home > D Geek's Travels - Column - Alaska 2013

D Geeks Travels:

I paid a visit to our 49th state from June 1-11, 2013. I did a 7 night cruise from Vancouver to Whittier and then a Train ride up to Mt McKinley and a bus to Denali then on to Fairbanks.

Since everyone enjoys stats... I took 8,861 pictures with my primary SLR camera and 1,300 on my secondary SLR that I split time with someone else using. As a group there were 5 of us and we had 8 cameras and we snapped over 17,000 pictures between us. Only tweeted about 60 pictures due to the network issues and it not being Disney. I logged just over 40 miles on the pedometer.

Overall Impressions:

I had a great time and really enjoyed experiencing Alaska. The senary and wildlife is amazing. I found the glaciers fascinating to watch and enjoyed it all.

  • Our stateroom - We had a mini-suite on deck 9. The room size was comparable to what we had on the Disney Dream back in 2011 but we sorely missed the separate bathrooms having three adults in the space. The balcony seemed slightly larger and roomier than we had on the Dream. The beds and showers were made for people under 5'5 or so.. so a 6 foot person like myself meant my feed hung off the bottom and I hit my head in the shower and felt like a giant. Not sure how a 6'5' person like my brother would do.

  • The entertainment - I was really disappointed with the onboard entertainment in the main theater. I thought the ships productions were weak at best and the vocalists did nothing to bring up the quality. The band and dancers were decent. One of the two comedians was good and the guitar player that was brought in was great. So in the end it was probably a wash. I did not go with high expectations and my experience confirmed it. Also they made a big deal that they went to three shows a night to reduce wait times and make sure everyone could see the show. To do this though they shortened the shows. So they were between 30-45 minutes only.

  • The itinerary - The 7 night cruise had a good mix of ports and scenic cruising. I thought having the ports first then building up to the glaciers worked if I would have gone the other way I think by the end I would not have been as happy. The one train to McKinley and one night at the lodge there was perfect. The trip and one day in Denali was not enough time since we opted for the 8 hour Tundra Explorer tour in the park that ate up the entire day. I could have used a second night there. In Fairbanks we did the Riverboat which was ok but I could have done without and would have rather had the time in Denali and a late arrival in Fairbanks to just spend the night.

Leaving Vancouver Harbor
Day 1 - Arrival in Vancouver and setting sail

Trip log: An early wake up to leave home.  Pickup was at 5:15am.  Arrived at LAX and had three hours till our flight.  Boarded and left on time and arrived 5 minutes early around 12:30pm.  Used the Direct USA program to bypass customs and boarded a bus to the cruise dock.  Arrived at the cruise dock and boarded the ship with no delays.   Met up with some friends and headed for lunch then walked around a bit before the safety drill.  After the drill back to the room to drop off life vests then out to the deck to watch us push away and set sail.  Back to the room to change for dinner.  Ate dinner and then watched the show.  Walked around the ship a bit to learn where things are and headed back to the room around 9:30 to call it a night and get unpacked and ready for tomorrow.

  • The USDirect Program was a big time saver I think. It allowed us to go from the plane to the bus to the ship and not have to go through the regular customs process. It also meant we did not have to claim our luggage at the airport or deal with any of that hassle as the bags went directly to the ship. The program worked perfectly for us.

  • It took quite a while to get to the ship from the airport, even though it was a relatively short distance. This was due to the fact that there are no freeways within the city so its all surface streets and they move slow from light to light. Also the bus went on a semi scenic route and we circled around the city a bit to take in some of the sights.

  • This trip was a non-Disney one. I ended up going with Princess for the cruise for several reasons. First was the itinerary. It gave us two days of glacier cruising and went up to Anchorage/Whittier so we could easily extend the trip to visit Denali National Park and see Mt. McKinley. I know you can add this on to Disney but it would have meant more flights, etc.. and the glacier cruising was not an option. Secondly was price. For all 11 days we paid quite a bit less than it would have been on Disney. So this time around I went with Princess. The challenge with this is I constantly found myself comparing it to Disney even though I said I would not..

  • The ship was late leaving Vancouver as we waited for some late to arrive passengers, guessing a flight was delayed. Nice to see them wait. I am sure the group(s) appreciated it. Thought it was interesting the safety drill had us meet in lounges and we had to practice putting on our life vests.

