Stanley park was awesome and the lunch at the tea house had very good fish and chips. Gas Town is very quaint. The steam clock is very cool.
Granville Island has lots of shops but the parking is very tight. We had an awesome dinner and drinks at the Sandbar.
We started the day with brunch at the Red Wagon. The wait staff was awesome. I had some pulled pork pancakes, meh. They were interesting but probably wouldn’t go there again. We gGot on the ship later that afternoon.
At sea all day not much to see. We did see a pod of orcas the evening before just north of Vancouver. They were a couple miles in the distance. We could tell what they were by the huge dorsal fin. Not much else to do but hang out. There were several activities on the ship. We did not attend any of these. If I get asked one more time to attend their wine tasting party I am going to scream!
Cold, rainy and windy. Took a float plane to Misty Fjord. The pilot had to abort after about 10 minutes because of the bad visibility. After returning we ate at the Fish House and had some dry overcooked fish and chips, bummer. Then off to the discovery center run by the Forest Service. Movie and exhibits were very nicely done.
It is raining once again. Headed north up the valley for some whale watching with Harv and Marv. The rain stopped soon after departure and the water flattened out. It wasn't long before we saw our first whale, tail and all. We also saw bald eagles and sea lions on the rocks. Our captain, the owners daughter Jayleen , was awesome. We saw several whales throughout the day but sadly no breaching.
On the way back to town we stopped at the Mendenhall Glacier. This is not a tide water glacier but does come down into a fresh water lake. We didn’t stay and do any hiking because we were starving. I wish we would have stayed longer. I would recommend packing a lunch if you are doing one of these whale tours so you could spend some time at the glacier before heading back to town. There is a city bus that will take you back to town so you won’t have to stay with your group unless you want to.
Got back to town and had lunch at Tracy’s Crab Shack. It is a little stand right next to the cruise ship dock. It is very good. But even though it is just a couple of shacks and a tent to eat out of the rain, don’t expect it be cheap.
The sun is out! The first time this has happened in over a month according to the locals. We caught a van up to Fraser Canada and took the train over the White Pass and back to town. We used Frontier excursion and there were only six of us on the van. If I were to do it again I would do it in the opposite order. The van part was rushed because we were trying to meet the train. If we did it the other way there would be more time at the various stops on the way back to town. With the blue skies as a back drop the scenery was stunning and we saw a mountain goat and a bear. I read that people were recommending skipping the train because it is expensive and you see the same stuff as driving. Nothing could be further from the truth. The train is literally hanging off the side of the canyon and does take a different route for part of the way. Besides I just like trains.
We ate lunch at the red onion. The atmosphere was great inside the old who*e house with the waitresses all in period costumes. The food was pretty boring.
Weather was pretty socked in. This appears to be the norm since they have yet to see the sun this spring. This was according to the National Park Rangers. As we headed up the bay there were sea lions and otters around the boat. We saw several large glaciers which moaned and groaned but never calved. Apparently this is a hit or miss activity. After leaving the bay we saw several whales and a pod of Orcas in the narrows. This was some of the most spectacular scenery of the cruise and went by way too fast.
If we thought that yesterday’s scenery was awesome, we hadn’t seen anything yet. This was the most impressive scenery of the cruise. We saw lots of otter’s right next to the boat. We could see up to 7 glaciers at once. I would do this section again in a small boat so I could get closer, maybe with 29 Glaciers out of Whittier.
Disembarked and caught a bus to anchorage with Alaska Cruise Transfer. Didn't think we would make it because of a bad tire. Because of the tire we had to transfer all of our luggage to another bus at the airport and then get dropped of downtown. Took forever! If I were to do it again I would stick with the Princess transfers. We just weren’t aware that you could use Princess to go anywhere else but the airport. Everywhere you look in Alaska there are Princess busses.
After being dropped off by the cruise transfer service we drove from the car rental place downtown to Earth Song Lodge north of Healy to prepare for our park shuttle bus ride into Denali National Park the next day. Really cool small two bedroom unit out on the tundra. Earth Song is a collection of cabins built by the owner who has own dogsled business (High Camp Kennels)and runs multi day dogsled expeditions into Denali in the winter. This is an eco lodge type environment with a rustic coffee shop on site. The cabins are tiny so don’t expect the Ritz Carlton. They are about 5 minutes north of Healy and about 30 minutes from the park.
