Saturday, June 25, 2016

North to Alaska and Home Again

Days 1 & 2

We've been home for a little more than a week from our amazing adventure to Alaska. It turned out to be one of our best trips ever. It truly was great.

We started out early on Wednesday morning with a drive from Corpus Christi to Burleson where we spent the night with Danny and Jeanne. We left home for the five and a half hour drive as Texas was in the midst of one of its worst rain and flood events ever. We were very lucky to make it all the way without encountering any bad weather.

We got on the road early and stopped in San Marcos for a little shopping and lunch at Centerpoint Station. We love their hamburgers. We shared one of their cheeseburgers and an order of onion rings. They were delicious and sharing a burger left us room for kolaches later.

This was probably the most leisurely drive we've ever taken to the DFW area. Traffic was light and we were trying not to arrive before Danny and Jeanne got home from work so we took our time.

If you drive through this part of Texas, you probably know that stopping for kolaches in West, Texas is almost obligatory. We usually stop at the Czech Stop. This time we decided to try a place we have not stopped before, Slovacek's. Oh my goodness! Their kolaches are outstanding. My favorite was peaches and cream. We picked up a dozen to share with Danny and Jeanne. I will also note that Slovacek's has very nice facilities and very clean bathrooms. That's a big plus for me. We liked it so much that we stopped again on the way home.

We got to Burleson shortly after Danny and Jeanne got home from work and we all went out for Mexican food. We enjoyed a nice visit with them that evening.

On Thursday, Danny drove us to DFW around lunch time and dropped us off for our 3:15 flight to Anchorage. This is where our trip took a turn.

We were pleasantly surprised not to encounter long lines at the TSA checkpoint. The TSA Pre-check turned out to be a very good investment. But at DFW, even the regular checkpoints were not too bad that day. The boards were showing that our flight would depart on time. So we went upstairs and had a nice lunch before heading to the gate. As I mentioned before, Texas was in the middle of a weather "event." Shortly after we boarded, there was an announcement that the flight was holding for passengers whose connecting flights were weather delayed. We waited about an hour on the plane. The other passengers arrived, boarded, and we were all ready for take off. But not really!

The next announcement was that we were now delayed because the plane had mechanical problems. They were working on it and expected to be underway in a short time. The next announcement informed us that they had tried to locate another plane but none were available. The problem was with the plane's water pump. The plane would operate fine, but there was no water for drinking or washing hands. After another wait, we saw them bringing cases of water and boxes of hand sanitizer on board. In total, we sat on the plane for about three and a half hours before we finally took off.

We finally arrived in Anchorage at 1 a.m. Thursday. Taking into account the time zone changes, our bodies felt like it was 4 a.m. We got a taxi to the Hilton, checked in, took showers, went to bed for what was basically a nap. We had to board the train at 6 a.m. So we were up at 5 a.m., dressed and out the door by 5:30 for a three-block walk to the train station.

Our travel books said that it is an easy walk, which is true. We weren't too worried about the walk because all our luggage rolls.  What the travel books left out is that the last part of the walk is a large staircase down the side of a hill.  We made it, luggage and all, with time enough to grab some coffee in the station, snap a couple of pictures, and board the train. We were happy that our luggage was checked from this station all the way to the cruise ship. That meant we could spend the afternoon in Seward without having to keep up with our luggage.

The train ride was gorgeous! We took the Coastal Classic and booked Adventure Class tickets. That gave us access to a domed viewing car. This stretch of railroad is considered the most beautiful in Alaska. It runs along the Turnagain Arm into the Kenai Mountains from Anchorage to Seward. The train provided a "tour guide" who provided narration along the way.

We saw dall sheep and our first bald eagles from the train. We saw many more eagles during our week in Alaska.

One of the most interesting things we saw from the train were stands of dead trees that were the result of the Great Alaskan Earthquake (also known as the Good Friday Earthquake) in 1964. The earthquake registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale and caused the ground around the Turnagain Arm to drop as much as 8 feet. The salt water that covered the ground around the trees both killed them and preserved them. In other places the ground was thrust upward more than 30 feet.

I had never heard of this earthquake, but was kind of fascinated by the small bit of information they provided. I have since done a little research and learned that it was the second strongest earthquake ever recorded. It caused tsunami waves is more than twenty countries. More than 139 deaths were attributed to the quake and tsunamis in Oregon and California as well as Alaska. It wiped out several native villages and caused a large number of landslides. If you want to read more about it check out the Wikipedia listing for the 1964 Alaska earthquake.

About this time is where the second (and thankfully last) problem of our vacation occurred. About two hours into the train ride, my two-year-old Nikon 1 J1 DSLR camera stopped working.  Every time I turned it on I got a lens error and it would not take any more pictures. So we were reduced to using the cameras on our phones, potentially for the rest of the trip. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed.

When we arrived in Seward, we got our first glimpse of the Celebrity Millennium. We were happy to see that the cruise line provided buses from the train to the ship. The travel books had indicated that we would have to take a local shuttle which runs on a 30 minute schedule. We were also pleasantly surprised to be invited to board the ship early and have lunch aboard before venturing into Seward. It was only about noon and our staterooms would not be ready until 3 o'clock, but the main dining room was open, which was nice. We ate lunch and hopped on a shuttle into downtown Seward in search of a camera shop or electronics store. No luck. You could buy jewelry, gems, t-shirts, and souvenirs, but there was no place to buy a camera or to have one repaired.

Seward is "the mural capital of Alaska" with somewhere around 35 murals located in the city. They paint a new mural each year during their annual mural festival. You can see all of them at the Seward Mural Society's web site. They were really interesting and beautiful.

Seward is a small town of only about 2,500 people. There is approximately one coffee shop for every resident. I exaggerate, but seriously, I counted more than twelve on the main drag alone. We found this to be true pretty much everywhere in Alaska. There is always coffee. It was also here that we first encountered Alaska's amazing vegetation. It doesn't really get dark this time of year, so the plants just absorb all that sunlight and produce really big flowers, fruit, and vegetables. The poppy in the photo below was roughly the size of a dinner plate and, no, that is not an exaggeration. It took me a day or two to figure out that I needed something else in the photos to give some idea of the size.

After looking around a bit and enjoying some of that local coffee, we caught the shuttle and returned to the ship where we checked in to our room for our first evening on the ship. As we boarded, we were greeted with champagne and welcomed aboard.

I was quite impressed with Celebrity's security. They took security photographs on that first day which were loaded into their security system. They used a scan card system any time we got on or off of the ship and we had to remove hats and sunglasses so they could look at the picture on their monitor and confirm our identity. Anything we brought on board had to go through an airport-type security every time. My bionic husband with his artificial knee, metal plates in his leg, and titanium heart valve, set off the metal detector every single time both on the ship and in the airport. It's no big deal, he's used to it now.

Celebrity was also quite serious about cleanliness. Free-standing hand sanitizer dispensers were located all over the ship in every lobby and outside every elevator and dining area. Upon returning to the ship each day we were greeted by crew members holding large sanitizer dispensers. They used it on every single person, always saying "Happy, happy, washy, washy!"

The flight delay from DFW to Anchorage and my camera failure were the only things that went wrong on a trip that totaled about ten days. I can't really complain about that. I'll tell you more in the next few days. And, yes, there are lots more photos coming.


  1. You must have been devastated to have your camera act up on you while you are on such an amazing trip. Hoping you found somewhere along the way to get it fixed. That happened to me when I went to Michigan the last time.

  2. You really do understand me. I was just so upset about my camera. I had a very hard time letting in go and moving past it.