Our North American Trip - August and September 2006.
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Trip Report for Alaska, Canada & USA Trip – Week 1:     17 Aug – 25 Aug 06
San Francisco, Anchorage, Prince William Sound Cruise

(This will be updated as and when the opportunity presents itself, and we’ll add photos when time permits.  It could be a bit disorganised at times!!)

Thursday, 17 August 06
A long day today – almost 48 hours as we crossed the dateline just before midnight and got the 17 Aug all over again! 

We brought our flight from Wellington forward to 3pm (from 4pm) as we had some trepidation over what security checks we might come up against once we hit Auckland.  An Air NZ check-in person said we also had to check all our hand luggage in too.  We  asked if he could check, we were then told we could take our hand luggage as far as Auckland but would have to queue up there for 40 mins to be searched again.  Once in Auckland we went through a simple first security check, then went to the Koru Club lounge - they called us 15mins before our flight was to depart, then we struck a long queue waiting to go through a second security check (mainly wave a wand over the body and x-ray the bags – no bag search) – as the plane was waiting for a small group of us, they jumped us to the front.

We had upgraded to Premier Business Class with air points – so glad we had done this as it’s a great way to fly.  Being able lie flat in a full length bed meant we both slept really well - 22 Business Class seats had three crew attendants.  The stewardesses were great but as the steward was a little bent he was like a comedy show – he exaggerated everything he did, but was very good with the service he provided.  The show  kept us all amused!

We arrived into San Francisco around lunchtime, caught the Lorri’s Shuttle we had pre-booked with another NZ woman, stayed overnight in Hotel Bijou, a small central hotel - the rooms are all named after old films.  Our room was “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” - very appropriate - our Rotary friends will know why.  The weather was fine and hot – around 18 – 20 degrees C.  Went and had a walk around and Annette bought 3 short sleeve tops.

Friday, 18 August 06
Woke up to a cloudy but fine San Francisco – the cloud gradually lifted at lunchtime and was fine and sunny similar to the day prior.  The hotel complementary breakfast consisted of toasted bagels, jam & cream cheese, luke-warm tea & hot coffee.  Had a short walk around to check on a few locations, returned back to the hotel, packed our bags and checked out.

Walked up to Union Square – were going to catch the San Francisco “hop on hop off” city tour bus, but instead hopped onto the “Motorized Cable Car tour” bus (great open seating area) – drove over to Fisherman’s Wharf, then started on a 2hr city tour on it.  Great tour driver who gave a continual commentary – took us under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge (I always wanted to be able to take some photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from that location, so that made my day), we then drove over it for another photo opportunity at the northern end.  Drove through the streets, saw many Victorian homes, the crooked street and many more prominent buildings in the city. Also drove through Chinatown and the Italian area.  Once the tour was over we caught a taxi back to the Italian area to have a late lunch, then walked back to the hotel via China Town etc.

Back to the hotel to wait for Lorri’s Shuttle – no shuttle arrived at 5pm, as had been requested (the hotel booked it the day before) – we were eventually picked up around 5.30pm, then got in amongst the crowd of people going to a major Baseball game  (Giants vs someone) so we didn’t get very far very fast – eventually got to the airport 55 mins after check-in time!  Once at the airport we found our flight had been delayed 45mins.  All people with e-tickets had to check in using the automated system – yep that was us and we managed with a little assistance.  Went through security, had my lip ointment taken off me – thank goodness I had another one in my toilet bag as flying really dries out my lips.

Just about time to board our plane @ 9.45pm  - delayed further, until 10.15pm now (phoned the owner of the B&B to advise him of our delay).  However, once boarded, it was an 11.10pm departure as there was a toilet problem on board the plane.  This was a 4 ½ hour flight with only water or juice available.  Nothing to eat except a small packet of pretzels, an amazing product.  It displays 0% fat, 0% sugar, 0% cholesterol, 0% energy, 0% fibre, 5% Sodium, and that’s exactly what they tasted like, toasted cardboard with salt – I wonder who thought up that as a snack for a long flight!!  We arrived into Anchorage, Alaska @ 2.45am (it had been raining heavily prior to our arrival), we finally got our bags and no taxis to be seen. Graham phoned the taxi company that there were a lot of people at the airport and no taxis and please could they send some.  We arrived at our B&B (The Sleeping Lady) at 3.30am – and at that hour of the morning our host Rick, answered the door with a smile.

Saturday, 19 August 06
Woke up to a cloudy wet day - raining quite hard.  Got up around 8.45am (feeling a little weary) as we needed to have our breakfast before 9.30am – nice cereal (Raisin & Bran flakes), fresh fruit, yoghurt, toast, hot tea, coffee etc. 

