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Not so live blog - Radiance of the Seas Alaska Southbound 8/31/18

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Today is day 4 of our cruise and I purposely delayed starting this blog. 

Voom suffers in Alaska being so far North and knowing I would take a bunch of photos I will be writing the bulk of thread after I return home and can go through thousands of photos to select the best ones.

Consequently keep any eye out for updates next week, but in the interim if anyone has any questions they would like to ask while I am on board feel free to add those now.

Itinerary

Day 1 - Embark in Seward

Day 2 - Hubbard Glacier

Day 3 - Juneau

Day 4 - Skagway

Day 5 - Icy Strait Point

Day 6 - Ketchikan

Day 7 - Inside Passage

Day 8 - Disembark in Vancouver 

So far every port has been awesome and weather has been great.  Our time at Hubbard Glacier was incredible and very different from Explorer's trip to the Dawes Glacier in June.  That's just a tease, I'll get into that in more detail once I go through the pictures and videos of calving I have.

We've just arrived in Skagway and I am heading out for my day of self exploring.   

Later...

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Glad you’ve been having a great time. Soak it all in, enjoy it, and post when you’ve had time to process it all. That said, I can’t wait for the pics and videos!

Saw your scope of getting on board the train in Anchorage. Does this mean you have real night now? Any Northern Lights to enjoy this late in the cruise season?

Will be very interesting to read your thoughts on cruising in the more “normal” time for Alaska (I.e., June or early July), vs near the end of the season.

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Time to get this party started...

Day 0 - Flight to Anchorage, overnight stay in a hotel

I booked this cruise on a few weeks notice after verifying I could find decent airfare.  I could and it meant changing planes in Seattle.  My first flight was delayed due to mechanical issues so that meant missing my original connection in Seattle.  No worries, plenty of flights left to get there.  

Taking off out of Seattle I was able to see the coastal areas and many channels and islands in the area.  

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A short time later I looked out my window and thought I could see the distinctive shape of a cruise ship.

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I could see a Viking Crown and realized Explorer would be departing Victoria on the last night of her current sailing on her way back to Seattle.

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I checked our flight path and sure enough we flew right over the water border between the U.S. and Canada just West of Victoria.

 

How cool is that?  Seeing my last Alaska cruise ship while heading to Alaska to board my next Alaska cruise ship!

I had chosen an earlier arrival into Anchorage and a window seat on the right side of the plane so I could enjoy the descent into Anchorage.  With the missed connection that wouldn't occur in the prime of the day but I was still able to see many glaciers in the final 25 minutes of the flight.

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I lost count of the glaciers I saw despite the broken cloud cover.

There aren't many airports that feature a moose, but ANC airport does!

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At this point it was 10pm (midnight at home) and after getting my checked bag I went to my hotel and straight to bed.  I had an early start to the day in the morning.

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IT'S CRUISE DAY!!!

But wait, first I have to get from Anchorage down to Seward where the ship is, nearly 130 miles.  Before booking my cruise I had verified the Royal transfer on the charter train was available.  It was $125 through Royal.  

I kept checking the Alaskan Railroad direct and one day found that Goldstar service had opened up.  I had used the regular Adventure class service before but wanted to try Goldstar service.  It includes two beverages, breakfast, a glass ceiling car and large outdoor viewing platform.  I jumped at the opportunity at $212.  

There are two reasons I canceled the Royal transfer train and went with a direct booking.

  1. The Royal transfers departs around noon.  I would be awake and just hanging around killing time until noon.  With a 4 hour train ride it would arrive in Seward around 4pm.  That's plenty of time with an 8pm sail away but that was way too late to board a ship when I could board anytime after 10am.  The train booked direct leaves at 6:45am and arrives before noon.
  2. The Royal transfer doesn't offer Goldstar service.

Here is a photo of Adventure class from 2017:

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The hotel shuttle to the train station was at 5:15am.  Up early and in the lobby a few minutes later we were soon on our way to the train station.

Already I was noticing a big difference from June.  It was much darker at 5am than it was a few months earlier.

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At the train station they collect luggage for regular train passengers just going to Seward like on any other day but they also have a special drop off area for cruise ship passengers.

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In this tent to the far right you can see a Royal Caribbean sign.  With my ship tags attached I simply dropped my bag here and never touched them again until they appeared outside my cabin door.  Because you never see your luggage in Seward, make sure your passports, valuables and cruise docs are with you on the train.

