Multi-generational travel brings blessings

by Donia Simmons 20. March 2012 01:26

When my husband’s parents invited us to go on an Alaska cruise with them last May, it proved to be an opportunity of a lifetime!

For me, this was my first cruise, but his parents, who are seasoned cruise goers, were heading back to Alaska for the eighth time. They are both in their 80s and just celebrated 60 years of marriage this last December. Travel has always been a very important part of their lives, and we were overjoyed to share this time with them.

In the late 1940s my husband’s parents caught the travel bug while stationed over in Germany after World War II, and they have been traveling ever since. His mother has been to China, seen the Monarch butterfly migration to Mexico and visited the Taj Mahal. They have both been around Cape Horn, passed through the Panama Canal, cruised the Russian waterways, seen the Holy Lands and extensively traveled Europe, Canada and the United States.

I would have to say they’ve covered almost everything you could ever have on your bucket list.

The past few years, travel has proven to be much more difficult as his father’s Alzheimer’s progresses and his mother’s recent stroke and failing knees have begun to take their toll. Time is precious, and both of us realize it. That made this opportunity to cruise together such a blessing!

Our presence allowed his parents the security of knowing that plane departures would be met, boarding passes were already printed, wheelchairs or transportation would be waiting at the gates, and we were there to assist them when they got turned around on the cruise ship or at port.

Our children in turn got to spend precious time with their grandparents in a secure and fun environment. Meals were the highlight of all our days with waiters that entertained us with magic tricks and created napkin animals for the children to play with. Mr. Lyndon, our headwaiter, played a round of tic-tac-toe with our daughter every night — much to my husband's parents amusement — which culminated in a championship match on the last night of the cruise.

The grandparents enjoyed daily ice cream treats with the children, watched them swim and Grandmother read books to them at night as we watched whales and icebergs go by from the large window in our room.

I am confident that as the years go by that more breathtaking than the Tracy Arm Fjord, more captivating than the pristine views and more memorable than seeing our first humpback whale will be the treasured times we spent together with loved ones.

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Travel Thoughts

Kenai Fjords: Alaska's masterpiece

by Brian Jewell 14. July 2011 22:27


In my eight years of professional travel I've been compiling a list of places that every American should visit. The list is full of big-name destinations: The Grand Canyon, Washington D.C. and New York City come to mind. Today, I added another must-see spot: Kenai Fjords National Park.

We arrived this morning in Seward, a small town at the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula, which is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Though there are numerous jaw-dropping national parks in Alaska, Kenai Fjords is unique in numerous aspect, including the fact that it is the only park visited almost exclusively by boat. So our group boarded the Kenai Explorer for a six-hour sightseeing cruise that would take us alongside the fjords for incomparable view of scenery and wildlife.

A fjord is a geological formation that has been carved by a glacier, and the Kenai Fjords are massive stone monoliths and islands that sit on the edge of the Gulf of Alaska. Behind the large stone formations sits the Harding Ice Field, an expansive range of snow-capped mountains where a number of active glaciers continue to move down hill toward the sea. These two elements create a dreamy duality of scenery: Cruising along the coast, I was taken aback by the way that the tree-topped rock formations in the foreground contrasted with the snow-capped mountains climbing behind them in the background. This place where the mountains meet the sea is as beautiful as any other place I've seen on earth.

And the attraction goes beyond landscape snapshots. Our boat's captain and crew helped us to spot humpback whales and Steller sea lions in the waters and rocks of the fjords, as well as puffins and other sea birds that make their home in the area. And the highlight of the cruise was a visit to Holgate Glacier, a 400-foot high colossus of snow and ice that moves at four feet per day into the sea. Standing outside on the deck to see the glacier, we could feel it cooling the air around us. Large chunks of ice that have calved off the glacier float in the water, and our boat crew fished a few pieces up on to deck for us to see and touch. It is the cleanest, coldest and most dense ice that you will likely ever see.

It's hard to described how moving this experience was. The Kenai Fjords are so grand, so pristine and so transcendent. There are many great reasons to visit Alaska; after a day soaking in their majesty, though, I am convinced that the Kenai Fjords are the only reason you really need.


Marveling at the scenery from the bow of the Kenai Explorer

The Chiswell Islands, evidence of the area's glacial past, and the distant Harding Ice Field

Approaching Holgate Glacier

Small chunks of ice that calved off the glacier are crystal-clear.


Thanks to Cruises and Tours Worldwide for hosting us on this trip. Visit their website at

Rafting on the Kenai River

by Brian Jewell 13. July 2011 22:05

Glaciers have made quite a mark on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, carving out many of the mountain passes and rocky formations that make this area so scenic. But these behemoths of ice aren't just a thing of the past; dozens of glaciers linger in the mountinas around here, and their melting run-off trickles down into the Kenai Lake and Kenai River.

