Alaska 2014
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Alaska
2014
 

 Friday, June 13  Depart Vancouver, British Columbia
 Saturday, June 14  day at sea: Inside Passage
 Sunday, June 15  Ketchikan, Alaska
 Monday, June 16  Icy Strait Point, Alaska
 Tuesday, June 17  Juneau, Alaska
 Wednesday, June 18  Skagway, Alaska
 Thursday, June 19  Hubbard Glacier
 Friday,June 20  Disembark Seward, Alaska

Optional Cruise Tour Extension

 Friday,June 20  Seward to Anchorage to Denali
 Saturday, June 21  Denali National Park, Alaska
 Sunday, June 22  Fairbanks, Alaska
 Monday, June 23  return home from Fairbanks

A Note from Marla Archer:

Rick and I took a group to Alaska in July 2005.  I was still pretty new to the travel business. This was only our 7th cruise at the time.  I was pretty nervous because this was the first trip I had ever organized outside of the usual Caribbean jaunts.

To my pleasant surprise, our group responded well to the thought of traveling a long distance to see a part of the world that was brand new to most of us.

And how spectacular was Alaska!!  Oh my, the beauty of Alaska is simply breath-taking.  What I remember most was the sheer expanse and the enormous panoramas. 

I was amazed at how rare it was to see even the slightest hint of man and civilization.  As our ship passed the shoreline, Rick and I spent hours upon hours staring out at forests and mountains and rivers and islands that were completely unspoiled by mankind.  I got the impression that the landscapes I viewed were exactly the same as they have been for centuries upon centuries. 

Our 2005 trip was nothing short of amazing.  We saw glaciers, we saw whales and we saw eagles.  We walked through a thick Nordic rainforest in Juneau.  We took an exciting train ride into the mountains all the way to Canada at Skagway.  We took a plane ride to see the Misty Fjords in Ketchikan.  Rick and I agree that plane ride was the most exciting trip we have ever been on.  We saw primitive landscapes that were beautiful beyond description. What memories!

One year from now I will get my chance to do it all again.  What a joy.  Even better, I will have all those same experiences plus something new: an exciting 3-day trip into the Alaska frontier.

If I had one fuss, just one little fuss about that 2005 trip, it would be that I was unable to travel deep into the Alaska frontier and see some of the stunning interior landscapes. 

So I am excited about this new trip to Alaska because the cruise line offers a three-day extension that takes up us all the way to Denali National Park.  The beauty of Denali is the stuff of legends.  We will have an entire day to explore.  I am excited because I will get the chance to see Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in the entire United States. 

Unlike most cruise trips where you spend the majority of your time at sea, this particular trip is special because it is almost like a river cruise.  The ship winds in and out of an endless chain of small, densely forested islands.  One thing I will never forget is just how deserted Alaska is.  There are no homes and no people practically everywhere we went. 

As our cruise ship sailed past forest upon forest, glacier upon glacier, mountain range upon mountain range, I couldn't help but think this is exactly what Alaska has looked like for eons. 

This vast frozen wilderness is so perfectly preserved that you can view our Final Frontier just as the Indians did who first crossed the Bering Strait back at the beginning of man.  

You have heard one person after another rave about their trip to Alaska.  Practically the first thing they say is they want to go back.  Rick and I definitely fall into that category. We can't wait!

If you like nature, this is definitely the trip for you.  Talk about action.  Every day has something special in store. Even the one day we are at sea is wonderful. As we sail through the Inside Passage, the scenery is so stunning you will be mesmerized. There is no wasted time on this trip.  I guarantee you will be endlessly fascinated from start to finish. 

Marla Archer
June 2013

Pricing: Cruise Only

  Inside Category M -- Deck 7, 8

$0846
  Oceanview Category H Deck 3-- $1015
  Balcony Category E2 -- Deck 7, 8, 9, 10   $1575

 

Cruise Plus 3-Day Extension to Denali

  Inside Category M -- Deck 7, 8

$1860
  Oceanview Category H -- Deck 3 $1970
  Balcony Category E2 -- Deck 7, 8, 9, 10 $2390
  Marla's Note: The Extension prices include the cost of your
  cabin. For example, it is NOT $846 PLUS $1860 if you are in
  an Inside Cabin. $1860 covers Cabin AND Extension.

 

Vancouver


Our trip begins in Vancouver, the capital of British Columbia in Western Canada. 

Marla's Note: In a moment I will list all the various places to visit, but first a personal observation.  Vancouver is definitely one of the ten prettiest cities I have ever seen.  In particular, if you like gardens and nature, this city has all sorts of lush parks to visit. 

Vancouver is renowned for its scenic beauty and endless opportunities for outdoor activities, Vancouver is also a cosmopolitan city with all the urban amenities - fine dining, shopping, museums, galleries, music and theatre.

Vancouver was recognized as the Top City in Canada in Condé Nast Traveler magazine's 2012 Readers' Choice Awards.

The city was also named the Top Destination in Canada in TripAdvisor's 2012 Travelers' Choice awards, and was chosen as the world's "Most Liveable City" in the world in 2010 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a title it has been awarded eight times since 2002.

