Tag: cruise port

Jaunty, Jovial Juneau, Alaska!

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Mt. Roberts Tramway, Juneau

Juneau, Alaska is one of the more “metropolitan” destinations in Alaska, yet maintains its Old West, quaint town feel. On this day, I was feeling even more than that… I was feeling drenched from the torrential downpours that happened upon the city on that densely overcast day! Unfortunately, a highlight of Juneau, the Mt. Roberts Tramway, was not on my agenda with visibility from the peak nearing zero! Many others made the trek in spite of cloudy skies.

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“Downtown” Juneau

I opted instead for a stroll, umbrella in tow, through the main streets. While a small handful of what could loosely be defined “skyscrapers” dot the downtown district, most of the architecture harks back to an earlier time. Some of the building fronts resemble an Old Western movie set, the shadowy fringes of treetops on the mountains peeking out from billowing clouds looming in the background. I imagined Bob Ross capturing these mountains in a painting…

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Old Western Style Building Fronts

If you wish to venture out further, there are glaciers available to visit on a day trip. If you choose to embark on such an adventure, or a tramway ride, I am hopeful your weather will be more cooperative!

For a short video tour of a rainy day in Juneau, you can watch my YouTube video here:!

 

Ketchikan, Alaska: Quirky and Wild

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Clan House, Totem Bight State Park

Ketchikan is your typical first Alaskan stop on an Alaskan cruise itinerary, and it offers a tantalizing contrast in cultures to explore! The best place to start your adventure first is Totem Bight State Park, where you can discover and learn about Native American culture in Alaska, their totem poles, and enter one of their clan houses, brilliantly restored and preserved.

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Richly decorated totem pole

Totem poles served a variety of different purposes. In front of a clan house, it could serve as an “address” marker, much like our address number and street. Others convey local legends, or honor a local clan. And others serve as grave markers, much like cemetery stones.

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This one is akin to a cemetery stone

The totems are decorated in rich, bold colors and depict a wealth of different designs. Animals are abundant in totem design. At Totem Bight State Park there are many different types of totems to compare and contrast. And, if you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of a whale from the waterfront!

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Welcome to Ketchikan sign near the port

The area around the port hosts many retail shops, and can be crowded when multiple cruise ships are docked. Perhaps the most interesting sight here at the port is “The Rock” statue.

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“The Rock”

According to the Ketchikan Story Project, “The Rock tells the story of how Alaska’s First City came to be. Six of the seven figures on the sculpture represents a prominent archetype in the city’s history – a fisherman, a miner, a logger, a bush pilot, a frontierswoman, a native drummer. The seventh represents an actual historic figure – Chief Johnson, a Tlingit who stands on top of ‘The Rock,’ symbolizing the fact that his people were the first to make their home in SE Alaska.” (www.ketchikanstories.com)

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Fishing culture

Fishing is a vital component of the Alaskan culture, and there is no shortage of evidence of this here in Ketchikan. Boats bob peacefully along the docks in a “skyline” of masts at the port, while beyond them brightly colored wooden houses dot the shoreline, and towering dark green mountains are nestled in puffs of mist and clouds behind them.

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Creek Street Boardwalk

Another not-to-be-missed attraction in Ketchikan is the historic Creek Street Boardwalk. It can be a challenge to navigate – attracting hoards of eager tourists – but it is well worth the effort. Here wooden houses in a rainbow of colors sit upon a lengthy boardwalk creek front, where miniature waterfalls provide a chance to witness leaping salmon. There is history here, including “Dolly’s House,” a brothel from 1919. Of course, retail shopping opportunities abound as well, given the crowds.

Ketchikan is quirky and wild, a place of great contrasts, and an excellent place to start your Alaskan journey!

You can view my tour of Ketchikan here:!

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Captivating Copenhagen: Scintillating City

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen

My Baltic Sea Cruise on Norwegian Breakaway began with embarkation port Copenhagen, Denmark. I relished the opportunity to spend a couple of days in this unexpectedly alluring city!

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Borsen (old stock exchange)

If you can overcome the high cost of staying in the city, the rewards are priceless! I made it my mission to make the most of my precious time in Copenhagen by getting a comprehensive overview and then prioritizing which locations I wanted to investigate further with a double-decker bus tour. I was thrilled to learn that not only would I get the second morning of touring the city free, but that Gray Line Bus has an arrangement with the cruise lines that provides shuttle service to the ports included with your double-decker ticket. I would be able to spend the whole day on day one, and all morning on day two, exploring the city with transportation provided – followed by a convenient means to reach the port for my cruise.

