When ever I get a chance to talk about Alaska, my excitement level just goes next level because I simply love the place. It is hands down my favourite destination due to the diversity of what you see, learn and experience. I am so keen to take my family back to do it all again. Its just BEAUTIFUL and if you’re a nature lover you’ll love it too.
I flew from Sydney to Los Angeles with Virgin Australia. I loved their mood lighting – such a nice touch. I’m not one for sleeping on planes so isle seat is totally for me ‘cause I do laps whilst all of you are sleeping. The flight had a good movie selection and standard leg room. Everyone is looking their non-best walking into customs at 6am but one flight and the hard yards are done. I had a connecting flight with Alaska Airlines into Vancouver so day one is done and dusted.
I had the privilege of staying at Fairbank Hotel Vancouver for the night. The Fairbanks hotels are five star hotels where you want for nothing. My room was incredibly spacious. The king bed seemed larger (maybe ‘cause I had it to myself?), the sheets silky smooth and the room was furnished with plush touches. The bathroom was a roman temple of marble. The hotel is located in the heart of the city so restaurants and shops are within easy walking distances. But really I had no time to explore because I was off onto a floating hotel.
Welcome aboard the Island Princess (max 2,200 passengers so smallish in their fleet). I was sharing an obstructed oceanview cabin with a co-worker so we had twin bedding which made the cabin a little smaller than with a queen bed but beyond that it was excellent. There was ample storage room. The wardrobe is in between the bathroom and the main living area and gives you ample space to hang/store all your clothes and also your large luggage bags. (as well as some privacy whilst getting changed)
Day two of the Princess cruise was an opportunity to get to know the ship, listen to the commentary of whale spotting, and become educated at one of their seminars at sea. I became familiar with all the shore excursions available for the up and coming ports. As shore excursions are limited I highly suggest you go to these if you haven’t booked prior to boarding. There is a 99% chance that you aren’t the only ship in port when you arrive so get in whilst you can. I booked all my shore excursions on day two so I didn’t have to worry about it …. and I didn’t have the time cause I was to too busy exploring!
Our first stop, like all Inside Passage cruises, was the township of Ketchikan. You can walk off the ship and into town no probs. I went for some cultural educational here and visited the Totum Heritage Centre as well as the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery & Eagle Centre. I learnt all about Totem poles and the local culture as well as witnessing someone creating one. Then I was on to learn about a Salmon hatchery – how it worked, how many salmon they produced and release back into the wild as well as meeting a couple of local eagles. Just in case I don’t manage to catch them in the wild…. I was hedging my bets.
At dinner I heard all about the other tours that people experienced and I have to say people were RAVING about the Bering Sea Crab Fishermans Tour. Good enough of a reason to come back… this one books out so be sure to confirm in advance.
Day three brings Juneau. Again you can meander into the main township of Juneau if you’re keen but I packed in two tours at this port. I was keen as mustard to see Mendenhall Glacier in all her glory. So I head off to get kitted up in my hiking gear (boots, helmet & wet weather gear provided) before I boarded a helicopter and took an AMAZING scenic flight onto the Glacier itself. The group was small and our guides (all woman) took us for a walk on the Glacier. It was like another world full of crevasses and aqua streams. The water was freezing but naturally you had to taste it.brrrrr
After my flight back from what was certainly a cruise highlight, I was whisked off to a Dog Sled Summer Camp. Alaskan huskies puppies are the cutest looking fur balls – with their odd coloured blue and green piercing eyes. Here I got to learn all about the Iditarod Dog Sled Race and experienced the passion that these dogs have for running and pulling us along. They were SOOOOOO excited! If only my family was as excited when I suggest a walk in the local neighbourhood.
Day four is the township of Skagway. This little town had so much character. Again, you can walk around Skagway with too much trouble but if you’re on your own, you’re not really absorbing the locals stories about the history so take a tour. Today I took a ride on the White Pass Scenic Rail to the Canadian border – given I work for itravel with Cruise & Rail Travel… its kinda a given – I love a good train ride.
Now for most Inside Passage cruises – that’s it, you turn around and go home up the same passage…you may have a day at sea whilst you return to Vancouver… but here is where a cruisetour is different. We continue on…. to Glacier Bay.
And this is where the one way cruise from Vancouver to Whittier comes into its own. You get to extend past the townships and into more remote regions of Alaska. First stop, Glacier Bay.
