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North To Alaska, A Trip of A Lifetime

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They say taking the road less traveled and off the beaten path brings a sense of reverence and humility toward life that one would miss entirely if they proceeded on to that beaten path. Through-out my entire life the path I have always chosen has been the road less traveled. Sometimes I got in trouble but through it all the paths I have taken only brought out the inner strength of character along with a keen awareness of the sanctity of life that would have laid doormat otherwise. My travels to the far corners of the globe have also given me a unique perspective for different cultures and a deeper respect for their way of life. But, in all of those travels the one place that holds me captive with it's natural beauty and sheer majesty where so much of the land is virtually untouched by man is in Americas "Last Frontier" Alaska.

Getting there was an adventure in itself. It is too bad though that today the globe trotting traveler is caught in all the imposed security protocols that have now taken over debarkation points all over the world. Gone is the sophistication and refinement associated with travelers of that bye gone era. Many a time I have been taken back by the way most Americans dress when they travel. About 99% of the time you can tell an American just by the way they are dressed. It is no wonder many Europeans especially Italians think Americans are very sloppy just because of their attire. With sport coat in hand we finally made it through the security lines and boarded the flight to San Francisco.

This, my second time visiting the city by the bay. Home to Fisherman's Wharf and the fine culinary fare that San Francisco is famous for. The swordfish was a sublime delicacy. Taking a 10 day cruise up the West Coast into Glacier Bay, Alaska is a must for any seafaring traveler. Our journey started sailing under the Golden Gate where we all said goodbye to that city by the bay until our return. On board our ship one of Princess Cruise lines smaller vessels where luxurious accommodations were waiting we made ourselves at home. Never mind those mega ships courting thousands of passengers where one feels so overwhelmed our ship was small enough yet you never new there were 1000 passengers on board and a select crew to cater to all your needs.

That first night at sea second seating was a very pleasant surprise. Our table of eight brought folks from all over the globe. There was a couple from Singapore, then there was two nice older ladies from New Orleans and a couple from Helsinki that made for very interesting conversation and a really enjoyable trip. Second seating served us well not only because of the interesting dinner guests but after a day splashing around the ships pools and socializing in the mammoth whirlpool spa gave us time to enjoy a very relaxing evening before dinner at 8.

First port of call was Vancouver. For years now Vancouver has been named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life. Stepping off our ship it became quite clear why this city is so spectacular. They have also said that Vancouver is a retirement haven. The climate where winters rarely dip below 40 degrees and summers are a pleasant surprise compared to the steamy climate of southern Florida really make this western most city in Canada a real vacation spot. After a short distance from our ship we ended up in Gastown one of Vancouver's most discerning sections. The diversity of cultures is so evident. After about three hours of meandering through the streets it was time to go back to our ship. The memories made there will last a lifetime.

As the ship set sail for our next destination that evening was the first formal night of the cruise. White tie and tails was the format for an evening of white glove service along with a seven course dinner consisting of Beef Wellington, and the finest bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted. One of the nicest parts of this whole cruise was it was an all inclusive trip. No more paying the Purser when we disembark for home. The only way to travel by sea.

The next morning we had reached the inside passage and our port of call, Ketchikan, home to Alaska's salmon fishing capital. A noticeable difference in temperatures from Vancouver. A drop of about 25 degrees. Outside on the Promenade deck the temperature was a balmy 49. Good thing we brought heavier coats. A full day of sightseeing lay ahead. The first thing that caught our eyes was the different Indian heritage that Ketchikan is famous for. The Totem Poles were impressively massive. You couldn't help notice all the wood carvings and native Indian artifacts either. That evening back on board a succulent dinner of Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon was a real treat.

We awoke to a rising sun as the ship now was sailing though the inside passage. The scenery was so magnificent it just jumped out at you. The lush forestry, the rugged terrain all seemed to flow into the most picturesque landscape I have ever seen. Gapping in awe sipping hot chocolate we continued to be amazed. If I didn't know any better one could, if they knew what they were doing, they could actually home stead and nobody would know you were even there. The density of the forests is that great. Imagine, living just like Jeremiah Johnson or Grisly Adams.

