Alaska has been on my mother’s bucket list for a long time so we really wanted to make it happen this summer.
We decided on an itinerary of 4 days on land and then we’d board a cruise ship. We aren’t big on cruises but there’s not a ton of options for seeing Alaska in a few weeks without being on a cruise. There are glaciers to get around!
We booked everything through our travel agent, Cheryl Cressman and Holland America Cruises. I posted lots of videos to a highlight on Instagram
if you’d like to see more!
So, we flew from Atlanta to Fairbanks and spent 1 night and the next morning there. While there, we did a riverboat cruise. This was a lot of fun. We saw sled dogs (including baby huskies), toured an Athabascan village, learned alllll about the wildlife (even saw reindeer!) and had a great lunch. Everyone really enjoyed this. The village was a lot of fun, they called it a “living museum” and we really got a sense of how these natives lived.
After the riverboat tour, we journeyed to Denali. On the way there, we stopped in Nenana, had some hot chocolate, shopped a bit and visited a railroad museum.
Denali was a highlight and the reason we wanted to do the land portion of our trip. Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America and some argue in the world (from base to peak). I guess I didn’t know what to expect because I assumed we’d get much closer than we did. I learned real quick that Alaska is not for wimps
and much of the wilderness is untouched. So, you’d need to be quite the outdoorsman to venture on a trip to Denali. And apparently, we were very lucky as only 30% of visitors actually get to see Denali when they visit the National Park. I guess it’s mostly (7 out of 10 days) shrouded in clouds. But we had a great view of it.
Anyway, the tour and the scenery were incredible. I’m so grateful for the guy who gave our tour because he was so knowledgeable and took such great care of us. We’ve travelled extensively and a great tour guide makes everything worlds better. We saw a moose give birth to her baby
Amazing! We also saw Dall Sheep, lots of birds, and Caribou.
The little town of Denali is also fun to visit. We ate at Prospector’s Pizzeria & Alehouse and it was really good (good food, great vibe). We did a private ATV tour in Denali and they took us all over the place. We rode to the top of a mountain for spectacular views, had a wonderful lunch, saw horses, found the most beautiful natural souvenirs, and did a treasure hunt…It was seriously so fun.
After Denali, we began our trip south to Anchorage. This was done by a glass-domed train and we absolutely looooooved it! The train was luxurious – they fed us breakfast and lunch, loads of snacks, drinks, and tons of narration along the way. This too had a tremendous tour guide. So, so good at his job. Here, too, we saw lots of wildlife and the scenery was outrageous.
In Anchorage, we ate on the rooftop of 49th State Brewing. It was so, so good and exactly what we needed after a lot of travel. The sun was setting, they had a fire going for us and all of us sat around the table sharing food and reliving our adventures so far…Loved this one!
The next morning we got back on the train to Whittier. This train wasn’t as nice as the first but it was still awesome. They had a cafe car that was decked out in swanky decor and my mom, Sawyer and I sat in there and had snacks and drinks while chatting. This trip took us along what’s called Turnagain Arm, which is along the coast. The scenery made me want to cry, it was so beautiful. The water, the mountains, the mist.
When we got to Whittier, we pretty much got right on the ship. For our family of 5 we booked the Pinnacle Suite and then had to book 1 other room (as they’d only allow 4 to a room). The Pinnacle Suite afforded us all kinds of perks; it was luxurious and we were very grateful (and sooo comfortable). The suite had a king-sized bed, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a Murphy bed, a dining room, a living room with a sofa bed and a gigantic deck with a hot tub. We saw so much of the scenery right from our balcony. And we comfortably gathered with my parents for breakfast and tea every day.
The next 2 days were sailing. We stopped on the first day to see Hubbard Glacier. They told us that it was 350′ tall above the waterline and 250′ below
It was BIG. On the second day of the cruise (also cruising) we saw several glaciers in Glacier Bay (imagine that!).
We landed in Skagway on Day 3 where we did a helicopter tour up to a glacier to dog sled. This was a highlight for all of us. The helicopter was so cool. I was afraid I would get sick as I suffer from motion sickness pretty regularly but I didn’t have any trouble at all. In fact, a helicopter, I think, is better for my motion sickness than a plane. Anyway, there were about 250 huskies on top of this glacier and it was so fun to see them all. There were young kids who, I found, to be so inspiring. They came from all over to work this dog camp for their summer break. We broke into 2 groups and got to actually mush. It was really something and I could tell that the dogs live to do this work. That was fun to see. And of course, seeing the Alaska mountains and the glacier from a helicopter was nothing short of breathtaking.
The next day we woke up in Juneau where we did a private whale tour. I was so excited about this. To me (and I’m sure to most), whales are simply majestic and I desperately wanted to be in the presence of one. My parents and the 5 of us boarded a jet boat with an incredible captain and a naturalist and set out in search of some whales. Thankfully, we found several. Apparently, this more narrow inlet where we were is a great place they can find plenty of food for the summer months (smart whales head to Hawaii for the rest of the year. Duh
). So, Juneau is a great place to spot a whale. We saw several and got close to one. We also saw seals being such characters; they were a riot. I booked this tour outside of the cruise through Juneau Whale Tours and they did a great job. Our captain, Mandy, and Naturalist, Rob made the tour! They were hilarious and knowledgeable and just really fun. They genuinely seemed stoked for us to see a whale, even though I’m sure they’d seen many, many whales before. And I appreciate that. If you want to see video of the whales, visit the Alaska highlight
on my Instagram account.
After our whale tour, we were driven to Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest. My parents went to tour the visitor center and we hiked closer to the glacier. We also saw a vast waterfall and a porcupine on our hike. Once we rejoined my parents we took a quick hike on The Bear Trail. We didn’t see a bear but it was really scenic and gorgeous. It had just rained and there was something about the peaks and valleys in this area. I really enjoyed it.
The next day was Ketchikan. We also did a private tour here so we had a driver who was fun and humorous and able to customize our tour based on the time we had and our interests. This was booked through ketchikanexpeditions.com
We didn’t have a ton of time in Ketchikan so this was maybe only 3 hours. We visited downtown and Creek Street where we ran through the shops in the rain. Then went to Potlatch Park where the totem village is. It was so fun to hear the history and see a replica village. We also picked spruce tips right off the tree and ate them!
The next day was spent at sea and that was nice because we were able to relax after a ton of travel, pack our things to disembark and just spend a day reminiscing and soaking it all in.
Our trip ended in Vancouver, British Columbia. Several years ago we traveled the Canadian Rockies and landed in Vancouver so we had been there before but it is such a cool city. We really enjoy it. We stayed at The Rosewood Hotel Georgia. It was swanky and just what we needed. Excellent customer service.
We tooled around Vancouver for a full day as we took the red eye home. We visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge (for the 2nd time) – we LOVE it! And we also love walking around Granville Market – so many fun vendors and food.
That’s it, friends! That’s the Alaska trip. I’d highly recommend it if you get a chance to go. We are not big on cruises (I know, I know. A lot of you are!) but we had a pleasant time on Holland America. Their customer service was top notch and, again, our suite was extraordinary. Plus, there aren’t a lot of options for seeing a fair amount of Alaska without taking a cruise. If we did it again, both Bryan and I agreed that we’d probably have booked all private travel but we know that would have been expensive. And honestly, the cruise was great!
When we started traveling many years ago, I couldn’t get enough. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…The best thing in the whole world is experiences with my boys and family. It is magical and something I enjoy truly more than anything. This was a great trip!