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Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

New England
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Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

I would like to thank everyone who helped with my trip planning. I appreciate all input. I am starting this report with cruise only and then will add more to this thread as I complete the DIY land tour report.

July 8, 2012

Left home at 6:08, arrived at Boston Logan International Airport about 8:30.

Pleasantly surprised at no lines at security and went through easy as pie. The downside is that Air Canada's terminal B suite is just that. An L- shaped suite with 3 gates. There is no food other than a small kiosk with fruits, yogurt, coffee, muffins and prepackaged sandwiches. If you need to eat a meal before your flight, I advise picking up food before going into security. It was ok to bring in food from an airport restaurant, according to TSA.

When we checked our bags we were told that we would have to retrieve our own luggage at Toronto, our connecting city.Huh?

Arrived at Toronto and missed our flight. We really shouldn't have missed our flight but Air Canada booked our connection way too tight. We booked directly with Air Canada. They neglected to tell us that after disembarking flight #1, we would not only have to go through customs ( we thought we would have to do that at our final destination) , but we would have to retrieve our luggage for the connection and recheck our luggage after going through customs. This, unfortunately, left us with a very tight connection. When we arrived at customs at 1:30 for our 2PM flight we were directed to a not so friendly fellow whose initial contact was quite rude. He told us we would not be able to make our 2 PM flight and proceeded to rebook us on a 5 PM flight. He lightened up a bit and was just shooting the breeze with us, as we now knew that we had 3 hours to wait for our next flight. Upon arriving at the gate at our original flight was pulling away from the gate. We finally arrived at the gate about 2:15 and our originally booked flight was just pulling away from the gate. Now, if our rebooking person had not taken his sweet time on the computer and lessened the small talk, in our estimation, they should have been able to hold that flight for all those people on the Bos-Tor flight heading to Vancouver. I am sorry to say, that everyone we had verbal contact with at the Toronto Airport, were very unfriendly and in some cases, quite rude.

Pros of Air Canada:

Fairly comfy seats

Decent leg room

Computers on the back of each seat.

If an on-seat computer has a glitch they gave free earplugs .Movies are free but you can’t watch them uninterrupted.

Maybe we will get to Vancouver today. Tomorrow has to be less stressful.

We arrived in Vancouver finally about 7PM. While the 4 of us were waiting for our luggage I went outside (about a 50 ft walk) to check out transportation options. We planned to take a cab but Aeroshuttle services had a stretch limo right there and empty. The 4 of us and our combined 13 bags were transported to the Pan Pacific for $50. We thought that was a great deal and made the transport so much less stressful after a frustrating Air Canada experience. When we checked into Pan Pacific we were told that we were lucky that Air Canada didn't lose our luggage. Evidently they have a reputation for this.

We spent the night at the Pan Pacific hotel. This was the best decision we could have made. We asked to borrow a stapler from the desk to attach our princess luggage tags. The room was fine, very clean; internet access is available on a pay basis. The bed was very comfortable. The bathroom is good size with a lighted make up mirror. We had a complimentary breakfast buffet. This morning I woke at my usual 4 AM. Funny how that works when you travel west into an earlier 3 hour time zone. Planned a lively jaunt through the Canadian trail a few times but we were stopped by the sight of the Coral Princess coming into the harbor from the SB cruise.

We watched the ship dock and then got ready for breakfast. Breakfast at the Cafe Pacifico was very good. Lots of choices, many different types of fresh cut fruit, more than the usual on a restaurant buffet. There was eggs Benedict and scrambled eggs as well as potatoes, bacon, etc. After breakfast, we took the obligatory walk to Harbor Centre on West Hastings St to buy a couple of bottles of wine for our room. We found the type of wine we prefer. (Rosemont) the cost was the same as the regular cost in NH but it is often on sale in NH. We returned the hotel and called for the bellman to take our bags downstairs to the Coral Princess. He was very good and made sure that we had not put our passports or boarding passes into the checked luggage. He told us that customs has opened and that we were welcome to proceed to check into the ship. We then checked out and proceeded in the elevator to the cruise ship level and went through customs, security and then get processed with princess. They took us right up front since we stayed at the Pan Pacific and sat us in a corralled .They told us we would be the first on board. They had water for refreshments while we waited for the ship to be ready to be boarded.

