back home

August 28, 2009 to September 15, 2009 - Alaska Cruise & Tour

Patty and I did a trip to Alaska in June 2000, which is a long time ago, so we decided to do it again.  This time it is a few days in Vancouver, a one week cruise up the inside passage and a one week car tour of parts of Alaska.  The itinerary is here.  A map of the car tour is here.  You can watch selected photos here and then read about the trip below.

You can also watch the slideshow in full-screen mode.  Click here to open the Picasa viewer, then click the Slideshow button in the upper left of the page.  If you roll your cursor over the slideshow, a toolbar will appear allowing you to view the pictures one at a time, go forward or backward or change the duration of each picture.  Now here's the log of the trip.

Friday, Aug 28 (travel to Vancouver) - The day started with me hiding my car in Patty's garage, and then loading all our bags in Debbie's car (thanks) for the ride to the airport.  Check-in was simple on Northwest and we settled into our first-class seats for the first leg to Memphis.  A plane change in Memphis and off we go.  After takeoff, when we would normally be climbing to the flight levels, we leveled off at about 3000 feet and started a slow right turn back to the airport.  We learned that a warning light indicated that a baggage door was not completely closed, so we would be returning to Memphis.  After about 30 minutes in the air, we landed without incident, waited another hour for the crew to resolve the warning (indicator problem), and finally took off for LA and another plane change.  The extra time had us missing our connection, but there was another flight later in the evening, which we made.  The last leg got us to Vancouver near midnight local time (3 hours later), but all of our bags arrived with us and we were still able to get the car and get to the hotel, which had a small balcony to look over the city.

Saturday, Aug 29 (Vancouver) - After a good breakfast at the hotel, we drove through much of Vancouver to Stanley Park.  We found parking and made our way to the Vancouver Aquarium, where we saw the popular sea otters, the dolphin show and the beluga whales.  We also went into the exhibit hall that had displays about sharks, jellyfish, little worm-like things that live in the sand, butterflies and water-fowl, and lots of kinds of fish.  After retrieving the car, we drove part way around the park and watched a couple of cruise boats pass under the Lion's Gate Bridge.  Back in town, we found a place to park and walked to the Old Spaghetti Factory in the Gastown section.  After dinner, we were treated to a performance by the Gastown Steam Clock before heading back to the hotel.

Sunday, Aug 30 (Vancouver) - Another good breakfast and we were ready to go a little south to the town of Steveston and the Vancouver Whale Watch office.  We were given foul weather gear and instructed to the boat for a 3-hour tour of the Fraser River, the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands near Victoria.  The Orca whales were out, but we did not see any jump, and there were seals on the way back.  After getting off the boat, we walked through a small festival in town, including a group of Irish dancers and a little kid doing an imitation of MJ.  A short drive got us back to the hotel, from which it was a short walk to the northern part of Minoru Park.  Dinner was at Boston Pizza in Richmond, and beers later came from the BC Liquors store around the corner.

Monday, Aug 31 (board the Island Princess) - Yet a third good breakfast left us ready to re-pack our bags, drag them down to the street, load them into the car and drive through Vancouver again to the cruise boat dock at Canada Place.  Princess had set up a pretty convenient luggage drop-off and then the rental car return was in the same parking garage.  Next was the cruise check-in and getting on the boat and to our mini-suite.  Checking out the boat, the sail-away party, dinner and the first show filled the rest of the day.

Tuesday, Sep 1 (onboard) - This was a "day at sea", cruising the inside passage between Vancouver and Alaska.  Nothing much happened except a lot of relaxing and the first formal dinner.

Wednesday, Sep 2 (Ketchikan) - Our first day in Alaska featured a Duck Tour, a ride on a kind of tour bus that could go in the water.  Before this tour, we found a beer shop across the street from the boat and were able to resupply our refrigerator.  The tour bus worked its way around the town, stopping to show us Creek Street, and the salmon in the creek.  We then found the boat ramp at the marina and just drove down it into the water.  A short trip across the channel brought us to a tree containing two eagles - one appeared to be a baby of the other, even though they were both about the same size.  Returning to the ramp, the bus simply drove out of the water and back to the cruise boat.  After lunch, we took a short walk through the shopping area to the center of town, and back, before departing for our next stop.

Thursday, Sep 3 (Juneau) - Our stop in Alaska's capital was overcast and rainy, so we didn't stay outside much.  We did take a powerboat ride with Captain Larry on the Orca Odysea to a place with lots of humpback whales.  We were not disappointed.  Upon returning to the boat, we were greeted by Libby Riddles, an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion in 1985.  She gave a talk later about the race and the dogs.  She was the first female to win the race.  It was cool hearing from a real musher.

Friday, Sep 4 (Skagway) - Our third stop featured a ride on a real steam engine train from the station in Skagway up the side of a mountain and into Canada.  This railroad was built over 26 months from 1898 to 1900 in response to the Klondike Gold Rush.  It climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles, through two tunnels and over many bridges.  Our engine for this trip was #69, built for this railroad in 1907.  Again, we were not disappointed in this excursion.

Saturday, Sep 5 (cruising Glacier Bay National Park) - Early the next morning we found ourselves cruising into Glacier Bay National Park.  I think I heard that this is the only U.S. national park that one cannot drive to - there are no roads in this part of Alaska.  The weather this day was fantastic, clear blue skies and no wind.  We took lots of pictures as the cruise boat just drifted near the big glaciers.  At one point, there was another cruise boat nearby, and you can see the size of it compared to the Marjorie Glacier in the photos above.  We stayed in the park until mid-afternoon, and as we were leaving, we were treated to several whale sightings near the western shore.

