The third day of our cruise brought us, finally, to our first Alaskan port – Sitka. This was our “surprise” port, since the itinerary for the original booking included Skagway instead. Then on April 16, only about three weeks before the sail date, we got a letter from Carnival advising that things had changed:
On the Facebook group and the Cruise Critic forum, there was a minor uproar and some people took advantage of the offer to allow us to cancel our cruise with no penalty. Most just grumbled a little. I was disappointed at first, since I had bought the Yukon Drive shore excursion for Skagway and was looking forward to that. But then I did some research on Sitka and started to think we just might have gotten a good deal (especially with the OBC and the 25% discount on our next cruise).
Unlike most ports in the Caribbean, we didn’t arrive early in the morning; we were scheduled to get to Sitka at noon. So when we got up on Thursday morning, we were still underway, but since our cabin was on the starboard side, we could see land: beautiful snow-capped mountains that made you really feel that you were in Alaska.
Sharon wanted to check out the deck sale up on Lido, so we grabbed some breakfast at the buffet and then perused the sale items – mostly cold weather wear (sweatshirts, jackets, hats, etc.), souvenir tee shirts and Alaska memorabilia. I bought a couple of shirts to take back to Kris and Tom and we went back to the cabin to watch John’s morning show.
Soon we were arriving in Sitka. Sitka has traditionally been a tender port but as of 2012 a new cruise facility has been opened six miles north of town.
The port area is pretty primitive looking; you walk up a walkway past a boatyard where there are people working on various vessels, and enter the long metal-roofed building you see in the photo below.
There’s a small store area where you can buy souvenirs, and a roped-off area for getting in line to board the buses that take you into town.
The day we were there, there was a quilt show taking place in one of the rooms, and they had some very beautiful, artistic quilts on display.
We got a map of the town at the center, and discovered that the Raptor Center was only a couple of miles away. It was a beautiful day, not cold at all, so we decided to walk to it. We set off down Lincoln Street, which runs along the Harbor, so we had great views as we walked.
Sitka is a lovely little town. In some ways, it reminds me of small Texas towns such as Sulphur Springs, where my parents grew up, but I’ve never seen a Russian Orthodox church in rural east Texas.
Along the way, we met up with this gentle giant. We stopped and talked to his owners for a while. He’s an Ovcharka, or Russian sheep dog.
We took a slight detour to walk out on the pier, where a friendly stranger was kind enough to take a picture so we would have one of both of us together with that beautiful mountain background.
We soon reached the entry to the Sitka National Historical Park. We had decided to walk through the park to get to the Raptor Center instead of going up the streets. The first thing we encountered was the park’s visitor center, complete with totem poles. Totem poles were donated by Alaskan native villages in 1906, but the ones there now are replicas. Totem poles illustrate family ancestry, the history of a clan, folklore and experiences, or memorialize individuals.
After looking around the center for a while, we headed into the woods. The nice paths took us through the tall trees and across a stream, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pose with some of the incredible trees that we found.
It might not be the case later in the summer, but in early May the temperature was comfortable, humidity was low and there were no mosquitoes or other bugs to bother us as we made our way through the forest.
Finally, we came out at the other end of the park, and crossed the highway on the last leg of our journey to the Raptor center. It was all uphill from there, though – so by the time we saw the U.S. flag flying over the center’s main building, we were ready to grab something cold to drink and rest for a while.
The long trek was worth it, though, because we got to see what we had come for: eagles. Majestic, beautiful bald eagles. Golden eagles. Owls and other birds of prey. They were all being rehabilitated there at the center. Some were just learning to fly.
All of them were absolutely gorgeous, from the defiant adolescent who seemed to be standing watch to the pair who acted like an old married couple picking at each other.
We hiked through the trails behind the center, where we saw more birds and, despite the prominently displayed warnings, didn’t see many brown bears. There was a very brief glimpse of one way down stream but he was gone before I could take a photo.
Soon – way too soon – it was time for us to head back toward the bus pickup location to get back on the ship, so we made our way downhill this time (considerably easier going) and back through the forest, taking a moment to pose for photos with a 400 year old piece of natural history.
We took a slightly different route after we exited the National Park, and got more great photos to memorialize this visit to this pretty little village in a land that, in some ways, time seemed to have forgotten.
This was my first time to set foot in Alaska, and already I was falling in love. I felt as if I had gone back in time, to the days when our country was a little bit wild and a whole lot more free than it is today.
We reluctantly boarded the bus for the ride back to where the ship was docked. I don’t know about the rest of group, but I hated to say goodbye to Sitka, and I was very glad that a “technical problem” had intervened to bring us here.
By the time we got back to our cabin, it was time to get ready for dinner. We were pretty ravenous, having had nothing to eat in Sitka and having walked over 3 miles to the Raptor Center, part of it on a pretty steep incline. We ordered the cheese plate to go with our wine, and had a nice, relaxing meal.
Our waiters were great, as usual, and we enjoyed bantering with them.
I ordered a quesadilla appetizer and was more than happy to see that one of my favorites, the Indian Vegetarian entrée, was one the menu. Last time I had it, though, on the Magic in January, it hadn’t been as good as before; it was way too spicy. So I was wary, but I need not have feared. This time it was as delicious as I had remembered.
I have to confess that I don’t remember what Sharon’s entrée was – some sort of beef or pork with rice. Since I don’t eat mammals, I wasn’t paying much attention to it. She seemed to like it, though.
Unlike the previous two evenings, there was nothing on the dessert menu that I really loved, so I decided to go with the warm chocolate melting cake. It’s extremely popular with cruisers, but to me it’s just okay. I like dark chocolate, but I’m not a huge fan of the “runny” center that’s a main feature of the cake. I do like the vanilla ice cream that comes with it, and probably should have just gotten that. Oh, well. I feel almost as if I’m obligated to get the WCMC once on each cruise, so I had that out of the way. Sharon got some sort of cinnamon cake topped with fruit, which also came with ice cream.
Back to the cabin to find that today’s towel animal was a frog, and I added him to the collection that had taken up residence on the back of the sofa. We caught the end of John’s show, listened to Dylan play guitar for a while and I wrapped up the night with another frozen alcoholic concoction, and by that time I was more than ready to hit the sack in preparation for a big day in Juneau, where we had two excursions booked as well as all-day passes for the tramway that goes to the top of Mt. Roberts. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow (something that, for me, is a real rarity).