Cruise Spotlight: Juneau, Alaska

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After sailing into Endicott Arm in the morning, the Solstice sailed toward Juneau, the capital of Alaska.  Located in Southeastern Alaska, Juneau can only be reached three ways: by plane, by boat, or by birth canal. (Picked up that line from one of the teens who helped lead our excursion…classy, I know)

Our ship was not able to dock in Juneau; instead, we mustered into shore, which was a strange exercise, as we used our lifeboats. But nonetheless, we got familiar with them and ensure that they work!

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We booked our Juneau excursion through the cruise ship, and selected a combination Mendenhall Glacier/Whale Watch trip.  At the end of the dock, we found our assigned area and were assigned to a shuttle, which then took us over to Mendenhall Glacier and dropped us off for a little over an hour.

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Mendenhall Glacier is 13 miles long, and ends at Mendenhall Lake.  It’s part of the Juneau Icefield, and is easy to navigate and visit.  We were able to take some lovely pictures and enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it down to Nugget Falls, a 377-foot waterfall feeding into Mendenhall Lake.  If we went back again, we agreed that we would want to ensure that we got down to the falls.

After our trip to Mendenhall, we were shuttled to the dock for our whale watch excursion, which was operated by Allen Marine Tours.  The first half of our tour was relatively quiet – I started to worry that we wouldn’t see anything.  Then, all of a sudden, we found them: a pod of orcas.

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I can honestly say, without a doubt, following this pod of orcas was the most significant, magnificent, memorable part of this trip for me.  I, a grown-ass, 26-year-old woman, stood up on my seat in the catamaran, gasping with my hand over my mouth. I think at one point, I had tears in my eyes. I snapped a few photos and the short video that I’ve linked below, and yet, I didn’t capture these creatures at all. They’re extraordinary. At one point, one of the cows rose straight up in the water before falling into a sort of half-hearted breach – she was playing.  It was incredible.

ORCAS! Had such a great time on today's whale watching excursion.

A post shared by Robbin Zirkle (@robbin410) on

Toward the end of our whale watch, we also saw the fluke and some spouts of a humpback.  At that point, though, I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t express myself anymore.  What a tremendous experience.

All in all, we had a positive experience with our excursion via Celebrity. Unfortunately, our shuttle driver to and from Mendenhall was obnoxious, but I suspect that she is the exception rather than the rule.  My only real complaint about that portion of the trip is that we didn’t have enough time at Mendenhall.  I would have loved to have an extra hour so that we could get down to the falls – they were very crowded with tourists, so walking was slow. As for Allen Marine Tours, the operator for our whale watch? Five stars, all the way.  The guides, most of whom were teens and college-aged, were all exceptionally knowledgeable, professional, and approachable. They made the experience even better.

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All said and done, you should definitely make time during your stop in Juneau to see both Mendenhall and do a whale watch.  Whale watches are difficult to book independently, so you will probably find it easiest to do it through your cruise ship.

What I would actually recommend is to book an evening whale watch through your cruise ship, and book an independent shuttle to Mendenhall so you can do it on your own time (there are many to choose from), then join your cruise excursion back at the dock. This is what we initially planned to do, but circumstances changed, and we ended up doing everything through the ship. We had a great time at the glacier, but just felt pressed for time, so I think we would do it a bit differently if we did it again.

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