Whales, Salmon and Glacier Trekking in Juneau, Alaska

by Dawn O’Brien-Gans

Dawn with her mother-in-law, Carol, and brother-in-law, David, hiking Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska
Dawn with her mother-in-law, Carol, and brother-in-law, David, hiking Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska

For my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday she had dreamed about a family cruise to Alaska.  Knowing this, my husband and I had to make it happen.  So after months of planning, the birthday cruise was finally booked.

In July 2010 we were off  on a 7-day Alaskan cruise aboard Diamond Princess. It was our first time on a Princess Cruise and were extremely excited.  It was a dream come true for my mother-in-law as well as an exciting family adventure for the rest of us.

On our cruise we had the opportunity to visit Ketchikan, Skagway and beautiful fjords and glaciers.  One morning we even saw a brown grizzly bear eating a whale carcass along the beach which I’m sure does not happen every day.

But our favorite port had to be Juneau, which brought the excitement of whale watching and a salmon bake followed by a helicopter glacier walkabout.

The entire family took part in the whale watching and salmon bake adventure.  I must say that observing these magnificent whales up close and personal was thrilling.  It was like they were putting on a show just for us.  And, even though the trip was described as whale watching the experience was much more than that.

Along our route we marveled at the Alaskan wildlife  – we saw several beautiful eagles soaring overhead and on trees along the shoreline. We also spotted stellar sea lions lounging on a buoy taking a break from the cold waters.  They were so adorable, each one trying to find a little space on that buoy to call their own.

The real stars though were the whales – whale tales galore. We were lucky enough to see about 10 different whales on our trip each one giving us a different view.  Some displayed their spouts blowing out water; others were friendlier showing us their massive bodies and force.  The most exciting moment though was when one whale completely jumped out of the water exhibiting a graceful dive through the air before plunging back into the water.  It was quite a sight one that is embedded in my memory forever.

After our long morning of whale watching we boarded a bus for a salmon bake where we were greeted with tons of food.  An open grill was the main attraction where the salmon covered in a sweet molasses sauce was cooking. The smell alone made your mouth water.  Follow that with roasting marshmallows over an open fire and you have one great day…

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better — it did!  The ultimate experience was taking a Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Tour with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law.  Viewing the glacier from the helicopter was one thing but words cannot even describe what it was like to actually stand on this glacier.

It was as if we were transported to another world.  Our guides helped us put on our crampons (spikes over our boots), gave us our poles and off we went on a magical hike around the glacier over crevices and up icy hills.  Our 30-minute hike was way too short but the memories will last a lifetime plus I snapped a few photos along the way for nostalgia.

Our day in Juneau was an awesome experience and really made our Alaska cruise that much more special.  We always talk about this trip and when we plan to go back!