Tuesday, July 16, 2013


After Denali, our travel plans involved a 7-day cruise to Vancouver. We made the 4-hour drive back to Anchorage International Airport to return the rental car and pick up the cruise shuttle to Whittier, Alaska. This is a sore point with me.

For some unknown reason, our cruise line does not pick up passengers in Anchorage. One would think that a port with the name “Anchorage” that had an international airport would be the ideal cruise ship departure point. But our cruise line docked in Whittier, a town of about 180 people located an hour and a half away. The shuttle bus to Whittier cost us each $55. Worse, Whittier is only accessible through a ridiculous one-lane tunnel.

The Whittier Tunnel through Maynard Mountain was originally constructed in the early 1940’s by the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s two and a half miles long, making it the second longest highway tunnel in North America, although it didn’t start as a highway tunnel. Originally, it was constructed as a railroad tunnel, and it is only 11.5 feet wide. Later, it was converted to a mixed-use tunnel for cars and the railroad.

This means that cars and buses must be “staged” at one end while vehicles are allowed through from the other. When a train comes, vehicles are held at both ends until the train passes through.

whittier tunnel
Once in the tunnel, our bus crept along, seemingly inches from the walls. “Safe rooms” appear at intervals, enabling travelers to find a secure place to wait in the event of a vehicle fire or avalanche. After an eternity, the exit appeared, depositing us in the booming metropolis of Whittier.

whittier tunnel exit
Most of the residents of Whittier work for the state of Alaska, maintaining the port facilities. The rest are fishermen. All 180 of them live in the only residential building in the town (it’s that apartment building in the photo below).

whittier apartments
We were dropped at the dock, where we got our first look at the cruise ship on which we would be living with nearly 3,000 other people for the next 7 days. It looks considerably smaller than that apartment building, but holds about 15 times as many people.

norwegian sun
Here’s why: The accommodations for the passengers and crew are tiny, as we expected. But surprisingly, we did not find the situation uncomfortable.

The bathroom was cramped, but manageable. This photo shows (left to right) the shower, the commode and the sink. During the cruise, I saw lots of passengers who simply would not fit into it, and I wondered how they managed.

The port of Whittier is enclosed by snowy mountains. It’s quite beautiful, and strange to see such a landscape from the pool deck of a cruise ship.

whittier harbor 2
whittier harbor 1
boat deck
We suffered through the mandatory lifeboat drill, and then movable thrusters gently nudged us away from the dock, the main engines thrummed to life, and we were on our way.


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