  • I was a bit annoyed, but expecting it, other cruise lines do not include soda and you have to pay for it. Princess offered a flat rate program which costs me just over $4 a day after tax/tip. Not huge amount but you would think after paying thousands of dollars for a cruise it would be included! I know Disney is the exception and this is the norm but it bothered me still. For my $31 I received a sprite sticker on my room card and that allowed me to go up to any bar and get as much soda as I wished with no additional fees.

  • For dining we opted to go with "any time" seating meaning we could make reservations or show up any time and in any of the open dining rooms. On the ship we were on this meant we had a choice of 4 dining rooms for dinner. Those with traditional seating had two seatings in one dining room and one in another that then converted to any time after the first seating. I liked this idea as it gave you more flexibility which came in handy due to the varying schedules and me wanting to see the glaciers, etc.. the dining rooms were all the same layout but slightly different overlays/themes to them. Nothing as elaborate as what you find with Disney but it was not bad. The downside to this is each meal you had a different server so there was no common thread.

  • Another interesting thing is the Gratuity is automatically charged to your room each night and is a flat rate per person based on room type, ours was $12. I found this odd. You cannot reward someone for excellent service or without for bad service. If its a flat fee why not just include it vs tacking it on after. Why not have an all-inclusive price and say gratuities for dinner and cabin service are included (bar, room service, etc.. were not).

  • The show this evening was titled Welcome Aboard Showtime and featured the ships singers and dancers as well as a comedian. We went to check it out and were extremely disappointed. The opening number was a Tron inspired look by the singers and dancers. It was ok but the vocalists were terrible. Then the cruise director came out and talked for what felt like a long time. Then the comedian took the stage to preview his full show. He succeed in convincing us all not to go. He was bordering on annoying to me and not funny at all in my mind. I kept thinking they would close with a show stopping number by their performers.. instead the cruise director came out and said good night. I walked away very disappointed in what I had just experienced.

A food carving creation onboard during our day at sea
Day 2 - At Sea
(look around the ship, food carving demonstration)
Trip Log: Thanks to me still being on a work schedule I was up early and took the time to explore and take some pictures around the ship while it was quiet. We were at sea so I roamed the boat circling around and taking pictures and the sights. Caught the ice carving at 10am and then a presentation at 1:30. Dinner was early and then we went to the 6:30pm show and 9:15 street entertainment before calling it a night.

  • The view as we cruised north was not too interesting for this first portion. We passed some islands and saw some snow and mountains in the distance but nothing like what we would be seeing in a few days.

  • The highlight of the day on board for us was the Fruit & Vegetable Carving Demonstration which was impressive to watch these talented folks do practice their craft but seemed odd that was the highlight.

  • We also went to an What to Explore Ashore! Presentation and was pleasantly surprised at what we found. I figured it would be a sales pitch for shore excursions and it turned out not to be. It was more the history and things to do in the ports.

  • Tonight was one of two formal nights. I was slightly annoyed by this. Seems to me with 5 dining rooms you can have one stay casual. There was no real special menu or anything. Just seemed like an excuse to get dressed up and have pictures taken.

  • Decided to give the ships singers/dancers a second go and went to the production for the day called Do You Wanna Dance. The selection of music was not bad, the band was good, the dancing was decent, but the vocals again did not work.. not sure if it was cast wrong or if they were just not good or if the sound system was that far off/bad.. but it was not a pleasurable experience and we did not go to the third production by them later in the cruise after two bad ones (also scheduling was tight for that third one due us watching the glaciers in College Fjord.

  • I did catch a street performer in the central piazza and he was interesting to watch. His strength and balance were amazing. I posted some video and pictures in the update since my words will not do it justice.

Day 3: Ketchikan Alaska
Day 3 - Ketchikan

Trip Log: Left the boat and walked around Ketchikan for the morning, back onboard by 10am.  At lunch in dining room and then hung around ship watching the bald eagles. As we departed watched an ice carving demonstration and then took in the sights of us pulling out. Later in the evening went whale watching from the ship as we were passing through an area that is known for whales. None were spotted though.

  • We arrived at our first port bright and early just after 6am after traveling 544 nautical miles from Vancouver. We only had a half day here with an early departure scheduled for 1:30pm. Since it was a half day we decided not to book any excursions and instead walk the town and explore on our own. This was plenty of time as we had walked the town and I even hiked up to the lodge and we were still back on the boat by mid morning.

