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Anchored in Anchorage

Hello Alaska!

semi-overcast 55 °F

Had very smooth flight into Anchorage via plane change at Dallas. Once we got within 100 miles of touchdown, we started seeing snow on a few mountaintops and then, before you knew it, glaciers everywhere. Amazing. After gathering our baggage, we took the city PeopleMover bus to our B&B, then walked a few blocks to the 49th State Brewery for a tasty flight of local brews. Our B&B, Susitna Place, has a wonderful view of Cook’s Inlet and is very nicely situated downtown for walking everywhere we want to go.

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49th State Brewery

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Glaciers outside Anchorage

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View from our balcony at Susitna Place

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Sunset view from brewery rooftop bar

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Enjoying at flight at 49th State

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Another nice sunset view from the rooftop bar

Our first full day in Anchorage greeted us with a delicious breakfast at our B&B, followed by a nice hike along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and another hike back into and through town. The downtown area is very walkable, even with an occasional hill. We stopped for lunch at the Glacier Brewhouse where we tried the halibut fish and chips and a couple of their home brews. Maggie had the IPA and I had the oatmeal stout and everything was delicious. We liked the beer here better than at the 49th State Brewery. They were all good but the flavors just agreed with us more at the Brewhouse.

Views from the trail:

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Our feet were a little sore after 10+ miles of walking so when we decided we wanted to hit a consignment store to find Mike a town-style backpack to use for the rest of the trip, we sent for a Lyft, which took us to the Hoarding Marmot, a used outdoor gear shop. Found one and Lyfted to the Anchorage Museum for Free First Friday. The museum was very interesting and very large. The Smithsonian had an exhibit on native Alaskans which included a coat made from seal intestines, yikes!

After all this hiking and sightseeing, we were ready to get back to our nice cozy B&B and enjoy a bottle of wine and a couple slices of pizza from Uncle Joe’s, relax, watch the sunset from the big picture windows. So that’s exactly what we did.

Breakfast at Susitna Place:

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Saturday, after a scrumptious French toast breakfast from our host, we walked about a mile to the train depot to make sure we knew how to get there. Nearby was the Anchorage Market that had about 30 vendors selling food and crafts. Some very interesting food vendors as you can see from the pictures. We decided that we wanted to find a pub for lunch that would have some college football on TV. We had had our eyes on a place called Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, so we made the short trek and we’re glad we did. The Alaskan cod tacos and smoked salmon chowder were delicious! We watched some of the Nebraska/Colorado game and were happy about the 17-0 Nebraska lead at halftime (but very unhappy when we found out they ended up losing in triple overtime-yuck!) so we headed out to explore more of Anchorage.

It was a gray, misty-rainy day so indoor activities were a priority which led us to some souvenir shopping, visiting an art gallery, and we found the Alaska Experience Theater where we spent about an hour and a half watching very entertaining movies about the northern lights (auroras) and the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake.

Then it was supper time at Ginger, a Pacific Rim themed restaurant, where we thoroughly enjoyed diver scallops served on a bed of baked macaroni and cheese (who would’ve thought?). Yum!

Downtown sights:

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Salmon viewing and fishing area at Ship Creek. There were no salmon except these two that had just died after laying their eggs. Which, of course, is what they always do after they lay their eggs.

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And nobody fishing except this one person. The bait shop was closed with a sign saying that 2019 was a great salmon season. There is also a picture here of the Bridge Restaurant. It was closed, too.
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Vendors at the Anchorage Market:

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The Alaska Train Depot, built in 1942:

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Lunch at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse:

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Had to hit a dive bar: Darwin’s Theory

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Diver scallops over Mac and cheese at Ginger:
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Our host is also a cardiologist and was given this very funny cartoon poster, signed by the artist. Anybody who loves all those pharmaceutical commercials will love this!
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Reviews and links

Susitna Place B&B - would definitely stay here again. The host was wonderful, breakfast delicious, common area very cozy with beautiful views of Cook Inlet and Mt. Our room was spacious and clean with a very nice bathroom. We had our own private balcony and big picture windows overlooking Cook Inlet. The location was only a few blocks walk to all the action downtown.

49th State Brewery - it was a wonderful place to visit on the first night after all day on planes and in airports. The rooftop bar was perfect for relaxing in some nice cool air after leaving a very hot and humid South Carolina. The sunset over Cook Inlet was superb. The beer, however, was just sort of OK. We had a flight of five different drafts and really weren’t wild about any of them.

