Best of Alaska Trip Report #2
If you read my Alaska trip recap #1, then this next installment should flow nicely with what you read before. I know… two recaps. But I’d be doing the vacation and Alaska an injustice by leaving out some more great highlights! Make sure to click on the pictures which will open them up.
Part of being on a cruise ship is having the choice to stay on the ship or hop off and stretch your legs at the ports of call. If you get off, you also have the choice to be a part of the cruise line’s appointed excursions, or you could just mosey on into town and set up your own itinerary. The “official” excursions are more expensive, but they’ve been vetted by Disney and are guaranteed to be safe fun and refundable should anything change. Not to mention, if you go on your own adventure and you don’t make it back to the ship on time, you’ll see the captain waving adios to you from the bridge.
Our first stop was Skagway, population of around 920 but doubling in the summer months to cover the influx of cruise ships. Our excursion fun began with a trip to Liarsville, just a short bus ride out of town. Liarsville is a small village compound where you can trace the steps back to the Klondike era and see how the gold rush was a serious draw to rich-thirsty people. I chose my excursions around food (wow who would’ve thought?) Being in Alaska I knew there’d be an abundance of seafood – really really good seafood – and we started with the first of a few salmon bakes in the village. Grilled over some alder wood and glazed with a sweet brown sugar glaze, it tasted amazing!
I wasn’t sure if real bears were going to make an appearance, so I took every opportunity to get some “bear” pictures. I was rewarded with some real bear at another place we visited, which you’ll see later. Part of being in Liarsville was also the ability to pan for gold. Miranda loved this and got really excited when she finally would see some gold flakes at the bottom of the dish. We bagged them up and brought them home. Quinn was more at home throwing rocks into the small river beside us…go figure.
The trip had three stops, and Juneau was the second one. Juneau is the capital of Alaska and has a population of 31,000. This was the excursion we had been really looking forward to, but looking back they were all really good! We caught a seaplane from Wings Airways in Juneau harbor, and it took us about 20 minutes to get to Taku Lodge. Seaplanes are everywhere and our plane had 5-6 single seats on each side, so everyone gets a bird’s eye view of what’s outside. There’s even a seat beside the pilot, and one lucky kid in our group sat in that seat on the return journey- how cool is that! We flew over more glaciers and water flows, catching a very different view than you would get from the ground. The scenery was just stunning, even with some low clouds.
We landed at the lodge right in front of the Hole-In-The Wall glacier floating gently to the dock. As soon as you step off the plane, you can smell the wood being burned for yet another salmon bake. An easy walk up to the lodge, we grabbed an Alaskan Brewing Company beer from the friendly bartender inside the beautiful dining room, and wander around until dinner’s ready. It’s not a busy place as they keep visitors rotating, so it felt quite personal and very un-touristy, which was really cool. I watched the salmon being grilled again over some alder and glazed again with a sweet glaze, which I have to recreate soon. Take note: the mosquitoes are rife and Taku does supply bug spray. My advice is to use it!
The staff at the lodge do not skimp on the portions when dinner time comes around. I had a piece of salmon which must have easily weighed a pound. Along with some amazing sides and herb biscuits, I wasn’t sure if the plane would be able to take us back to Juneau! Just as the salmon was about to be served, a loud shout went out from a staff member, “BEAR!” Another brave soul, armed only with a stick, went charging toward the black bear who had ambled through the bushes smelling the salmon. The bear scurried up a tree and proceeded to pose for some awesome pictures. The bears are allowed at to the lodge mainly because you can’t really keep them out. As long as they are never fed by humans – and the crazy stick guy is close by – there should be no problems. Once the salmon was ready and the guests retired to eat inside the lodge, the bears were allowed to come and lick up the spilled oils from the BBQ grates. Taku Lodge was the most expensive tour, but worth every penny!
Our last stop was Ketchikan, population 7,800. Ketchikan is only 12 blocks long and has a deep tribal history so be prepared to see many totem poles and carvings wherever you go. Ketchikan is also named as the salmon capital of the world and you can see why when salmon are literally jumping from the water everywhere you look. This is common as you travel through their waters, but the thing that struck me was how quiet it always seemed to be. Even standing on the top deck of a mighty cruise ship, I could still see the salmon jump and hear them splash back into the water.
Our Ketchikan excursion was all about…can you guess? No it wasn’t salmon this time, it was dungeness crab! We traveled about 20 minutes on a bus and eventually ended up at The George Inlet Lodge deep in the heart of the Tongass National Forest.
We boarded another comfortable boat and rode up the George Inlet Waterway, all the while listening to the salty old jokes from our guide, Nick, and keeping an eye out for more wildlife. We eventually came to a halt beside some crab cages. One lucky kid was asked to help pull the cage out of the water so we could see dungeness crabs close up! After some crab posing, the crustaceans were released back into the water and we headed back for the ultimate crab feast.
Just like the previous two excursions, this one did not disappoint. There was unlimited amounts of fresh salty crab on offer. Everyone was encouraged to get messy and try and win the prize for the tallest crab shell tower you could make. We did pretty good, but sadly didn’t make the cut. After waving some white flags and groaning “No more crab!” pieces of blueberry cheesecake appeared in front of us. This was probably one of the best cheesecakes I have ever tasted, and I know my cheesecake. We didn’t worry too much about overeating as there were 79 steps to climb back up to fit our collective crab butt on the bus.
My nature goal for this vacation was to see whales, bears and golden eagles. I succeeded in snapping all of these, even though I only managed to snap the whales tail. And if I had a better lens, this eagle would have looked a little more regal. I definitely recommend upgrading to a powerful zoom lens for a trip of this kind.
Dining on board the ship is done on a rotational basis, so you eat at a different restaurant every night while your serving staff rotates with you. The food is good and has improved a lot from our first Disney cruise. When you’re feeding that many people at once, it can be hard to have five star quality every time, but as always with the staff, customer service is beyond five star and a new plate of food can be in front of you within minutes should there be a problem. There is another place to eat on the ship where the word problem does not exist. Palo, an adult-only Italian restaurant is a must if you take a cruise with Disney. The food is beyond compare and with all-around views it’s a perfect date night while the kids are downstairs chillin’ with Goofy and the gang.
I highly recommend this vacation. I was a little dubious at first just because we have always gravitated towards hot, beachy type places, and Alaska warrants the use of jackets and sweaters, maybe even an umbrella. But where it lacks in 90-degree weather, it surpasses itself with mind-boggling scenery and fresh natural beauty. I think the kids appreciated seeing a different vacation view and being wowed by the scenery and nature all around them.
Till the next time, Alaska…