Princess is extremely organized in the check in process. Embarkation was flawless. We were boarded very quickly, with the exception of the ship photographer taking the welcome aboard photo. That always slows the process up, of course.

Once on board we went directly to our cabin on the Baja deck. The cabin was located in the mishap bump out and was right at the elevator. Surprisingly, we heard no noise from the elevator. In fact, we heard no noise at all, not even from our friends next door when they had the TV on. Speaking of TV is sure to turn the TV to the ship channel, to see the progression and location of the cruise in real time. There are maps that show where we are located which is very helpful. The room was quite roomy, in comparison to inside cabins that we have had on previous cruises, comparing to RCCL, as that is the only other cruise line we have been on. The egg crate I ordered was not on the bed. When we met Alvin, our very friendly cabin steward, he told me that instead of the egg crate he substituted it with a pillow top pad. I would not call this a pillow top pad. It was more like a thick-ish mattress pad. Because DH has a history of back surgery, we requested the egg crate in addition and Alvin was pleased to comply with our request. They egg crate is no more than in inch thick. It helped a little, but when you are used to memory foam on top of a tempurpedic mattress, there is nothing that will compare. You can easily fit several suitcases under the bed. The closet was very spacious and they supply a plentiful number of wood hangers and lots of shelving. Each night stand has 2 drawers we had brought an extension cord to use in the event that the plug was too far away for a CPAP to reach we were pleased that the machine cord did reach the plug and thus only needed the extra cord to charge the iPad,computer,phones or camera batteries. We requested a top sheet (I really don’t understand why they don’t automatically place a top sheet on the bed to begin with) and a second bathrobe..

Lunch on embarkation day was in the Horizon Court for the Buffett. The main dining rooms were not open for lunch. The climate control in Horizon Court is not good. It was quite warm and there were so many people and very low ceilings on one end. Great ocean view, only so-so food. Plenty of choices but much of it was very cafeteria-like. We hoped that the dinner in the main dining room would be better, and it certainly turned out to be the case. Interestingly, the food did seem to improve in the Horizon court each day that we partook. Maybe we had the leftovers from the SB cruise.

We easily found the "secret" Baja deck on the bow. It was perfect to watch the sunset that evening. A crew member did come out at one time and we asked him if it was, indeed okay to be out there. He assured us that this was a public viewing area. Each night we toasted on the secret deck as our ship left port.

There was a little too much marketing on board. Many “talks” were followed by book/cd sales.

Laundromat is on the aft end of the ship. On the Baja deck there were 6 washers and dryers.

Ports of call

Ketchikan: in port about 6 hours. We were bombarded at debarkation with vendors selling their tours. We were approached by a rep from Tanguay air services, selling flight-seeing tours. When we asked the simple question of what the cost would be the man would not say right away, we kept asking us irrelevant questions and refused to tell the cost until we finally ended it and walked away. He was very rude. We then decided to hire a local cab driver, Renee, to give us a personalized tour of the area that would be away from the crowds. She was a wealth of local knowledge and took us about 6-8 miles outside of town, showing us different spots where the locals fish and where we could see lots of eagles as well as salmon jumping. It was great. She charged us an hourly rate but when we hit it off so well, she ended up charging us for only the initial hour.

Juneau: whale watch at 8:30with Harv and Marv. Met "cruisealex" from the UK on the same trip. Tim, who met us was great, as well as RoseMarie, our shuttle driver. Had Captain Liz on our small boat , just 6 of us. We saw about 8 or 9 whales. Lots of blows. We understand that in the afternoon of that same day, the whales were more active. They stop at Mendenhall Glacier for about 30 minutes. You can stay there if you chose and take the blue shuttle bus back to port. Watch the times of the last shuttle. it seems to vary day by day. That particular day, the last shuttle was at 4:30 PM.

