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August 24th, 2005

We were up and at 'em early this morning, as we had to be on shore at 7AM. We had the breakfast buffet, and headed to the gangway.

Vivian went ahead to let the tour folks know that we were on our way, as it was a little after 7AM as we disembarked. They snapped a "Welcome to Juneau" picture of me, mom, and dad as we exited.

On the short walk to the bus, dad said as he struggled to walk, "We should have done this trip five years ago."

We boarded a bus for our excursion today, which was:

MENDENHALL GLACIER & WILDLIFE QUEST

Tour Code: JNU-012

Approximate Duration: 5 hours

Level 1

Experience Alaska’s premier attractions, glaciers and wildlife from two very different vantage points -- by land and by sea. A narrated motorcoach ride takes you to view the famous Mendenhall Glacier. At the Visitor Center, you will have the opportunity to talk with forest service interpreters and learn about the awesome force of glacial ice. You’ll next take a scenic drive through the Mendenhall Valley. At Auke Bay, you will board a water jet-powered catamaran specially designed for wildlife viewing. Relax in the warm, comfortable, spacious main cabin, surrounded by large windows as your experienced Captain guides you through the island-studded waters of Stephen’s Passage. Against a majestic backdrop of snowcapped peaks, the onboard naturalist will explain the behavior and habitat of wildlife you may encounter, including humpback and killer whales, sea lions, porpoise, harbor seals, bald eagles and black tail deer.
Note: To fully enjoy a close encounter with wildlife, we recommend participants bring a warm, rainproof jacket for the observation deck. Snacks and beverages are provided. Whale sightings are guaranteed or you will receive $100 cash back ($50 for children) as you disembark the whale-watching vessel. This tour is suitable for all ages.



Let's just say I didn't feel that welcomed to our 49th state, as an old pickup truck passed our bus with a bumper sticker on the back window of its cab: "SILLY FAGGETS, DICKS ARE FOR CHICKS."

Number one, faggot is spelled with an "o" not an "e"; number two, that "adage" is as old as the hills (at least if you are a faggot it is); and number three, how arrogant can you be to ride around defaming an entire segment of the population simply because they were born with a characteristic of which you don't approve? The arrogance of the majority.



We had about a 20-minute bus ride to the port in Auke Bay, where we boarded our catamaran for our 3.5-hour whale watching trip through the Favorite Channel, the Saginaw Channel, and the Lynn Canal.

Not long at all into the trip, we ran into a phenomenal group of Humpback Whales. We spent probably 45 minutes in this area while whale after whale blew air and arced a little out of the water. Probably 3 out of 5 times they would then do a fluke wave.

One came very close to the boat:



It was all very exciting, and we all felt like we'd gotten our money's worth out of the excursion even if we didn't see anything else. This particular excursion offered $100 back if you didn't see any whales on it, so I'm sure the crew was pleased with our luck.

After the excitement of the whales, we moved out to Little Island, where we saw both Sea Lions and Harbor Seals cohabiting a small area at the tip of this tiny island. Several of the sea lions were playing in the water, seemingly having a ball, albeit without the proverbial ball played with in circuses.

Just before leaving three or four of the sea lions got out of the water and started "walking," more like "waddling" up the tiny hill. They were so cute!

We passed Hump Island, which is a privately owned island against all of this government-owned land, as we were surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, which consists of 17 million acres.

After traveling a little further, our boat pulled up close to the shore where we observed bald eagles. Cool, cool, cool. There was one perched on a huge-stump like growth at the end of the island, and one big one in the middle of the island, which was perched by a nearby nest.

Even up this close, it was hard to fathom that the wingspan of these birds is often six to seven feet. I spent a little too much time here trying to take a picture of an eagle through the right binocular lens.

This excursion was just first-class. Everything about it was good. The catamaran was spacious, with restrooms, indoor seating both upstairs and downstairs, an outdoor observation deck upstairs, a pair of binoculars for every two people, good food in the galley, and a very customer-oriented and knowledgeable staff.

We had a female pilot, which was cool, two "galley girls" (their title, not mine), and a tour guide. The guy working maintenance, Collin (same name, but different guy, from our rain forest guide yesterday), was also a licensed pilot, and actually piloted for a short time. The tour guide was super knowledgeable, very friendly, and encouraged questions.

The galley girls were very friendly and accommodating. About halfway through the excursion, they made the rounds serving complimentary smoked salmon on crackers. They did, of course, sell this very salmon by the box, in the galley.

I went to the galley to buy a chocolate bar, and wanted white chocolate. They had a "White Chocolate with Coffee" bar that I wasn't sure I'd like. "Would it be possible to taste a piece of this?" I asked.