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Little Mermaid Statue

What I like most about the double-decker bus tours is your ability to explore independently, at your own pace, without spending valuable time on public transportation and with long-distance walking. I don’t mean to knock public transportation – and often take advantage of it when traveling – but I find that in a very expensive city where I have limited time the convenience of the double-decker bus is a good value, because I can spend more time enjoying what the city has to offer and less time worrying about how to get from “point a” to “point b,” and then doing it.

Ultimately, I ended up getting off the bus at almost every stop – something I don’t usually find myself doing on these tours. You don’t hear as much about Copenhagen as some other European capitals – yet Copenhagen is no less endowed with incredible sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.

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Tivoli

I started my day walking to the bus stop with a detour into a coffee shop by the train station (my very modest but very expensive hotel only offered breakfast at an additional mind-bogglingly high charge.) The aroma wafting from the cafe was mesmerizing to my sense of scent, enveloping me and dragging me in for what turned out to be some of the most delicious specialty coffee and pastry I had ever savored. The barista was tolerant of the few pitiful words of Danish I could muster, providing service with a smile. I gazed out at the locals strolling past Tivoli across the street, and tourists stumbling out of the train station in the other direction, looking baffled and enthralled all at once, just as I had done the day before.

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City Hall

I left the cafe immanently satisfied and made my way to the bus stop next to City Hall. Tourists frolicked in the square facing City Hall, its tower proudly rising up into the skyline like a boastful exclamation point. I boarded the bus brimming with excitement of how the city would inspire my other senses – and my expectations were exceeded!

The bus meandered through spectacular public squares patriotically lined with Danish flags, past indulgent old palaces dripping with opulence – and the sleek lines of ultra-modern structures exemplifying the cutting-edge Denmark of today. I departed the bus filled with wonder at almost every stop, and strolled along the canals, pedestrian retail zones, and historic areas. All of my senses fully satiated, I felt happily whole.

Copenhagen was a fitting first stop on this cruise through the Baltic – a preamble of the exciting, thrilling, and inspiring journey I was about to undertake!

My video tour is available here:

 

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Harvest Caye, Belize: Port, and Excursion (More Wildlife “Bore” than Wildlife “Tour”!)

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The Grand Finale port of the Norwegian Dawn’s Western Caribbean cruise was Harvest Caye, Belize. I was amazed by the size of the port and number of amenities available. There are multiple huge beaches with an ample source of brightly hued blue and yellow lounge chairs and umbrellas, a gigantic pool with swim-up bar, the usual (only more of it!) shopping and restaurants, and a number of adventure sporting activities including parasailing and zip-lining.

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We enjoyed a local percussion band while we awaited our excursion. Sold by the description indicating there would be manatees to see on this wildlife tour, I was eagerly awaiting our departure. We boarded a small boat that sailed into an area called the “mangroves,” a kind of coastal swamp with trees forming bundles of dense, tangled roots. Apparently this setting is favored by much of the native wildlife, including manatees.

 

We saw several different varieties of birds, and some creepy jellyfish, but I did not see a manatee. A few poked their noses out of the water – and otherwise stayed submerged. I know – a wildlife tour is no “guarantee” that you’re going to see wildlife… but it’s still disappointing, especially when the brochure shows the full body of a manatee as an enticement… It did not seem as though they liked coming up out of the water. All in all, it ended up being the least enjoyable cruise excursion I’ve ever been on. I think I will probably avoid these wildlife tours in the future, because of the potential for this problem. When you’ve only got a limited amount of time in a place, like at a cruise port, you want to make the most of it and not risk a bust. This was supposed to be a wildlife “tour,” but it turned out to be more of a wildlife “bore.” The only manatee I saw was the carved wooden one outside of the entrance to the tour.

 

That said, I still ended up having an amazing time, because the port had a lot to offer and I had time when we returned to enjoy it (though, regrettably, we did not spend a full day in Belize.) I immediately headed for the beach to soak in the incredible view of palm trees blowing in the wind, a beautiful lighthouse in the distance, people playing volleyball on the beach, and zip-liners and parasailers zooming, and floating, by above. It was a gorgeous day basking in the sun, and listening to the crystal clear water splashing up onto the beach.

 

Like many cruise ports, the shops here were touristy and pricey… but still fun to explore (especially the free tastings at the chocolate and rum shops…) The chocolate was out of this world – especially the chili and coffee flavored varieties. Enough so that I was determined to take my chances and try to make it back to the ship with some, through the 80s degree heat, hoping it wouldn’t melt before I could get back!

Harvest Caye was definitely worth future visits – but next time with a different kind of excursion. In the meantime, I hope they introduce a jaguar preserve excursion, which I was hoping to find this time but no such luck! (I’m sure the other cat lovers out there will completely get behind this request!)

Here’s the YouTube video from my channel covering this port!:

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