Sea Day and Saying Goodbye to New Friends

A day at sea: the perfect way to end the Best of Alaska cruisetour. A day cruising on the Crown Princess in Alaska certainly isn’t a bore, though. I admit, exhaustion took over me on the last full day of our trip. I could’ve gotten up at my standard time, but I wanted to catch the 10 o’clock comedy show the evening before. The first night we saw the comedian’s show, he was hilarious and I’m glad I caught him the second time around. So I slept in on this last day, and it felt good.

Princess-Patter-sea-day

Bored at sea? Not on the Crown Princess.

However, there were a few fun activities I missed like Zumba fitness dance class at 9 am and morning trivia at 10 am. There was also line dancing at 10:45 am and Bingo at 11:30 am.

After enjoying my last sit-down lunch served by Princess’ hardworking waitstaff (I finally had the burger I was contemplating since the start of the cruise), I made sure I would attend the Princess Grapevine Wine Tasting event. Elite members may attend this event free. A $9.50 fee applies to other guests.

Grapevine wine tasting on the Crown Princess August 1, 2014

A list of the wines we tasted.

As a wino, I think this event is worthwhile for those who seek to learn more about wine, but don’t know much.

Grapevine on Crown Princess

Dessert wine is served in the Princess shot glass, which you get to take home as a souvenir :)

Note, if you’re serious about wine already, perhaps a visit to Vines in the Piazza is a better option for you. Tapas and sushi are included with a purchase of a glass of wine. Not sure what to pair with what you’re eating? Ask your waiter for recommendations. We ended up going there later this evening to experience it. This is something I’d do over and over again on my next Princess cruise.

Today was also the day our Best of Alaska group met one last time to socialize. All the way at the top aft of the ship is Adagio, a bar and lounge that not many people are aware of. Thinking about it now, it would’ve been the perfect place to get some writing done! We learned that one of our guests won Bingo that day and at the beginning of the trip, she won a free facial! What a way to start and end a cruise!

We exchanged stories of our shore experiences and what we did on the ship. It was bittersweet. I was excited to get home to see my cat, sleep in my own bed and get back to my regular routine, but I realized I’d be saying farewell to our friends the following morning.

Best of Alaska group July 2014

We gathered at the end for one last photo. Four of us aren’t in the photo :(

I can’t say what the other Best of Alaska groups are like. Looks like they had a fantastic time, too. But I bet I had one of the best set of travelers with me. That is one of our goals on our Best of Alaska trips, though. At the end, we want everyone to feel like they’ve made new friends. I’m also willing to bet the other groups feel the same way we did.

As this trip comes to an end, I want to thank my new friends for joining me and Ian on this trip. Some of my best travel moments happened with you.

For photos of this trip, check out the album on our Facebook page.

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Zipping through the forest in Ketchikan

At the time of publishing, I am now in Vancouver. Internet on the ship was horrendous. I couldn’t connect while at sea at all, which was all day yesterday. But I still want to share my experience, so after this post, there will be another scheduled to publish tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

Ketchikan is known as the Rain Capital of Alaska, with an average annual rainfall 162 inches, but when we were there on the Best of Alaska cruisetour, not one cloud was in sight.

Ketchikan, Alaska

It was a glorious day for us in Alaska’s First City.

With the previous days’ weather typically Alaskan (overcast or raining one minute and sunshine the next, in other words volatile and unpredictable), we were thrilled to have no threat of the city’s liquid sunshine.

The Cruise Experts Travel excursion we did today was the Eagle Creek Rainforest Canopy & Zipline Expedition. I’ve gone ziplining twice before in Whistler on two different courses offered by different companies and this one we did in Ketchikan was hands down the most exhilarating.

Ketchikan Ziplining

Waiting on these platforms was scarier than actually ziplining!

We were led by the most enthusiastic guides who made us feel as safe as one can feel while hanging around at up to 350 ft above the ground.

