We had a most memorable tour of Alaska in July 2012. This forum had been of tremendous help in planning our trip. We relied on no guide books (save for the Milepost); the recommendations of this forum were good enough. A special thanks to the regular posters on this forum, who patiently answered every question, and made excellent suggestions. This had been a dream trip of ours for many years, and you made it one which we will cherish for a very long time. Only fair that we post a Trip Report, describing how the trip went, for possible use for other travelers.
First, a bit about ourselves. We are a couple living in India, in our 50’s, avid travelers who like to take two annual vacations in different parts of the world. Have been about quite a bit, including several times in the US, but never to Alaska. We were arriving in Alaska after spending about 5 days in New York City with our kids who are working in the US. Had been really looking forward to this trip for many months.
Our broad itinerary was as follows :
Anchorage – 1 night, Seward – 2 nights, Matanuska – 1 night, Talkeetna – 1 night, Denali – 3 nights, and Fairbanks – 2 nights. Here follows a Trip Report, possibly posted in a few installments (as it will get very long to go in one shot !).
Day 1 : July 24th (Anchorage): We had spent the night at the Grand Hyatt NYC in downtown Manhattan. Got up at 4am, and were off in a taxi by 5:15am for EWR airport. Checked into Air Alaska, had some breakfast at the airport, and departed on time at 7:25am for Seattle. We managed to get a fair bit of sleep on the 6 hour flight, reaching Seattle at 10:25am local time. A light lunch at airport, and off to Anchorage at 12:05pm. This sector had a very nice and friendly crew. Had light snacks and sodas on the flight, and reached Anchorage on time at 2:40pm Alaska time.
Took a taxi from Anchorage airport to our B&B, the Wildflower Inn, which was close to downtown, at the corner of I-Street and 13th Avenue. It turned out to be a lovely B&B, with a warm and friendly host in Larry. He showed us around the property, and we settled in our Wild Iris room. It was a spacious room with a big bathroom, and well decorated. We quickly set off to Avis Car Rentals on 5th Av & B-Street, where we had to pick up our car rental. We had booked a full sized car, and got a Toyota Camry. Used our Northern Light Coupon book to knock off one day’s rental price. While the car was being washed, we went for an early dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse nearby (recommended by our B&B host). Turned out to be a very nice place – popular and bustling with patrons. We had good pizzas with garlic mashed potatoes, and excellent dark Alaskan beer.
We picked up our car, drove back to the B&B, and set off walking on the Coastal Trail (via the Chesterfield Trail near the lake). We had a nice brisk walk on the Coastal Trail. It was overcast, but no sign of rain. Nice views of the coastline. Emerged in the down town area, near 5th Avenue. Walked back to Wildflower Inn, and went to bed. It had been a long day for us, starting at 4am Eastern time in NYC, and we were tired.
Day 2 : July 25th (Seward): We awoke at 6am to a beautiful day, bright sunny and clear. Got ready and reported for breakfast at 7:30am. We were in for a surprise – a sumptuous breakfast of Finnish pancakes, cereals, fruits, juices etc. Larry played his role as a host to perfection. We finally loaded our luggage into the car, said goodbye, and drove off to Seward by 8:15am.
We knew that a picturesque journey awaited us on the Seward highway, and it certainly did not disappoint. We stopped at too many places to gape at the views and click photos, including Beluga Point, many many turnouts on the Turnagain Arm, and finally at Canyon Creek. One of the best drives in my lifetime, reminding us repeatedly of the fabulous drive in New Zealand from Queenstown to Glenorchy. We were in no particular hurry to reach Seward, and would stop whenever the scenery beckoned us. Some construction delays just before Seward, and we were at Seward by 12:15pm. We detoured towards Exit Glacier area first, stopping at Seavey’s Iditarod to book their 1:45pm tour.
We had an excellent crepe lunch at Le Barn Appetit nearby, with warm and talkative hosts. Then returned to Seavey’s to catch their tour. It was an excellent tour of 90 minutes, during which we learned so much about the Iditarod race, the preparations, the protective attire of the dogs etc. Visited the kennels and picked up the young puppies. Finally, a 30-minute cart ride pulled by 16 dogs ! The dogs were raring to be selected and just could not wait to start pulling the cart. It was overall a very enjoyable tour, and we would highly recommend it. The Seavey family has raced the Iditarod for 3 generations, and won it twice, including in 2012.
