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May 2016

Hi Liz,

Firstly we need to let you know that the return through SeaTac airport all went without a hitch, an hour to transit was quite comfortable.  The airport isn’t as big as it looks in the guide book and there were no customs or immigration to deal with.  All customs and immigration for our entry into America actually happened at Vancouver so it is worth checking in early there if that is your departure point prior to entering America.

We really enjoyed our stay in Juneau although 4 days was probably 1 day too long – only because the State Museum still isn’t open and we had such amazing weather.  We got to see Mendenhall glacier, take the tramway and walk around Mt Roberts, do a bit of shopping/window shopping, visit the city museum, do a glacier flight and walk the Perseverance Trail (about 10miles/3-4hours round trip up the valley where gold was mined so quite familiar in many ways). We feel we’ve done the place to death and all in amazing fine weather where the glacier and mountain top views were unhindered by cloud and we didn’t need to wear a raincoat once – almost a miracle according to most reports.  We had some difficulty seeing everything as basically if there are no cruise big ships in the shops and tours don’t run/open (not like here), the only way around this is to pay extra locate someone to do a private charter, pay for a taxi or hire a car!  This was made doubly difficult by the good weather when apparently all the locals feel a need to get out and enjoy this limited commodity. The concierge Keli, whom we met at the Baranhof but apparently works between there and the Goldbelt was just brilliant at organising opportunities for us (notably getting out to Medenhall Glacier and doing a glacier flight), she is definitely the go to person for local Juneau tours/activities and we cannot say enough good things about her customer service.

Both hotels were OK (not too flashy, not too dingy, both clean) – Baranhof had friendlier staff, slightly smaller rooms, no ‘fridge in the room and was more centrally located for other eateries.  Baranhof was about a 5 minute easy walk (for us) from the bus stop that ran from the airport to town.  The bus driver was very happy to give us directions and these were clear and easy to follow.  Another Juneau quirk is that the cheap airport bus ($2 fare each way) only runs on weekdays during the day, otherwise transport is by taxi.  Goldbelt is still being upgraded, staff were pretty unfriendly, rooms came with ‘fridges, were a bit bigger and it is closer to the laundromat, bus stop and convention centre.  I would say either is entirely acceptable providing you don’t mind the short walk with your suitcase to and from the convention centre (which is almost opposite the boat landing that Uncruise use).

The cruise was really great.  In the end we did our itinerary backwards to make the most of the forecast weather, this meant we got to see glaciers and do walks in the sun and look at whales in the rain.  The flexibility of the cruise is a real plus so that when whales were spotted we just stopped to look and ended up with feeding humpbacks very close to the boat (those big boats just keep on going).  When the weather made one anchorage look a bit rough we just went to another.  I think being an open minded traveller who is prepared to take what comes helps enormously, bears, whales and weather may not cooperate with every cruise.  Our crew were all friendly, intelligent, helpful, super-efficient, attentive to our needs and concerned for our safety, security and enjoyment.  The food was outstanding and well beyond our expectation.

Passengers need to know that quarters are small (much smaller than a hotel room) but perfectly adequate (some might dispute this when they see the ‘showerlet’, can you see us grinning?).  The engine or generator go 24/7 so there is always noise although we didn’t find it intrusive because it was consistent.  We had a 200 level cabin in the middle of the boat which was a BIG PLUS – we’d certainly suggest you recommend these to other travellers.  300 level cabins cost more and suffer from noise early and late as people walk around the top deck even if they are trying to do so quietly.  The cabins at the very back of the boat suffered from exhaust fumes which was a definite negative if you needed to cool your room down by opening a window (no individual air conditioning) and were close to the crew recreation room and laundry i.e. a bit more noisy.  Likewise the cabins with external only access were hard to ventilate, no window and the door is either open or closed so no half measures in terms of ventilation (also could be difficult if the weather was really foul).  The only hiccough we had was the transfer of our luggage from the boat to the Goldbelt hotel post cruise, this seemed to be another example of the Goldbelt being particularly unhelpful rather than anything to do with Uncruise but who knows.

We were also very lucky with our fellow cruisers aka “Wilderness Explorers” as we were all a very like-minded group with, and I quote the captain, “no whingers”.  The group was probably the most intelligent we’d travelled with, the majority were 50 plus with 4 younger people travelling with parents/grandparent.  There was no particular after dinner entertainment, not that we had the energy left for any partying anyway.  The majority of the others were couples from America but there were 4 Aussie couples and another kiwi couple also from Howick!  On three days we were offered a choice of 2 morning or 2 afternoon activities, on another day the activities were curtailed by rough weather but compensated for with whales.  The wildlife sightings were amazing although sometimes a little distant (bears on the beach probably a good distance, goats on the mountains pretty tiny) so binoculars, which are supplied, are a must and small cameras are hopeless unless you only aim for scenic shots.

All in all we can’t speak highly enough of our cruise experience, we’d go cruising again with Uncruise if it wasn’t quite so pricey.