  • I spent a good chunk of my afternoon standing and sitting up on deck and watching the bald eagles fly around and the sea planes take off and land. It was awesome to spot these large birds in the distant trees and watch them as the flew. Unfortunately due to the lights, distance, and at one point me being inside the pictures I took did not do them justice.. but it was definitely the highlight of the day for me.

  • Went up on deck to the front of the ship for a whale watching opportunity as we passed through Snow Passage. The weather was overcast and there was a mist plus the wind so it was a cold and not all that pleasant experience at the front of the ship. We saw some water spots in the distance and some dolphins but nothing else really. The naturalist said she believed orca had run the whales off. I thought this was a fish story since I did not see any orca either.. I just think we did not see any, which happens.

  • The entertainment this evening was the comedian from the first night and we skipped him.

Day 4: Juneau - Mendenhall Glacier
Day 4 - Juneau including Glacier Gardens and the Mendenhall Glacier

Trip Log: Today we spent the morning on the shore excursion stopping at the hatchery, Glacier Gardens and the Mendenhall Glacier. The afternoon was spent roaming the ship and staying out of the rain. We took in the evening show and then relaxed.

  • We traveled 285 Nautical miles from Ketchikan to Juneau to arrive just before 8:00am at Alaska's state capital, Juneau.

  • Today we went on a shore excursion booked through the cruise. It stopped at a salmon hatchery, Glacier Gardens and the Mendenhall Glacier.
    • I thought the hatchery was a disappointment. There was nothing going on this time of year and it felt like it was bordering on a tourist trap to me more than something interesting. I would have really liked to have seen this portion of the tour shortened.
    • The second stop was Glacier Gardens. This surprised me. There were some gardens to look at and then a tram ride to the top of the mountain and an overlook toward Juneau and the airport. I would have liked to have had a little more time at the top of the mountain for pictures, I felt rushed.
    • The last stop was the Mendenhall Glacier. We ended up having just under an hour to explore the visitor complex and area around it. I really could have used 2 or 3 hours. I felt extremely rushed and did not get to take in the film or really do much except rush through the visitor center and snap some quick pictures on the move. The glacier itself was very impressive and a hint of things to come as we headed further north. I found it very distracting the amount of air traffic in the area. The constant drone of the helicopters for tours was a bit annoying for a national park. Seems they could have arrived via a different route to not disrupt those of us at the visitor center.

  • The plan was to go and explore Juneau after lunch but as we reached the gangway to go ashore the rain started to really come down. So we hung out by the gangway then on deck for a while. After the rain appeared not to be letting up we gave up on the idea of going ashore and just enjoyed the view of the city from the ship. By late afternoon around 4:30ish or so the skies let up and cleared a bit. But I decided to pass on going ashore since I did not really feel like shopping and there was nothing else that jumped out at me to do within walking distance.

  • The evenings entertainment was Duncan Tuck and his show was great! He is a comedian and guitar player and I would have really liked to have seen more of his act. The show felt truncated to me so they could fit three in the evening. I was hoping he would return on a later night or in one of the clubs, but no such luck.

  • This evening the movie under the stars was Oz the Great and Powerful which I had wanted to see but there was no way I was going to sit on deck outside from 10pm-midnight to watch it.. it was too cold and too late for me. This ship did not have a movie theater. During the day they used the main theater for a film on a couple of days but that was about it. Your only other choices were to watch from your room or out on deck.

Day 5: Skagway - A commenoration of the Disney Wonder's first trip here
Day 5 - Skagway

Trip Log: Today we disembarked the ship by 8:30am and spent about 2 hours walked around Skagway which consisted of walking to 2nd street then up one side of Broadway to about 7th and then back to the ship by around 10:30am. After lunch spend several hours sitting on the upper deck in the front of the ship just taking in the view and relaxing. Caught a performance by Steve Hites after dinner then the ships production of I Got the Music. We set sail around 8:30pm and I went up to the front of the ship again around 9pm for an hour to take pictures of a viewpoint which due to the clouds was not all that scenic, but it was cold and windy! I called it a day around 10:15 and headed for the stateroom to get ready for tomorrow and Glacier Bay!

