I had a friend up visiting in mid-July who has been up here twice before- once in early Summer and once in Winter. This time we did things that were a bit different than before but I think will be of interest to a lot of travelers.
First, we headed to Seward. My friend's past visit to Seward wasn't great, so I was hoping things would go better this time.
We did a Behind-the-scenes tour and an Encounter tour at the Sea Life Center. Both were awesome, but the Encounter tour was amazing. We got to feed and touch and have an octopus touch us. We also got to learn a bunch about them, see samples, and talk to an octopus expert at the Center. We asked a fair few questions. I had no particular interest in octopuses - my friend's trip, so I let her pick the Encounter, but I found it tremendously interesting. They did a great job making it so. We actually got to hang out with three different octopuses because the first one was being a bit shy.
I highly recommend this and I'm betting the other Encounters are just as great. It was just four adults on our tour, but I think kids, teens, and adults would all really enjoy it. And I haven't seen it mentioned in trip reports I've read. We also used the Northern Light coupon for this and saved about $100 in doing so.
The next day we went on a fishing trip with the Seward Military resort. For anyone who is retired or active military or DoD civilian, you can sponsor your friends and family members and get to go fishing for just over $200/person. It's a bit bigger boat- ours had 14, but the captain was knowledgable and the crew was outstanding. The fishing was also good- not excellent, pretty much all chickens on the halibut front as well as smaller flappers, but everyone got their limit and I also got three salmon. Several other folks got a salmon or three as well. Not a bad deal for someone who doesn't want to spend the money on a six pack assuming they fall within the allowances for military and family.
We went kayaking the day after with Miller's Landing and things went a bit wrong. There first was a problem with our tour booking. I'd called and re-booked for a Sunday after I got the fishing trip booked. I got a confirmation e-mail about the change, so I figured we were good to go. Then after fishing, I had a call from Miller's Landing. They thought I was supposed to be there Saturday. I called back and explained that a change had been made, I had been billed for the change and received an e-mail and were they going to be able to fit us in the next day? They said, no problem.
We get there and the guide had NOT been notified that he was leading both a full day and a half day tour. He was mumbling about how we was going to manage that. The four others in our group were two father and son pairs, Boy Scouts and experienced kayakers. We were most certainly not.
It was billed as a 'leisurely' kayak. It was not. Because the other two adults were experienced and had been kayaking already this Summer, we were forced to go at their pace. Apparently the guide couldn't talk them into going slower even when my friend and I kept falling farther and farther behind. Not safe. My shoulder was in a great deal of pain (old softball injury) but I had to suck it up because the guide couldn't control the group and Miller's Landing had screwed up the bookings.
Needless to say it was not enjoyable. We got to the beach and were wiped out. We then had to wait until LONG after the trip was supposed to be over for the water taxi to arrive. The taxi was exactly on time, so I have no idea why Miller's Landing says you'll be done by 1:30 when the taxi doesn't arrive until after 2 pm and you still have to take that back. It canceled our plans to get to Exit Glacier before having to head out of town. The taxi also didn't land on *land*. We were in water up to our calves getting off the boat. That was super. Would have been nice to know about since we both had boots back at the car we could have worn.
So, a BIG two thumbs down for anyone looking to use Miller's Landing to kayak. I'd try again with Sunny Cove. They showed up at the same place and their guide seemed cool. That group was of the same expertise level and wasn't paddling as though their lives depended on it. (PS- I have significant upper body strength, so this isn't someone out of shape or a bit spare on muscles having a tough time- we actually arrived an HOUR early to our destination (according to our guide) because we were having to move so fast.)
The next day we headed to Matanuska Glacier. We got our guide and got outfitted. It was a nice day- started out cloudy and the glacier did in fact look more blue as others have mentioned. Then it cleared up for some nice pictures of blue sky and ice. We both loved the Glacier Trek we went on and I may actually go back for the ice climbing. Great info from the guide and we were the only two on the tour so could go at exactly our pace. Very nice for my friend who was wiped out from the death march kayaking the day before.
I highly recommend the glacier trek as opposed to the trek that is shorter. The guide showed us how far that tour went and it missed a lot of the things we liked best. This tour was actually the thing my friend liked best about the entire trip. I'd definitely bring others to do it again. Was a lot more fun than when I went to the glacier on my own last year. The guide knew how to get to the cool places which made it well worth the money.
Next we headed up to Denali by way of Talkeetna. Quick stop there to try to get a flightseeing tour.
The flightseeing tour didn't happen though we tried again two other days as well. We made the mistake of trying to go with Sheldon. Two things went wrong. One, Sheldon does not fly IFR so they are dependent on the weather more than other outfits. Two, they failed to tell us that since we had a Groupon, we could only go up with a full plane. Meaning, we had to find a group with only two other people in it. That irked me because we sat waiting the third day for over five hours thinking we were definitely going up, only to find out we couldn't since they couldn't fill the plane. On the Groupon it only said 'subject to availability' - well, there was a plane available, a pilot available and the weather was fine. Their scheduling problems shouldn't mean I get canceled on and especially when they don't inform me of that fact at any time. I called Groupon and got my money back, but I'd not recommend the outfit based on the lack of passing along important information and also the lack of IFR flying.
We stayed at the Traleika Mountaintop cabins in Talkeetna, and I highly recommend them. It was a very nice, very clean cabin that was more like a cottage. Two bedrooms and great views of Denali had it been out. In fact, I liked them so much that I'm planning a trip up with friends this Fall. Full kitchen, quiet setting, great views. Just all around excellent, good Wifi and quick responses from the owner. There are three cabins in the clearing, but we only saw the other folks twice.
Camping at Wonder Lake was great. The mosquitos were actually not as bad as we'd been led to expect. Not sure if they'd just died down a bit or what. We did have a breeze a couple times that blew them away a bit, but 40% deet kept them at bay well. Headnets were needed away from the campsite, but they didn't bother us while eating. We got to see the mountain as we were leaving. The driver stopped several times in case it disappeared on us before we got to Eielson, but it stayed and we saw it for the whole time we were stopped there, too. The way the clouds were, we may not have been able to see it from the camp ground, so it was good that we left on the early bus out.
We also got to see a moose feeding on the plants at the bottom of one of the ponds out near Wonder Lake. That was really cool- got some nice shots of her.
We stayed the night before camping at the Alaska Spruce Cabins which were nice and also had good Wifi. I liked that they had a full kitchen and two queen beds.