Alaska!

Last week, our family headed out on vacation. This wasn’t just any vacation, though. It was one we’d been planning for over a year and one where both sets of our parents had agreed to join us. The destination? Alaska!

I’ll go ahead and put this out there as a disclaimer because I know it’s coming. “Alaska? We must be paying the pastor too much.” (Do people really say this? Yes, they do.) Let me assure everyone who was worried about the pastor becoming fabulously wealthy that this trip was a complete fluke, courtesy of Jenn Faulk books. We had a really great month of sales early in 2017, and we counted it as God’s provision for us to take our girls to see a once in a lifetime destination alongside their grandparents. Alaska was one of those places we’ve always wanted to see but figured we probably wouldn’t get to because it’s big, it’s unfamiliar, and we’re the kind of people who can get lost in Natchez even with the GPS lady telling us what to do. We don’t make for great, adventurous tourists in remote locations… which is why a cruise sounded so good! Let someone else navigate, provide an itinerary, decide what’s for dinner, and even sing and dance for you. Am I right? This was also a selling point for my parents, who liked the idea of a floating hotel and all day buffet.

We set off on Sunday after church and drove to Dallas while Ana serenaded us with the entire soundtrack of The Greatest Showman. (I think we all have it memorized now.) We were flying out of DFW, where long term parking was going to get pretty expensive, so we looked into the park and fly hotel where we could keep our car parked for the week and spend a night for the same price as the airport parking. This way, we could all get a good night’s sleep before the flights AND eat at Rosa’s, one of our favorite restaurants from our seminary days. Done and done. We flew to Seattle the next day, arriving just in time to crash at a downtown hotel. There was enough time the next morning to explore a little bit of Pike Place Market before we headed down to the port and got on the ship.

The only other cruise Wes and I have been on was to the Caribbean, and while we weren’t expecting this cruise to be warm at all, we weren’t anticipating it to be so cold so early on. Alaska, don’t you know it’s summer?! We were only a couple of days into the cruise when the big jackets and hats came out, right along with the incredible sights of the fjords. We spent literally hours out on the deck, all bundled up, watching as the ship went into narrow passages full of mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, of all things. There was an Alaskan naturalist on the ship with us who would come over the intercom and explain what we were seeing and let us know when she spotted some wildlife. It was such a treat, seeing so much of Alaska like this and hearing from an expert before we ever even set foot on land. So incredible!

fjords

Our first stop was Skagway, where we had tickets to ride a bus up into the Yukon territory and take a scenic train ride back down to the port. Would you believe that a couple of days before we arrived in Skagway there was a rock landslide that took out part of the train track? It wasn’t a quick fix (our tour guide said that they weren’t sure how long it would take as it was in a precarious spot on the side of a mountain – yikes), so it ended up being a bus ride coming and going. That worked out in our favor, though, as we saw FOUR bears on the drive back. Would we have seen them from the train as they sat on the side of the road eating dandelions without a care in the world? I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have, and those bears made Skagway a hit with me. Our stop for lunch included these homemade donuts that made me as happy as the accompanying petting zoo made Emma and the taxidermy hall made Ana. (One loves live animals, and the other prefers them dead. Hmm.) Another hit was the souvenir shopping afterwards where I found some Alaskan nativities. Yes! I collect nativities from around the world but hadn’t even thought about getting one in Alaska until I saw them. They had mass manufactured sets that weren’t made in Alaska but were made to look like they were, and they had one that was made by a local artist, using Alaskan caribou fur and beaver fur. I headed straight for the cheap ones, but Wes wisely reminded me that shopping locally is a great way to support artists. (And the real Alaskan one looked way cooler!) He would have to remind me a few more times during this trip that supporting local artists is worth the extra cost. And shouldn’t I know it since I have readers who take a chance on my art instead of always going with the mass marketed books out there? I think so. All that said, I now have a legit Alaskan nativity, handmade by a local artist who used local animals (ha!) to do it. So awesome!