Glacier Brewhouse - we had the fresh-caught halibut fish and chips, which were very good, but in our opinion not worth the premium price over the cod version. We definitely liked the beer here, much more friendly to our palate than what we tried at 49th State. Very nice ambiance, would definitely return.

Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse - loved this place. The beer, food, ambiance, service: all excellent. Loved the cod tacos and the smoked salmon chowder was amazing. And very agreeable beer!

Darwin’s Theory - we saw several dive bars and this was the only one we were brave enough to enter. Very small place with no draft beer, only cans and bottles. Service was good, other patrons seemed harmless, and some downright interesting. But once is enough.

Ginger - after pubs, pizza, and beer, we were ready for a little fine dining and this place did not disappoint. The spring rolls, diver scallops over mac and cheese, and wine were all wonderful in a very nice setting with great service. Our host later told us that Ginger's a regular favorite of theirs.

Uncle Joe’s Pizzeria - the only place we could find downtown that sold pizza to go by the slice. Fortunately, it was very tasty.

Anchorage Museum - Even though we were able to visit for free because it was their free “First Friday” event, this is definitely worth paying for. Wish we could have spent more time there. The Smithsonian exhibit on the native Alaskan peoples was wonderful.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail - we would definitely hike more of this trail if we make it back to Anchorage. It’s all paved, a little up and down hills, but mostly flat. Maggie’s only complaint was not enough porta-potties. We took the trail to Earthquake park which is a wooded area of ridges that resulted from the famous 1964 earthquake.

Anchorage - a very enjoyable city with a lot to offer visitors. We had a great time exploring the city and if we had more time, it would be a great base from which to experience the entire area. It is a very walkable city, made even more enjoyable by the quickness with which the stop lights change. We never had to wait at an intersection more than 10 seconds! The bus system is also very user friendly, especially for seniors - only $1.

Posted by travelswitz 21:12 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Denali National Park

Wilderness Time!

semi-overcast 58 °F

The Alaska Train to Denali National Park was a wonderful experience. We opted for the Goldstar service which included breakfast, lunch, and seats in the dome car on the second level. The dome car also had an outside balcony area where you could enjoy the fresh Alaska air and get some nice, clear photography done.

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Sights from the train ride to Denali:

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Damage from this year’s bad fire season:

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Back to the nice scenery!

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Beaver dam:

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What a beautiful ride!

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We arrived at the Denali Train Depot and then hopped on the shuttle to our accommodations, Denali Cabins, about a 15-minute ride away. When we booked the cabin a few months prior, all they had available were the small cabins with one full-sized bed. Good thing we like to snuggle!

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We were tired from the long, 8-hour train ride so we were glad to find that the restaurant on the property was open with some decent food and beer. After sharing the Kung Pao brussel sprouts (crazy but tasty) and the homemade apple crisp with ice cream, we settled in for the night. The next morning we grabbed some breakfast items from the little coffee shop (also on the property), picked up our box lunch from the restaurant, and rode the shuttle to the Denali National Park bus depot to catch our tour bus for an eight-hour round trip ride into the park. It was only 66 miles to the Eielson Visitors Center where the tour bus turned around and headed back but it took so long because only the first 15 miles are paved and the driver constantly stopped when scenic Kodak moments availed themselves and when he saw wildlife. Some of the gravel roads were hugging mountainsides that were in active slide areas, making us pretty nervous and another reason the going was slow. The wildlife were almost always barely visible with the naked eye but we brought our best binoculars which made the viewing lots of fun. Many grizzlies, some with cubs, caribou, falcons, eagles, and moose. No pictures of those because we only have cell phone cameras, not good for zoom pics. But the scenery, as you can see here, was spectacular. We were told that there would be only a 30% chance of seeing Mt. Denali because it loved to hide behind clouds but we got lucky and started to see it about half way to the best viewing at Eielson and once there, the clouds almost completely disappeared and we got some great photos. Yes, these are real photos from our cell phones, not stock images we found somewhere!

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The iconic “road to Denali”:

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The fabulous mountain itself. We were so lucky to see it with so few clouds. Check out the giant glacier on top.

