For some time, Ginger and I always considered Alaska as one of our top three bucket list travel destinations. When we shared that with Bob and Pam, we learned they also wanted to visit and see Alaska. Bob and Pam explored travel packages and found a combo cruise and wilderness coach & rail package with Princess Cruises. So the planning began back in October 2021 and we all signed up and began planning our adventure. Below we share our adventure - daily itinerary, stories, photos, what we learned. So join us in our adventure ... Bob
"Our trip is happening in two weeks - we have to get serious!" We all launch into many searches on the web to find out what Princess requires, what travel sites suggest for the kind of weather we can expect, are our passports are up-to-date - yes, what's this app called ArriveCAN (to get into Canada since we plan to fly in to Vancouver the night before), WHAT? we have to wear masks - oh no!, why aren't we hearing from our cruise coordinator, etc.? Reality finally hit us all and we have lots to prepare for as well as pack into weight & size limited suitcases. Oh, and don't forget we are required to have a negative COVID test 2 days before arriving in Canada!!
Well, somehow it all came together and we head to the airport with Tracy taking Ginger and me. Just one little hiccup: after being dropped off and saying our goodbyes, Tracy heads back to Redington Beach. As we make it through Tampa security - X-Ray baggage, shoes off, empty pockets I notice that I have both sets of car keys and Tracy has none. I say to Ginger "If she stops, stalls or in anyway turns off the engine - there it stays". So we immediately and frantically call her and exclaim "DON'T TURN THE CAR OFF!!". She didn't and won't ... just before she planned to stop for groceries. Whew! Now the trip begins. We start out traveling Alaska's inside passage.
The United flight from Tampa to Vancouver (with one stop) went very smoothly. We overnight in the River Rock Casino and transport by taxi to the Cruise ship the next day. Now the fun begins: we have 2+ hours check-in lines, followed by health document(s) checkin, customs, and finally security check. We notice almost everything is app driven and most travelers have one hand or carry on and their mobile phone in the other hand. Once we are through all checkpoints - it's clear 'sailing' until we walk on board are scanned again to proceed to our room. Now we get to know the ship, where to eat and relax. 3300 guests and 2500 crew and staff!
Saturday we cruise all day to Ketchikan, Ak. Established in 1885, Ketchikan became known as "Alaska's first city" due to its strategic position at the southern tip of the Inside Passage, connecting the Gulf of Alaska to Puget Sound. Ketchikan reportedly has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles, found throughout the city and at four major locations. We first noticed that the heart of the town and shopping is along Ketchikan Creek, which flows through the town (and where the town got its name). If you're lucky and walk looking up in the trees, you may catch a glimpse of the national bird of the United States of America - the bald eagle.
Wikipedia - Ketchikan
Juneau had been a fishing ground for the Auke (A'akw Kwáan) and Taku tribes, who had inhabited the surrounding area for thousands of years. It was the A'akw Kwáan village and also burial grounds. Although the Russians had a colony in the Alaska territory from 1784 to 1867, they did not settle in Juneau. They conducted extensive fur trading with Alaskan Natives of the Aleutian Islands and Kodiak. Initial exploration by Europeans deemed the waterways unnavigable. Real notoriety came when Jon Juneau and others found gold nuggets in 1879. Juneau is the 3rd largest municipality by area in the United States. It is the Capital of Alaska and we learned that it can only be accessed by boat or seaplane.
We found the town be a working, middle class town. Modest homes and shops. Today, tourism provides a large part of its economy. Besides the waterfront, Juneau has an historic section - South Franklin Street, a district where some buildings date from the early 1900s and have since been turned into bars, gift shops, and restaurants.
Wikipedia - Juneau
Access to Juneau - Alaska Car Transport
Our itinerary had planned for us to be in Skagway. On July 25th it was reported in Alaskan Public Media that "A new report compiled by geotechnical engineers shows that Skagway’s busiest cruise ship dock is at significant risk for rockslides impacting the dock, moored ships, cruise ship passengers and workers." A nearby option was initiated - visit the town of Sitka.