Alaska Shore experts ziplining in Ketchikan

There zipped across 7 lines.

My heart was pounding each time I waited my turn on the platforms. I held on tight to the tree, hugging it at times as the platform swayed when someone moved. If I couldn’t get a good grip on the tree, I always had one hand on the cable that I was attached to to prevent us from falling over 300 ft to the ground.

On top of that, there was this!

Alaska Shore Excursion in Ketchikan.

We crossed, not one, but two suspension bridges.

I was dared to walk across without hands. Did I? NOPE! I know that I was harnessed to a secure cable, but one slip and we’d all be hanging in the air. My heart was about to come out of my chest when I walked across these bridges.

Oh, and if you didn’t want to go any further, the only way out of it is to be roped down from the platform, which is probably even scarier than finishing the course.

Would I do this exact excursion again? At this time, it’s too soon to say yes. Thinking about it makes my hands and feet tickle. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Let the thrill and excitement I experienced settle down a bit and ask me in a few months.

Tomorrow, is a sea day, so there will be lots of activities planned on the ship. We also gather one last time for a social function as a whole group.

For more photos, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Soaring High in Juneau, Alaska

We had another early start today, and it was another exciting day for us. We went on a helicopter tour and walked on Mendenhall Glacier! Two of our Best of Alaska guests did this excursion at the same time as us and they said it was the best shore side experience they’ve had. They did the whale watching and Mendenhall excursion afterwards and said that was fantastic, as well.

At 8:30 am, we met the excursion driver just outside our cruise terminal, at the parking lot where you’d go on the Mt. Roberts Tramway. We were whisked off to the helicopter launching pad from there.

Mt Roberts Tramway, Juneau, Alaska

Mt Roberts Tramway is where we met our driver.

After a mini city tour, we were ready to get on the helicopter and see Juneau from up above!

Mendenhall Glacier helicopter tour.

AlaskaShoreExperts.com’s Mendenhall Glacier helicopter tour.

We did our very first helicopter tour last year in Juneau on a different excursion, visiting a taller glacier with a dog sled camp located there. Walking on Mendenhall was a completely different experience. Last year, the glacier we walked on was blanketed with snow. Today, we walked on ice. Needless to say, it was slippery.

Walking on Mendenhall Glacier

Two of our Best of Alaska cruisetour guests, who also did this excursion. We were standing on 300 ft of ice!

It’s not smooth ice, though, but after a few minutes of slow and careful walking, we still proceeded with caution, but navigated our way on the ice with more confidence. There were crevasses and water running through. Definitely didn’t want to fall into any of those! The blue ice is incredible.

Mendenhall Glacier

Notice the bumpy ice, and see the freshwater glacier running through the middle of this picture.

Do you know why the glacier is blue? Well, glacier is compacted ice and when light hits highly compacted glacier ice, long wavelength colors (red) are absorbed and short wavelength colors (blue) reflect back through the ice.

Mendenhall Glacier moves forward a foot a day, but it’s constantly retreating also. What a cool and educational experience this was. Anyone who has done an excursion like this can’t say enough about it.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall glacier is the only glacier in Alaska within city limits. Beyond the ice is the city of Juneau.

Want to see more photos? Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Crown Grill and the White Pass Rail

For only $25 per person, we had dinner at the Crown Grill, Princess’ specialty dining steakhouse. Last night, I had the juiciest Kansas City striploin. You are also offered a side of seasoned salt with three to choose from. The salt I chose though, I think it was smoked chutney, gave my steak a nice change, but I found that I didn’t need it.

Crown Grill Princess Cruises

Crown Grill, Steakhouse specialty dining $25 per person.

Service was very attentive and the ambiance was fabulously quiet and not rushed. It was like you were at a 5-star restaurant on land. If you could try it once, you should. For this type of experience on land and the sort of food served, you can’t get it for $50 for two people.

