Alaska – The Last Frontier

May 16, 2018
We had a nice breakfast at Mother’s Dutch Kitchen before leaving Lynden, Washington and driving to Vancouver, British Columbia where we found the parking at 999 Canada Place Way, and thus our journey began.
We arrived earlier than expected due to light traffic, which was great because it allowed us to board the ship ahead of our assigned early boarding time of 11:30 a.m. Princess schedules passenger boarding times and it was completely in our favor that our stateroom deck was assigned to board first. The garage porter took our luggage so we were pretty much hands-free and followed the small group as we were ushered ahead right to the Horizon lunch buffet… a great way to begin our onboard experience. After lunch we found our stateroom where our luggage was waiting. We giggled upon arriving at our door because Princess had posted a Happy Anniversary sign on the door and balloons were hanging nearby. Our stateroom is on the starboard side of the ship and is quite nice with a great balcony. After unpacking we began exploring the ship.
Before the ship pulled away from the dock at 4:30 that afternoon, two British Columbia pilots came onboard. As the ship thrust off the berth and into the bay, we stood at the bow with many others and watched with awe and excitement as it passed under the Lions Gate Bridge and into the Strait of Georgia. Onlookers waved bon voyage to us from atop the Bridge as we passed under.
We got in lots of steps on that first day as we continued exploring and walking from the front of the ship to the back on one deck and then another. That evening we had dinner in the Bordeaux dining room (we were on Anytime Dining) and it was very nice. We were seated (at a window) with a lovely older woman who is widowed; Lilianna told us about many of the cruises she has been on around the world. She also told us a story of a time that her husband took her to New York City and to eat at the restaurant 21. As a surprise, because he knew how much she loved dessert, before dinner he ordered one of every dessert on the menu. How sweet (literally)! Also at our table was a young couple (married 10 years) from Portland, so we had our recent travel there in common. Lastly, we enjoyed table discussion with a middle aged single woman from San Diego. She said she had planned this trip with friends who backed out at the last minute and her luggage hadn’t yet arrived. We hoped that the rest of her voyage and travel improved greatly!
May 17, 2018
At Sea on this day, but in the early morning the ship slowed and set out a ladder on the starboard side for the Pilots to disembark. Me time… I went to the Lotus Spa for a Hot Stone and Aromatherapy Massage… an excellent way to relax and realize that we are truly on an amazing vacation (thank you Cori for the Mother’s Day gift card!). Ken went to the first timers meeting and wandered around even more… that’s his thing… intelligence gathering. At lunch we ran into Lilianna again and sat with her at a window overlooking the sea as we cruised.
That evening was Formal Night and we are both happy that I talked Ken into wearing a dark suit and tie. We had a great time at dinner. At our table we were paired with a couple from Australia, a couple from San Francisco, and another couple. I didn’t hear where they were from, but in conversation we learned that they too have a motor coach and a Jeep, but they don’t travel full time like we do.
After dinner we went dancing at Crooners Bar where they had live entertainment. There were several couples who could really dance. I will include a picture where they were doing the Mambo – very lively older couples who made us both wish we had at some point in our lives taken ballroom dancing. We went next to the Casino where we played an electronic table version of Texas Holdem with six other people. I came out ahead, but I really only won some of the money that Ken lost 😂 so we moved on to Three Card Poker where once again I took back some of his loses. Good thing I’m helping, lol.
May 18, 2018
According to the ship’s log, just before 3:00 a.m. the Island Princess crossed the US/Canada border and entered Alaskan Waters and took on a South East Alaska Pilot at the Frederick Sound station; this is a fact that we knew nothing of as we slept soundly throughout the process. At noon, we came into Icy Strait Point and passengers were tendered off the port side onto a dock platform via a gangplank. We didn’t book a shore excursion for this port, but we went ashore and wandered through the salmon factory museum and shops. We enjoyed spending time outdoors and caught site of a whale from the land dock. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day so we were able to go without our jacket for awhile. We watched a ziplining group and had a good laugh at the last one coming down who actually got stuck over the viewing area before making it to the finish (photo included)!
May 19, 2018
“Island Princess entered Juneau harbor and commenced swinging her bow to starboard at 07:25.” I include this note and others from the ship’s official log book because it really brings it home for me that we were in fact cruising the Inside Passage. After cruising all night, this morning we arrived at the Franklin Dock in the capital of Alaska. Juneau looked interesting and like much more than I expected of Alaska – it’s a real city. Today’s shore excursion took us 14 miles by motor coach from port to the amazing Mendenhall Glacier. As a side note, we learned that the highway here is 88 miles in length and there is a sign at each end that reads: “The End.” Also, according to our driver, there are only three ways to get to Juneau: 1) by air, 2) by sea, or 3) by birth canal.
