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Vacation to Alaska Part 1 - Land Tour

Sunday, September 29, 2019

I started a blog about our two week August vacation to Alaska when we got back, but then I never completed it due to being upset about my dog, Sophie. Now that she’s been gone for a month and I’m done writing my tribute blog to her, I feel like I can go back and look at the fantastic time we had on that trip. It was at the top of my bucket list for a long time, and definitely worth the cost - it was amazing! I would highly recommend it! It took a lot of planning - we actually booked it with a travel agent (AAA) over a year ago! All the research I did and just the anticipation of going there was so much fun! It’s hard to believe that it’s now over!

I know that this will be another long blog, but at least I’m going to divide it into two parts (land portion and then the cruise) and TRY to share the highlights of the trip, since there was so much we did and I took so many beautiful photos (that do not do the scenery justice!) It’s probably good that we’ve been home for awhile so the memories aren’t as fresh and I won’t go crazy with details, which I tend to do at times! emoticon

We went on our trip with our friends, Karen and Denny, who we’ve known for over 30 years. They both have some health issues, but we didn’t want to do a lot of things separately from them, so we compromised with some activities Dave and I would normally do (less hiking and more sightseeing excursions.) All of them were great though! We were very blessed with wonderful weather all 17 days! We were prepared to have rain (since August is the start of the rainy season there,) but it only rained two times and not for the whole day (one a little shower when we got off the bus to do a gold panning activity, and once in the evening when we were already inside our lodge.)

We had a long travel day by plane from Orlando with a connection in Seattle and then on to Anchorage.

First glimpse of a moose in the airport - funny that I got excited over a stuffed one! emoticon

We spent the next day in Anchorage on our own before the land tour portion of our trip, advised in case we had delays with our flights and to rest! While there, we took a trolley tour of the city and went to an outdoor market and a couple museums.

On Day 2 we met our land tour guide, Liz for an introduction breakfast. We were part of a group of 43 people who traveled together for the first seven days. They were a fun group and Liz was a fantastic tour guide! She gave commentary on our way to each place and had everything planned out in great detail. Here is a picture we took of the whole group at one of the lodges, a map of our route and the itinerary Liz gave us.

The first day of our land tour, we drove north in a motor coach with several stops for lunch, photo stops and bathroom breaks to the Copper River Lodge, the first of four lodges we stayed at, owned by Princess, the cruise line we used. We stayed there two nights. The lodge and the grounds all around were beautiful, inside and out!

Highlights from our two days there were a fun ATV excursion, Denny and Dave going salmon fishing with Denny catching a 42 pound king salmon (and having fresh salmon for dinner that night!) and me taking a hike by myself to the river while the others rested.

Day 4 was traveling north on the stunning Richardson Highway to Fairbanks. Along the way we saw amazing views of the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains, along with the Alaskan pipeline, photo stops at another glacier and Rainbow Mountains, lunch at a park with grounds near the river and many historic buildings to explore, and a fun visit at North Pole, Alaska with a gift shop, Santa and reindeer!

The Fairbanks lodge and grounds were very nice. In the back of the property they were growing all kinds of veggies, herbs, and flowers.

There were signs to inform you about running across a moose or bear, but this is all we saw-another statue!

The next day was a Fairbanks local day. Everyone in our group had the same excursion as part of the tour package. First we got to experience what it felt like to be in 40 Degrees Below temperatures! It was a touristy photo op money maker, but fun nonetheless!

Next we took a relaxing ride down the Chena River on a riverboat with neat sights of a seaplane takeoff and landing, more reindeer, and Iditarod sled dogs at a summer camp.

We stopped at a recreated native village that was very interesting. All the guides were Native Alaskans (most University students) telling us about hunting and trapping in the early twentieth century.

After lunch at Steamship Landing, we took a little train ride to Gold Dredge #8 where we tried our luck at panning for gold! That was fun! Of course, there were little gold flakes in every pan after you got done getting the silt out, and after you were done, you got them weighed to see how much they were worth! Mine were supposedly worth $12!

On Day 6 we took a spectacular train ride to Denali National Park, the part of our land tour I was looking forward to the most. The glass domed train ride was great for seeing the scenery, although not so good for taking pictures (I got lots of reflections from the windows, so we went outside of the car for a bit to get better ones.) We started out early, so we had breakfast on the train.

Once we got to the Denali Princess Lodge, we settled in and explored the beautiful grounds, buildings and had lunch.

Then Karen and Denny went to their room to rest, and Dave and I took a shuttle bus to the park’s visitor center and took a little walk, then came back to go to dinner.

Day 7 was a full day in Denali on the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Park buses are the only vehicles allowed on the one road that bisects six million acres of wild land, where large and small animals have the freedom to roam and live freely with no fence restrictions! The scenery was truly awe inspiring, nature at its best. We saw lots of wildlife, mostly from afar on the mountains- caribou, moose, Dall sheep, and grizzlies. It was very exciting to see! During the sightings, the bus driver would use a telescopic camera lens to project the close-ups of the animals onto screens on the bus- my cell phone pictures look like blobs! Lol

The photos truly do not give the panoramic majesty of the place- I was very impressed with the bus driver’s skill in maneuvering the bus around the hairpin turns, especially when another bus would approach us at the curve!

When we got back from that tour, we almost immediately hopped on the motor coach again to go to our last lodge at the southern end of the park - Mt McKinley Lodge, which had beautiful views of the Denali mountain ranges in the distance Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good visibility day for the huge Mt. McKinley, but the scenery was breathtaking anyway! I would have loved to have seen all the mountains in the winter with snow!

We just had time for dinner there, and then Dave and I took an evening hike to a custom-built treehouse and deck with a spectacular view!

The final day of our land tour (Day 8) was a motor coach drive to Whittier, where our Royal Princess cruise ship was awaiting us mid-afternoon! We made some interesting stops along the way. First stop was to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog headquarters where Karen and I had a thrill, holding a nine day old puppy and then taking a ride through the woods pulled by 12 sled dogs!

Then we also visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we walked around to see many animals up close (wood bison, elk, wolves, fox, deer, bears, moose, etc.) that were sick, wounded or orphaned. It felt good to see that they had quality care on the 700 acre property.

Right before we got to the cruise ship port, we went through the longest highway tunnel in North America, and the first to be designed for -40 degree F temps and 150 mph winds! It was one lane and 2.5 miles-really cool! The bus driver had to time our arrival right so we didn’t have to wait in a long line to get through!
I got these pictures from the internet since I didn’t get any good ones.
So that was the first week of our Alaska adventure! It was great to revisit my pictures and all the incredible memories! I am so glad we did the land tour before the cruise, since it was tiring to be on the go every single day. But we got a flavor of the vastness of interior Alaska and learned so much about the land and its history! It made me want to go back again!

I hope to write part two of our Inner Passage cruise soon. That was a wonderful week, too!
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