On the way to Healy we saw our first moose between Anchorage and Wasilla walking alongside the road. We stopped in Wasilla at Fred Meyers which is right on the highway and bought water, snacks and lunch fixings for our long drives. We then detoured to Talkeetna and did a flight over Denali (Mount McKinley). We had to take a larger plane (DeHavilland Otter) that allowed instrument navigation to get through the clouds. At 12,000 feet we popped through the clouds and cruised around the mountain and up and down the 4,000 foot thick Ruth glacier. Way cool! Also, because of the weather there weren’t any glacier landings this day since the only glaciers that were clear were not landing friendly. We used Talkeetna Air Taxi. Really great people highly recommended.
Afterwards we went into the town of Talkeetna and had lunch/dinner at the Wildflower café. A very small place with just a few tables, excellent food and an impressive selection of craft beers on tap.
Finally we drove the rest of the way to Healy, checked in, got ready for our bus ride the next day into Denali and crashed.
Denali park shuttle
We stopped on the way to the park and got breakfast at Subway and made it to the park half an hour early only to get on the wrong bus and get yelled at by a bunch of grumpy old people. Great start! Remember the park shuttles are dark green not beige. When you walk in from the parking lot there will be a bunch of buses straight ahead. Those aren’t the Park shuttles. You need to walk through the main entrance of the WAC and back out the other side to the covered walk way to meet the shuttle. There are no signs as to what is what until you get inside the center itself. We finally found where we were supposed to go five minutes before the bus left. So much for getting there early. We were told it was preferable to sit in the front of the bus, since it is less bumpy and dusty than the back, but we're forced to sit in the back since we were late. This turned out to be a good deal because it was a camper bus and the rear was roomier. Because of the extra room in the rear, when we stopped, you could step to the back and look out the windows while standing up. This might have been a drag if it was dusty but it wasn't due to rain the night before. The skies were blue and we got a glimpse of the south peak of Denali that would disappear as it grew cloudier throughout the day until it was completely overcast by the time we reached Eilson visitor center.
We saw several grizzlies, caribou, Dahl sheep and moose (including a baby). We also saw a couple of red foxes, a ptarmigan, a lynx and various artic squirrels (I still say they are prairie dogs). The first Grizzly and the Dahl sheep were especially nice because they were right next to the bus. Not more than 20 yards away.
We had lunch at Eilson visitor center at one of the several indoor tables with fantastic views of the mountains. We then decided to take some group pictures out on the patio were my tripod blew over and smashed the filter on my main camera lens. I couldn't get the shattered filter off the lens. So we broke out most of the remaining glass so the lens was still usable for the rest of the trip.
Once we got back near the entrance, the shuttle dropped us off for a quick trip up to the sled dog presentation. Although we were tired, this was an awesome end to the Denali experience. If you have time I wouldn’t skip this little excursion. You get some interesting history, interaction with the animals and best of all it is free.
On the way back to the cabin we stopped at the 49th street brewery for dinner on the deck that became dinner inside due to the dragon fly sized mosquitos and rain. We had another excellent meal before heading back to the cabin. At Earth Song I went to the slide show presentation Jon (The Owner) gives every night upstairs next door in the coffee house. Even though I was exhausted I was glad I went. He really has some beautiful images taken over a several year period. By the time I got back to the cabin everyone was already asleep. It was 8:30.
We started the day with breakfast at the coffee house and then a tour of Jon’s kennel with some interaction with his sled dogs. They were really attention mongers. I expected the dogs to be bigger than they are, and his are larger than most since they are working not racing dogs. Most sled dogs that are being bred in Alaska these days are for racing and are quite small.
This is a long drive day with over 100 miles of it on a maintained dirt road. The dirt section had very spectacular views. We stopped and ate at Princess Lodge in Copper Center. They have very good views of the Wrangell Mountains and good food. Then it was on to Chitina. We stayed at the cool Chitina B&B. (Restored old railroad depot from the copper mining day’s) it is last place on the left right before the “slot”. Carla the owner is a great host that gave us a run down on the area and explained the whole fishing wheel process. We jumped into the car and drove through the slot out to the Copper River to look at the fish wheels where they harvest the salmon. The season had just opened that day. The drive out to the fish wheels across the million dollar bridge over the Copper River was way cool and super windy which would come into play in a couple of days. We were later told that the wind blows in Chitina all the time because it’s at the confluence of three large rivers.