History: After Russian explorers settled Old Sitka in 1799, there were several years of wars with Tlingit warriors. Sitka was finally designated the capital of Russian America. The original Cathedral of Saint Michael was built in Sitka in 1848 and became the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church. Sitka was the site of the transfer ceremony for the Alaska purchase on October 18, 1867.
When the announcement was made that our new destination was Sitka, we learned of an excursion that guaranteed we would view sea lions, otters, whales and other creatures, so we signed up and hopped on board. As it turned out the excursion was well worth the time and money, as we saw lots of marine life and captured hump back whale photos. A very cold 3-4 hours, but very exciting. Upon returning to the dock, we did a little exploring of this Russian town and learned of some history.
Wikipedia - Sitka
Today and tomorrow we have a front row seat to view the glaciers at Glacier Bay and College Fjord from our stateroom balconies. The weather was rather wet and cold, but with our stateroom 4 feet away, all was good.
Glacier Bay National Park covers 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords. It, along with College Fjord, were together one of our top highlights of Alaska's Inside Passage. The views were unbelievable - huge mountains of ice, sea lions ‘backstroking’ to the ever so large vertical glacier. As we entered the Bay, the initial ice flows/glaciers were unimpressive, until we saw the main attraction - a tourist boat positioned in front of the massive ice flow.
As the National Park Service states "Glacier Bay's story is one of dynamic change in the wake of dramatic glacial movements. Glacier Bay collects many glaciers flowing from the tall surrounding mountains with abundant snowfall. Also, as recently as 1750 a single glacier thousands of feet thick filled what is now a 65-mile long fjord. This glacial retreat has exposed a resilient land that hosts a succession of marine and terrestrial life."
College Fjord is surrounded by magnificent glaciers that make their way into and through the Chugach Mountains and flow down over the hills and towards the water, making it look like frozen waterfalls. The glaciers in it are named after American Ivy League colleges ... Harvard Glacier, Barnard Glacier or Wellesley Glacier. The first one is the largest and at the furthest point of the fjord, and one of those still advancing towards the waters of the Gulf of Alaska.There are others still coming down the steep-sided valleys towards the sea, but they melt faster than they move. Even though some have retreated, other glaciers have continued their movement cycles, almost totally untouched by man. These glaciers remain as pristine as they were in the 1890s.
National Park Service - Glacier Bay
Princess - Glaciers College Fjord
Travel Hacking Life - College Fjord
Considered the most isolated town in the USA, Whittier was originally a military base with access via a one way rail-auto tunnel allowing one-way travel every 30 minutes. The Army maintained Whittier until 1960, leaving behind the 14-story Begich Towers, where most of Whittier’s 300 residents live today. Since Whittier was once a military base, few tourist or residential facilities and services are available. We were passing through, but learned the tunnel is one way in or out and was built in 3 months using the rock structure as the walls. We arrived at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we viewed bears, wolves, moose and more … and of course shops. Then it’s on to Anchorage
Travel Alaska - Whittier
Business Insider - The most Isolated Town (access only through a tunnel)
Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel - Longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America!
Town Resident's Home - Begich Towers
History ... Captain James Cook was among the first European explorers to map the Alaskan coastline, and features which still bear the names he gave them. Cook was searching for the fabled Northwest Passage. On May 15, 1778, after enduring weeks of hard weather, Cook turned into an inlet between two landmarks and anchored his ship, at a place he called "Anchor Point" (later named "Anchorage").
We arrive at the Visitors Center to drop off our ‘carry-on’ bags to have time to explore downtown. We did with disappointment. The main street (4th St) is seriously in need of security and a commercial uplift. The homeless were camped on benches and in small parks, no police in sight anywhere, with unknown/unlicensed individuals claiming to be tour personnel on several corners. Since downtown had little to offer, we have dinner and turned in early at the Captain Cook Hotel - the hotel that our president's stay when in town.
Wiki - Anchorage
We move closer to Denali, the highest elevation in North America. Some say Everest is higher at 26,000 ft however, Mt Everest starts at about 16,000+ ft above sea level, where Denali's base is at elevation 2,000 ft. for a mountain a little over 20,000 ft elevation. The lodge overlooks Mt McKinley (Denali as of 2015) but clouds, rain and fog prevent us from viewing. Our hosts say that only 60-70 days a year the mountain is visible.
