-layer outfit.




Meanwhile this is what I just came from outside on deck 4:


Welcome to Alaskan cruising.

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On 6/23/2018 at 6:25 PM, mworkman said:

Great photo's Twangster bot! 😁 We will have to wait to make diamond level before we join any group cruises, as we would like to have access  to the same locations that you and Matt have.   It would be weird to have us peaking through the doors where were not allowed. 😂😂

Heck no!  I just made Platinum on my last cruise and I’ve been on two RCLB Group Cruises and never felt left out!

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21 minutes ago, BrandonOwen said:

Heck no!  I just made Platinum on my last cruise and I’ve been on two RCLB Group Cruises and never felt left out!


1 minute ago, vancouverdude said:

Don't you mean Pre-Emerald? 

Hello!!!  Glad you guys found your way to the message boards!

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Day 4 - Skagway

I'm going to break today down into a couple of post to keep it manageable. 

We start the day deep in a fjord with mountains on both sides.  It's almost 6:30am and I start making my way up to the Peak-a-boo bridge to see where we are. It's been daylight outside for a few hours now.


The solarium as I pass through it going forward. 


With a number of Caribbean cruises in the past it always strikes me when I see the ship so close to land and mountains.  So very different from sailing in the open ocean - in a good way.

There are occasional waterfalls such as this one on both sides.


I think I mentioned previously we would be following Radiance of the Seas from Juneau to Skagway.  Upon reaching the forward looking Peak-a-boo bridge sure enough there was Radiance right where she should be.   She's beginning her turn into Skagway since we've reached the end of this inlet.




We will be moored right beside Radiance which is likely why we followed her up here - so she could take the first position while we turn, back in and take up the pier immediately behind her.  The town of Skagway is laid out before us.


With Explorer tied up at the pier, we are now facing back in the direction we came with fantastic views of the mountains around us.

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Day 4 - Skagway  ...continued

Our excursion today has two parts, "Gold Rush Dogs" and "Klondike Summit".  Looks like our timed departure went to the dogs... (first)

Our driver tells us because we are extra special we get an extra unscheduled stop at the Skagway overlook.  You can see much more than this but my eyes were drawn to the ships in port.  Radiance to left, Explorer to the right. 


We have a very brief stop here before we re-board the bus and head back into town.  Our next stop is "Gold Rush Dogs".  Upon arrival they have a gal singing music for us as we wait for our tour to start.


The area is set up with several buildings designed to resemble the old town as it may have been in the late 1800's during the gold rush.


We watch a short video to introduce us to the concept of sled dog races and a brief history of the Iditarod, a famous Alaskan dog sled race.  Here we learned a good deal about long distance dog sled racing including that it's open and equal to both sexes.  In fact for many years women have won the race, sometimes for many consecutive races year after year. Our guide at this point is an up and coming dog sled racer who has competed for 17 years in shorter races but is in training for long distance races like the Iditarod at over 1,000 miles.

She explains the various features of a typical Iditarod sled and how they provision for the race over various stops.  For example, the little black booties hanging in the background are good for 60 - 80 miles before they wear out but with 16 dogs (64 paws) and 1,049 miles it takes over one thousand dog booties to complete the race.  They can't carry all those booties, plus food plus supplies so provisions are staged as set by race rules. 


Our next guide has competed in many long distance races and he continues the education with the sled dogs free to greet us.


They appear to be at first glance just like any common pet and they are in fact kept after they retire as part of the family.




After speaking and educating us more, it was time for a demonstration.  Normally these dogs run in an ideal temperature of around -10° so their summer conditioning runs are kept short, it is after all nearly 60° today.  Harnessed to a sled the dogs are eager to get to work.  You can tell they love this.



Off they go like a drag racing car pulling away in a race. 


They explain that much of dog sled racing is understanding the dogs. The mix of males and females, how certain dogs interact, some who want to play with each other while racing, some who like to fight, some who are lead dogs and some who just want to follow.  The art of dog sled racing is very much about knowing your team and managing dog drama as it plays out one race to the next.


Finally it was time for the promised highlight - puppies!


Five puppies were available for everyone to hold.






With our overdose of cuteness complete, it was time for this portion of the excursion to continue.

I have a much better understanding now of the background of what was once the primary mode of transportation in Alaska.  I very much enjoyed this stop at "Gold Rush Dogs".

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Day 4 - Skagway, continued...

Klondike Summit

Back on our bus we head out of town towards the summit of White Pass.


Whatever my expectations might have been, this part of Alaska is very lush and green.  You can see a line mid-mountain that is the train tracks for the White Pass Railroad.  Part of this is also the trail that gold rush stampeders in 1897-98 would have taken dozens of times to provision the required 2,000 pounds of supplies to enter the Yukon (Canada) and proceed towards the Klondike.  The railroad came later opening in 1900.


Our driver gives us a great history lesson as he takes us up towards the summit.  We eventually reach the border with Canada.  Passports are required for this excursion because we are leaving the US and entering Canada.  As borders between countries go, this one is pretty remote.


Soon after crossing into the Canada's Yukon we pulled over for a photo opportunity with some incredible vistas.



Our chariot awaiting, it's time to head back.




The border from the other side heading back into Alaska and the U.S.  Much of Alaska is remote and serviced by ferry or plane so Skagway is somewhat unique in that you can drive there (through Canada) from the lower 48 on this road.

Arriving back into the US there is welcome sign to greet us.


