Canada and Alaska: Juneau

Possibly the place on the tour I’d been most keen to visit, Juneau was our first stop on the cruise.

Juneau, despite being the third largest city in Alaska by population (after Anchorage and Fairbanks) with around 33,000, it is the capital of the state. It is also the second largest city in the US by area – bigger than the two smallest states! Its population can rise by as much as eight to ten thousand people during the days when the cruise ships arrive. Despite being one of the horde, I felt sad for the people who live in these towns – it must seem like a daily invasion and I don’t know how they manage to drive through town and not deliberately run down the people who stand in the middle of the road taking photos. No doubt it’s a great boost to the economy, but still.

I thought Juneau was beautiful. The day was overcast (which is the usual state of affairs in Alaska) and we joined our tour leader on a quick walking tour of the town. It was nice to get away from the scrum of people in the gift shops on the harbour – most people don’t like to walk up any kind of hill. In fact all of our stops were like this – if you’re not afraid of a bit of a hike you can get some peace and a better sense of what each place is about.

Buildings in Alaska are made almost entirely from wood and in Juneau the town climbs up steeply from the harbour, with steep and charming wooden steps visible between some houses, leading up to the next street. I neglected to take any photos so here’s a couple of little ones I stole from the internet:

After the walk Mum and I wandered around a bit and I found a fantastic store called  Alaska Robotics. They had a range of art and cards and things that were completely different from the usual tourist rubbish and so I bought Luke a t-shirt with a shrugging squid, and for myself a bunch of cute postcards and a calendar. They also give away a great alternative Juneau map that has stuff on it that you won’t find out about from the cruise ship. The cruise info is mainly about encouraging you to buy jewellery from the places right near the dock.

The other place worth mentioning was The Viking Bar, where we later stopped to use the internet and have a drink.

If you’re in Juneau I recommend going in, the place has a great vibe. Lots of neon lights and taxidermied animals, plus cheap drinks and fast wifi.

Juneau is great. I am biased because it has loose associations with my all-time favourite tv show, but it just has something about it that’s a lot more real than Skagway, and it’s bigger than Ketchikan so you can get away from the masses more easily. I definitely want to come back!

Next: Skagway.

Advertisements

Canada and Alaska: Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

The Nieuw Amsterdam docked at Juneau. 

After a lovely but sad farewell dinner in Victoria, the remaining members of our group (some weren’t doing the cruise) caught the ferry from Victoria back to Vancouver then said goodbye to our wonderful tour leader Carmen.

I had joked with her that there was an aspect of Stockholm Syndrome in tour groups and we’d come to love her so much that whoever this ‘Stephanie’ was (the APT rep on the ship), she’d have a lot to live up to. Well, Stephanie turned out to be lovely, and incredibly patient at re-explaining things she’s just said. She would make a good teacher ;-).

There were three APT groups joining the cruise, which meant about 100 people all up – most of them Australian. We had two informational group meetings, one at the beginning and one at the end, plus a bunch of meet-ups throughout the week so people could catch up. In such a large ship it was a good idea to provide these opportunities otherwise we might not have seen some of our group again.

 

The ship:

The Nieuw Amsterdam holds just over 2000 guests and has 11 accessible floors. It also has glass elevators, which were awesome. The average age on the ship was probably between 50 and 60. A few families, but mainly retirees. Below is a video of the indoor pool area.

There were a range of restaurants, from extremely high-brow to burgers and pizza.  Plus 24 hour room service (which I always get excited about then rarely use.. I think we ordered one pot of tea). There was a canteen-type area called The Lido, which had some self-serve options. My favourite places for food ended up being the pizza place and the Mexican bar.

Everything but drinks was included in the ticket price (although we had a special deal for 3 complimentary drinks each night with dinner) although if you wanted to eat in one of the fancier restaurants there was an additional cost. Everything we bought was charged to our swipe cards and these cards also let us on and off the ship. It was a great system and meant that you could leave your room with empty hands, even if wearing a dorky lanyard all day meant that it felt like we were on a 7 day conference.

Our room was small but certainly big enough. It had a little lounge chair and coffee table and a balcony with two chairs. We enjoyed the fact that the tap arrangement was one of the simpler ones we’d come across – at one hotel Mum had ended up having a bath because we had no idea how to get the shower to work.

During our time on the ship we did a few activities – most notably winning the final night trivia. To be completely honest, our team mate Lynn would’ve probably won it on her own, but we all got badges anyhow, so now I have two unearned badges from my trip. Score!

Apart from the trivia and spending our evenings at the quiet Silk Den bar, Mum and I didn’t do many of the organised shipboard activities. There were quite a few things on – presentations, movies, shows, games clubs and more. Including a daily art auction of a vast number of really ordinary paintings (and a few good ones). That was a bit weird.

On the voyage there were three stops (Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan) plus the northernmost point was a morning in Glacier Bay National Park. I’ll cover each in a post of its own.

Next: Juneau!