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Alaska’s Jewelry Wars Continue

If you’ve ever been to Juneau, then you have some idea how many jewelry stores there are within walking distance of Alaska cruise ships. If you’ve ever gone to a shore-excursion presentation on a ship, you also know how there is almost always one about the jewelry stores.

As passengers who generally avoid both, we’re hardly experts on the subject of “cruise jewelry.” However, we’ve been around long enough to know that the presenters on ships seem to be directing you to specific stores. Not all of them, maybe, but most seem to zero in on a few jewelry shops.

Now we know why.

There’s currently a battle going on between a few Juneau jewellers and the “port lecturers” on cruise ships. According to a story in the Juneau Empire, one jewelry store owner alleges he overheard a port lecturer telling one of his customers — in his store — there would be a “better price” at Diamonds International.

The reason?

Ports lecturers are paid by commissions. No jewelry sales, no income.

The Alaska story is complicated, but interesting, and it’s all available here at the Empire’s website. The store owner has filed a complaint with the state’s “fair trade” laws and an assistant attorney general has been in touch with the company responsible for port lecturers (they don’t work for the cruise lines, they work for independent contractors, just as art dealers do). Both sides have complaints against the other so to some extent it’s another “he said, he said” confrontation.

Similar situations may exist in any number of ports in the Caribbean, but it seems more intense in Alaska, with such a short cruise season. This issue will probably be resolved, one way or another, before the next ship sails to Alaska, in 2016.

Either way, it’s unlikely to have any impact on the number of Juneau jewellers…nor the number of jewelry “lecturers” on ships.

In the news…

• Silversea announces that Silver Cloud will move to expedition fleet next year
• Norwegian Escape leaves Germany shipyard and heads for sea trials in North Sea
• Celebrity Solstice to increase (by two) stops at Vancouver Island port of Nanaimo

Today at portsandbows.com: Hurtigruten leads explorers


Norwegian Sky
4 nights
November 9, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahama, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $199
Cost per day: $49
www.ncl.com

June Weather An Alaska All-Star

JuneauJUNEAU, Alaska — it's perfectly understandable that Alaskans don't really know what to do about the weather. Here in the capital, they live in a rain forest and it's not raining. 

"People in Alaska don't know what to do with this much sunshine," one of them said, while the digital thermometer downtown displayed 67 degrees in the morning sunshine at 9:07. "Usually we have liquid sunshine. This is a vitamin D overdose."

Visitors are told in advance what the weather is (or can be) like in the 49th state, and Star Princessthey're as confused as the locals. A Star Princess crew member from the Ukraine, on her first Alaska cruise, said: "This is more like Hawaii."

For Star Princess passengers who came early to spend time touring the interior, yesterday was the eighth consecutive day of sunshine…or of no rain. To put that in perspective, the last time we went to see the Hubbard Glacier, we didn't. It was behind a wall of rain…rain cold enough it could've been icicled.

Here's what the Hubbard Glacier looked like this time…

Hubbard-4

For the last eight days, the story has been the weather. It is the first word off everyone's lips, be they bus drivers or storekeepers or past visitors. 

On land, there was no doubt that Mount McKinley would "come out" as the locals say, which happens less than half the time. All the flight seeing was on schedule, and all the sights were there to be seen, even if all the animals weren't (note: We've been told that Mountainnice weather brings them out, also that it makes them hide). The many glaciers, both in the interior and here along the southeastern shore, have been posing for pictures like models on a walkway.

Even the whales co-operated. Yesterday along the waterways that cruise ships take to the Inside Passage, the humpbacks were breaching and feeding in gams (groups)  of "about ten" — even tour guides were amazed that so many were doing so much, and going so far as to shower tourists with a little whale spit.

This, for sure, is Alaska at its finest. Whether you're in a bus, plane, helicopter, train or Helicopterwalking…you can see more, and everything is prettier. Everybody's in a good mood, especially the tourists, who don't want Mother Nature to intrude on their vacations. 

As any Alaskan will tell you, it can all change at the drop of a salmon net. Late yesterday, as the Star Princess was leaving Juneau, it started to rain and the wind was howling, to which the locals said: "About time."

Meanwhile, those of us who have been tourists here for more than a week had a different reaction.

"Really?"

In the news…

• Seven Holland America ships to sail 98 Caribbean itineraries
• MGM’s M Life members getting offers from Celebrity Cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: MSC Divina — different approach to Caribbean

Norwegian Jade
7 nights
November 28, 2015
Houston (return): Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan
Inside: $429
Cost per day: $61
www.ncl.com

Alaska Adventure: One Last Time

Remembrances from and suggestions for spending two weeks in the 48th state…

Be on the lookout for nature even when you least expect it. These two pigeons we spotted on the docks where the float planes are moored in Juneau. At first we thought it was rather cute to see a couple of pigeons’ kissing…and then we realized, they must be mating. It was still cute, and went on for longer than…never mind.

Make sure you listen to the cruise people who recommend “layered clothing” because chances are they’ll be right. The idea in having several layers is that when it gets cold, you layer up, and after the temperature rises — it could be 15 minutes later — you layer down. In the fall, layering is a must; in prime cruise season it’s a good idea.

Check fear at the door 1: The chances of seeing wildlife can be rare, the chances of encountering a bear or a moose on the trails are rarer still and the chances of being in danger in such an encounter are remote. But it happens.

