Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, and a Relaxing Evening
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
It wasn’t raining when Silversea’s Silver Shadowfirst maneuvered alongside in Juneau, Alaska. But by the time the first lines had been cast ashore at our Berth B location near the southern end of downtown, our liquid sunshine was back in full-force.
Despite the rain, this morning I set off on my first Silversea shore excursion in Alaska – and my first-ever excursion in Juneau!
Silversea offers a total of 24 different excursions here, ranging in price from $49 per person to $2099 per person. At $79, my 3.5-hour Best of Juneau and Salmon Hatchery tour was very affordably priced. One thing I have always found in Alaska is that the cost of shore excursions can be disproportionately high when compared to other regions of the world. But for a luxury line, Silversea has a great mix of options, with most tours coming in under $200 per person.
With the rain pelting down on our windows, we drove to the first of three separate stops that our late-morning tour would make.
Mendenhall Glacier is one attraction I’ve always wanted to see in Juneau. In fact, I think nearly every first-time visitor goes to Mendenhall except for me. I’ve never seen the need to, because most Alaskan cruises include glaciers as part of their trip. Why pay to go see another? This trip, however, our only glacier is in Tracy Arm – which is notoriously difficult to get to view successfully – so I decided to ensure I’d get to see one.
The lowdown on Mendenhall? It’s beautiful, and well worth a visit. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center was first opened in 1962, and the center provides an excellent map showing the glacier’s rapid retreat. In 1942, Mendenhall Glacier would have stretched right up to the steps of the center; now, it rests about three miles back from it. The center notes that for the glacier to stop retreating, significant changes to current global warming trends would be required. It’s a bit frightening to think, but at its current rate of retreat, I may live to see the day when Mendenhall becomes nearly invisible from the visitor’s center.
Besides the views, you should come here for the scenic walks. Five separate trails are offered, from the easy, 0.5-mile Photo Point Trail to the challenging 3.0-mile East Glacier Trail. I’d really wanted to walk the 2.0-mile Nugget Falls Trail to Nugget Falls, but time restrictions prevented me from doing so.
Back on the coach, our next stop was made at the Juneau Rainforest Garden not far from Mendenhall. Run by Jeff and Jane Svinicki, this was the unexpected highlight of my excursion. The gardens are not extensive – the entire trail loop is barely a thousand feet in length – but they do highlight an amazing number of local flora and fauna, all of which is explained through numbers on the ground and an included booklet.
What made this so worthwhile, though, was the chat Jeff and Jane had with us over several hot cups of Cinnamon Tea about life in Juneau and Alaska. Jeff and Jane are both avid hunters, and they described in detail about hunting permits, licenses and the myriad of regulations that must be satisfied to obtain both.
Guests seemed to really enjoy this and asked numerous questions about what it’s like to live year-round in Juneau, which Jeff and Jane had all the answers for. One thing that always strikes me about coming to Alaska is how different it is from the rest of the United States. Alaska is the very definition of the phrase, “self-reliant.” These two don’t hunt for sport: they hunt for sustenance.
After a pleasant 45-minutes at the Juneau Rainforest Garden, we made our final stop of the tour at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let-down. I think the whole concept sounds a lot more attractive on paper. When you get there, you are given a short five to seven minute briefing by a young but knowledgeable volunteer. Then, you can view the salmon in the hatchery – which is really just a few large tanks – or pay a visit to the small aquarium or gift shop they have on-site.
And that’s it.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I love what the hatchery is doing. Of the total salmon released into the wilderness from the hatchery, 10 percent will return. Of those 10 percent, 60 percent will be harvested by regional commercial fisheries. The hatchery plays an important role in sustaining the local salmon resources for Southeast Alaska. As a tour site, though, I’d probably give it a pass.
Still, this excursion gave me the chance to see three different things I’ve never experienced before in Juneau. If you’re here on a long port call – as we are – I’d recommend doing a tour. It gives you a broader overview of the town and its surrounding area, which only boasts forty-odd miles of road before coming to a stop. Juneau is one of the only State capitals in the United States that cannot be accessed by roads from the mainland; you have to either fly or sail in.