Today, we were back to waking up early. Our ship is scheduled to be in Skagway from 7 am to 8:30 pm. We had an exciting excursion to get to at 8:30 am, the historic White Pass and Yukon Rail. It started off with a tour of Skagway. Now I was here last year, and explored on my own. Although that was great and we even hung out with some locals, this time around, we learned more of the history of the area.

Skagway museum

Former college for women, then a jail, now a museum.

Take this museum for example, we stumbled upon it last year (this photo was taken then, it wasn’t this sunny in Skagway today). It originally was built as a women’s college, but it didn’t last long as one. Why? Because the girls went to work in brothels! Remember, Skagway was a gold rush town. This building later became a prison and left side of this building, you actually see bars on the windows. If it weren’t for the bars, I’m not sure I’d believe it was one.

Another fun fact: Skagway got electricity before New York City!

On the way to embark on our train, the scenery was amazing. There were so many lakes! We were told that they don’t all have names because there are just so many of them! The emerald water of the lakes look like the colour of the Caribbean sea. This is the result of the glacial silt in there.

Skagway shore excursion

The scenery on our way to board the White Pass train.

It was endless scenery after scenery! What do you take a photo of? The actual train ride, where we got on in Fraser, British Columbia, Canada to make our way back into Skagway, didn’t make this any easier. I had to tell myself to stop taking photos, otherwise, I’m not experiencing it in the moment. The photos I’m sharing here are from my iPhone. So you can imagine how my photos from my camera turned out.

White Pass

White Pass Rail

white pass

White Pass Route

The White Pass Route. You can go as far as the Yukon. We took the shorter ride and only went to Fraser, BC.

It’s incredible to see this railroad that built over 100 years ago in this sort of landscape. And it was done all for the gold! In 1994, the White Pass & Yukon Route was designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. To give you an understanding of how awesome the engineering is, the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and the Panama Canal also hold this honor. Indeed, this completing this route they had to overcome design challenges, granite mountains, steep grades, cliff turns and freezing cold temperatures.

When you’re in Skagway on your Alaskan adventure, make sure to include this experience. We’re off to Juneau tomorrow. Looking forward to visiting Alaska’s capital city again!

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Glacier Viewing Days: Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park

Heading to Whittier to board the Crown Princess, we were relieved that we’d be unpacking only once more for the rest of our trip, but sad that we’d be leaving Jen and Mike, our Tour Director and Driver, respectively. They did a splendid job, giving an inside look at life in as an Alaskan.

The group we’re traveling with is fantastic, too. Always on time for our activities and over the 5 days, we’ve become friends. You’d think that on a ship carrying about 3,000 people, you wouldn’t see much of each other afterward, but we’ve been bumping into some of our friends nearly every time we’re in a public space. It’s fun exchanging what we’ve been up to, what we’re doing and what we plan to do later on. Bumping into old friends on the ship, that’s what it’s like. That’s what it is.

Formal night Alaska Cruise Crown Princess

Bumped into some of our friends on the first formal night.

Our ship arrived at Hubbard Glacier yesterday afternoon and today we’re in Glacier Bay. After the land portion of our trip, these two relaxing days is very much welcomed by everyone in our group!

Ian and I are in an oceanview room this time around, and it has turned out to be a lot more comfortable than we had anticipated. During the times we want to hear commentary, we’d turn on our television.

crown princess e419 oceanview

Oceanview stateroom.

Those with a balcony stateroom have their own private viewing deck. Regardless, even if this is the case for you, I recommend you go outside your stateroom for a bit. It’s a different experience, especially the Lido Deck where you’re engulfed by towering peaks and have views that take your breath away in a panoramic setting.

Alaska glacier viewing

It’s been drizzling the last couple of days and Alaska simply looks stunning. The clouds hovering the mountains give the area a mysterious feel. Having visited Glacier Bay when it was sunnier out, I suppose you can never really be disappointed in the scenery, rain or shine, but I almost prefer how the area looks when there are grey skies.

Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier’s face spans 6 miles. This photo was taken on the public deck outside the Adagio Bar, located aft.

Margerie Glacier

Margerie Glacier at Glacier Bay National Park. Only 2 ships per day are permitted to enter the perserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tonight, Ian and I are off to the Crown Grill. We’ve yet to experience this specialty dining venue. I’ll be sure to include a review on that. Tomorrow we’re in Skagway.

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Heading to Anchorage, but first the Happy Trails Kennel

You know that good kind of tired? The kind where you’re exhausted because you’re having a great time? That’s the kind of tired we’re experiencing. We’ve been doing a lot since Tuesday. Today we got to sleep in, kind of. We started our day at 8 am (we started at 6 am yesterday). It was 4 hours of scenic driving with a rest stop before we ended up at Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel.

Scenic highway driving in Alaska.

Scenic highway driving from Denali to Anchorage.

Alaska scenic driving

Our driver Mike slowed down so we can take in how high we were from the bottom.

Best of Alaska cruisetour

We were making good time so we stopped at this veterans memorial site on our way to Happy Trails Kennel.

Best of Alaska

We were hoping to see Mt McKinley (Denali) make an appearance but again, it was too cloudy today.

Along the way, we saw an area that looked like it was recovering from a forest fire. Then I remembered what Jen, our Tour Director, told us about forest fires in Alaska. Unlike in California where there are attempts to calm down the fire and put it out, in Alaska, that doesn’t happen. She said there were two reasons: a) nobody wants to pay for it and b) it’s part of the natural forest life cycle. Forest fires happen naturally.

Finally, around noon we arrived at Happy Trails Kennel where we were greeted by the great 4-time Iditarod Champion, Martin Buser. What an inspirational man! Dog mushing is a serious physical challenge, but also one heck of a mental one. In his most recent race, he dislocated his left pinky finger (and it still looks dislocated!) and the sled ran over his leg, resulting in torn ligaments in his ankle. He still went on to finish the 1049 mile race and came in 6th place!

Martin Buser Happy Trails Kennel

Martin Buser in the foreground. This is the least fittest he and his dogs are during the year. As the weather gets colder, both he and the dogs get leaner from the increased activity in preparation for the race.

We got to meet some of the adult dogs and at the end, we got to play with some of the puppies, too. I could’ve stayed there all day and I think most of our guests feel the same!

Martin Buser Happy Trails Kennel

 

Martin Buser Happy Trails KennelAt the end, we were handed booties with a card! What a pleasant ending to the visit!

Happy Trails Kennel Booty

I got the booty of Single Leader Lionel :)

As Jen pointed out, who knew the highlight of our day would be at a kennel hanging out with Busers and getting booty?

About an hour afterward, we found ourselves in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and where more than 40% of the state’s population reside. We ended the day together with an included dinner in downtown Anchorage. What an amazing Great Land experience it’s been. New friends, local Alaskan hospitality, and magnificent scenery… This trip really is the Best of Alaska.

To see more photos of this trip, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’re boarding the Crown Princess tomorrow — hope you continue to follow along!

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Denali and the Tundra Wilderness Tour

Denali. It’s amazing, breathtaking, and like nowhere else I’ve ever been. As a Vancouverite, I have incredible scenery in my backyard and even a few hours’ drive away. There are parts of Denali National Park and Preserve that don’t look too different from the British Columbia.

Denali hiking

Hiking in Denali on our first free afternoon in Denali. This looks very much like hiking in British Columbia.

In fact, when we first entered the park, we were in a boreal forest, which is also most of Canada.

Denali National Park

However, when you go deeper into the Park, vegetation drastically changes.

Denali-National-Park-and-Preserve

Everything that grows is closer to the ground and there aren’t any trees. Just low bushes, at most.

 

Tundra Wilderness Tour

The only road into Denali is 92 miles. On the Tundra Wilderness Tour, we went over 60 miles into the park.

