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Melinda Brasher

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About Melinda Brasher

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    Cool Cruiser

About Me

  • Location
  • Interests
    Hiking, Writing, Travel, Nature, Reading, European-Style Board Games, Line-Dancing
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Holland America, Princess
  • Favorite Cruise Destination Or Port of Call
    Alaska, Canada, New England, Norway
  • If you have a personal or hobby CRUISE or TRAVEL BLOG, include the url here:
    https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/, https://www.melindabrasher.com/

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  1. About buying the Mt. Roberts Tram ticket on the ship vs at the tram station: some lines will reimburse you for that particular tour if you buy it with them and don't use it. It's a bit of a hassle, but if you're wanting shipboard points, and you think the weather will probably be good, it may be worth it. Check with your line. And if you're there on a sunny day with 5 ships, the ticket-buying line might be busy. Not having to wait in it is nice. But yes, I would let the weather decide whether you go, because if it's really socked in, it's probably not worth the price. Also, if you go up to Cape Fox Lodge in Ketchikan (and the totem poles outside), you can also walk up the wooden stairs through the forest for free (which of course I love, since I'm a walk-in-nature person). The stairs start about halfway to the salmon ladder along Married Man's Trail. Be sure to check out the salmon life cycle signs in the lobby of Cape Fox Lodge.
  2. If you're looking for something useful, I agree that an ulu knife is a good bet. Plus it's pretty. And if you get an authentic one, it's locally made. Anchorage might be your best bet for that. I don't have a food processor and recently wanted to finely cut up a bunch of almonds. I'm glad I had an ulu.
  3. I tried to rent/borrow bear spray in Sitka from the Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures people on the big blue bus, but they were out and no one knew anywhere else to rent it. In my experience it's not easy to find a place to rent it. While bear spray is a very good safety measure (if you know how to use it), I wouldn't let a lack of bear spray deter you from hiking. It's one of my absolute favorite things to do on Alaskan cruises. Just hike smart. Ask locals about current bear sightings and don't go to hot spots during salmon runs. Hike in groups if possible. Hike loudly, especially in brushy areas and where you can't see far. Sing or clap or call "Hey bear" around curves in the trail. If you see a bear, give it plenty of room. If it's close, talk to it loudly and calmly in a low tone and very slowly back away. If it attacks, play dead. If it keeps attacking, fight back aggressively. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), you're probably not even going to see a bear on a day hike from a cruise port. If you do see one, you probably still won't get in a fight with it, so it won't matter whether you're carrying bear spray or a gun. I've been on quite a few day hikes in Alaska and during those hikes I've only seen one bear. I have a very good zoom on my camera, and the picture here was zoomed all the way: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/12/gastineau-peak-hike-juneau-alaska.html WARNING: there is a slight chance that this advice may get you killed or mauled. But if you take three or four responsible day hikes in Alaska, your odds of getting into a dangerous bear encounter are very low. However, the odds of having a beautiful hike--or a spectacular one, if you plan it right--are very, very high. So, weigh your risks against the rewards. If you're a statistic geek like me, here's something to think about: In the US, you're about 5 times more likely to die from a dog attack, 20 times more likely to die from the attack of bees or wasps, 4,000 times more likely to die from the attack of a human with a gun, and 25,000 times more likely to die in a car/plane/boat accident. I live in Arizona, where rattlesnakes are greatly feared, especially by outsiders. We have around 17 species, and they're not uncommon within even the largest cities. They can be deadly, but snakes kill roughly the same number of people in the US as bears do (2-5, depending on your source and the year). A rattlesnake expert I was talking to gave this nice statistic: The much bigger problem is falling out of bed, a dangerous activity which kills around 450 people per year. So, respect the bears but don't fear them unduly. Get yourself out there and hike. A few of my favorite Alaska hikes: Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2014/09/skagway-alaska-upper-dewey-lake.html Portage Pass in Whittier: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2017/05/portage-glacier-hike-from-whittier.html Harding Icefield in Seward: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/02/exit-glacier-and-harding-icefield-in.html Deer Mountain in Ketchikan: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2017/02/deer-mountain-trail-ketchikan-alaska.html Gavan Hill in Sitka: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/12/gavan-hill-trail-sitka.html
