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Melinda Brasher

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About Melinda Brasher

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    Cool Cruiser

About Me

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  • Interests
    Hiking, Writing, Travel, Nature, Reading, European-Style Board Games, Line-Dancing
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Holland America, Princess
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  1. Melinda Brasher

    Trying to get a mental picture of an Alaska Cruise

    You'll love it! I went four years in a row when I first discovered cruising Alaska. I've see quite a lot of wildlife from the deck, but yes, the whales are usually spouts and flukes from a distance. Usually. One time, however, a humpback breached three times, down the length of the ship, not far away at all. Better than anything I saw on my whale-watching trip. It's all up to luck...and spending lots of time watching. Yes, it may be quite cool, even cold if you're spending a lot of time on deck on glacier day, for example. It will probably be rainy at least part of the time. Take layers, including something waterproof. I love the sailing part, watching the scenery and wildlife. I also love the ports. They're pretty easy to explore and have some awesome attractions and opportunities to get close to nature. Telephoto lenses are important if you're looking to capture good photos. I have a Canon Powershot non DSLR bridge camera with 50x telephoto that I bought for my last trip to Alaska. I love it. On HAL, they did open and close the pool cover so you could swim most days. Have fun. More detail on what to pack: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/03/packing-for-alaska-cruise.html I don't know which glaciers you'll be seeing, but HAL often goes to Glacier Bay. Here are some tempting pics: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2014/09/glacier-bay-alaska.html
  2. Melinda Brasher

    Shore Excursions for 4 – On a Medium Budget?

    I agree that you should splurge on one thing. Maybe whale watching in Juneau? Or something glacier-related. Then do budget in the other ports: Ketchikan: Walk around Creek Street and up to the salmon ladder, especially if the salmon are running. Go to the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center right in town--which has a kids' scavenger hunt and lots of cool displays regarding wildlife and native culture. Take the local bus to Totem Bight and walk around the lovely park and learn about Totem poles. Hike Deer Mountain (if the kids are good hikers) or Rainbird trail. Juneau: Mendenhall Glacier is really cool, but the shuttles are getting more and more expensive. I'd consider a taxi or ride share. Whale watching is good here. If you book independently, you'll probably get a slightly better price or a smaller boat. On the free side, use the binoculars in Marine Park to look for mountain goats on Mt. Juneau. Don't forget to look for the statue of Patsy Ann, Juneau's most famous dog, and read about her. Duck in to Tatu smokeries to hopefully see some salmon processing in action. Skagway: Historical walking tours (really interesting, even if you're not a history buff) and free museum at Klondike National Historic Park visitor center. Stroll down the cute streets and duck into interesting shops or replicas of gold rush saloons and such. And...hiking! Skagway's got so many fantastic hiking opportunities. One of the best hikes of my entire life (and I hike a lot) was to Upper Dewey Lake (quite strenuous because of the elevation gain). But there are easier alternatives: Yakutania Point and Smuggler's Cove, Lower Reid Falls and the gold rush cemetery, or Lower Dewey Lake. Victoria: Watch the boats perform in the harbor, take a free tour of the parliament building. And of course, Buchart Gardens are gorgeous but not terribly cheap. Doing it yourself is more economical but takes more time, so factor that in. For more details and pictures or some of these things: https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/10-inexpensive-things-to-do-in-alaskan-ports/
  3. Melinda Brasher

    New Cruiser to Alaska

    I've done Holland America Alaska cruises several times and love it. We did one cruise tour. The tour part felt a bit rushed and herded, with lots and lots of sitting on buses and trains, but the scenery was all fantastic, and the caribou...amazing. Plus, we saw a mama bear and her cubs. I loved it. I just would have loved it more if the pace were a little more relaxed. Keep in mind that I'm generally an independent traveler who takes things slowly and doesn't do many organized tours, so maybe the cruise tour just wasn't the best fit for me. I loved what I saw and plan to go back with a car and maybe a tent. That said, a cruise tour is a worry-free and convenient way to see Denali, and if you get a good deal, it can be more economical than many other options. If you're spending the money to do a cruise tour, however, I recommend getting one that spends two nights (or more) in Denali. Otherwise, I think it's too much distance for the time you spend there. The cruising part is all fantastic...no matter your itinerary, and even if you have bad weather. I like Holland America in Alaska. One reason is that they tend to have educational programs about the things you're seeing--the culture, wildlife, history, or science. I really loved that. Since it's your first time, here are some of my favorite things to do in port: https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/10-inexpensive-things-to-do-in-alaskan-ports/
  4. Melinda Brasher

