It’s no secret that I love to travel. Nothing inspires me more. I’ve begun to think of places in living color.
If the Midwest is green, and Texas is black, and Hawaii is purple, and Mexico is orange, and the Caribbean is blue-green, and California is beige, then Alaska is white. It’s a crisp, clean, awe-inspiring, brilliant white.
My husband and I recently cruised the coast of Alaska from Vancouver to Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, and Seward. From there, we toured inland to Anchorage and Denali by bus, and to Fairbanks by train, flying back to the lower 48 from there.
We had two encounters with Canadian customs/border patrol processing. The first was in the Vancouver airport. While time-consuming and tiring, this seemed to be a well-oiled machine that moved a lot of people through pretty efficiently. The second was on the road into the Yukon as we embarked on an excursion by Jeep. We shared a Jeep with a couple that didn’t have their original passports with them, but rather, they had brought only a copy of their passports. This resulted in something of a dilemma, but the patrol did send them on through, warning them to not do this again. The required paperwork is the original passport, and no other checkpoint would allow them through using only this copy. Note to self.
From our Royal Carribbean cruise, we purchased three specific excursions in advance:
1) a Cultural Discovery tour at Ketchikan,
2) a Whale Watching tour at Skagway,
3) a Jeep Tour through the Yukon at Seward.
In addition to that, while we were in Icy Strait Point, we purchased a Zipline Tour on our own. The highlight of the inland tour after leaving the ship was the Denali National Park where we saw Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) and a lot of amazing wildlife – bears, caribou, moose, bald eagles, arctic squirrels and more. Also amazing, though, was the train ride from Denali to Fairbanks. The open glass ceiling just made it seem like we were really out in nature. Note that flowers are bigger and brighter here because of so much sunlight. While the clouds tone down the sun at night, it does remain daylight all through the night in this land of the midnight sun.
While we were in Fairbanks, we took a couple of smaller tours – a riverboat discovery tour down the Chena river was very educational about the native Indians as well as what’s involved with the Iditarod. Also, a train ride gave us an education about the Alaska pipeline and the history of the Gold Rush and gave us a chance to pan for gold ourselves to see how it works. So much fun!
On our last day in Fairbanks, we had about 6 hours to waste before our plane was scheduled to take off, so we decided to take a city bus to a place called Creamer’s Wildlife Refuge. Sounds interesting, right? Well, after a half-hour shuttle from the hotel to the city transit station, and an hour ride on the city bus, we were dropped at a bus drop-off station with an old farmhouse far in the distance, surrounded by vast and open bare fields. Hmmm. A trek back to the farmhouse made us aware we were out of season to see much. The nice lady inside was surrounded by stuffed birds, understanding this is a migratory bird sanctuary, she informed us that there were many trails outside where we could walk through the fields. Since this was a misty and wet day, we decided against the muddy trails and we made a trek back to the bus station where we were almost immediately returned back to the transit station for pick-up by the shuttle to take us to the airport shuttle and when we got there, we were just on time for the flight. I wouldn’t really recommend Creamer’s Wildlife Refuge, at last not in July, but it did pass our day and we do now have this most fascinating story to tell…ha ha.
The best thing about cruises is that you get to go to all of these different places, and you never have to pack up and move your bags. They can just always stay on the ship. That’s fabulous! And your room’s always clean when you get back!! Our stateroom attendant was a young man named Nelson and he was very attentive. And yes, he did leave us a few of the expected towel sculptures. My favorite was the elephant…so cute. Another nice thing about cruising is that you can pay for all of your food and drink in advance which makes the ship feel even more like you’re at home. One morning, as I headed out of the breakfast café with my cup of coffee, I asked the attendant at the door to be sure it was ok to take the cup with me and he said ‘hey, this is your place….please.’ Another day, I was wandering the upper deck with an empty glass and a used napkin and hadn’t come upon a trash can or anyone to leave things with and someone said, ‘oh, just put it down, someone’ll be along to get it.’ How hard is it to get used to that idea?!
On ship, we spent time in the casino, my husband at the 3-card poker table, and me at the slots. Another day, we visited the spa for the most amazing Swedish stone massages. Every night, the ship put on musical shows that were always entertaining. There were also comedic shows that were really great. We were there over July 4th, so they did put on one really elaborate party with huge amounts of balloons descending through the center of the ship with dancing, singing, drinking. More dancing, singing, drinking. Needless to say, they do know how to put on a fabulous party. At any time of day, there was always something going on to either participate in or have a good time watching.
One other thing that makes things easy with a cruise – we went entirely carry-on for this trip without checking any bags. That was only possible because there’s an onboard laundry service that we put to good use. Again, fabulous!
I highly recommend both Alaska and the Royal Carribbean cruise line. Others may disagree but with this being our second cruise with Royal, I see them as the ‘experience and adventure’ line while many of the others focus more on being a ‘party’ cruise line, i.e., Princess and Carnival, which is not so much my cup of tea.
If I had to pick one ‘experience’ from this trip that was the absolute best – and this is a very hard thing with this one – it would be the day, on the ship, when we cruised past the Hubbard Glacier. We were in a channel of sorts with huge, white mountains on all sides, the water was bright blue with bits of glacier ice everywhere. Everything was white, white, white. So very other-worldly. We won’t soon forget this trip. Cheers!