The U.S. Forest Service operates the Visitor Center there, which was renovated in 1999. Rangers offered a couple of programs, but the movie really provided a great history of the Glacier. We walked the short trail to the photo/viewing area and found the entire experience to be jaw-dropping and left us giddy with the thought that we were here and seeing it in person. Once we arrived back downtown we rode the tramway up to Mount Roberts, which has the best views of the downtown area and the port. Lunch was at the Taku restaurant and the highlight was the Clam Chowder! And, last but not least, was a stop in to the Red Dog Saloon for a cold brew and live entertainment by a raunchy old timer with an interesting spin on Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille.”
After another lovely day of full sunshine and warm 60 degree weather we reluctantly came back onboard the ship and spent a little time getting ready for dinner. We opted for the Bordeaux Dining Room again because the menu offered surf ‘n turf and happily we met a group of three people traveling together (Erin, Mark, and his mother). Erin and Mark are from Bellingham, Washington near Lynden, which is where we were staying before the cruise. Interestingly, they too recently sold their home and are now traveling full time. We wished them well on their adventures! And, as we wandered around enjoying the sights and nightly entertainment, the Island Princess began its northbound passage to Skagway. I might add here that we spent a little more time in the Casino and Ken exhibited amazing talent and willpower so that we left the table as winners on this night!
May 20, 2018
Once inside “the Taiya Inlet… at 5:15 a.m. we rang ‘Standby Below’ as we made our final approaches to Railroad Dock.” Today’s shore excursion had us traveling by motor coach from the port at Skagway, Alaska to Fraser, Canada. We stopped at the border and the Canadian Border Patrol came onboard the coach and checked our passports. By the way, we learned today how Canada got its name. When trying to decide on the name, they put all the letters of the alphabet into a bag and drew out random letters. As the caller pulled out letters, he said them out loud, as follows: “C aye, N aye, D aye.“
When we arrived at the White Pass and Yukon Railway Station in Fraser, we got off the bus and onto the narrow gauge railroad vintage rail car #304 Copper River for a scenic ride back to historic Skagway. We traveled to the summit (by bus) at about 3,000 feet and then back down to sea level on the train along steep grades of almost 3.9% through two tunnels and enjoyed seeing many waterfalls and snowmelt runoffs. The view included an old railroad trestle from the late 1800’s.
When the train arrived back in the U.S., the American Border Patrol checked us back in. Once back in Skagway we transferred back onboard the coach and went to an encampment named Liarsville, which was named as such because of the embellishments of the newspaper reporters who were forced by their employers to tell favorable stories rather than the actual grim tales as told by the defeated and suffering returning prospectors.
Upon arriving in Liarsville, we were greeted by actors dressed in period costumes telling us stories and singing while we enjoyed a grilled salmon buffet luncheon. Next, we moved over to a church shelter and enjoyed more stories and entertainment. After the show we received a gold panning demonstration before trying our hand at it. May I say here that Ken and I did not get wealthy today.
The motor coach took us from Liarsville to the Red Onion Saloon in downtown Skagway where we were greeted by a Madam and taken inside for a drink and a tour of the historic brothel above the saloon. This was our kind of day!
May 21, 2018
This morning, at a quarter of six, our ship entered Glacier Bay National Park and took onboard three Park Rangers. “As we slowly navigated through the spectacular scenery, the Rangers provided information and a running commentary about the area, its history and its wildlife.” Ken and I soaked up all that we could of this remote and dynamic area that was once all glacier, but today consists of less than a dozen smaller tidewater glaciers located along the bay.
One of the most exciting aspects of the visit was that the Rangers traveled from their land-based location to us on a smaller vessel that pulled alongside the Island Princess, and using a ladder, they climbed aboard.
Our ship then began the voyage into Glacier Bay as far north as Tarr Inlet and we spent more than an hour with an up close and personal view of Margerie Glacier. We bundled up and viewed the Glacier from the port side of Deck 7 (Promenade) and when the ship turned around to leave, we watched from our stateroom balcony, which was a tad bit warmer. We watched and listened as some sections of the glacier broke loose and crashed into the water below causing a thunderous noise. This normal process is called calving and we were captivated by it.
After Margerie, we turned around and went to Jaw Point in Johns Hopkins Inlet, but the fog prevented us from seeing the glacier there. At 3:00 p.m. we watched the Park Service boat come alongside and, just like stuntwomen, the Rangers disembarked by ladder and sped away in their small boat. The Island Princess then began a “north westerly course across the Gulf of Alaska towards Prince William Sound”.
