We, 3 generations of women, myself (30-something), my mother (50-something), and my daughter (teen), had a wonderful 12 days in Alaska, thanks to the help of experts on this forum, and the trip reports of previous travelers. As my way of paying it forward, here is our report. Sorry if it is too long, but those were always my favorite ones to read.
Departed Orlando, layover in Seattle and arrived in Ketchikan at 3:30pm. Took the airport ferry across (very easy, no need to consider the shuttle that will pick you up at the airport) and were picked up by the shuttle from our evening's stay, The Narrows Inn. Dumped our luggage, and caught the shuttle to Wal-Mart, where we took the public bus out to Totem Bight. The bus is a great deal for $1 per person, each way. I had printed the totem descriptions from the website, but didn't need them as a tour from one of the cruise ships had arrived just before us and their guide welcomed us to join them. Beautiful surroundings and interesting stories to go along with the totems. We caught the bus back to the Inn where we saw saw our first bald eagle in the marina while having dinner at the Inn restaurant. Dinner was better than expected. Back to our room, with a balcony overlooking the narrows. In bed by 10, as this was 2 am to our bodies, and it had been a very long day.
Woke up at 5 am to see a cruise ship gliding by. Wow! Checked out off the Inn and stored our luggage until later in the day. Picked up cinnamon-raisin bagels and blueberry and muffins from the continental breakfast. The BEST we've ever had of both, and we've had bagels in NYC. Took the shuttle into town for the Bering Sea Crab-Fisherman's Tour. As fans of the Deadliest Catch, we had a blast. As well as pulling the crab pot you see on the show, they showed us how they fish for halibut and other types of crab. The crab pot contained a 50 pound squid, as well as the King crab. They also caught opilio crab, stone crab, rockfish, dogfish, starfish and the aforementioned halibut. We also saw tons of eagles. They have heaters over the seating area, cocoa, and long parkas to keep you nice and cozy while on board. My mom has seasickness issues, and didn't have a hint of a problem on this tour. Upon our return, we explored town and shopped a bit (got all of the Christmas presents on our shopping list here). We then caught the shuttle back to the Inn to pick up our luggage and get to the Marine Ferry for our 2:45pm departure. We were surprised with how slowly the ferry moves, as cruise ships were overtaking us, but enjoyed the scenery and forced down-time. We arrived in Wrangell at 8:30 pm, took the shuttle from our lodging, Sourdough Lodge, and went to bed pretty quickly (still adjusting to the the time).
Today we went to Anan Creek with Brenda from Alaska Charters and Adventures. We made sandwiches from bread and cold cuts at the lodge (pretty steep at $10 per person, but due to our late arrival the night before, we had no choice). After a lovely one-hour boat ride, we arrived around 9:30am. On our hike to see the bears, we passed an elderly couple who had ben chased by a juvenile brown bear, and did pretty much everything they tell you not to do if encountering bear. Needless to say, we were glad to have Brenda and her rifle leading the way. When we arrived, there were about a half-dozen people there and it was raining, but they left within a half an hour and the rain stopped shortly thereafter . Even though they allow 60 permits a day, our group of six had the place to ourselves until we left at 3pm. We saw 28 different brown bears, lots of eagles, and seals at the mouth of the creek. A few of our favorites: a juvenile who climbed a tree near the platform and lounged there for over an hour sratching his rear on the tree every now and then; another juvenile that climbed the tree that is above the platform, and stayed up there for a while watching us, and finally mother and two cubs. When the cubs followed her to the creek, mom chased them up a tree, where they hung on branches and cried for mom the whole time. So cute! Back in the boat, we ate our lunches, and yummy cookies that Brenda shared. Upon our return, they gave us a lift back to the lodge. We had decided before we left to have dinner at the lodge. We thought we would be tired after the bears, and there weren't many choices in town. Dinner here is you eat whatever they feel like fixing. Tonight, dinner was spaghetti and corn. Again, at $19 per person, we were not impressed.