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This is actually just one photo. I took it while standing in front of the description sign that faces Mt. Denali. Pretty cool, eh?

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Unfortunately, some park visitors threw some food to some grizzlies a couple weeks before and caused the bears to be less wary of humans. So the park had to close some trails and bring in the dogs that they use to train the bears to once again be afraid of humans. This was a major bummer for us because these were trails at Eielson that we really wanted to hike.

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Ok, so while I did take this photo of Mt. Denali, I did apply a filter which gives it that nice “postcard” look (don’t you think?):

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After the all day wilderness bus tour, we decided pizza and beer was a necessity and luckily, right outside the park entrance, we found Prospector’s Pizzeria, a very cool pizza place with excellent local craft beer (the pizza was pretty damn good, too).

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The second day, we hiked some trails around the visitors center including the Mt. Healy overlook trail which revealed some awesome views of the valley below. It was really nice to see the lovely fall colors provided by the birch and willow trees. The first picture is looking up at Mt. Healy from early in the trail, followed by pics from the way up, then at the top. Almost 3 miles and 1800 feet of climbing in elevation with some pretty strenuous sections. But the amazing views at the top were worth it.

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A ptarmigan along the trail:

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Then we took some time to check out the visitors center and watch the dog sled demonstrations. The park uses dog sled teams to carry equipment and construction materials, etc, the demonstration was done using their “summer sled”.

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Afterward, we hopped on the McKinley Chalet bus over to the hotel/restaurant/shopping area outside the park entrance and perused the restaurant options where we settled on Karsten Public House located down the hill behind the McKinley Chalet resort in an area known as Denali Square. The square featured shops, restaurants, an amphitheater-style patio with fire pits, a scenic trail down to the Nenana River, and a really cool old tour bus/wagon from the early days of the park. Supper was a delicious helping of King Crab fettuccine followed by beignets with birch caramel dipping sauce...yum!

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FYI, the bus driver heavily recruited the seasonal service job industry during the ride to the McKinley Chalet Resort. She is in her 50’s and said she and her husband come up for six weeks each year during the summer, then head back to Florida. All the workers are out up in dorms in Healy, about 30 minutes away, where they are charged $15 per day for room and food. Each big lodge has 1,000+ seasonal workers. Here’s the web site, if you’re interested: Alaska Tour Jobs

We had no idea that Food Network-featured coffee was available out here in the middle of nowhere:

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We did not see any northern lights while in Denali (major bummer!) but the sky did set itself on fire the last night we were here:

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Links and reviews

Alaska Railroad - highly recommended, we loved it and would certainly ride this train again, including the Goldstar service.

Denali Cabins - quaint, cozy cabins that are a 15 minute drive from the park entrance. Decent restaurant/bar onsite but not-so-great coffee shop. The yogurt parfaits and brownies were good, so was the tea, but not so with the coffee. They did not have dark roast! “Yikes!” said Maggie.

Denali National Park - yes, yes, yes, you must see this park, if you can. The transit bus ride to Eielson was long, but the driver made it entertaining and we would not have seen nearly as much wildlife without his experience in sighting them far off in the distance. If we come back, we would probably spend a little more and do a flightseeing tour. One of the other guests at the cabins showed us a short video he took with his camera while flying over the glaciers and it looked worth it.

Prospectors Pizzeria - loved it! We got there around 6pm and by 7 it was packed. I asked the bartender if it was always that busy and he said it was slow. During the summer he said the line is out the door and down the road. We learned that this was the last week of the season and that all the shops, hotels, restaurants were closing on Sept. 15th which explained why some food items and beers were not available. But what we had was great!

Karstens Public House - we were so glad we found this place because we wanted to have a nice dinner our last night at Denali but didn’t know where to go other than where we had been already. We didn’t realize that the big lodges had restaurants that were also open to the public. The ambience here was as wonderful as the food. We had the tomato caprese soup, chicken tortilla soup, king crab fettuccine, and the only item we remembered to take a picture of: the beignets. And all went superbly with the 14 Hands Pinot Gris our waitress recommended.

Posted by travelswitz 17:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage - Glaciers!

Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay

overcast 38 °F

To reach our cruise embarkation port of Whittier, we took the Park Connection bus, a large tour-style bus, back through Talkeetna and Anchorage. Lots more beautiful scenery, but just a couple of quick photos:

Rest stop at Talkeetna Wilderness Lodge

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Just before we got to Whittier, we took another short stop at a little park that gave us a glimpse of a mountain glacier. Then we had to enter a very long and narrow, one-way tunnel through a mountain that took us to the actual port. It is used by cars, buses, and trains so cars and buses are actually driving on/over the tracks. I couldn’t get a good angle to take a picture so here is a link to the tunnel web page so you can see how weird it is.

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Whittier

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After dinner and a good night’s rest on the ship, we began two days of glacier cruising starting with the huge Hubbard Glacier which is six miles wide, 76 miles long, and is one of the few tidal glaciers in Alaska still advancing. It’s face is over 200 feet high. In fact, so were all of the glaciers we cruised to. Our ship’s captain brought the Coral Princess up close on one side then turned the boat around so passengers on the other side could see it also, without leaving their cabin balconies. Of course, we watched some from our balcony but had to roam the promenade deck to get all the angles! Cold rain and wind came and went but always disappeared long enough to get some good pics. The scenery was so dramatic as we entered Yakutat Bay, with low-lying clouds and chunks of ice everywhere. At the end of the inlet, we navigated around an island to where both Hubbard Glacier and Malaspina Glacier enter the water. Malaspina, according to our onboard naturalist, Rachel Cartwright, is much larger (the size of Switzerland) and only trickles into the bay on the left. Hubbard, on the other hand, is massive as it enters. As we stood on the deck watching it up close, we kept hearing what sounded like thunder. Some clouds were dark so we were wondering if a storm was brewing. Then we started to see chunks of ice fall off the glacier and realized we were hearing the ice calving before we actually saw it. Such a weird sound and experience. Unfortunately, it happened too fast to get a picture. And did I mention it was cold?

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The small boat took some of our passengers up very close to the glacier, but we stayed where we were and enjoyed the views from the safety of the big boat! Here are a couple shots of the upper deck where you can see the giant movie screen and the ginormous turbines powering the ship. Amazingly, even with these big engines, the ship was very quiet traveling through these serene bodies of water.

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The next day, we checked off another National Park on our list when we entered Glacier Bay National Park. A few park rangers boarded the boat early in the day and one, Ranger Katie, gave the most informative, entertaining , and inspiring lecture we’ve ever heard from a park ranger. It was like we were at a TED talk. She told us the native Tlingit people’s story of the glacier that created Glacier Bay, which happened only as far back as 1792. Scientists have since confirmed the story is accurate, that the giant glacier broke free from the mountain top and slid into the flat plain of the valley, destroying everything, moving small islands, and dislocating the entire Tlingit village. According to the story, only one person was killed. Shortly afterward, British explorer George Vancouver entered the area and documented their story and the location of the glacier. As more explorers came, including John Muir, over the next 100 years, the glacier retreated back to its original location, carving the deep bay that exists now. It’s location over time continued to be documented as you can see by this map, which shows the lines of the glacier by year:

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The glacier now sits near the US-Canada border. As we entered the bay, another ranger gave us a guided tour over the ship’s speaker system and informed us that the glacier in the story, the Grand Pacific Glacier, was covered recently by a landslide which is why, even though the ice is still there, it now looks black and rocky. In these pictures, you probably won’t even be able to tell that it is a glacier. We wouldn’t have known and we were up close! Because we were cruising after September 1st, the harbor seal mating season was over and we were allowed to enter the protected Johns Hopkins Glacier area and see a glacier that only a few cruise ships a year get to see (we saw a Holland America cruise ship while we were there, along with another much smaller boat). So in this park, we saw the two aforementioned glaciers along with Margerie and Lamphugh glaciers. The black spots on the ice in front of some of the glaciers were actually harbor seals resting and waving to us. Sorry no pics because, as usual, our zoom feature is not so great on our cell cameras. It’s an amazing national park, yet only accessible by boat or plane.

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Just an awe-inspiring experience traveling through this natural wonderland, cruising along the calm waters and coming face to face with 250’ walls of ice. Next stop, Skagway and the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Railway trip through Klondike gold rush territory.

Links:

Hubbard Glacier

Glacier Bay National Park

Rachel Cartwright’s book

Posted by travelswitz 08:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Cruising the Inside Passage - Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan

Catch us if you can!

all seasons in one day 55 °F

Skagway

The port for gold seekers

We woke up Saturday morning to find ourselves docked in the peaceful port of Skagway with blue skies (finally!) and kayakers in the water just outside our ship.

