August 10, 2018
Seward, Alaska: We said goodbye to our lovely balcony this morning and bid our final farewell to Wilmex, our server who stole Talia’s heart. But we didn’t have long to wallow in melancholy because Seward is a quaint town surrounded by big mountains and big glaciers, and we had big plans for our post-departure schedule. Since the airport in Seward is very small, flights for cruise passengers are typically sent through Anchorage. I really wanted to go to Anchorage at least for one night, if only so I could pull out an old song lyric and say I’d been, “anchored down in Anchorage.” But first we needed to explore Seward and the Kenai Fjords (pronounced “Keen-eye,” by the way.
Once off the cruise ship, we schlepped our way to an old army-green school bus driven by an affable old part-time school bus driver named Todd. He didn’t look like a Todd. We only had Todd for a short drive to the Seward Aquarium and Rehab facility, but Todd confirmed two things for me. I am pretty sure everyone in Alaska is like nearly everyone in Florida – a transplant from somewhere else. We only met a few native Alaskans during the entire trip. Secondly, it is my belief that everyone who works or lives in Alaska doubles as a tour guide. Not only did Todd regale us with tidbits of interesting information about Seward and Alaska, everyone we interacted with – bus and shuttle drivers, guides, desk clerks, even shopkeepers seemed to know a lot about Alaska and be more than happy to share that information. What strikes me is that they also really love everything about their state, native or not.
The sea life center and rehab facility was terrific. I’d never seen a sea lion up close, and seeing a Stellar Sea Lion swimming around, hearing him grunt and growl for food was just awesome. There was also an orphaned baby seal being cared for there, and seeing the little pup play and roll around was both heartwarming and heartbreaking at once. The facility also had a spectacular variety of marine life in tanks, including every single kind of fish we’d caught earlier on our trip, and a whole bunch of things I’d never seen before. I would say that I find fish funny-looking and strange, but I’m pretty sure they feel the same way about me, so…
After the discovery center, which we learned was funded with some of the settlement money from the Exxon Valdez reparations, we were onto a five-hour cruise of the Kenai Fjords, complete with a wild salmon and prime rib lunch. I wish I could tell you that you get used to the awe and beauty of Alaska, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is just so impossibly beautiful that it is also impossible to stop taking photos. It seems as if every time I blinked, the view got even more breathtaking! The cruise had an open air section, which is where we spent nearly the entire cruise despite having to zip up our fleece jackets and even don winter hats. Truthfully, putting on a soft wool hat I picked up on the last day of the cruise when the shops want to empty out felt wonderful and reckless. Plus, it was warm, and it had Alaska spelled out in tiny rhinestones, so it even covered my bling requirement.
We saw seals lounging and playing on rocks, otters swimming and frolicking in the cold water (approximately 47F), puffins and cormorants, bald eagles, and even a few mountain goats grazing way up high on the mountains where no one in his right mind would dare walk. And the scenery was epic. Glacier after glacier, rock formations created by the glaciers, remnants of the famed 1964 Good Friday earthquake, and even World War II hidden bunkers and lookouts built into the rock caves created by the glacial activity. I put my long camera lens to work, zooming in on hundreds of things and taking over a thousand photos during the five-hour cruise, which visited no less than four glaciers. Moses got one of the on-board rangers to watch one of his magic tricks, and Talia took a nap during part of the tour. All of us had a great time, and the weather was overcast, but not a drop of rain. At the end of the five-hour tour, we loved Alaska even more.
But all good things must come to an end, and the tour finished up in time for us to hop on a more comfortable motor coach (much nicer bus) headed for Anchorage, a two-hour drive from Seward. Jim, our driver, told us he was a musician and transplant to Florida from New Jersey. Even though everyone on the bus was tired from the early departure (nearly everyone was on the same cruise we’d been on) and the day’s excitement, Jim was on the bus microphone every few minutes, sharing factoids and stories about Alaska and the area we were driving through. It was one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on, and the only reason I didn’t take photos was because they never come out good through a bus window anyway.
Jim, who pointed out interesting things all along the way, shared with us so many of the different activities people in Alaska do for fun, explaining that despite the perfect atmosphere for downhill skiing, there is really only one ski-area in the state, and that one attracts people from all over the world. Others who enjoy skiing do cross country or back country skiing. There is a beautiful rail trail for bicyclists that gets used a lot, even in the winter, when people use fat-tired bicycles to avoid slipping all over.
There is kite-surfing, wind-surfing, surfing, fishing, snowmobiling (which Jim told us are referred to as “snow machines,” instead of snowmobiles, and of course hiking. There were pull-offs and parking areas everywhere along the trip, and one of the things he mentioned is that, once you pay for the equipment, the activities are all free of charge. There was no charge for parking even, much less for the opportunity to use the land for a personal playground, which is pretty admirable, especially since he told us that the state is really in a financial crisis right now and could stand a little more income. The area we drove through was exquisitely beautiful and wild, and we saw no homes until we got closer to Anchorage. In fact, Jim shared that the area we were driving through, is a favorite weekend spot for Alaskans, especially those living in nearby Anchorage – a city of 300,000 and the largest city in Alaska.
By the time we were dropped off with our luggage at the airport in Anchorage, we were all exhausted and testy, but the last day’s activities weren’t quite finished yet. We had to catch a shuttle to our hotel, too. We grabbed dinner in the hotel restaurant because we were simply too tired to go anywhere else, and we all have early flights in the morning. I stayed up late to put all the photos together on a flash drive for Alicia and capture the memories of the last few moments of what has been a beautiful and memorable vacation with Dan, Alicia, Moses, and Talia.
And while I’m not ready to jump back into my full schedule at work next week, I am ready to snuggle up with all of our critters and sleep in my own bed. As dorky as it sounds, I also miss sitting at the desk Dan lovingly rebuilt and refinished for me and writing in my little office. I will miss the cool, fresh Alaska air, and I’ll miss wearing turtlenecks and a fuzzy sweater, and I’ll miss the beauty I know my words can never capture or do justice to. I know I’ll look at the photos and reread my blogs later, and I’m certain I’ll smile and be just as grateful for having had a chance to enjoy a spectacular summer vacation in one of the most remarkable places in the world. How lucky I am to have gone, and I’m even luckier to have had a chance to share the experience with friends and family who traveled with me vicariously through the daily blog. It’s been epic, awesome, and moving having the chance to share Alaska every day, and I can’t wait to start planning next year’s vacation adventure!