I hesitated posting this due to some of the great reviews that have already been posted about trips this year, but I had promised a couple people ahead of time that I would, so here it goes!
We flew from Nashville to Vancouver on August 12 where we stayed at a hotel near the airport that provided airport shuttle. The next morning we were picked up by Landseatours and they gave us a great tour of the city before delivering us to the cruise ship. We sailed aboard the Coral Princess and had a fabulous trip, but to keep this as brief as possible, I'll quickly summarize our independent tours in the ship ports. My favorite was a float plane trip with Island Wings over Misty Fjords from Ketchikan. That was sooo awesome that I was actually in tears more than once at the sheer beauty! In Juneau, we really blew the budget with a fantastic whale watching tour with Orca Enterprise (saw orcas, LOTS of humpbacks, seals, stellar sea lions and eagles) and then a helicopter flight with Coastal with a beautiful glacier landing. In Skagway we did the White Pass RR booked through Chilkoot Charters. While the Princess rail car was wall-to-wall people, ours only had 10 people in it so we could move around all we wanted, and our mini-bus for the return trip only had 6 of us so we got VERY personal service.
I hated to see the cruise come to an end, but was also really looking forward to our RV trip on land.
RV Day1- Monday
Woke up to a foggy, misty morning to depart the Coral Princess. Disembarkation went very smooth and soon we were on a Princess motorcoach to the airport. I called for the Great Alaskan Holiday shuttle, and they were there within 10 minutes. When we got to their establishment, they said our RV hadn’t been turned back in yet, so we would have a 3 hour wait. After wandering around their showroom for about an hour, one of the clerks had mercy on us and took us to Fred Meyer so we could go ahead and get our groceries for the week The biggest surprise in grocery shopping - shrimp was cheaper than ground beef so we had lots of shrimp cocktail during the week!!
We had to watch a video before we were given the keys to our RV, and it then took over an hour to find a spot for everything in our tiny motorhome. We managed to get lost in Anchorage a couple times, and then took a beautiful scenic trip through Hatcher Pass to Independence Mine State Park. Once we got to the Parks Highway, we started looking for a campground, and ended up at Pioneer Lodge & RV Park in Willow where we camped by the water. Campers on the other side of the creek at Willow Creek CG were like a parking lot, but we were the only ones on our side which was very peaceful!
RV Day 2 - TUESDAY
Rain during the night, and woke up to a very cloudy day and that meant we weren’t going to be lucky enough to see Mt. McKinley. Despite that, we made lots of photo stops between Willow Creek and Denali.
When we arrived at Denali, we picked up our shuttle bus tickets and campground permit at the Wilderness Access Center and then headed to the visitor’s center. Lots of interesting displays there to keep us occupied until it was time for the shuttle to the kennels and the dogsled demonstration. We really enjoyed the Alaskan Huskies and we were given plenty of time to pet them and admire the pups. It was amazing to see how excited the dogs got when they saw the sled getting hitched up. Incidently, by this time of day the weather had gotten quite warm and many people were in shorts - definitely not what I expected of AK weather!
After the dog sled demo we headed to Teklanika campground which is 14 miles into the park further than other vehicles are allowed to drive. We took the trip very slowly in hopes of seeing wildlife, but they were scarce. We did spot one moose on top of a hill and dozens of snowshoe hares. I was really surprised to see that the Park was already showing its fall colors, and was absolutely beautiful with lots of yellows and some orange. About 5 mile before reaching TEK we ran into a HAIL storm! That was WEIRD with the sun shining. Soon after we arrived at the campground, a double rainbow arched over our motorhome. What a beautiful ending of the day!
Another cloudy day, but we were up bright and early to start our Denali adventure with a shuttle to Fish Creek. By being in the TEK campground, we didn’t have to catch the 6:30 shuttle until 7:30. Since we were the last pick up stop for the shuttle, I had worried that we’d have the worst seat on the bus, so it was a great surprise to see that the best seats on the bus were waiting for us - both front seats!
The other big advantage of staying at TEK was the TEK pass. We paid $26.75 for a guaranteed seat to Fish Creek, and after that we could board any of the green buses on a “space available” basis. That came in handy because when we got to Fish Creek neither of us were willing to end the trip so we got off in hopes of getting a shuttle on to Wonder Lake. As our bus pulled away, I think hubby had a moment of panic realizing how much we were all alone in that vast area!!
