Like the pioneers of old, we go west!… Except we’re flying and nobody will die of dysentery.
Since Devon and I are both members of the Hash House Harriers (‘a drinking club with a running problem’ — it’s how we met!) the whole idea for this trip began to materialize in 2013, when we found out that Portland would be hosting our 2015 InterAmericas Hash. InterAm is essentially a giant gathering that happens every 2 years in a new location. Kind of like Burning Man for North and Central American hashers. A cruise was organized as a “pre-lube” to InterAm, so about 150 of our fellow hashers would be also joining us on the ship.
During our ten-day adventure, we traveled for 7 days on board the Celebrity Solstice, where we sailed up the Pacific coast to Alaska, and traced the Klondike Gold Rush route into Yukon Territory. Following the cruise, we spent 3 days in Portland, Oregon. This was my first time back in the Pacific Northwest since my last visit in 2007. Devon had never been to this side of the continent before, and neither of us had been to Alaska, Yukon Territory, or Portland, so it was fun to see a mix of familiar and new locations.
8/28 | Day 1: Seattle, WA
Before the sun was even peeking over the horizon, Devon and I were on board a plane to Houston, where we met up with our friend Lisa and flew to Seattle. After gathering our luggage, riding the train into town, and checking in at the Moore Hotel, we were left with about 24 hours to relax before we embarked on our cruise.
We took some time to explore the surrounding area, as it had been close to a decade since the last time I’d been to Seattle. We followed two friends who were looking for geocaches. Afterward, our group met up with the Seattle Hash House Harriers for a pub crawl through Belltown. About halfway through the crawl, I realized that I’d been awake for over 24 hours, so I excused myself to go to bed… only to wake up bright and early at 4:00am. Devon and I found breakfast at a 24-hour diner around the corner (then, like Hobbits, a second breakfast at a nearby pastry shop) and strolled around Pike’s Place for a couple of hours, until it was time to gather up our bags and get a cab to take us to the cruise terminal.
Our stateroom was on the Concierge Level, so we were allowed to board early and the staff welcomed us with champagne. I had a basic inside cabin on the last cruise I took, so our balcony room on the Solstice was quite a dramatic upgrade! The room easily accommodated the three of us with a queen bed plus a fold-out twin bed, ample closets and drawers, and a spacious bathroom.
8/29 | Day 2: At Sea
After breakfast we saw some whales breaching, but they were so far out that I couldn’t photograph them. We spent the day exploring the ship and socializing. Blissfully, there were very few children on board, and they were all mostly sequestered away to a play area, so that meant nobody was screaming, flinging food, or running amok (although there may have been some hashers running a beer mile). There was a whole section of the ship with designated “adults only” hours, which included a swimming pool, hot tubs, fitness center, sauna, and spa. Other amenities included a library stocked with books and comfortable chairs, and a lawn on the top deck. The only downside I discovered is that when we were at cruising speeds, the wind was just too cold for me to really enjoy hanging out on the lawn. Fortunately, there was plenty to do inside.
8/30 | Day 3: Ketchikan, AK
The first day in Alaska was kind of a wash, literally. When we arrived in Ketchikan, I woke up to discover the weather was dreary, cold, and wet. I stayed optimistic and thought the weather didn’t feel too cold, and maybe it wouldn’t be raining so hard once we got on shore. Well, it turned out to be even worse. After disembarking, I immediately wished I had put on different clothes. Not only was I freezing, but the hems of my pants got soaked and kept wicking icy water into my shoes and up my legs as I walked, which made me instantly hate everything. I henceforth discovered that the “waterproof” jacket I’d purchased for the trip was just a windbreaker, and not in fact waterproof at all.
We messed around in a few gift shops, but just going outside to walk between buildings meant we were both completely soaked within a few minutes. We finally ducked into a bar to sit for a while and dry off, and a few other hashers eventually trickled in too, since they were planning to do a pub crawl. A whole afternoon of strolling about town in freezing rain just didn’t sound that appealing to me. After hanging around for a while and sampling a few local Alaskan brews, Devon and I went back to the ship to put on dry clothes.
