By Michelle Colesanti
Three Osprey Observer staff members were lucky enough to escape the Florida heat and rain this summer by visiting Alaska. Billing Manager Terry Vassalotti and I embarked on a Princess land/cruise tour with our husbands, along with other friends from out of town. Advertising representative Carole Fluhart made a similar trip on the Holland America Oosterdam just one week before our adventure.
Our Alaska trip began in Anchorage; the starting point for a few days touring the Denali State and National Park areas, including a visit to the pioneer town of Talkeetna.
For me, one of the appeals of visiting our northern-most state is the beauty of the majestic mountains in the Alaska Range; from Denali, the tallest mountain in North America standing at 20,310 ft., to the no-less impressive Moose’s Tooth at half Denali’s size rising to 10,082 ft., along with other peaks such as Mount Silverthrone, rising above the 13,000 ft. level. Only 30 percent of those who seek Denali actually get to see it, but on a clear day, when facing the majestic snow-covered mountain, there is nothing more captivating.
Bears, Caribou, Moose, Oh My!
Searching for wildlife can be elusive, but it was another high point on my bucket list. We were lucky enough to see grizzlies, caribou, dall sheep and female moose on an eight hour trek via school bus deep into Denali National Park.
Another great way to see Alaska is by train. Traveling 9-and-a-quarter hours by dome car to meet up with our cruise ship took us through mountains, forests and eventually through the glaciers south of Anchorage before disembarking in Whittier, where the ship anchors.
One of our days at sea included a visit to Glacier Bay National Park. Only two cruise ships per day are allowed into the park and because of that, a trip into the wilderness to see the amazing glaciers, including the massive Margerie Glacier, still remain something special despite the receding of 90 percent of the world’s glaciers.
On a separate sea day, we visited Hubbard Glacier; one of the few glaciers in the world that may actually be growing.
Our ship, the Princess Star, also included stops to Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. Our ship could not make the stop in Skagway due to 60 mile per hour winds whipping through the narrow passage leading to the town. This had not happened in 18 years prior to our visit and our private tour into the Yukon Territory had to be canceled. Our tour to dog sled on Mendenhall Glacier while visiting Juneau, was also canceled due to bad weather.
Carole and her husband Jim were lucky enough to get to experience dog sledding the week prior. “Most spectacular flight ever, five red jet ranger helicopters flying in formation swooping through the valleys and scraping the mountain tops on a crystal clear afternoon as we followed the glacier river up to its source. That small black dot on the horizon is the musher camp, five house sized tents and 100 igloo shaped dog houses planted in the snow. Popping out of the copter, we are introduced to our lead musher and his team. To our surprise, we get to drive the trailing sled to the howl of huskies straining at their harnesses. Off we go for a race around the glacier camp. It was an experience like none-other,” remembered Jim.
Although not lucky enough to experience the dog sledding, we managed to find Coastal Helicopters, which was still flying to Herbert Glacier for a landing and walk on the ice fields. Donning special boots, while ignoring the rain and slippery conditions as best as possible, we were again amazed at how incredibly beautiful and complex these glaciers are. If you are visiting Juneau, this is a must-do.
The Princess Star, commissioned in 2002, is beautiful and we enjoyed our stay on her for the week, allowing us to enjoy all the great activities on board in between trying to catch the beautiful sites and whale watching. We never felt that there were too many people underfoot. Because the food was so good, we had to make sure to include daily workouts in the ship’s fitness center and always climbing the stairs on board.
Our Alaska trip ended in Vancouver, BC. We spent the last day and night enjoying this very cosmopolitan city.