Skagway: rented a car from Avis ( short walk from the docks) and drove to Emerald Lake. White Pass was totally socked in with fog and clouds, as well as some rain. Once we got into British Columbia, the weather and visibility improved and we could see more of the scenery. We felt badly for anyone taking the railroad, as there were no scenic views to be had. On the way through the Yukon, we came across a black bear mama and her 3 cubs, meandering along the edge of the road. The cubs were cinnamon colored. We stopped in the tiny town of Carcross and chatted at length with a nice lady at the visitor’s center and took a walking tour of the town and shops and then headed to Emerald Lake. We were picturing a different setting for Emerald Lake. It was bigger than I expected and the color of the water was spectacular. I can only imagine how colorful it must look if the sun were out. We returned back to Skagway about 4:30, did some shopping and headed to the ship for a light snack before our dinner reservation.

Glacier Bay..Sunshine and bright skies, Glacier Bay is beyond gorgeous. The ship spent a lot of time at Margerie Glacier and repositioned the boat so that those on either side of the ship, on their balconies, could have equal time. While our side was positioned for the Port side, we were entertained by a grizzly bear on the beach in front of us. We did spend some time on the secret forward deck and the aft deck. The forward deck can be very windy so bundle up! Listen for white thunder..incredible.

Naturalist: The Naturalist on board was Kathy. She was really good with the history of the area but we would have liked more info on glaciers, how they form, move, etc, as well as whales and wildlife. Kathy is a good historian but not exactly what I would can a naturalist. She did a good job peddling her books after presentation.

Dining : We had Anytime Dining in the Bordeaux dining room. We requested a specific dinner time almost each night, and ended up lucky enough to get the same window view table each night. We were told that we could reserve a table as long as it was up until 5:45 and after 7:15. Staff: Alvin , Dalibor , Carlos and Marius- anytime dining. We befriended the 2 head waiters, Carlos and Marius. Carlos send us a special "extra" appetizer each night and the requested escargot was presented to us on Saturday night.They chose Saturday night so as to not bring it to the attention of other cruisers, or at least that is what they told us. Wow..Great service, friendly faces, very attentive.

We brought wine from our room to dinner almost every night, no questions asked. We had fresh wine glasses in our room daily. At times, they would take the wind from my hand and carried to the table for me.

Seafood buffet lunch was held on the Lido deck towards the end of the week. The food was excellent

Afternoon tea is a fun thing to do. We met a lot of nice people.

Grill & Pizza: I personally did not use either of these venues. One of our parties did use the grill and he felt that the hamburgers were cafeteria like and tough.

Specialty dining: did not use any of these. I don’t believe in the extra charges..It was the principal.

There were 2 wine tasting events. The first one was offered at $25pp. We did not attend that. Towards the end of the week, they offered another wine tasting event, this one more reasonably priced at $9.95 pp. We did partake in this one, ended up buying a wine for the table that was excellent.

Ice cream was available daily, and this was high quality soft serve. I know this because we used to own a soft serve ice cream shop and it was considered the best soft serve in our area. The Princess soft serve was very much like it.

Sanctuary: walked through to see what it was like. Very rarely saw anyone using it. I don’t agree with a fee for this.

Entertainment:

Jean Mac- terrific jazz singer in the Bayou bar, who took a liking to us and chatted with us every time we were there. I was sad for her that more people did not come to listen. It was here I was introduced to the Monte-Chocsco . Hot chocolate, Grand Marnier and Kahlua…so good on a cold Alaskan night!

Epiphany- musical group that was very versatile and fun to listen to. We were dismayed at how poorly attended the lounges were with these singers.

Welcome aboard show: very boring. The cruise director tried to entertain. Kudos for trying.

Comedy of Sarge: this fellow was hilarious, our jaws were aching from so much laughter. We was definitely a bit politically incorrect, but hilarious. We attended 3 different shows and each one was new material. The man is gifted . Our jaws were aching from laughing. He got a standing ovation.

On the Bayou:Very entertaining.

Magician: we skipped this one but our traveling buddy couple attended and found it boring.

Best entertainment was a humpback calf breaching outside of our dining window at dinner one evening.

Fitness: I was already to join in Zumba, but there were no Zumba classes offered. I had every good intention of using the fitness Center but ended up walking loops around the Promenade deck early each morning. We would walk for about an hour. Each 2.5 loops equaled a mile, according to the signage.