A short two hours later and passengers had transformed themselves for formal night. We traded our hats and coats for suits and dresses and had a splendid meal of Beef Wellington and lobster tails while enjoying lively conversation with new friends. After dinner we found ourselves in front of the photographer once again for another round of pictures.
It’s hard to believe that our last day of cruising was the next day, but the fun didn’t end there because we still had the land portion of this amazing adventure!
May 22, 2018
After steaming across the Gulf, we entered Prince William Sound and “At 14:45 two South West Alaska Pilots boarded at Bligh Reef pilot station”. Spending a leisurely morning at sea was the best fun starting with breakfast in the Bordeaux Dining Room. The couple we sat with have dual citizenship, but originally they were from Toronto, Canada. Kim and Stan have cruised more than 40 times, and it seems like everyone we came in contact with has cruised multiple times. We are looking forward to our next cruise.
After breakfast we played a trivia game, and I played Bingo while Ken wandered the shops and did more intelligence gathering. In the evening the ship cruised the scenic waters of College Fjord and we spent much of that time viewing the stunning glaciers from our balcony. After dinner we returned to our stateroom and began the process of organizing and packing for the land portion of our Alaska adventure, which began early the next morning.
May 23, 2018
The ship arrived at the Whittier Cruise Terminal just after midnight. We woke up at 4:30 a.m. and had an early breakfast before meeting in the Explorer Lounge at 6:15 a.m. for our final disembarkation from the Island Princess. After a quick walk down and along a gangway, we boarded the Alaska Railway train for a 4.5 hour ride to Talkeetna, but our first stop was two hours later at Anchorage, which is where Princess representatives came onboard and gave us our packets for the first leg of the land tour. We shared a booth on the train with a couple from Sarasota, Florida. Art and Meena Bolton were great and we hit it off with them, which was good since it was a long trip, lol. It seemed funny to us that the four of us never did see any wildlife while all around us others on the train saw moose and bears. We did see several Bald Eagles as the train bumped and swayed its way along through wilderness and the occasional small community.
Talkeetna is a famous township for many reasons (mountaineering, three rivers converge there, and the town’s mayor is a cat). At the train station we transferred to a waiting motor coach and arrived in town 10-minutes later. Talkeetna really doesn’t look like much; it’s kind of dirty and rough around the edges like I expected Alaska to look. The first order of business was to find a lunch spot and then walk to K2 Aviation for our flight seeing and glacier landing excursion. Unfortunately, rushing through a late lunch and hot-footing it to K2 didn’t help because the planes were flying, but not landing on the glacier because of low clouds. Ken and I were very disappointed because we really wanted to land on a glacier and get out and walk around. The silver lining in those low-lying clouds is that we received a full refund. We could have chosen a partial refund and taken just the flight on the single engine plane, but we weren’t feeling it so we passed and took the next coach on to the Princess McKinley Lodge.
The hour long coach ride was miserable, cold and damp. Some passengers actually had water dripping on them from the windows. We didn’t get wet, but I was so cold that I had a backache and I thought my feet would never warm up. Fortunately, there is a Starbuck’s at the lodge, so we grabbed a cup, sat down to look out at the view (and hopefully see the mountain), and ended up talking with a lovely couple (Conni and Alan) from Fresno, CA. Funny how small our world is because Conni had family in a small Missouri town named Flucom, which is very near DeSoto, where Ken grew up! We traded stories and shared memories that made us laugh and Alan very kindly asked us to join them for dinner. The next thing I knew it was practically 10 p.m., and remember, we got up at 4:30 that morning!
May 24, 2018
Fortunately, we didn’t have to get up as early this morning. And we had a good night’s sleep, but it was another travel day so we were up at 6:30 a.m. and in line at the restaurant for a table and breakfast by 7:30. It turned out that Meena and Art (the couple we met on the train) were ahead of us in line and they invited us to share their table. Other than slow coffee service, breakfast was good and the company was even better!
By the end of breakfast we noticed that the clouds were clearing and there was a possibility that Mt. McKinley might be viewable, so we went out on the deck and waited, but as is normal, the clouds only allowed us to view the smaller peaks of the Alaska Mountain Range and not McKinley itself. And then it was time to board the coach for the next stop on our land tour, Denali National Park.
I’m happy to say that this bus ride was much better than the last one. We arrived at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and settled in to our room right away. Luggage doesn’t travel with you on the land portion of the tour – it comes along separately by truck and I have to say that our luggage always arrived when they said it would… on every leg of the trip!