After about 15 minutes of walking around on the moist tundra (WHAT A NEAT FEELING!!), A Wonder Lake shuttle pulled in to pick us up. Despite the clouds, we had a wonderful day! Our best sitings were of a grizzly and a fox, and we watched each of them for several minutes. We also saw a hawk, several carabou, magpie, dall sheep, arctic ground squirrel, tundra swans, moose, beaver, and a golden eagle. The beauty of the place produced at least as much excitement as the wildlife. Layers were definitely the order of the day!! Allll were needed in am, but NONE by mid afternoon.
To end the day, we attended a forestry presentation about bird migration that was absolutely fasicinating. It was truly a wonderful day!
Woke up to cold but lots of sunshine, and headed to Fairbanks. What a wonderful surprise as we headed out of the park to see that the MOUNTAIN WAS OUT!!!!! Now I know why people get so excited over that event. We stopped several times for photo ops. At the last photo stop, the mountain was already covered, so I feel we were very lucky with our timing.
Denali to Fairbanks didn’t have a lot to offer, but there were a few good photo ops. We arrived in Fairbanks in time to get on the Discovery Sternwheeler, and that was fun. It was full of information on the Iditarod, and we saw lots of sled dogs. It also stops at a recreated Atabascan village, and native Alaskans introduced us to native crafts. Afternoon was “shorts weather”, so it’s for sure you don’t know what to expect of Alaskan weather.
Ended day at Santa Claus Land RV park in the North Pole where the sky looked like the sun was setting in all directions! Another awesome site.
First requirement of the day was to visit the Santa Claus House and send postcards from there to the grandkids. Bill also found some windchimes there that he thought I must have, and I certainly couldn’t disagree with him! We then headed for the El Dorado Gold Mine on the other side of Fairbanks. We were put on a little train, with a very talented conductor to sing to us, and headed for the gold field. Stops were made along the way, including in a permafrost tunnel, to show the various aspects of goldmining. Once at the gold field, we were introduced to Yukon Yonda and hairy Dexter Clark who gave us lessons on panning for gold, and then we were given a bag of dirt. I must say it was fun to wash out our rocks and finally see the gold in our pans. I ended up with $13 worth and Bill got $8. We couldn’t resist having our gold put into earrings so that it would be a little useful!
After the gold mine, we stopped to see the Alyeska oil pipeline, and then went to the U of A Animal Research Station where we saw musk ox and carabou. Next stop was the U of A’s Georgeson Botanical Gardens with huge cabbages, sweet peas and black-eyed susans as tall as us, and lots of pretty flower beds. The Museum of the North was next, and despite some interesting animal displays, it was not as exciting as I had heard. Before leaving Fairbanks, we had to make the “most important” stop of our Alaska vacation - the Harley shop for daughter and her hubby. With that mission accomplished we headed south.
South of Fairbanks Bill spotted an unusual sky - either a triple or a VERY extra wide rainbow. It was beautiful, but it was followed by rain. Rather than drive in the rain, we stopped early for the night at the Big Delta State Historical Park. We had the whole place to ourselves. By the time we had a bite to eat, the rain had stopped, and we took a private tour of Rika’s Roadhouse and other buildings. We ended the evening by reliving the day’s adventures through all the brochures we had collected.
Woke up to a very foggy misty morning, so there was no hurry about getting on the road. Had breakfast at the restaurant at Rika’s roadhouse that included BIG pancakes for Bill and a yummy blueberry scone for me. Spent some time driving around in the Delta Junction region, but missed the turns to the farm ground. About the time we headed to Valdez the sun came out, and there
were some beautiful stops on the drive. First was the Alaska Range, and it was about as beautiful as Mt. McKinley. We made a lot of scenic stops on this tip - Black Rapids Glacier, Rainbow Montain, Gulkana Glacier, red salmon in the Gulkana River (and the beautiful fall colors in this region), the Wrangle Mountains, Worthington Glacier, Keystone Canyon, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls. Around 4:00 Bill spotted ANTHER rainbow - very wide. This had seemed to be a daily occurrence! We would have made a few more stops, but the gas gauge was looking frighteningly low!! NOT many gas stops between North Pole and Valdez.
Arriving in Valdez we were in for a shock! Not even at the MI Nascar race had we seen this many RV’s in one place. All the campgrounds looked like RV parking lots and were about completely full. We stayed at the Eagles Rest CG which was really in a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains - but also surrounded by 299 other rv’s! Had a really good supper of “fish and chips” at a hamburger shop on the property, Old Towne Burgers - halibut, fries and cole slaw.
Another gloomy day to start, so we set off to see the sites of Valdez. We toured the town, walked up to the “look-out” for pictures, and visited the Valdez Museum. The Museum is small, but covers a wide variety of interesting topics, including some very old fire steam engines. We really enjoyed visiting the docks where people were pulling in salmon right and left! That was almost as much fun as if we were pulling those fish in ourselves!
