Greg and Denise Seiter explore the wonders of Alaska
By Greg Seiter // Photography by Denise Seiter
In June 2023, in pursuit of a bucket list conquest while also reclaiming our COVID-delayed 25th wedding anniversary trip, my wife, Denise, and I eagerly boarded the 3,660-passenger Discovery Princess in Seattle, not knowing exactly what to expect from the scheduled seven-night, four-port cruise.
Also, adding to our anxiety, questions poured in from family and friends as if we had made a life-altering mistake.
Isn’t it terribly cold there?
Won’t you miss not being able to visit a beach?
Will it be a huge disappointment if you didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, a whale or even a bear?
Doesn’t it rain most of the time there?
However, our answer was and continues to be an emphatic, “No.” In fact, to the contrary, our Alaskan cruise aboard the Princess Cruises Discovery Princess was life altering, but more so in a positive way than a negative one.
Northbound from Seattle, we quickly found comfort in the surprisingly calm water of the Pacific Ocean, as our 19-deck vessel cautiously navigated an area known as the Inside Passage, a 500-mile, glacier-shaped waterway teaming with small islands, idyllic coves and partially secluded bays. As we hugged the west coast of British Columbia, our 145,000-ton temporary home meandered its
way along, destined for the northernmost U.S. state.
Upon arrival at Ketchikan, a small city located on the southernmost tip of the Alaskan panhandle and what many Americans still call the Last Frontier, we were welcomed by bald eagles majestically soaring past our port-side balcony.
Ketchikan is commonly known as the “Salmon Capital of the World” thanks to the abundance of salmon that can be found there, particularly during spawning season. Surrounded by a lush rainforest, the city is home to many species of wildlife but also offers an abundance of cultural attractions. Boasting a Scandinavian feel, it’s a destination filled with fjords and colorfully painted houses, many of which are supported by water stilts.
The city’s downtown area is long, narrow and easily walkable, boasting a variety of unique eateries and gift and specialty shops, including numerous Native American art, jewelry and craft stores.
Those in search of authentic items created by locals will want to visit the nearby area known as Creek Street. A tad quieter and more secluded than the boardwalk area where visiting cruise ships dock, Creek Street has its own story to tell. It was once overflowing with brothels.
Totem poles are still plentiful in Ketchikan. In fact, while recalling our eagle encounter from earlier in the day, Denise and I paused for a couples’ photo beneath Thundering Wings at Eagle Park, a creation by Tlingit master carver, Nathan Jackson.
While our time in Ketchikan was accompanied by surprisingly warm temperatures — low 60s F. — our next stop presented an early morning dose of semi-chilly reality that we hardly noticed thanks to the natural beauty that surrounded us. In many ways, Endicott Arm, a 30-mile waterway surrounded by cliffs, valleys, waterfalls and icebergs, could be described as a jewel in Alaska’s crown. The air is crisp, the silence is deafening and the sheer beauty is indescribable. Dawes Glacier soars into the sky above. The area is an almost disturbingly peaceful place where snowy segments, rock-covered terrain, miniature green pastures and ice caps peacefully coexist under the watchful eye of the passing, fluffy grey and white clouds.
Choosing a favorite anything can sometimes be difficult but if we had to pick our most preferred port for this particular cruise, Denise and I agreed that it would be Juneau: Alaska’s state capital.
The place is eclectic and even somewhat quirky with a tasteful combination of new and old and past and present. Located in the Alaskan panhandle and comfortably nestled between the Gastineau Channel and the Tongass National Forest, it is surprisingly the second-largest city in the United States by area.
Hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking and wildlife viewing are popular outdoor activities, but the city also offers a fair share of cultural attractions, including museums, galleries and historic sites.
Though we didn’t partake during this particular adventure, The Mendenhall Glacier Tour is recognized as one of Juneau’s most popular “cruiser” excursion options, with more than 400,000 visitors per year. The 13-mile frozen river is situated just 12 miles from the downtown area.
We did, however, enjoy a 1,800-foot tram ride up a nearby hillside to a remote area known as Mount Roberts, where we briefly experimented with hiking, shopped (again) and enjoyed a casual outdoor lunch while overlooking a ruggedly beautiful mountainous valley backdrop.
Historically relevant Skagway painted a dramatically different, yet equally enjoyable experience during our port stop there.
A small town with a colorful history, Skagway served as a welcoming gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Its main street (Broadway) is lined with shops, saloons and stopping points, one of which we began the day at as part of our selected excursion while we were in town.
The Red Onion Saloon was built in 1898 as a saloon, dance hall and bordello. Originally located at the corner of Sixth and State streets, it was moved to the facility’s current location in 1914 but was mistakenly installed backwards. So rather than simply rotate the building, architectural engineers elected to cut a section of the building off and attach it to the opposite end.
Today, for the amusement of visitors, the Red Onion continues to playfully portray itself as a temporary home for “working girls” who dress in period costumes, tell stories of days gone by and provide colorful, verbal exchanges with guests while serving food and drinks.
Victoria British Columbia
Our last port of call was Victoria, British Columbia. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, it serves as the capital of British Columbia and is known for its mild climate, stunning scenery and vibrant culture.
With limited time in the area, we chose to participate in a city bus tour that took us past some of the area’s most famous spots. The list is extensive – Butchart Gardens, the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Parliament buildings are a few of the most notable.
Some people from our ship, however, elected to go whale watching. With Victoria’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, visitors can take a boat tour with hopes of seeing orcas, humpback whales and other marine life. The waters around the area are also home to a variety of other wildlife including seals, sea lions and porpoises.
Our experience on board the Discovery Princess was almost as enjoyable as the ports we visited. From shows that featured a comedian, an original musical production and a hypnotist to time spent in a Vegas-style casino, participating in a group game and listening to live music in the ship’s Take Five jazz and craft cocktail bar, “downtime,” (unless we wanted it) was hard to come by.
To no surprise, dining was also memorable. A few of my casual eatery favorites were Gigi’s Pizzeria and the World Fresh Marketplace buffet.
Overall, our trip to Alaska was much more than we had hoped for. Sure, the scenery was breathtaking and the cruise ship exceeded our expectations. However, to our surprise, we were, perhaps, even more so impacted by the words naturalist Michael Modzelewski shared during a series of four 45-minute presentations he gave on Alaskan life, history, culture and wildlife. By candidly revealing his own experiences, the Cleveland native, who moved to Alaska on his own as a young man while hoping to connect with nature, helped us see, feel, understand and appreciate more about our environmental surroundings than this seven-day adventure could have possibly given us on its own.