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When we disembarked for our rail ride to White Pass, we noticed graffiti all over the rock wall alongside the pier. We learned at this web site that, since 1928, the crews of ships have been "autographing" this wall to commemorate their first voyage to Skagway. I only took a picture of a small section of the wall, it was all along the pier. Amazing.

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White Pass and Yukon Railway

We were hesitant at first about booking this excursion because we had already enjoyed a wonderful train ride from Anchorage to Denali. But the more we researched it the more we decided we shouldn’t pass it up. This narrow gauge railway (the rails are only three feet apart) uses vintage engines and cars and they squeak along the original path of the line built during the Klondike gold rush at the turn of the 20th century. It climbs a 3.9% grade for 20 miles until it reaches White Pass at the Canadian border. We chose the shorter ride, which turned around at that point and headed back into Skagway. As you can see, the views are super. Sometimes the trip was a little nerve racking with narrow tunnels and very-close-to-the-edge-of-the-mountain rails. And especially when we saw the train heading right for a trellis that was seriously deteriorated and warped...yikes! But of course, it passed by that one and went to a newer, much better one.

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Below you can still see the actual trail the gold miners used over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, many miners and horses died on this narrow, steep, and treacherous trail.

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Exploring the town

We found the town to be full of tourist shops and breweries, but still sort of quaint with many old buildings still standing. As we’ve discovered just about everywhere in Alaska, many businesses are closing down next week and the summer workers are heading home or off to other seasonal jobs, like ski resorts. We visited Skagway Brewing where the dark beer flight was one of the best we’ve ever had. Major end-of-season sales were going on in the stores, so we picked up a few nicely-priced souvenirs.

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Then back to the ship for dinner and overnight cruising to Juneau. (Isn’t she cute!)

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Juneau

Alaska’s Capital City

Alaska’s capital is the only state capital in the continental US that has no road access. One can only arrive here via boat, plane, or birth canal ????. It is also the only state capitol that borders a foreign country, and has the second largest land mass of any state capitol. When we arrived we were happy to be welcomed by another sunny, blue-sky day with temps in the mid sixties.

We began with an excursion to one of the few urban glaciers in the world, the Mendenhall Glacier, which slides down out of the mountains into a lake 12 miles outside of Juneau. The waterfall in these pictures to the right of the glacier was actually flowing out from under the glacier 50 years ago. That’s how far the glacier has retreated since then. We hiked a few trails: one down to the waterfall, one through a rainforest off to the side of the lake, and one to a salmon creek with no salmon. As you can see by the posted salmon chart, the season is over.

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Once back in Juneau, we had a delicious halibut wrap, fries, and one of our favorite Alaskan beers, Midnight Sun Kodiak Brown, at The Hangar which was a nice pub and grill on the wharf. A much larger cruise ship had docked nearby and sea planes were taking off providing some entertainment while we ate. We’ll be flying one of those “puddle jumpers” when we get to Ketchikan tomorrow.

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Our last activity in Juneau was to ride the tram up to Mt. Roberts to take in the spectacular views of the inlet.

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Then it was back onto the ship where we feasted on lobster, oysters, clams, king salmon, and amazing desserts: a peanut butter chocolate moose bar and a fried peach pie...OMG, delish!

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One of the many scenic views from the ship’s restaurant as we dined and cruised through Alaska’s Inside Passage:

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Ketchikan

The Southern Tip of the Inside Passage

When we woke up in Ketchikan we stepped out onto the balcony of our stateroom overlooking a colorful fishing village tiered along the mountainside of the inlet. A beautiful site, even with the mist and fog circling in. Those weather conditions, however, deteriorated throughout the morning while we strolled along the town sidewalks taking pictures of the interesting buildings (many of them bars!), finding refuge in the numerous souvenir stores. After tiring of the cold rain and wind, we felt the need to dive into a bar for a brew. We picked the Asylum Bar not because it did indeed look like a “dive bar”, but because it proudly proclaimed to be the best bar in Alaska and crazy Jack Nicholson was peering out from a second floor window (who could resist that?). It turned out to be a great choice because they had an awesome porter from a local microbrewery and great conversation with the bar staff (and some tasty, locally-popped, caramel-cheddar corn). They also advised us that the poor weather was probably going to result in the cancellation of our flightseeing excursion into the Misty Fjords National Monument aboard an Alaska bush plane that was scheduled for the afternoon.