  4. Absolutely get up early on that day and spend a lot of time outside on the walkaround deck or up top, looking at scenery and watching for whales. Pay attention if they announce when you'll be in Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage. This last August we saw more whales there than I saw on my small-boat whale-watching tour. Another year we saw nothing. It's all down to luck, weather, and how much time you spend watching. Some pics: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2020/02/frederick-sound-and-stephens-passage.html
  5. Lots of good suggestions above. I especially agree with the Skagway Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park museums, junior ranger program, and free walking tours--which they usually make interesting even for kids. You could also take the nice stroll out to Yakutania Point (with lots of fun waterside rocks to play on). Lower Dewey Lake is also a pleasant hike and though the first part's steep, I think a 6-year-old who likes hiking could handle it. Picture of Yakutania Point: https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/2017/05/26/yakutania-point-skagway/ Ketchikan's Southeast Discovery Center is cool and has interactive tasks for kids. Creek Street's still fun because of the boardwalks over water and possible harbor seal sightings (though less likely out of salmon season). Totem Bight is nice (and accessible by city bus). In Juneau you could try the flume walk or go out to the whale sculpture. Mendenhall Glacier has easy walks, like out to Nugget Falls or around Steep Creek. The problem is getting there on a budget. The city bus takes a long time and leaves you a mile or so short of the park. The shuttles are quite pricey for what you get. A taxi or ride share is often better for that many people, but try to agree on the price beforehand. Some pics of Mendenhall Glacier my first time (word of warning: the glacier has retreated noticeably since then): https://www.melindabrasher.com/2011/08/mendenhall-glacier.html Victoria's Beacon Park has an awesome little petting zoo (entry by donation) and lots of playgrounds, flower gardens, etc. You can take the city bus to it (or walk). If you're there in time to watch the boats "dance" in the Inner Harbor, that's fun too. Fisherman's Wharf is also interesting to explore.
  6. I have not done that, but I've been tempted. It sounds really cool.
  7. Alaska's fairly well set up for DIY adventures too, if you want to try a port on your own. If you like walking in nature, you can see some of Alaska's stunning beauty completely at your own pace. Literally. 🙂 As for tours, if you think it's the only time you'll go to Alaska, I'd recommend a wildlife tour of some sort, with whale-watching being one of the best options. But once you get to Alaska, you might realize it won't be the last time.
  8. Juneau or Icy Strait Point are probably best for whale watching. Since you're into hiking and doing things off the beaten path, I absolutely recommend hiking in at least one port. That's my favorite thing to do, and it's amazing how few people I see on some of the trails, considering how many people there are in port some days. In most towns there are great hiking options without needing to rent a car, but renting a car can get you to even more isolated options. Warning: some of these trails may still be snow-covered in May. Ask for current conditions and go prepared. Hiking recommendations: Skagway: One of my favorite hikes in Alaska--maybe in the world---was to Upper Dewey Lake (but I hit it on a perfect sunny day). It's quite steep and strenuous (with a lot of elevation gain), but not technically difficult, and the views are spectacular. It gets a bit trickier if you continue to Devil's Punchbowl. Budget plenty of time. If you just want an easy stroll or moderate hike before or after a White Pass trip or one of the fascinating NPS free historical walking tours, the walk to Yakutania Point and Smuggler's Cove is nice, and Lower Dewey Lake is also very pretty. Pics of Upper Dewey Lake: https://www.melindabrasher.com/search?q=Upper+Dewey+Lake Sitka: The Indian River Trail is very popular. Last time I was in Sitka, locals advised against hiking solo there without bear spray, because the salmon were running. So I changed plans and went up Gavan Hill. So many stairs! Another fantastic hike that takes you from sea level to above the tree line (though the views don't really start until then, so be prepared for many stairs). Maybe not a great May option. There are other trails accessible by bus, and if you just want a little stroll, Totem Park (Sitka National Historic Park) is a beautiful place to do it. Pics of Gavan Hill: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/12/gavan-hill-trail-sitka.html Juneau: Lots of hiking, from the trails at Mendenhall Glacier to the Perseverance Valley to Mt. Roberts. Mendenhall Glacier has the added draw of the glacier, but I think I enjoyed the Perseverance Trail more, party because it was--again--such a beautiful day, but partly because I probably only met a half a