Soon we were in Juneau. They say this is Americas most beautiful capital cities. From where we were standing looking out over the railing on the sport deck one can really see why. This is the only port we had to be tethered in to take part of our sightseeing tours. Our ship remained anchored while we were shuttled, known as tethering, by our ships specially designed lifeboats that also serve as transport vessels when docking isn't possible. In Juneau all cruise ships have to use tethers while anchored. After a short ride to port it was time to take part in an adventure of a lifetime, Whitewater river rafting along the Mendenhall Glacier. Boy did I get soaked. The water temp was freezing. But, I survived just in time to make it back to the safety of our ship and jumped right into that steamy whirlpool to thaw out. After another sumptuous dinner, this time of the freshest Alaskan Cod anyone could ask for it was time to take in an after dinner cordial in the Horizon Lounge.

By now it was time to start to head back home. A real interesting point is the fact that the atmosphere this far north really is a very different realm of reality and has an altogether unique feel. The climate is something that would one would have to get used to if one were to make Alaska their home. The dark days in Juneau is where it rains over 65% of the time. It rained pretty much the whole time we were there but none the less it really didn't detract from our wondrous adventures.

Our ship venturing out from the inside passage for the voyage home was going to be just as momentous as the trip to Juneau. Rough seas even ten miles out off the coast of Alaska made that first night cruising back to San Francisco the only night we didn't make it to dinner. The ship was caught in waves that made the ship roll where if things were not tied down moved about. Needless to say the safest pace was in bed. By 12 PM the waves subsided so we made it to the midnite buffet. To my surprise it was a very well presented display of culinary delicacies.

By morning calm seas prevailed regaining our hunger on the Lido deck was waiting the breakfast buffet. Still the weather was a bit cool for dipping in the pool we managed to obtain lounge chairs on the port side facing the sun. Hanging out for the rest of the day just soaking up the sun gave us time to catch up on some reading. This, while our fellow passengers huddled under blankets on the Promenade Deck. That evening was the last formal night. Yesterdays cocktail dresses now gave way to formal evening gowns. Donning my black tie we were off to an evening filled with a display of elegant refinement reminiscent of the period of time where dapper sophistication ruled the day. We all were putting on "The Ritz" as they say.

We awoke to our last port of call. The city of Victoria. Victoria, Canada really is a unique blend of old world charm and new world experiences. As an island destination, Victoria offers visitors an escape from the hurried world and beams with ambience. Boasting the mildest climate in Canada like Vancouver her so called sister city the landscape remains green and beautiful year-round. In 2012 Vancouver Island where the city of Victoria is located Travel+Leisure Magazine named it the best Island in North America and one of the worlds top ten Islands as well.

While walking around we kept noticing that Victoria has such a rich heritage. The architecture, the colorful gardens and their traditions like afternoon tea blend so well with a plethora of outdoor adventure. It is too bad we couldn't have stayed longer. The city is also famous for their world-class culinary experiences, vibrant arts and of course their wondrous culture scene. Combine all this with the wild beauty of the Pacific Ocean and old-growth rainforests set against a backdrop of the Olympic Mountains makes Victoria the perfect getaway. I've got to go back just to spend more time soaking up the ambiance of this wonder most beautiful city.

The last night onboard was a mix of quiet reflection of the past ten days. The friendships we made, the experiences we had, and the food we enjoyed all made this voyage one for the record books. At our table that evening we exchanged address and promised to stay in touch for the next morning it was off to the airport and our final journey home to Florida. For a final farewell we all hoisted a glass of Champagne in honor of our journey and the hope that one day we would all meet again.

Arriving back in Florida the next day I couldn't help feel that part of me was left behind on the shores of the Mendenhall River. This was one voyage that that I thoroughly recommend for the experiences that one would bring back. Experiences that really do enhance the senses and broaden the mind. They say this is a trip of a lifetime and it surely was. An encore journey is already in the making. Bon Voyage, till the next time.

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