Alaska continued

A few more notes on our cruise…

The passengers:

Typical Crystal, by and large: Affluent, well-educated, interesting, with relatively few yahoos and just enough smokers to annoy the breathers (not in dining rooms or the showroom, certainly, but elsewhere).

The ship wasn’t full–the first in the Alaska series usually isn’t–and had some 700-odd people (out of 940 capacity, with 535 crew). The way the captain summarized it at his welcome party: people from 14 other countries, including 12 from Canada, 21 from the UK, 8(?) from Japan–I think it added up to around 100 overall. Then: “240 from the United States, and 350 from California.”

While Californians have been well-represented on every cruise we’ve taken (typically anywhere from 20 to 30%, which makes sense since most of these cruises are marketed only in the U.S. and Canada, California makes up around 18% of the U.S. population, and people in coastal states typically cruise and travel abroad more than people in the interior, this is the first time it’s been half the ship. But sailing out of SF, it really was convenient; I’d guess 100 of the 350 might have been from the Bay Area, maybe more. Beyond that, there were 36 from Texas, 33 Florida, 21 Arizona, 21 Hawaii (one group of food & wine aficionados traveling together), 15 New Jersey, 14 Illinois, 13 Colorado, 10 Nevada, 8 Massachusetts, 7 each Michigan and New York, 6 each Indiana and Tennessee, and 55 from the 38 other states & DC. That breakdown is also unusual–more typically (and maybe not true of Alaska cruises), Florida, New York, and Texas would be 2nd-4th in that order.

The greatest elements:

Alaska first and foremost: The grandeur, the beauty, the wildlife, the people.

Tracy Arm (already noted) was new to us and spectacular. The Misty Fjords were new to us and somewhat less spectacular; maybe the weather was too good for proper enjoyment. Glacier Bay was definitely not new to us but always worthwhile.

Allen Marine tours–a tip for people who love aquatic wildlife and plan Alaska trips. Allen Marine builds its own waterjet catamarans in its Sitka shipyard and runs its own tours, always with a naturalist aboard, always (in our experience) comfortable, well-equipped (with binoculars and route maps, good marine heads and galleys with free beverages and snacks), designed for great viewing, and run to get the most out of the two to four hour tour. You won’t see Allen Marine listed in a shore-excursion book. Look for “Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest” or “Mendenhall Glacier & Wildlife Quest” in Juneau, “Ketchikan Explorer by Land & Sea” or “Misty Fjords & Wildlife Quest” in Ketchikan, “Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest” or a couple of others (with “wildlife quest” in the name, generally) in Sitka. (A bunch of Allen Marine boats are in use as passenger ferries in New York, and the Tlingit-owned ferry we took from Skagway to Haines was actually an Allen Marine boat…)

The food, to be sure–and the wine, including the new “C” vintages (prepared exclusively for Crystal). The “C” Chardonnay was a good moderately-priced California Chardonnay–but the C Reserve, a central coast wine, was superb and a bargain as a shipboard restaurant wine ($8.50/glass, $34/bottle).

Some of the production shows: One with the music of Irving Berlin, one Rodgers & Hammerstein, one “Rock Around the Clock.” A cast of eight remarkably talented singers and dancers augmented by two leads (in all, five men, five women); the male lead had enormous vocal range and depth, and they were all first-rate.

Enough for now. We’ll get pictures back in a couple of days; those might inspire more comments. (Great as the vacation was, work’s been hectic enough to drive much of it out of my mind–and may explain why “regular blogging,” whatever that might mean, won’t return for a while yet.)

In the meantime, by now you should know the bottom line: While it may be true that we’re loving Southeast Alaska to death, it’s also true that Southeast Alaska is the essential cruise for anyone who cares about spectacular scenery and wildlife. There’s really no other good way to see the area. Whether on a small expedition-type ship (which my brother’s doing next month, along with one of his daughters and granddaughters), the Empress of the North (a 235-passenger sternwheeler, the only ocean-going sternwheeler), a medium-size luxury ship (the Crystal Harmony or a Seven Seas competitor), or even–maybe–one of the megaships, it’s worth doing at least once.

5 Responses to “Alaska continued”

  1. Daniel Says:

    As someone living in Juneau, I can confirm that Alaska Marine Lines is good enough that tours are taken by locals as well as tourists. In addition AML often does fundraising tours for nonprofits around town. Very fun!

  2. walt Says:

    Daniel,

    Do you mean Allen Marine or Alaska Marine Lines?

    Two very different companies… If it’s Alaska Marine Lines, I didn’t know about them (Google seems to suggest that Alaska Marine is a freight operator between Seattle and SE Alaska).

  3. Daniel Says:

    I meant Allen Marine Lines. Funny, when I woke up this morning I thought, “Did I put Allen or Alaska down on Walt’s blog?”

    Sorry about that. Allen Marine Lines gives great tours, and without Alaska Marine Lines, we wouldn’t have much to eat up here.

  4. Martin54 Says:

    I have a comment about Allen Marine…I am a kayaker and enjoy Alaska from a different point of view (6 inches off the water, sleeping in a tent). I was in Misty Fjords last month, in a narrow channel, when one of the Allen Marine silver boats, on it’s way from Ketchikan to Rudyerd Bay, blasted through at about 35 knots. The waves were ridiculous, not only endangering our kayaks, but thowing a 10-foot wake onto the shore, washing any shore-life away (minks and martens, among others).

    They may do good, but they do bad, too.

  5. walt Says:

    One of those little boats threw a “10-foot wake”? And went 35 knots?

    I wasn’t there, so I can’t disprove your claims.


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