S: A L A S K A
FC: A L A S K A August 2011
1: At the Detroit Airport waiting for the vacation to begin
20: Misty Fjords National Monument
22: 40th Anniversary July 24, 1971 ~~~ July 24, ,2011
24: Alaska CruiseTour August 9 – 21,2011 To say that we had an amazing trip is an understatement! This was a big trip for us and we weren't disappointed. We couldn't have arranged more perfect weather - cool, refreshing temperatures, lots of sunshine, very little rain - we were very lucky! Travel Day: long, long, long! We were up early in the morning to catch our 6:30 am ride to our church to get on 1 of 2 buses headed to Detroit Airport for our group of 61. About half of the group were from a small nearby farming community and it seems like they were all related somehow, but such a great bunch. We knew only seven others in the group (my Handbell Choir and two spouses), but soon we began introducing ourselves and it was nice getting to know everyone. We got to Detroit and to our gate with plenty of time to spare - ended up being lots of time to spare! We were scheduled for a layover in Philadelphia before flying on to Anchorage. The plane from Philly was delayed because of a computer glitch and weather. We flew out three hours late, but the airline held the other plane in Philly for one hour to wait for us. On the tarmac, we had to wait out another storm for about an hour, but as it cleared there was a beautiful rainbow, which ended up being a good omen for the rest of our trip. We arrived at our Anchorage hotel about 4 hours late and were finally in bed about 23 hours after getting up that morning. Day 1: Anchorage, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, bus to Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. We toured a bit around Anchorage, then traveled outside of town to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where orphaned and injured animals are rehabilitated and given a home. We were able to see bears, moose, caribou and an eagle up close. There was beautiful scenery on the ride to give us our first glimpse of the Alaskan water, wilderness and mountains. At the Anchorage airport we transferred to a Princess bus to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. As we passed through the town of Wasilla, we caught a quick look in the distance of Sarah Palin's home with a huge fence between her and her nosy neighbor. We arrived to a spectacular, clear view of Mt. McKinley and enjoyed the evening sitting out on the big decks overlooking the mountain. We bought magnets proclaiming us members of the 30% Club - the number who visit Mt. McKinley, who actually get to see it without a cloud cover! Day 2: Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge with a Horse Drawn Wagon Ride. This was a relaxing, fun, clear sky and bright sunny day. Two horses, two cowboys and a wagon picked ten of us up in front of the lodge. We clip-pity-clopped a few miles away to a small camp in the woods. While there we panned for gold - it's a good thing I don't do this for a living - I wasn't good at it and I only "found" one nugget. Our guide, Jesse, nicely gave me a few of his for my souvenir card! We made S'mores over an open fire, tried on moose antlers and then we had to have the Reindeer Shag, eat a cracker from our mouths , therefore we could now tell everyone that "I kissed a reindeer!" It was fun and also gave us a little better view of Mt. McKinley. Day 3: Bus to Princess Denali Wilderness Lodge. The first thing in the morning we headed further north to Denali National Park. It was a beautiful day with more gorgeous wilderness and mountain scenery. We arrived just in time for a quick lunch at the Denali Doghouse. I had a delicious Reindeer Sausage with grilled onions and peppers - yummy! Interestingly, one of our tour guides told us that the reindeer was shipped to Alaska from Michigan. It was on the menus several places in Alaska, but I've never seen it on a menu in Michigan. I think he may have just been joking with us! In the afternoon, we again boarded buses for the Denali Natural History Tour. I was a bit disappointed in this - a bit of a long afternoon with more scenery, but we did get to see a caribou up close and a moose in the distance. We were pretty tired at this point and I think we were in bed sound asleep by 9 PM!
