Life is better on the open sea.
For those of us who live in the Tropics, exotic destinations like Alaska, Icy Strait and Anchorage are those far away frozen dreams, which may thaw into reality, perhaps, once in our lifetime. The land of the midnight sun, whale watching, salmon trails, the grandeur of wildlife, flora and fauna; evokes the spirit of adventure even in advanced middle-aged couples like us and when the whole journey can be done aboard a luxury cruise liner, it’s akin to Shangri-La. We landed in Vancouver in late May for seven days of unbridled joy and luxury along with taking in the great sights of the 40th Parallel North. After an overnight stay in a comfortable motel (incidentally, run by third-generation Indians) we boarded a luxury bus specifically run by the Vancouver Tourism Board for cruise passengers. The bus took us on a sightseeing trip to Vancouver. Canada Place, Stanley Park with their famous totem poles, Gastown and Chinatown, some of which were reminiscent of the 19th Century railroad construction made by the imported Chinese labours, were a part of the city tour. After a leisurely lunch, we headed into the cruise passenger terminal. On completion of all the check-in formalities, we were assigned our cabins on the ship.
By the time we walked around the ship and gawked at all the facilities, our suitcases were already in our assigned cabin along with an itinerary for the whole voyage as well as for the next day.
Cruise views – the onboard experience
Our Ship, ‘Carnival Spirit’ is a floating 7-star hotel. Walking around on the ship is akin to a trip around the world. Joe Farcus, the chief designer, seems to have been inspired by the diversity of designs around the world.
⇒ Egyptian hieroglyphics and murals decorate the show lounge, while the piano bar displays are in Shanghai and Chinese style, works by famous European artists enhance the Artists' Lobby, the Supper Club emphasizing the bright colours of Art Deco and the Empire Dining Room with a statue of Napoleon, reminds one of France.
⇒ Add to all this opulence, the casino with its flashing lights, dancers on stage at the show lounge and numerous restaurants and coffee shops, each one dedicated to a regional cuisine from various parts of the world (including special Jain food) is overall a global grandeur.
⇒ The ship offers the best of earlier carnival vessels - a waterslide, many watering holes and extensive children's facilities. Just when you think that this is it, you see a wedding chapel!
Once the ship set out on sail at the pre-announced departure time, the sights of glacier chunks floating in the sea mesmerized us. Incidentally, Carnival Spirit is refurbished and repositioned for cruising around the Australian coast as well!
⇒ The Alaskan cruises run from early May to late September. Sailing normally begins from Seattle, USA, Vancouver or Canada and usually last for 7 days.
⇒ Multiple entry visas to USA and Canada are necessary.
⇒ Do not forget layers of warm clothing.
I will now move on to give you a bird’s eye view of the various ports of call during the seven days of sailing. The ship stays in port during daytime, and sails at night. Various tours are organized and it is advisable to book your tours early, as they tend to fill up to the allowed capacity quickly.
Some of the sightseeing places you may be interested are
Mendenhall Glacier is a glacier about 12 miles (19 km) long located in Mendenhall Valley, about 12 miles (19 km) from downtown Juneau in the southeast area of the U.S. state of Alaska. The glacier and surrounding landscape are protected as the 5,815 acre Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, a federally designated unit of the Tongass National Forest. Incidentally, all glaciers in the Alaskan region are named after universities.
Icy Strait Point about 50 miles from Juneau is abundant with wildlife and a great place for whale watching.
Juneau is picture-perfect. A helicopter tour over the glaciers will be educative. You can also ride a dog sleigh like an Eskimo.
Ketchikan is famous for the vast expanse of the wilderness of the Misty Fjords National Monument. It is the home of the native Tlingit Indians and is supposed to have the largest collection of totem poles. Ketchikan is also known for salmons. Be sure to try a variety of salmon dishes.
Seward Passage through which the ship sails, serves as an entry point to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Seaward has the Alaska SeaLife Centre, where one can see marine life such as sea lions, porpoises, walruses etc., in natural surroundings.
Skagway is where the historical gold rush took place - visit the Skagway Museum here to follow its trail. The train ride on the White Pass and Yukon route is a great experience.
On the last evening of your cruise, the captain will hold the ship steady near a glacier provided the weather is good. The glacier will be almost close enough to touch and is an exhilarant sight as the setting sun slowly disappears and the darkness sets in, leaving us stunned over such metamorphosis of nature. You can also take helicopter tours and stand on a glacier for short periods.