In the morning we flew to McCarthy via Wrangell Mountain air in a DeHavilland Beaver (the ultimate bush plane) and had the most amazing mountain and glacier views I have ever seen. After a short shuttle ride we checked into the Ma Johnson Hotel. Ma Johnson is a renovated turn of the century, well almost, hotel that was built to help support the workers of the Kennicott copper mine 5 miles up the valley. It has maintained its historical décor with small rooms and several shared bathrooms on each floor. (They provide free use of bath robes for all guests so there are no half naked guest making the dash to the bathroom.)
After we got settled in we made our way via the shuttle 5 miles up the canyon to the Kennicott glacier copper processing plant. We had lunch overlooking the glacier and did a tour of the now defunct Kennicott Copper processing plant. This was a very interesting tour. The plant that was shut down in the late 30's when the price of copper crashed during the depression. Our guide Matt, with Kennicott Wilderness Guides, was extremely knowledgeable about the processing and the history of the plant. I would avoid this tour if you have physical disabilities or are afraid of heights as you will travel through the plant from top to bottom down some very steep and narrow stairways. I believe there are over 200 hundred steps. A couple of people in our group complained that they would never have gone if they had known. If you have an interest in mining or history of this time period this is a must see.
The plant and lodge are all at the terminus of the Kennicott glacier which at this point looks like a massive pile of dirt. You can grab a guide at Kennicott Wilderness Guides right in front of the Lodge and go for a hike on the glacier or go ice climbing. We didn’t do this but were told the hike is about 4 miles round trip and quite spectacular.
We finished our day back in McCarthy with dinner and drinks at the New Golden Saloon. The only place in town open for dinner that night. The McCarthy Lodge restaurant which is right next door to the saloon is supposed to be very good but was not open the night we were there. There are also a couple places to eat up by the glacier in Kennicott. The glacier lodge, which is a nice upscale lodge/home style restaurant, and the pizza place which is run out of an old bus hanging over the foot of the glacier.
It is raining again so we just walked around town while waiting for our flight. We flew back to Chitina low along the river since it was clouding, raining and foggy. With super gusty winds blowing around Chitina (again) it was a wild ride.
We drove down the Richardson highway which is supposed to be spectacular but wasn’t much to see on this day due to the fog and rain. We tried to go to the Worthington glacier but the snow was 6 or 7 feet deep on the trail. So much for the advertised easy access. The viewing scopes near the parking lot were only sticking about a foot out of the snow. Once we got closer to Valdez there was one water fall after another and the drive became quite beautiful.
We checked into our B&B which was L&L. (Nice clean and relative inexpensive) and then went to eat at Steve's Palace down by the harbor. The food was outstanding and the portions were huge (If that is important to you.)
We had to get up at 5am for the 7am ferry across Prince Williams Sound to Whittier. Nice relaxing ride with some animals and a lot of really impressive icebergs near the Columbia glacier. Also if you like waterfalls this is the ride for you.
We got into Whittier and made the easy drive to anchorage and checked into the Dimond Center Hotel behind the Dimond Center mall. Very nice hotel.
Later we drove downtown and ate at humpy's. It was ok but nothing special. Kind of touristy but worth doing once if just for the atmosphere.
Got up early and caught a taxi to the train station for our train trip to Seward. We took the Coastal Classic with the gold star service which is the domed rail car. I have read several times that this is a waste of money since it is relatively expensive and you can see the same thing driving. Having done both I have to say this is absolutely false. You follow the Seward highway until about the Whittier turnoff but from there the train takes a completely different route with very different scenery. We saw a herd of Dahl sheep, a lot of eagles and a baby black bear in a tree about 10 feet from the train. Also the food on the train is quite good and relatively inexpensive compared to other places we ate. I highly recommend this trip. But if you do decide to do it I would wait to eat breakfast until after you go over the pass or you will miss some of the awesome scenery.
When we got to Seward we met up with the rest of our group who drove down. We checked into our lodging which was 310 lodging. Nice, clean, spacious and a fantastic view of resurrection bay from up on the hill.
Went to lunch at Cristos which was ok but nothing special and then we walked across the street to the sea life center. It is not the Monterrey aquarium but it is quite nice
That night we went to dinner at Salmon Bake on Exit Glacier road north of town. This was the best meal of our entire vacation. We even talked about going back there the next day.
Got up early and ate breakfast at the bakery by the harbor which was pretty good with a lot of variety. The bakery is also where we met the representative from the Salt Water Lodge for our small boat tour of Resurrection bay. There were 11 of us on the boat including the sea kayakers that we would eventually be dropped off on Fox Island. Our captain Tanya and first mate Kara were fantastic.
