A few years ago, my travel companions and I cruised with Princess Cruise Lines on an Inside Passage itinerary and visited stunning Juneau, Alaska. Thinking that a photography tour would be a great way to learn from the pros and combine sight-seeing with photography (one of my favorite hobbies), we chose a photography tour by land and sea with Gastineau Guiding company. Our group traveled by bus to the Tongass National Forest to start our tour. Do not be fooled into thinking Alaska is always cold because in June, our weather was around 70 degrees.
We hiked through the forest with no barriers for protection from wildlife and happened upon a black bear right away. At the time my daughter Peyton was 13 years old, and immediately approached the bear for a photo-op. From the split second after seeing the bear, I was frozen with instinct to protect my child or to let her get the photograph she was perfectly prepared for. I know, dilemma, right? We all watched in silence with all movements frozen as the bear walked to the water, stared at his own reflection a bit, then waded through the water on his way. Our group breathed a sigh of relief and continued the tour with bear pictures from our to-do list checked off.
The second part of our tour was aboard a medium sized boat, where we received photography pointers from the tour guides throughout the drive. We were radioed by another boat who had come across a mama humpback whale and her baby breaching in and out of the water every couple of minutes. We sat and captured this amazing sight for well over an hour in which time six more boats joined us. The whales aimed to please us as far as entertainment goes and they were enjoying our eyes on them. I was never fond of whales, yet at that moment I grew to love the gracefulness and beauty of these magical creatures. We also saw sea lions playing on the buoys and a few other whales on the return trip.
The most beautiful thing about Juneau to me was Mendenhall’s breathtaking glaciers around the Visitor Center. Until now, I had only seen photos which really do no justice to the depths of frozen ice and prisms of colored lights reflecting from, through, and off the sparkling icebergs. I was spellbound. The eerie quietness of the surroundings and cool moist feeling you get from just being in the presence of something so cold, old, and special was just riveting. At this one location, I would estimate that I probably took 200 pictures, each and every picture being extraordinary in some way.
After getting back to our cruise port in Juneau, my daughter and I went for a late lunch at the Red Dog Saloon. The Red Dog is a bar that is cluttered full of interesting memorabilia, huge crowds, and downright fun. We grabbed the last two seats upstairs and within minutes of ordering our food, the “show” started. This place is a riot and the piano player/singer who did “Those Were the Days, My Friend” left a lifetime memory for the two of us. To this day, we request that song on every cruise we go on. Red Dog is purely for tourists but you cannot help but have a great time plus the food was better than average.
Tip: Some friends that travel to Juneau frequently like to dine at Tracy’s King Crab Shack, located near the cruise ships, and the reviews are excellent.
Note: Please realize that all tours do not get lucky to see whales daily. It is stated on the tickets and in the contract with touring companies so do not just expect it to happen.
Tip: One of the things I previously learned on a private tour in Seattle was how to spot a bald eagle. Eagles are not so rare in this part of the country, so once you know what to look for, the opportunities are endless. The less color on the eagle’s necks (mostly white), the younger he is. I was spotting eagles everywhere!