Cruising My Way Through Beautiful Alaska - A Bucket List Adventure

By Kara Aiello

Recently I took the trip of a lifetime through the beautiful state of Alaska.  I would definitely say this was a bucket list dream as I have always wanted to visit this region of the country. And what better way to do so than on a Carnival Cruise - a party ship no less.  My adventures began in Seattle Washington when my good friend Lisa and I landed and stayed overnight in this great city. I was in Seattle many years before and have family here, so it was nice to get back and see what was up with this happening place.

Although only in Seattle one night, we made do with the time we had here. We were blessed with rare sunny warm weather that would follow us throughout most of the trip and so took advantage after a very filling breakfast by walking and rolling around town and visiting The Chuhuly Glass Sculpture Museum that was a sight to behold.  I have always loved glass sculptures more than any other, and found this place to be my icing on the cake. The sculptures were beautiful, large and every color one could think of.  Blues, purples, pinks and blended colors that hypnotized took my breath away. We stayed only an hour, but the photos I took will always be a welcome to revisit when I look at them years to come.

From there, we went straight to our cruise ship, boarded and settled in to our cabin. Although I have taken many cruises in the past, this was the first time I happily went in on a cabin with a balcony as this was the trip to have one. One reason why I love cruises is that I find it very wheelchair accessible from the cabin itself with its large bathroom, automatic door opener and a very spacious balcony that we had in addition to access with much of the ship.  I also love the crew who hail from much of the globe and are warm, kind and very hospitable and helpful. To me, this is a great way to meet people from around the world and get a taste and feel of the many cultures represented on these cruises. If I could, I would take a cruise just to meet the crew and that would be a happy day for me.

After spending our first full day at sea in which we got to explore the massive beast with its multiple levels, many elevators and bars to buy any drink you could think of, we prepared to embark that Thursday on our first great adventure into Juneau Alaska, probably my favorite port we visited. It was yet another beautiful day with a bright blue sky and shimmering sun reigning down on us to enhance our enjoyment of the day. Of course, one cannot visit Alaska without taking a whale watching trip and although I have taken a few before, this one was one I will never forget.  I was pleased to find how accessible Juneau was and it began with the massive tour bus we took that had a wheelchair lift on it and comfortable seats inside along with a colorful tour guide that made our trip to the boat very entertaining.  Once we arrived, a cool young member of the crew came to escort me to the boat and helped me get on which was very easy for people who used manual chairs but would not sadly work for those who used power chairs. Something they do need to work on so all can be a part of this tour.

Once on board, there was a woman who was our guide and an expert in whales and actually traveled between Alaska and Hawaii where she followed the whales between the states states.  I remember thinking what an amazing life she had and she definitely agreed but for the sake of studying these amazing creatures, this was the way to do so.  Once we got to the hot spot of where the whales would be seen, we saw many beautiful birds including an abundance of bald eagles. But the whales were the hosts we wanted to see.  And once they started to come to life, it was time to get the cameras and binoculars out to look. At first it was a little hard for me to see as one could never predict where they would be and although the captain turned the boat around so everyone could see, it was hard for me to get to the front and so I had to wheel from one side of the boat to the other where I could go, and that’s a roller coaster ride all its own on a moving boat.  But the crew were amazing. On either side of the boat there were doors that could be opened to look out onto the water and they went back and forth every time a whale was sighted and opened it for me so I could see a show that amazed me.  First the humpback whales showed with a mother and baby and a few seals that made a showing as well. And then the Killer Whales appeared and this is the part I will never forget. The crew said that it was very rare to see Killer Whales and one had a 10% chance of seeing one. But on that day, one of the spotters and the guy who escorted me onto the ship, spotted a small pod and let the captain know.
Killer Whales
Well, we were like a bat out of hell and took off to where they were seen and waited quietly to see if they would show again. Well they did, and three or four of them jumped in and out of the water like synchronized swimmers. And they were close to me where I sat at the open door, mesmerized by the sight. Unfortunately my phone camera was a bit too ancient to pick any of this up, but so glad my friend Lisa who was up to date with her technology and was able to catch some photos of these breathtaking animals so we could share with others. That evening we were treated to a tasty dinner of fresh salmon, we are in Alaska after all.  And other tasty foods looking over a beautiful landscape of mountains and blue water.  We spent time walking around and shopping at this lodge and got to meet some people we would remain friends with throughout the cruise. From there we headed back to our home on the water and rested up for our next exciting day in Skagway Alaska.

