The following post is written by Boscov’s Travel Specialist Jennifer from our Camp Hill branch. Jennifer recently traveled to Alaska along with Colonial Park Travel Specialist Amy, on an educational trip to experience tours and options that our clients can enjoy while experiencing America’s Last Great Frontier.
We experienced a whirlwind 6 nights in Alaska that felt like twice that. It never gets really dark even when the sun sets around 11pm and is back up at 4am. Nineteen hours of daylight feels like 2 days, especially when you are trying to see all that your clients may want to see in a fraction of the time. As travel specialists we tried to take in everything that the tours and hotels had to offer. Next time we will return as vacationers.
It’s hard for me to describe but Alaska is young in many ways. Not to discount the native cultures which are a big part of the history, peoples and culture but it’s statehood is less than 60 years old. Even the Russian influences are ‘new’ compared to the ancient cultures. The buildings are new, the corporations and governments are new, the ‘Alaskans’ are new. In a world of travel we often sell the ‘old’….go see ruins in Mexico, the cathedrals in Europe, historical colonial places from our US history, but how often do we seek out the new? We seek the modern in some places but Alaska is different…
According to the locals, to be ‘Alaskan’ is to live in Alaska for a winter. If you live through the season and stay, then you are an Alaskan and these transplants account for a significant part of the (750,000) population. When you realize that Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas that number seems, well, tiny. But I have digressed into my ‘factoid-ness’.
The natural landscape of Alaska is clearly very very old. Sculpted by glaciers and home of the highest point in North America, its vistas are breathtaking. When we arrived at 11:30 pm in Anchorage my heart was delighted to see majestic mountains in the twilight. We stayed our first night at the Lakefront Anchorage, which is close to the airport and very convenient. We also woke to see planes taking off and landing right from the lake – a primary method of transportation for the locals in the deepest regions Alaska.
We stayed a second night at the Marriott in downtown Anchorage and proceeded to explore the city. We checked out the “Saturday Market”… on Sunday. It was full of delicious locally made foods, crafts and even entertainment. I had a lemongrass halibut taco that just had me fearing the trip had peaked at that point. Yes, it was that good. We walked some more and found ourselves eating at Snow City Café for a delicious second lunch (or first lunch for my colleague).
We walked a bit of Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and came back through residential areas and Delaney Park. We met up with some of the folks we would be with on the tour and our dedicated tour guide, Jared, that we would be traveling with for the next 6 days. With Royal Caribbean Cruise Tours you will always have a dedicated tour guide for the land tour. We headed for dinner at Sacks. This was a tasty, fancy little establishment. This was just a fraction of the delicious food that Anchorage has to offer. If you happen to find yourself with some free time in Anchorage I highly recommend doing a food tour.
We were off to Seward! A quick stop at the Chugach State Park Bird Point Trailhead for a short break and a photo opportunity and then another at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. These are great ways to break up the drive and briefly see what Royal Caribbean can offer to our clients. On to the Kenai Fjords Cruise we saw orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, otters, puffins, eagles, porpoises, cormorants, and even at a great distance a goat. We had lunch at Fox Island (delicious) and again just breathtaking views. I feel like we had a day like no other. Alaska is a raw place and sometimes the weather isn’t the sunny clear day we had, but it is a place where the unexpected can surprise and amaze you. We ended the day at the Alaska Sea Life center… I could have spent much longer here learning and observing and even interacting with the animals and caretakers.
Lots of options for food are available in Seward as well. We had a delicious dinner at Ray’s. Let me tell you how important food and beverage is to me – VERY! We watched otters out the window into the marina while we dined. The Alaskan brews are so good too. I love to eat and drink local and Alaska is just sumptuous!
The next day we were back to Anchorage and the Native Heritage Center with a brief stop in Alyeska, an adorable place just above the quaint town of Girdwood. Alyeska is only seen on the tours that focus on the mountains and the longer tours but from this vantage point you can see some spectacular mountain views. Again, we just didn’t have enough time because we were getting the abbreviated version.
It’s hard to believe that very shortly we would be in Talkeetna. This was the town I was most excited to see… if you are old enough to remember the show “Northern Exposure” about a doctor from NYC that finds himself practicing medicine in a quirky small Alaskan town, well, this is where the idea was born. It’s been about 20 years since this show first aired so I assumed it would be large and commercial now. It’s NOT and I loved this place. It’s a gathering place for climbers before and after their treks to ascend Denali (Mt. McKinley) and while we were there, there were many an unhappy climber because ascent hadn’t been possible in the last few weeks due to weather. Locals singing karaoke, climbers drowning their lament and a dog walking around town (in and out of places of business) made this town charming.
Talkeetna was also special because we signed up to do a glacier landing on a small plane. Are there any people out there who aren’t afraid of small aircraft? This was no exception. But we had been told, by numerous accounts, that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was not to be missed, so we signed up, butterflies and all. I know I’m not a gifted enough writer to describe this but I will use a few words to try – powerful, spiritual, humbling. When that plane set down on the glacier we were so close to something so large and grand, something that from the distance was awesome and powerful and up close was even more so. We were so small and it was so grand. It brought tears for many of us. It was spiritual.
We would eventually re-board taking off from the glacier to see a little more and have an up close view of Denali. It was amazing to see a huge avalanche (even the pilot was impressed and circled back around), and the base camp for climbers. That base camp was the first perspective I had at the size of everything. Tents on the snow at the base of mountain were like ants….I just couldn’t fathom the massiveness of this. No regrets on this excursion. I will do this again and hopefully share it with my children and husband.
Our time in Talkeetna was all too short. The next day we were to board the Wilderness Express glass domed train for Denali National Park. This was quite a luxurious experience and really enables you to see so much including a view of those living off the grid. I know there are a lot of TV shows out there to teach us about Alaska but they don’t do the ‘real’ Alaska justice, they just scrape the surface.
Denali was our smallest snapshot of what’s included on these tours. Every land tour with Royal Caribbean includes Denali and we only saw a hint in the hour that we had. This just means every last one of us who was on this trip will come back.
That evening it was back to options and my colleague Amy and I did different things. She took to the river and did Whitewater rafting in the Nenana. Quite a few did this tour and everyone loved it. It was cold and a little wet but they supplied equipment to keep you dry! I went to the Husky Homestead to hear four time Iditarod champion Jeff King talk about his life and adventures, and I got to snuggle puppies and see some gleefully mush, even without snow. Aside from enjoying each of our very different adventures, we also once again were captivated by the Alaskan people that we would meet.
Again our time was too short and morning came too soon as we ventured off to Fairbanks. I had the least expectation of this city, which is probably why it surprised me so much. It has a quirky untouched feel but is still modern and artsy. We headed up to Gold Dredge #8 where we panned for gold (and all got some), learned about the mining industry and how it established Fairbanks, about the pipeline and some musical entertainment with a train ride because – why not! We did the Alaska Salmon Bake (they make food taste so good served in large quantities!) and Palace Theater Show (a fun way to learn the modern history of this place).
Our last day we enjoyed the Riverboat Discovery before heading to the airport. This was on the Chena river and we had the chance to see the Chena Indian Village, Susan Butcher’s huskies (another 4 time winner), a float plane land and take off right beside the river boat, and plenty of stories too! I think when I go back I’d like to start in Fairbanks.
This trip was an educational opportunity but it lit a passion for Alaska in me. Knowledge is a key to explaining but feeling unlocks something else and I know anyone I send to Alaska won’t be able to come home without having these feelings. There is so much of the history and narration that we were given by our dedicated tour guide that made everything not only informative, but interesting and fun.
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