After breakfast A did some necessary washing while G logged on and read our e-mails, but had difficulty sending any.  Worked it out - hadn’t realised one can’t relay outgoing emails through our normal ISPs (paradise and xtra) and had to use webmail for all outgoing other than to users of those 2 ISPs!  We have been unable to connect to any cellphone providers in Anchorage and won’t be able to on the cruise boat - our next phone connection opportunity will be in Vancouver in 7 days time.

Got a cab down to 5th Ave shopping mall to have lunch in a food court.  The weather started to clear a little so had a walk around the Anchorage market but a good majority of them had given up – we assume due to the weather, checked that an Avis rental car was booked for us tomorrow, went to the Information Centre and bought some Alaska maps.  Went on a great one hour City Tour around Anchorage – didn’t realize how many small private aero planes and float planes there were at the back of the main airport area on little man made lakes.  It is a floatplane marina and there are apparently about 5000 small single engine planes, wheeled and float, housed in and around the airport.  A site to be seen!  Caught another cab back to the B&B as it was pouring with rain, again.

Had an early dinner at Simon & Seaforts, 2 min walk from B&B – A had some lovely Halibut fish prepared two different ways (1/2 of each meal type) with some Zinfandel wine, G had an interesting mixture of seafood, crab, halibut & Salmon with an Alaskan beer.

Tax in Alaska: 

No sales tax is added onto anything in Alaska, no income tax, but high property tax (rates).  Everyone who lives in Alaska receive a yearly dividend – profits made on investments made with the profits from the oil fields, has varied over the years from $500 to $2000 per person.  Evidently Alaska is the richest state in the USA.


Sunday, 20 August 06
Rain, rain, rain, and more rain for most of the day today!

Up at 7.30 and ready for breakfast @ 8am and had another pleasant breakfast at the B& B - fresh fruit, cereal and yoghurt, toasted muffins, jam and tea.  G had some caramelised French toast – we think it was French toast with Maple Syrup on!

Soon after 9am, we collected our rental car and drove south to the Portage area.  Initially visited an Information Centre (more good info), then went to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre - saw some healthy Moose, Brown Bears, Coyotes, Elk and Black Bears.  We were able to drive around the Wildlife Centre so that was great as it was pouring down – there were some viewing shelters we could go into to view the animals from.

We drove a little further south then took the road to the Begich Boggs Visitor Centre, Portage Glacier – the Visitor Information Centre was very interesting and had some good information – tours on Portage Lake were cancelled due to the strong wind and rain - stopped for a late lunch at a nearby café.

Drove back towards Anchorage and called into Girdwood – it reminded me of a typical ski resort area (lots of chalets with rough narrow metal roads that went in all directions) – passed the Alyeska Resort Hotel and skipped having a ride up Mt Alyesk on the gondola as visibility was very poor – we left that to all the folk on the tourist busses.

We drove back to Anchorage and went to the Alaska Zoo – had some very interesting animals there including some Polar Beers, Musk Ox, Snow Leopards, Black Beers, Bald Eagle and Amur Tigers. 

Had dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage and had very pleasant Halibat fish meals + desert – the latter not normal for us.  If one didn’t book or call early in the evening for a meal you had trouble getting into many restaurants for dinner.


Monday, 21 Aug. 06
Yippee, a fine sunny day today – evidently it’s the first fine day in 3 weeks (for all of August – August is their rainy season).

Up at 7.10am and ready for breakfast @ 7.30am (breakfasts earlier on week days) - had another pleasant breakfast at the B& B.

Annette stayed at the B&B to pack and tidy the room, Graham drove and called into the Cruise West desk at the Sheraton Hotel to check in for our cruise on the Prince William Sound, then returned the rental car to Avis and walked back to the B&B.

After completing our repacking Rick (the B&B owner) kindly phoned for a cab for us – dropped off our cases at the Sheraton Hotel, had a walk around downtown Anchorage for 1.5hrs, then had some lunch. G had some really nice sweet & Sour Pork / A had a spinach & Chicken salad.  We returned to the hotel around 1pm, talked with some of the other passengers (most from the USA), we then waited to travel on the bus to Whittier (through the rail & road tunnel), where the cruise boat left from. 

The cruise left Whittier around 6pm, went across the Passage Canal to view a colony of Kittiwake's (small gulls) nest on crevices on the sheer rock face – many sheer waterfalls nearby.  All offshore excursions available at Cordova were explained to us - had dinner around 7.30pm.  Travelled up Blackstone Bay to view many huge glaciers - the large one at the end was Blackstone Glacier.  We also viewed a seal with a pup lying on a small iceberg and saw some otters in the water. 

