Friday, July 12, 2013

Two Weeks in Alaska, Just What The Doctor Ordered

Updated this post to clean up some formatting issues and I included links to pictures & videos. The links are located at the bottom. I meant to just update the post but when experimenting with editing pictures from my iPhone it reverted it back to a Draft, so I apologize if you get this twice :-).

Now that we have been back from vacation for just over a month I figured it was about time to write a post about our trip to Alaska. This post will be a little different in that I will be writing it on my iPad & iPhone. I've wanted to write a post on these devices to see if it was something I could do without the aide of a keyboard. The next time we travel for an extended period time I would like to go as light as possible. I only took my iPad & iPhone on our trip. I could easily made it with just my iPhone. All the pics & videos I took we're with my iPhone 4s. Maybe typing on an iPad screen will improve my spelling & grammar....nah :)

Before I go any further I want to say a big thank you to my wife Alethea.. She did an outstanding job in planning our trip to Alaska. She essentially planned all the details from transportation to accommodations to all the miscellaneous activities. Everything went very smoothly. For this trip I really didn't do much other than give feedback and help make decisions which is easy compared to doing all the grunt work. Thank you very much Alethea!

Alaska is a place I've wanted to go to for quit some time. I enjoy the outdoors & nature related trips as much as anything else. From what I recall I came home from work not too long after Alethea had hip surgery back in January & stated that I wanted to go on vacation. Not a 4 day mini-vacation but an actual trip somewhere. The places I wanted to go were either Alaska or to Europe. My Europe destinations were Munich, Vienna, & anything exciting in between. I think I was at least thinking about Hawaii too because I was riding my bike to work when it was 20 something degrees at 5 am in the morning & thinking anywhere sunny & tropical would be nice. In the end Alaska won out primarily because it is relatively close to us in Portland & Europe is still expensive despite their financial difficulties. 

Our trip to Alaska can be broken to two parts. The first would be the cruise we took to get there and then the second part would be post cruise activities. I'll first write about the cruise portion of our trip.

As I mentioned we essentially took a cruise to get to Alaska. I say essentially because we did take a short slightly over a hour long flight from Portland to Vancouver, Canada where we started the cruise portion of our trip. Originally, I wanted to take the Amtrak train to Vancouver but it was going to take I believe 9 hours and be pretty pricey. We've taken the train ride in segments from Portland to Seattle and then from Seattle to Vancouver in the past. We decided to go up to Vancouver a full day before our cruise left. We wanted to spend a day sightseeing before the cruise. We had both been there in 2010 & really enjoyed it. This time around it wasn't quit as nice as I remembered it. We encountered a lot more homeless people that appeared to be strung out on drugs of some sort.. We didn't have any issues with them but at the same time I felt a little uncomfortable which was disappointing. Vancouver has plenty of nice places but looking back I would have skipped this part of the trip if I would have known it would be this bad. 

Luckily for us Vancouver was about the only disappointment with our trip. From Vancouver we took a 7 night cruise to Seward, Alaska on the Holland America ship the Ms Zaandam. Our ship wasn't a massive 3,000 person ship. It held about 1,400 passengers. We had sailed with Holland America in the past. We find that they are a good value and fit for the way we like to travel. I used to be somewhat apprehensive when it came to the idea of cruising but now I like being pampered for a week. It's nice to have someone else do the cooking & cleaning for a little bit. I do like Holland America for its relaxed policy for bringing alcohol on board and for having self service laundry machines. These thing may sound trivial but they make a difference. 

The cruise itself was very enjoyable. As soon as we checked in I felt at ease especially since the night before we stayed at a very basic hostel above a pub in downtown Vancouver. Soon as we checked in we ate lunch in the dinning room and basically pigged out for the rest of the trip. I much prefer the dinning room versus buffet dining. I like to take my time and enjoy the meal versus fighting the crowds. 

I will not do a complete blow by blow of our cruise stops but will highlight what I enjoyed. Our cruise stops in order were Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, & Glacier Bay National Park (technically not a stop). We did have two sea days thrown into the mix too. In Ketchikan & Skagway we pretty much did our own thing & walked around town checking things out & seeing what we wanted to see. 

Juneau was probably my favorite part of the cruise. In Juneau we arranged on our own a whale watching trip. The whale watching company picked us up right from our ship and we went out on a 3 hour tour of Auk Bay. We saw sea lions & more importantly hump back whales. Seeing these massive animals up close is impressive. The closest we saw one was from about a 100 feet away. The scenery of the surrounding bay was also spectacular. After our whale watch trip we went back to the cruise ship and packed ourselves a lunch before taking the public bus out to Mendenhall Glacier which is a few miles outside of Juneau. The glacier is massive. Once we were done with the glacier we hopped back on the public bus and eventually made back into town. In town we did a self walking tour that included the state capital where Sarah Palin once worked. We finished the evening off with a sampler of local Alaskan beers before walking back to the ship.