dozen people on the trail the whole time, and party because I had no expectations, so they were easily exceeded. Warning: the trailhead is a bit of of a walk, starting at the Last Chance Mining museum. This last summer I took the Mt. Roberts tram and then hiked to Gastineau Peak. Beautiful trail, beautiful views, and fantastic wildlife on my particular hike (results probably not typical). If you take the tram, this may have the best effort-to-reward ratio of any hike I've taken in Alaska--though it might not be a great option in May. Pics of Gastineau Peak: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/12/gastineau-peak-hike-juneau-alaska.html Ketchikan: I love Deer Mountain. Again, however, it's a steep climb and even in July I found snow on the trail. I also enjoyed the Ward Lake trail system (accessible by bus) and Totem Bight, a park with many totem poles and nice strolling paths by the water. The Rainbird Trail is nice but very much in town. Pics of Deer Mountain: https://www.melindabrasher.com/search?q=deer+mountain Icy Strait: no good hiking options without wheels.
  9. If you have the time and money, I'd say you should stay 3 nights. It's a big park, and if you want to do some hiking, you won't have much time for it if you also want to travel far into the park by tour or hop-on, hop-off bus (which I recommend, for wildlife and scenery). I'm not sure the specifics of visiting in May and restricted access. Some pics from my trip (in August). Two nights wasn't enough for me. https://www.melindabrasher.com/2014/09/denali-national-park-alaska.html
  10. Agreed that conditions change year to year, even day to day. But knowing trends does give you a slightly better chance in the lottery. 🙂 We were there July 11 one year, and only got a glimpse of the glacier, but the fjord was beautiful and full of bergy bits. In 2019 we went in August and got really, really close to the glacier (but there wasn't much ice in the water) Pics from July 11, 2011: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2011/11/tracy-arm-alaska.html Pics from August 17, 2019: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/09/tracy-arm-fjord-alaska.html
  11. Unfortunately, public transportation isn't the best except between major destinations. So between Anchorage and Seward, for example, it's fine. But once in Seward, if you want to explore the area much you'll probably want a car. If you use Anchorage as a base, you can get around town on the bus, but if you want to explore outside the city proper, you'll need a car (or friend, tour, ride-shares, etc).
  12. "The Great Alone" by Kristin Hannah was indeed good...but dark. I enjoyed "Cold Spell" by Deb Vanasse. Also rather dark. "The the Bright Edge of the World," by Eowyn Ivey was strange in a good way. Try the "Alaska Sampler 2014" (free on Amazon), The Alaska Reader: Voices from the North," or "Travelers Tales Guides, Alaska" for a little bit of everything (essays, short stories, novel excerpts)...and to find new authors you like. "Tip of the Iceberg" by Mark Adams (Nonfiction) was very interesting, especially since it talked about place you'll be. Also great nonfiction: "Animal Stories; Encounters with Alaska's Wildlife" by Bill Sherwonit.
  13. Whittier does have nice wildlife/glacier cruise possibilities and one of my favorite hikes (Portage Pass): https://www.melindabrasher.com/2017/05/portage-glacier-hike-from-whittier.html But if you're doing a back to back with just the day in Whittier, I don't think it's worth it to go up to Anchorage. Anchorage is nice and all, but to me it's mostly a place where people sleep or work while they play in the nature roundabout. Sitka has lots to offer, and is not on a lot of itineraries, so the one you're looking at might be a good chance to see it. Icy Strait has some very good whale-watching opportunities. I'm afraid I'm a bit biased about Alaska and I'm kind of like, "You'll love whatever you do." So whatever you pick, don't worry about what you miss. You'll have a great time.
  14. I haven't been to Endicott, but I LOVE Tracy Arm. Not as glacier-y, but absolutely gorgeous in a scenic-cruising-up-a-fjord sort of way. I've heard both that Endicott and Tracy Arm are very similar and that Tracy Arm is better/longer. Pics of my first trip to Tracy Arm: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2011/11/tracy-arm-alaska.html We went again this last August, after having been to Glacier Bay several times in the intervening years. I was not in any way disappointed. However, Glacier Bay is fantastic, and the glaciers themselves are more impressive. Whichever way you decide, you'll love it.
  15. Agreed...especially about the hiking. I'm always on here touting the virtues of hiking in Skagway. Some pics of the hike to Upper Dewey Lake: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2014/09/skagway-alaska-upper-dewey-lake.html It's strenuous and takes a fair amount of time, but if you hit blue skies that day, it'll may be one of the most spectacular hikes you've ever been on. If you just want a little stroll, Yakutania Point/Smuggler's Cove is very nice. Or more moderate: Lower Dewey Lake.
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