By Marie Gilmore
When planning this year’s 17th Wedding Anniversary trip of a lifetime and researching the best way to maximize a dream Alaska trip, Princess Cruise Lines Land/Cruise tour was the best way to go. Our tour started in Fairbanks. We were picked up by Princess Cruise line buses and spent one evening at River’s Edge resort in Fairbanks before boarding another Princess Bus to take us to the Princess Lodge Mt. Denali well situated in Denali National Park and convenient to all land-based tour and adventure opportunities, along with shops and restaurants across the street. Between wildlife sightings, stunning views, Helicopter Landing atop a glacier, a Denali Jeep Adventure into the wilderness and an overall amazing trip, we will try to touch on just a few of the highlights in this story.
Denali Jeep Tours
As part of the land-based portion of our trip in Denali National Park, we wanted to get the full experience of the views,
the vistas and the mountains. Taking a Denali Jeep tour was the best way to go. The tour includes your own jeep that seats 4-5 people and you lead while a guide follows with full radio contact and provisions in his own jeep.
“We will go about 90 miles into the park and make stops for photos or anything you like along the way,” said our guide Craig.
The Denali Highway is not paved and is still used as a major thoroughfare road.
During our trip, campers and hunters were setting up camp along the way as Caribou season was about to open.
We had views of glaciers, mountains, streams, ponds, rivers, foothills and more. On our beautiful day, we had opportunities to follow a rainbow throughout the foothills making for stunning photo ops.
Craig is a tour operator from Wyoming and an Army Cavalry veteran who spends his summers as a tour and fishing guide in Alaska.
“I enjoy helping people see the beauty of Alaska,” said Craig helped find helped find Caribou, Moose, and beaver during our tour.
Denali Jeep Tours is owned and operated by the Davis family. In addition to the Jeep Tours, the family also runs Denali ATV Adventures. Contact Denali Jeep Excursions (907) 683-5337 or www.denalijeep.com.
ERA Helicopter & Walk On A Glacier
We couldn’t travel all the way to Alaska without pulling on some non-slip boots and heading out on a helicopter adventure to the top of a glacier. So, we selected ERA Helicopter tours and climbed aboard for an amazing flight up onto an actual glacier. This particular glacier the pilots selected based on weather conditions and had an active glacial melt river running fast into crevices. We were able to scoop up a drink of perfect, icey cold pure water and throw a snowball. Once paperwork is signed, grab a camera and the pilot lifts off in one of several cutting-edge A-Star helicopter to a birds-eye view of the Alaskan wilderness. En route to the massive Yanert Icefield and surrounding glaciers, your pilot will introduce you to the mountainous terrain and vistas. Pilots are well trained and offer great narration of terrain, landscape and creation of the area throughout the flight. www.eraflightseeing.com. Helicopters fly throughout the summer season from May through September.
On Board The Diamond Princess Cruise Ship
After two days at Denali, we boarded another Princess Bus to the Princess train to head to Princess Lodge Mt. McKinley. We spent just one night at Mt. McKinley where only 30 percent of visitors have luck enough to actually spot the tallest mountain in North America at 20,000 feet. Finally, one more bus ride to the pier in Whittier to board the Diamond Princess for our 7 night cruise down the inside passage and into the Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay National Park to Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau with final arrival in Vancouver, B.C.
Going Beyond Skagway With Spectacular Views
Heading anywhere new for the first time can be daunting, but reading the descriptions for things to do around Skagway on our first Alaska cruise, it was really hard to decide how to maximize the day. In addition, hopping on and off a tour bus all day didn’t seem like the trip for us.
Instead, we decided to head Beyond Skagway with a family-owned tour company offering private vehicle tours for 4, 5, 6, or even 8 hours to fully maximize the experience.
We selected a 6 hour tour which would include all the highlights, a private tour guide and a full Skagway experience and we were not disappointed.
We were met right on time directly at the cruise terminal by our guide Brian Studiale. He had bottled waters waiting for us in the well-equipped van and off we went for our day trip.
We took a short ride through the town of Skagway, population 950 people in the winter which triples in the summer.
Brian narrated us through the town and its history and formation and through the geological transformation of the mountains and lakes around us.
At each opportunity, he would offer to stop for photo ops and even take the pictures for us. In addition, Brian offered off the trail hiking opportunities which took us to a rustic hunter’s cabin and across several historic gold rush era cabin remnants en route to a stunning lakefront overlook.
In addition, we left the country and made our way into British Columbia, Canada and into the Yukon for a stop by Emerald Lake, aquamarine, crystal clear waters ‘glowing’ with a substance called Marl which causes a unique phenomenon in colors.
En route back to the ship, we stopped by the Gold Rush town of Carcross and stopped into a 100 year old mercantile store, still family run and offering a great spot to get a Yukon stamp in your passport.
Skagway has a lot to offer for the first-time traveler and by far, the best way to maximize the experience is to take it Beyond Skagway with a family-owned business.
Beyond Skagway is owned by Jeff and Becky Mull and daughters Kate McGill and Meghan Studiale and husband Brian also work for the company. For more information or to reserve a trip with Beyond Skagway, contact www.beyondskagway.com.
Mendenhall Glacier In Juneau
Not knowing exactly what to do in Juneau we selected the tram trip to top of mountain just outside of the port with a
great view of the cruise ships and then onto a bus tour combo ticket to the Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau is the capital of Alaska and what is most interesting about this city is that it is only accessible by boat or by airplane.
Mendenhall Glacier visitors center offers great information about the glacier and you can take a walk along the well marked trail to the bottom of the waterfall.
The Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles long, a half-mile wide and from 300-1,800 feet deep. During Salmon season, spawning salmon surround the creeks at Mendenhall and on our visit, two Black bears were enjoying the fish and could be seen and photographed from the walkways surrounding the area.
Totems & Lumberjacks In Ketchikan
Ketchikan is the southeasternmost city in Alaska. With a population of 8,050 within the city limits, it is the fifth most populous city in the state.
Ketchikan’s economy is based upon tourism and fishing, and the city is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World.” The Misty Fjords National Monument is one of the area’s major attractions.
Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles, found throughout the city and at four major locations: Saxman Totem Park, Totem Bight State Park, Potlatch Park and the Totem Heritage Center.
A highlight of this stop is The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, featured as one of the “Top 10 Things To See in Alaska” by the Travel Channel. Here you will see the world’s best athletes in a sport pulled straight from the heart of American History.
Rain or shine, the show is held in a covered, heated and cushioned grandstand, within walking distance to the pier, three to five times a day from May through September.
The show demonstrates lumberjack wood splitting and athletic pole climbing skills in a competition environment game-show atmosphere making it fun for the whole family. At the end of the show, lumberjacks welcome photos with fans.
If you aren’t heading to Alaska this year, there is a closer show to home now open in Pigeon Forge, TN, Visit http://www.lumberjacksports.com/.
The best things about the trip were our Maitre’ D, Bruno Bogazzi who made sure that we would want for nothing on the ship, and a slight difference from Caribbean cruises, is that the ship brings on a naturalist, in our case, Mark Harris and National Park Rangers to narrate as you pass by the glaciers and mountains. In addition, Princess invited the first woman to win the Iditarod dogsled race, Libby Riddles, to discuss more about dog sledding in Alaska.
This extra perk of park rangers, naturalists and guest speakers was something special to make sure that guests leave with some understanding of the appreciation for nature in Alaska. There isn’t room to tell you everything we did on this amazing trip, but were able to give you a few highlights. Alaska is certainly a must on every bucket list. To see a listing of cruise details, visit www.princesscruise.com.