"Sure," she said, a little too eagerly. She grabbed one and ripped it open, happy to have the rest to herself to eat.

"Got to make the customer happy," I said with a smile.

"Definitely," she said.

Later on I walked by there to use the rest room, and I heard her say, "Would you like to taste a piece?" So, it seems like it went to good use, and she didn't eat it all.



We disembarked the catamaran, and boarded the bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. This was our first good look at a glacier, and it was very, very impressive.



We used the elevator to get mom and dad to the observation deck. Vivian escorted them around up there, while I went back down to take some closer up pictures. I took some by the shore area near the observation lounge, and then followed a short trail that took you as close as you could get to it.

I offered to take a couple's picture with the glacier as a background in order to have mine taken by them.

We were going to view an 11-minute movie about the glacier, but ran out of time, so headed back to the bus. Vivian and dad went ahead to try and get a look at a salmon spawning stream, while I waited for mom to go to the bathroom.



As it turned out, they didn't have time to walk to the stream, and we all ended up boarding the bus at about the same time. There was a lot of drama on the bus, as everyone, evidently, had very different times set on their watches -- the bus driver included. I couldn't help but think of Archie Bunker's line, "Edith, let's circumsize our watches before we leave."

There were two Dutch couples traveling together, and one of them did not get back in time. The other of those two couples was on the bus, and very worried about the other. "They hardly speak English at all. Can I walk out there and try and find them?" the man of the couple asked.

The bus driver didn't want him to go for fear that they'd return while he was gone. The people managing the traffic wanted the bus to move out, as it was past its designated time. The driver finally left the area, made a circle in a parking lot, by which time the couple was spotted coming along. We looped back and picked them up. Drama.

This driver's name was Bob, and he was a different driver than we had on the way out this morning. He yammered the entire way back, telling stories that weren't interesting. He was a retired Air Force Chaplain, and I remember thinking, "God, I'll bet he had some boring, long-ass sermons when he was preaching."

His main job was dealing with recovering alcoholics, and Vivian said, "Good god, the man would drive you to drink."

We were all glad to be rid of Bob, bless his heart, when we got off the bus, and re-boarded the ship.



We put our stuff in our cabins, and then headed up to the lunch buffet. We got mom and dad settled at a table, and then Vivian and I went foraging for food. We both wanted a hot dog, but also wanted to check out the pasta bar to see what two kinds of pasta they had today. We each got a small serving of Fettuccine Alfredo.

We found a table outside, and I ate my pasta while Vivian went to the buffet. Once she returned, I went. Vivian had a beer with lunch. We both got a bowl of butter pecan ice cream on our way back to our cabin for a nap.

We ended up watching Sordid Lives before falling asleep, and as always, it was a hoot.

We finished that at four, set our wake up call for 5:30, drew the curtains, and napped.



Just before the alarm went off, we heard a loud noise either outside or under the boat, that sounded like we were scraping ice or something. We rolled over, ignoring it, until the alarm went off shortly after that.

I opened the drapes, and oh my god. The view out our window was incredible:



This was the Alaska we'd been picturing. Serene blue water, with large ice chunks floating in it everywhere, and mountains and glaciers on either side of the boat.

I hurriedly dressed, grabbed my camera and went up to the 12th floor observation deck, where I proceeded for the next hour or so to take about 50 pictures. Turns out that while we were snoozing, the ship had sailed up to the Tracy Arm Fjord to see these incredible sights.



While I did this, Vivian took mom and dad to the Stardust Lounge a little before 7:00 to get some good seats for the 7:30 show going on there tonight: Norwegian Cruise Line is proud to present Cirque-Pan featuring the Jean-Ann Ryan Company. Pan's world of fantasy and illusion unfold in Never-Never Land: live with the adventure, flying and intrigue. Doors open 45 minutes before Showtime.

I decided to pass on this show so that I could catch up my blog, which is what I'm doing right now. I will join them for dinner after it's over.



I did meet them in the Garden Cafe on Deck 11 for the dinner buffet. We all had a very small amount of food for dinner. I capped mine off with banana ice cream with some chocolate covered raisins sprinkled over it.

After dinner, I walked back to our cabin, uploaded the four pictures Vivian had taken after the show tonight, and brought my laptop over to mom and dad's cabin, where we viewed today's pictures of which there were about 70.



Vivian and I did our mile walk on deck 6 from about 10:00 until 10:30. Part of the track was closed, so we used her pedometer to measure it.

Back in the room, I caught up my blog, and Vivian drifted off to sleep.

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