Today, I took a float trip down the Kenai River, along with Cruises and Tours Worldwide and their visiting group from First State Community Bank in Missouri. It was an adventure from the beginning. Arriving at Alaska Wilderness Adventures, we enjoyed a delicious salmon bake along the river, and then went through the commical proccess of outfitting around 50 people in river wear: rubber boots, waterproff overalls and rain slikers. From there, we broke up into groups of eight and loaded into large rubber rafts for a leisurely float down the river.

Though it's been cloudy and rainy here for a few days, the sun and blue skies broke through during our afternoon float trip, treating us to wonderful views of the electric blue water color that is the signature of glacial run-off. Our river guide Gus explained that this color comes from fine particles of silt that the glacier picks up as it slowly scrapes alongside a mountain. Gus also spent much of the 90-minute trip pointing out some of the various birds and small animals that live along the river, and telling us about the salmon run that will happen here nextt week. We passed a few fly fishermen along the way, but Gus said that next week, when tens of thousands of salmon return to these waters to spawn, sections of the riverbank will be packed with anglers elbow-to-elbow, creating an event known locally as "combat fishing."

At the end of the day, I was both sun-soaked and bone dry, and full of wonder after seeing some of America's most pristine natural areas from water level.


Outfitting for the trip

The grandeur of the Kenai River dwarfs raft passengers.

River guide Gus

The closest thing you'll to a rapid on the peaceful Kenai River

Sitka spruce trees tower beside the river banks.


Thanks to Cruises and Tours Worldwide for hosting us on this trip. Visit their website at

A hike to remember

by Brian Jewell 12. July 2011 22:27

Sometimes I do my best thinking while hiking down a mountain.

It's a cloudy day atop Mt. Alyeska, a ski area about an hour's drive south of Anchorage. Now in mid-summer, there is no skiing, as the temperatures hover around 60 degrees. Instead, Alyeska turns into a nature lovers paradise, with many miles of hiking trails leading from the Alyeska Hotel at the bottom to upper tram station near the top of the mountain. Braver souls can hike up the 2,300-foot incline; since I had limited time before dinner, I decided to ride the aerial tram to the top, and then hike down on the 2.5 mile North Face trail.

From the top of the mountiain, I enjoyed wonderful views of Turnagain Arm, an extension of the Cook Inlet, as well as the incredible greenery of the valley below me. Thick white clouds loomed low overhead, although instead of obscuring the view, they somehow seemed to tuck me in, creating a sealed-off wonderland of steep mountainside and lush color. Though trams passed by from time to time, the valley was nearly empty; as I set out on my hike, I had the whole mountain to myselt.

I was amazed how quickly the landscape changed, as the path went from steep and rock to gentle and muddy, then finally wide and well worn. As I descended, I discoveded new plant life at about every 100 feet in elevation. The colors and shapes of these leaves and flowes mezmerized me. Although I don't know what they are called or where else they grow, I enjoyed stopping to study them along the way, marveling at their intricate structures and the way that the colorful petals stood out from the green background.

The hike down was peaceful and leisurely. I made sure to make some noise along the way, to scare off any bears that might cross my path. And I took plenty of time to ponder the beauty of this corner of Alaska -- one of the most beautiful states in the country -- and to ponder my place in such a magnificent world.


Alyeska's aerial tramway


About to bloom


Beautiful buds

Deep blue "somethings"


Raindrops and wild flowers


Thanks to Cruises and Tours Worldwide for hosting us on this trip. Visit their website at

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Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

An Independence Day for Independent Spirits

by Mac Lacy 6. July 2009 05:41

Ford's Terror  in southeast Alaska doesn't terrify many people.  Maybe a few small boaters and kayakers.  But not many others--and certainly not many cruise passengers.  Dawes Glacier and the several miles of ice-strewn depths it leaves in its wake also doesn't scare many folks up here, either.  Maybe a few scientists or geologists.  Both give Jeff Behrens the chills.  That's because he knows where they are and he goes there.  And when Behrens goes, he takes a few friends with him.


Yesterday, July 3, was a day no guest on the Island Spirit will ever forget.  It began in a perfect sunlight in Sanford Cove.  Brisk is too nice a word.  It was cold, especially once we got going up Endicott Arm toward Dawes Glacier.  We hadn't been gone too long before the ice began showing up.  Not small ice.  Large ice.  Tons of it in the form of thousands of bright white or blue fragments.  Tons above surface and who knows how many tons below the surface.  Behrens had the Island Spirit's hull completely reworked last winter just for this.  But he's still not interested in meeting any of these boat-sized chunks of ice head-on.


