This guest post is by Dave Tindell.
Like a lot of places dependent on tourism, Alaska had a rough 2020 thanks to the COVID pandemic. It looked like 2021 was going to be better, until neighboring Canada declared that it would not allow ships of 100 or more passengers to enter its waters. One might think that would be no problem; Alaska-bound liners always launch from American ports like Seattle, but thanks to an obscure 19th-century law, most of these were required to make a stop in Canada along the way. For many years, that wasn't a problem; the lines' customers certainly didn't mind spending a pleasant day in the Canadian city of Vancouver or exploring the offshore island of the same name, which is home to the famed Butchart Gardens. Sue and I had visited both on previous trips.
But with Canada now having closed its borders to all but the smallest American-based cruise ships, and not even allowing the ships to simply float in their waters for a few hours, it looked like Alaska might suffer another devastating tourist season. Alaska's congressional delegation--which consists of three people--wasn't about to go down without a fight, though, and they were successful. Congress unanimously passed a new law suspending that portion of the old one that required a Canadian stop, and when President Biden quickly signed it into law, the cruise lines swung into action. The season, delayed by about three months, got underway in late July. We would be on one of the first ships to bring visitors back to the ports which had so desperately missed them in 2020.
Saturday, Aug. 7 -- to Seattle
After a few somewhat-frantic phone calls, she concluded that it was likely she wouldn't be allowed on the ship tomorrow. I asked another seemingly-logical question: since we're not setting foot in a foreign country, why do we need passports anyway? Well, the cruise line has always required them because of the Canada stop, and now, even though Canada's not on the itinerary, it will be again someday, so evidently they decided to just keep the passport requirement active. Not wanting to take chances, Sue changed her flight to a 9:30 departure, drove back home to get the correct passport, and I traveled on to Seattle alone.
The airports at both ends were busy, and keeping with federal regulations, masking was required all the way. Everybody seemed to be in compliance and there were no incidents. When I arrived in Seattle, I retrieved both of our bags and made my way to the hotel we'd booked, the Seattle Airport Hilton. With nothing much else to do, I had a quiet dinner in the hotel restaurant and hit the hay, knowing Sue would awaken me when she arrived sometime during the night. She made her re-scheduled flight easily and it was about 2am local time when she arrived. We had a 6am wakeup call, so it was a short night for all concerned. But at least she knew now that she'd be able to board the ship. A lesson learned, and I gently suggested that from now on, she should keep her old passport at the back of the file instead of the front.
Sunday, Aug. 8 -- Boarding the Majestic Princess
Ah, yes, the phones. Princess Cruises has gone all-in on smartphone tech, and through its app, we could now do wondrous things: see a map of each deck, check daily activities, sign up for said activities, play games, order food or drinks, and even track the whereabouts of "shipmates" on board. All of these would prove to be very useful throughout the cruise. That was the upside. The downside was that many passengers seemed to be constantly on their phones during the cruise. Ship-wide WiFi was, of course, offered for no charge.
Princess also provided each passenger with a medallion before the cruise. This medallion, which came in a plastic holder with a lanyard, was to be kept on your person all the time, and with it you could open your cabin door, check your personalized schedule on any of the many monitors throughout the ship, and more. Many passengers availed themselves of the option to wear their medallion on a wristband or as a pendant, and Princess craftily provided a station that sold wristbands and pendants, doing brisk business early in the cruise. Sue kept hers in its original container, but I got myself a wristband for mine.
|The medallions are a Princess innovation that|
could wind up revolutionizing cruising.
Even though we hadn't cruised in some time, it didn't take long to get back into the swing of things. The first thing we like to do is explore the ship, and this is a challenge in the beginning, because everybody else wants to do that, too. You want to orient yourself when it comes to where your cabin is and where other important locations are: the restaurants, the theater, the fitness center, the bars. And on cruise lines, bars are everywhere. Majestic Princess has six restaurants, plus three diner-style serving areas where you could walk up, get food and drinks and sit wherever you might like in the big midships atrium, if you were patronizing the International Cafe, or the main deck, which had one station that served burgers and another that offered oriental soups. I didn't even bother to count the number of bars, but you were never very far from one, and if you didn't feel like actually going to one, you could use your phone to order drinks brought right to your location, whether it was your cabin or a chair on deck.
One thing that hadn't changed was the wide variety of activities available to passengers. From 8am Bible studies to classical music in the atrium to movies under the stars, almost everything imaginable was being offered. Except dancing; a staple of cruises pre-COVID, dancing was one of the activities not to be found on board, except in performances by the ship's entertainment troupe on stage.
We retired early, looking forward to a day at sea tomorrow as we sailed north. Alaska was just over 24 hours away.
Monday, Aug. 9 -- at sea
In the early morning we passed the coast of British Columbia, the closest we would be allowed to Canada. We waved as we went by. No doubt many businesses in Vancouver would've waved sadly back.
Every cruise has a ping-pong tournament, and I enter every time. The tables were out on deck, and with the weather cold and occasionally rainy, it wasn't the best conditions, even though the tables were enclosed on the sides to cut down the wind. Out of the 32 passengers who entered, I made it to the 2nd round before falling. But we were told there'd be another one on Saturday, our final day at sea, so I looked on this event as a warm-up. At the very least it was entertaining to watch the contestants from California, who were suffering mightily with the weather. We dined in the large buffet restaurant, World Fresh Marketplace, which in a sign of increased hygiene was not allowing passengers to grab their own food from the serving trays. This caused some veteran cruisers more than a little consternation, based on what we observed; they weren't able to load up their plates as they might've done before. They could deal with masks and other restrictions, but we thought forced portion-control might just cause a mutiny. Fortunately, they discovered that with multiple trips to the serving lines, they could eat just as much as they used to do. As we turned in that evening, we were excited about the next day, and our arrival in Alaska.
