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Cruising Alaska: May 2005
Radiance of the Seas

Page 2: Skagway to Hubbard Glacier

Page 1: Whitehorse-Vancouver-Juneau
Page 3: Gulf of Alaska to Ketchikan
Page 4: Inside Passage to Vancouver

    Tuesday, May 24: The Zaandam was just finishing docking as we pulled in to Skagway at 06:30. Although it was very windy all day ("Skagway" is said by many to mean "home of the north wind"), the rain held off. As Cathy and I are in Skagway regularly year-round, we just went for a couple of walks and visited friends in town.

    Skagway harbour is a very busy place in the summer. Here we see the Zaandam, Cruise West's 102-passenger Spirit of Endeavour, the new high-speed cat that runs to Haines, and the Diamond Princess. In front of the Spirit of Endeavour are a couple of Skagway Streetcar Company's beautiful reproduction antique tour buses.

    In Skagway, it's very easy to get away from the crowds. From calm little spots such as this creek in front of the museum to hiking trails that range from easy to very difficult, there are many possibilities. A free trail map can be picked up at the National Parks Service visitor center beside the railway depot. Another good way to get away from the crowds is to rent a car and head north into the Yukon - click here for a large illustrated guide to the highway.

    The Skagway Museum is small but excellent, with exhibits on Native cultures, the Gold Rush period and the Alaska Highway construction particularly well covered. It is housed in the first stone building constructed in Alaska; it was originally a private girls' school.

    The Temsco heliport beside the Ore Dock gets larger and busier every year. Behind it can be seen Yakutania Point, a popular hiking destination.

    One of the three 14-car trains of the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) that got filled with passengers from the Radiance leaves the dock, heading up to the White Pass summit. The WP&YR is by far the best-selling excursion in Alaska (and has been for most of the past century), and is probably the reason that most ships spend longer in Skagway than in any other port. Click here to see a photo album from a trip on the railway. The railway also owns or manages all three cruise ship docks in Skagway, charging the ships $6.40 per passenger for their use (in 2005).

    Heading south down Lynn Canal, we passed by Haines, seen off in the distance. Some cruise ships have started stopping there recently after an absence of a few years. Most famous for its bald eagle preserve, it has always been an option for excursions from Skagway.

    Passengers enjoying the last rays of sun hitting the dramatic mountains lining Lynn Canal at 21:00.

    The Zaandam is dwarfed by Mother Nature's grandeur, seen in the post-sunset light at 21:05.


    We passed by historic Eldred Rock lighthouse close enough to get this photo (with Cathy's 10x zoom and image stabilizer) at 21:28.

    A couple of minutes later, Eldred Rock lighthouse still served as a great point of interest in broad sunset-scenics, of which we took several.

    Wednesday, May 25: at 06:20, we were at 58° 42' N, 138° 31' W, off Mount Fairweather (15,320 feet). Mount Fairweather is a particularly impressive peak along a coast that is dramatic from horizon to horizon. The summit, only 14 miles from the coast, is located in British Columbia, though most of the mountain is in Alaska. Despite the name, severe storms are common.

    Guarding the northern entrance to Yakutat Bay is Mount St. Elias, the second highest in the United States. From sea level to her 18,008-foot summit is only 10 miles, making it some of the greatest vertical relief in the world. It isn't a popular mountain to climb due to the usual cloudy conditions and frequent severe storms; the first successful ascent, however, was made in 1897. In front of the peak is the low-profile and dirty Malaspina Glacier, which covers some 1,500 square miles.

    Approaching Hubbard Glacier at 11:00. Click here for a large map of the Hubbard and other glaciers in the area. Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in Alaska, 76 miles long and 25% larger than the state of Rhode Island. It flows from Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada.

    Captain Darin Bowland, a former Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy, had made an impression throughout the voyage due to his warm and outgoing personality, and his obvious love of his job. It was interesting to watch him guide the Radiance through the ice to within half a mile (800 meters) of the face of the glacier, often using side-thrusters to push aside larger icebergs. The ship doesn't have the hull strength to break through pack ice, but handles this sort of condition easily.

    Hubbard is one of the few glaciers in Alaska that is advancing - in fact, it's been advancing about 75 feet a year since 1895 when people first started taking note of it. What that means for visitors is that this is one of the glaciers where you are most likely to see calving (where chunks of the glacier fall into the sea). Sometimes the icebergs created block ships from getting close to the face of the glacier.

The narrow channel seen to the left usually separates Disenchantment Bay from Russell Fiord. In 1986 and 2002, the glacier advanced and blocked this channel, backing up the waters of Russell Fiord. When that ice dam burst in 1986, the flow through this gap was twice the size of the lower Mississippi! In 2002, ships didn't approach the glacier at all due to the danger of that happening again (it turned out to be a much more gradual break).

    The huge barbecue set up on the pool deck at noon looked sooooo good that I couldn't resist. Cathy warned me that as soon as we went down from the best viewing deck, the best calving would happen. It did, of course - a huge slab of the glacier wall fairly close to the ship came off and caused a wave large enough to rock the 90,000-ton ship a bit.

    Waiting, waiting, waiting for more calving. Every 5-10 minutes, the faithful were rewarded!

    Departing Disenchantment Bay at 14:00.

Page 3: Gulf of Alaska to Ketchikan