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Spring 2024 - Alaskan cruise

Monday 6 June all I had planned was boarding the ship. My appointed arrival time was 1:30, so I had my morning free. I checked out and left my bags, crossing to the waterfront to snap a picture of the NCL Jewel. Returning, I entered the Breeze Inn Restaurant where I had a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon, although it took them a while to brew a pot of decaf. I strolled the port waterfront for about a half hour and decided to head inside as the weather was gray and gloomy, with a cold wind. At 1pm, I boarded the “free” shuttle to the port, and dropped my big luggage with the porters. Wheeling the smaller bag, there were no holdups getting checked in and boarding the ship. My belt buckle and the two chunks of titanium triggered the metal detector, but after a pat down, I was climbing the gangway and pulling my bag up the stairs. First stop was to visit my muster station. My cabin upgrade (my auction submission had been accepted) of an Oceanview Stateroom put me now on Deck 5 (instead of 9 and the inside stateroom.) Not available until 2:30, I found a spot to read by a window.

Once I had cabin access, I emptied the roller, setting up my toiletries in a very nice bathroom. With a king bed set in the middle, and a pull-down bunk folded into the left wall, navigating was going to be a challenge. The right (forward) bed corner was close to the desk space, so I turned the night table and then pushed the bed to make more space under the bunk. I left a sheet with instructions/preferences for my steward (I sleep warm, so don’t like a heavy duvet) and headed out with my camera.

First time on the Jewel, I crossed the atrium and walked through the art gallery. Exiting to the deck on 7, I took shots of the port and inlet. Back inside and forward, I stuck my head into the theater, being quite impressed with its size and well-planned rake. Crawling through the ship, I passed the Bliss lounge, several of the specialty dining venues and the atrium before checking in at O’Sheehan’s, the 24-hour bar/restaurant. [In this album, the first 28 were taken on my first day.]

The solo/singles group was to meet at 5:30 at the Spinnaker Lounge, so I headed up to deck 12, bumping into Marissa in the designated smoking area. She got me a scotch and soda (I didn’t get a drink package for this cruise) and we chatted until it was time for the meet-up. As folks straggled in, we did introductions. At 6 a group of 10 descended to the main dining room (deck 6 aft). I had cauliflower soup, feta salad, rotisserie chicken and the cheese plate, with a glass of tempranillo.

Heading up and then down to my cabin (there was no access to deck 5 in the aft stairwell,) my large bag had been delivered. Unpacking it into closets (there are very few drawers on cruise ships), I climbed back to Spinnaker for sail-away at 10 and stayed a bit watching the dancing and enjoying the music. Transiting the length of the ship, I strolled through Tradewinds (shopping) before returning to the cabin for the night.

Tuesday May seventh was a day at sea, with our path taking us for views of the Hubbard Glacier. I had breakfast at the Tsar’s Palace, as the main dining room was known, having many of my usuals at sea: an OJ-cranberry mix, decaf, oatmeal with hot milk, raisins, cinnamon and nuts. And I added a poached egg on a toasted English muffin with turkey sausage links. To the theater, I attended the excursions talk and then headed to Tradewinds to look at the watches and listen to the salesman’s talk, as well as listening to the shopping talk and picking up charms and pendants.

Lunch was a bistro salad, bay scallop crostini, and chicken flautas. After attending the diamond talk, I headed out on deck to get pictures of the glacier and the waters of Disenchantment Bay. We got within 3 miles of the wall of blue ice!

Chilled, I got my reader and headed first to the Bliss Lounge to read. Once trivia started, I climbed to the Spinnaker Lounge and read until the solo/single meet-up. On my way to dinner, I stopped at Tradewinds for a raffle and to pickup a trinket, before dinner of New England clam chowder, Cobb salad and vodka shrimp, which I doused with grated cheese. And, of course, the cheese plate.

Wednesday’s port of call was Hoonah on Icy Strait Point. With no dock sufficient in size to handle a cruise ship, we had to queue up to tender to land. I had shasuka for breakfast, a north African dish with poached eggs on a bed of spicy peppers and tomato sauce. I had an excursion booked for the Ziprider, and I was excited. On my first Alaskan cruise in May 2022, I had booked the whale watching and zip ride, where I got many photos of whale tails. The Ziprider is the longest zip ride at 50-feet longer than a mile of zip line, descending 1330-feet in about 90 seconds.

After chilling a bit after breakfast, I joined the queue for a tender to shore, and walked up the rise to the gondola base. After weighing in (there are minimum and maximum limits) and determining I could bring my gear with me, I headed out to ride the 4-person gondola to the mountain top.