We stopped for a picnic lunch on a back road at the Valdez Glacier, and then headed north. 30 minutes from Valdez, we once again saw sunshine!! Although we were travelling the same route, it did NOT seem like it as the views all appeared completely different. A truly GORGEOUS stretch of road. Stopped for the night at Tolsona Creek Campground west of Glenallen with nice sites next to the creek. They had gigantic cabbages growing in front of their office, and I just HAD to have my picture taken with them!
The day started of COLD but could have worn shorts in afternoon and the coats again I evening. (BELIEVE them when people tell you the secret of dressing for AK is LAYERS!) We had a beautiful drive across the Glen highway with several photo stops and then to the Alaska State Fair. They had beautiful garden displays with humungus dahlias, hydrangeas and foxglove. Also on display were the huge vegetables Alaska is noted for, even though the largest wouldn’t be coming in until next week. Lots of entertainment all day including the very ejoyable Lumberjacks show that we couldn’t work into our schedule in Ketchikan. The fairgrounds was unbelievably clean. We camped in their RV lot for the night since the cost of parking was the same with or without staying. We had plenty of room to spread out, and beautiful mountain view!
It’s supposed to be a 3 hour drive from Anchorage to Seward but it took us the ENTIRE day and what a beautiful day it was!! The Turnagain Arm is reason all by itself to visit AK. Every mile was another gorgeous view to try to capture on film and we saw LOTS of beluga whales.
Our Fairbanks visit to El Dorado Gold Mine had given Bill gold fever so a stop at Crow Creek Mine had to be included in our day. After an hour’s hard labor panning for the mother lode in the creek, he gave up with only one speck of gold dust to show for his work - and it blew away in the wind!!
Next stop was the Wildlife Conservation Center - a chance to take pictures of all those wildlife critters that we had missed seeing on our trip, or missed capturing on film! We really enjoyed our stroll through the grounds and a grizzly was putting on a real show.
From there it was on to Seward with hopes of still being able to get a spot on the waterfront at their municipal campgrounds on Resurrection Bay. Not only were lots of sites still available, I LOVED this campground. Beautiful view of water AND mountains. Campers were parked side to side, but we weren’t “surrounded” as we had been in Valdez.
A day just does NOT get more perfect than this one! We woke up to beautiful sunshine. View from window showed us lots of fishing boats, and I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful mountain and water views.
I fixed us breakfast and we walked over to the nearby Sea Life Center. It definitely lived up to and exceeded all my expectations. Especially fun were the puffins. One of them acted like it was his job to entertain us as he flipflopped all around the edge of the pool trying to make sure he got all the bystanders wet. We spent LOTS of time in the Sea Life Center.
Next it was off to see Exit Glacier. As usual for us, we got lost several times and saw lots of Seward as a result. Later we toured the boat docks and were absolutely amazed at how many fishing boats were in the pier.
It was nice to settle down early in the day at another perfect parking spot facing the bay. We watched salmon jumping high in the air, and an occasional eagle flying across the sky. Supper was a large bowl of halibut from Thom’s Showcase Lounge that had been recommended to us, and it was delicious!
Parked next to us were a couple who live in AK along with their relatives from MO. They were FUN people, and made for an eventful evening. They shared their s’mores for our dessert, and we heard how he got to AK; he had gotten in trouble as a youth and his father bought him a one-way ticket. He felt like it was the best thing that ever happened to him. His description of winter in Alaska - “You go outside and throw your cup of coffee in the air. If it freezes before it comes down, you don’t go to work.”
Woke up to another beautiful sunshiney day and watched an otter in the bay along with hundreds of gulls eating their breakfast along the edge of the water. After bidding farewell to our neighbors with promises to keep in touch, we headed for Homer. We stopped in Cooper Landing for brunch at Gwen’s Roadhouse where we had biscuits with sausage gravy and hash browns - very good! Next stop was the village of Ninilchik to get a picture of the unique Russian Orthodox church there. Meantime we had been getting some beautiful views following the Cook inlet including the volcanoes that sit on the other side of the inlet. Kind of spooky to realize that one of them - Mt. Augustine had erupted as recently as 2006!
Arriving in Homer we stopped at the library so I could catch up on important e-mail, and what a nice place it was! Computer nooks all had big windows that looked out over the bay and mountains. It has to be the most beautiful spot in the world to use a computer!
