We celebrated Pride Month by cruising Alaska with Azamara. One big plus for Pride Month was the intimacy of the small ship (685 guests) which was especially conducive to meeting other LGBTQ people and allies. We often say that the people we met on board were a highlight of a cruise, and it was certainly true for this voyage.
Alaska is a place of stunning natural beauty. In fact, a cruise is the ideal way for LGBTQ cruisers, or anyone, to see the state. We experienced wonderful ports, offering excellent excursions and fun times when we struck out on our own. Azamara’s food, service, rooms and ambience were up to their usual high standards.
Onboard Azamara Quest
It felt like coming back home to board Azamara Quest, but then Azamara does that to you. Many staff members remembered us, and our waiter, Roston, from India, was a quick study. He quickly learned that virtually every dinner had to include our fave items, Escargot and Crème Brûlée. Of course bartender Bebe in Spirts lounge in the Den knew what we’d order before we were seated.
Early in the boarding process Cruise Director Ernest introduced himself and said that he was planning on hosting the first LGBTQ gathering. Kudos to Azamara for providing a crew member, listing these events in the daily newsletter, and for hosting in the ship’s prime real estate, The Living Room. We’ve all heard or experienced stories about holding the event in an out-of-the-way bar, or even a closed one, or with surly staff. Not true aboard Azamara.
Attending the event in addition to the two of us were couples from Canada, the UK and the USA. A critical mass was achieved and we all stayed connected the rest of the voyage and in some cases afterwards.
As usual on a cruise with a large number of LGBTQ people, many straight people spoke to us requesting to get in on the fun. These people are invariably allies, and we include them without question. These guests included, among others Azamara’s artist-in-residence, from just north of Vancouver, as well as a wonderful British straight couple and some fun Aussies!
Vancouver, British Columbia
What a remarkable city! The excellent terminal in the heart of downtown is easy to access by public transit or by car. The building itself is interesting with a roof line imitating sails. With Azamara we waited in line for a total of about 3 minutes, half of that with me fumbling for my passport, which is par for the course.
The sail away under the Lion’s Gate bridge is spectacular, and a fitting match to Vancouver’s rugged mountain peaks. The fabulous and spacious Stanley Park lies right on the route to the open sea.
We took a ship’s excursion that included whale and wildlife watching as well as a trip to the Mendenhall glacier. Both activities are things every Alaska visitor deserves to experience.
The whales dutifully appeared for us, and the seals were fun to watch as they jockeyed for the best sunning position on a buoy. During the excursion we got acquainted with some fellow Quest guests with whom we connected later.
Mendenhall itself had changed drastically since our last trip there about 25 years ago. In addition to having retreated, the foot of the glacier is far narrower and it is less perpendicular, a testament to climate change.
With a lot of visitors at the glacier, Mark found an out-of-the-way trail to the water’s edge that made us feel as if we were the only people around.
MMOB TIP: At the bus drop off point for Mendenhall Glacier, the hordes of visitors will head off to walk off in the direction of about 2:00 to the visitors center. Instead, walk toward the 11:00 direction and downward to the left of a pergola. This will take you to the water’s edge. In addition to being peaceful and quiet, the photo ops are great there.
The little downtown area is tidy, touristy and tacky but still fun. Be sure to take the walk through Creek Street and do the Married Man’s Walk. What we enjoyed most was a short walk up the valley following Fish Creek and with some detours. It was quiet, peaceful, and the smell of the evergreens felt cleansing.
Most of all, it was sunny. A miracle, since they get about 105 inches of rain a year. We’ve been there several times and it has always rained. Pack rain gear.
We all learned in elementary school that the USA purchased Alaska from Russia. Before the purchase and during the years of Russian influence, Sitka served as the capital city. To this day there are Russian historical sites and family names in the area.
The Russian character of the town is probably best expressed in the mysterious St. Michael’s Cathedral just steps from the cruise port shuttle stop in Sitka. This Russian Orthodox church still serves the community as a result of early missionary work by Orthodox clergy. It was built in the mid-19th century and rebuilt in the 1960’s after a fire. The interior displays of Russian icons, with other art and textiles which brought back memories of our time in St Petersburg.
Also in Sita, we attended the AzAmazing Evening. These complementary, bespoke events are held on each Azamara cruise of 7 days or longer. Created to highlight the local culture, the AzAmazing evenings are always a pleasure for us, and are notably well produced.
We were quickly and efficiently transported to the local cultural center hall and enjoyed local treats in the lobby. The performance consisted of two locals dance groups featuring both the Native Tlingit culture and the Russian tradition. An interesting Q & A was a great way to wrap up the evening.
At first glance the dog musher’s camp excursion seemed as thought it would be quite cheesy. However, our dog-loving nature drove us to book the excursion, which turned out to be great fun. People who race the dogs with sleds in the winter send their teams to this camp where the dogs continue to train and where the puppies are socialized.
There were a couple of teams of 16 dogs harnessed up waiting for us. At our arrival the dogs leapt in their traces and it was obvious they were ready to get to work. We rode heavy “sleighs” with wheels and the dogs responded with speed and obvious joy.
The highlight was some cuddle time with the puppies.
The sail away through the Lynn Canal was some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve ever seen from onboard a ship. Whales, seals, bald eagles, glaciers and rugged mountains were all in their glory. The journey through this inlet (not a canal at all) took several hours and was breathtaking, especially at the end of a long northern day with striking “golden hour” lighting. Captain Magnus took a slight detour and slowed down for us all to see a group of seals sunning themselves on a rock. Typical of Azamara, this sort of detail makes the voyage much more meaningful and enjoyable.
Raising the Pride Flag
As we began the entry into Seattle’s harbor, the staff raised the Pride flag. About 20 crew members and officers attended from several different areas of the ship. It was gratifying to see those LGBTQ employees feel encouraged to show their pride.
What a difference a few years can make. We left Seattle in 2002 to move to the sun in Phoenix. In many ways Seattle is a totally different city than during our time there. More construction cranes that we could count, along with increased traffic, congestion and homelessness seems to have changed the city permanently. It is, however, still a magnificent city.
We’d arranged to meet friends for afternoon cocktails right on the dock and enjoyed meeting with both them and MeetMeOnBoard friends.
LGBTQ folks should all visit Seattle, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country. Our Canadian cruise buddies aboard Azamara with us were surprised and delighted to see the large number of Pride flags waving over the progressive city.
Note: the authors traveled as guests of Azamara. Read our disclosure policy here