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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Visiting Vancouver, BC for a Day

The last stop on our Best of Alaska cruisetour is Vancouver, my adopted hometown. Although I do have a bias, it would be difficult to find someone who wouldn’t agree that this city is beautiful. Plus, there’s endless of things to see and do here.

City of Vancouver

Photo from Tourism Vancouver. A view of downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver is a young city, only 128 years old at the time of writing. In 1886, the City of Vancouver was incorporated. Today, this young city is the largest metropolitan in the province of British Columbia as well as Western Canada.  It’s frequently ranked as one of the best places to not only visit, but also live!

If you have some time, listen to this podcast with CruizeCast in which I talk about what cruisers can do while here. Continue reading for a quick overview.

Stanley Park seawall

Stanley Park seawall. Photo from Tourism Vancouver.

When you’re only here for a day or two though, how do you get the best of what the city offers?

Explore Downtown

We suggest our Deluxe Vancouver City Tour. You’ll get to see all the major sites in the city center on a narrated bus tour, then at the end, go to the top of the Harbour Centre for a 360 degree view of the city. Here’a quick peek of this tour:

We treat Best of Alaska guests to this city tour should their flight leave in the evening or the following day.

Head North

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the city center, head north to Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge. Stretching 230 feet above Capilano River is the famous suspension bridge. Walking across is an exhilarating activity that’s a must-do for anyone who can! While you’re in the area, take the gondola up to the top of Grouse Mountain. You’ll have a spectacular view of the city of Vancouver, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf Islands. There are a lot of activities here, too: sit down and have a drink or lunch, catch a Lumberjack show, watch the Birds in Motion Demonstration, go ziplining or observe a grizzly in the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife.

If you’re undecided and have the time, do both! Whenever I have friends from out of town visiting who have never been here, exploring downtown then heading north is what I always recommend, and in that order, too.

Follow us on Twitter @AKCruiseExperts and Facebook to stay posted on this trip from beginning to end! The journey starts in 10 days!

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Happy 4th of July, America!

We’d like to wish our American friends a Happy Independence Day!

Ketchikan, Alaska

Photo taken by Cruise Specialist Matthew Vaughan in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Happy 238th birthday to the United States of America!

 

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What to do in Kethickan

Ketchikan, Alaska is the next stop on our Best of Alaska cruisetour after Juneau. The city was founded in 1885 as a salmon cannery site. Indeed, it’s the Salmon Capital of the World.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Visitors are greeted with this sign in Ketchikan, Alaska.

If you plan on exploring the city (as you should!), make sure you pack water resistant clothing because likely, you’ll be caught in the rain. According to TravelAlaska.com, the average annual rainfall here is 162  inches. As in the rest of Alaska, you never know what the whether is going to be like, so it’s best to dress in layers.

Docking at 10 am and departing at 6 pm, Best of Alaska guests have a fair amount of time to wander the streets, but definitely not enough time to do and see all there is available in Ketchikan. Whether you’re doing an excursion or not, you must take a walk along historic Creek Street.

Creek Street, Ketchikan, Alaska

The once infamous street, Creek Street.

Creek Street used to be an infamous street. It was formerly the Red Light District, but since 1954, most of the houses that you see built on stilts over the creek have been converted to shops. Staying true to its claim as the Salmon Capital of the World, salmon can be viewed from the historic boardwalk from May to September.

Aside from Creek Street, what else can you do? For a comprehensive list, definitely take a look at our shore excursions site. Here are our top four picks.

Misty Fjords Flightseeing Tour – A 2 hour floatplane tour giving you a bird’s eye view of the 2.3 million acre Misty Fjords monument.

Timeless Misty Fjords by Floatplane

Misty Fjords from high above in a floatplane.

Read about Cruise Specialist Matthew Vaughan’s experience here.

Lighthouse Totems and Eagles City Tour - A 3 hour narrated city tour that guarantees you eagle sightings.

Orca’s Cove Kayaking – Limited to 6 guests per trip, this 4 hour kayaking excursion brings shows off the serenity of the Tongass Forest.

Activities in Alaska

Orca’s Cove Kayaking. When we were in Alaska last year, it was just me, my guide and my partner. Here, our guide was pointing out a whale in the distance.

There’s a good chance you’ll see wildlife such as humpback Whales, Orcas, porpoises, seals and sea lions as well.

Back Country Zodiac Adventure - Explore one of the most beautiful places on earth for 2.5 hours on a 14 foot inflatable boat.

Keep up with Alaska cruise news by following us on Twitter @AKCruiseExperts and Facebook.

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Seeing Bears in Alaska

What do you want to see in Alaska when you’re there? A lot of people will answer bears. In Juneau, black bears are common. In fact, earlier this week, the officials had to stop an American Legion baseball game between Juneau and West Anchorage so that Anchorage players and fans can take in the experience.


Thanks to Archipelago Webcasting for sharing this video on YouTube!

According to the Associated Press, “Bears normally walk along a bear trail that goes along the outfield fence and then cuts into the woods after the right field.”

If you encounter a bear from afar, leave it alone. Turn and go back. For close encounters, get tips on what to do from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

For more Alaska cruise news and  updates, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Visiting Juneau, Alaska

Did you know Juneau is accessible only by air or sea? Nestled between towering mountains along the Gastineau Channel, the capital city of Alaska  is a stop that all cruise lines make. Best of Alaska guests are here from 6:30 am to 4 pm — not much time with so much to see and do here, so when you’re in town, try to plan your activities in advance to make the most your time. Here are some popular activities:

Tour the city. Beyond the city center, those with health or mobility issues may have difficulty covering much ground independently with the hilly streets. Otherwise, put on your walking shoes and explore the city. Many rewards of breathtaking views await. If you’re not sure where to start, try our extenstive 4 hour city tour.

Mendenhall Glacier

A visit to Mendenhall Glacier is part of the 4 hour city tour. The USDA Forest Service Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is located in Mendenhall Valley which is 12 miles from downtown Juneau.

Helicopter Tour and Dog Sledding. This was one of my most amazing experiences ever. We were picked up from downtown Juneau, brought to a launch pad where we hopped aboard a helicopter. Up above on our way to the glacier for dog sledding, we got a beautiful bird’s eye view of the capital city.

the capital city of Alaska, Junuea

Juneau, Alaska.

This is a must-do activity. You get a different view of the land and a deeper appreciation of its grandeur.

excursion in Juneau

We soar above Juneau, over the ice field, and head towards Norris Glacier.

Once you land on the glacier, you learn about dogsledding, the dogs, the mushers and how this activity keeps these athletic canines in shape. You’re briefed on the rules put in place to protect the natural glacier environment and after that you’re quickly briefed on what to do when you’re on the sled.

mushing on a glacier

Dogsledding on a glacier

It’s an educational excursion and exhilarating, too. Learn more about it here.

Ziplining. Another exhilarating activity, you’ll be taken to the treetops of the rainforest to zip across from one to the next. How much more of heart-racing activity can you ask for?

Zip lining in Juneau, Alaska

Photo credit: Alaska Canopy Adventures

Fishing. It’s more laid back (unless you catch something, of course!) but a popular activity for those who love it. Whether you’re fishing the shore like the locals or hoping specifically to catch salmon or halibut, you’ll end up with a better understanding of the sport of fishing and the industry in Alaska.

These are just some of the exciting excursions in Juneau. If you’d like to see the many other activities available here, check out our Alaska Shore Excursions site. Sometimes you can squeeze in a few activities into your day, but it’s best to speak with one of our  Alaska Shore Excursion Specialists once you book your cruise so they can help you determine what works best for you.

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