Although the bay was calm we were told it would get rough out in the gulf on this particular day. The small boats are nice because they get closer to the shore for great animal viewing and the viewing platforms are never crowded. The down side is that you can get tossed around pretty good in rough seas. Unfortunately that was the case this day. None of the small boats could make it around the point so we didn't see the glacier. We did see all kinds of animals such as whales, orcas, seals, sea otters, puffins etc. The highlight of this trip was definitely the orcas.
We saw a pod in the morning and later, over by Fox Island, we ended up in the middle of a larger pod that included some young calves. We even saw a couple orcas spyhopping (Sticking their heads out of the water and looking around). Way cool! I would definitely recommend this tour.
We went to dinner at Ray's right on the small boat harbor. It was very good.
Unfortunately we were so tired we barely made it through dinner
Day 9 (last day)
Seward / Anchorage
It is raining today only the second day of all day rain on the land section of the trip. We went to breakfast at Le Barn Appetite just off of the old Exit Glacier road. This place was recommended to us by some people we met on the bus in Denali. Very small place run by some real characters. They only serve crepes all cooked fresh. Fantastic!
Afterwards we continued up to the Exit Glacier. Only two in our group decided to make the 2 mile round trip hike to the glaciers edge since it was pouring by now. It was definitely worth the walk. Even in the rain.
Afterwards we drove back to Anchorage to fly back home. We stopped off downtown for dinner and decided to eat at Orso. The food was good but the service was the worst we had the entire trip. Walk ins were waiting 10 to 15 minutes for a table. We had the privilege of waiting an hour and a half. Not sure what the problem was. Anyhow we got to the airport and caught our flight with no problems.
The flight to LAX left 12:45am.
Now for my airline rant!
When you are on an overnight flight you don't expect to be woken up at 4:00am by loud conversations right next to you. Seriously people! Have some consideration for those around you.
Is LAX the worst airport in the planet!? No flight information available for other concourses or any information on other concourses at all. Really! To avoid going back through security you need to take a bus to the other terminals. It would be nice if they told you that the American Eagle terminal was an isolated building out in the middle of nowhere we now affectionately refer to as the holding cell. No food service, only vending machines. This would have been good information to have before they rushed us off on the shuttle.
This was our first cruise and our first trip to Alaska. Both were quite enjoyable and the food on and off the ship exceeded my expectations. I am not too picky about lodging as long as it is clean and comfortable and I love most kinds of food and am particularly fond of seafood. I was surprised that the majority of restaurants in Alaska tend to overcook their fish, at least in my option. I like my fish very moist or what I found they referred to as rare. The service except for one instance was always very good and the people of Alaska are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered.
The cruise allows you to see ports of call that are a great distance apart. Food is readily available at all hours of the day and you can always find activities of all sorts or just take a nap. My only real complaint would be that they are always trying to sell you something additional. They must have asked us 30 times if we wanted to buy tickets for the wine tasting. Also cruise ship people seems to shuffle along at a snail’s pace making it hard to get around.
The ground portion was really enjoyable to me because we could do everything at our own pace. We saw a large amount of Alaska that is accessible by car. We went from one point of interest to another and found ourselves falling into bed thoroughly exhausted every night. If anything, we tried to do too much and there were far too many hours spent in the car. We never really gave ourselves any downtime to just relax.
Would I go back? Absolutely, although I might skip the cruise part since I have seen all of that. I would like to revisit College Fjord, McCarthy, the area around Valdez and the Kenai Peninsula. I would definitely go back to Seward and I would like to visit Homer and possibly do some fishing which we didn’t have time for on this trip. I might go a little bit later in the summer when the foliage has all come out and there is not so much snow that hasn’t melted.
Things to think about before you go:
1. Alaska is expensive. What do you expect? Everyone who relies on tourism have to make their yearly income in just a couple of months
2. It will probably be cold. When we were there it got into the sixties 3 days out of 18 (low 50’s was the norm) and if you go on a boat it will be even colder. When we were on the water the wind chill must have been close to freezing with the icy wind. Wear layers.
3. It will probably rain. Invest in a good rain coat. We saw several people out hiking in the driving rain in a hoody. I guess I understand they need to look gangsta but you won’t see the locals dressed like that. There probably is a reason why.
4. You might want to capture memories of what you see. Invest in some kind of camera. Unless you’re posting online, don’t be the person trying to take pictures of beautiful landscapes on your phone. And you certainly don’t want to be the one everyone is laughing at because you are trying to take pictures with your iPad.
You can see photos at http://photography.chicoma.net/Travel/Alaska
There are a lot of them!