Of course, as the ship was leaving port, the rain stopped and the sun actually came out. I got a great photograph of a double rainbow on the way out.
8/31 | Day 4: Juneau, AK
Devon and Lisa woke me up at 0-dark-30 as the boat took a detour up through Tracy Arm Fjord. I wrapped myself in a blanket burrito and sat on the balcony, where we were greeted by a misty sunrise revealing picturesque cliffs and emerald colored water full of cerulean hued icebergs. Our cruise director got on the PA system and entertained us with lots of trivia, facts, and legends of the fjords.
Around noon the ship docked in Juneau. Surprise, more rain! Fool me twice, won’t get fooled again — I dressed appropriately this time, and brought an umbrella. Devon and I met up with two friends for a short hike into town to catch a bus to Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier viewing area was crowded, and we’d have to pay to get into the visitor’s center. The rain never stopped, so we ended up damp and frozen again, but it was definitely worth seeing, even if the atmospheric haze made it hard to take any decent pictures. (Despite the magic of Photoshop, it’s hard to capture how moody and ethereal the glacier actually looked.)
After we’d had enough standing in a downpour to look at a big ice cube, we thought we’d go warm up in a pub again. Our bus driver recommended the Red Dog Saloon, but it turned out to be a tourist trap with a line to get in, so we said nope to that. The four of us meandered around through a few more gift shops, which were overall a bit disappointing since all I came across was mass-produced junk, overpriced and not even made in Alaska. Walking around in bitterly cold rain is exhausting (worse than snow I think), so we split a cab back to the ship.
9/1 | Day 5: Skagway, AK + YT & BC
Devon, Lisa, and I woke up early to meet up with some more friends to do our only organized shore excursion of the trip. The Chilkoot Charters Yukon Rail & Bus had come highly recommended, and the cost seemed fair considering the excursion was 7.5 hours long and included lunch.
Our tour guide, Alyssa, was absolutely hilarious and entertaining. (Seriously, when she isn’t doing tours in Alaska she should be a standup comic.) The first leg of our journey would be by bus, departing north from Skagway. Along the way we pulled over a couple of times to take photos while Alyssa pointed out landmarks and regaled us with stories and trivia about the area. Eventually we crossed into British Columbia and then into Yukon Territory. Currently, this is the furthest north I’ve ever been.
Our first destination was the Caribou Crossing Trading Post, which included a restaurant in addition to a small museum displaying artifacts from First Nation tribes, bits of Canadian history, and life-size replicas of native animals. Behind the museum was a petting zoo, including sled dogs. When we got off the bus, I was smacked in the face by a piercing wind and snow flurries, but at least the trip-provided lunch included warm donuts! Plus a vegetable curry over rice for me and BBQ for everyone else. Hot food was definitely appreciated. Afterward, we were free to explore the area for a while. Devon and I made our way through the museum (mostly enjoying the brief warmth) and eventually wandered out back to see the husky puppies. Yes, even I will brave the arctic climate to pet a cute dog.
After leaving the Trading Post, the bus made a stop in Carcross so we could explore. The town seemed to be frozen (figuratively in time, but also literally — a wet, bone-chilling kind of cold), even including an old fashioned general store, a legitimate relic from the Gold Rush days. Carcross even had, no kidding, an ice cream stand — and some people were actually getting ice cream. I, however, did not need ice cream because my body had already turned into a meat popsicle. The final stop on our bus tour was Lake Bennett, where Alyssa challenged us to a rock skipping contest.
The second leg of our journey would be by train, departing from Fraser, British Columbia, to take us back to Skagway. As we passed through the mountains we saw a couple of bears in a creek, plus some really dramatic scenery including snow-capped mountains, ancient railroad trestles (including some that our train used!), cascading waterfalls, and the last remaining sections of the original Gold Rush trail that was carved into the cliffside.
