There is no better way to visit the amazing state of Alaska than doing a Cruise/Tour. Many travelers who visit Alaska do so only on a cruise ship along its’ coast, but there is so much more to see and experience. I recently had the opportunity to visit Alaska Cruise/tour destinations on a Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise sponsored trip exploring Alaska’s major interior destinations: Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Talkeetna, Seward and Anchorage. The vast expanse of the state has varied and stunning scenery not to be found anywhere else in North America.
After arriving in Fairbanks by air, we met our escort at the Pike’s Waterfront Lodge where we spent the next two nights. Pike’s Waterfront Lodge enjoys a terrific location on the Chena River, a mile from Fairbanks International airport, 2 miles from Pioneer Park and 4 miles from the University of Alaska. The hotel has rooms with flat-screen TVs, some with balconies overlooking the river, mini fridges and microwaves and most have free Wi-Fi. Rustic log cabins elsewhere on the property feature private decks, kitchenettes and sitting rooms.
After settling in, we met our motorcoach driver for the trip and drove to the Steamboat Landing where we boarded the “Discovery III”, an old fashioned paddle-wheeler, that took us on a 2 1/2 hour journey down the Chena River. We stopped by the Susan Butcher (a 4 time Iditarod champion) Kennels to see the dogs and witness a demonstration with the dogs in harness pulling an ATV. Further down the river we had the opportunity to see a bush pilot take off from the river and land on the river. There are a great many bush pilots in Alaska and for many it is the only form of transportation. We then stopped to visit a re-created Chena Indian fishing village where we enjoyed a demonstration of catching and smoking fish, how a cache is built to store food, a typical summer tent sleeping area, a typical cabin and a presentation of how the women made clothes out of furs and animal skins. That evening we went to a salmon BBQ . . .yum!
While in Fairbanks, we took the opportunity to each choose a few optional sightseeing tours for the rest of our journey. I chose the Homestead Huskey tour in Denali and a Jet Boat Adventure on the Susitna River in Talkeetna.
Before departing by motorcoach for Denali, we did a “Gold Dredge 8” Tour in Fairbanks. First we had a close up view of a portion of the Alaska Pipeline and a presentation about its’ construction, operation and upkeep. Then we boarded a replica of a narrow gauge railway and listened to the conductor tell tales of various types of gold mining enroute to the Gold Dredge. We disembarked and did some panning for gold ourselves. Panning for gold is a bit tricky, each of us panned, got a bit of gold dust and had a great time! We continued from the Gold Dredge on the motorcoach to Denali arriving at Denali Park Village, our hotel, in the late afternoon. The hotel is located in the woods by the river, a terrific setting for our stay the park. That evening I did the Homestead Huskey Tour which I would highly recommend. We drove to the husky center and home of many- time Iditarod champion Jeff King and his dogs. This is a well set up tourist site. The pick-ups and drop-offs are highly coordinated and efficient. Quite a bit of time is shared with holding and petting the puppies. There are quite a few puppies, everyone gets a turn. Then you are moved to a seating area where they give talks and demos about how the dogs are chosen and bred and what makes up a team. Then you are moved inside and Jeff gives a talk about being on the trail, shows you a sled, what he takes on the trail and wears while in the race.
The next morning we took the Denali Natural History Tour of Denali National Park, we drove to the entrance, transferred to a modified government owned school bus and visited the park. We stopped to walk to a ranger cabin, used by rangers while checking the park on snowshoes, saw some Dahl sheep up near the mountain tops, but were unable to see many animals as it snowed during the last leg of the tour.
After the park tour, we boarded our private Celebrity/RCCL car on the Wilderness Express Deluxe Dome Rail and traveled in the dome portion of the car for the next few hours to Talkeetna. We had “white table cloth service” lunch on the first level of our dome car while traveling. The scenery was stunning . . .lots of wonderful photo opportunities including spotting a mother moose with her two newborns. On arrival in Talkeetna, our motorcoach met us and took us to our hotel, the Talkeetna Lodge, a large, modern and beautifully appointed property. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Denali (formerly McKinley) from the wide verandah of the hotel. In the late afternoon, I took the Jet Boat Adventure up the river to a re-created Alaskan hunting village, toured the village to see how a typical group or family of hunters would have lived and returned back to town. A few of our group took the small plane excursion to see Mt. Denali. The photos were beautiful and those few were the only ones to see the mountain during the entire trip! Some of our group also went to local restaurants in Talkeetna, such as the Wildflower Café, for dinner.
Anchorage & Seward
We boarded the motorcoach in the morning for Anchorage where we stopped off for about an hour to tour the Alaska Native Heritage Center. This is a center created for native Alaskans to come and learn about their various tribal cultures as well as give performances to the public on native dances, sports, music and food. The state and local tribes have created a village depicting a typical homestead of each of the native tribes such as the Inuits, Tlingits, Athabascans and Aleuts. We had the opportunity to eat some “Alaskan Ice Cream” – delicious . . .and the ingredients, fruit flavored yogurt, honey, mashed bananas and a variety of frozen berries came from Costco!!! We continued on the motorcoach for a few hours down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, visiting the Alaska wildlife Conservation Center enroute. This center is devoted to the rehabilitation of native Alaskan wildlife such as the bear, reindeer and moose. It was pouring with rain, but a few hardy souls got out of the bus to take up close pictures of the bears. We arrived in the small coastal town of Seward in the late afternoon. We boarded a Kenai Fjords Day boat Cruise and cruised the islands off the coast spotting eagles and sea otters. Unfortunatly we did not see any whales! Midway through our cruise, we stopped at Fox Island for a wonderful dinner buffet before returning to the dock. We then continued on to our hotel, the Seward Windsong Lodge, located in the wilderness, a short distance from Seward and across the street from another beautiful river.
Seward, Alyeska & Anchorage
The next morning we visited the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward, an aquarium devoted to rehabilitating sealife. We continued by motorcoach on to the town of Alyeska to do a site inspection of the Hotel Alyeska and took the tram ride up to the top of the mountain. There is a lovely restaurant at the top with some wonderful art, Andy Warhol pastels, some sculpture and a gorgeous view for miles around. In addition to the upscale restaurant there is a more low key restaurant, a shop and some absolutely stunning vistas of the mountains and the valleys below. We continued on to the town and had some of the best pizza for lunch, ever, at the Girdwood Brewing Company Restaurant. After lunch we continued by motorcoach, passing incredible mountain, forest, lake and river scenery on the Kenei Peninsula to Anchorage. We arrived at the Anchorage Marriott for our last night. We had a farewell reception, short meeting and overnight before returning home the next day.
I highly recommend that you do a tour of Alaska as part of your next cruise vacation to that area. Pricing for Alaska Cruise/tours are very competitive in July, august and September between both princess, Holland America and RCCL/Celebrity cruise lines.
Why Alaska Cruisetour? To experience the interior of Alaska, a geographically vast area in supreme comfort, with unique included experiences that is balanced with time to explore on your own. Questions to ask:
How much time do you have? When would you consider traveling? How many nights on land, in addition to the cruise days? Consider Fairbanks in addition to Denali?
Morris Murdock Travel