Arriving early the train station was empty and I quickly received my assigned seat ticket, a pin for Goldstar service and a route map.  

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They have coffee and a few light snacks like muffins for purchase.

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I had 45 minutes to kill so I went outside, took some photos and scoped.

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1MnGnZZypojGO

Goldstar is the first two cars, the regular cars are Adventure class and what the Royal transfer train uses.

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Back in the station it was getting packed:

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Soon enough our conductor approached and "All Aboard" was called.

Today I would be in car "B".  

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First one onboard I took some pictures before other passengers arrived.

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The outdoor viewing platform:

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Here is a quick scope while I still had cell phone coverage in Anchorage:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1BRJjeeRDXVGw

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The train is a great way to get from Anchorage to the port. 

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Here is a scope while I had cell coverage:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1BRJjeeRkyNGw

First drink of the day, Mimosa!

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Another scope:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1gqxvXXdqyeGB

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This is all glacier silt from thousands of years of run off.  Our guide tells us they once wanted to build a bridge across this channel.  They needed to find bedrock so they started drilling into the silt.  They gave up at 2,000 feet.  

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The announcer or guide spent most of her time in our car and it was nice to chat with her between announcements.  Here we are beside the Seward Highway.

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Our bartender on this day...

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Time for a Bloody Mary.

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I really enjoyed the glass ceiling.  The views were incredible.

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The dining car area was on the first floor below us and they led us down in groups as it only hold 20 at a time. 

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Breakfast is included with Goldstar service, including another Mimosa I discovered.  

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I had the Aurora Breakfast last year so I tried the Sourdough French Toast.  It was very good.  

Back upstairs the conductor was punching tickets and talking with passengers.

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A moose was announced on the right.  I saw it very well but by the time I raised my camera all I got was a blurry back end of a moose running away.  Can you see it?

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We made a quick scheduled stop in Girdwood to pick up a few more passengers.  After that we continued into the mountains.

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Glaciers were announced as we approached them.

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More moose spotted:

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Yet another scope:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1YqKDQQjAYzGV?t=28s

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The train slowed as we crossed over this stream so we could see dozens of spawning Salmon.  It was easier to see with our eyes but if you look closely you will see the deep pink fish in the river.

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Finally our ship appeared in the distance.

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With that we had arrived in Seward.

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A scope of our arrival:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1dRJZggRdmrxB

It's hard to capture the beauty of Alaska with a simple camera.  It really needs to be experienced first hand.

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The pier and cruise ship terminal are both owned by the railroad.  They offer free motor coaches to get from the train to the ship but I prefer to walk the 1/2 mile.  

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It's not too often you see this sign.

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The Diamond and Diamond Plus line had 4 groups ahead of me .  The other lines were a little longer but with people arriving through out the day you don't tend to see the massive terminal crowds on boarding day you see at other cruise embarkation ports.

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The gangway:

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With that I was on board at 11:48am.

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Windjammer boarding day scope:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1ZkKzNNqokyKv

I headed up and checked out the pool deck and other topside areas.

The lifeguard informed me the outdoor pool is heated to 84° F.

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The terminal as seen from the ship:

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Solarium:

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Another scope while in port:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1MnxnZZaYdYxO

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Cabin tour!

Cabins were ready 15 minutes early at 1:15pm.

Interior Cabin 4519.  Starboard side, deck 4, near forward elevator lobby.

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Shower curtain despite the makings of a shower door type enclosure.  It was like it used to have a door, but they had pulled all that out and put up a shower curtain.

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Dinner at 6pm

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Totally forgot to take pictures.

Service was excellent and they honored Diamond Happy Hour drinks in the MDR.

Back outside a double rainbow appeared as rain appeared to be moving in with increasing cloud cover.

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Time for muster approaching I dropped off my camera in the cabin and headed to muster.  U2 for me, outdoors on the covered deck 5 under the lifeboats.

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The other end of the double rainbow appeared.  A few minutes later the muster drill started.

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Soon after it concluded we started to sail away.

Sail away scope:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1rmxPNNqwRXGN

The cloud cover had increased and with that there was no sunset tonight worth taking photos of. 

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With that day one is complete.  I was tired from a late arrival in Anchorage and early departure the next morning so i went to bed shortly after this.

