AK: An Alaskan Cruise and a Rekindled Friendship

Posted by
Rachel Cala
That's Rachel (second from right) and Josie(far right) with some new friends!

Traveling is a great experience on so many fronts, and it has been part of my life for many years. I love to see new places, meet new people, and learn a few things along the way about history, food—or even how to use a digital camera. Still, it was with some hesitation that I accepted an invitation from an old friend to take an Alaskan cruise this summer. Why? My husband of 44 years had recently passed away. Chuck and I had traveled all over the United States and Europe, and I assumed my traveling days were over, not the least because it seemed I’d never find somebody compatible to hit the road with again.

Enter Josie. We had lived in the same neighborhood as kids, and went to grammar and high school together. We used to walk to school and home for lunch together. We crossed paths again earlier this year at a planning session for our 50th high school reunion, and it seemed as if we picked up right where we’d left off so many years ago. Her husband had died a few years back and she understood what I was going through. Soon we were planning more than just the reunion.

Our trip started in Buffalo, where we hopped on a plane to JFK, then flew to Seattle. We had an overnight stay there before the cruise, and even in that short time we were able to explore the city a bit. The Space Needle was exciting, as was a nearby park with a space and science museum designed by Frank Gehry. A “Ride the Ducks” bus-boat took us not only around the city but also into the water for a spin around the harbor.

The next day we boarded the cruise ship, setting our watches back three hours and joining a crowd of about 2,200 others. We were part of a smaller group of people traveling together, though I hadn’t met everybody before. That changed quickly, though. We entered a Quest Contest, which is basically a scavenger hunt in which players seek everything from combs to coats, and we all got to know each other. Our team won third place—and blue ribbons with gold medals attached.

Chuck and I had been docents at the Buffalo Zoo, and I still am. So one aspect of the cruise I looked forward to was seeing wildlife. The ship took us as far as Juneau, the capital of Alaska, then sailed down the coast between the U.S. and Canada. We spotted orcas, whales, some hawks, and of course schools of salmon swimming in the beautiful water. At the Macaulay Salmon hatchery we learned about five kinds of salmon found in Alaska. In Juneau we ate at a restaurant where locals dine called the Twisted Fish. It should come as no surprise that we had King salmon, baked on a cedar plank. The fish was delicious and had a unique taste because of the way it was prepared.

The next spot on the cruise was the Mendenhall Glacier, which has melted down so much because of global warming that people were walking on the glacier floor. Along the way the scenery was breathtaking, with low-hanging clouds embracing the mountains in mystical glory.

The cruise continued on to Skagway, just north of Juneau. Here we boarded the White Pass and Yukon Route train to take us to the Klondike. The guide told us how 35,000 men had built the railway at a cost of $10 million, but that only 35 died in the process. When it was constructed in 1898 it had the tallest cantilever bridge of its era. The route has 110 miles of track, hairpin turns, and no shoulder. The train flew through twists, turns, and pitch-black tunnels. At one point we passed the Continental Divide, where the water flows in two different directions. When we got back to the ship that night we had lobster, shrimp, and salmon for dinner. A Broadway review afterwards kept things hopping.

The next day we sailed into Tracy Arm Fjord. A geologist on board gave a great presentation, telling us how our ship had passed over three minor faults en route from Seattle to Juneau. We were thrilled with the balmy, clear weather, which meant we had no need for gloves, hats, scarves, or umbrellas.

Prince Rupert was a tiny little town not far from our last port-of-call. Upon leaving the boat we had the option of shopping, eating lunch, or canoeing. We decided on a little shopping to take it easy, as we were a bit tired at that point. The next day was spent packing, and hitting the casino, Internet café, and the beautiful paneled library on board. I stopped in a bistro for a cappuccino and bought a purse on sale from an onboard store. That night we saw a hilarious comedian, Etta Ray. And there were still so many things to do: hit the spa, join in on some karaoke, take a swim in one of the pools, shake it up in the disco, or just eat, eat, and eat.

During our final day on the ship, the cruise staff put on a thrilling display of flags from the 35 countries represented by travelers on board. And on our last night we watched from the decks as the sun set over the beautiful pine-tree covered mountains bathed in clouds and mist.

Josie and I were so glad we took the cruise that we’re already planning a trip to Vermont after our reunion next month, and we’re looking forward to telling our classmates about our adventures in Alaska. Which reminds me of an old saying: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” All I can say is, traveling with an old friend to see new things and meet new people was a wonderful, healing experience. I highly recommend it.