Skagway Alaska was a beautiful port with cascading mountains, glaciers and a rare day of sunshine all around us.  On this particular day my friend and I split up, she taking a dog sled trip and I taking a train ride from Skagway up to the Canadian border.  I was able to do a dog sled trip in northern MN about five years ago, so I was happy Lisa could experience this as I took to the rails.  The view was like being on another planet. Going up, I was on a side that was more limited in view, but coming back, I was able to sit on the other side and see glaciers, deep, deep mountains and valleys like I haven’t seen before.  It was cool going up to Canada as we saw the Canadian Flag, the U.S. Flag and the Alaskan Flag side by side. And we saw rich white snow, ice cracking up close on glacier hills that glistened blue in the light and I imagined what it would feel like touching these ice sculptures before me. In addition, we saw how high up we were, when after we went through, another train the same as ours came behind us on the same track way up high on the mountain track and holding on for dear life as they made their way down.  Let’s just say we were glad we didn’t see this going up and realize that’s where we were headed. Once I returned back to port, I met up with Lisa and we went out to enjoy yet another tasty meal in the town of Skagway, visit some beautiful shops, and eat the local ice cream, peanut butter cup ice cream baby.  And yes, spend a little money and buy some jewelry with the deals that the ship sets up for us. For better or worse, it gets you.

Glacier Bay
On Saturday we stayed on the ship and spent the day traveling through Glacier Bay. This is where having a balcony made it a vacation. I spent the morning drinking coffee and sitting outside on my balcony as we passed one glacier after another. What made this great was how close we were to the glaciers and if you looked closely, could see goats, perhaps other animals on the glaciers, whales yet again, and ice crashing into the water. I unfortunately didn’t see any of this, but still enjoyed the view as we passed one after the other.  And no matter where you were on the ship, you could see these breathtaking sights, take photos and relax in the sunshine as the glaciers passed before us.
On Sunday we visited Ketchikan, a sleepy little town that had a charm all its own. It was overcast on this day but warm which made it nice. We didn’t have much time at this port as Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay were our big ports to visit. So we decided to go to a Lumberjack Show and see some men show off their stuff. It was entertaining as these guys broke off in pairs, one pretending to be from the U.S. and the other from Canada, and engaging the audience in taking sides with assigned countries competing against each other. In life, these guys do this regularly and so it is good practice to do this for show and stay in shape in the process. So we were entertained and then did more shopping, never stopping with the shopping, before heading back to our ship to take off for Victoria British Columbia. Our last stop on this Alaskan tour.
Lumberjack Show!
I loved Victoria BC and was sad we didn’t get to spend more time there. But it’s a good tease to get me to come back to visit one day and spend more time there. We got there in the evening and walked into Victoria with a nice couple we met and acted as our guides as we entered into the city. Fortunately, the rain held off, yes this was the day the rain decided to show up, and we got a chance to see the city. It was small with quaint buildings, restaurants and shops everywhere you went.  We decided to eat at Fairmont Empress Hotel and dine on burgers and grilled cheese, comfort food that was decked up with Victoria flair.  After dinner we walked around a bit and then the rain hit us and it was a sign that it was time to go. We grabbed a wheelchair accessible cab that took us back to our ship and then ran like the wind back to the ship as the rain bore down on us harder this time. Once home, we called it a night as we prepared to head home bright and early the next morning.  The next day we said goodbye to our friendly crew and friends we made along the way, said hello to Seattle and the Space Needle and flew across the U.S. back to Philadelphia with memories stored for a life time.

About the author:
Although Kara has Osteogenesis Imperfecta which simply means brittle bones, Kara has studied dance for over 16 years now and currently dances with American Dance Wheels Foundation. But for the bulk of her dance career she danced with Kardon..  Kara works as a licensed therapist part time at an inpatient mental health facility and as a Free Lance writer for Montgomery County Community College.  She also sings with the Academy Chorale as the arts are an important part of her life.

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