Alaska is definitely a “bucket list” destination, but that does not mean you need to wait until you’re near the end to experience it! I often have people tell me that they’ll visit Alaska later, when they’re older, as they want to see more exciting places while they are in their 30’s and 40’s. What?! I would encourage everyone to visit Alaska while they are young and fit enough to take advantage of all the adventurous activities!
Take a look at Lydia and Tim’s trip report, from their Alaska cruisetour this past June, and keep in mind that they are just barely into their 30’s:
This is so long overdue, hopefully it’s still useful! Some things are a bit rusty, but here’s an update on how things went. It was a great trip and I understand why everyone comes back talking about how beautiful it is.
BOS –> SEA –> YVR. Smooth flights, a little tight in the connection, but we made it to Vancouver as planned at around midnight. The Pacific Gateway Hotel seemed very nice for our brief stay and we were upgraded to a suite! The next morning we were picked up by a friend and had a brunch at a great little local place called the Red Wagon and got a bit of a tour of Vancouver until we embarked on the Grand Princess.
The ship was nice and we had a great room with a balcony. It was your pretty standard cruise, lots of food, entertainment, etc. I think we prefer Celebrity overall, but I’m definitely glad we picked this one for the itinerary. The highlights of the time at sea were the onboard naturalist Sandra Schempp and the piano player who did the sing-alongs at the piano bar. The naturalist had been going up to Alaska to visit her aunt her whole life and was incredibly knowledgeable; she gave lectures on the sea life, land animals, plants, and geo
logy that were great context for the rest of the trip. She also gave times to be out on the front of the ship where chances of seeing wildlife were highest. We saw some whales and otters with her. The ride itself is also just peaceful if you sit out on your balcony watching hundreds of miles of pristine pine forest go by. It’s incredible how vast and undisturbed Alaska really is.
Ketchikan – We didn’t have a tour booked and decided to make plans when we left the ship. There were a lot of tour companies selling trips at the docks and we went on one that took us to the Saxman totem village and to tour the island. It was a nice orientation and we saw lots of bald eagles all over. We also had the best halibut fish and chips of the trip at a place called Alava’s!
Juneau – We booked our Juneau excursion through ShoreTrips (Triple Adventure with glacier, whales, and ales) and we definitely made the right choice. We started with a trip to Mendenhall Glacier and walked out to the sandbar/waterfall which was beautiful. After that we went on a whale watch. The naturalist had talked about a whale feeding technique called bubble netting that happens only in a few places and during a pretty short period of time. We were lucky enough to see it! We wrapped up the day with a trip to Alaska Brewing Co.
Skagway – We also booked our Skagway excursion through ShoreTrips. It was a bike ride, hike, and float down a river. Getting out of downtown Skagway was definitely the right choice. It’s fun to walk through and learn more about the gold rush, but a little bit cheesy and touristy. I would definitely recommend the tour we did to others.
Scenic glacier cruising – Glacier Bay and College Fjord were incredible and we’re glad we picked an itinerary that with both. Having a balcony was fantastic so we could watch from our room and listen to the Park Ranger/naturalist’s guided explanation. As an added bonus at College Fjord there was a Smith Glacier and an Amherst Glacier, one for each of us.
Train ride – The train ride was beautiful and a nicer way to go than a bus both ways. It’s a little cramped and the guidance to have as little luggage on you as possible should definitely be heeded. More luggage = less legroom. They had a guide onboard who described what you were seeing; quite helpful. They also had a bartender so you could enjoy some Alaska beer on the way, and they brought on a husband/wife team who raised huskies and had competed and placed very high in the Iditarod.
Denali – Denali was definitely a highlight of the trip. On the cruise, another passenger reaffirmed that we should switch from the Natural History tour to a longer one. We took the Tundra Wilderness tour which takes you 60 miles into the park. Almost none of the wildlife is viewable from the first 15 miles of road, so if you want to see stuff it’s the way to go, and definitely worth it. Denali National Park is the size of Massachusetts and Denali State Park is the size of RI. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and have all been doing it for years, apparently there’s quite a waitlist for the job. We got what our driver/guide called the Denali Grand Slam, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, grizzly bears, and the summit of Mt. Denali (which they say only 30% of visitors get to see). Also in the park we saw a golden eagle, porcupine, gyrfalcon, and spruce grouse.
The Denali Princess lodge was very scenic. We didn’t eat at any of their restaurants; instead, we ate and shopped at the whole slew of shops and restaurants right across the street. The whole land tour thing is a little bit of a herding exercise, but it’s helpful to do on the first visit while you’re getting the lay of the land. I think if we went back we’d do our own thing on the land side.
The Mt. McKinley Princess lodge was also fine. Unfortunately it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere and they don’t have a shuttle to Denali State Park so you have to make use of the few walking paths on site. We did take their shuttle ($10/pp round trip) to Talkeetna. Talkeetna is the town where people who are going to climb Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley to the lower 48) start from. There’s a National Park Service Station where they go through orientation and there’s a 15-minute video definitely worth checking out! Talkeetna also has some cute shops and restaurants and is worth the trip from the lodge.
The last night, at the Captain Cook Hotel, was also the most luxurious stay of the trip. Quite spacious compared to the ship cabin. The hotel was opened in the 1960s and feels a little like you’ve stepped into the era of Mad Men.
We had a great time on the adventure as always. Thank you once again for your help. Our trips wouldn’t be half as good and planning would be more than twice as stressful without your wisdom!
Lydia and Tim