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Tales from Alaska

I just got back from an Alaskan Cruise, and I’ve got so much to tell you, it’s going to take at least three blogs. After a quick overview of the “cruise”, I’ll move on to what I enjoyed most – excursions into Alaska’s majestic scenery and wildlife.




Profile of the ms Amsterdam

Holland America’s mid-size ms Amsterdam is flagged out of the Netherlands with company headquarters in Seattle.

Vessel Statistics:
Gross Tonnage – 62,735 tons
Length – 781 feet
Width – 106 feet
Max Speed – 24.5 knots
Passengers – 1218
Crew – 616

The Amsterdam has four restaurants, bars, cocktail lounges, a coffee bar, a casino, a library, pool, spa, gym, walking deck on level 3, movies, live entertainment, shops – it’s like an artificial small town. The company has done everything possible to insure that no passenger is bored. And then, there’s scenery and shore excursions – which I think are the best part. So, that’s what I’ll share for the next three weeks, or so.

I was on a 14-day cruise that began and concluded in Seattle

Ketchikan is a “Preserve America” Community

First Port of Call – KETCHIKAN

Ketchikan is a tiny town with a population of about 8,050. The numbers swell in the summer with workers coming north for the tourist and fishing seasons. From May through September, over 400 cruise ships visit with often as many as six in port at one time.

The city is located in Tongass National Forest, a rain forest that draws over 162 inches of rain annually. This makes Ketchikan the rainiest city in the US. [Sidebar: Hilo HI, where I live, is also a rain forest area. We get about 126 inches annually which makes Hilo the third rainiest city in the US. For once, I’m happy to remain in third place.]

So, what’s there to see in Ketchikan? If you like sports fishing, you should know that Ketchikan, according to the publicity, is the “Salmon Capital of the World.”

Our luxurious catamaran
With marine toilet

I opted to go out of town for a “Wilderness Exploration & Crab Feed” at George Inlet Lodge. At the lodge we boarded a 36 foot enclosed catamaran and mostly sat in our seats like good boys and girls. It was my first excursion, and it was fun.

George Inlet Lodge Bears

A tag line for the tour was that participants would help haul in crab pots. Um, no. Only one passenger was brave enough to pull up the pot containing a dead halibut for bait and three crabs. These, by the way, were demonstration crabs, not lunch.

Presenting 1 dead halibut &
3 scavenging crabs

The crabs allowed the guide to demonstrate the difference between boy and girl crabs, and how a pregnant crab looks. If you hold the crab on it’s back, they zone out. Good to know. Also, if you hold the crab just under it’s pincers, all the legs drop open. This proved to be a popular photo op. I was more interested in the distant black bear that looked like a moving boulder, the eagles’ nest, and my first eagle sighting.

Remember, hold behind the pincers.

After cruising the estuary, we went back to the lodge for all you can eat crab, pitchers of butter, a tasty salad, and blueberry cheesecake. Fat and happy, we got back to the ship in time for drinks.

Plated crab


Tracy Arm is a fjord 45 miles south of Juneau. So my first fun fact is that fjords exist outside of Scandinavia and New Zealand. Technically, a fjord is any narrow, deep inlet between high cliffs, usually connected with glaciers. [This cruise is educational as well as scenic.]

Tracy Arm with floating glacial ice.

Tracy Arm is part of the Tracy Army-Fords Terror Wilderness as designated by Congress in 1980. It’s managed by the Forest Service and covers 653,179 acres. There are two arms – Tracy and Endicott. Both are over 30 miles long. You may be wondering (c’mon, you must be) why the name includes “Fords Terror.” Apparently a naval crewman named – you guessed it – Ford once paddled into a narrow waterway connected to Endicott Arm and was trapped for six hours in a tidal surge. Yikes!

Twin glaciers are at the end of Tracy Arm – North Sawyer and South Sawyer, respectively.

Glacier meets water.

Details aside, the only word to describe cruising up Tracy Army is AWESOME. It’s the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. Like being alone in a frozen world – just me and 1833 passengers and crew.

Stillness. Quiet.
Cold, peaceful water.


Arriving at Juneau

Juneau is our last stop today. Alaska became an incorporated territory of the U.S. in 1912. As part of that process, the territorial capital moved from Sitka to Juneau. Not surprisingly, in 1959, Juneau became the state capital. Fun Fact: Juneau is geographically the second largest city in the US, with a population of 32,832.

Originally, Juneau was a mining town. In 1880 Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, following directions from Chief Kaawa.ée, found gold nuggets, and a town was born. Today the economy is based on tourism, mining, and fishing. In 2005 cruise ships brought in about 1 million tourists who visited for 8 hours between the months of May and September. Not all at the same time, of course.

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

I decided to walk around the town. The first four blocks were flat, and then it was uphill. Did I really want to see St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church? Of course. I’m an historian. It’s a historic building. The oldest continuously operating Orthodox church in southeast Alaska. I made it up the hill. [Puff. Puff. – Must be thinner air up north.] Closed. Undergoing restoration. Shucks.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t hiked up the hill, I would’ve missed the charming houses and gardens.

“Charming House”


Tallest tulips I’ve ever seen

Back in the tourist area, I noted an intriguing tattoo shop. The sign read: “High Tide Tattoo. Seven Days a Week. Hours 12-7 (sometimes earlier, sometimes later).” And by the way, if you’re thinking of becoming a client, remember: “No Phones, No Cameras, No Children, and No Drunks.”

High Tide Tattoo


No Phones No Cameras
No Children No Drunks


And, no, I didn’t get a tattoo.

Photos by Author. All Rights Reserved.

For More Information:

Population Figures from 2010 Census
Holland America –
Visit Ketchikan –
Wilderness Exploration & Crab Feed –
Tracy Arm –
Juneau –

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

One thoughts on “TALES FROM ALASKA”

  1. Your travelogue is great. I’ve been on Alaska cruises but didn’t remember all those fun facts. Never heard the story about “Ford terror” and I too think Tracy Arm is just beautiful – one of my favorite places. My mouth was watering over your delicious crab lunch. I look forward to more pictures & info.


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