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Your pictures are amazing. I have done an Alaskan cruise out of San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. I have been to Seward on a 14 day cruise. But now on my bucket list is to a South bound  cruise with the Gold star train. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to seeing more pictures.

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Day Two - Hubbard Glacier

Our arrival at the glacier was set for early afternoon so we had a regular sea day for the first half of the day. 

I discovered a letter on my cabin door informing me I had not attended the muster drill.  I had attended muster and gave my cabin number like I always do.  The letter said to attend the secondary muster at 8:30pm - the previous night.  I stopped by guest services and showed the pictures on my phone of the rainbow with a timestamp two minutes before muster officially started.  They said not to worry about.  They didn't ask my cabin number or name, they just told me it's okay.  I had been in and out of my cabin several times and had gone to bed after 8:30pm yet don't recall seeing the letter on my door the night before.   Nothing more came of this. 

I was up early due to my body clock being several time zones earlier so I took the opportunity to take some pictures around an empty ship.

The Centrum

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Radiance does not have a Vintages.  Instead it has the Champagne Bar with awesome sea views and seating right by the windows.

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I've often thought the entrance to the Schooner Bar on Radiance class ships is a waste of space since cruise ship real estate is hard to come by but it's pretty to look at.

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Radiance class does have great views of the sea from many different public venues.

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Breakfast in the Windjammer.  Custom made omelet at the omelet station and fruit.  The abundance of fruit is something I always try to enjoy in the Windjammer.

Our progress so far:

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Lunch in the Solarium, double Kümmelweck.  Noted these options as well:

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Loving the pictures, as always! Since I couldn't catch your scopes when originally broadcast, I've been watching them in sync with your postings. That train ride looked absolutely stunning! I am so adding this itinerary to my future cruise bucket list.

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Day 2 - Hubbard Glacier, continued...

After lunch commences with a distant view of our destination.  It's raining lightly and quite overcast.  Pretty much the same as my last visit to the Hubbard Glacier.  

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I scope because I can!  I was surprised to see enough signal to broadcast so I scoped while I could!

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1OyKAQQeMkeKb

The weather was clearing and our views improving.

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Periscope was still working so I scoped again as we approached closer.

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1YqKDQQnRXLGV

 

Crowds were starting to build on the helipad.

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With my telephoto lens I could start to see the glacier in greater detail.

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The skies were really clearing now and it was turning into a glorious day.

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Drinks were offered for purchase:

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I was moving around enjoying different perspectives from around the ship.

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We sailed through a group of ice that made this weird but incredible sound as we pushed through it.  It was very cool and deck 5 was the perfect place to experience it.

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I moved up to deck 12 to try to take in more of the entire face.

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We started to see some hints of calving.  It had been pretty quiet up to this point.

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I switched to video and managed to catch some great calving action on video.  Here are some still frames from that video:

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Here is another section giving way in the right half of the face:

You can see it started with a small shower of ice falling away.

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To the right of this partially hidden another small shower begins:

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In the hole in the glacier I could larger pieces caving in:

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A larger section then broke free and fell into the water:

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Soon after a much larger section started its slide and crash into the water:

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The splash was immense:

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A decent sized wave started coming our way:

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It's much more impressive on video so I uploaded some of my footage to Youtube:

It was incredible and the pictures and videos don't do it justice.  It's something best experienced live.

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The Captain had originally come in and placed the ship so cabins on one side could see the glacier.  By the time I took the video above the Captain had turned the ship so that cabins on the other side could see the glacier. 

I sensed our time was coming to an end so I ventured around the ship to get some ship photos with the glacier as a backdrop.

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With that we began our departure from Hubbard Glacier.

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Key take aways

Don't just stay on your cabin balcony (if you have one).  Had you been on your balcony the whole time you might have missed all of the video I shot above, oblivious that it even occured.  Pushing through the ice and hearing it from deck 5 then heading to the helipad, then heading to deck 12, then the Viking Crown Lounge all yielded very different experiences. 

The face of the glacier is taller than the ship.  That puts into perspective the size of some of the ice chunks that were falling off and splashing into the water.

Still photos are great but when it comes to calving, video is best.  

There is plenty of railing for everyone, no need to hog one spot.  You are better to move around.

I had an interior cabin.  A balcony is not required to experience Alaska.  If a bucket list cruise is funded by a barrel sized bank account, go for a balcony, but don't miss this experience thinking you must save years to have a balcony in Alaska.      

