June 25, 2018
Alaska is a breath-taking place to visit, so unique to other states in the U.S. No wonder it is a favorite of many Travel Goal Getters. In Summer 2015 our family went on the popular Inner Passage cruise from Seward to Vancouver. This was only part of our trip though. Click here to learn about our exploration of the Pacific Northwest!
We drove through “downtown” Anchorage then on to the Ulu Knife Factory, a small shop where you can learn hands-on about the knife that Alaskan natives have used for ages. And true to the factory name, you can see knives being carved by hand and by machine. Outside the Ulu factory shop is Ship Creek, a popular place for salmon fishing. The salmon hadn’t come in yet (June 19) but there was still a lot of people fishing on a Friday morning and we saw some salmon being reeled in.
We drove on Parks Highway 3 from Anchorage toward Talkeetna and the Denali area. On the outskirts of Wasilla a friend took us to eat at a popular local place – Trout’s Place and Windbreak Cafe. After filling up on a reindeer sausage omlette we went to Wasilla City Hall to see where Sarah Palin started her political career. The city staff was happy to show us around. Just a short drive away was our next stop, the Iditarod Headquarters. It has a few display items, a stuffed sled dog, a selection of gift shop items, and a video about the Iditirod. The highlight was outside – going on a sled dog ride and meeting dogs and trainers who actually race in the Iditirod including the son of Joe Redington, “father of the Iditrod”. Although the sled race only lasted less than 3 minutes, our kids still experienced the thrill of a dog sled ride. We were encouraged to play with some 5 week old sled dog puppies that were so hard to put down! Many tours go through in the morning, so in the afternoon it was just us and one other family so we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted and there was no waiting in line. The museum and movie were free. The cost was $10 per person for the sled dog ride. For our group, this was a great alternative to purchasing a sled dog excursion through the cruise ship. Those excursions are much more extensive with a longer, more scenic dog sled ride and a narrated bus tour, but prices start at $125 per person.
Our plans to get to Talkeetna for a glacier flight seeing tour were canceled because a wildfire in the area closed the road. The only other way to Talkeetna was a 14 hour drive detour! We, instead, dipped our toes in cold water of Lake Wasilla and headed back to Anchorage.
This candy factory is geared toward tourists with a large selection of souvenirs and good prices. There are large viewing windows to watch candy being made and had a huge chocolate fountain that everyone had to fight the urge to stick a finger in for a taste! We paused for a photo with a famous inuksuk “Rock Man” located outside. Sourdough Mining Company, a popular restaurant with a lot of character is right next door. We opted to grab some delicious fried chicken from Lucky Wishbone, an Alaskan establishment since 1955 and picnicked at Lake Hood Floatplane Base and watched float planes take off and land. This captured our attention for quite awhile until we were off to tackle our quest to see a moose in Alaska.
We were surprised when we were told the best place to see a moose was at the Anchorage airport. Crazy, right? But true. We drove around the back end of the airport around 9:00 p.m. in broad daylight, and low and behold we saw a moose chomping on some weeds and grass not too far from an industrial building. See a moose in Alaska. Check! Another surprise was around the corner. At the end of the Anchorage airport runway is a nice park and walking trail where we literally laid on our backs and saw planes take off right over our heads including a 747 that shook the ground! After that excitement we checked into the Historic Anchorage Hotel in downtown Anchorage. It is a nice, historic hotel ($235 a night, booked 1 year in advance) within walking distance of downtown sights, restaurants, and nightlife.
Anchorage – Seward – Board the Cruise
We returned the car to Midnight Sun Rental and they dropped us off downtown. We then walked to the Alaska Public Lands Information Museum, a free museum with great exhibits and a scavenger hunt for kids which introduced them to wildlife that we would be looking for during the rest of our trip. Then we took a short walk to the Alaska Veteran’s Museum on 4th Avenue. The museum tells the often untold story of veterans who fought in the Aleutian Island battles. My grandfather, Paul W. Peters, was a medic in the Battle of Attu during World War II. Seeing him and others honored here had special significance to our family.
We walked back to our hotel to board a shuttle from Anchorage to Seward. We booked a private shuttle since we had 16 people in our group. Cars, trains, and shuttle buses go basically the same route – all great views. We arrived at the Port at Seward and got directly on the cruise ship. Our cruise, on Royal Carribean, was fantastic but I won’t go into many cruise details in this post but instead focus on the port stops.
After the tour was over we drove to Mendahall Glacier which was easy to find and easy to park. We did a short 1/3 mile walk to Photo Point and then hiked 2 miles to Nugget Falls at the water’s edge. Both hikes were easy with paved trails. Nugget Falls is a cool sight to see – a waterfall with the river of ice (the glacier) in the background.
We were intrigued by the idea that the only way to get to Juneau is via plane or boat. Literally no roads lead to Juneau! So after the boat tour we took a road north out of town and almost got to the end. We stopped to look at the Shrine of Saint Therese which was scenic but our group wished we would have used the time to see if we could get to the end of the road out of Juneau.
We walked through town collecting “Alaskan charms” from the jewelry stores. The shops offer the collectibles for free to entice people in the door, which is smart business because I don’t think we would have gone in otherwise but we ended up seeing some interesting and nice quality items. After a peek into the famous Red Dog Saloon we went back to the ship for lunch and to grab some items for hiking. The mile long trail we took began at the very beginning of town and led to Lower Dewey Lake. The hike went up a mountain to a lake on top! The water was freezing but my husband and kids went in for a quick swim. The NPS website has good information on the hikes. We found this more helpful than the Rangers that day.
Icy Strait Point
Near the zip line observation area is a short (took us 5 minutes) forest trail hike which had some different fauna then other Alaskan hikes we had been on so far. The very best part of the stop was walking along the beach. Our group got excited when we found a starfish. Minutes later we realized there were hundreds of starfish on the shore, so many that you had to be careful not to step on one! Before getting back on the ship, we stopped at the Crab Station for some fresh Dungeness Crab. They also serve a killer Crabby Bloody Mary. You won’t find any places where the locals go – because there are no locals! Employees live in the town of Hoonah which is a considerable walk or shuttle ride away. Fellow cruise passengers that went to Hoonah said there wasn’t much there to do or see. The town wanted to keep tourists in the Icy Strait area.
The rest of our day was spent with family friends who live in Ketchikan. We visited their house and had a close encounter with a bald eagle – just 10 feet away from us in their backyard. They took us to Totem Bight Park on the north end of the city. Maybe since it was quite a drive from the town, the park was incredibly peaceful with few other tourists. The park had 14 totem poles and a clan house (above) along a hiking trail through the woods near the water. There was no admission fee. Others in our group enjoyed going to the Totem Heritage Center which is walking distance from downtown that has museum as well as totem poles for $5 admission. After leaving Ketchikan for the first time we could feel the ship rocking in the waves. We came prepared with seabands, natural oil to rub behind the ears, and some sea sickness pills. We did a little bit of everything and no one felt too sick.
The final day of the cruise was spent traveling towards the end destination, Vancouver. There weren’t any specific sights or times to be on deck, but scenery was pretty most of the day. We are able to enjoy the ships amenties for one last day.