It was then time to investigate the Homer Spit and find a campsite. I guess Seward had kind of spoiled me, because I just wasn’t real impressed with the spit. We found the city’s “Fishing Hole” campground where we could park by the water with a view of the mountains and also watch nearby the fishermen side by side after salmon. When we got to Homer, we definitely needed a jacket with the cold wind over the water, but it was more comfortable later in the day. After supper we walked the beach amazed at how much the tide went out (30'). We watched the fishermen in their waders, seals playing in the water, salmon testing out their high jumps, and got acquainted with a native Alaskan. He works on oil spill response and was very interesting to talk to.
We headed to the end of the spit first thing in the morning, and who would ever believe how much fun we could have beachcombing! The tide was out and we found lots and lots of starfish on the shore. Bill hunted for valuable (?) stones. We then hit the shops on the spit, where we did lots of looking, but only one purchase - an Ak nativity scene marked down for the end of the season. A trip to the Salty Dawg was a requirement for a visit to Homer Spit, and it was DEFINITELY interesting!
We headed out for a driving tour up East End Ave. in Homer, but the mountains were now getting overcast so we headed out of town.
We made a stop at Anchor Point - the furthest west you can drive in the U.S. and then proceeded on to Capt. Cook State Park north of the city of Kenai. It was nice to be in a woodland campground for a change, and although we were disappointed in not seeing wildlife, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Cook Inlet.
Saturday, Sept. 1
Hazy morning in mid 50's but we started the day off by taking a hike on the park’s interpretive trail. Worked up an appetite on that so had to fix breakfast before hitting the road toward the last leg of our journey. Near the state park are a lot of oil platforms in Cook Inlet, so we took a sidetrip to see those.
In the city of Kenai, the Farmers Market was in full swing and made for a fun stop. The market consisted of only one vegetable vendor with the rest of the 20 or so tents having Alaska-made crafts. Next stop was at “The Living Tree” where they have some amazing things made from chainsaw carvings.
Thankfully the sun was now shining as we once again got into beautiful mountain views and headed for the city of Hope. There we found a small campground with views of the Turnagain Arm and a restaurant with great seafood chowder. This turned out to be a poor choice of a campground as we later learned it was the finishing line of a 100 mile bicycle race, and was also “live music night”. Between the cheering for the racers coming in, and the wild music playing, we didn’t get much beauty rest that night!
Gas and water fill-up became top priorities as we headed back toward Anchorage. It was another of many days that started off gloomy and drizzly but turned out beautiful by afternoon.
Begich Boggs Visitor Center at Portage Glacier was our first stop. It was extremely interesting and a big chunk of glacier ice from a recent calving was in the water close to the building. In the visitor center gift shop, I couldn’t resist buying a book for grandkids called “When grandma and grandpa Went to Alaska”. What a great book! (More on this later!)
After a stop at Beluga Point (no whales visible this time), we headed for the Anchorage weekend market and that kept us occupied the whole afternoon. It is two blocks long and several aisles wide. I found a bargain t-shirt for one granddaughter from a vendor who was ending his season that day and let me name my own price! We found a camouflaged Alaska children’s cap for youngest grandson, but the best deal was that the author of the book I’d bought earlier in the day was there autographing copies so I got that personalized for the kids. I also bought another photo album because it’s obvious that it’s going to take more than one album for my pictures! No one going to Alaska should miss their weekend market!
A very sad day as we had to turn in the RV and realize our great trip was about over! We paid for the windshield that was cracked during our trip (to be reimbursed by our personal insurance company), and they shuttled us to the airport where we picked up a rental car for the day.
Alaska Native Heritage Center was our main goal for the day, and we spent several hours there watching the native dancers, touring the villages and hearing lots of interesting stories from the natives. It was past time for lunch when we left there, so we went on the hunt of a place to eat and made a good choice with the “Peanut Farm”. I can definitely recommend their halibut!
Since I didn’t really have anything else planned for this day, and our flight didn’t leave until 11 pm, we drove back out to Beluga Point since it was one of our favorite spots. It was extremely windy there and the weekend holiday traffic was heavy so we didn’t linger long and headed for the Lake Hood float plane Harbor. We were absolutely amazed at how many planes were there, and enjoyed watching lots of them take off and land reminding us of our great flight with Michelle. The road and taxiway are the same, so you have to be careful to not get run over by the wheeled planes coming in! Nearby was Earthquake park and it was definitely interesting to see how the earth had fallen there! Up the road from that was Airport Park with a beautiful view of Anchorage as well as the Cook Inlet. At the end of the road was Point Woronzof where we watched our last Alaskan sunset for this trip.
At last it was time to head to the airport for our long dreaded flight back to reality. We arrived back at the Nashville airport at 2:00 the next day, and the 92 degree temps about knocked us off our feet. We were definitely ready to turn right back around and head back to Alaska!
Thanks to all of you here at Trip Advisor whose advice made this trip so memorable!!!