Even though there was a light drizzle Mt. McKinley (Denali) was hidden by cloud, it was another great day in Alaska. We saw four of the five big five: Dall sheep, moose, caribou and grizzly bears. Missing in action was the wolf. Although they were far, seeing them unfenced and in their natural habitat is something I’ll never forget. It’s the exact scene people 200 years ago witnessed.

There’s one thing I want to leave you with about Denali. It’s the wilderness. It’s unimpaired. That means, when you’re there, you leave nothing behind except your footprints. Denali is not fenced so there’s nothing preventing it from change nor nothing to stop the natural change.

If you’re going to visit Denali, you need to go on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. The Natural History Tour only takes you about 20 miles in. Because we ventured further in, we were able to see more of Denali and more wildlife.

You may be wondering where my photos of wildlife are. I didn’t have the best camera with me. So when you make your way here, make sure you bring binoculars and at least a 30x zoom lens on your camera.

We’re off to Anchorage tomorrow and visiting the home of four-time Iditarod Champion Martin Buser and his Happy Trails Kennel. Hope you’re enjoying the adventure, as well!

Follow us on Facebook for more photos of this trip. 

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Fairbanks…. Did you know?

Fairbanks may not be your typical large city, but it is an important one. You don’t find too many cities with multiple entry points in Alaska. For example, in Juneau, the state’s capital city, you can only get there by sea or air. Fairbanks, on the other hand, is a major supply hub connecting remote communities in the surrounding area to the outside world.

I mentioned in the last post that we came across a couple war memorials and that I’d find out from Jen, our Tour Director for the duration of the land tour what the association is concerning this. That’s the beauty of having a local guide. Just ask away! Jen gave us a really good history lesson.

downtown Fairbanks, Alaska

Veterans memorial in downtown Fairbanks.

Because of Alaska’s strategic location, the military constructed roads, communications and airfields in Alaska. And because Fairbanks is a major hub to other parts of Alaska, it was a distribution point for materials.

Our second day in Fairbanks was relaxing, I’d say. We started off with an informative yet entertaining and engaging Sternwheeler cruise on the Chena River. Did you know that Fairbanks is just shy of technically being a desert? That’s how little rain the area receives and the range in temperature is vast at 90°F in the summer to -60°F in the winter. We saw some beautiful homes along the river. What a view of the northern lights they have come wintertime!

Best of Alaska Chena River

We headed to a recreated Athabascan village where we saw how they used to live a 100 years ago. Youth commentators there were impressive! They were of Athabascan descent and very well spoken. Did you know Athabascans were a nomadic tribe? It wasn’t until when European settlers arrived that they started building and living in permanent residences like the one we visited.

Athabascan Village in Fairbanks, Alaska.

A traditional coat an Athabascan woman would wear.

We also learned about how to filet and smoke salmon. Did you know that salmon in the ocean is more desirable? It’s packed full of the healthy fats we need as well as Omega 3. Once it reaches the river, all this has nearly depleted.

Smoked Salmon Chena River Best of Alaska

Salmon hanging out to dry before the smoke cooking.

After the Chena River, we had time for lunch on our own back in downtown Fairbanks before heading off to Pioneer Park. The Park a great place to learn more about the city’s history. There’s an air museum, train museum, pioneer museum and even a building that had a gallery of beautiful quilts. The highlight here for me, though, was the Salmon Bake. It wasn’t only salmon you got either! There was prime rib as well as halibut. It was some of the best salmon I’ve ever tasted. Just melted in my mouth! Mmm mmm good!

Please return tomorrow as I give you a summary of our experience in Denali National Park. For quick updates, follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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Our First Day in Fairbanks on the Best of Alaska

We arrived the night before the day our Best of Alaska trip was to officially start. Flying in to Fairbanks was amazing. This is what 9 pm looked like on July 20, 2014!

