Thursday, June 20, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan (BEARS!)

The first stop of Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator sailing the Inside Passage was Ketchikan, where I flew by seaplane to Prince of Wales Island to see bears (BEARS!). The flight was breathtaking, and the wildlife viewing was awesome: I saw four bears, three deer, two whales (mama with baby) and a bald eagle. Here's a link to my photos.

Alaska Seaplane Tours operated the excursion purchased through Regent Cruises (Regent Choice tour cost $419 per person).  A van met our group at the pier and it was a fifteen-minute ride to the floatplane dock.  The planes accommodate 4-6 passengers; mine had four guests plus the pilot. It was spectacular gliding through the fjords of the bay en-route to Prince of Wales Island, home of the highest concentration of black bears. We spotted a few solitary bears eating grass along the shore, ignoring the circling plane as we approached closer and closer.

We landed on a deserted beach in a small bay and quietly waited, hoping for curious creatures to stroll out from the tree line. There was an eerie hush as we realized how remote we were. A deer with frolicking fawn walked along the shore, the baby not much bigger than a dog. Thirty minutes later, we were back in the air and saw our fourth bear just around the bend from where we had landed. 

I chose this excursion for June travel because it offers the best chance to see bears this early in the season. Once the salmon starts running in July and August, the bear viewing gets much better (attention grizzlies: the buffet is now open).

I wandered the town in the afternoon, strolling past the T-shirt shops, gourmet markets and Inuit galleries along historic Creek Street for a photo of Dolly’s House (this landmark house of ill-repute is now a museum). Ketchikan has the world's largest collection of standing totems, and the  Totem Heritage Center is right in town. The population is about 13,000, and with four ships in port, the population just about doubled.  It was 71 degrees and sunny in Ketchikan, which was unusual weather for this rainy town (they get up to 200 inches each year, the salmon seem to like it- Ketchikan is known as the Salmon Capital of the World).

Back on board, I hosted the Signature Collection cocktail party at the Stars Lounge (oh yeah, I’m working). It was nice to meet so many folks and share the day’s adventures.