Today was supposed to be a relaxing day. Nothing planned until the Marine Ferry at 9:45pm. After a leisurely morning, and packing an overnight bag for the ferry, we checked out of the lodge and stored our luggage. A couple of quick notes about the Sourdough Lodge. 1)They have a shuttle to take you to and from the ferry and airport, but will only shuttle you "to" somewhere in town, not pick you up. 2) We booked this stay with a Buy 1 Get 1 coupon. I am usually exceptionally anal about paying attention to details, but missed this one. Though it says one night free, it also said up to $114, which was nowhere near the lodge's nightly rate, so be careful and pay attention. We walked a mile into town for lunch at Diamond C Cafe, a nice, little diner. From here, we walked through town to Petroglyph Beach. We were there all by ourselves on a warm, sunny day. We were down to our shirtsleeves by this point. Besides the petroglyphs, the scenery is gorgeous. We then walked back into town to Chief Shakes Island, and looked at the house and totem poles. Based upon the recommendations of several of our lodgemates who had been in town for many weeks working, we stopped in the Marine Bar. Here we had the best pizza we have had in a really long time. We walked back to lodge and took advantage of our favorite part of the lodge...the front porch. Over the two and a half days there, we spent a lot of our down time on the porch because 1) our room was SO hot (we could never get it below 80 degrees), and 2) we could sit and watch the birds and talk to our lodgemates. We saw a beautiful Stellar BlueJay, hummingbirds, and many other birds from the porch. One of our lodgemates was on our Anan trip the day before, so we had bonded by the time we left. We caught the shuttle to the 9:45 pm ferry. Even though the lodge owner knew the ferry was running late, she took us to wait an hour at the dock and get eaten alive by the no-see-ums. I took advantage of the time the buy some garnets from the kids by the ferry dock. It's my daughter's birthstone, and she enjoyed supporting the local kids. By the time we got on the ferry, after our "relaxing" day of 5+ miles walking, we collapsed and didn't wake up until we were docking in Juneau the next morning.
After arriving in Juneau on the ferry, we called for the shuttle from the Best Western Country Lane to pick us up. After checking in, we took the shuttle downtown. The Best Western shuttle drops off and picks up at Centennial Hall, on the edge of the tourist/cruise ship area downtown. We stopped for a very yummy crab leg at Tracy's Crab Shack for lunch. We then hopped a bus out to Mendenhall Glacier. We had planned a hike to the falls, but the water level was up, and we would have had to wade through water up to our knees. Not wanting to be wet for the rest of the day, we just walked out to the photo point. Afterward, we walked the loop by the parking lot, where we found piece that had broken off of an iceberg that the ranger had fished out of the lake for people to touch and see up close. My daughter played with it for a long time. It was beautiful, like crystal. Returning from the glacier, we shopped around the tourist area for some cheap t-shirts. We had a dinner at The Hangar (yummy halibut and shrimp and chips). After a quick trip back to get my daughter another crab leg from Tracy's Crab Shack for my daughter's "dessert", we headed back for the shuttle pick-up.
Took the shuttle downtown (he nicely dropped us off at the dock) for our Tracy Arm cruise through Adventure Bound. Like many on the forum, making the reservations correctly was a nightmare. E-mailed a reservation request in December, and received confirmation and a request to call to pay. I called and emailed regularly through March, and when I finally got through, I was told the email confirmation meant nothing. When I got the receipt and boarding passes in the mail, it was only for the two adults, not the youth. It took until June to get that corrected. Then, as we get on the boat at 7:30 am for our 8am departure, they tell us it will be 8:30 instead. No big deal, until we waited until after 9 for two people who showed up right after we left the dock and had to back for them. They then proceeded to complain that there were not two seats together for them! After 3 1/2 hours we arrived at North Sawyer Glacier. It was a beautiful blue and icebergs were lovely, but our favorite part was all the seals in and around the icebergs. We purchased sandwiches for $5 each to each with the chips and cookies we brought. Another 3 1/2 hours back, during which we played Uno, while most people napped. Again, no seasickness issues. ***Personal Opinion: Later in the trip, we took the Kenai Fjords trip to Northwestern Glacier. Much better trip. The Tracy Arm Cruise is the only thing in our whole trip we would not do again*** We had an 8:30 pm flight to Anchorage, so we called the hotel about the shuttle, and they very nicely grabbed our luggage from storage, brought it with them, and dropped us at the airport on the way back to the hotel. For the capital city, a really small airport! We arrived in Anchorage shortly after 10 pm, and took the shuttle to the Microtel.
