Day #3  Monday, July 16th

The Jewel docked for our first stop in Alaska - Ketchikan- at about 6:30a.m. We were scheduled to go off ship from 7a.m. to 3p.m.  Beth's cousin Billy... lives in Ketchikan and we had made plans to see him while we were in town.  Billy was waiting when we disembarked and he drove us to his house outside of town.  After growing up in Connecticut, He had come to Alaska in 1981 and had met his wife Jane and settled in Ketchikan.  Jane's family was from Bucks County, Pa.

Ketchikan is Alaska's 5th biggest city with some 13,000 year round residents.  Because it's an island, the only way on and off is by boat or plane.

The day was party to mostly sunny with temperatures in the 50's. While this  weather was  typical of our time in Alaska,  it's apparently not the norm in southeastern Alaska.  The foremost packing instruction for this trip had been to bring a raincoat, and Billy pointed out several times how lucky we were that it wasn't raining.  When I mentioned having been in Seattle on Saturday, Billy left little doubt how he felt about his whining neighbors to the south.  'Those people never stop complaining about how it's always raining in Seattle.  They get 40 inches of rain a year.  Here in Ketchikan, we get 160 inches of rain each year, so I don't want to hear any complaints from Seattle!"  Southeastern Alaska is one of the wettest places in North America.  Rain is such a constant, it's become the primary source of drinking water for many people.  The homes have large tanks which hold thousands of gallons of rain water runoff, collected off their roofs.  They average only 40 sunny days a year.  That's about 320 days a year of clouds and rain!  We were really lucky to have almost no rain during our trip!

Billy had worked at a salmon fish hatchery for 20 years before retiring in his 50's.  More recently, during the summer cruise season, he worked greeting the ships when they docked and providing shore-based services to tourists.

Jane prepared a wonderful breakfast and we ate well and got the tour of their lovely beach front home. Massive cruise boats made their way slowly down the coast not far off shore.

We piled in to Billy's truck for a tour of Ketchikan, which began with a visit to Totem Bight State Park, dedicated to the native Alaskans tradition of totem pole carving.

Then we headed back in to town with Billy adding that he knew a good place to see a bear.  The topic of seeing bears is something that comes up quite a bit on a vacation to Alaska. It seemed like people were always bringing up the good chance we were going to spend a little  face-to-face time with a bear.  A bear encounter has never been on my bucket list, but once they start dangling that potential, the thought gets in your head, and you start to think of the bear as your holy grail.

We didn't see a bear in Ketchikan, but we did get some cool pictures of a deer. You never see those in New Jersey.  And the American bald eagle is alive and well and living in Alaska!  The once nearly extinct birds seem as common as pigeons.

Following some obligatory souvenir shopping, it was time to say our good-byes to Billy.  Thanks for the hospitality, my friend!

Monday night we ate in the ship's premiere Italian restaurant.  Before dinner, we registered for an elective excursion that would prove to be the highlight of the trip.



Day #4  Tuesday, July 17th


We docked early Tuesday morning in the State capital, Juneau.  it was a little cloudy in Juneau, but it stayed dry.  We had signed up for a helicopter tour above four glaciers.  The excursion also promised to land on one of the glaciers!  A bus took us to the town's heliport where we were matched in to groups of six or seven and prepared for our ride.  Beth and I  loaded in to a helicopter with the pilot and a family of four; two older teen boys, their mom and her mom. We lifted off above the town of Juneau and  toward the glaciers.  you can see the snow-capped mountain tops from the ground, but you have no idea of the breadth of the beauty of those glaciers until you are above them.

We rose above the Taku Glacier, the world's deepest and thickest glacier (1.5 miles thick and 34 miles long).   In every direction you can see the unspoiled beauty of the blueish/white ice which has built up over thousands of years.

The sight of these magnificent glaciers is one of the most amazing things I've seen in my lifetime.

Our pilot landed near a favorite ravine, and, wearing short wading boots, we climbed out and walked around on the solid ice.  Close by was a little stream with clear blue/green water  frozen under.  We took turns walking out on to the stream and taking pictures of each other.  It was a regular photo opportunity! The weather was perfect.  The warmth of the sun with little breeze made it possible to stand on top of a glacier at 3200 feet in a t-shirt. After awhile, we loaded back in to the helicopter and continued our tour from the air. The pictures you see were taken on my cellphone from the back seat of the copter, through the window.


This 70 minute copter ride ranks close to the top of my list of coolest things I've ever done.  The cost was $350 per person, one of the most expensive excursions, and not included in the cruise, but worth every penny.

Later after re-boarding and eating dinner, we went to watch the ship's on-board version of the TV show Dancing with the Jewel Stars.   The couples were a mix of the ship's production team dancers and guests, including  Kara and Travis, a brother and sister from the Lite Rock group stealing the show. Both siblings were finalists and Kara and her partner won the contest. Very entertaining and funny.