Here is where you REALLY want a Balcony cabin. Today the captain raves about doing donuts legally. It’s clear they don’t get many opportunities to do this in life cause they love it. Our Island Princess spins around 360 so everyone has a view of the magnificent Glacier, no matter where you are on the ship. We watched and heard the calving of this ever evolving Glacier over a number of hours. A National Park Ranger jumped aboard and explained to the passengers the evolution of the glacier and all you need to know about the region and its history. The Rangers are open for one on one questions whilst onboard and if you have kids, they also have a whole educational programme based around the Discovery Channel because immersing yourself in the destination is what Princess is all about.
Not many cruise ships get to cruise into this area so I felt really blessed that I got to see this. College Fjord has eight tidewater glaciers all in the same area. Naturally donuts are swiftly thrown into over-drive cause there is simply so much to look at. I cannot implore customers enough just how impressive this area is. So really consider this as an option. And there ends your cruise portion but the brilliance is not over… next you get OFF the ship and explore the inner soul of Alaska.
Off the Beaten Track
The next journey depends on which cruise tour you’ve selected. If you’re venturing straight into Denali or further afield into Fairbanks, there is a good chance you’re jumping aboard a train for the next chapter. I ‘off the beaten track’ to Copper River.
To get to Copper River, I firstly took a fast cat ferry ride to Valdez. Beyond the people from the cruise, there were locals aboard so its clear this was like a local’s ferry. We were then met with a coach who took us on a gloriously long and scenic drive to the remote town of Copper River – population 2,000. I love remote regions like this – where its not uncommon to stumble across a bear. Certainly keeps your whits about you. Remote doesn’t even cover it. This is the wilderness at its best. I’m staying at a Princess Lodge. Princess own and run these lodges to ensure the service and level of accommodation is consistent with the cruiseship. All the lodges look the same and offer the same outstanding service.
I was travelling at the end of season – so late August into September which meant we were the last passengers for the season. That mean that the cook needed to clean out his fridge/freezer so the size of the Alaskan Crab was MIND BLOWING. No crab fork required here – the legs where thicker than most of my fingers. So rich and soooo yummy.
Our “shore excursion” here was a white water rafting experience. When I think white water, I think rapids, screaming, white knuckles, getting drenched, possibly falling out. Well … it was none of that. I wasn’t alone in those thoughts, so there was a bunch of ladies that did scream their way down the waterway…. with laughter. We saw lots of wildlife which was astounding (must of been deaf, or just curious to see what all the noise was about). The next day we were back on the bus and heading for Denali National Park
Denali National Park
Like the lodge before us, Princess Lodge Denali National Park didn’t disappoint – as part of the concierge treatment, all meals are included at the lodge AND you get a tour escort AND a luggage fairy. Truly it sounds strange I know but the luggage fairy comes to the front of your door, whisks your bag away whilst you’re touring and low and behold, its in your cabin at the next destination – like magic I tell you. Amazballs.
Now I’m not sure if you know but the only way you can enter Denali National Park is on a very unglamorous American school bus – super quirky. Our driver’s talk starts with “who on this tour is expecting to see animals – put up your hand”. The whole bus raises their hand. “Sorry to disappoint you but Denali is 6 MILLION acres in size so chances are slim.” … So she’s setting up expectations and we’re all totally bummed. But onboard the bus is a high definition video camera and screens so when the spotter (not the driver) sees some wildlife, she can zoom in for people like me who cannot for the life of her see the moose in the scrub!
Remembering its beginning of September, every day its getting colder and fall is literally happening before our very eyes. In Alaska, it doesn’t take long before summer quickly turns to winter. Every day we see a different hue of colour. So it turns out all the animals are freaking that this day is THE day to get their hustle on and find some food before the white stuff comes. So one after another we start ticking off animals (I swear I have the video to prove it… you can buy your days video footage at the end of the tour) Dall Sheep followed by some wolves, foxes, some caribou, then off in the distance bears…. then more bears, an eagle and then just as we were leaving a massive moose. Woohoo our driver called it the slam dunk of Denali and it was a first for her. PS: All the while we had clear shots of Mt McKinley. So so lucky.
So Denali National Park was my slam dunk.
The rest of the tour doesn’t matter… just joking. After this, we then had the treat of catching the train from Denali to Princess Lodge Mount McKinley where we spent just one night.
After our train ride we spent enjoying the fine food at the Princess Lodge before a presentation. Unfortunately we had no time for touring cause we were back on a bus straight to Anchorage… homeward bound.
So maybe you too can experience this great valued holiday to scenic Alaska and come home with thousands of photos like me. If you need any help at all then be sure to contact me because I’d love to talk all things Alaska with you.