Flying into Fairbanks, Alaska

Flying into Fairbanks at 9 pm on July 20, 2014.

Today is the day most of our guests arrived. Some of them, too, arrived yesterday. Including me, my co-host, the tour director and the driver, there are 27 of us who will be embarking on an Alaskan journey that has provided our past guests some of the most memorable moments of their lives.

We explored downtown Fairbanks on our own today. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew tidbits of information: it’s the second largest city in Alaska after Anchorage, founded in 1901, and known as the “Golden Heart City.” All this doesn’t tell you what a city is like, though.

Chena River downtown Fairbanks

The Chena River flows through downtown Fairbanks.

Fairbanks certainly is rustic. I was expecting a more Cosmopolitan feel given that it’s the second largest city in the Great Land, but as someone who has only lived in large cities, Fairbanks feels more like small town of a few thousand instead of a city of approximately 32,000.

Street scene Fairbanks

Downtown Fairbanks street scene.

I didn’t witness any speeding. People weren’t in a rush. It’s all part of the Alaskan charm!

We came across a couple memorials and it got me wondering what role Fairbanks played in World War II.

Veterans Memorial, Fairbanks, Alaska

Veterans Memorial in downtown Fairbanks.

World War II memorial, Fairbanks

World War II memorial in another part of downtown Fairbanks.

I could look into on my own, but that’s what our Tour Director is for! She was available from 3 pm to 8 pm today in the lobby of our hotel to answer any questions our guests may have.

Jen Tour Director

Jen is our tour director of the entire duration of our land tour. Doesn’t she have the warmest smile?

Jen has been sharing her intimate knowledge of Alaska for 10 years as a professional guide. And tomorrow, as we go on a tour of Fairbanks, I’ll make sure to ask her about this.

Also on the itinerary for tomorrow: Riverboat Discovery Cruise on the Chena River, Fairbanks sightseeing, and a salmon bake dinner at Pioneer Park. I hope you’ll follow along on our adventure.

For more photos of this trip, like us on Facebook as photos are uploaded there frequently, subject to internet availability.

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Alaska Cruise & Tour Packing List

Glacier Bay National Park

Photo courtesy of Aaron Saunders, FromTheDeckChair.com

I’m going to Alaska in two days. Have I started packing?! Nope! I’m hosting our Best of Alaska cruisetour and although I’m very excited, I just don’t like to think about packing. If you’re like me and always scrambling last minute on what to put in your suitcase, then you’re in luck this time around.

Below is a comprehensive list of items we think you should pack for your Alaska cruise vacation.

Travel Documents

  • passport (unless otherwise advised by your agent) Note: all travel documents must be valid for  6 months after your cruise.
  • airplane tickets
  • cruise tickets
  • all documents you were directed to print (e.g. travel insurance)

Casual Clothes (pack for the weather)

  • light jacket
  • rain jacket or umbrella
  • sweatshirt
  • shorts and t-shirts
  • jeans
  • scarf
  • bathing suit
  • ­­­­­­­­­­­comfortable walking shoes
  • hat
  • gym clothes and shoes
  • poolside/beach shoes
  • shoes that can be easily slipped on and off
  • shirts

Formal wear

  • cocktail dress or pantsuit for women
  • suit for men and dress shirts and ties
  • dress shoes
  • jewelry and accessories
  • dress shirts and ties

Miscellaneous Important Items

  • prescription medication in original packaging
  • prescription glasses /contacts
  • camera and charger
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • binoculars
  • book / e-reader
  • motion sickness band/medication, just in case!
  • mp3 player / iPod player and charger
  • cell phone and charger
  • toiletries

Tips:

  • ­­­­­­­­­­­pack socks inside shoes
  • pack valuables, medications and eyeglasses in your carry-on
  • bring an additional empty bag for acquired extras

Should I include anything else on this list? Let me know. Send us a tweet on Twitter!

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