With an hour until my scheduled ride, I joined a few folks as we walked the nature path at the top, ending at a thawing lake. Fortunately, no wildlife appeared. The loop was closed, so we hiked back the way we came, and then down a steep dirt-and-stone trail to the zip launch platform. Two groups of six ahead of us, we stood around a wood-burning fire under a tent as there was a mild drizzle. Once the earlier group had been geared up, strapped in and sent off, it was our turn.

Groups of six are launched together. Being solo, the half dozen in front of me went as a group, and I was joined by a pair of couples and another solo. The process is that you stand behind and observe the preceding six, and then step up and get strapped into a seat and harness. After some minor instructions, we lift our legs and whack! We were on our way. I’d resolved to film not only others launch, but my own ride. The video is fair, but I regret not just sitting back and enjoying the rush of the ride. When I got to the bottom, I didn’t feel that I had really gotten the benefits of the flight.

The Zipliner ends close to the town of Hoonah, with a low-elevation funicular transporting folks over the rise between the tender port and the town. There is a bar/restaurant and several shopping venues there, as well as more shopping opportunities down in town. The queue for the ride back was horrendous (it was past lunch time) so I just decided to walk the route back through the rain forest. Spring was beginning to appear, so it was a pleasant walk. I just missed a tender, so arrived back on the ship at 3pm. I ran into Juli, so we settled into O’Sheehan’s where I had fish and chips with a beer.

Returning to the cabin to drop off my camera and peel off the layers, I took my reader up to Spinnaker to read until the solo/single meetup time. Instead of joining the group for dinner, five of us (Susan, Megan, Kathy and Bryan) went to the 7:15 show “Travelers Duo-Cliché”, an acrobatic display to romantic music where the pair used straps, silk and trapeze. Afterwards, we had dinner at Azure, the midship dining venue where I had cheese and potato soup, Caesar salad, barbecue grill and the cheese plate. [Bryan, who had a drink package, seemed determined to get his 15 drinks a day.]

Our next port was the state capital of Juneau, and that Thursday morning the weather was the same rainy, windy and cold nastiness it had been on my first visit. I slept late, getting oatmeal and juice up in the buffet before heading to the gangway and the shuttles into town. (Norwegian doesn’t use the docks close to downtown; instead, they have access to a new pier a mile north of town at a former logging station. Buses are provided to get to and from town.) I had originally booked a ship excursion which involved riding a bicycle, but thought better of it and canceled. My alternative activity was a noon walking “tour with tasting”. So when I got downtown, I poked into a few shops before pulling my phone out to get the email with the meetup point.

Here's where I discovered that Google Maps isn’t an infallible deity. Because it didn’t recognize the address, it pointed me to a point in the center of Juneau, well away from the port and downtown. While it did afford me an opportunity to see more of the capital city, it was drizzling out and taking photos with an umbrella isn’t fun. Once I discovered my error, I rechecked the mail, determined I needed to be 15 minutes away in less than 10. Arriving winded at Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial, at the base of the tramway where I’d started my hike, I joined our guide, two couples from Milwaukee and a mother-daughter pair from Orlando.

Our first stop was at Taku where we had a halibut spread on a cream cheese covered Wheat Thin, unfortunately too cold to really savor. There we saw the production facility for processing large amounts of fish, whether to vacuum pack and freeze or to can. Back out into the weather, we crossed the plaza to Tracy’s King Crab Shack where we had a show of crab legs before the crab cake and soup warmed our tummies. Delicious. Further down the boardwalk, passing some totem poles to the storefront for the tour company. There we sampled salsa, tortilla chips, and a salmon dip with and without roe. Our penultimate stop was in a mini-mall, at the Harbor Tea and Spice emporium. The tasting was a sample of blue tea made from their Ice Cave Blue Blend. At the final stop, a saloon whose name I failed to capture, we had separate tastes of smoked salmon and ceviche.

Parting, and wanting to return to a distillery I’d spotted in my initial wanderings, I headed to Amalga Distillery where I tried their gin (very juniper-y) and a single malt whisky. I liked the whisky and got a shot. Continuing my prowl, I stopped at Barnaby Brewing Company for a 4-sample tasting of their beer/ale offerings, followed by three samples of the “Adventurous Ales” at Devil’s Club Brewing. On my way back to the bus shuttle pickup point I stopped in a jewelry shop and got talked into a pretty snazzy ring – silver, with an eagle head depicted (onyx eye) and a shaving of a gold nugget. (I wore it frequently during much of the rest of this trip.)

Once I’d boarded, I called Juli, as I’d invited her to join me for one of my specialty dining dinners, at Le Bistro. We missed each other at the solo/single meet-up, and we never spotted the other at the restaurant reception area. So I went solo, enjoying the escargot bourguignonne, French onion soup, and the divine lamb chops with a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape. I ended with the cheese plate. I’ve sailed on several NCL ships, and eaten at each vessel’s Le Bistro, so I know what I like!