And indeed, when we got back to the ship we learned that it was cancelled. So we switched to our second choice which took us by bus a few miles out of town to visit the Totem Bight State Park where they have restored and recreated the totem poles abandoned by the native peoples. The natives left their villages and moved to towns as a result of European settlers and missionaries encouraging them to become more “civilized”. Even though the rain persisted, we really enjoyed seeing and learning more about these beautiful, carved pieces of art.

More interesting facts we learned about Ketchikan from our bus tour guide:

  • Much of the town is built on pylons over the sea water so one can actually kayak under the town. The part that is on solid ground is solid rock. These both make it very difficult to drill wells so most of the population, including the businesses, harvest the 150+ inches of annual rainfall into large cisterns that they then treat and use.
  • Ketchikan is home to the world’s smallest Walmart which does not sell meat or produce so that those local sellers can stay in business.
  • Ketchikan’s zip code is 99901 and a small community just outside town is Ward Cove with a zip code of 99950 - the highest in the US.
  • Two of the newest ferries in the Alaska State Ferry System were built in Ketchikan. The ferry boats are large and include cabins and tent sites for overnight stays. Why? Because some ferry ports are quite far apart, such as the one in Bellingham, Washington - a 37-hour ride away!

Around Ketchikan:

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A urinal made out of a beer keg. These people in Ketchikan are very industrious.

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Third floor walk-up!

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Totem Bight State Park:

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Rating the Cruise

Our overall experience...

As you can probably guess by our blog posts, we really had a great time. There were pros and cons to an Alaska vacation this time of year but we felt the pros far outweighed the cons. The negatives included the cold, rainy weather some days and the fact that some restaurants on shore were out of a few things since this was the end of the season. But there were certainly more good weather days than bad and only one that really put a “damper” on our experience and that was in Ketchikan when our bush plane ride over the beautiful Alaska fjords to a water landing at a historical lodge serving all-you-can-eat Dungeness crab was cancelled. OH WELL, I GUESS WE’LL HAVE TO COME BACK!

Here is a link to our cruise for 2020. This was our first time to Alaska and our first cruise with Princess. We have been to the Caribbean before on Carnival and the Big Red Boat and while we enjoyed those, Princess was definitely a step up. The food and entertainment were top notch and the service was excellent. We used a travel agent to book the flight and cruise and we handled Anchorage, Denali, and Vancouver on our own. We wanted to have more freedom before and after the cruise instead of being forced to take packages. We kind of like to do our own exploring which is why we also tried to pick half-day, on-shore excursions so we could see what the towns were like on our own. You know, bar-hopping, pub crawls, that sort of thing! Yeehaw!

We also signed up for “anytime dining” on this cruise which allowed us to sit by ourselves in the dining room rather than the traditional cruise dining experience where they put you at the same table with the same folks at the same time every day. While we had fun doing that in the past, it was definitely nice to have some time alone in a nice dining room. And we could still strike up conversations with nearby diners or even sit with them if we all wanted. Of course, there were still the buffets, which we partook from a couple of times. But the quality of the food and service were always better in the dining room. Our travel agent also bought us an evening dinner in one of the ship’s specialty restaurants which was a nice treat that otherwise would have cost an additional $29 each.

The cocktails and bottles of wine were very reasonably priced and the wine choices were excellent. The entertainment included jazz bands, soul bands, classical duos, Las Vegas quality singers and shows, a comedian, ventriloquist, trivia contests and just some nice quiet time in the ship’s very cool bars. Another nice addition on this cruise was their on-board naturalist, Rachel Cartwright, who gave very interesting and entertaining lectures on the glaciers, whales, bears and other flora and fauna, which allowed us to be much more informed and appreciative when we saw them ourselves.

The cool weather was wonderful (yikes, South Carolina is still in the 90s!) and the smaller crowds and end-of-season specials made local wandering more fun and the overall experience was just wonderful. Here are some pics from our last day on the cruise as we head toward Wednesday morning’s arrival in Vancouver. We spotted several orcas, seals and a sea otter. And the scenery continued to be just divine. The dessert I chose tonight was their baked Alaska, shown below on the plate and whole on the servers platters. It melted in my mouth, yum!