Staff: Alvin - room steward. Very nice, attentive and prompt to our needs and request. At the end of the cruise, we had to have our bags out the night before. This included DH’s sleep pad. Alvin was able to accommodate by replacing his bed pad with a double egg crate which worked out well

.

DIY Land tour report to follow

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1. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Thanks for all the details of your cruise! Sounds like you had fun. Looking forward to the land portion....

Perth, Australia
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2. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Thanks so much for posting this report. We have just decided to book the Coral Princess SB for August 2013 after doing a DIY land trip so your comments are of great value to us.

I will also be waiting for the next installment.

Perth, Australia
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3. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Meant to ask you if there was a special reason for booking those cabins? Were you happy with your choice and would you book them again?

Thanks

New England
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4. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Maudie, we were traveling with friends and the TA chose the 2 adjacent cabins . They were in a good location, very convenient near the elevator. Our room steward opened the balcony partition for us so that we shared one large balcony I would defintely request this room and deck again.

I also neglected to add that we were celebrating our 38th anniversary that week and we had the champagne balcony breakfast one day, which was great. They give you a menu and you can customize it to what you want. . We were able to store leftover fruit and pastries in our fridge. You can also order a complimentary fresh fruit basket daily to be delivered to the room.We showed up one day to balloons on our door and a Happy Anniversary sign !

Edited: 28 July 2012, 11:14
Perth, Australia
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5. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Thanks em-T-sails, we will be traveling with friends also so I like the idea of opening up the balcony - great idea.

Another thing we have in common, we will be leaving Whittier on our 36th anniversary! How special is that champagne breakfast, what a super way to celebrate, congratulations.

We are traveling on the Ruby Princess this October and have also booked a balcony on Baja deck, sounds like we will be doing that again for Alaska.

That's also good no know about the "secret" viewing spot on aft, you sound so much like us enjoying the moment with a glass of wine. Interesting to read you comments about taking wine into the dining room - excellent! by the way was it Rosemount wine from Australia?

Sturgeon
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6. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Was there additional charge for the champagne breakfast? We are traveling with our in-laws on the Coral next June for anniversary celebrations. Theirs 60, ours 35. Thanks for the terrific report and I'm also thankful for the wine tip!

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7. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Wow! Lots of anniversaries! Congrats to all. What a grand way to celebrate.

New England
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8. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

Thanks for the anniversary wishes,denalicat, and the same to you, Maudie and r0t0 and inlaws...60 years, wow, very special!

Yes, our favorite wine is Rosemont. It was 14.99 a bottle at the BC Liquor store at Harbor centre. I was expecting much higher prices for wine in Vancouver based on what I had read.

Maudie, the secret deck is forward and the aft deck is not so secret, but not overly crowded :). The balcony is worth the extra expense for Alaska as there is just so much scenery along the way. We were on the starboard side and got the sunrises...at 4ish AM and the port side got the sunsets on or about midnight. We bought eye masks to help with sleep. Didn't need them on the cruise as there were room darkening shades. We did use them on the land tour and they helped tremendously.

r0t0, the champagne breakfast was $32, which basically was the cost of the champagne. Ours was a gift from our daughter and son-in-law, which made it very special. If they had not done it, I was going to surprise DH with the breakfast.They also sent us chocolate covered strawberries on another evening. very fresh and sweet strawberries!

Lake Tahoe...
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9. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

The reason for collecting your luggage at Toronto is the same as in the U.S. When we come in overseas via ORD or DFW we must go through customs, collect the luggage, pass through so they see you, and give them back your luggage, and go through security all over again. Your luggage does not need to be rechecked as it was initially checked through. No further customs checks as the remaining flights were domestic.

Interesting that if you had booked at the Pan Pacific that you did not use the Princess option, where they met you at YVR and put you in a cab for the Pan Pacific. The option includes all baggage handling between arrival and boarding the ship. Also, you can do the preboarding at the hotel as Princess had a desk there. We did this (I think it was 2004) and requested a room that we could see the dock. They gave us a suite! The next morning we awoke to see our ship arrive, and it was the Coral.