May 10 saw us in the port of Skagway. Getting into town required two shuttles – the first free from the gangway to port entry, the second took a fee for an all-day usage. A quaint little town, the main street was lined with one- and two-story wood-faced buildings that evoked the Gold Rush period. Lots of shops and a few galleries, I strolled the shady side, poking into many and perusing the merchandise. Curious, and having time, I walked one street over, discovering a “hippie” shop with stones, crystals and gems. It was staffed by Rie LaMarr who has written a children’s book set in Alaska, “It’s One Whale of a Tale”.

Heading back to the port, I joined a group of 13 and we boarded a van which headed inland, looping around an inlet near Dyea before we switched into an Army-surplus ATV that looked like it had been on Tatooine (StarWars) or Dune. The near-vertical route up the mountainside twisted and turned over a rutted dirt road, achieving the base camp for Grizzly Falls Ziplining Expedition. Shedding unnecessary gear, we were geared up into a harness, helmet and gloves. A short hike and a set of stairs got us to the first platform for a short “trial” run. We were broken into two groups, with the first 7 heading off ahead of a group of 5 retired Texan men and me. They had left their wives either in town shopping or still on board sleeping. With 2 children in the first group, we were regularly held up, so the “expedition” went a bit slow.

We flew on 10 ziplines, walked across 4 suspension bridges and had a great adventure. My camera seemed to be working well, as I got a number of great pictures. [Three dozen pictures taken on this visit to Grizzly Falls Ziplining are in this album.]

Completing the last run, we were hustled to get out of the harnesses and turn in the helmets and gloves, A scant few minutes of souvenir shopping, we were bundled onto the Unimog and began our descent. I realized I’d forgotten to retrieve my daypack, so the guides radio’d up the hill and it was dispatched – arriving at the base about 5 minutes behind us. Back into the vans, more radio messages were sent to the ship to advise we’d be cutting it very close to all-aboard time.

Our thirteen and a handful of stragglers were running up the gangway – something I vowed I’d never be caught doing. But a ship’s excursion means the ship will wait, and it did.

After dropping my gear in my cabin, I headed to Spinnaker for the solo/single’s meet-up. However, the Latitudes Meet-and-Greet with the officers had taken over the lounge. With platinum level, I was eligible to stay, so I had a glass of red wine and chatted a bit with the beverage manager and the social director. My group had met in the Bliss lounge, and so I headed directly to the Tsar’s Palace to join them for dinner. Nothing really appealed to me on the menu, so I started with the corn and jalapeño soup while our server went in search of my bottle of CdP from Le Bistro. The steak I ordered was medium (rather than the requested medium rare) and was tough and full of gristle.

With a cruising newbie at the table, I answered her questions about protocol and Latitude levels. Also at the table were (Tyler TX) John who is a teetotaler, and Bryan (formerly Dallas, now Bradenton, FL) who continued his efforts towards total soused. The group decided to hit the Broadway review, so after collecting a pendant and a charm, I joined them in the theater. Four singers performed stand-up renditions of 50’s and 70’s shows, following no storyline and without any acting. They were mike’d to the max, uncomfortably so.

Earlier during the day, the news reported that there would be opportunities to view the Northern Lights across much of North America. So after the show, I grabbed my hoodie and flight jacket, wrapped a scarf around me and hung my camera over my shoulder, slipping my phone into my pocket. The Nikon just wasn’t capturing anything, but the phone started to pick up lighter streaks in the star-filled sky. Looking east, there was little light pollution, although the captain delayed dimming most of the lights until near midnight.

Honestly, the phone was getting better views than my eyes – I captured turquoise and magenta splashes of lights. After about 45-minutes, Leslie who I was hanging with and I went to find a warm drink at O’Sheehan’s (after finding the martini bar and the casino bar closed). We continued our conversation, which had started with me revealing my cathedral obsession. We talked until nearly 2!

Ketchican Duty Free Shopping
Ketchican Duty Free Shopping

Friday had me up early as I needed to fill a laundry bag to send out – a perk for the platinum and above levels. Our arrival in Ketchikan was just after lunch, so I puttered around, doing the crossword puzzle, backing up my photos, and some reading. I had booked a shore excursion to walk in the rain forest and zipline through its canopy. On arrival, the pier opens into a huge retail space resembling a warehouse. At the far end next to the facilities were the rendezvous points for excursions.

A group of seven (including Juli and me) were signed up, so we got into a small van and headed up into the forest, transferring into another unimog. A bright and sunny day, warm even, we got to the base camp of the Kawanti Adventures team’s Rainforest Zip, Skybridge & Rappel Adventure. Getting fitted into our harnesses and donning helmets and gloves, we were soon off to the first zipline.

