The Trip of a Lifetime | An Alaskan Cruise with my Mom

Twenty-two years ago my mom & I said to each other, “You know what we should do one day? We should take a cruise to Alaska.” My mom, Dr. Linda Clinard, had been to 49 out of 50 states. Alaska would make it her 50th. And I’ve always had a secret obsession with the wild frontier of Alaska – I’m a cold weather bird and love anything with the promise of having no people around for miles, tons of gorgeous scenery to photograph, and getting to bundle up. So, going to Alaska is a dream we’ve both had for decades.

But, then life happened and the years passed… college, jobs, house moves, weddings, children… and we just never seemed to line-up our schedules. Then, a few years ago life gave me a good shake on the shoulders when my mom had a health scare (which she thankfully recovered from fully). It jolted me, though, and made me realize that life is too short. I had a tearful moment shortly thereafter with my husband Tim and expressed, “If something ever happened to my mom, and we never made it to Alaska, it would be the one thing in life I’d always regret.” So, he being the amazing man he is, encouraged me to go for it. I called my mom that night – and a few hours later we were booked for a 7-day voyage on Norwegian Cruise Lines from Vancouver up through Juneau, to Skagway and back down The Inside Passage through Ketchikan. The trip of a lifetime was booked for May 28 – June 5, 2017.

Neither of us had ever been on a cruise, so we had zero expectations. We did very little research ahead of time, and wanted to just be surprised and delighted with what we found along the way. My mom is essentially a 75-year-old version of me (or, more likely, I’m a 38-year-old version of her!) – so, we travel incredibly well together. Our similar travel styles meant that we had planned nothing ahead of time for the entire trip. We simply let each day take us where it wanted to & soaked in the scenery. And then we disembarked at each port and walked through the cities until we found something that caught our eye. Which, of course, always included tasting at least a few of the local seafood specialties.

It was a rainy day when we arrived at our first port in Juneau, so after capturing some photos of my mom’s first steps into her 50th state and wandering around town for a bit, we ended up inside to stay dry at the oldest bar in town – the Red Dog Saloon – listening to live honkey-tonk music, drinking wine, and eating smoked salmon dip. We laughed like crazy while listening to Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and David Allen Coe covers. Then, on the way back to the ship, we stopped in at Tracy’s King Crab Shack on the wharf for crab legs that were so fresh & tasted so much of the sea that they brought tears to my eyes. Paired with an Alaskan Brewing Co. seasonal raspberry wheat beer, I was in heaven.

 

In Skagway we walked for miles through town until our legs grew tired and we decided to stop for lunch at Olivia’s Alaskan Bistro at the Historic Skagway Inn. We had smoked salmon nachos, halibut cakes, seafood chowder, and their amazing backyard-grown rhubarb crisp. It was delicious, and geared us up for an adventurous afternoon – we decided to book a last-minute helicopter ride that flew us over stunning 5,000-foot rugged snow-capped peaks out to the massive Meade Glacier where we hiked on the ice and I drank pure glacial waters straight from the streams with my bare hands.

The following day we had the opportunity to cruise the narrow channels of The Inside Passage as our ship went right up to the edge of the 25-mile-long Dawes Glacier. And as if the scenery wasn’t breathtaking enough, as I was sitting on our cabin’s balcony I witnessed what I call a very “David Attenborough moment” from beginning to end – a Bald Eagle that had been sitting on a nearby iceberg spread its wings to hunt down and capture a seagull right before my eyes. The chase was exhilarating to watch and even more thrilling to try and capture in photos. Then, as we left the glacier and headed out into more open waters, a beautiful pod of Orca whales swam past. It felt like a dream.

Our final port of call was Ketchikan – the Salmon capital of the world. So, we had one mission in mind when we docked… My mom and I headed straight for the fishing docks. We checked out the fishing boats while bald eagles flew overhead, chatted with a few local fishermen, and scouted out the best places to eat locally-caught seafood. We ended up having a “two lunch kind of day” – my favorite kind of day, really. First it was some truly amazing Salmon n’ Chips and Salmon Tacos at the Alaska Fish House on the harbor. Then, the pièce de résistance was the Halibut n’ Chips at Alava’s Alaskan Fish n’ Chowder seafood shack. Owned & operated by a family with over 36 years of local Alaskan fishing experience, Alava’s was the best fish n’ chips I have ever had in my life – and, these are words from a woman who is married to an Englishman where fish n’ chips is basically a religion. I watched them bring the halibut into the kitchen straight from the boats while I was waiting for my order to be cooked. I’ve never tasted anything so fresh, so well seasoned and delicately fried. No wonder their slogan is, “We don’t serve breakfast ‘cuz we’re out catching lunch!” Just thinking of that meal makes me salivate – it was perfection.

On the ship, I loved that you could truly make the cruise whatever you wanted it to be. I had feared I’d be stuck in bingo halls, casinos, or at crazy buffets – or having to be around large crowds of people the entire time. But, much to my pleasant surprise, I was always able to avoid the crowds – mostly because I love cold weather, so I always wanted to be outside. While the crowds would be gathering inside, I’d bundle up, grab my cup of coffee, and go sit out on the deck as often as I could. My favorite spot on the ship was the open deck at the very front – just outside of the “Observation Lounge.” It was definitely the coldest spot on the ship – but to me it was ideal. My mom could be just inside the lounge where it was warm with lovely live music playing, while I’d be outside with my camera enjoying the cold sea air.

  

My most magical moment happened out there on the front deck one night around 11pm. The sun had just set and the winds were really blowing, so the sea mist was coming up off the bow like an upward rain. But, I loved it and was mesmerized by the beauty of the horizon and wanted to stay outside for just a bit longer. So I tightened the strings on my rain jacket’s hood and was leaning against the front railing when suddenly to my right I heard the distinctive sound of a whale’s blowhole as they exhale. I ran over to see a huge humpback whale that was coming up for air and was so excited I just started laughing and shouting like a lunatic, “Hi!! Oh, hi there, friend! I’m Anne!…” Then I saw him dive down and his gigantic tail came up as if he were waving to me. It smacked the water as he went down, making a huge splash – And, then he was gone. I just stood there, alone on the front of the ship, smiling from ear to ear with tears streaming down my face knowing that I was the only one who saw him. That will forever be “my whale” – it was too dark to even try to photograph him, so he will always live like a photo burned onto the camera sensor of my mind.

Needless to say, the trip exceeded our wildest dreams. My mom can now say she’s been to all 50 states (and I’ve now been to 49… the elusive Vermont will be my 50th!), and we can say that we finally made it on our Alaskan Cruise… it took us twenty-two years to get there, but hey – better late than never.

{Follow Anne Watson Photography on Twitter/Instagram @annewatsonphoto}

By | 2018-03-31T19:43:34+00:00 June 19th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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