by Bob Sparrow
After our seventh day at sea, not seeing whales, dolphins or sea lions, we pull into Whittier, which is the port for Anchorage, for our three days on land where we won’t see moose, but will see a bear and some eagles. Actually, I enjoyed the land portion of our trip more than our time at sea. The three days on land gave us a real sense of what Alaska is all about. The cruise part visited three coastal ports, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway which are all fairly similar – tourist towns filled with bars and gift shops; and the rain in every port didn’t help! Perhaps being able to take the scenic train ride out of Skagway might have made a difference, but for now my YouTube train experience will have to do.
The two-day, 417-mile trip from Whittier to Fairbanks starts with a train ride to about the halfway point at McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. From there we take a bus on a four-hour ‘wilderness tour’ that the driver/guide made really interesting and informative. This is where we saw a bear fairly close up as well as several caribou and a few bald eagles. We stopped along the way and had a native Athabaskan give us a lecture on all the plants that surrounded us and how each was used for a different medicinal purpose. The next day we were on a bus through Denali National Park, staying at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. That evening we went to a dinner with a show that describes the climbing of Mt. Denali in song – it was quite good.
The next day we went on a riverboat, which was probably the highlight of the trip for me, as we stopped to visit a sled dog farm and heard from the trainer and watched a demonstration of the dogs pulling a sled on wheels – they are truly amazing dogs!! On land we stopped at an Athabaskan village where we heard a presentation about life amongst this native tribe – very interesting!
We then move on to Fairbanks and on our last night of the tour we are told that, if the clouds go away, the ‘Northern Lights’ would be visible around midnight, so we asked the front desk clerk to give us a call if they were visible . . . big surprise, no call.
- Princess ships are beautiful, the staff is gracious, the entertainment is great, but the quality of food, or lack thereof, will keep me from sailing on Princess again.
- We discovered, too late, that in Alaska, August is considered ‘fall’ and the rainy season – we can definitely confirm that. I’d recommend traveling in late May to early June
- In August the sun sets just before 10:00 pm, which for us meant that we got to actually see the rain until almost midnight
- The highest mountain on the north American continent, Mt. McKinley, had its name changed to Mt. Denali in 2017, we
were hoping to catch a glimpse of it at some point, but we were to learn that only about 25-30% of people spending a week or two in Alaska, will see Mt. Denali. So here’s a photo, not taken by me, so we all can see what it really looks like.
- I asked almost every one of our servers or workers that I came in contact with, where they came from and how long they’d been working in Alaska. People come from all over the world to work in Alaska for the summer, very few stay there through the winters, where temperatures can get to 60 to 70 below zero.
- If you’re thinking about a similar trip to Alaska that we just did, I’d recommend doing it in reverse order – do the land portion first as I think it gives you a better sense of Alaska, then relax and do the cruise – preferably not on Princess, if you like food.
Some random photos