Stepping up, we were hooked onto the line, unclipped from the tree and that clip secured the trolley pulley in place. Stepping down to the edge, the final link to the tree was removed and clipped to the first carabiner and we launched ourselves out feet first. Most of us hung onto the “steering bar”, although the guides would clown as they either led or followed the group. I didn’t take a picture or make note of the skybridge, but I do remember getting to the final platform and having to rappel down 100-feet. My acrophobia really kicked in then, but there was no other way down! [A Nikon album with all 80 pictures is here.]

Being the straggler, I had minimal time to grab the proffered coffee or checkout the totem poles. We rode back through Ketchikan, getting in some of the sites, but headed directly to the ship. Having been shopped out in Juneau and Skagway, running the maze of the Ketchikan port warehouse, I was glad to board the ship. I collected my color tag for eventual debarkation before dumping my gear, and headed to the solo meeting. We were only 4 plus me, and I was having dinner with Juli at La Cucina, so I didn’t join them.

Juli was a first-time cruiser, and thus received few benefits that the more frequent NCL cruiser is given. My Jewel cruise was my seventh, and I had achieved platinum level, which got me discounts, two free specialty dinners, one with a bottle of wine, a bag of laundry, and some jump-the-line privileges. I’ve got a ways to go before I get to sapphire. In any case, I invited Juli to join me (a second time) at the Italian bistro so she could appreciate a “specialty dining” experience. With her drink package we got glasses of Tempranillo wine, and I had the gorgonzola salad to start. Osso buco (if it’s on the menu, I will order) was my main. We talked about the zipline excursion, traveling plans, life stuff. I headed to the room as I was tired, backed up my photos, and there would be an hour lost due to a time zone change overnight.

Sunday would be our last full day aboard, and we were at sea. This allows the art auction and sales folks, as well as the casino and bingo venue to have one last opportunity at our tab. I started my day at the dining room with oatmeal and turkey sausage links, speaking with a young couple from Ottawa – both are doing internships, she in chemistry and he in structural engineering. I headed to the Library for the daily crossword puzzle, walked through Tradewinds checking out the sales and getting a pendant and charm. Out into the Atrium to sit, I ran into Tyler John (as he had become known) and Pillow – a delightful Anchorage woman who’d colored her hair royal blue and wore eclectic attire. Pillow had been crafting, using 7 strands of yard to create a woven yarn rope; she’d shared this with others, and two women were seeking more yarn for their next projects.

Towel animal with TV clicker
Towel animal with TV clicker

Main dining room for lunch, getting a bistro salad, bay scallops and moussaka. I headed to Effy for the raffle but didn’t win the goodie bag. Since my watch battery died (I had purchased it last year in San Marino) I bought myself a nice steel Fossil watch. Back to my room to begin packing up the laundry which had been returned – and found a towel animal holding the TV clicker. I got most of the big luggage packed and then headed to the final solo meeting. Only seven of us, and we did share emails and phone numbers before dinner at Tsars Palace.

Goat cheese salad, grilled sausage and the cheese plate for a last dinner, and then we headed to the theater for the main production “Le Cirque Bijou.”

Curtain call: Le Cirque Bijou
Curtain call: Le Cirque Bijou

Singing, dancing, acrobatics: all very well done and entertaining. It ended with the officers and some of the chefs and wait staff joining the performers for a standing ovation. [You may have noted that I don't include photos from the shows. Per the ship's announcements, recording or photographing during a show is forbidden. I adhere to that request.]

Back to the cabin to finish packing and putting my large luggage out into the hall. I had selected a late departure so I was planning on one last breakfast in the morning.

Monday morning was sunny and I could see the port out my window. I managed to be seated in the dining room for breakfast, enjoying my oatmeal. Across from me at the window was a Ukrainian couple who I recognized as being the acrobats from the shows. She was quite petite, but he was built like a quarterback with huge “guns”. They were planning a day of sightseeing in Vancouver.

Returning to the cabin, I finished my packing and was leaving the cabin as the group in front of me were called to begin exiting the ship. I worked my way up into the queue, finally being told to join a few solos. We never quite came to a full stop, walking up stairs, to the upper gangway, up ramps and down ramps into an immigration area where my passport was just raised and I was passed through. I found my bag and proceeded out onto the jetty.

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Are all zip lines so scenic? What a great trip!

KB Cook
KB Cook
Jul 07
Replying to

Susan, this trip I took 4 ziplines - the three reported here while cruising in southeast Alaska, and then one on the Big Island (Hawai'i). In my experience, they're usually in a jungle/forest setting (tall trees on mountain slopes host platforms) and having a stream/river with rapids or a fall are usually included. So there's usually lots of nature to see.

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