We then drove to the Exit Glacier carpark, and did a self-hike along the well marked trails. First to the Glacier Viewpoint, and then to the Glacier Edge. The whole round trip took just about an hour, and was mildly strenuous but very doable. Thoroughly enjoyable. We were back by about 4:45pm, and drove off to the Sealife Center in downtown Seward. Used our 2-for-1 coupon of NL book to buy tickets, and spent a worthwhile hour inside. It was a fantastic aquarium with excellent exhibits. Loved the touch pools, where you could feel the sea urchins and other strange sea creatures. Their balcony has super views of the Resurrection Bay.
Then we drove to Lowell Point, and sat on a bench admiring the views of the Bay. It was a lively place, full of campers with their RVs. We returned to downtown Seward, and dined at the Apollo restaurant on 4th Avenue. Had Turkish dolmas which were delicious, with some dark beer. Finally, past 8pm, we drove to our B&B on Bear Drive : the Bear’s Den. The host Richard came over and settled us in. What a place ! It was lovely beyond description, with a huge suite containing two queen beds, a large sitting area with sofas, TV etc, and a comfortable kitchen and bath. It had a large balcony with excellent views. The place was very tastefully decorated and very well stocked. It was well past 10pm by the time we retired to bed.
Day 3 : July 26th (Seward) : We awoke at 7am to find that our good luck with the weather was continuing. It was sunny and clear, although there was some fog overhang on the ground. The B&B was well stocked with breakfast provisions, and we were off by 9am. We left our car at the B&B all day, and preferred to walk to the Small Boat Harbor. We were booked on the Major Marines Kenai Fjord cruise of 7.5 hrs, starting at 10am. We had booked this with a NL 2-for-1 coupon, and we handed over the coupon at the check-in counter and picked up our boarding cards. As we boarded the vessel, we liked the arrangements. Two levels of covered inside seating, with large glass windows. But of course the best views were out on the open deck in the front of the boat, where we spent a lot of our time.
As we moved out of the Seward harbor, we immediately spotted an otter lazily swimming on its back, and very soon thereafter were some humpback whales quite close by. Lots of porpoise sightings. The surroundings were very pretty, and the overhanging low clouds and fog added to the mystique of the landscape. There was an excellent Ranger on board, who provided good narration of all sightings. The bartender mixed up some delicious Bloody Mary’s, and we were having a great time.
We soon crossed the Chiswell Islands, where we saw a huge number of nesting birds. Tons of puffins. Bunch of sea lions lounging on the rocks. The islands themselves were very pretty, with unusual shapes. As we left the islands behind, and sailed into the Gulf of Alaska, we came across a large pod of orca whales (about 7-8 of them), frolicking about near our vessel. Great photo ops. The fog had completely cleared by now, and the views were excellent.
We had booked for the lunch on board. We had opted for the vegetarian meal, which was lasagna with salad, bread, bean rice, and sodas/coffee, followed by excellent deserts. Meanwhile, the vessel moved to the Holgate glacier, where it stopped for 20 minutes. Could see a lot of calving activity, every 3-4 minutes. Then off to the Aialik glacier, where we were fortunate to see similar glacier calving. Then the vessel started its return journey, and we came across more humpback whales and porpoise. Lovely to see the humpbacks take deep dives to the bottom, with their trademark tail above the water as they disappear ! Then we came across an unusual sighting of two humpbacks, who were flapping their pectoral fins wildly in the water; this went on for almost 30 minutes, which the Ranger described as being uncommon.
We returned to the Seward harbor by 5:45pm, after an awesome 7.5 hr trip. We then walked on 4th Avenue all the way to Sealife Center, and did some souvenir shopping in the shops nearby. Then boarded a free shuttle bus back to the harbor. Had a great beer at Chinooks (overlooking the waterfront), followed by super burritos at Railway Cantina across the street. Walked back to the B&B by 9pm and retired to bed.
Trip Report of subsequent days will be posted shortly.