  • It was a short 101 nautical miles from Juneau to Skagway and we arrived before 6:00am.

  • Skagway Alaska is a town of just under 800 residents and has the confusing designation of the northernmost most point in southeast Alaska. It is also the northernmost ice-free deep water port in North America. So the four cruises ships that were in port today meant probably a 12 fold increase in the population.

  • We were on the fence about doing the White Pass Railroad which seemed to be the shore excursion of choice for Skagway. In the end decided we would wait and see if the weather cleared. If so we would give it a try.. if not we would stay around town and the ship. After spending a couple hours walking end to end of the town we had had enough and headed back to the ship. After lunch we checked the weather and decided we would rather hang around the ship and relax than go on the train. I am sure the senary and trestles were impressive but spending three hours on a train did not sound like how we wanted to spend the afternoon considering in a few days we had a long train trip and several long bus rides ahead of us.

  • Nothing too interesting to report from Skagway itself. The stores were your run of the mill stores and the town a small town with some nice facades.

  • Somehow we managed to loose track of time and spent several hours just hanging out on the upper deck of the ship. Thought it was interesting that we saw no more than a handful of people come by us the entire time. The weather was calm and clear I would have thought more would venture up.

  • After dinner stopped by the Explorers Lounge to see a presentation titled North To Alaska! by Steve Hites who is a local Skagway entertainer. I really enjoyed his show and the opening numbers included North to Alaska as well as Drunkin' Sailor. He told the story of Skagway and how the miners came for the gold rush. We bailed out a bit early to make it to the theater show as his show seemed to loose some steam toward the end, but after watching the theater show wish I had stayed for the full show instead.

  • The production in the main theater this evening was titled I Got the Music and featured the ships singers and dancers again. It was much the same as the other production we saw. Some light set pieces, ok dancing, and vocals that were not so good some of the time. After this I decided I was not going to go to their third production on the last night (anyone go to that, wonder if it was the same or if it was better?).

  • I spent a little over an hour up at the front of the ship on an upper deck in the evening waiting to see the viewpoint as we neared Haines. It was very windy and cold but a handful of other photographers were up there hanging out trying to figure out what we were there to see and how to brace ourselves in the wind to take pictures. With the clouds and evening light it was a challenge and not the most pleasant experience. The views were masked by the cloud cover but I did get to see a couple whales sort of.

Day 6: Glacier Bay National Park
Day 6 - Glacier Bay

  • Sailed 120 nautical miles from Skagway to Glacier Bay

  • Today was the day I was looking forward to all cruise... Glacier Bay. When people say Alaska and show pictures of the ice and glaciers this is what comes to mind. The trip into Glacier Bay did not disappoint and we saw a lot of calving activity and got some great views of the glaciers as we visited this truly unique national park. It was very surreal to cruise slowly through the water with all the ice around and towering mountains on either side.

  • I had seen pictures and some video of glaciers calving before going but being there and hearing the thunderous sound and watching the massive chunks of ice give way and crash to the water below is amazing and extremely hard to capture and share, especially when you just want to sit and enjoy the show mother nature is putting on a few hundred feet away!

  • I thought the way Princess and the national park service handled the day was a great start. The rangers came onboard early in the morning as we entered the national park before 6am. A little after 8:00am they started a commentary on the open decks of the ship as well as on a stateroom TV channel. They pointed out wildlife and glaciers as we sailed up into the park and then they conducted other activities on the way out. Two suggestions. First I would have liked to have seen them using a camera (or set of cameras) on the ship to show what the rangers were talking about. Instead all you saw was the fixed view off the bow. For example when they spotted a bear or sea life having a camera zoom in and show that would have really helped to spot or for those of us on the other side of the boat. Also having more views of the map to show where we were at various times would have been great. I thought the park rangers commentary tended to be a bit over the top with the can you image and feel type things I like stats/figures/and pointing out what I am looking at. And I think they used the phrase travel back in time at least once every 15 minutes.

  • We spent most of the day in our stateroom on the balcony enjoying the view and listening to the TV commentary. At a few points I ran down a couple decks and outside so I could get an extended view off the other side of the ship but more or less we spent the day just watching the world outside as did most of the others with balconies. I would highly recommend a balcony for a cruise like this so you have an unobstructed and unbothered view of what is going on. Also the option to retreat inside to warm up or grab something to eat (we ordered room service for lunch so we did not miss anything).