Lunch was good at the Grizzly Bar but we could have had better service. One thing we noticed at Denali (and later Fairbanks) is that the new seasonal employees were struggling just a bit. Shortly after lunch we boarded a National Park bus for an amazing five-hour Nature Tour. At the start of the tour, we found our driver/narrator to be awkward and stiff. Ken and I nudged each other for the first 10 minutes and giggled quietly at his halting speech, but after a while we came to accept his different pattern and were grateful for his experience. He knew all the right places to look for wildlife and patiently watched with us as we oohed and aahed over cariboo, grizzly, and a moose with her calf. The tour included a meet and greet with a young Athabascan woman named Cheyene who wore beautiful hand made clothing. She also wore a beautiful handmade head dress and earrings. Cheyene enamored us with the history of her native people.
As mentioned, when we returned to the lodge our luggage was waiting for us in our room and we kept dinner simple with pizza and beer.
May 25, 2018
We were up early and had a good breakfast at the Music of Denali Theatre, which was loosely set up to give you the experience of eating at a miner’s camp while a black and white camp movie played on a large screen. After breakfast, we boarded a coach and headed to Fairbanks. Our driver (Patty) delivered an interesting narrative and we saw wildlife along the way. Halfway to Fairbanks we stopped at Nenana for a snack break at a native museum and photos along the river. After a moose sighting we arrived at our stop in Fairbanks along the Chena River.
Off of the bus and onto the Discovery III riverboat and along the Chena River we went. Entertainment included a bush pilot who drove his small 1950’s Piper Cub on the river back and forth alongside the riverboat as though the Chena was a landing strip. He flew into the sky and looped around and landed next to us on the water. What a show! The Discovery III took us to a living museum of an Athabascan Indian fish camp. We disembarked and spent some time there where native interpretors guided us through the camp, gave demonstrations, and told us of their history.
After the boat ride we got back on the coach and were delivered to our hotel. We stayed at the Westmark in downtown Fairbanks. Dinner that night was a feast of crab legs and a wonderful brownie sundae.
May 26, 2018
After breakfast we walked to the downtown area and visited the cultural center and strolled along the riverwalk. Again, the weather was a nice, warm, sunny day. Although check out time was 11:00 a.m., we smartly arranged for an 8:00 p.m. check out time and that afternoon we took a nap to prepare us for a midnight flight to Seattle. We had the chance to visit with Meena and Art again and say our goodbyes; they were staying in Fairbanks for three days, which included a trip to the Arctic Circle!
One final bus ride and we were suddenly at the Fairbanks International Airport. Our vacation was coming to a close after an amazing adventure and we couldn’t be more grateful for the experience. A first for us both, we traveled first class on Alaska Airlines and loved being pampered, which included a warm wet towel served with tongs just before receiving a platter of beet infused humus and a nice alcoholic beverage – all complements of Alaska Airlines.
May 27, 2018
We arrived in Seattle at 4:30 a.m. and settled in for a five hour layover that stretched into six, but eventually we boarded for the last short leg to Vancouver. We took a waiting taxi from the airport back to 999 Canada Place Way, picked up our Jeep and headed back across the border to the U.S.
And, finally we were back in Lynden, Washington and at our motor coach, which of course is much, much different than all those we had been riding in for the last week! We quickly unpacked and started laundry, but before the second load was on the rinse cycle, I was in bed for the night and Ken followed shortly.
May 28, 2018
This morning, after a 10-hour sleep we got up early and prepped the coach for a four-day drive to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming for our next volunteer assignment.
We have more than a thousand pictures from our Alaska vacation, but don’t worry, I won’t include that many. The hard part will be keeping it under a 100, lol. (Note: actual photos included total 240+)
Hope you enjoyed this post and our Alaska adventures as much as we did!
Dorothy and Ken

Pictures from Lynden, Washington and the beginning of the Inside Passage Cruise

Icy Strait Point

Juneau, Alaska

Skagway, Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park and Margerie Glacier

Prince William Sound and College Fjord

Whittier Port, Alaskan Rail to Anchorage and Talkeetna – Coach to Mt. McKinnley Lodge

Denali National Park

Coach to Nenana Village/museum, Discovery III Riverboat, Dog Sled Camp, Athabascan Chena Fish Camp

Fairbanks and Farewell to new Friends and the Last Frontier!

 

6 Comments

  1. Dorothy, I absolutely LOVED reading about your Alaskan adventures. Tom and I took the same trip and it was just amazing! I hope to do it again some day. I look forward to reading about your next adventures!

    Like

  2. Thank you, Amy! It’s positive feedback like yours that motivates me to share our stories. I’m happy to hear that you and Tom also traveled to Alaska… it’s such an unforgettable and unique place.

    Like

  3. Hi Dorothy,
    Wow, I feel like I’ve just taken the best cruise ever! I’m worn out just reading about it. Your detail is amazing….thanks for sharing! I hope we can take a vacation like that someday. You two kids keep having great adventures!!!
    Take care!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s