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Posted by travelswitz 22:40 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Vancouver

Welcome to Canada

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The ship docked in Vancouver around 7:30am local time. Because Princess had us fill out customs forms before we disembarked, it was a breeze coming into Canada. The officers never even looked at our passports. First stop was backpacking to our AirBnB which fortunately was only a few blocks away because these packs are heavy! If we had known there was a laundromat on the ship, we would have only packed half as many clothes. And the laundromat was right across the hall from our cabin! When we arrived at our location we were surprised to see the building was named Orca Place. How appropriate since we had just seen a lot of orcas! It was a very cute apartment on the 7th floor with views of other high rises and a large mural on the building next door of a scene straight out of our Alaska cruise.

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After unpacking, we headed to the visitors center for info and tips. We had been told before we left that we must see Victoria while in Vancouver but after learning that it was an 8-hour roundtrip via ferry and bus, we decided to pass on that excursion this time. So we decided to do what we normally do when we first arrive at a new location and that’s find a cool place to grab a pint of local beer. Only two blocks from the visitors center, we found Steamworks Brewing and when we saw a Canadian staple (and delight!), poutine, on the menu we decided to eat as well. Poutine comprises French fries and cheese curds covered with brown gravy. And we added some pulled pork. Yum!

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One recommendation from the visitors center was to see Granville Island’s public market so off we went via city bus. The market was filled with local merchants selling everything from cheese, meats, and produce to baked goods and crafts. We decided that we’d go ahead and buy some groceries to take back to the apartment for breakfast and for lunches that we could make to take with us on our explorations. We also grabbed a bottle of British Columbia pinot noir and headed back to the room to enjoy some of our newly acquired morsels.

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The next morning we took the advice of our helpful visitors center advisor and boarded the bus to the University of British Columbia to see their Museum of Anthropology which overwhelmed us with displays of their First Nations cultures as well as very nice exhibits on puppets and European ceramic dishes. Most impressive! We ate our home-made lunches in the museum cafe along with a bowl of their home-made tomato soup and then caught the bus back downtown to our next recommended site.

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Gastown is the name for the original, old downtown section of Vancouver with its famous landmark, the Steam Clock, one of only a few steam operated clocks in the world. We strolled through the avenues shopping and enjoying the sights when we spotted the Irish Heather pub where, of course, we had to stop in for another local draft and where all drafts are imperial pints (20 ounces). Nice!

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Gastown is right next to Chinatown so after a little more shopping and sightseeing, we ventured there in search of a dinner spot. As most Chinatowns do, this one also had a very prominent entrance. We ended up at Sai Woo where we feasted on Szechuan flank steak, cauliflower, bok choy, and pork dumplings. Reasonably priced and tasty. Then, we worked our way back to the apartment and paused at a little bistro/bar across the street by the name of Tableau to check out their cocktails and ended up staying for over an hour. It was a nice, cozy place.

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Friday, we took the free shuttle to Grouse Mountain to ride the sky tram and see Vancouver from 3,800 feet, but unfortunately, foggy clouds set in and didn’t lift until the ride back down on the tram. But we did see the two grizzlies that were rescued as toddlers 18 years ago before British Columbia had a grizzly rescue program. One was found wandering alone far from any other grizzlies and one’s mother was killed by a car. So a local veterinarian, along with researchers, brought them to Grouse Mountain and built a 5-acre retreat for them. Otherwise, they would have been euthanized. Below is a photo of one of them playing in a pond. Who would think a grizzly bear could be so cute? We also watched a very entertaining lumberjack show. We would definitely recommend this place, even though it was sort of touristy, but try to book it when the skies are clear. It was a bummer to only see part of the scenic vista as we were leaving, however it was kind of cool to take the tram and especially the chair lift into the clouds.

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Strolling around Vancouver and checking out the many interesting sites, we also noticed a Chronic Tacos which is a franchise that a relative is considering purchasing for Wilmington, NC, so we had to check it out. The food was good but pretty typical franchise food. It appears to be basically a Moe’s for tacos. It would have been nice if they also had offered hard taco shells and fresh jalapenos.

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Finally, we’re on our way home, and the plane took us right over Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Hood. A great trip! But you know how it is, it's great to be home, too.

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Posted by travelswitz 11:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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