  • Speaking of room service.. I do have a complaint here. If you had the beverage service, which I purchased so I could have cokes/sprites you cannot get this at room service. They only would deliver cans and cans were not included. So I did have to make a quick run to a nearby bar for something to drink during lunch. I thought this was very poor and if you pay extra for the drink option it should be good for room service if you order a meal. I understand not letting you just order a random coke but if you are getting food it seems reasonable to have the option.

  • I was also disappointed with the dinner menu. This was the second/last formal night and I was expecting some great steak options and instead was disappointed (they made up for it with a great steak on the last night but still this was the formal night!).

Day 7: College Fjord
Day 7 - At sea and College Fjord

  • Sailed 461 nautical miles from Glacier Bay to College Fjord arriving around 5:15pm and staying till 7:30pm.

  • Most of the day today was at sea in the Gulf of Alaska as we cruised from Glacier Bay up to College Fjord. For a good portion of the day we were quite a ways off shore and you could see the mountains in the distance but not much to look at. The weather was great and on deck out of the wind it was even on the warm side. In the afternoon we entered Prince William Sound and made our way up to College Fjord. It was really interesting to watch our large cruise ship navigate around all the small fishing boats and their gear to get up to the glaciers. The Glaciers themselves were impressive but nothing compared to what we saw in Glacier Bay the day before. The ship did travel through a lot of ice to get up to where the glaciers were and the warmer weather made it very pleasant out on deck to enjoy the views.

  • Today was our last full day on board so a chunk of the day was spend packing up and preparing for the next portion of the trip on land. Always a fun time to try and fit everything back in the suitcases and the added challenge of decided what goes with us for the next couple days and what goes to meet us at the end of the trip.

  • This evening we skipped the production show because of College Fjord, a late dinner, and me not wanting to suffer through the ships singers for another performance.

Day 8: Train to Mt. McKinley
Day 8 - Whittier and train to Mt. McKinley

Part I - The train trip
Part II - Talkeetna and Mt. McKinley Lodge

  • Sailed a short 35 nautical mails from College Fjord to Whittier and docked around midnight.

  • Today we left our "home" of the last seven days bright and early. We had to be ready to disembark and to our meeting place before 6:30am. I made a quick circle around the ship to take some pictures of Whittier then grabbed a bite to eat and a couple more pictures before assembling and waiting to head for the train. The process was fairly smooth and no hiccups at all. Boarded the train which had pulled up right next to the dock and we were on our way north.

  • I was really looking forward to the train ride. The train started rolling about 7:18am and we disembarked about 12:57pm.. so it was approx 5.5 hours on the train. The landscapes we passed were incredible and traveling by train this long is something I had not done before so it was a new experience. The seats were fairly comfortable and the view from inside with the large windows and glass dome was great but unfortunately I did not experience much from inside. I spend a good portion standing outside between cars because I wanted to get decent pictures and the glare of the glass was driving me crazy coupled with focussing issues through it and the tint. So I was in a loud area that was only a couple feet wide. The nice thing is most of the trip no one came out so I had the area to myself. But I would have really liked to have had a seat and a slightly less noisy environment.

  • When we disembarked the train there was a short bus ride to Talkeetna and from there we had a choice of staying in town or taking a bus to the lodge (which was about an hour away). We opted to walk the town, which was only a handful of blocks along a couple streets. It actually made Skagway look like the big city. Talkeetna is the stepping off point for many of the hikers and to call the town rustic is an understatement. I would have liked to have spent a little longer exploring the town, maybe 20-30 minutes, but due to some scheduling conflicts.. namely we missed the film in the Ranger Station and had to wait, plus lunch took longer than expected, and then the shuttle buses only running once an hour we had a very short stay in the town and I did not see enough to occupy myself for another hour and was curious what awaited us at the lodge.

  • The bus ride to the McKinley Lodge took about an hour. The Lodge is located in quite a remote area. They do not have external power running in and generate their own on property. The lodge is located on a hill overlooking a valley and river and in the distance the Alaskan Range and Mt. McKinley. As you will see in the pictures it was quite clear and we enjoyed the comfortable weather and great views. I spent some time walking around the property but did not venture on any of the hikes/trails due to time. By the time we got settled and headed to the main lodge building for dinner it was after 5:00pm then after taking some pictures and eating it was after 7:00 and we spent some more time enjoying the great views and decided to head back to the room after 8pm. We were getting tired after the 4:30am wake up call and I wanted to copy some pictures and prepare for tomorrow's busy day heading to and then through Denali National Park.