My second favorite part of the cruise trip was visiting Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. We essentially spent a full down cruising through Glacier Bay National Park on our way to Margerie Glacier. It was cold & wet but it provided terrific views of the massive glacier. It was the only time on our trip to Alaska that I had all of my warm weather gear on which included my gloves & rain proof pants. 

After Glacier Bay we came to the end of our cruise unfortunately. We disembarked in Seward, Alaska. We had planned to go on a glacier hike outside of Seward but our operator cancelled the hike because there was too much snow! Many parts of Alaska experienced more snow than usual this last past winter. The tour company was just opening up for the summer and had not taken anyone out yet. I was disappointed because it would be the only opportunity I would have to hike on a glacier. Instead we decided to take an earlier bus up to Anchorage.

We spent two nights in Anchorage. We spent quite a bit of time visiting local breweries or places that sold local Alaskan beer. We did visit the Anchorage Museum which was better than I expected. The highlight for me was when we rented bikes & rode the Tony Knowles bike trail. The trail starts downtown & winds its way along the coast and airport before going up a pretty decent hill. I believe it was 11 miles one way. On the way back we even saw a bull moose from a distance. He was eating and didn't pay us any attention. 

Next up after Anchorage was the final destination of our Alaska trip and that was Denali National Park. To begin this part of the adventure we got up at 5 am and drove 2 hours north to Talkeetna. In Talkeetna we had planned on taking a prop plane up to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. The weather did not cooperate with us for a while. Our 9 am flight wasn't going out due to weather. We were postponed to two other flights throughout the morning that ended up being cancelled as well. We ended up walking around town. We visited a museum, a local brewery, & grabbed a bite to eat. We were then going to get a refund for our flight when the weather cleared and we were able to go on the first afternoon flight that made it to Denali. Our flight was a hour long and included some amazing scenery. We flew over the largest glaciers that I have ever seen and even caught a brief pic of the summit of Denali. It was definitely worth the all day wait. 

Once our amazing flight experience was over we drove another 2 hours north to Denali National Park. We stayed in a cute little hostel a few miles from the park entrance called the Denali Mountain Morning Hostel. We spent two full days touring the park. We decided to book the 8 hour shuttle buses on consecutive days mainly in case the weather was bad. The first day when departed at 7:30 am while the next day we left at noon. I am glad we did both days because we saw the park in different ways each day. We saw plenty of wild life including elk, moose, grizzly bears, foxes, & Dall sheep. In addition to the shuttle bus tour we even got to see some Alaskan Sled Dogs at a kennel near the park entrance. I would say out of the whole trip the thing I enjoyed most was the time spent in Denali. The wildlife viewing was great and so was the beautiful mountain scenery. 

Unfortunately, after Denali we had to start our trek back to Portland. We did have a nice trip back to Anchorage. We took our time driving down from Denali. We even got to see Denali from the ground for the first time. We never saw the summit while in the park. On the way back to Anchorage we stopped in Wasilla at a local pub restaurant. We also stopped at the Iditarod race headquarters where we got pick up a 19 year old Alaskan Sled Dog puppy whose mother actually raced in this winter's race while pregnant with the pup! We eventually made it back to Anchorage, turned in our rental car, and took the public bus to the airport where we took an overnight flight to Seattle and eventually Portland.

All in all it was a great trip. It was nice to have a two week break from work. I enjoyed being spoiled on the cruise on the front half of our trip and thoroughly enjoyed our flight up to Denali and the two full days in the park. Alaska is a neat place that is definitely different than the lower 48 states. 

Hope you enjoyed my post about our trip to Alaska. It felt a little weird pecking away on a iPad but I think it went pretty smooth. We'll see how it looks once I hit the publish button. I composed the entire post on my iPad & added the photos from my iPhone. No laptop or Microsoft product was used in the production of this post :)

What's next for us? Well since we've been back we have been on the go. I even went on a 28 mile bike ride the day I got back! Alethea's family visited us for a week a couple weeks after we got back. I've been busy with work for the most part. We should keep pretty busy the rest of the summer now that we're in the dry season. I really enjoy the summer months here in Northwest. Anyway, enough rambling for now. Hope everyone is having a great summer!

Link to high light album of Alaska trip - Alaska Highlight Album
Link to every pic I took in Alaska on my Shutterfly Alaska Trip share site. 
Link to all my videos including the ones I took in Alaska. They are sorted by date so the Alaska ones will show up here. Click here for my YouTube channel - Greg's YouTube Channel