• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

Alaska Cruise Live Blog (Day 5): Glaciers, Gold and Juneau

ByStephanie M. Akbar

May 28, 2022

Note: I am currently sailing on a 7 day cruise to Alaska aboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. Every day I cover the experience, giving you a taste of what it’s like to sail an Alaska “to do list” cruise.

You can see the other days here:

Welcome to Endicott Arm, an Alaskan fjord with rugged mountains on either side, ice slides and a glacier at the end.

Whoever designed this cruise itinerary is smart. First, a day at sea, where you explore the ship and see scenery in the distance. Then came Sitka, which is surrounded by spectacular scenery, including volcanoes a few miles away. Next is Skagway, which is at the end of a narrow channel with even higher and even closer mountains.

But then the scenery – which we’ve all come to see – gets even better with today’s trip through Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. Every day the bar continues to be set higher with what you see.

The journey through the arm begins early. You sail through the beginning of it when the sun comes up. Around 5:30 a.m., things get really spectacular. Regardless of the early start, the whole ship seemed ready to take in the sights.

As you navigate, the channel continues to narrow and the mountains rise higher. Then you start to see ice floating… then more and more ice (including a large chunk that the ship actually hit, causing passengers to gasp as the shock reverberated through the steel of the ship ).

Ice flow hit by cruise ship
The moment the ship and the ice collided, you could hear and feel it throughout the ship.

There is no city here, no development. It is simply a 100% untouched landscape of mountains, forests and snow. And then at the end of the fjord, you see the Dawes Glacier. It’s a huge ice ramp, and although we couldn’t get there due to the ice floats thickening in the water, you can see how impressive it is. Combined with the shining sun, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect picture of Alaska.

In all, the trip through the arm took a few hours. Upon completion, the ship veered in place and headed for the afternoon port of call, Juneau.

Dawes Glacier
Although it might be hard to see in the photo, you can easily see the Dawes Glacier (center) forming the ship. However, before we got too close, we had to turn around because of the ice.

Arriving in Juneau for Strike it Rich

Arriving in Juneau around noon, it was once again a clear and warm day. Blue skies and 70 degrees are not usual for Alaska when talking to locals, but certainly welcome.

Juneau is the state capital and sits at the foot of the mountains. It is a small city (especially for a capital), and the mountains with the narrow space it occupies give it a picturesque appearance.

Juneau, Alaska seen from a cruise ship.
Juneau sits at the foot of the mountains, which gives it a cozy atmosphere. It’s the biggest city we visit, but still quite small.

There are several quays and today they were all full with four ships in port. Luckily, we docked at the nearest pier, which is literally downtown Juneau.

Today I booked an excursion that took us panning for gold. It featured a short bus ride around Juneau with the guide pointing out some of the city’s landmarks. Then we headed to the aptly named Gold Creek.

After a short demonstration of how to pan for gold, each person was given a bowl with dirt to pick up. The setting is right next to the crystal clear creek, itself at the foot of the mountains. In other words, if you want to feel like a former prospector hoping to get rich, this will definitely get you in the mood.

It doesn’t take long to master panning and with a few techniques they show you, we were all able to strike some gold. From there you use the droppers and little vials they have to extract the gold from the pot and then you have an awesome souvenir – real Alaskan gold you can take home .

gold panning
By sifting through my salary, I got gold flakes back. It’s not much, but it’s real Alaskan gold!

Overall I loved the tour and the guide in particular was great. The price ($89) was a little high for the overall experience, though.

Back at the ship, I decided to explore Juneau on my own. The city caters to tourists, but has many other activities, including state government. I headed to the Capitol building, which looks like a cross between a courthouse and an office building, and it’s just a few blocks from the harbor.

You can walk in and be shown around the whole place, including both chambers, the legislator’s offices, and the governor’s office. It was surprisingly relaxed and calm. The security guards out front casually waved me in and suggested I start on the fifth floor and go down to see what I wanted. I was struck with the feeling that I shouldn’t be able to walk around freely, but no one seemed to care.

Alaska State Capital
The Capitol Building is free to explore on a self-guided tour and just blocks from the cruise port.

From there I explored around Juneau. The city rises from the water, which means walking a few blocks and you can now look down and see all the way to the ships. I stopped and visited a few shops and then came across a great beer garden with small restaurants. I ordered fish tacos for dinner, had a drink and ate it all before exploring the area a bit more and then heading back to the ship.

With everyone on board not until 7:30 am, I had to head back early for a reservation at the North Star. If you’ve never sailed Quantum-class ships before, there’s a glass pod attached to a boom on top of the ship. Passengers can climb on it for a view…well, well above the ship.

While it’s $19 on days at sea, in port it’s free, but you have to make a reservation. (Tip: if you can’t get a reservation, go anyway and see if anyone hasn’t shown up. That’s exactly what happened today and a couple who just came from ‘to arrive was able to go up right away.)

View from the pole star
A ride on the North Star took our group above the ship, providing great views…but if you don’t like heights, skip it.

If you don’t like heights this is not for you. It certainly made me feel a bit hesitant, but the views you get are unreal. And in a port like Juneau, with a ton of natural beauty, it was really cool to have a bird’s eye view.

Tomorrow is a day at sea. Given that, I plan to combine Day 6 and Day 7 (Day at Sea/Victoria, BC) into one post.

Interesting observations

  • If you’re sailing to Alaska, I think the weather we’ve had so far isn’t always the case. Our first day at sea was wet and cold, but since then it has been hot, dry and sunny. I heard several mentions from locals about how lucky we are to visit when the weather is so good.
  • Honestly, I’m glad to have a day at sea tomorrow. The ports have been amazing, but after three straight days of outings and exploring, it will be nice to have no schedule and relax a bit more. The time change, constant activity and long days are starting to take their toll.
  • Internet service was really bad on this cruise. I never had this before. It went out around 10 p.m. last night and didn’t come back on until this morning. When I went to the office to ask about it, there was already a line of upset passengers. I don’t know exactly what the problem is.

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