  • The lodge itself was fairly basic but a nice hotel. The rooms were average in size. It was unseasonably warm when we were there, highs in the mid 70s and no A/C. Which would not be too bad if you could have the window open but thanks to it never getting dark we had to have the curtains drawn to sleep which meant no airflow so it was a bit on the warm side.

Mt McKinley / Denali

Day 9 - Denali
Part I - Travel from McKinley Lodge to Denali Lodge
Part II - Tundra Wilderness Tour of the Denali National Park

  • The morning started off with some incredible views from the McKinley Lodge. As soon as I stepped out of the door of our building was greeted by several other guests pointing to a hill nearby where a moose had just run after looking into their window. We then headed up toward the main building and the views of the mountain this morning were extremely clear and incredible! We had a couple hours to enjoy the lodge grounds and eat breakfast before boarding a bus just before 10am.

  • We left the lodge at 10am and headed north to Denali. The ride took us just over two hours to complete. A tip.. if you want the best views of Mt. McKinley and the other Alaska range mountains sit on the drivers side while heading north.

  • We arrived at the Denali Lodge we were staying around 12:30pm so we had a couple hours to drop our bags, eat, see the lodge, and hop on another bus for our Denali Park Tour.

  • We opted for the longer Tundra Wilderness Tour. Denali National Park has several options to see the park ranging from hiking, camping to bus tours. The park consists of a single road that is 92 miles long. Private vehicles are not allowed into the park beyond the first few miles in most circumstances. If you want to experience the park there are three main tours to choice from.
    • Denali Natural History Tour - 4.5-5 hours and travels 17 miles into the park
    • Tundra Wilderness Tour - 6-8 hours and traveled to mile marker 62
    • The Kantishna Experience - 11-12 hours and travels all 92 miles of the road

    I went on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. I had not seen any positive reviews of the Natural History one so that was ruled out. The Kantishna one would not work because of the time slot we had after traveling from the McKinley Lodge up to the Denali so it was an easy choice to go with the Tundra Tour. I would highly recommend it. I thought we saw a fair amount of wild life and really got to see the park. The Natural History Tour stopped before you really got out into the back country of the park. It basically turned around where the paved road ends. We had all our good animal sighting and impressive views well after that point. We talked to some who went on the Natural History tour and they classified it as a drive through the forest. They saw a moose or two and that was about it. I am curious if the extra three or four hours to see the rest of the road would be worth it..

    The bus picked us up at the Lodge and took us throughout the park. The driver/guide gave a running commentary and it was up to us to spot the wildlife and yell for him to stop the bus and then to describe what we saw and where so everyone else could find it. This system worked fairly well. To aid in finding the animals the driver had a video camera and he was able to take pictures and zoom in and display it on screens throughout the bus. This was helpful for those who did not have binoculars or telephoto lenses or just a hard time locating animals.

    As saw (or will see) in the pictures the first couple of bear sights were really far off and there was a little grumbling of some expecting to see the bears closer. As luck would have it we did come upon a mother and older cub near the end and had some incredible time watching them. It was a highlight of the trip.

  • I found the necessity of a safety briefing before disembarking for a rest room stop interesting. It covered what to do if a grizzly bear, brown bear, black bear, moose, etc.. were to join us.

  • As you drove through the park the various areas you passed ranging from mountains to river valleys to tall mountains to rocks that looked almost to be from the desert was really interesting to me.

  • The weather was cool and overcast most of the trip. We had a few moments of sunlight from time to time as well as drizzle and then on the way back a decent rain. The driver said the weather would help with animal sightings, they do not like sunny days. So the choice was good senary pictures or animals..

A Grizzly Bear in Denali National Park

Day 10 - Fairbanks

  • We woke up at the Denali Lodge with the intentions of walking around the grounds and seeing the lodge but the cloudy drizzly/raining weather put a damper on those plans and instead we packed up and then waited for our 10am bus, which was late due to an issue with the bus arriving late.. so we left around 10:40am.