BTW when you were sailing through Prince William Sound on your way to College Fjords Sunday, we passed you as we were on the ferry to Valdez. How did you like the rain?

New England
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10. Re: Trip report: Coral Princess NB and DIY Land tour (long)

k2, We made our own arrangements at Pan Pacific because the price of the Princess-arranged lodging was twice the cost of the price we got by booking the AAA B&B rate. The princess rate was 249per person, where our AAA rate was 225 total, including the full breakfast buffet. Pan Pacific transfered our luggage to the pier and gave us a 2PM check out time.

The rain in College Fjord was not too bad, and most importantly, the visibility was good. We were on our covered balcony, so stayed dry and ordered hot chocolate to stay warm. We also had the wool blankets from the Lido deck to stay warm. We couldn't complain, as the weather the entire week was good..with the exception of Skagway.

Here is a continuation of the first part of our land tour:

Whittier: Disembarkation was efficient and very organized. We had purchased the Princess transfer to Whittier for $52pp. Our luggage was delivered to The Egan Hospitality Center by truck, prior to our arrival at the center. Our bus driver gave us a narrated tour of Portage valley while we drove, and made one stop for a scenic view at Portage Lake.The trip was about 2.5 hours. We found out that our ticket allowed us the opportunity to return to the Egan Center at the end of our road trip, and have complimentary shuttle service to the airport, provided that this was a day that a ship was arriving to Whittier. As it turned out, we chose to not take advantage of this, for various reasons, even though it would have been a ship day. The luggage was organized very well inside the Egan center and we had to show ID to pick up ours. Again, Princess is extremely organized and efficient with this process.

We called Enterprise upon arrival at the Egan Center and a representative picked us up in the SUV that had been reserved for us. We got an amazing rate of $365 for 10 day rental of a full sized SUV. Booked in August, 2011 . When we arrived at the office to complete the paperwork, the rep suggested, that due to the amount of luggage that we were carrying, that he change us to a minivan that seated 7 passengers and had lots more luggage storage space, at no additional cost. This worked out great for us as we were meeting up with our 4 other traveling companions in Denali (they were on different Princess Cruise tours) and we all had reservations for a 6:15 AM Denali shuttle bus to Wonder Lake. Our friends were staying at Princess Denali Lodge and the Princess’ shuttle bus begins their runs at 7AM. We were able to comfortably pick them all up with the minivan with a seat for everyone. The minivan was also much better on the wallet as far as mileage. This model automatically switched from 6 to 4 cylinders on the highway. After the first fill up we noted 40mpg’s! Gas prices ran from $3.43-4.25 per gallon the entire trip, lower than we expected!

First stop was Wasilla for supplies. We could not find Fred Meyers, even with the GPS. Wal-Mart was what we came across initially, so we stopped, bought a cooler, ice, paper plates and towels, zip lock bags, toilet paper, snacks..trail mix ingredients (we like to make our own), peanut butter, deli, cheese, bread, breakfast foods, yogurt, cereal, etc. Our intent was to prepare breakfast and lunches ourselves and go out to dinner. We chose facilities with kitchens except for one B&B, so that we could cook dinner if we chose to do so. In actuality we cooked dinner only once, but were glad we had the option available to us.

Off to Talkeetna. We stayed at Talkeetna-Denali View Lodge. Our room was the Denali View room, where, indeed, we had our first glimpse of the mountain above the clouds, that evening. The room with the best view in the house. Lodging review to be submitted, but in a nut shell, we LOVED this lodge. Great views and the owners, Renae and Tom fed us very well for breakfast. We will definitely be back there again someday to stay. They are located off MM3 on the Talkeetna Spur road and it was a quick ride into town.

The sun shone brightly for the next 2 days in Talkeetna. We had a McKinley Summit flight pre-scheduled with Talkeetna Aero Services using our 2-1 coupon from the Northern Lights coupon book. We were so lucky with the weather. Our pilot, Andre, was awesome. He took us within 1/3 mile of the summit and we saw the remnants of the last camps, as climbing season was coming to an end. We had to use oxygen once we hit about 14k feet. We zipped through the mountains over the glaciers and it was an amazing sight. DH and I had the best seats as we were positioned by the company in the last 2 rows, giving us unobstructed views. The others had to look over the wings of the airplane. We ate 2 meals in Talkeetna, both at the West Rib Pub. The food was plentiful and they served Moose Drool, my favorite ale!

