The actual birthday weather wasn’t so bad for Valdez; no rain, and a little bit of sun peeking through, so we were all pretty excited about taking the cruise. Here’s the thing though, and I really think I should lead with this: Despite my best efforts in my head, when I think glacier cruise I had this image of a beam of sunlight and an orca jumping out of the water so I could snap the perfect pic. Yes, I knew it was unlikely, but since it was my birthday I thought maybe the universe would smile. Alas, there were no whale sightings on this cruise, but we did see the glacier, and two kinds of puffins at the end and that was pretty special. As a side note, this same group of friends went on a sunset cruise in Tarpon Springs a couple of years ago and it did have several magical moments, so sometimes it does happen, just not so much on this trip.
Check in time for the cruise was 10am so we all arrived with plenty of time. Despite the overcast day the docks were pretty amazing and Stan Stephens had a nice gift shop where I picked up a long-sleeved T-shirt and this really cool ear warmer head band. My ears get cold, but most earmuffs give me a headache, so I was excited to put one on that was actually loose on my head. Immediate sale!
I am not much of a boat person, but sometimes that is the best way to get to see stuff, so armed with lots of warm clothing, a sea sickness patch (which worked great), and my friends, I was ready to go. The boat was really nice. The bathrooms were clean and large enough that I didn’t feel claustrophobic, and there were indoor and outdoor seating areas. It also helped that the charter was only at about 50% capacity, so there was plenty of room to wander about and see both sides of the boat. They also offered free coffee, tea, lemonade, and water all day and the included lunch of clam chowder, bagel, and Oreos was perfect. I also really enjoyed the crew members as they were all young, friendly, and really seemed to be having a good time.
My only major complaint is that the ride was 7 hours long. Now, if it would have been non-stop action, that would have been fine, but there was a lot of down time between animal/glacier sightings. Also, absolutely no smoking on the boat. I get it, and bought some Nicorette lozenges (which work but taste like chalk) for the trip, but it would have been less annoying if more exciting stuff happened. For those of you who don’t smoke there was no drinking of alcohol either. At one point Lee leaned down and said, “I think we are spoiled,” and he was definitely right. I know I was incredibly lucky to be experiencing this amazing trip with friends, and in Alaska no less, but honestly a bunch of the trip was kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I did the trip, but I’m not sure I would rush to do it again.
Here’s the pictures though, and since you won’t have any wait time, I think you will enjoy it.
When we got closer to the glacier we did get to see lots of otters, and they were super cute. They can sleep in the water, but give birth on the ice and use the ice to rest when they have their babies. We saw several groups of them and they were all very entertaining. The captain wouldn’t get close to any of the mothers with babies because they are skittish and can occasionally abandon the babies, which I respected.
Next up was Columbia Glacier, and that very pretty cool. It does take quite some time for the captain to navigate the huge ice chunks, but he managed to get us pretty close on this particular day since there was little wind. The sun also came out for a little bit and despite the ice chill it was pretty. What everyone wants to see though is a big chunk of ice breaking off, and again reality did not match the picture in my head. The ice wall is huge and the calving happens very quickly, so although I saw a couple after the fact splashes I didn’t actually see ice breaking off, and I certainly didn’t snatch a picture of it happening. Still, I am glad I saw this, although I was uncomfortably aware of the Titanic movie throughout. That water was freezing and you wouldn’t last long in it. Here are the pictures of how it appeared as we got closer and closer.
Unfortunately, as slow as it was getting to the ice it was even slower getting out, and without the anticipation of seeing the ice close up. We did see some mountain goats along the way, but they were very far off and again no decent picture could be had.
At this point I think we were all a little bummed, but the captain had one more trick up his sleeve. He took us a little farther out on the way back to an island where we saw lots of stellar seal lions and puffins!! Unlike the California seal lions the Stellar lions don’t really bark, they just growl and there were tons on the rocks. Unlike sea otters they can’t sleep in the water so they need to find land to sleep. And flying all around them were TWO kinds of puffins. Those little guys fly poorly and super fast so they were very difficult to get pictures of, but I got one of each kind (tufted and horned) and added two new birds to my bird list. That in and of itself was worth the trip for me, especially because the horned only come in during mating season and generally live on the high seas.
Trying to capture the puffins was a lot of fun and really cheered me up about the day. Plus the company was great, and we had a bit of sun, so really how lucky am I? We even got to see more seals on the way back into the harbor close up. Their flippers are really something.
So overall I am glad we did it, and especially glad we did it with good friends. I would have loved a whale sighting of course, but we will save that for another special day. After the cruise we went back to the campground and ate burgers, brats, and hot dogs that Jo had brought and then had a multi-flavored cheesecake for dessert. That cheesecake (which I bought at Safeway) was awesome by the way. It was a nice birthday with great friends and kind of cool that we bookended our Florida sunset cruise with an Alaska Glacier cruise. It is not lost on me that now we live that kind of life!
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