Exploring the Last Frontier
"Three grizzly bears are off the port side," announced Richard, a naturalist aboard the Wilderness Discoverer, ending our deep slumber at 6:10am. Rushing from our cabin with cameras ready, we saw a large bear chasing two smaller bears near Sandy Cove in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Richard explained that a mother grizzly and her three-year-old cub were running from an amorous male. In pursuit of romance, a male will often try to kill a female's cub. As she chased her cub into some brush and out of our view, she suddenly turned and waded into the icy water, staring at our small ship. Like a dog paddling in a lake, the mother grizzly swam towards us about 500 yards away. Richard said this was a very unusual sighting, although bears can swim great distances. Apparently the channel was too wide for her to cross; she turned away from the boat, swam back to land and lumbered away.
Beginning Our Cruise
This was one of many wilderness sightings on our seven-day cruise thorough southeast Alaska. These memorable experiences make the 49th state a premier cruise destination for families. Our cruise began in the capital city of Juneau in late June. Since we had cruised on the Grand Princess ten years earlier, we opted for a smaller ship to introduce our eight-year-old daughter to the last frontier.
Once aboard the 72-passenger Wilderness Discoverer, we checked out our stateroom. Cruise ship cabins are smaller than hotel rooms, and this was the most compact we had seen -- imagine sleeping arrangements inside a small camper. A mirrored door led to the toilet with a shower head above in a closet-sized room. Our daughter, after one look, said, "This is so cool."
After a smooth evening sail, we were anchored off the fishing village of Petersburg the next day. Mega-ships can't navigate its narrow passageway, so it's not touristy with T-shirt shops on every corner. A large segment of the population is descended from the original Norwegian settlers. Some residents speak Norwegian and their houses are decorated with colorful floral motif paintings.
Sharon, the ship's Children's Program director, led a group of us on a nature hike. We saw a pair of bald eagles, colorful starfish, sea urchins, ribbon worms, butter clams, periwinkle and crabs down by the tide line. Later while on a salmon cannery factory tour, we watched workers cut salmon into strips in preparation for smoking. After the tour we sampled smoked salmon, salmon sausage and salmon dip spread on crackers.
Before dinner, Saren, another naturalist on board, alerted us to a pod of Dali porpoises on the port side of the ship. We grabbed our binoculars and enjoyed watching these playful black and white mammals frolic in the ship's wake.
On our last day we anchored in Katlian Bay and kayaked near small islands. With the tide out we could see colorful starfish as large as dinner plates. After a delicious Captain's Dinner, we went back out into the glassy bay to watch the sunset at around 10:30pm.
Richard gave us our last wakeup call as we docked in Sitka. By 8am we shook hands and hugged the 56 passengers and 27 crew members who had helped make out 7-day cruise one to remember.
Cruising is the ultimate way for families to travel great distances in the North Pacific. The wildlife and scenery of Alaska are awe-inspiring and thought-provoking for all ages.
Photos Courtesy of Jill Weinlein
Jill Weinlein is a freelance travel writer who enjoys traveling around the world
with her family. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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