A map of the complete route taken on the cruise over the next 5 days can be viewed here (this is taken directly off our gps which recorded the route)

Dinner:  Mushroom soup, baby spinach salad (blue cheese, nuts & dried Cranberries), Salmon and rice (the flavour was not nearly as nice as the NZ Salmon) and ½ pear poached in red wine.


Tuesday, 22 August 06
During the night the boat travelled from Blackstone Bay to the top of College Fjord.

We woke up to rain, rain, and more rain again today!

Up at 7am for breakfast – it consisted of Melon, grapes and cereal, poached eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomato and toasted muffins.

At the top of College Fjord we viewed the following glaciers:  (from bottom left) Barnard, Wellesley, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith (at top on left), Harvard (at the top of the Fjord) and Yale Glacier (at top right).  Spent around 1.5hrs hovering close in front of the Harvard glacier (1.5 miles wide & 300ft high) - took some great photos / movies of ice falling off the glacier at the top of the Fjord – the cracking noise as lumps of ice broke off the glacier was really loud.  We also saw a large iceberg break in half, which upset the balance of both of the pieces making them roll over in the water, this was very interesting to watch – the very reason boats do not go too close to them.  Definitely the most spectacular glacier we have seen.

On way back down the College Fjord we went up Barry Arm to view more glaciers:  Cascade (top left), Barry Glacier (top at middle), Coxe (top right).

Lunchtime - Cauliflower, apple & curry soup followed by a turkey salad (A) / chicken with mango salsa (G), then a celebration cake (several passengers were celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries).  Many passengers disappeared after lunch – we assume a few were having a rest.

As we went from Barry Arm to Esther Passage we passed a ‘raft’ of Sea Otters of varying sizes – some riding on an iceberg.  Going through Esther Passage Graham saw a Black Bear.  Once we started to cross north Prince William Sound heading for Columbia Bay (Columbia Glacier) the sea started to get rough.

Dinner @ 6pm:  Red pepper soup, salad and halibut fish.  During dinner, and especially when the mains were served, many passengers started to leave the dining room – they were dropping like flies - they were starting to feel unwell with the sea swell.

When Annette’s fish main was put in front of her she couldn’t cope any longer and took herself off to the back of the boat out in the fresh air, where she stayed for the next hour or so.  She was soon joined by the Captain’s partner, who was also travelling on the boat.  Graham enjoyed Annette’s fish main and had a yummy chocolate desert.  Once we started to go up into Columbia Bay Annette, feeling slightly better, went to bed.

Around 9pm when we started to approach the Columbia Glacier we came across some huge icebergs (and they were large) which had come off the Glacier and banked up by grounding on the terminal moraine, so only got up to Heather Island before we had to turn back.  We nosed into the ice and went up to touching distance from these icebergs.  Unfortunately we didn’t get any photos of these as it was getting too dark, but Graham managed to video some of them.

The talk tonight was on sea mammals.



Glacier Videos  (small are very small, low resolution videos suitable for dialup connections so view them first, med should be ok for dialup connections but will take longer of course, lge are really only suitable for broadband connections as they are 1Mb to 3Mb long.

Harvard Glacier calving  small   med   lge
An Iceberg breaking up  small   med   lge

Wednesday, 23 August 06
During the night we travelled from Columbia Glacier, across the top of Prince William Sound (a little bumpy) and up into  Port Gravina before making our way to Cordova.

Up soon after 7am, had breakfast – Cereal, melon & yoghurt and two poached eggs on an English muffin, etc.

We arrived at Cordova around 9.45am and birthed in the Marina at the Cruise West birth - got off the boat and had a coffee and short walk around Cordova.  At 11am we visited the Cordova Culture Centre for a talk by the Manager and an Alaskan dance by some children.  Had a BBQ lunch on the boat – some yummy pork spare ribs and salad.

At 1.30pm Beckie (our guide) took us on a Dock Walk in Cordova.  It was interesting learning of the limitations put on the salmon fishermen to prevent the salmon from being fished out.  Talked to a fisherman who was filleting some Silver (light orange) and Sock Eye Salmon (bright red / orange).  Another fisherman was repairing his net, getting ready to go out to fish tomorrow morning.  Some have house boats on barges that they can take out on the water to live on – several of them parked in the marina.  We learnt a lot that we didn’t know about how a little fishing village operates.  At the end of the tour we were given a small jar of smoked Sock Eye (red) Salmon.