|We began our ride outside a charming log chapel, a block from the campus of|
the University of Alaska-Southeast.
|All geared up and ready to roll on late-model Trek bikes.|
|We'd stop a couple times so our guides could|
point out interesting flora and fauna. Juneau
is in the middle of the Tongass National Forest,
the largest in the country, and the largest rain
forest in North America, at 16.9 million acres.
|The glacier has been retreating for over a century. This spot marks|
its extent in 1910. Our guides told us that climate change is
accelerating the glacier's retreat, which has reached about 2.5 miles
since its peak in the mid-18th century.
|The guide asked if anybody wanted to get a romantic picture|
with the glacier in the background, so of course we volunteered.
|We biked around the southern shore of the lake and visited the|
Forest Service Visitors Center (the first such visitor center in
the nation), giving us an even better view of the glacier
and nearby Nugget Falls.
Skagway went from a frontier town of about 1,000 people
living mostly out of tents to a bustling city of 10,000
The Golden Staircase, leading over Chilkoot Pass, was one
of many daunting challenges facing gold "stampeders"
who dreamed of becoming rich.
The same view of Broadway in Skagway as in the photo
above, with a cruise ship in port.
Our visit to Skagway wasn't quite as adventurous as Buck's was
in the novel and movie, but it was interesting and a lot of fun.
|Disembarking at Skagway. The ship was pretty organized|
and people got down the gangways in good order.
|The Majestic Princess was only the second liner to reach|
Skagway in the delayed cruise season.
|At the rock wall a few miles outside of town, we geared up|
for our climbs.
|The climbing surfaces ranged from|
40 feet to about 75, and there
was only one direction: straight up.
|After our climbs, which were strenuous but invigorating,|
we hiked up a switch-backed trail to the top, where we
prepared to rappel down.
|Here I am, preparing to come down,|
Sue went down first. Our experience
rappelling in Belize in 2019 sure
came in handy.
|On the way down, another example of|
Alaska's amazing flora: laetiporus
suphureus, an edible fungus known
as "chicken of the woods" due to its
After our climb and rappel, we were brought back to town and
began to explore downtown Skagway. They've done a great job in
preserving the town's Klondike-era flavor--with modern
conveniences, of course, including paved streets.
|Sue takes a look in one of the many shop windows.|
|A Klondike-era barroom is recreated in a museum.|
|The Red Onion Saloon was closed|
today, unfortunately. Now a bar and
restaurant, it was one of Skagway's most
notorious brothels in the 1890s,
with ten "cribs" on the second floor.
Prostitutes who worked the Red Onion
and other Alaska bawdy houses often
made more money than women in
more respectable professions, such
as cooks and laundresses.
|In Alaska, totem poles were a common sight, like here alongside |
a store. Commonly thought to be religious structures, they're
actually built to commemorate ancestors, legends, and
even repositories for the remains of the deceased.
|Approaching the entrance to Glacier Bay.|
|As we entered the bay, everyone was hoping the weather|
would break long enough for us to get the full effect of the scenery.
|On deck, dressed for the weather, with a glacier behind us.|
|The closest we got to Margerie Glacier, one of seven|
tidewater glaciers in the bay. It was interesting to see little
ice floes in the water on this early-August day.
|Approaching Ketchikan, we finally got a good feel for|
|As we sailed slowly toward our pier, seaplanes buzzed|
us from their berths.
|Taking advantage of the weather, many of the passengers|
joined us on deck.
|Sue was glad to be on deck without having to bundle up.|
|We came ashore and joined up with our kayaking group, which|
transported us by van to their camp on the shore to the north
of town. This school, we were told, was in use until very
|Our kayaks awaited us. It didn't take long and we were seaborne.|
|Sue and I have done a lot of canoeing on our lake, but|
not much kayaking. I took the front berth, with Sue in back
working the rudder, and away we went.
|Along the rocky shoreline, we saw a large number of starfish,|
literally left hanging at low tide.
|On the far side of Clover, a place that serves as a coming-of-age|
spot for Ketchikan teenagers, according to our guide, a high
school senior herself.
|In a cove on one side of Clover, we were visited by this seal, |
soon joined by a similarly-curious companion.
|After the kayaking, we were bused back downtown to |
begin our exploration of Ketchikan, which was glad to see us.
|Ketchikan Creek flows swiftly|
through town, and we saw several
salmon, struggling mightily
to get upstream. Ketchikan
bills itself as the "Salmon Capital
of the World."
|Dolly's House, a former brothel|
now maintained as a museum.
Prostitution was legal here until 1954,
tolerated for a half-century because
it drew men, and their money, to the
|The other end of Creek Street, which is now listed on the|
National Register of Historic Places. Alaskans told us that
the Klondike-era towns were "where salmon and men
came to spawn."
|Ketchikan has the world's largest|
collection of standing totem poles.
Saturday, Aug. 13 -- at sea, heading south
|In the final, the Texas gent frustrated his young opponent|
by playing a very fundamentally-sound game, then finished
him off with a pair of wicked serves for aces. Age and guile
beats youth and exuberance once again.
|Before and after the ping-pong, it was a day to take it|
easy. Sue and I had been taking our breakfast at the
International Cafe and enjoying the Atrium, the multi-
level open space amidships that frequently had musical
performers to keep us company.
|One of the ship's many bars, this one a level above the |
International Cafe in the atrium.
|While at sea, the ship's stores are open, as is the casino. |
Like every cruise we've ever been on, jewelry was prominent
among the items offered.
|The World Marketplace buffet, an airy place where we had|
lunch a couple times, and then dinner on our last night aboard.
|As usual, the cruise line had everything well-organized as we|
departed the ship and got ready for the drive to SeaTac.