Skagway was our last port of call in Alaska before heading back south. I would love to come back to Alaska, since we really only got to see a tiny sliver of the whole state. The only complaint I have is that it’s hard to come up with different ways to describe the weather, other than “Alaska is really f@#$king wet and cold.”
9/2 | Day 6: At Sea
After waking up late, Devon and I went and sat in the sauna and spent a while relaxing in one of the hot tubs. Later in the evening I watched the Hot Glass Show, which was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. Three very talented ladies from the Corning Museum of Glass built a giant vase that was auctioned off for charity the following day. At dinner, we heard a rumor that around 1:00am we’d be able to see the aurora, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see anything.
My overall impression of Celebrity Cruises is a positive one. They appeared to strive for the feeling of an elegant, all-inclusive resort that also happens to be floating, so even if cruises aren’t normally your thing, you might enjoy sailing on Celebrity. The crew was not only patient and accommodating to our group of rowdy runners, but the stateroom attendants kept our cabin impeccable (which is no easy task with three people in there). By the end of the trip, the staff knew all our names; especially the bartenders. Devon arrived at our dinner table each night to find a glass of scotch waiting for him.
Cruise food in general is tailored toward the, shall we say, “retiree” palette (in other words, bland AF), and there was plenty of that to be found, but I enjoyed the Indian and Asian dishes (congee and curry for breakfast? Yes, please!) and the variety of multicultural food offerings that were definitely not bland. Being a vegetarian, I found plenty of meal options that fit my diet. In the main dining hall, the dinner entrees were prepared to order and served in manageable portions. The only disappointment was the baked Alaska we had for dessert on day 7. It was just bad (though kind of amusingly ironic).
I had the basic non-alcoholic beverage package which included unlimited soda, coffee, and tea. About halfway through the trip I realized it also included fancy drinks at the coffee bar so I had a white chocolate mocha almost every day after being out in the cold. Friends who bought the premium alcoholic package definitely appeared to get their money’s worth. I think it’s a great value if you know you can spend more than $50 on drinks in a day, and some of the top shelf liquors make that easily achievable. If you’re a “single glass of wine with dinner” kind of person then it’s probably not cost effective to buy a drink package. My favorite watering hole on board was the “Molecular Bar” that featured handmade cocktails with interesting additions like herb or spice infusions and liquid nitrogen.
9/3 | Day 7: Victoria, BC
When I first saw that we would have a stop in Victoria, I really wanted to take Devon to the Butchart Botanical Gardens, since it was one of the highlights from my first trip to the area. Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be enough time, as we didn’t make port until 6pm, and would only be there until midnight. Instead, our whole group met up with the Victoria chapter of the Hash House Harriers to do a red dress run through downtown. With well over 100 people in crazy outfits, we attracted a lot of attention and even got our 15 minutes of fame on the local news.
9/4 through 9/6 | Days 8-10: Portland, OR
After returning to Seattle and disembarking, we took a train to Portland for the remainder of our trip. While there were plenty of planned activities for us courtesy of the Portland Hash, a few of us decided to skip some of the InterAm festivities to go do “muggle” (non-hasher) things, since we’d never been to the city before.
We spent what felt like a whole day at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, which was definitely a “stars aligned just right” sort of experience; we’d heard about waiting in line, needing a reservation, or being turned away due to limited capacity, so we originally hoped to stop in for just a drink or two. However, we were extremely lucky and the private tasting room was vacant, so they let us set up camp there for the entire afternoon. We also had a chance to hit the Saturday Market and Japanese Gardens (after walking there from the market, which was only 2.7 miles on the map but turned out to be an entirely uphill climb).
There were a few other attractions that had been suggested to me, but I didn’t have time to do everything I’d have liked, and some things turned out to be not quite worth the hype when we got there. (I didn’t want to wait in line 45 minutes for Voodoo Donuts, and Powell’s Books looked amazing from the outside, but I was immediately turned off after seeing approximately a million people inside.) I’d really like to go back to Portland again and get off the beaten path a bit more.