  • The drive up to Fairbanks was off/on rain and nothing too interesting besides the road construction pops to mind. There was a couple of mile section of the road they were working on. Since there are no alternate routes you are guided through the project by a pilot car.. so the bus was driving through the dirt and around the construction equipment as it worked. It was an interesting experience.

  • In Fairbanks we were dropped off at the Riverboat Discovery dock and had a little time to shop or grab a bite to eat. I thought this portion of the tour seemed a little disorganized and I think it was because of our driver. For example many on our bus thought the lunch was included so they tried to eat only to find out they had to pay an additional fee. Also I thought it was poor no one explained the food options. It boiled down to a family style meal or a box lunch at the dock. Or once on board they had more options such as a hot dog. The food onboard was actually much more reasonably priced to me. The hot dog was $2.50 and a $1.00 for a soda, by comparison the box lunch, sandwich, chips, I think a cookie, and coke was $15.

  • The gift shop seemed very typical and quite busy as people tried to figure out what was going on. The boarding process was just as unorganized with two lines and no one knowing what they were for or the ordering. Seems they should have done some sort of boarding order or something to alleviate the confusion.

  • Once onboard I thought the quality picked up dramatically. They had a live narrator walking the ship and doing commentary from the various decks. There were LCD screens throughout the ship and they showed stock footage as well as live camera shots of the events around as they unfolded. Also they featured live audio from those they interacted with. I thought the production quality was great. Much better than I had anticipated after the scene at the dock. The boat ride itself went along the Fairbanks River and you could see the homes, toys, etc.. it featured a float plane demonstration and then we pulled up alongside a dog sled camp to learn about mushing and see a great demonstration of the dogs pulling an ATV around. We continued down river and then turned around where the rivers merged. We then pulled into a village area that featured guides talking about some of the native customs, wardrobe, and practices. This was very well organized and the guides were young woman (I think all were high school seniors going to college in the fall) who were part Eskimo and they talked about their heritage and other topics as you rotated through three theaters. Once the presentations were over you had free time to explore and talk to the guides as well as the dog sled folks. Overall it was very well done and somewhat interesting. The only problem was after so many hours on buses, etc.. we were pretty worn down by this time.

  • After the Riverboat Cruise we boarded the bus again and were off to our Lodge for the evening. Along the way we had a brief tour of Fairbanks.. which was pretty bad. The driver kept pointing out things after we passed or saying it was over there somewhere. And there really was not much to see. I would have much rather gone straight to the room to collapse...

  • The lodge tonight was really a basic hotel. We were at the Bear Lodge, not the Princess one for some reason. This was a little disappointing. We reached the Lodge just before 6pm. Dropped our bags and decided it was dinner time. We did not feel like venturing into Fairbanks (there was a free shuttle) because of the time, we were hungry, and the early wake up call tomorrow. So we ate at the lodge. The restaurant was nice, food good, but it was incredibly slow.

  • After dinner it was back to the room to repack/organize the suitcases since our bags from the ship were all waiting in the room for us. Also I copied pictures from all the cameras and made backups then we called it a night.

On the way home spotted this Alaska Air Disneyland Plane
Day 11 - Trip Home

  • Our last morning started off with an extremely early wake up call of 3:30am. We had to have our suitcases outside the room by 4:00am to be picked up for the airport and we then had to be in the lobby to catch our bus by 5:00am all for an 8:30am flight to Anchorage. Up until this point I thought Princess had done a good job with all the transfers and transportation and their times were reasonable. But I came to find out the reason the pickup was so early was because it stopped at three hotels and it took us nearly an hour to get to the airport which was not that far away due to the stops.

  • Our traveling group found it only fitting that we would have the Disneyland Make a Wish plane from Alaska Airlines for the first leg of our trip. The exterior paint job was great.. inside a few little details but not much really.

  • We managed to be on the correct side of the plane from Fairbanks to Anchorage (the right side) to have a view of Mt. McKinley on the way south. The views were incredible.

  • The Anchorage airport was a nice stop, we ate breakfast and had time to enjoy the free wi-fi to get caught up on some email before heading back to LAX. The flight to LAX was uneventful and we landed a bit early.

  • The journey home from there was painful thanks to the shuttle service we used not thinking about optimizing their route and rush hour traffic in LA.. so it took several hours and confusion before reaching home.. not a fun way to cap off a long day.

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