We called Hertz as they will "pick you up", and they advised us to take a taxi and they would credit us for that amount. Happily, they did as they said they would, and after a quick Wal-Mart stop, we were on our way. Quick note about the downtown Anchorage Wal-Mart: The only styrofoam coolers they had were more than $10! We picked one up at Fred Meyers on the way to Palmer for $2. We stopped in Eklutna, where we took a tour of the churches and spirit houses. We continued on to Palmer and toured the Musk Ox farm. They are SO cute. It is amazing that they lived through the iceage! The scarves, etc they make from the quivit are so soft. While visiting the oxen, my daughter found a furball full of grass, blowing across the field. I don't know how soft it was, but she plans to clean out all the grass and see for herself. We continued on toward Denali, making a quick drive by Sarah Palin's place in Wasilla. We stopped for dinner at Alaska Fish and Chips, good and inexpensive. We checked into the Denali Lakeview Inn, about 10 miles north of the park entrance. They view of the lake and mountains were amazing. The 50+ mph winds, on the other hand, not fun. We are from Florida, and it felt every bit like a Hurricane! The refrigerator in our room held our pre-ordered bag lunches for the next day and breakfast for the morning. Another early night, since we are on an early shuttle in the morning.
Up early for a 6:15 am shuttle to Wonder Lake. Even if you are not morning people, it's worth it to take as early a bus as you can stand. Even before our stop to pick-up people at the campground, we had already seen a moose. Our driver was Barr, and she was great. We also had a guy sitting in the front seat, who could see anything! A tiny, little speck...yep it's a caribou, and so on. During the trip, we saw 9 grizzlies, including a mother and two cubs, at least as many caribou, including one walking down the road ahead of us for quite a while, dall sheep, snowshoe hare, trumpeter swans, ptarmigan, arctic ground squirrels, and a bear we called the oreo bear, blackish head and rump and brown middle. Even Barr said she had never seen anything like it. We also saw the mountain. We took the quick hike into the tundra at Eilson (very squishy, sponge-like), but that was about it. We stayed on the bus during the Wonder Lake stop due to one of us being allergic to mosquitoes, and ate our lunch. We were glad we did, because everyone who got back on said that they wished they had because the bird-size biters (just kidding) were horrible! Our sack lunch was wonderful. A hoagie sandwich, chips, cookies, water, and some fruit from breakfast..yum. After the bus, we went to the visitor center for a look around, and then had dinner at Denali DogHouse. Simple, cheap, and after a week of mostly fish, a nice change. Back to the Inn. While organizing our belongings, we kept looking out the window at a beautiful rainbow over the lake, when we see something moving in the flowers and trees. It is a moose, right below our balcony! She stayed there for a while nibbling, by which time, all our inn-mates were on their balconies too. A great end to a very nice day.
Today is our driving day, all the down to Seward. We made a pit-stop in Wasilla at the Iditarod Headquarters. Besides the sled-dogs that give rides and some 16 week old pups, one kennel owner's daughter was there on a field trip and he had brought 8 week old puppies for them to see. He let us cuddle with them too! So sweet! My daughter was in heaven! After watching the video, and some shopping, we continued on toward Seward. We stopped at Beluga Point (very windy, no whales or bore tides), and a couple of other scenic viewpoints. We also got caught in some highway construction. At this point is started raining for only the second time on our trip, and we were in the car, so it didn't interfere with us at all. We were staying at the Alaska Saltwater Lodge for the remainder of our trip. This is located on Lowell Point, at the end of a very bumpy, muddy road. By the time we got there, my mom thought I was taking her to the end of the earth. We had an upstairs room with a wall full of windows overlooking Resurrection Bay with otters swimming around. Well worth every bump along the road. We went back into town for dinner at Nellie's. Good food, fun story and photos, not too bad prices.
Continental breakfast at the lodge. Our favorite, and became breakfast every morning, a bowl of fresh fruit salad. Off to the most-anticipated event of the trip, dog-sledding on Godwin Glacier. When we arrived at the airport, we were suited up with booties to go over our shoes, waterproof pants (thicker than our rain paints), and heavy winter jackets. We had our own hats and gloves. After a safety briefing, we were in the helicopter on our way to the glacier. Upon landing, we met some of the dogs, heard stories of 120+mph winds a few nights earlier that had shredded some of their equipment and of dog-sledding. Then, we were paired up on the sleds, and off we went. Grandma opted to sit and ride at all times, while my daughter and I took turns sitting, riding behind the sled, and riding the whip, a sled pulled behind the lead sled. Well, I made it most of the way, until I had to take my foot off the rudder to step on the brake, and lost my balance. Down I went, rolling through the snow. We posed for lots of photos, got to know our sled dogs and mushers better, then back on the helicopter. On the ride down, my daughter sat up front with the pilot, and he told her, let's make it like an IMAX movie...and boy, did he. Other than a stop to see a moose in the mountains, it was all out. By the time we got off, mom and I were happy to see the ground. As we needed time for our stomachs to settle before lunch, we drove out to Bear Lake Rd to watch the salmon trying to jump up the fall. Stomachs settled, we headed to Ray's for lunch. Very yummy! After lunch, we went out to Exit Glacier and hiked up to the face of the glacier. A beautiful hike, we stopped along the way to feel glacial silty water (brrr), and a beautiful glacier up-close. We stopped for dinner at the Salmon Bake. Very yummy and if you like pickles, don't miss the pickle barrel.