Another excursion that has peaked my interest involves being driven to the summit (or taking the train one way) then riding bicycles down into Skagway.  We came across this excursion as we drove back down.  I just might have to try this one time despite our bus driver referring to them as bear food.


Finally it was time to stop at US Customs since we had technically departed the country ever so briefly.


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Day 4 - Skagway, continued...

Excursion complete and back in time for a beer and Windjammer lunch, we still had over six hours before "back on board" so we walked to town.


The National Park Service owns much of this and between them and the town they've done a great job making it very easy and inviting to walk or you can take a $2 (each way) shuttle into town ($5 all day pass).








The "A.B." building for the Arctic Brotherhood with something like 9,000 pieces of driftwood on it's face.



Time to clear the tracks!  The size of this train snow plow should give you the idea of the winter conditions in the area.



Skagway is rich in history but much of the population originally lived in tents during the gold rush.  The park service later moved some of these buildings from more remote locations into the main 'downtown' area.




Walking back to the ship we meet Radiance one again.


Finally back to Explorer.


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I love the one pic with The Brass Pic -- "House of Negotiable Affection"! What a euphemism! 😂

If that picture of the bike ride you posted is at all representative of the overall experience -- DON'T DO IT!! That looks scarily like like the one I did on Maui from the summit of Mount Haleakala back down to sea level. See those little guard rails between the side of the road and the cliffs? Sure, the bike will be protected if you lose control, but if the ride requires the same kind of minimum speed going down that we had to maintain on the Maui ride, you'll be vaulted right over in any kind of collision! "Bear food" indeed! 😱

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PSA for @Matt all my American friends.....Contrary to myths, legends, and popular beliefs, THIS IS NOT WHAT ALL OF CANADA LOOKS LIKE! ...

Hubby said there are usually way more igloos!


Stubborn Canadian Scorpio 😉

4 hours ago, twangster said:



Soon after crossing into the Canada's Yukon we pulled over for a photo opportunity with some incredible vistas.




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Day 4 - Skagway Departure

All aboard at 8 pm which makes for 12 1/2 hours in port.  Not bad.  On board the usual activities like rock climbing, mini golf, ping pong and even flowriding was taking place.



We pulled out first leaving Radiance to follow us down the inlet towards our respective next ports of call.


It was very windy with the narrow inlet acting like a wind tunnel but that didn't stop several of us from enjoying the breath taking scenery.


It doesn't look like much in these pictures bit with the scenery slowly moving past and ever changing it's quite an experience you have to experience to understand.


From the aft where it was much less windy.


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Once we left the Northern part of the inlet where it is more narrow the winds settled down and with sunset approaching there was some magnificent scenery unfolding.  As we sailed South I saw many glaciers in the distance including this hanging glacier as I sat in the Schooner Bar having a drink. 



With that spotted it was time to head up, grab my good camera and venture outside on deck 12. 




The sun had set officially around 10pm but it hung around just over the horizon for a while creating a dramatic sky.



As we continued the angle of the sun caused it to fill this gap between peaks with orange light that made it look like lava filling the valley between mountains.



The "lava flow" effect was getting bigger, or maybe the Kraken lava flows were catching up to me.



The effect lasted a few more minutes before disappearing illustrating how sometimes you just need to be lucky and in the right place at the right time.  Despite being well past 'sunset' there was still a lot of light in the sky.

















With that it was time for bed.  The glacier arrival was scheduled for 7am so I needed to get to bed.

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I set my alarm for 6am so I could grab a bite before our arrival at the glacier.  I found the ship deep within Endicott Arm slowly making our way towards the glacier.

It was raining and cold but despite the weather it was breathtaking.  Large chucks of ice floating past confirmed we were on the right path. 


I tried the Peak-a-boo bridge area first but didn't like having the structure of the ship in my shots so I relocated to the helipad.


Here I got the first hints at the Dawes glacier.  It was raining a good bit and my routine included wiping my lens dry, pointing the camera down to keep the rain off the lens before lifting it quickly to take some photos before repeating the cycle.  I had several layers on with my rain coat over them and gloves on.  With all that it was quite pleasant.


Waterfalls frequently appeared on both sides of the ship. 




We inched closer crawling slowly up Endicott Arm.

The sun was trying to break through.  It was just 7:45am so the sun hadn't been able to get very high in the sky or burn off any of the low ceiling hanging above us.




From my spot on the bow I could see many small pieces of ice floating all around us.  Small is a relative word, they were still pretty big, more than you could stuff into a beer cooler.



A senior officer joined us on the helipad and they began setting up a tent with hot chocolate and other drinks for purchase (Bloody Mary's, Mulled wine, etc).  I think that is the Staff Captain who began singing 'Auld Lang Syne'.  Just kidding, no singing, only an informative talk about the glacier.  Where we were at 6am this morning is where the glacier was 100 years ago. 


Small trees are just beginning to grown in this section.  As the glacier retreats eventually moss and other early vegetation begins to grow.  After several life cycles of that a soil begins to form which is enough to support bigger vegetation which eventually leads to full sized trees decades after the glacier has receded.


Having had that pointed out as we moved closer to the glacier you could see the difference in the vegetation.  Contrast this to the first picture in this post where you can see medium sized trees.

Finally we were close enough to the glacier where the rain wasn't spoiling the photos as much and you could clearly see the face of the glacier which is several hundred feet high.  Most of that is underwater and there is plenty of water below the ship so no worries about hitting anything, it's literally several hundred feet deep.


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