III.2.06 70th birthday on the Royal Caribbean Alaskan Cruise

British Columbia, Washington State and the state of Alaska together form the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. This entire coastline is punctuated with nature and scenery at its amazing best. On one side there is ocean water as far as the eye can see, while on the other side are huge towering evergreen forests, rugged snow-capped mountains rising in the background and breathtaking glaciers appearing here and there...and to add even more excitement there exists a variety of both land and water animal life throughout.

It was to this spectacular setting that as part of a Royal Caribbean Alaskan Cruise on board the ship Rhapsody of the Seas, three original long-time parishioners from Sts. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Church in New Westminster - Anne Radzo, Bertha Palko and Ed Starick (the writer of this article) - went to celebrate Anne’s 70th birthday. The cruise was a birthday gift to Anne from a group of her closest friends, while Bertha and I joined to keep her company. A few thoughts and pictures about our memorable trip follow.

Our first stop was Juneau, the capital of Alaska, founded during a gold rush in 1880. We were informed that Juneau is accessible only by float plane or boat...there are no roads out. Today the former gold mining town, nestled at the base of Mount Juneau, provides visitors with a starting point to view some of Alaska’s most spectacular scenery.

We chose to visit the Mendenhall Glacier, a short bus ride from Juneau. Upon arriving at our destination, our group encountered a mother bear and two cubs that seemed almost as curious about us as we about them. The glacier itself was an incredible sight: 1.5 miles wide, 100 feet high and 150 years old. Its colours ranged from very light to almost royal blue at the base. Adding to this scene were two huge waterfalls and the surrounding mountains coloured in many different shades of green.

Skagway, our second port of call, was born as the starting point for thousands of gold-crazed seekers during the historic Gold Rush of 1898. In Skagway’s heyday it was known as “the roughest place in the world” and also the home to 70 saloons.

A Skagway attraction is the famous narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Railway that climbs nearly 3000 feet in just 20 miles and features cliff-hanging turns, two tunnels and numerous bridges and trestles. Also close to Skagway is a flower, herb and vegetable attraction known as the Jewell Gardens where we visited an amazing outdoor display of coloured vegetation, more amazing when you consider its northern location. We saw cabbages that weighed about 45 pounds and were told that larger ones are often produced as part of an annual cabbage-growing contest. Yes, we commented that a lot of kapusta could be made.

Another incredible sight on this cruise was the Dawes Glacier located in the Endicott Arm. Imprinted in our minds forever is the sight of this awesome glacier that loomed before our slow-moving ship like a massive cold giant of stone. Slabs and chunks of broken ice seemed to be floating all around us and a spectacular sunrise made the whole picture even more mesmerizing.

Of course, many emotional moments abounded throughout our cruise. There were the dolphins who seemed to be playing tag alongside our ship, the whales who appeared to be on some sort of migratory mission and then there were the mouth-watering meals that made you want to eat and eat...and eat some more. But perhaps the most emotional moment occurred the last day at sea on route sailing back to Canada when a violin soloist began playing beautiful music in the centre lounge area of the ship. The haunting sounds of the violin together with the hypnotic scenery outside, clear calm blue water ...the mountains and trees, painted a moment for each of us to remember.
Bertha later and so aptly described that moment, “I began to think what a wonderful world our Lord has made for us. And then the violinist started to play “How Great Thou Art” ...I began to hum along and then I could hear voices of the people sitting below... suddenly the entire area seemed to burst into song. In my heart I felt wonder and gratitude...and I began thanking God for all his goodness, the beauty of this world and the friends I have. Tears filled my eyes...that moment will always remain in my heart.”

In her diary Bertha concluded with the words, “Truly Lord, how great Thou art.” And as the cruise came to an end, Anne and I echoed those sentiments.