Today we took the Northwestern Fjord tour with Kenai Fjord Tours. When we arrived, we were told that there was "weather" and that we could cancel if we wanted, or if we didn't make it out of the bay, we would receive a partial credit. Even with one in our group who gets seasick, we decided to go for it. She took her prescription melt-on-your-tongue medicine, and off we went. Immediately, it was so much nicer than the Tracy Arm tour. There were tables rather than rows of chairs. Before we were out of the bay, we were watching otters. Soon, we made stops for harbor seals and stellar seal lions. We were given a lunch of Chicken Caesar wraps, baby carrots, and lemonade. After a little bit of a bumpy ride, we arrived at the Northwestern Glacier. It was SO blue, more so than any other glaciers we had seen. We saw some calving, and lots more seals in and among the icebergs. We were heading back across the Gulf after making a short stop for a humpback, when someone spotted an Orca, also known as killer whales. Turns out there 4 of them. For my daughter, it was seeing Shamu in his natural habitat. We had to hold on due to the "weather", but it was so cool. Unfortunately, grandma had stayed inside during the stop, and the rocking got to her. We pushed our way through 11 foot waves back to the calm of the bay, while grandma tried to nap after some ginger ale and crackers from one of the crew. Once we reached the bay, the captain gave us a tour of Resurrection Bay. We saw lots of birds, 2 kinds of puffins, a black and white bird that resembled a penguin, and waterfalls. During this time, they passed out yummy, warm chocolate chip cookies. After returning to dock, we walked around a little to allow for more stomach settling. We were going to go to Chinooks for dinner, but after a peek at the menu, decided to head back to Ray's. They were offering a dinner special to add 1/2 pound crab leg to any dinner for $8. My daughter was in heaven. She had fallen in love with halibut and crab during this trip. Her last night's dinner had both. Back to the lodge and a walk on the beach watching otters.
Leaving day :( We packed up and headed north. We stopped for brunch in Girdwood at the Bake Shop. From there, we headed to Crow Creek to go gold-panning. We didn't find anything other than what was in the sample pack, but my daughter had fun. We continued into Anchorage and walked around the shops on 4th a little. We went for an early dinner at Moose's Tooth pizza. The wait was already 45 minutes, so we just ordered one to go and ate it in the car before we would have been seated. Off to the airport for our 8:45pm flight. I don't know how people do overnight flights. By the time I was ready to fall asleep, it was only a little over an hour until landing. We all fell asleep in the Houston airport during our layover, and made it back to Orlando by 2 pm the next day.
The best, worst, needed, didn't need:
Anan Creek, Dog-sledding on Glacier, Kenai Fjords cruise, Denali, and Crab-fishing tour.
Also, really enjoyed the few hours of "dark" each night. Even the darkest part of the night wasn't pitch black. We could still see our way to the restroom in the middle of the night.
The BEAUTIFUL flowers! 21 hours of sun and regular rainfall creates the most gorgeous flowers I've ever seen!
We made all of our reservations as soon as the marine ferry schedule came out. Always make reservations as early as possible.
Coupon Books: We used both books and saved. We used coupons for the crab-fishing tour, Sourdough lodge, Kenai Fjords tour
Wouldn't take Tracy Arm Cruise again
Or get sandwiches or dinner from Sourdough Lodge in Wrangell.
The rain pants were great for the day it rained, so would have been really good if rained a lot.
Long Underwear, Hats, Gloves: Really needed on the cruises and dog-sledding.
*Clothes. For three women for 12 days we only had 2 bags with clothes and one with toiletries, shoes, etc. This was still too much. We only took 4 pair of jeans each, and wore them 3 times each, which was perfect. However, thanks to our near-perfect weather (only time it rained when we were out in it was at Anan and that stopped rather quickly), we didn't need the extra shoes, and wore only one layer most of the time we were in the southeast. Definitely, a good problem to have.
*Mosquito Nets. Since we opted not to get out at Wonder Lake, we never needed them.
*Much cash: The only things we used cash for were tips, the garnets, brunch at the Bake Shop and gold panning.
Thank you all again for everyone's advice. In telling someone some details of our trip, they said "Wow, that's a once in lifetime trip with bucket list things you've done."
And you know what, she's right!