We board our coach for a two hour ride to the rail depot where we get on board for a 4hr rail ride to Denali. The train provided observation dome view, allowing us to see the Alaskan landscapes. Viewed along the way - Wal Mikes store in Trapper, Talkeetna, Trapper Creek Post Office, Flag train once a month, Sherman 2-person town Mary & Clyde Lovell, manual switch off to the siding 80% manual switching to siding for other train.
In Denali, our excursion provided a film history and a walking tour. We learned more about pink/red fireweed signaling winter in 6 weeks, viewed Denali National Park with multiple stops on the 4-5 hr rail trip. Denali is the only park to use sled dogs to manage and protect the park in the winter. It is closed to vehicular traffic, but not closed to backpackers and hikers. There is no direct view of Denali, but great history via the movie. We toured the Park’s dog sled kennels to see mushing dogs, puppies and sled demo, Ginger uses the outdoor restroom and almost puked from the smell. Rowdy wins the pup Iditarod race.
Sherman Alaska - City Hall
Mary and Clyde Lovell - The Only Sherman Residents
Flag Train - Alaskan Rail
Wiki - 1925 Serum Run to Nome (1st Iditarod) and Movie
Later in the second day we pack-up and leave for Fairbanks. Our coach driver Parker, was the best young man - great sense of humor and very personable. Along the route, we saw the bus from the movie ‘Into the Wild’ and during our travel to the next excursion, we learned about Alaska’s history. We boarded the River Boat and enjoyed a very pleasant tour along river, viewing homes, learning the area history, etc. The boat paused several times but the two memorable stops were Susan Butcher home (deceased) 2nd woman to win the Iditarod https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iditarod_Trail_Sled_Dog_Race winner) for a dog sled lecture and demo of sled run by her husband with dog training explanations. Next was an example of a wilderness Village - explanations and demo’s of fishing, construction hunting skills, bush life etc.
Susan Butcher and Granite - The Story
Flight is scheduled for 10:00 pm departure and check-out is set for 11:00 am. We decide to extend checkout and then use the lobby for reading and photo editing. Our shuttle departure to Fairbanks International (6 gates, 6 food stand, 2 snack vending machines) is 7:00 pm - no if's ands or buts since our baggage is prepped for our 7:00 pm airport arrival.We arrive at the airport, check-in and go through security quickly. We catnap in the gate area, board the plane and take off for Minneapolis. Arrive at Minneapolis, exit the plane and shuffle over to Gate 20 - Tampa ... as the plane is boarding. We hop on and we are on the last leg of a awesome 2-week Alaskan adventure. Tracy picks us up and we head home. Its great to be home!
* * * * * * * Resources and Links used for this post on our Alaskan Adventure * * * * * * *
Alaskan Railroad https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Railroad
Alaskan Highways https://www.motoquest.com/ramblings-from-the-road/brief-history-alaskas-highway-system/
Butcher (interview) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJfFRjaDRtM
Denali Dog Sled Kennels https://maps.roadtrippers.com/us/anchorage-ak/attractions/denali-sled-dog-kennels
Dog Sled Race https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iditarod_Trail_Sled_Dog_Race
Into the Wild https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Wild_(film)
Into the Wild Movie Movie https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1051656473/?playlistId=tt0758758&ref_=tt_ov_vi
Libby Riddles 1st Woman Iditarod winner (on cruise)
Nenana Ice Classic https://www.nenanaakiceclassic.com/
Permafrost - Alaska is weakening https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/weather/2019/12/17/as-alaska-permafrost-melts-roads-sink-bridges-tilt-and-greenhouse-gases-escape/
Riverboat Discovery and Bush Pilot and Chena Village Museum https://www.riverboatdiscovery.com/
Sherman Pop 2 the Lovells https://wanderingdawgs.com/tag/sherman-alaska-city-hall/
Tundra https://www.alaska.org/advice/tundra <https://www.alaska.org/advice/tundra>
Wal*Mikes in Trapper Creek https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/alaska/wal-mikes-ak/