I am from a big family with three brothers and two sisters. With my father often serving overseas with the State Department for a few years and then stationed somewhere else, my siblings were who I often interacted with especially my older brother, Jeff.
He has always been trying to arrange family reunions and being a big cruiser (ship cruising that is) he has suggested that we get together for a reunion on a cruise ship.
Well, after a great mini reunion that just sort of came together in Morocco in 2022 with him, my sister, Juliet, and two of her kids (see Morocco Meanderings http://thedocumentarian.org/morocco-meanderings/), four of us were able to commit to an Alaskan cruise for 2023.
Day One and Two | Cruising the inland waterway to Juneau
After meeting up in Vancouver, where my Nubian cousin Mohie showed us a little of the Vancouver night scene, we boarded the next morning and headed off.
So we sailed out of Vancouver and spent the next day and night sailing through Canada's inland passage.
My brother has been on dozens of cruises including one to Antarctica, but the only cruises I have been on is a honeymoon cruise on a tiny family owned boat in Greece back in 1988 and down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. Growing up we did cross the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean on ocean liners to arrive near where my father was posted.
We were going on a one week cruise at the end of June.
Day Three | Juneau
So after getting to know the routine on the Holland America Line ship, Koningsdam, we made our first stop at Juneau.
It was raining and chilly when disembarked to explore Juneau. The main attraction was the Mendenhall Glacier which required a bus ride and then a one mile walk to Nugget Falls.
As you can imagine, there were a lot of group photos and selfies and I will try not to include too many.... please note | photo contributions from my brother and sisters
By the time we got back to Juneau, everybody was back on the cruise ships. We wondered the mostly empty streets of Juneau.
Scenes in Juneau |
Day Four | Skagway
We had a excursion planned with the White Pass & Yukon Route train that took prospectors to the Klondike Gold Fields in Canada from 1896-99
Scenes from the train ride |
We had passed a cemetery on the ride up and Juliet, Jennifer and I decided to check it out. Jeff was more interested in the saloon and brothel history of Skagway.
Scenes from Skagway |
Day Five | Glacier Bay
We cruised through the afternoon and stopped for the night at the entrance to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Only three cruise ships are allowed each day to cruise into Glacier Bay. In the morning we would head towards the giant Grand Pacific Glacier that runs out of Canada. Then we would turn around and cruise back south towards Ketchikan.
It was cold with intermittent rain and lots of low lying clouds. However, the way the clouds formed over mountains and islands was strange and intriguing. It was a world of blues from the color of glacial ice to the water and reflection of the cloudy and overcast sky.
Scenes from Glacier Bay |
We saw lots of otters, seagulls floating on top of small ice bergs and at the end of the day, some whales in the distance.
These are not the greatest photos, but since I mentioned them here there are.
We would cruise through the night and arrive at Ketchikan in the morning.
My brother asked me to reflect on my cruise experience.
So here are some reflections |
First of all, it was fantastic being together with my siblings. The four of us have been pretty close all our lives and this was the first time we had all been together since my mother's funeral in 2020. The Holland America Line was perfect for us. It is a big ship, but it never felt crowded.
I imagined that we would have a fair amount of down time to read and relax. However, there are so many interesting activities that I felt it a shame not to take advantage of some of them. I attended some lectures, music and dance performances.
The dining is absolutely suburb. We had some of the finest dining I have ever experienced and I have had some great meals over the years in the many places I have lived. My brother insisted that we check out the speciality restaurants (there's a $20 extra fee) and it is well worth it. The formal sit-down dining room and the buffet were excellent as well.
My brother is a pickleball enthusiast and even brought some paddles for us. It was a lot more fun that I had imagined. One of the opposing players was a bit over exuberant and tore his meniscus as he lunged for a short volley. We saw him wheelchair bound when we departed.
After the scrumptious dinners, we would often repair to the music lounges. First, the jazz music lounge where we would primarily take in the tunes and sip cocktails. And then the rock-n-roll late night gathering where we danced to the classics from our younger days until the band closed down at midnight.
I had brought some books with me, my computer to do some journaling and go through some photos. Never got around to either of them.
The best thing was just hanging out with my siblings. We'd have high tea, coffee or a glass of wine and just talk about our lives, our pasts, our kids, the future.... and watch the dramatic scenery sail on by.
Also just being on such a grand ship, brought back lots of forgotten memories from my childhood Pacific Ocean voyages on the United States Presidential Lines and across the Atlantic Ocean on the Italian liner, Raffaello.
Day Six | Ketchikan
No real plan for the shore visit to Ketchikan though we had talked about going to a totem pole park. We were some of the last off the cruise ship and there were still a few people offering shore excursions. One caught the eye of my brother. It was an excursion aboard the Aleutian Ballad crab fishing boat that was featured in the popular TV show "The Deadliest Catch". I had actually watched an episode or two of the show and was taken back by how dangerous and difficult it is to do king crab fishing. Sounded fun but my sister, Jennifer, was set on doing the totem pole park visit,. However, after Juliet negotiated a very reduced ticket price, I abandoned my sister and decided to go on the boat excursion.
I've always loved being out on boats and just being around water, so the chance to hang out on a crabber was just too appealing.... especially one from the famous fishing reality television program.
It turned to be a fantastic experience. The boat had been converted to accommodate visitors and different members of the crew told us some amazing stories of being out in the middle of winter in the Bering Straits. Some incredible stories of survival and luck after being hit by brutal storms. One of the crew members was actually swept off the boat - unnoticed my any other crew member. By some miraculous stroke of luck, another crabber just happened to be nearby and saw the crew member floating in the water and rescued him.
Captain and owner David Lethin told us his life story. I've met deck hands who head up to Alaska during crabbing season to make some money. And there is good money to be made. But it's a tough, risky and dangerous endeavor - and not always profitable especially with diminishing stock and competition.
We made some stops to collect some traps and the crew demonstrated the technique to deposit and retrieve the traps.
Some snaps from the crabber adventure |
Captain Lethin had made arrangements with a local native Alaskan tribe from the Annette Islands Indian Reservation to see and feed eagles. It was incredible seeing dozens of Bald Eagles swooping down to scoop out fish. Super hard trying to photograph them but what an amazing experience.
Juliet and Jeff had gotten to know the crew and captain and at the end of the visit Captain Ron Zwahlen gave them an autographed book. I only learned about that when they gave it to me for my birthday the next day.
Back on shore we headed into town and came across Jennifer was shopping.
Scenes from the town |
Day Seven | Cruising back to Vancouver
It was was June 30th and we decided to eat at the speciality restaurant, Rudi's Sel de Mer. Unbeknowst to me, my sibs had organized the dinner to celebrate my birthday (1 July) and had gotten me a bunch of presents. And to top it off, our waiter Najib Ben was from Tunisia where I was born.
Parting Cruise shots |
After we disembarked on July 1st, Jeff needed to blast off to the airport.
I was going to stay the night with my nephew, Mohie ed din Salah, who works in Vancouver and is married to a Polish girl, Marta. I had stayed with her and her parents in Poland during one of my adventures with Al Willner.
My sisters were leaving at different times, so Mohie came and picked us up and took us around town. When it was time for one of my sister's to leave he drove her to the airport.
Some snaps from the day in Vancouver |