25: Day 4: Princess Rail Train to Whittier and The Diamond Princess Ship. This was a nine hour train ride through the wilderness to our embarkation port in Whittier. The domed cars were perfect for viewing the scenery. Again, we had perfect, beautiful weather. It was nice to see the wilderness and mountains from this vantage point, but most of us agreed that it was a little too long after all the traveling we had already done. I'm glad that this land portion was scheduled though at the beginning of our trip - I think it would have been a little too much to add on after sailing on the ship. It was a welcome view to see our ship in the Whittier harbor as we arrived by train . We spent the evening looking around - the ship is beautiful. We had a balcony stateroom, which was awesome! It gave us a place to sit, view the surroundings and visit with our friends, who were next to us. It was great that we were able to open the connecting door between our balconies. Cruise Day 1: Our first and second days were spent entirely on the ship as we traveled to Glacier Bay. The weather was a little cooler (upper 50 degrees) and was rainy at times. We weren't on the decks too much because of the wind, but it was great to be out on our protected balcony. Sunday morning as we stepped out of our room we were greeted with a "Happy Anniversary" sign, card and balloons from our room steward. (I had noted that was the day we would celebrate our anniversary on our "cruise personalizer") It was a nice touch! In the morning a few of us went to the shopping information (infomercial!) program --- we got a few coupons and I was lucky enough to snag a free t-shirt that was thrown out (only had to beat off two other women for it - haha). In the afternoon Mike, my friend Sharon and I entered the slot tournament in the casino. I almost made the playoff round, but got out-scored at the last minute. Mike ended up with the lowest score of anyone and won a really nice canvas bag. :-) That's pretty much how our luck continued all week in the casino - all we won was the bag! At dinner that evening all the waiters sang "Happy Anniversary" to us and served us a delicious chocolate cake for dessert. Cruise Day 2: The next day as we neared Hubbard Glacier we started seeing several Humpback Whales. It was pretty neat to see them swimming so nearby. The glacier was just amazing! I took lots of photos, but even those can't really show the beauty of seeing it in person. I heard the thundering sound that was the glacier calving, but only turned in time to snap a picture and see the splash as the chunk fell. Most evenings we went to the ship's entertainment shows. They were okay, but certainly not as memorable as the Mother Nature shows outside. The scenery was just breathtaking all of the time – definitely a much different landscape from Michigan with it's animal and crop farms and fields along the highways. Cruise Day 3: Our first city stop was in Skagway. It was raining just a bit as we got an early start visiting a few shops in the town. It cleared into another beautiful day very quickly though. The temperature for these three stopping points were usually in the low 60's - actually very pleasant and we usually just needed to wear sweatshirts and have a windbreaker/rain jacket handy. We took a shuttle bus for the short ride into town. Skagway reminded me of Disney World Main Street - cute stores, but really didn't see houses where people would live. I bought a few souvenirs, among them an Alaskan ULU Knife. You see them all over and it actually works pretty good for cutting and chopping food here at home. Their factory is in Anchorage. I wish we would have had time to visit there. Our excursion that day was on the White Pass and Yukon Railway. It was a fantastic ride up into the mountains with great scenery. We were hoping to see some wildlife, but no luck.
26: Cruise Day 4: The next day was our stop in the capital city of Juneau. We had another early start to a busy day and we were shopping by 7:45 AM! This was a fairly short walk into a nice, although touristy, shopping area right near the pier. I made a few purchases - one was a Byers Choice goose from a Christmas store. He matches very nicely the one I bought in Lake Tahoe as a remembrance of my trip there two years ago. Now that I have two from two different places, I'll have to add to my flock of geese as I travel! My other purchase was a set of bamboo sheets - I've heard about their softness before and they were featured on the shopping show I attended. I've had them on our bed now and love them! Our afternoon excursion was to the Mendenhall Glacier. What a pretty place - the glacier, it's size and color are so amazing! While there we happened to see three black bears. Finally!!! Two of them we saw eating, the other one was just sitting up in a tree. From here we went on to Auke Bay for a whale quest and we weren't disappointed! We saw numerous Orca Whales up close - just swimming and playing. People visiting usually only get to see them out about every two weeks. We were very lucky. We also saw many Humpback Whales - not as pretty, but awesome. Two times they circled a school of herring in a technique called Bubble Net Feeding. They circle and then pop to the surface with mouths open to get their fill of the fish. Just amazing to witness - we were told that only about 5% of visitors get to see this happen and we saw them do it twice. We had just an awesome day; one we won't soon forget! Cruise Day 5: Our port stop was at Ketchikan and I think that I liked it the best. The houses set into the cliffs were so pretty. We spent a little time walking the streets and looking in the shops. Our highlight of this stop (and maybe the trip) was our flight on a 4-seater Cessna Floatplane. We first flew over the town and harbor and then on to Misty Fjords National Monument - a mountainous canyon area with lakes formed by melting glaciers. We zoomed around mountains; saw brown bears fighting over a fish; saw numerous eagles and a mountain goat standing on the side of a mountain. We landed on a mirror smooth lake and were able to get out of the plane and walk on shore. There were many brown trout jumping out of the water and our pilot said that he and a friend would be flying up there again on the weekend to fish from the plane's floats. Spectacular wilderness landscape and an amazing ride to have taken into this area. Another awesome Alaska day! Cruise Day 6: Our trip is coming to a close. This last day we were at sea and headed to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was another beautiful day so we were able to spend some time just sitting on deck or on our stateroom balcony. People were using the covered pool today and even some were in the outside pool, but it was still a bit cool and breezy out in the open. Last Day: We arrived in Vancouver and began our departure about 8 am. We were scheduled on a Bus Tour of the city and I was glad to get a bit of a view of this large city. The Olympic Flame structure is very near the pier and it was neat to see. We stopped in Stanley Park and then at Grandville Island for a lunch break. The Public Market there is huge and so many different booths of food. I could have spent hours there looking everything over, but we were pretty limited on time. Sunday morning we were off to the Vancouver Airport. There were long lines and it took nearly two hours to check-in and then go through customs. Once we got through those and on our flight, we got back to Detroit with no problems. We had a bus trip back to Lansing and then Home Sweet Home. We had a wonderful, memorable trip - one we'll remember for a long time.