Check fear at the door 2: Don’t be afraid of flying in that single-engine plane — they’re in backyards the way swimming pools are in most cities — and even dare to go zip-lining (a woman in her 70s in our group did!).

Ports throughout the state are generally small and generally busy. It’s a short season and four cruise lines — Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity — all sail regularly to Alaska.

The most important newspaper headline may not have been Alaska’s acceptance as state No. 49 in 1959, nor John McCain’s decision to make Sarah Palin famous…rather the one that informed Captain James Waddell that the General Lee surrendered and the Civil War was over. This happened two months after the war really ended but Capt. Waddell is credited with firing the final shot — just before he read the paper.

Take sunglasses, just in case the clouds clear.

If you rent a car, don’t think Alaska’s oil means a break at the pumps. All the oil is shipped south, and then back north. It has to be refined and returned. There are no refineries in Alaska.

Relax if it looks likes weather is going to scrap your plans for the day. Alaskans have to be the most flexible people in the world in changing plans for tourists.

Find a way to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, in Kenai south of Anchorage. It’s not free but it’s good.

There can be a 150-degree temperature swing in Fairbanks, from 90F to -60F.

Don’t believe anybody who says the Iditarod in 1925 was the first meaningful dog-sled race, from Whittier to Nome. The All Alaska Sweep Stakes was for big (relatively speaking) bucks, for 10 years (1908 to 1917), from Candle to Nome.

Feel free to look at fur jackets in stores without thinking somebody’s standing behind you with a can of ink to destroy it. This is a fur-trading culture, always has been and few places are nowadays.

Take every chance you get to see a glacier. The most impressive one may not be in Glacier Bay, or the one called Hubbard, or Mendenhall at Juneau. And if you can swing it, fly over one.

Enjoy the locals, and the transplants. Everybody, it seems, is from another state and some of them even stay year-round, which makes them a local.

If you’re on one of those all-you-can-eat-seafood excursions, skip breakfast or at least keep it light. Let’s see…an English muffin or Dungeness crab.

Forget about watching U.S. television in the Inside Passage. CNN is International and the American networks are AWOL. Go figure.

The best free historical talk and movie is in a back room at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, about World War II.

Be prepared to hear this line two or three times about how there are more women than men in (fill in the blank): “The odds are good…but the goods are odd.”

If you come within shouting distance of the Mug Shot Saloon, expect to hear this: “”Only bar in Alaska where they check you for a weapon…if you don’t have one they’ll give you one.”

Flight, Feast Fit for Surprise

JUNEAU — This is the capital of Alaska, although a lot of people here still wonder why, and it’s also where we committed to taking a float plane to a feast. But we must digress…

Having just disembarked from the Coral Princess, with tickets in hand for the flight-and-feast shore excursion, we began to wonder if we’d made a mistake. Everybody else in our group of 18 seemed to be going to some glacier, or to catch fish they couldn’t keep, or to get a ride on a dog sled in the snow. Up to this point, we’d thoroughly enjoyed every excursion we’d taken and, frankly, we thought maybe our luck had simply run out.

In cruise ports, there are always local vendors pitching trips to wherever. On the pier at Juneau, there was a long line of little booths that seemed to be joined at the corners. We decided to approach one of the vendors, explaining that we weren’t customers since we already had something booked.

“Where are you going?” asked Abe Tanha.

“The Taku Lodge Flight and Feast.”

“You’re gonna love it,” said Abe. “It was the first tour I ever went on when I came here five years ago. That spoiled it for me. Nothing else was ever that good.”

“Excellent.”

“You’re gonna fly over five glaciers…”

“This is sounding better.”

“…and when you get to the lodge there’s a guy with a 10-foot stick to keep the bears from getting closer than four or five feet from you.”

There was one other concern that Abe, a nice young guy even though he’s a Red Sox fan, wasn’t able to alleviate. One of us doesn’t swim, and she’s afraid of heights.

As we waited to board one of the five single-engine DeHavilland Otters that was noisily approaching the dock, there was some trepidation. Well, for one of us. What followed was a rewarding, fascinating experience. We knew from the name of the excursion that we’d have more salmon than we could eat, but the “flight” part was the eye-opener. Along with the bear.

The pilot, Sam Wright (no relation to the Wright brothers), quickly had us high enough to be looking down at glaciers. We’d spent a chunk of the previous week looking at glaciers and, now that you mention it, they were starting to look the same. Or at least like blood relatives. What we saw from both sides of the single-engine Otter were massive glaciers that looked like giant pieces of marshmallow laid side by each by a being greater than the ones who walk on earth. The most massive was the Taku Glacier, five miles wide and 57 miles long. It’s among Alaska’s top 10 in size but the nearby Mendenhall Glacier gets all the attention, because you can drive to it. Access is everything.

The Taku is reachable by float plane or by taking a long, long boat ride.

The lodge has a story of its own, one too long to tell here. But there is a man who guards the feasters from the bears with a stick a little shorter than 10 feet. The bear, arriving on cue when the dinner bell rings, didn’t get closer to us than 60 feet — although if he decided one of us looked better than the salmon lunch he could have — but it was close enough for us to enjoy the bear’s barbecue. There was no salmon, just the drippings from the barbecue onto the sand beneath. No bear ever tasted better sand!

The ride back was less spectacular only because we’d already seen this part of the Juneau Icefield, and the surrounding mountains, a few hours earlier.

So yes, Abe was right. This excursion was the best.

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