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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Cuba, Alaska!

Day 7, Juneau (Cuba) Alaska, October 24, 2023

I’m sure the title of today’s blog probably caught your eye as of course there is no Cuba, Alaska. Now that’s a story to be told of how we found a little bit of Cuba in Juneau, Alaska today.

I went on CruiseMapper to determine our location this morning and saw that we were sailing on the inside passage, past the Tracy Arm Fjord and were right on time for our 2pm arrival into Juneau, Alaska.

We had a stunning, sunny day for our inside passage sailing! We really are very lucky with the weather since Alaska gets a lot of rain during cruise season in Juneau and even last week the weather forecast for our cruise was not looking good, with rain and clouds forecasted for most of the voyage. Boy did we luck out!

We had initially planned to do sea kayaking by the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, but the tour company we had booked with said that the excursion we had booked was no longer possible because at this time of year we would be finishing the excursion in the dark. Since our cruise ship did not arrive into Juneau until 2pm, with clearance to disembark the ship by 2:30pm; transport to the glacier‘ getting ready to kayak etc, we frankly would have run out of daylight by just before 6pm.

When I had looked at other options for excursions nothing but going to see the Mendenhall Glacier really looked interesting. Norwegian was charging $169US per person to transport us the 12 miles from the ship on a bus, to the glacier and frankly I thought that was a bit of an outrageous price, so we didn’t book with Norwegian.

Working on yesterday’s blog and doing research on Juneau tour operators. It really is frustrating to only be able to connect one device at a time to the internet. I was so used to the Neptune where I could have both devices connected. Research on the iphone while blogging on the Ipad.

And this is about the time that Richard started ‘working the phone’ as he likes to call what he does to try and solve our ‘no excursion booked dilemma’. He was trying various tour operators in Juneau but all of the responses he was getting from their voice recordings was that they were now closed for the season. Being the very last cruise ship arriving into Alaska for the 2023 season meant that a lot of the tour operators had closed up shop and had headed to warmer climates, before the winter starts.

So what was our Plan B going to be if we didn’t have a tour planned? Stay tuned because we always have a Plan B!

Norwegian Encore anchored in Juneau, Alaska. A lot bigger ship than the Viking Neptune we spent 138 days on sailing around the world this past winter and spring!

We actually arrived early to Juneau and the all clear was given at 2pm to leave the ship. We told our friends to meet at the stairway on Deck 9 near our cabins at 2:45pm which would allow a lot of fellow Norwegian cruisers to disembark before we would leave the ship. We were supposed to dock at AJ dock in Juneau which was 1 mile from downtown and would be taking a shuttle from the dock to downtown Juneau. When we finished lunch and looked outside though we could see that we were actually docked right downtown Juneau at Princess Cruise lines dock and we didn’t need a shuttle to downtown! BONUS!

We got in line to disembark the ship on Deck 4 with our friends and then we stood back to watch Richard work his magic!

With 5 people in tow, we needed a minivan to take us to the Mendenhall Glacier. Richard eyed a mini van taxi sitting across from the library in downtown Juneau, so he approached the driver and asked what the price would be to take 5 people to the glacier, wait for a bit and then bring us back to town. Richard was able to negotiate a flat rate of $150US for all 5 of us for the trip. We jumped into the taxi and introduced ourselves to our driver Joel from Lux tours.

Joel saw that I was interested in taking photographs so instead of just taking us to the Mendenhall Glacier, he provided a guided tour of Juneau for us!

A small park with beautiful, fresh mountain stream flowing through Juneau, Alaska.

View of our ship from Douglas, Alaska. Joel knows all the best places to take photos!

Juneau fishing harbour.

Humpback whale statue downtown Juneau. Since all of the humpbacks have already migrated towards Hawaii, this was the best Joel could do for us to see whales in Juneau.

And of course we wanted to see bald eagles in Alaska and Joel knew where they hung out too!

As we headed up to the Mendenhall Glacier Joel provided us with lots of information about the town of Juneau and Alaska in general. One interesting nugget we learned from Joel was that each Alaskan resident who has lived in Alaska for a year is eligible for a Permanent Fund dividend payment. Last year the payment was $3,284 per person. Alaskan residents also pay no State income tax and in some municipalities also pay no sales tax! Wow!

Joel told us that 90% of Juneau’s revenues come tourism which mostly comes from the 1.5 million cruise ship visitors arriving from May through September. Our ship, the Norwegian Encore is the latest Juneau has ever seen a cruise ship in a season and the residents of Juneau were thankful for our business.