We swerved, tacked, criss-crossed and slithered our way past miles of ice to put ourselves directly in front of Dawes Glacier, a tidewater glacier that comes down directly into the frigid waters of Endicott Arm.  Cliffs rose for thousands of feet on either side of us and we sat directly in the gorge this glacier created as it receded over thousands of years.  The only other boats in this water were research boats.  Behrens said they've been up here this summer studying the effect that vessels and kayaks might have on harbor seals and their pups.  


From there, we motored past the ice again and down to Ford's Terror.  Entering this inlet, you'd think you were in just any other bay.  But as you reach the back, your realize there is a tiny opening there that meanders  back into the rock walls.  Maybe a canoe or a small fishing boat would try this, you think, but not a 130 foot ship.  


With a long blast of the Island Spirit's horns, Behrens announces his intention to enter this narrow sliver of water and then he does so.  He told me afterwards that his margin of error is very slim.  Losing a prop or scraping the hull here is the consequence of one wrong move at the helm.


The reward is cruising into a remote inlet that is fed by waterfalls too numerous to count, a piece of water that is guarded on all sides by towering mountains and sheer rockfaces, thousands of feet above.  This is where we'll spend the fourth of July 2009.  And trust me, we're alone.  Ford's Terror belongs to us on this independence day.  Thanks to a guy who thinks big and operates small, we've traded fireworks for kayaks, bottle rockets for tranquility.






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Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

Early Morning on the Island Spirit

by Mac Lacy 6. July 2009 05:36


It's morning --about 5:30-- and I'm one of a few passengers and crew who are up.  We're moored on Sanford Cove off Endicott Arm, several hours of cruise time outside Juneau, Alaska.  The sky is cloudless, the water is still.  We're surrounded by mountains.  Literally.  In every direction you look there are mountains, most of them either in snow or topped in snow.  At one far end of the lake, 7-8 miles I'd guess, you can see the entrance to this cove.

If you are a morning person you live for this.  There isn't much talking going on, what little there is is quiet.  Everyone here has there own agenda right now--to view the landscape, maybe to shoot some early morning photography, maybe to have a cup of coffee on some part of this vessel where nobody else is hanging out.  This is personal time and everyone respects that.

Yesterday, this trip took an invigorating turn when the sun forced its way onto the scene.  While you cannot come to southeast Alaska and reasonably bring expectations for bright, clear skies with you, you can always hope.  We've enjoyed an incredible trip thus far, sans sun, but the addition of sunlight on these mountains and waters draws the very best from them.  From windy gray, we've entered into dazzling blues and whites.  In that respect, we're lucky, that's all.  Alaska is bigger than anyone's best expectations.   You get what it gives you.

Late yesterday afternoon, after leaving the bustle of Juneau, we cruised into an evening beyond description.  Small chunks of blue ice began to appear, torn from some distant glacier.  An occasional seaplane broke the silence overhead.  As we came into this cove for the night, we stopped to watch a few humpbacks, but left them for a grizzly bear on the distant shore.  It was this group's first bear sighting and binoculars were passed from one to another to watch this huge animal forage in a glen just off the water.  Only later, thanks to one member's telephoto camera lens and several shots, did we realize this bear was a female with two cubs in tow.

The last thing I noticed as the sun set was a huge cruise ship motoring along several miles away, in the main channel.  This is why you take a small ship cruise like the one we're on.  The Island Spirit is putting this small group of travelers into some very exclusive space. 


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Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

Tiny Tenakee is a Portrait of Remote Charm

by Mac Lacy 3. July 2009 05:34


Tenakee Springs is a remote village on the Tenakee Inlet off the Chatham Strait that dates to the late 1800s and is inaccessible except by boat or plane.  During the summer months, about 100 people reside there, many who live the rest of the year in Juneau.  There is a small marina where a few dozen fishing boats will tie up as needed while working in the area.  The entire village consists of one gravel road with homes and a few businesses on either side.  A mountain climbs up behind the village, leaving nowhere else for it to go or grow.  There is a mercantile store, a community bathhouse, a small gift shop and bakery, and a post office.  And a brown bear makes occasional appearances.  Most residents keep four-wheel vehicles or bicycles for getting around town.  

There is a public restroom--an outhouse that basically stands at the end of a pier and empties directly onto the rocky beach below.  The residents are a mixed bag of older couples, old hippies and families with small children.  Some are very friendly, others would just as soon nobody stopped in.  We arrived as a group of 15 or so, so we weren't much of an impact on the town.  But Jeff had e-mailed ahead to let the gift shop/bakery know we'd be stopping and they opened up for us.

A teenager sat in a phone booth beside the community bathhouse with a laptop in his lap, a wonderful bit of technological irony that was not wasted on us.

We knocked around for an hour or so and headed back towards the marina for our tender back to the Island Spirit.  A fisherman spoke to us as we walked beside him and asked if we had stopped in Rosie's for a beer.

