When one of my best friends asked if we’d like to join her family on an Alaskan cruise, I was very excited. They love cruising and we love them, so of course we said yes. Alaska had been on our “To Do” list for a while and a cruise offered the opportunity to see more in less time than land travel.
Being a planner, I began looking into excursions and wanted to have our itinerary planned out well in advance. If you’re like me, snorkeling is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Alaska. Okay, maybe not. In fact I didn’t even know that was a thing, but looking for things to do in Ketchikan that caught my eye. We would be snorkeling in Alaska.
Being a cruising newbie, I didn’t realize that it is frowned upon to make excursion reservations directly. The cruise line prefers all reservations be made through them, and of course there is a surcharge added. When we arrived in Ketchikan and made for the rendezvous with Snorkel Alaska, it felt as if we were doing something illegal. In the confirmation email we were told not to discuss our reservation with any of the ship’s crew, show them our tickets or ask them for help finding the meeting place. The covert nature of it all added to the excitement!
On the bus ride over to where we would get suited up, we were given instructions on how to put on the wetsuits, and it was stressed multiple times that the zipper goes in back. The 7mm wetsuits are extremely difficult to get on so you want to make sure you’ve done it correctly the first time. And they weren’t kidding! As I shimmied, wiggled and danced around I didn’t know if I’d be able to get it on, but I finally did and went to wait for Brett and the boys to come out of the men’s locker room. Brett and Holden finally emerged and said we would be waiting a while longer. Gray had missed the “zipper in back” memo and had to start all over.
In summer, the water in Alaska averages 55 F (12 C) so in addition to the wetsuits, we had booties, gloves and hoods. Once the mask was on, the only part exposed was our mouth. As we eased into the water, it was frigid for just a few seconds and then the wetsuits did their job. We were toasty warm, and for someone not accustomed to wearing one, it was quite remarkable.
Dipping my head under the water, I was amazed! While the water isn’t crystal clear like in some of the tropical places we’ve snorkeled, there was a lot going on. There were bright red, orange and purple starfish, sea cucumbers, bright sea urchins, lots of fish and a large kelp forest we swam through. It was quite a magical hour.
There was one thing that happened though, that I would be remiss not to mention. Make sure you go to the bathroom right before you get the wetsuit on. I’m not sure why, but about half way through our time in the water, we all had to pee. After a quick family meeting on the subject, we decided that we would just go in the water. I know this sounds bad, but we didn’t have an alternative. No big deal, we felt so much better and continued enjoying the experience.
The trouble was that when we got back to the changing area and took our wetsuits off, we discovered to our great embarrassment, that the urine had not dissipated into the ocean but rather had remained contained in the wetsuits. We smelled like port-a-potties, and it felt like we had big neon signs announcing “WE PEED IN OUR WETSUITS!” Thankfully, there were outdoor showers with soap which we used generously! Despite that hiccup at the end, this was one of the highlights of our time in Alaska.
It was a trip of firsts; our first cruise, our first visit to the Last Frontier, and our first time snorkeling in wetsuits. We have also checked peeing in a wetsuit off the bucket list and will never revisit that one.
Stay tuned for Alaska, Part 2: Bikes and Brews in Juneau and hiking in Skagway.