This afternoon, I braved the unending rain to take a stroll through Juneau to some of my favorite shops, including the Alaskan Fudge Co. I’m not a big fan of fudge, but I’ve been coming here on every trip to pick up a slab of their hand-made “Maple and Sugar” fudge. It’s ridiculously good for $10.
Juneau has also made some significant and welcome improvements to their infrastructure since I was here last July. They’ve reconfigured the parking lot in front of the Mount Roberts tram to let coach and delivery traffic in with ease, meaning you no longer have to take your life in your hands to cross over to Franklin Street.
The boardwalk near our berth – Berth B – has also been extended and modified, and the immediate area around the berth now features an attractive glass canopy to shelter those waiting for excursions from the rain.
It’s nice to see improvements being made to the passenger experience. The Juneau waterfront as it exists today is vastly different from what was here ten years ago.
Of course, what’s better after an afternoon ashore in the rain than returning to the warm Silver Shadow, where my shoes have been shined and wrapped for the evening, my fruit bowl in my suite has been replenished, and where classical music quietly emanates from the television? My iPhone charger cord – which I had left on the desk – had been neatly coiled, as had my iPod headphones. Even the cloth I use to clean my glasses had been folded neatly in my absence. The attention to detail is fabulous.
One thing I have noticed onboard – and it could either be the passenger mix or the Silver Shadow herself – is how subdued the ship is. I joined some of my fellow guests for pre-dinner drinks in The Bar around 6pm to find the place deserted. We then went down to The Restaurant on Deck 4 for dinner, and found it, too, was almost empty. Perhaps some folks stayed in town for dinner, or chose to dine in one of the other four venues onboard. Either way, it’s very quiet onboard. Not that I am complaining – it’s like having your very own private yacht!
Keeping with the theme of trying new things, I finished my night off with a drink in the Connoisseur’s Club on Deck 7. Also known as The Humidor, this intimately-sized room is one of my favorite public areas onboard Silver Shadow. Lined with high-rise leather chairs and panelled with dark accents, the clubby atmosphere is perfectly suited to the room’s primary vices: fine spirits and cigars.
I don’t smoke, but I do enjoy good scotch and cognac. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the ones that Silversea offers on a complimentary basis, but the ones in the Connoisseur Club are a cut above that. They also come with a small surcharge that reflects their rare or aged quality. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. At $14, the extra-peaty, aged scotch I indulged in isn’t going to break the bank. It’s also not something I’d feel the need to have every evening. I am, however, glad that Silversea offers it as one of the few things you’ll actually have to spend money on.
The room also has a cigar list that, I am told, is quite extensive. While I won’t be lighting one up any time soon, the scotch was an excellent way to end another evening here onboard the Silver Shadow!
Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow as we spend the day riding the rails in the historic Gold Rush town of Skagway! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
Follow along with our entire journey!
Silver Shadow, Alaska
|Thursday, June 19, 2014||Vancouver, British Columbia||Embark Silver Shadow||18:00|
|Friday, June 20||Cruising the Inside Passage|
|Saturday, June 21||Ketchikan, Alaska||08:00||14:00|
|Sunday, June 22||Juneau, Alaska||09:30||23:00|
|Monday, June 23||Skagway, Alaska||08:00||17:00|
|Tuesday, June 24||Sitka, Alaska||09:00||18:00|
|Wednesday, June 25||Cruising Tracy Arm / Sawyer Glacier|
|Thursday, June 26||Wrangell, Alaska||07:00||16:00|
|Friday, June 27||Prince Rupert, British Columbia||08:00||17:00|
|Saturday, June 28||At Sea|
|Sunday, June 29||Victoria, British Columbia||08:00||23:59|
|Monday, June 30||Vancouver, British Columbia||07:00||Disembark|