THE WEEKLY #165: ALASKA ADVENTURE WITH ROYAL CARIBBEAN
Week 165 on the road took me off the road and onto the water. I spent the entire seven days cruising from Seattle to Alaska and back again while on board the Ovation of The Seas cruise ship. The week was full of adventures with three epic shore excursions and lots of fun onboard the ship.
the Ovation Of The Seas – Royal Caribbean cruise ship.
The first day onboard the Ovation Of The Seas – Royal Caribbean cruise ship was a sea-day, which means it was time to explore the ship. We said goodbye to Seattle and settled into our new home for the next week. Activities onboard range from a casino to dodgem cars to artificial surfing waves on the flow-rider. One of my favorite activities was I-fly, which is a skydiving simulator! The pick of the bunch for onboard things to do was the popular, North Star, which is a giant arm that elevates into the sky from the top deck giving guests a top-down view of the ship and the epic landscape surrounds.
Our second day of the expedition was our first excursion. We docked in the Alaskan town of Juneau and immediately headed out on what would be one of the most epic adventures of the year. Our mission was to head out to Mendenhall Glacier in a helicopter and then trek on the glacier to explore the ice formations.
The helicopter flight begins at the airport in Juneau. For the first five minutes, you are just flying over the town and nearby forest in what is a lackluster opening to the flight. However, what you’re about to witness is incredible and comes out of nowhere.
After cruising over the forest you creep up on a few beautiful lakes that sit beneath the opening to the glacier. The helicopter flew directly over the lakes and straight into the mouth of the glacier, shooting through the canyon created by the cliffs on either side. Our helicopter began to feel incredibly small as the vast glacier seemed to be an endless shelf of ice.
As the helicopter continued flying across the glacier, the landscape opened up more and more until we could see for miles but there was no end in sight for the glacier. It was white for as far as the eye could see with cliffs and mountains popping up through the glacier in all directions.
After about 20-minutes we dove down to the right and parked the helicopter directly on the Mendenhall Glacier where the base camp is set up for the tours. A small tent is all that marks the spot with just a few other groups in their red jackets wandering around the glacier shelf.
The main focus of our two-hour exploration was to learn basic techniques of walking in crampons (ice shoes). It was actually super interesting and I found the lesson very valuable as someone who had little ice-shoe experience. We learned how to walk up hills, walk along 45-degree inclines and several other key techniques to know when navigating a glacier.
Along our walk, we came across several small rivers, a 20-foot waterfall and lots of unique ice formations and features, which our guides explained and pointed out. As a first-time glacier visit, I found the expedition incredible and really enjoyed the crampon lesson and investigating the ice formations.
These are my favorite photos from our exploration on Mendenhall Glacier.
Our next adventure was to Skagway, where we would visit another glacier. This time we took the iconic train, White Pass, to the start of the Laughton Glacier Trail and began our adventure.
After departing the ship, we were met by our guide and taken to the railway stop on a bus. Here we boarded the train and off we set on the historical railway. This route was built during the Klondike Gold Rush and was at the time, one of the most scenic railways in the world and during this 45-minute ride, you will be able to soak in the epic landscapes along the way.
The railway is quite unique as it still uses vintage parlor cars. Several of the cars were built in 1881 and others built more recently share the same design.
On the train, we were briefed by our guides and we made our sandwiches for the day. Rather than give everyone a set lunch, we were able to pick our toppings and pack them up in our bag. They also gave us a couple of chocolate bars and packets of nuts to keep us going throughout the day.
The train journey was beautiful. For the most part, we were surrounded by the forest but every now and again the railway would open up into a clearing in the valley and the views were pretty phenomenal with huge cliffs on either side and lush green covering everything in between. The train journey in itself is one of the shore excursions for cruise passengers, which means your transit to the hike is actually someone else’s highlight of the day. You know then, that is a special journey with many scenic moments.
We jumped off the train after 500m of incline gain from Skagway. The train had dropped us right at the trailhead and after grabbing some spikes and trekking poles from the guides our group set off into the forest.
The trail was quite well defined and was mostly a dirt path with a few ups and downs. However, at times wooden boards had been installed to make the hiking path easier to navigate in the wet periods. On either side of the trail, you could find small blueberry bushes amongst the smothering of moss and other forest ferns. The old-growth rainforest valley that is home to moose, bear, mountain goats, and other wild animals. We kept a lookout for bears but didn’t make any sightings.
The trail winds its way along the raging Skagway River and we often made slight detours to find ourselves on the rocky banks of the river. It was ferocious and freezing cold. Not a river you want to fall into!
Halfway along the trail is a small clearing where a mountain hut toilet is nestled in amongst the trees. Once you reach this point you will begin to get glimpses of the Laughton Glacier.
From this point on you will steadily make your way uphill although the trail is never too steep. The trail gradually becomes less of a path and more rocky as you edge your way closer to the glacier until you are indeed just walking over rocks! The path is still visible but at a certain point, you will need to put your ice spikes on as the terrain is now just rocks on top of the ice and can be quite slippery. Glaciers are also unpredictable and can be very dangerous so despite the landscape looking quite tame, it is not advised to explore glaciers alone or without an experienced guide or companion.
We strapped on our ice spikes and began to steadily move across the ice. Along the way, we encountered lots of exposed crevasses and moulins aswell as many other unique ice formations. About 1-kilometer before the base of the glacier, our group stopped and enjoyed lunch and the viewpoint. This is where most groups stop and admire the scenery. You will find yourself inside a valley where the glacier used to cover the entire landscape. Now all that remains is the gravel as the glacier continues to recede further every year.
After lunch and some more exploring on the glacier, we headed back along the trail the same way we had hiked in. At a good pace, I think we made it back in under 1.5 hours without stopping as much as we did on the way in. It’s a beautifully peaceful trail where you can enjoy the fresh mountain air and calm atmosphere on the way down. By the way… if your guides make you do a ‘Glacial Facial’ they made us too!
The next day on board the Ovation Of The Seas was meant to be pretty epic with a very scenic route. The ship is meant to pass close to Dawes Glacier and pretty much be surrounded by incredible landscapes. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t work out and we were inside a cloud for most of that day. It was tough knowing that if the clouds dissapeared it would be the most amazing view but up till that point, we had great weather so we had to count ourselves lucky for the fortune early on in the trip.
Our last adventure was in Canada! On the last full day of the adventure, we stopped off in Victoria. Here the crew headed on a bus through the historic old-town before reaching a zip-line course in the forest. For the next few hours, we flew our way through the scenic region with a little adrenaline-rush as we zipped from tree to tree in the forest. Here’s the video from my experience in Victoria on the zipline.
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It was now the final leg of our journey as we cruised home overnight, waking up in the port at Seattle where we had begun the adventure seven days ago. Thinking back, it seemed like it was a month earlier when we boarded the ship. I think that is because you just get up to so many activities and adventures on the cruise that it seems like you have been on a vacation forever.
Big thanks to Royal Caribbean for a great week of glacier adventures and time onboard the Ovation Of The Seas.