Monday, May 20, 2019

Land ho! Seward, Alaska

May 14 – Seward

After four full days at sea, we were all set to get on solid land again. We knew we were getting close when Glaucous-winged Gulls were the dominant bird for our early morning seawatch.  Most of us were on land just long enough, though, to get onto another boat! The tour in Avancha Bay was such a highlight for many of us, that we dug deep into our pockets and found enough money to go on some excursions arranged by the cruise company. Before we could leave the ship, though, we had another immigration process to go through.  Tour by tour, and floor by floor, we marched through the Tsar’s Palace restaurant for an expedited immigration inspection.  With nearly 3000 people on board, a crew of immigration officers sets up shop somewhere on the ship, as we’d never fit into the regular immigration facility.
Norwegian Jewel in Seward

The majority of our group were headed out for a five-hour tour of Resurrection Bay, but you snooze, you lose, and a couple of us (including me) had to take the six-hour, extra $100 US tour to Colgate Glacier as the shorter tour had sold out. 

It was a three-minute bus trip to the departure point, and we were off! It was apparent that this was going to be a much less personal tour, as the boat could hold about 200 people instead of the dozen or so in Petropavlovsk.  Rob used his keen eyes and found the trip’s first sea otter and whale—a Minke!  We tried to get the attention of the crew, but with no luck.  Eventually, when we did, even though Rob had a photo, the captain opted not to mention it or go back to look for the whale, as she had to “make up time” for a delayed start at the dock.
Our trip also took us through Resurrection Bay, but instead of touring through the nooks and crannies, it was more or less a high speed chase out of the bay with a couple of stops for looks at humpbacks and sea lions, with a little bit of attention shown to the birds.  We saw a few Horned Puffins among decent numbers of Tufted Puffins, but not as closely as we would have liked. The best moments, in my opinion, was when several Dall’s Porpoises came right us to the boat for excellent views.  Steller Sea Lions put on quite a show for us as we worked our way around to the face of the glacier.
Dall's Porpoise

You maybe able to see why they are often mistaken as Orca.

Steller's (Northern) Sea Lions at work

We spent quite a while at the tidewater glacier, and the crew put together a lunch of prime rib and salmon for us.  I’m quite unfamiliar with food on pelagics, but if you’re feeling well, it’s kind of nice.  Eventually, departing the cove, we then more or less bee-lined back to port.
I admit to feeling a little let down by this adventure, spoiled by the tour back in Russia, but apparently ours could have been a lot better.  Although the six-hour tour mentioned bird colonies in their promotional material, the five-hour tour actually went to them.  That group got much better looks at both Tufted and Horned Puffins, more time with mammals, AND came across a huge raft of Common Murres. They got lunch, too!
Colgate Glacier

Back on the Norwegian Jewel, we found out that two of our group had missed the departure of the five-hour tour. They were given a refund, and managed to get on a slightly shorter tour with the same company—for less than half what they had been charged on the ship!  They got to see all of the wildlife as the others, but were sorry not to have been with everyone else. Lesson learned: Choose your excursions wisely, and use local tour operators, if possible!

This was the first day of cruise that we had not seen an albatross.

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