Like many people, we took our first cruise to Alaska only to be consumed by the desire to return. There was so much more that we wanted to see. The first seven-day cruise just whet our appetite for the “Great Land.” We did eventually go back in August on a Princess cruise tour consisting of four days on land and a seven-day cruise. Some of you have probably done this same trip, or something similar, since all the mainstream cruise lines offer a large choice of 3-11 day land tours combined with a seven-day cruise. For those of you who haven’t, here is our story.
Our trip started very early in the morning since we had to be at the airport around 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. flight to Seattle, where we grabbed an early lunch (no meals on the airplanes anymore). From there, we flew to Anchorage, ate an early supper and then boarded a flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
That flight alone was worth the pre-dawn start and long day changing planes three times. On the left side of the plane were numerous glaciers stretched along valleys, while on the right side a spectacular mountain, which I can only assume was Denali, since its peak was higher than the plane was flying.
Our plane to Fairbanks was a combination cargo/passenger plane, sectioned off into the two areas. We finally got to the first overnight stop at the quaint River’s Edge Resort.
The sun was shining brightly at 9 p.m., but we were so exhausted that we only managed to crawl into bed. The next morning we had a wonderful buffet breakfast before boarding the Alaska Railroad for the trip to Denali.
One word of warning, although we were encouraged to sleep in and eat breakfast on the train, I’m glad we did not since it would have been late morning before the second half of the observation car was seated in the small dining area. After a four-hour scenic train ride, we arrived at Princess Denali Lodge for two nights.
We ate a quick lunch and then had a five-hour bus trip into the park for a natural history tour with the prospect of viewing wildlife. We saw some moose and sheep high up on the hills. But the fall colors at the end of August were absolutely breathtaking. Deep reds, golden aspen, the dark green of fir trees were in the taiga, and even the tundra was pretty. I just sat there thinking, “It’s so beautiful.” There is the availability of a nine-hour bus trip to the end of the road in Kantishna, with an overnight stay, and a nine-hour bus trip back out of the park. I’m glad we took the shorter route.
After another long day, we had a wonderful meal in the King Salmon restaurant on the lodge property. Another word of warning: the meals are not included on the land portion of a cruise tour, and it’s not cheap to eat in the lodge eateries, but there is often no other choice. The following morning we went into the park again to the visitors center and bookstore, where I could have spent the whole day. We also managed to see a dog sled demonstration by the park sled dogs; this is the preferred means of transportation for ranger patrols in the park in winter.
Then at noon, we boarded the train again for the long ride to Talkeetna, where we transferred to a bus for the hour-long ride to Princess Mt. McKinley Lodge. It was raining most of that afternoon, but the scenery on the train was wonderful anyway. Mt. McKinley was shrouded in clouds. They say that only 25 percent of the tourists get to see the “High One.” This third long day had us skipping dinner and dragging ourselves into bed. Now if you know Kelly and me, you know that for us to miss a meal, we had to have been dead tired. Not that there was not plenty to do at the lodge in the evening. Our friends went to one show and promptly slept through it all.
Guess what we did after breakfast the next day? One-hour bus trip back to the train, and the longest train ride yet. Thankfully, our friends had a deck of cards. We did eat lunch on the train that day, but not until around 3 p.m. I was just longing to get on the ship in Whittier so we could completely relax. No wonder we urge our clients to do the land portion first, then the cruise. It is more expensive that way, but at least you have time to recharge. The first day of the cruise was sailing Glacier Bay. There was some rain in the morning, but a glorious sunset made up for it. Then there were the usual daylong ports of call at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan, and one day of scenic cruising before docking in Vancouver.
However, there is so much that we still want to see and do. As much as I love cruising, the next trip to Alaska will be an independent land trip. I was so enthused about Alaska, that when I got home I completed the Alaska certified expert agent training course, which covers things to do and see across the whole state. It’s humbling to realize that in 11 days we only saw a small portion. Therefore, the sirens are calling me back to Alaska. More about our 49th state next time.
All the 2010 cruise and land tour brochures are in, and it’s time to start thinking about your trip to the Great Land. Remember, we provide free advice on your many options. I would urge you to “be loyal, buy local.” Cruise Port Travel, (928) 472-7878 or (877) 949-7678, www.travelpayson.com.