What defines a holiday? Being wheelchair bound, it means meeting or even exceeding my limits. I seek
out unique destinations, luxurious hotels, diverse cuisines and exciting activities. From start to finish,
Alaska had all the ingredients and flexibility I look for and is now my favourite destination of the many I’ve visited.
Cascading glaciers; waterfalls rushing into emerald lakes; snow-capped peaks, evergreen forests and historic, monumental landscapes: the beauty and grandeur of alaska captured on an eight-day tour.
Our journey began at Seattle Docks, where the Celebrity Infinity Cruise awaited us. Each forward step after immigration on the long path to the liner fired up my adrenaline. Uniformed staff met us warmly, serving refreshments the moment we stepped on board. The grand foyer was stunning, with its exquisite marble floors, onyx staircase and panoramic view elevators. We dashed to the Ocean Café, which resembled an exhibition of international cuisines. After a quick bite, we joined the carnival on the open deck, where I was in for a surprise. The entertainment organisers took me onto the dance floor and everyone surrounded me, dancing to ‘YMCA’! Shortly after the ship’s hooter sounded we raised a toast – ‘Farewell, Seattle’ – and embarked on our 8-day tour. My comfortable, wheelchair-accessible room had a balcony with a great view. Later in the evening everyone dressed up and we were guided to the Celebrity Theater, with its promise of sundown to sunrise entertainment (they kept us enthralled all week with high-energy performances). We took in a show then went exploring. At the world-class casino we tried our luck at Blackjack and the slot machines. Then we dined at The Main Restaurant, centrepiece of the Celebrity Infinity, with its incomparable selection of grandiose dishes.
Day two started with breakfast at the Ocean Café, followed by more exploration. As my family relaxed in the jacuzzi, I clicked pictures and savoured delicacies from the poolside grill. After the relaxing day, everyone dressed up for the first formal night: professional photo shoots followed by Broadway shows and dinner. On day three, we awoke to views of icy Alaskan mountains, with freshwater streaming down to the ocean. Soon we arrived at Ketchikan, Alaska’s ‘first city’. Even though it was cold, with mild rain, it was lovely to be back on land after two days on board. While waiting for our first excursion cab, we roamed nearby streets and gift shops, taking snaps and finding out about the area.
The cab took us on a beautiful scenic route, endingin a wobbling wooden pathway to a floatplane. Climbing aboard was quite an experience! Just one slip could have landed me in deep waters. Thankfully, staff and family were there to help me climb in safely. Once everyone was buckled up, with headphones on, we started the journey to Misty Fjords National Monument. Also known as the ‘Yosemite of the North’ Alaska’s second largest wilderness area was once completely covered with ice. Over the years, massive glacial movements and volcanic activity have carved out this pristine masterpiece.
We thoroughly enjoyed the scenery: saltwater fjords edged by plunging cliffs, 3,000-6,000 feet high, snow-capped, mist-swathed peaks, tidewater estuaries, waterfalls cascading into freshwater lakes, and seemingly endless evergreen forests. On our way back, the pilot landed in the midst of a valley, on a
rock formation in the crystal clear water. I enjoyed the incredible views from the plane as my family stepped out on the small patch of land.
Our next stop was Juneau, the state capital. Named after prospector Joe Juneau, it’s nestled between Gastineau Channel and Mount Juneau. We were met with a splendid sight in the morning: natural ice formations, like sculptures, floating in the emerald ocean. Our liner’s narrow pathway took us to the magnificent Tracy Arm fjords. The path to the fjords had steep cliffs along much of its length, some covered with glaciers and lush trees. Intermittently, waterfalls plunged from the cliffs into the waters of the fjord below. Our guide, a friendly young girl, enthusiastically related details of the history of Juneau, glacier facts, and life in the city. The bus drove through downtown and then to the outskirts, home to the breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier. With trees behind us, and an enormous ice field in front, we saw the glacial valley ending in an iceberg dotted lake.
Having enjoyed the area’s beauty and solitude for an hour, we headed to Auk Bay to view humpback and orca whales, seals, and other wildlife. Our captains visit these waters regularly and are knowledgeable about the whales’ social circles. The boat would draw to a halt and we’d hear a pod of whales communicating. We learnt that they were ‘bubble-net fishing’. After these energising ‘up close and personal’ encounters we headed back to the liner.
Next stop was Skagway, a major ‘gold rush’ attraction, for a very informative tour. We visited the original Klondike Trail of 1898, which pays tribute to all the prospectors who passed that way, and the Summit of White Pass, part of the US / Canadian border. Unfortunately, the Glacier Discovery tour, by helicopter, wasn’t suitable for the disabled, but my family captured the fantastic adventure on camera for me and I felt as if I’d been there. The helicopter had soared high over the historic Skagway waterfront and on to remote glaciers and the Skagway ice fields. The awe-inspiring glaciers were visible in all their various stages: advancing, retreating, cascading and floating.
Throughout the cruise, I noticed that staff sang ‘Happy Birthday’ for those celebrating their special day, and everyone would follow suit. I wished I’d had a birthday too. On our last night, my sister-in-law arranged the most wonderful surprise for me: a candlelit chocolate cake. Everyone at the restaurant serenaded me: my fondest wish come true.
We awoke the next morning in the beautiful city of Victoria, a temperate seaside enclave and British Columbia’s third largest island. The city exudes old world charm: we were amused to see horses apparently out numbering cars on the streets. We took a tour in one of the horse drawn carriages – the best way to see the place – past upscale neighbourhoods, manicured lawns, blooming gardens and coastal views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We also saw the Olympic Mountains, China Town and the
Inner Harbour, centrepiece of Victoria, with its Royal British Columbia Museum, street performers, parliament buildings and luxurious Fairmont Empress Hotel. As the sun was setting, and the streetlights switched on, we saw how this one-time outpost of empire still retains much of its colonial splendour.
Back on the ship, we retired to our room balconies to admire the huge full moon. In just a few hours we’d be hitting the Seattle Docks once again. The thought of leaving my ‘home on the waves’, and this truly remarkable odyssey, disheartened me. The next morning, bell boys picked up our bags and we said our goodbyes to our family-at-sea. As we disembarked, I was already reminiscing, and at the door of our taxi turned around one last time to take a final look at the great ship. I promised myself I’d be back soon.
By air/by road: Seattle is well connected and serviced by many airlines. It’s best to land one day before a cruise departs. There are quite a few hotels near the Celebrity
Best time to visit: The weather is perfect during June-July.
Recommended activities: ‘A Misty Fjords Floatplane Adventure’ in Ketchikan, a visit
to the Mendenhall Glacier, whale-watching in Juneau, a drive to the Summit of White
Pass, a helicopter ride over the Skagway Ice Fields and a city tour of Victoria.
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!