Sunday, Sep 6 (Gulf Of Alaska & College Fjord) - After leaving Glacier Bay, we set out across the Gulf of Alaska.  It can be windy, rough and cold in the gulf, but we did not experience this.  Our trip across the gulf was calm and foggy.  We could not see land until late in the afternoon, and were serenaded by the boat's foghorn all afternoon.  Patty took the opportunity to spend time in the casino while I packed my stuff again.  Late in the afternoon, the fog burned away and we were treated to magnificent views of the Prince William Sound coastal mountains.  While some folks were having dinner, we cruised into College Fjord which contains five tidewater glaciers, five valley glaciers and dozens of smaller glaciers.  After taking lots of pictures, we were off to dinner and the last show.

Monday, Sep 7 (Anchorage) - The trip from College Fjord to the port town of Whittier was only about 40 miles, so we were fast alongside our berth before I went to sleep.  The next morning, Princess had our bags transported to a hospitality room in Anchorage while we had breakfast, disembarked and found our bus for the ride to Anchorage.  We got to the hospitality room before noon, and had checked into our room and had lunch before 2:00.  A short bus ride to the airport to pick up the car and we were ready to go for the next week.  Late in the day, we walked a portion of the Tony Knowles Coastal Bicycle Trail, and then walked back to the Glacier Brew House for a couple of local brews.

Tuesday, Sep 8 (Chugach State Park & Talkeetna) - One more time for packing, dragging our bags from a hotel room to the street and loading them into a car, and we were out of town.  First stop was the Chugach State Park.  We left the Glenn Highway and followed the road ten miles to the glacial Eklutna Lake.  We walked a short portion of the trail, took some pictures and then retraced our steps and got back on the highway.  Next stop was in Wasilla, Sarah's home, where we found the Iditarod Race Headquarters. We toured the headquarters and museum, met some of the dogs kept there, and took a short ride on a wheeled sled behind the dogs.  Finally for this day was the ride north on the Parks Highway to the Talkeetna Cut Off and the town of Talkeetna.  Dinner was at Mountain High Pizza and the refreshments were resupplied at Nagley's Store.

Wednesday, Sep 9 (Talkeetna) - Besides just hanging out in this town, the big reason to be here was to catch a flightseeing tour to Mt. McKinley, which required relatively good weather.  This morning, the weather was not bad, but it was not good either, so we walked into town for breakfast at the Denali Brewing Company.  During the afternoon, we walked out to the airport, and strolled around a small local museum.  Several calls to the airplane people indicated that they were not doing the preferred trip this day.  So we finished off with dinner at the Twister Creek Restaurant and watched a movie in our room.

Thursday, Sep 10 (Talkeetna & Denali) - A quick walk outside showed that this was the day we waited for - no wind, sky clear and about 45 degrees.  A call to Talkeetna Air Taxi got us reservations on the first flight to the mountain, so we got ready and drove over to the airport.  The flight climbed to about 13,000 feet to get over the Alaska Range so we could see the back side of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America.  This back side, or north face, is also know as the Wickersham Wall, said to be the steepest continual vertical rise in the world, about 14,000 feet.  Returning to the front side, the pilot landed on the Ruth Glacier and we got out and walked around.  After flying back to the airport, we left town and stopped at Huskytown, a dog kennel owned by a former Iditarod competitor.  Our visit included another ride on a wheeled sled and a discussion about the equipment and the dogs.  Finally, the highway brought us to a spot near the entrance to Denali National Park and our overnight cabin.

Friday, Sep 11 (Fairbanks) - We decided to head as far north as we have ever been, to Fairbanks, and a visit to the Museum of the North.  We viewed exhibits about the polar bear, and all of the other wildlife of Alaska, and also saw a program on the northern lights. On the way back, we stopped for pizza at the Lynx Creek Pub.  Of interest, after returning to our cabin, we walked over to the camp store to find that it was closed.  In fact, we were the last guests of the season, the operators were closing the camp for the winter after we left.

Saturday, Sep 12 (travel to Homer) - It looked to be about 460 miles from Denali to Homer, our last stop on this trip, so we got a fairly early start (for being on vacation).  The drive was most pleasant, passing through the south parts of Denali Park, the Chugach State Park, Anchorage, and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  We spent about eight and a half hours on the road and arrived in Homer before dinner.  The last few miles into town was down hill with a great view of the mountain and glaciers across the Kachemak Bay.  Our hotel was actually on a spit of land that projects four miles out into the bay, so we had a great view of the boats and sea life.  This first night, we stopped at Starvin Marvin's Pizza for dinner.

Sunday, Sep 13 (Homer) - We had planned to take a nature cruise across the bay, but found out that they were closed for the season.  So we decided to just relax and watch the NFL on TV, which started at 9:00 AM in Alaska.  We had leftover pizza for lunch, and did some repacking for the trip home.  Later we drove up the hill north of town and got some good pictures of the glaciers, mountains and the spit.  We also stopped at the Salty Dawg Saloon, but didn't stay long - no service.  Dinner was at the Chart Room.

Monday, Sep14 (travel to Anchorage) - We looked forward to another 230 miles in the car to get back to Anchorage, so we stopped at McDonalds on the way out of town.  In Soldotna, we took the Kenai Spur Road into the town of Kenai, and found the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church, a Russian Orthodox church, built in 1895.  After some photos, we were back on the highway.  It was way too early to go to the airport when we got to Anchorage, so we found the Snow Goose Restaurant for dinner and some Monday Night Football.  It was then off to the airport, return the car, and submit to security.

Tuesday, Sep 15 (return home) - The only things left were the flight from Anchorage to Minneapolis (on time), the flight from Minneapolis to Tampa (on time), and the shuttle ride home.  I don't think we felt 70 degrees from Vancouver all the way back, but hanging around the shuttle terminal, it must have been 95.  What a difference.  But what a completely wonderful trip - I recommend it to everyone.