Our 30th wedding anniversary deserved a special celebration and what better way to celebrate than with a trip to Alaska? The combination land tour and cruise turned out to be one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Nearly nine years and several trips to Europe and Australia later, we still think it was an adventure of a lifetime.
We spent the first day exploring in and around Fairbanks. We took a riverboat cruise to Chena Village, had lunch at a gold mine where we panned for gold, stopped at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and returned to Fairbanks for the Midnight Sun Festival. How special it was to be in Alaska for Summer Solstice! On the longest day of the year the sun never really set, even at midnight! Unlike the locals, we didn’t stay up all night. We had an early morning train to Denali.
The McKinley Explorer was a thrilling way to get from Fairbanks to Denali. We had breakfast in the elegant dining car then sat back and watched the rivers, mountains and valleys go by. The closer we got to Denali, the more smoky it became. We learned there was a forest fire raging outside of Denali, so we were glad our excursion into the park was not until the next day. We spent the afternoon at Husky Homestead, home of Iditarod champion Jeff King and his 80 Alaskan huskies. We even got to hold some of the puppies!
By the next morning, the smoke had cleared and it was a great day to be in Denali National Park. Although it was cloudy, we were fortunate to see Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. According to our tour guide, it is not often visible due to weather conditions so she was as excited to see it as we were! The scenery was beautiful, but most of the animals were in herds some distance away. The only creatures we saw up close were ground squirrels and the tail end of a couple of moose.
After a six-hour bus tour through Denali, we took a horse-drawn covered wagon ride to a remote campsite for dinner. The next day we traveled by coach along the George Parks Highway, through the Chugach Mountain Range and on toward Seward where we boarded our ship.
We embarked around 6:00pm for a 7-night cruise of the scenic Inside Passage and Glacier Bay. We booked a veranda stateroom right next door to friends. It was breathtaking to see the snow-capped mountains and calving glaciers from our own private balcony. I’ll never forget the stunning view the morning after our first night at sea. We peeked through the drapes to an unspoiled white and icy world! We spent one full day cruising the Inside Passage: College Fjord, Prince William Sound, Cape Spencer, Icy Strait and Glacier Bay. It was just spectacular!
The port of Haines, like so many Alaskan towns, began as a supply stop for miners headed for the Klondike gold fields. It is now a town of adventure, scenery and cruise ship tourists! Bald eagles fly over the peaceful bay and quaint shops are surrounded by colorful flowers during the summer months. Our shore excursion from Haines was to the Kroschel Wildlife Center for Orphaned Animals. While the setting was picturesque and the animals quite impressive, the place was thick with mosquitoes! The biggest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen!
Another day, another port. Juneau! No roads will take you there; it is accessible only by air or sea. It seemed like the perfect place to take a whale-watching cruise and, of course see Juneau’s crown jewel: the Mendenhall Glacier. We topped it all off with some native Tlingit music and dancing at a salmon bake near an old, abandoned mine. Such a fun day!
Our last full day in Alaska found us in Ketchikan. From the busy waterfront, we boarded a seaplane to Misty Fjords, our final shore excursion! The fjords were formed by retreating glaciers, leaving granite cliffs thousands of feet high and countless waterfalls plunging into crystal alpine lakes below. It is the nation’s second-largest wilderness area, encompassing more than two million acres. We returned to Ketchikan for a little retail therapy before returning to the ship for our final night at sea.
We didn’t want this vacation to end, but end it did in Vancouver, Canada. We went through customs, said good-bye to our friends and hopped on a plane bound for home. The trip couldn’t have been better – except maybe for those darn monster mosquitoes!