Walked up the road to Harbor Art Gallery & Workshop, the owner took us up to her living room to show us her huge hand woven tapestry (glued onto the wall) – she designed it, had it made in Africa then air freighted to Cordova

We walked to the Salmon factory industrial area to Prime Select Seafoods, Inc and purchased another larger jar of smoked Sock Eye (red) Salmon.  We then walked to the south side of the marina to take some photos looking across the marina to Cordova township.

Dinner @ 7pm:  Minestrone soup, Cesar salad, scallops & Veal with a panacotta & orange desert.

As dinner was starting to be served, the boat left the Cordova wharf and started travelling up Orca Inlet out into Prince William Sound.

The talk tonight was on Alaskan birds.


Thursday, 24 Aug. 06
During the night the boat travelled across Prince William Sound over to the Knight Island Passage – as the weather was calm during the night we had a smooth ride.

We woke up to a calm misty morning in the Knight Island Passage.  Up for breakfast at 7.15am – good as usual with an orange juice, then fruit, yoghurt, sultana bran and trim milk - A had a raspberry croissant and an omelette, and G had lox (thin smoked red salmon) on a toasted bagel with capers, cream cheese, and tomato.

Mid morning it started to rain again but was still quite calm.  We travelled through the Dangerous Passage (a large wildlife reserve) in the hope of seeing some more wildlife – down into the lower Knight Island Passage and around Evans Island.  At the bottom of Knight Island Passage while we were being spoken to about disembarking tomorrow morning, one of the women passengers started yelling, then called out ‘whale – then there was a scramble to the outside decks with cameras and wet weather gear on.  It was a Humpback Whale that had been beside the boat.  The Captain stopped the boat for some time while we watched it come to the surface and ‘blow several times, then it humped it’s back and raised it’s tail in the air as it disappeared under the water again.  Lots of people were attempting to capture the whale on digital cameras.

Lunch:  minted pea & yoghurt soup, veal steak with blue cheese butter with pasta and veges.

Once around the bottom of Evans Island we started to travel up the Prince of Wales Passage the boat started to slow (always happens if there is something to see) – the Captain had spotted a Black Bear walking along the shore line.  At this stage the rain was quite steady and the wind has come up so the ride got a little bumpy.  Passed Flemming Island and up into Icy Bay to the glacier then into Nassau Fiord to the Princeton glacier, which was carving a lot (pieces falling off) – several pieces (one large one) of ice fell off while the we were stationery alongside the glacier.

Captains Dinner @ 6.30pm:  Shouted a glass of bubbles and red wine - crab and corn soup, spinach salad; then pork, asparagus and potato for the main meal. – G had a nice desert.

Once all the passengers were in the dining room, the Captain personally thanked each of his staff – all the staff on the boat (except two) were standing at the front of the dining room.

The evening program was a slide show of our days on the trip together - taken by Jen Martin (the Naturalist who frequently updated us about the wildlife).

Purchased a CD of photos Jen had taken during our trip.

Videos from South West bay region (small are very small, low resolution videos suitable for dialup connections so view them first, med should be ok for dialup connections but will take longer of course, lge are really only suitable for broadband connections as they are 1Mb to 3Mb long.

Humpback Whale diving   small   med   lge
Princeton Glacier calving   small   med   lge

Friday, 25 Aug. 06
During the night the boat travelled from the Chenega Glacier in Nassau Fiord, up through Dangerous and Perry Passages, back to Whittier – at times there was some rocking about as it was raining and quite windy.

Disembark the cruise today - woke up to heavy rain - raining at Whittier but cloudy and fine at Anchorage!

Received the Captain’s wake up call at 6.30am - packed our bags and left them just inside our cabin door for collection – breakfast around 7.15am.

Bus collected us from the boat at 9am and stopped at the Whittier shops (all 4-5 of them) for passengers to browse at as the tunnel did not open until 10am for us to drive through and guess who was late back to the bus, again – one of the passengers who was late registering for the initial cruise!  We were driven back to the Anchorage Airport via the Sheraton Hotel, so we could drop off other passengers.

Checked in for our Air Canada flight to departed @ 2.15pm.  Could take hand luggage on board but no aerosols, gels, creams and liquids of any kind – even had to take shoes off to go through the X-ray machine.  Arrived in Vancouver @ 6.30pm to a warm evening and clear sky – collected our bags and through Security no problem.  Found where we needed to wait for the Hotel shuttle – were dropped off at the Hampton Inn near the airport by 7.30pm.

No evening meals available at the hotel so we walked down the road to a Western Inn Hotel to eat at their Restaurant – had a nice meal and walked back to our hotel.