Friday, July 7, 2017

Alaska Cruise Redux - Part 2

Welcome Back... Let's get back to our trip ;)

Thursday:  Skagway!
It's our first port day. And we have a busy day planned. Bro in-law and his oldest went on a kayak/train excursion. The rest of us did a gold panning/dog sled camp/train excursion that is listed as 7 hours. SEVEN HOURS.
Is it just me, or does that seem like ALL DAY? But despite my yelling, I was actually excited about it. Everyone but the young man was excited about the sled dogs, but he was VERY excited about the train ride, so it evened out.
As the day progressed the excursion was great.. each section better than the last. We all got gold! And the set up was nice, with lots of help, if you wanted it. The dog sled portion was great... wonderful job by the people and the dogs were outstanding! Plus puppies... who doesn't love a puppy?

boarding the bus for our excursion

meeting the sled dog team

The sled dog host (who has done the Iditarod) with a new pup

more puppy cuteness
From here we got back on the buses and went to the train. The train ride was supposed to be the same as the one we took on our last visit to Skagway. But..... Well, I will tell you in a minute ;)

Time for the train! 

According to the young man, this is a shovel nose diesel engine... he says they are only on the White Pass. 

Relaxed on the train.

View of the engines from our coach car.
Skagway had four cruise ships in port this day and the White Pass was running a number of excursions. We were not the first, or even the second or third train up the mountain that day.
About 2/3 of the way up the mountain, we stopped.
We were told that two trains ahead of us the engine was having trouble.
After a few minutes, and probably a number of conversations between all the trains in play and the base of operations, it was determined the safe thing to do was to bring all the trains behind the stuck train back down. And send up another engine to pull down the passengers on the stuck train.
So - our trip was cut short.

View along our train route... before we had to turn around. 

This was unfortunate for all of us, but our young rail fan took it really hard. By the time we were rolling again (in the wrong direction, according to him) he had calmed down. We were able to see our two locomotives run around at Clifton so they could pull us down, instead of pushing us down. This was cool.
The tour guide told us we would get some sort of discount or refund as the trip wasn't completed. [Editor's note: In the end we ended up getting a refund for 1/2 of the cost of the entire 7 hour excursion.]

Once back at the station in Skagway, we did some shopping. We didn't spend a huge amount of time in town.. really two shops and then back to the ship.

Walking back to the ship.

Pluto on deck

The kayak people had a great time, they didn't get to do the train part of their excursion either - bummer. But still enjoyed the day.

The evening show was Cars 3, and we all decided to see it in the smaller venue.
Then all the sane people went to bed... hubby stayed up for a midnight premier of the new Spider-Man movie... silly guy! [Editor's note: It was worth it.]
(No sunset picture tonight... sad.)

Friday: Juneau

We went three different ways today - In laws rented a car and explored town. Hubby, and daughter joined the outlaws on a canoe trip to the glacier. [Editor's note: aka the Wonder Woman group] And the young man and I went whale watching.
I can't speak to the other two excursions - but our whale watching trip.... was the best ever. EVER! So, awesome, I don't think I can ever go whale watching again.

Did you want details? OK.. I guess I will share ;) But it will be long... are you ready?

The basic info is that this excursion guarantees you see a whale - or you get $100 back. So, I had every expectation we would see a whale. But beyond that... I was hoping for a couple whales.
Was I wrong! And to note... our experience was not usual - the crew and the naturalist on board were jumping up and down... we had a very unusual tour.
Once the whale watching boat got underway, we cruised out for 30 minutes or so. The naturalist told us about the area, what wildlife we could see along the shore and some basic humpback whale information. Then they mentioned we are traveling out further than usual, because they heard some "other" whales were in this area.
OTHER whales? The whole boat was buzzing.. could they mean killer whales?
The naturalist then shared that on any given Whale watching cruise in that area there is only an 8% chance we would see a killer whale. They are in the area, but not common.
And then... (be honest, you saw this coming.)

A pod of Killer Whales!

After we first saw the Orcas we followed them for a bit. The captain commented that they were following something. At first it was just turning the boat around to follow them... then things got really interesting.
I was soo taken in by the whales, I didn't have my camera (phone) orientated correctly (ie. landscape) and was on video when I wanted a picture and picture when I wanted a video. So, you get what you get - sorry folks.
We looked up to see two animals jumping out of the water right by our boat... the naturalist knew immediately what was going on, the rest of us were just in awe - and shocked we were seeing this in person.
This turns out to be a Dall's porpoise.

The animal in front was a Dall's porpoise, and (sad, but law of nature) it was being hunted by the killer whales. The two creatures have similar markings so our initial sighting we thought it was two orcas.
The killer whale was actually flipping the porpoise out of the water. In the moment we weren't thinking about the inevitable outcome for that porpoise, and we were lucky enough not to see anything that made that outcome painfully clear to us. The water was deep and the captain knew when we should move on.

(Video is the last we saw of the Orcas before we left the area. Forgive the vertical video - I know... its not good. But it shows how close to the boat they were) 

As we left the area, the naturalist caught his breath and told us he had never seen anything like that before.  They so rarely see Orcas, and then to see this behavior so close to the boat was amazing.  He had heard of this pod, they are a transient pod of all female killer whales, nicknamed "The LadyKillers".
As we left the area, everyone was showing the pictures they took and the videos... it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

So, at this point of the tour, I was pretty certain it couldn't get any better. To see Orcas in the wild - amazing. We had definitely gotten our money's worth. But we had another hour plus of the tour, so we cruised on.
Not long later we are told to look to the right side of the boat... some humpback whales were in the area. AMAZING!

Whale Tale
As we approached, we discover not only is there a humpback... but a number of humpback whales, bubble feeding. Humpbacks don't usually stick together like Orcas, and seeing bubble feeding is not common on these tours.

Group of Humpbacks
Bubble Feeding

Then.... we see a second group of humpbacks bubble feeding!
Then... are you ready?... the two groups joined together into a huge group bubble feeding.
Our naturalist was beside himself - in the years he has done this.. he had never had a tour like this. He suggested we all go to Vegas and then also was strongly considering quitting after our tour, as now he had seen it all.

(this is a compilation of the video I took over the roughly 30 mins we watched these whales. You can hear the naturalist talking in several of the clips, and me giggling at the end, is when he was so excited he had to go sit down)

By this point we had only 45 mins left in our tour and we were 45 mins away from the dock, so it was time to head back.
Along the way the naturalist commented that yes, there were other humpbacks in the area, we might see as we traveled back. But, he hoped it would be ok that we don't stop and watch them - one: we don't have time and two: we have seen some amazing whales on this trip.

Looking at the whale tale poster. Tales are like fingerprints.. no two alike.

Saw some seals on our way back to the docks

Had a great tour!

Amazing views all day! 
I had received a few pics from hubby throughout the morning. It sounded like they were having a nice time on the canoe trip. But I wanted to wait until I saw him in person to tell him how AMAZING our tour was.  It almost didn't seem fair that the rest of our group missed this!

[Editor's note: While our trip wasn't quite up to the level of the whale watching trip, we had a pretty amazing trip ourselves. We canoed across Mendenhall lake to the glacier, then stopped by a waterfall on the way back and had a quick snack. A couple of photos below.]

Canoeing across the lake

Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls

Another night I didn't take a sunset pic. But fear not, I did spend time out on the balcony each evening. What was surprising was how late it got dark. I know... Alaska, but it still surprised me.

See next post for more ;)

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