Be sure to visit the river’s edge, beautiful scenery and just a serene place to enjoy the quiet and scenery. We met the town mayor, Stubbs the cat. He hangs out at Nagley’s store and yes, has a stub for a tail. They call him the mayor because one year, as the story goes, 15 years ago several of the town residents didn't like the candidates who were running for mayor of Talkeetna, and so as a joke, they encouraged enough people to elect Stubbs the cat as a write-in candidate. Stubbs the cat was a write-in and actually one the election. He is famous now and the week we were there, he was on CNN, believe it or not.

After shopping, we were off to Healy, where we would stay for 3 nights, giving us 2 full days in Denali. It was a clear day and the mountain was out in full view. We stopped by the Wilderness Access Center and picked up our set of 6 pre-reserved Wonder Lake tickets. We also bought tickets into Eielson for the next day, the day before meeting up with our friends on the cruise land tour.

We stayed at Alaskan Spruce Cabins, and were pleased with this peaceful setting in a cabin that had everything we needed, including a full kitchen. The next morning we headed to Eielson on the 7:15 green shuttle bus. Our bus driver was very good and gave us a lot of great info. If you spot wildlife you are instructed to call out “stop” and she does, readjusting the bus as necessary. That day we saw several grizzlies, the closest being about 300 yds away. We got off at Eielson and remained off the bus, with the intent of doing some hiking around the visitor center. We headed for the Alpine Ridge trail, which turned out to be a bit too steep for me, but DH went along to the top at my insistence. I headed back down to the visitors center and found plenty to see and do, including the lower trails around the visitor center. DH loved the trail and came back down when he was ready, and then we told the dispatcher we were ready for a bus and he assigned us to a bus back to the WAC. We ended up sitting in the back of the bus which ended up uncomfortable once we hit the paved road (go figure). Turns out they are replacing culverts and made for a bouncy ride, especially in the back, where the suspension on a school bus is not so good.

We met up with our friends and had dinner at the 49th State Brewery. Meals were very good, with the exception of one of our party’s steak Caesar salad. We found out later, from a local resident, that because lettuce is not grown in the region, it can be hit or miss, and slightly wilty.

The next morning we were off to Wonder Lake for the day. Our friends had purchased sandwiches for lunch at Subway the night before and we stored them overnight in our refrigerator at the cabin. We boarded the 6:15 bus and were able to get the front seats (watch for wheel wells). Our driver was Beth and she was very knowledgeable, albeit slightly arrogant attitude. I say this because if someone had a question, she sometimes made them feel stupid for asking..not all the time but enough for us to be wary of what questions we posed to her. There was plenty of overhead storage for back packs, as long as they were not too huge. Ours was huge because DH, being a hiker, brings everything we might need for survival with him in his backpack wherever we hike. Today was a great wildlife day. We came across a mother grizzly and her 2 cubs walking along the road in the Sable Pass area. Great photo opportunity. Evidently they could care less about the busses as they are accustomed to them. We had the usual bathroom stops and Polychrome Pass stops. Even though it was cloudy and the likelihood of seeing Denali was minimal, we chose to continue onto Wonder Lake. The scenery between Eielson is different and we saw several moose and bears in the distance. The mosquito issue was a non issue but they were out somewhat so we donned out mosquito nets ($2 from Wal-Mart). We never needed our bug spray. That day we saw caribou as well. Later in the day, a pack of wolves crossed the road in front of the bus. Unfortunately, 3 of our party (including myself and DH missed this as we had just gotten off the bus at Savage River checkpoint to hike the trail. The Savage River trail is a very easy 2 mile RT hike. It reminded me of a miniature Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National park.

Dinner that night was at the Salmon Bake in Glitter Gulch. That was a great meal..plenty of food.

I chuckled (to myself) at some of the cruise tour people all dressed up for dinner in a place where most are dressed in hiking clothes.

Next stop Seward, AK. (to be continued)