The stunning Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska!

The glacier is 13.6 miles long and has retreated 1.75 miles since 1929. With the retreat of the glacier, the Mendenhall Lake formed which is a nursery for many types of salmon, char and other northern fish. Mendenhall is famous for its blueish colour because its pure ice reflects the blue colour of the spectrum, when the sun shines on it.

Katie, Gary, Jackie and Richard at the Mendenhall, Glacier.

When we boarded the mini-van to return to Juneau we saw finally saw Joel’s license plate.

CUBA, ALASKA! So you see there really is a Cuba, Alaska after all!

Joel told us the story of how he arrived in the USA from Cuba and was working as a taxi driver in Miami, but he wanted to improve his English and also get ahead in life, so he drove all the way from Miami to Juneau, Alaska arriving in 2009 to start his life as a taxi driver for the cruise ship tourists arriving through the season in Juneau.

Joel married a girl that he met in Juneau who came from the Philippines to look after the tourists as well. Joel was a wealth of knowledge on Alaska, Juneau, glaciers and whenever we had a question he either had a photo on his phone, ipad or a handout to show us to answer our questions. We couldn’t have lucked out with a better tour guide if we had booked a tour ahead of time with a tour operator!

Joel our taxi driver/tour guide with Richard our Trip Director par Excellence! We gave Joel a nice tip on top of the $150 he had quoted us and we think we had a much better experience driving around with Joel taking photos of the sights, and learning from a local what its like to live in Juneau.

Joel dropped us off near the Mount Robert’s Tramway in Juneau, but told us that the ride to the top on the tram was $50US/per person, so we opted not to take the tram up Mount Robert’s.

Downtown Juneau. The tramway is in the distance with one car visible ascending the mountain.

We wandered around downtown Juneau browsing in stores that were still open for the season. Many of the stores were closing after we left town for the winter. We heard from one shop owner that the cruise ship that was supposed to arrive the day before us (Norwegian Bliss which left Seattle on Saturday while we were watching it leave from the rooftop of The State hotel), never made it because the winds were so strong that the ship could not make it into the harbour in Juneau. We really did luck out with our timing for this cruise!

The moon had just started to rise over the mountain. (Left side of photo)

As the sun set over Mount Juneau, it started to get quite chilly, so we decided to head back to the Norwegian Encore to embark and get warmed up. Just as we were walking down the pier to the ship Richard said “Look, the moon is coming up over the mountain!” Of course I had to stop and try and capture the moon as it peeked over the mountain.

Moonrise over Juneau, Alaska.

It never fails to amaze me though how a woman with a camera leads to a man wanting to give her advice. Yesterday while I was taking the photos of the moonrise in Juneau, I had a man I don’t know from the cruise ship come up to me and tell me how I should be taking this photo. I had a similar experience when we were sailing on the Viking Neptune. A random man came up to me and proceeded to give me unsolicited advice on how to take a photograph. Yeesh. I think I know damn well how to take a photo and if I wanted their opinion I would have asked for it!

Downtown Juneau at dusk.

We were very happy with our Juneau, Alaska adventures today and it sure pays to have experienced travellers like we are making spur of the moment arrangements!

After heading up to the Observation Lounge on Deck 15 of the Encore for a pre dinner cocktail, we met the gang for dinner at ‘Onda, by Scarpetta’ the Italian specialty dining restaurant onboard on Deck 8. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos of our meals, but while we enjoyed the food at Onda, the menu was quite limited and somehow the ambiance seemed ‘cold’ with brighter lighting and a hard surface on the floor. We had originally planned to go to Onda twice as we all enjoy Italian food, but during dinner we asked the hostess to change our reservation for tomorrow night to another speciality dining restaurant. Our cruise fare included 2 specialty dining restaurants but me and Richard upgraded to 5 specialty dining restaurants to be able to try out most of the speciality dining venues. After spending 138 days on the Viking Neptune with only 3 a la carte dining restaurants, we were really looking forward to lots of variety for dinners on this 7 day Alaskan cruise.

We left Juneau right on time at 7pm last evening and started sailing further north to our next port of call where we would be arriving bright and early tomorrow morning. This 7 day cruise sure is flying by and we’ve only been to one port so far! We are so used to longer cruises so this one will be action packed going forward!

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Steve Brown
Steve Brown

Loved the number plate reasoning 🤔🤣 Still more to catch up with. I need more time 😳🥴

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