Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cruising Alaska

With all the hustle and bustle of summer, I never managed to post about my family's cruise to Alaska. It is a trip I would highly recommend for families. There are lots of options to choose from - large ship with lots of activities for all-ages, small ships that can get you more up close and personal with nature, or the Alaska State Ferry which provides a more rustic, but lower budget option. You can rent a cabin on the ferry, but the truly adventurous pitch tents on deck. I know it sounds cold, but the weather was surprisingly warm while we were there. It actually hit
77 degrees while we were in Juneau which was definitely a surprise for the people from our northernmost capital. One side note about the city - it is only reachable by air or boat. Amazingly (unless you look at the geography), there are no roads that go to the city!

We opted for the large ship because it coincided with a business trip for my husband. My one hesitancy was the environmental factor. Was it really responsible to take a huge gas-guzzling ship into the pristine beauty of Alaska? While I won't go so far as to say that large cruise ships are good for the environment, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how hard the cruise industry works to mitigate their effect. Our ship had an Environmental Officer on-board and strict policies to minimize waste. Cans and bottles were recycled; used cooking oil was converted into biodiesel fuel; food waste was processed, dried, and incinerated. The oily bilge water that the boat produces is separated and cleaned with a 3 step process on the ship. All in all, I was impressed with how far they went to lower their impact. Of course, if they don't protect the environment, there won't be any reason for people to take their cruise ships up there to admire it.

The cruise through Glacier Bay was definitely a highlight of the trip The glacier pictured above and left is over a mile high! Many of the shore excursions were interesting as well- gold-panning (we all found some!) in Skagway, seeing the totem pole carvers at work in Saxman Village, the train trip through the Yukon, and river-rafting under the Mendenhall Glacier. One of the things that did surprise me along the way was hearing about all the different ways people have stressed the ecosystem of Alaska along the way - gold-mining, logging, fishing, and oil drilling. It is a rich and beautiful place, but its natural resources have also been exploited in countless different ways.

The only downside to the trip was the lack of visibility and poor air quality caused by some massive fires that were raging in British Columbia at the time. Hence, the gray haze to all the pictures. We also didn't see much wildlife from the ship. A few whales and an otter, but the only animal I could get to pose was this seagull! Here are a few more pictures:

Mendenhall Glacier
The barren landscape of the Yukon and a green glacier-fed lake

A melting glacier

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