    Packing for Alaska

    I would suggest taking pants that aren't jeans, since jeans take so long to dry. You may very well get caught out in the rain. Jeans will take longer to dry on your legs while you're still out and about. They'll also take longer to dry in your cabin. No need to buy fancy backpacker pants or anything. Just take at least one pair that's not denim. Other packing considerations: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2019/03/packing-for-alaska-cruise.html
  5. Melinda Brasher

    Alaska in August

    The Nugget Falls trail is easy. No need for hiking boots or expensive shoes. Sneakers are fine, especially if they still have a bit of tread.
  6. Melinda Brasher

    Hiking in Skagway

    Plenty of time--even including the time you'll spend oohing and ahhing. But I would still advise going early, just in case you want to sit at the top and contemplate existence for a while. 🙂
  7. Melinda Brasher

    Hiking in Skagway

    Upper Dewey Lake is spectacular on a blue-sky day. If you like hiking, and don't mind a strenuous hike, DO THIS!!! Pictures: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2014/09/skagway-alaska-upper-dewey-lake.html
  8. Melinda Brasher

    Getting a cab in Juneau to Mendenhall Glacier

    Someone mentioned that the shuttle is $30 per person. At last report, it's risen to $45. I think the current prices are highway robbery, especially considering that it was $16 in 2011, it's 10 times the price of the city bus, and it's like 12 miles. The city of Juneau should start running an express bus that goes closer to the entrance than the current bus line goes. They could charge something reasonable like $4-5 per ride and make themselves a little profit while making the tourists happy.
  9. Melinda Brasher

    Cruising solo

    I went on one solo cruise and really enjoyed it, but I enjoy other types of solo travel too. You'll meet people to talk to and hang out with if you want to.
  10. Melinda Brasher

    Alaska in August - Some Q's

    We went in August once, about the same time you're thinking. I would definitely take insect repellent if you're going inland, but the mosquitoes weren't as bad as I was expecting.
  11. Melinda Brasher

    Sitka - Alaska... Must Sees at this port

    We had a chill day in Sitka too, and really enjoyed it. Wandered downtown and read historical markers. Visited the Russian Cemetery. Found a little touch tank and salmon hatchery where the water was boiling with little fins. Walked around in Totem Park (National Historic Park). Chatted with a noisy raven and a silent bald eagle. Great day. Pic of Russian Cemetery : https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/russian-cemetery-sitka/ Pics of Totem Park: https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/sitka-national-historic-park/.
  12. Melinda Brasher

    Excursions to see native wildlife

    Not sure if deer count, but I've seen them on trails around Ketchikan twice. People I know have seen bears at Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau during salmon runs (late July and August, usually). I saw a porcupine there. I've seen bears (from a distance) in Glacier Bay. It's all up to luck, however. If you're really set on bears, go later in the summer and splurge on a bear tour. That will give you the best chance. And I know you're looking for land mammals, but I agree that the sea mammals are awesome. Just spend a lot of time on deck watching, and you're likely to see something. Some trips I've seen whales, orcas, dolphins, porpoises, seals, seal lions, AND otters. Others didn't have so many sightings, but I've never been on an Alaska cruise where I didn't see some sort of marine mammal. He's kinda hard to see, but here's the porcupine at Mendenhall: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2014/09/juneau-alaska.html
  13. Melinda Brasher

    Snow in Alaska

    There will definitely be snow on a lot of the high mountains, and it's beautiful. I've hiked through snow on trails in July--and these are trails sections you can get to on foot from the ship in an hour or two. Portage Pass Trail in Whitter was one. I have pictures here, but not specifically of the snow I got to walk through: https://www.melindabrasher.com/2017/05/portage-glacier-hike-from-whittier.html Here's a pic of old snow on the Deer Mountain Trail in Ketchikan: https://cruisingalaskaonabudget.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/snow-in-july/
  14. Online I would use a US credit card, especially if it has no foreign transaction fee as you mentioned earlier. I would go with credit before debit. I think it's safer and more reliable as far as what to expect.
  15. Credit cards are good, but I like having cash backup. What if a place can't accept credit cards for some reason? What if my bank gets overzealous in their fraud monitoring and cuts it off? What if I want to tip a street musician? What if I want to buy a postcard or an apple or something else too small to use a credit card on? Plus, handling foreign money has always been part of the adventure of going abroad. I've found that the best rates for currency exchange are usually at an ATM that has an alliance with your bank (call your bank ahead of time to find out). They generally exchange at a fair rate with no extra ATM fee. If I have extra Canadian dollars at the end of the trip, I just save them. Because...let's face it...I'm going back someday, probably sooner than later. Then, on your next trip, you'll have pocket/emergency money without having to exchange anything.