"You mean there's a bar up there?" I asked.

"Yeah, right up there by the bathhouse."

"I can't believe we missed it," I said.  

"Well, it's easy to miss and it doesn't look like it's open, but it is.  You can have a beer and she also serves hamburgers, pork chops and steak, but that's it.  A beer will cost you around $3.75 and a hamburger is $7.75."

He then invited me to come see his boat, which I did.  It was about 60 years old and all wood.  He and his crew of four, including his son and grandson, were working Alaska for the summer.    He spends his winters in Arizona and plays golf.  Another bit of irony in Tenakee, I thought.


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Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

Raptors Soar Again in Sitka

by Mac Lacy 3. July 2009 05:25


The Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka treats various types of raptors that exist--eagles, ospreys, hawks, owls, falcons, kites, etc.  But it seems it's the eagles that most people are drawn to.  Magnificent birds, their white heads, piercing eyes and  stern personna give them a star quality few other animals can match.  Of course, It doesn't hurt that they are symbols of freedom either.  I grew up in a time when bald eagles were endangered, victims of the excesses of the time.  DDT, a particularly toxic insecticide was one of the primary culprits.  The good news is that these magnificent birds of prey have been removed from the endangered species list and more than 100,000 exist today.  Half of those can be found in Alaska and half of those take flight in southeast Alaska where Sitka is.  

Before we boarded the Island Spirit for our Inside Passage cruise, we attended a morning orientation at this center where we viewed a dozen or so birds that have been injured in various ways and are unable to return to the wild.  The center's mission is to treat injured birds and return them to the wild and they are often successful. They treat between 100 and 200 birds each year.  This is serious science--they treat these raptors with antibiotics, surgery, bandages, etc.  Then they let those that can be released begin flying again in a controlled environment.  

The star of this show was Sitka, an adult female bald eagle. The speaker asked how much attendees thought Sitka weighed.  Estimates ranged from 25 - 35 pounds.  She weighs 12.5 pounds.  Females are the larger of the two, weighing up to 14 pounds.  Males are more likely to be 10 - 12 pounds.  And most of that weight is feathers.  The actual skeleton of an eagle is very light.  The bones are remarkably light compared to other animals' bones of similar size.  

Eagles do take mates "for life", but researchers think it has more to do with their return to a specific nesting site than an attraction to each other.  If an eagle cannot reproduce, its mate will find another eagle that can.  It is also true that the first-born chick will oftentimes push any others from the nest as they are hatched.  



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Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

Just another summer weekend in Seattle

by Mac Lacy 30. June 2009 05:57

No one in Seattle stands still for long.  In less than two days here, we've seen two parades and a marathon.  Not to mention hundreds of weekend boaters and dozens of incoming and outgoing seaplanes.

I'm writing this from the dockside bar at Duke's Chowder House, a maritime institution of sorts here on Seattle's Lake Union.  It's Sunday afternoon around happy hour and the seaplanes are coming in from the San Juan Islands at the rate of one every ten minutes or so.  Most, I'd guess are bringing people back from weekend homes out there where they also keep their boats.  In fact, here at Duke's, we're directly in their flight path and most pass maybe 50 feet above my head during a steep descent into this sunlit lake before flattening out to create little more than just one more wake in this busy stretch of water.  That's because at the same time there are dozens of sailboats, cruisers and runabouts plying Lake Union.  In sum total, the scene that unfolds is definitely worth a cold beer and a few minutes of wistful relaxation.

Since we had to fly into Sitka from Seattle for a cruise of Alaska's Inside Passage on Monday, we spent the weekend in Seattle.  We arrive on Saturday and had lunch down at Pike Street Market, then headed over to watch the annual Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon.  More than 25,000 runners took part in this race that gets its name from this city's celebrated claim as an incubator for cutting edge rock music that has only grown over the past couple of decades.  By the time we got there, the runners were finished and the walkers had center stage.  Most of them waved and shouted to friends high above in the market area where we were.

On Sunday, we followed a group of green clad soccer fans who were walking and cheering in unison towards the city's Safeco Field.  These fans were enjoying a rare daily double--not only were their Seattle Sounders playing Colorado, but this was the day of the final in the Confederated Cup international soccer competition.  The United States had shocked the futbol world and were meeting Brazil in the finals.  So this crowd was pumped up.

No more so than the second parade we bumped into that day.  The annual gay pride parade made its way through downtown and thousands of marchers in a blazing array of colors and costumes took part.  We left them in Pioneer Square and could hear the revelry for blocks afterwards.

But now it's happy hour on Lake Union and the sun is setting fast.  I have a great seat for watching a weekend in Seattle come to a close and there's no place right now I'd rather be.

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Alaska Inside Passage Cruise

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