Don't worry about the weather.  Bring rain gear, bring gloves.  Be prepared but if your day starts out wet and cold as this day did, perhaps it will turn for you as it did for me.  It's Alaska, you just never know.  

The calving was much better this year compared to last year.  You just never know how it will be on your day at the glacier.

We didn't do the circles we did on Explorer or Millennium last year.  One side had the view for a while, then the other.  Each Captain is different I guess.  No complaints, especially with the calving we saw.

I had to chuckle when I heard someone say exactly what I said last year as we departed Hubbard Glacier.  "If this cruise ended right now I wouldn't even complain". 

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Day 2 - Evening.  Formal Night.

I had a 7pm My Time reservation but with my stomach still on home time two hours later I wasn't going to make it.  Dinner in the Windjammer!  This gave me more time to enjoy the Concierge Club and take some pictures.  A regular crowd had already bonded in the club and sitting around the bar as a solo was quite enjoyable.  Much better than alone at a table for two in the club.  

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We continued down the coast and much like last year some very prominent mountains were floating in the sky off our port side.  

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Another relatively early night for me.  I wanted to catch our arrival in Juneau in the morning.

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Day 3 - Juneau

I woke early to capture our arrival in Juneau.  I had the helipad to myself.

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At this point we are still 20 miles or so from Juneau but this is what sets an Alaskan cruise apart from the Caribbean - sailing down channels with mountains on either side of you.

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Our progress so far:

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Overnight we sailed right past Icy Strait Point.  We head back there after Skagway in two days time.

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Pictures are great but here is a video from the moment so you can experience it better.

I also scoped a little on our approach to Juneau as well:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1YpKkLLwzAdGj

Approaching the pier you can see the Mt Roberts Tramway and the clouds at the top.  More on those later.

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Prime pier location this morning, right off the Tramway station and bus parking area used for many excursions.

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No excursion booked today, just plan on doing my own thing.  I wanted to see how weather would be and would make a game day decision on the Mt. Roberts Tramway.  The other idea I had was to visit the Mendenhall Glacier Park on my own.  

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Juneau - Mt Roberts Tramway

Weather looked good so around 9am I headed off the ship and purchased an all day ticket for $34 in the tramway station.  There were no lines so I walked right to the front to wait for a descending tram to arrive.  Later in the day there would be long lines.  There were still some clouds lingering near the top but I figured they would clear while I was up there.  Soon enough a tram arrived.

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The tram had been in and out of the clouds so there were drops of water on the windows but it was still quite amazing.  I secured a spot looking back as most folks ventured forward.  I knew the best views would be rear facing.

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I scoped the the ride up :

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1lDGLXXlElmGm

At the top the clouds were moving back in.

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There is a raptor center that contains a bald eagle who was injured, walking trails and hiking trails.  The trails near the tram station are easy to walk while the trail to the very top of Mt Roberts is more aggressive and better suited to people used to hiking.  

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It was clear then more clouds moved in.  You can barely make out the outline of a ship along the edge in this photo. 

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There are viewing platforms that can easy to access for non-hikers.

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Here is a short time lapse video of the clouds from that viewing platform.  I quite enjoyed watching the clouds roll through the valley.

I continued up the trails in the direction of the peak.

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Mt Roberts is names after Father Brown, a Jesuit Priest who was an avid hiker and volunteered with a newly formed trail association in Juneau in the early 1900s.  He erected a cross, long since replaced with this more modern version.

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As you climb higher the trail becomes more suited to hiking boots over sneakers.  Fortunately I had brought mine.

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With the clouds clearing I spotted an old friend who has been stalking me on this cruise.  

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That's the Explorer of the Seas making her scheduled noon arrival in Juneau as her first stop since leaving Seattle on the same day we left Seward.

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I scoped her arrival from this location:

https://www.periscope.tv/thetwangster/1LyxBQQgXapJN

After this I continued the ascent.

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The trail was getting steeper.

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At this point it was noon and I was getting hungry.  Plus I wanted to visit Mendenhall Glacier.  The peak was another 90 minutes up which meant about the same to get back to this spot, plus at least that much to get all the way down.  Did I mention I was having Windjammer withdrawal?  

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With the weather clear I was able to get a great view of the ships as I retraced my steps heading back down.

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