Alaska The Final Frontier
Story & Photos by Henry and Elaine Levy
The accommodations were very comfortable. Our cabin was equipped with sufficient closet and drawer space as well as a large comfortable double bed, separate living room area and a balcony.
It would be remiss not to mention the beauty services available. Elaine visited the beauty salon, and was very pleased with the results. We both decided to visit the Mandara Spa that is a fairly new addition to the ship. The massages are based on a technique that was perfected in Bali, and is used worldwide. Elaine chose the Spa's signature treatment, which consisted of two massage therapists from Southeast Asia. This treatment is the most expensive at a cost of $180, and is well worth it. Repeat travelers are offered a discount. I decided on the Seven Seas Mas-sage. This included a body scrub, light and dee-per massage that totally relaxed my body and eased my mind. The 50-minute treatment was reasonably priced at $99. We found the Spa to be exceptional, and would highly recommend a visit. For more information on the Mandara Spa, visit its website at: www.mandaraspa.com.
The cruise included stops at Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Haines; we had from four to eight hours at each location before we had to return to the ship. Land tours can be booked on board; however, we decided to make those arrangements in advance to be assured that we would not be closed out.
Skagway was our first stop on the cruise. If you had to invent a 100-year-old town that was the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush fields in Alaska, your job would be easy...just visit Skagway. In fact, this town of 800 people exists for the tourist trade fueled by the cruise lines. Over 10,000 visitors can be expected each day during the summer. Many of the tourists are greeted by locals in gold rush era costumes who run the old fashioned trolley tours around town with animated and humorous tales of Skagway's history culminated by induction into the Arctic Brotherhood.
The most popular tour of this area is a three-hour train ride along the White Pass and Yukon Route. These tracks were carved out of the mountains from May 1888 to July of 1900 at the direction of Captain William Moore, who had the vision that this would be the best way to get to the gold fields. We enjoyed hearing the history of those earlier travelers on our train ride, as well as seeing the panoramic views. For more information, call (800) 343-7373 or visit the White Pass Railroad website at: www.whitepassrailroad.com.
In Skagway, as in most of Alaska, the most interesting stories are about the people, why they chose to settle there, and what gives meaning to their lives. One prime example was our Skagway guide, Buckwheat Donahue, who runs the town's Visitors and Convention Bureau. Buckwheat originally came to Fairbanks in 1975 with his wife, babies, pick-up truck and $1,000, and has stayed in Alaska ever since. With a background in marketing, he did government work, and since 1987 has been promoting Skagway. Buckwheat's final bit of wisdom was "we are not here for a long time, we are here for a good time". Skagway Tourism information is available at: (907) 983-2854, or www.skagway.org.
The next stop on our cruise, which was an abbreviated four hours ashore, is simultaneously known as "the valley of the eagles" and southeast Alaska's premiere artists colony. It is the city of Haines, Alaska, which was founded in 1881. When Fort Seward, which was active during World War I and World War II, was decommissioned, five World War II veterans bought its 85 buildings and four hundred acres for about $1 million. Now there are a variety of delightful shops featuring Alaskan art, crafts, jewelry, clothing, food and totem carvings. One of the shops featured a 25-foot totem pole made for James Earl Jones, the actor, depicting his family history, which was masterfully carved at a cost of $1,500 per foot. Several shops in the area will accept orders for customized totem poles, and will ship when completed to any destination.
Our next stop on the cruise was Juneau, the only capital city in the United States that is not accessible by road. Besides being the capital, Juneau is Alaska's third largest city with a population of 30,000. There were so many things to do and see that we wished we had an extra day to spend there. The most popular activity of the area is viewing the Mendenhall Glacier located in the Juneau Icefield. We took our first helicopter ride aboard Temsco Helicopters (phone number  789-9501), and landed on the glacier for approximately twenty minutes. It was extraordinary to see how deep the crevasses were, as well as the beautiful aqua marine shades of the ice. We wished we had dressed a lot warmer though. It is important to wear gloves, hats and warm jackets, none of which we had!
A 2000-foot scenic ride on the Mount Robert's Tramway is recommended as it provides panoramic views of the town below, the harbor and surrounding mountains. Once you reach the top, there are walking trails, a theatre and restaurant which serves great soup! More information about Juneau available at the Convention & Visitors Bureau: (907) 586-2201 (www.juneau.com).
Our last stop on the cruise was Ketchikan. Before we had an opportunity to walk around town, we embarked on another exciting event, namely three hours of salmon fishing, courtesy of Ketchikan Charter Boats, Inc. For information, call (800) 272-7291.
There was no need for concern about our lack of fishing expertise, as the captain did nearly everything, including preparing the bait or fly, setting the poles in the holders, and finally handing us the rod when there was a bite. If you are fortunate enough to catch a fish, you can arrange to have your salmon smoked and mailed to your home. As we sailed around the waters, we saw King Salmon jumping out of the water but had no luck catching any. We noted that people on some other fishing boats were actually catching salmon with nets! The saving grace of the day was when a bald eagle swooped down inches from our boat to grab a herring with its talons and then fly away!
Ketchikan has many shops where one can purchase artisan crafts. We were surprised to see the Frank Meisler Gallery at 619 Mission Street that sold magnificent sculptures, religious articles, and jewelry, most having a Jewish theme designed by the master himself. One of the owners, Joseph Machini, was very friendly and led us to the home of Steven Dulin, one of the few Jewish residents, who had just returned from living in Israel. Mr. Dulin makes the Sabbath every Friday evening, and all are invited. He brings in Kosher food from Seattle, and runs an inexpensive Kosher bed and breakfast. Mr. Dulin can be reached at: (907) 225-3300 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We were very surprised to find out that another Jewish resident of Ketchikan is the town's mayor! Unfortunately, time did not permit us to visit with him, but he is certainly on our list the next time we are in town! The Ketchikan Visitors Bureau is available at (800) 770-2200. Visit their website - www.visit-ketchikan.com.
The motto of Alaska is "The Final Frontier". It is a place where man can challenge the elements and test his ability to survive in an environment that is both hostile and breathtakingly beautiful. It is a force of nature, a place where one can observe magnificent glaciers and where wildlife is abundant. It is a sportsman's dream, a place that offers a wide range of activities, from an easy hike to climbing the highest mountain in North America, from fly-fishing to catching King Salmon. Its people are Native Americans, descendants of those who came for gold and those who came to see the land and never left. The diversity of the land and the people, the variety of activities and adventures at one's fingertips, and the spectacular sights, explain why so many people are drawn to visit Alaska each summer.
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