Here we are just a few miles outside of Skagway…

alaska

The next day we headed to Juneau, where the first thing we saw was a bald eagle sitting on top of the Juneau Public Library like he owned the joint. Yes, even eagles love to read. Wes and I had a hard time deciding what to do in Juneau when we were planning the trip. We knew what we wanted to do – a helicopter ride and a glacier walk – but we weren’t sure that we could justify the cost. We went back and forth on it for months, until one of us finally brought up the elephants. What elephants? Back when we met in Vietnam, we stopped at a place where they were giving elephant rides to people for something like $20. That seemed too steep a price to us back then (we were dirt poor seminary students), so neither of us did it. And we have sorely regretted it every day since. Will we ever again have the opportunity to ride an elephant in southeast Asia? No, because we didn’t do it when we could. It’s become our mantra of sorts when it comes to trying new things – “don’t let this be your Vietnamese elephant.” (Makes sense, right?) We concluded that the glacier was our Vietnamese elephant, so we went all in, bought our tickets, and showed up, ready to be impressed. And, boy, were we ever impressed!

They outfitted us in all kinds of waterproof, warm clothes before marching us out to a helicopter where we had a pilot who pointed out all kinds of things to us that we never would have seen on our own. He landed us ON THE GLACIER where the guides there put these clampy things on our feet, handed us walking poles, and took us trekking all over the glacier. Amazing! We got to drink glacier water straight from a crevice in the ice and had nothing but the most astounding views all around us. The helicopter ride back was just as great, and we concluded that the experience was so worth every single cent.

juneau

Where was everyone else while this was going on? Wes’s parents went on a whale watching tour, and my parents took the girls to a sled dog camp. We didn’t know there were sled dog camps in areas without snow (because Juneau only gets snow in the mountains during the summer), but there are. And they’re epic, according to the girls. Ana and Emma were able to hear about the Iditarod and meet some of the dogs who run it, concluding their adventure with their very own sled ride. I’m told that Emma was nearly as excited as the sled dogs were when it came time to run, and she certainly seemed to be as she told me all about her day. The girls also got to hold some of the puppies in the camp, and we’re all very lucky that Emma didn’t try to smuggle one of them out of there with her.

sleddogs

Our third stop was Ketchikan, where we weren’t scheduled to go on any tours or take any excursions. We did get off the ship and hit up the local shops, picking up some cool things along the way. (Again, locally made. Thank you, Wes!) It was rainy and dreary, but the walk through Creek Street and up along the water was beautiful. Back on the ship, the girls were treated to some pedicures from Wes’s mom then a Build a Bear making party from my parents. Yes, the girls were living large and getting large, thanks to the ever present ice cream onboard. Every time I turned around, Emma had an ice cream cone in her hand? “How many of those have you eaten?!” I asked her at one point. “Oh, I don’t even know,” she told me. Ana was experiencing the same reality with hamburgers, but like I can even say anything about that since I ate more pizza than I could count. And I enjoyed every delicious minute! Ahem.

The last stop was in Victoria, where everything closed about the same time that we stepped off the ship. (What?!) That was okay, though, as Wes and I enjoyed walking downtown and seeing it all lit up just as soon as the sun finally went down. So beautiful!

victoria

On the ship, we were able to catch a lot of shows and eat a lot of meals together with the whole family, and Ana and Emma got plenty of time with the grandparents, which is something they’ve been looking forward to since we started planning this trip. How many kids get the opportunity to go on an epic adventure with BOTH sets of their grandparents at the same time? I’m so thankful that our parents get along so well and that they all willingly and joyfully made the decision to vacation with two preteens who felt the freedom to wander back and forth in between their cabins and make themselves at home day and night. Which they did.

Our trip ended in Seattle, where we got off the ship and spent the night before waking up at 2am (ahhhh!!!) to fly back home. Wes claims it was a clerical error that had him flying to Dallas via Salt Lake City while Ana, Emma, and I flew through Los Angeles. Yes, he flew solo while I had both girls with me, squishing me on both flights and stealing my snacks. Whatever. I told the girls it would serve him right if we left the airport and headed to Disneyland, but I was too tired to go and see Mickey Mouse by that point. And you know I was tired if I was too tired to go to the Magic Kingdom. (I say that, but if someone had given me a magic band, I’d have been doing the can can and singing “It’s A Small World” as I stood in line for a rental car to Anaheim, y’all.)

We got back to Dallas, jumped in the truck, and drove home, stopping in Shreveport to visit a church family before finally arriving back in Vidalia right before midnight. We squeezed every bit that we could out of that vacation! The girls are still messed up with the time difference, but we’ll get back to normal soon. It’s worth every sleepless night we’re having now, though. We’re so thankful that we had this time with our families and that we were able to see such a beautiful part of the world…

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