Vancouver is a picturesque city surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the snow capped peaks of the Coast Mountain range. Vancouver is Canada's third largest city with many unique neighborhoods to explore including Gastown, Yaletown, Chinatown and the West End.

Visitors can enjoy world class shopping, gourmet meals, outstanding live entertainment, sporting events, theatre, outdoor adventure and world-class attractions.

From neighborhood green spaces to world-ranked sanctuaries, Vancouver's parks are treasured, and more importantly, used.
They are the backyard of the city - places like Pacific Spirit Park where residents walk the dog and Capilano River Park where they take the kids to learn about salmon.

They are where people walk and picnic and play. They are the romantic places where love begins and they are the pretty places like Queen Elizabeth Park where couples take their wedding photos. They are Lynn Canyon where hikers challenge themselves physically and they are Lighthouse Park a place to pull up a log and watch the boats sail by.

Stanley Park

(Marla's Hint: Stanley Park is where I am headed first)

Only have time to do one thing in Vancouver? Cycle or stroll along the Stanley Park seawall, a paved 6 mile loop with magnificent mountain, ocean, forest and city views. While in Stanley Park, visit to the internationally-acclaimed Vancouver Aquarium, one of North America's five largest aquariums. 
What's special at Stanley Park

The Vancouver Aquarium, Canada's largest aquarium facility, is located in the heart of the park.

Learn about Aboriginal traditions at Klahowya Village, a fun, interactive display featuring hands-on crafts, cuisine, art kiosks and Spirit Catcher mini train tour.

Great blue herons and bald eagles nest in the top branches of old growth cedar, hemlock and fir.

Playground, tennis courts, a pitch and putt golf course and playing fields.

Brockton Point totem poles.

Outdoor heated pool at Second Beach, water park at Lumberman's Arch and beach bathing at Second and Third beaches.

Miniature train carries 200,000 happy passengers over trestles, through tunnels and back to the station through an enchanting forest.

Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours gives informative tours of park highlights from the comfort of an old fashioned carriage pulled by horses.

TUTS -Theatre Under the Stars - a musical theatre tradition at Malkin Bowl each summer.

Four full-service restaurants and several concessions.

Rose and Perennial gardens.
 

Queen Elizabeth Park

Perched on the hill that marks the highest point in the city, this urban park with its manicured gardens and extensive horticulture displays is a prime location for wedding photographers.

What's special about Queen Elizabeth Park

The Quarry Gardens - an excavation site that was reborn as the dramatic setting for seasonally cultivated gardens.

Bloedel Conservatory - a glass-covered dome celebrating all that is tropical: koi fish, plants, trees and free-flying tropical birds.

The Arboretum - an expanding collection of some 1,500 specimen trees.

Painter's Corner - displays the work of local landscape painters and portrait artists.

Expanses of green space and mature broad-leafed shade trees that encourage picnics and gatherings and lazy afternoons with a good book.

Athletic activities: lawn bowling, tennis and Tai Chi in the morning.

A par 3 pitch and putt golf course in a park setting.

A full-service, upmarket restaurant with magnificent views of the city.


See the City from above

The Vancouver Lookout has been one of the most iconic and recognizable landmarks in the city. The Observation Deck is situated in the heart of the city high above Vancouver and the perfect first stop for visitors and locals, providing a breathtaking bird's eye view of one of Metro Vancouver's cosmopolitan downtown and the suburbs beyond. Glass elevators whisk visitors 430 feet skyward to the Vancouver Lookout in a mere 40 seconds. Here you will enjoy a riveting and spectacular 360º view of the city. Enjoy the view day or night as tickets are valid all day.

Appreciate nature from three breathtaking perspectives -the world famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, the seven bridges of Treetops Adventure & the thrilling new Cliffwalk, a heart-stopping journey along the granite cliff high above Capilano River.

The 450 ft long, 230 ft high Capilano Suspension Bridge has thrilled visitors since 1889. While the wobbly bridge has become a Vancouver landmark, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park offers an all-encompassing BC experience. History, culture & nature are presented through knowledgeable staff and interpretive signage.

Neighborhoods

One of Vancouver's best attractions is its rich mosaic of neighborhoods. Ethnically and culturally diverse, each Vancouver neighborhood has a distinct, yet always welcoming, personality.
Sample dim sum and authentic Asian cuisine in Chinatown and immerse youself in Chinese culture. Wander the bustling cosmopolitan shops on Robson Street, a shoppers mecca.
Relax on the patio at a trendy Yaletown micro-brewery. Admire historic buildings and saunter the cobblestone streets of Gastown, a National Historic Site, or marvel at the array of market vendors at Granville Island.

Chinatown

Vancouver has been home to a vibrant Chinese community since the mid-19th century. Today, Vancouver's Chinatown is one of the largest in North America and provides an an authentic Asian encounter complete with unique architecture, exotic culinary aromas and an array of imported goods.

No visit to Chinatown is complete without a trip to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden.. A tranquil Ming Dynasty-style garden, it is the first authentic classical Chinese garden to have been built outside of China.

The Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives presents an impressive collection of Chinese memorabilia. It also houses the Chinese Canadian Military Museum.

Make sure to see the Sam Kee Building. At just 6ft wide, it's the world's most narrow office building - and easy to miss!
On weekend evenings from late May through to September, thousands of visitors pour into the closed streets for the popular Chinatown Night Market. The Asian-style flea market offers a host of great finds.

Chinatown can be found just east of downtown Vancouver. Be mindful of the fact that Chinatown, while very safe, is located in a more graphic part of the city.

Robson Street

Energetic Robson Street is the place to see and be seen in Vancouver, and boasts more than 200 shops, cafés and services.
Spend a day on the strip - try on outfits at trend-setting fashion boutiques or sip a latté while people-watching from a sidewalk café. With a weekend average of some 80,000 streetgoers, there are plenty of people to watch!

Prefer less jostling among crowds? Head to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Housed in a former early-20th-century courthouse, the VAG is a haven for art lovers.

Finish the day with dinner at one of Robson Street's many fine restaurants.

Robson Street runs east-west through downtown Vancouver, from Yaletown to the West End. Parking on Robson Street can be a challenge because of its popularity; there are several parkades located within easy walking distance.

Yaletown

Once a gritty area of loading bays and brick warehouses, Yaletown has undergone a facelift and is now a stylish mix of the fashion-savvy, dot-commers and celebrities. It is the neighbourhood of choice for urban trendsetters, both as a nighttime destination and a New-York-loft-like place to call home. Yaletown's streets are surrounded by condominium buildings towering over renovated brick-warehouse lofts.
Some of the city's hippest destinations are here: high-end galleries, chic fashion and furnishings boutiques. Swanky restaurants, brew pubs, trendy salons and even movie sets also share its narrow streets.

Yaletown sits at the southeastern tip of downtown Vancouver; parkades and meter parking are available.

Gastown

The historic district of Gastown is Vancouver's oldest neighbourhood. Still as colourful as ever, it is a favorite destination of tourists.

A daytime stroll down Gastown's cobblestone streets reveals artist studios, designers' shops, First Nations' galleries and antique stores in refurbished heritage buildings. Gastown is also home to the world's first steam-powered clock, now one of the city's most photographed attractions.

Gastown's structures share a common Late Victorian and Edwardian look that harkens back to the region's development in the late 19th century. Check out the old Canadian Pacific Railway Station of 1912 for a tangible example of the decorative tastes of the time.

Gastown is within easy walking distance of downtown Vancouver. Be mindful of the fact that Gastown, while very safe, is partially located in a more graphic part of the city

Granville Island

Hop on a water taxi, salute the view of the downtown skyline and get ready to spend an enjoyable day at Granville Island.
An eclectic mix of shops, boutiques and galleries, Granville Island is perhaps most famous for its large and bustling Public Market, where local food vendors and artisans peddle their wares.

Browse the charming shops of the Net Loft, where retailers offer everything from exotic stationary to beads of every shape and kind, funky hats, First Nations gifts, books and locally-made fashions.

The Maritime Market clusters together retailers who specialize in all things ocean related: boat and kayak rentals, marine souvenirs and of course, seafood. There are fishing charters available too.

Kids adore the Kids Market. Here, independent sellers of atypical toys, books, games, clothing, candy and adventure offer a refreshing alternative to the usual.

Granville Island is also dotted with an array of arts-and-crafts studios and galleries dedicated to local and regional work.

Granville Island is located across from downtown Vancouver, under the Granville Bridge. Parking can be difficult to find; consider coming by foot, public transit, bike, taxi or water taxi

First Day: Inside Passage

Wikipedia:  The Inside Passage is a coastal route for oceangoing vessels along a network of passages which weave through the islands on the Pacific coast of North America.

The term "Inside Passage" is also often used to refer to the ocean and islands around the passage itself. The Inside Passage is also sometimes referred to as the "Inland Passage" which is in turn a reference to early explorers' quests to locate the Northwest Passage between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

The route extends from southeastern Alaska, in the United States, through western British Columbia, in Canada, to northwestern Washington state, in the United States.

Rick's Note:  Due to the safety and the beauty, the Inside Passage is heavily travelled by cruise ships.  It also happens to be the most direct route.  On our Alaska 2005 trip, the Inside Passage was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  The ship could just as easily put out to sea, but instead it weaves its way between countless small islands. 

The experience you receive is very similar to a river cruise.  You have endless beautiful scenery that rolls past your eyes.  Surrounded on either side of the ship by nearby islands with their majestic rainforests, you are given the same intimate feeling you might receive while traveling through a Norwegian Fjord.  The beauty of the neverending landscape is truly something to behold.

   

Ketchikan


Ketchikan is known as Alaska's "first city" due to its location at the southern tip of the Inside Passage.  Ketchikan is the first city you reach as you cruise north.  Consequently it serves for many visitors as their first introduction to the beauty and majesty of Alaska.

Located 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Ketchikan hugs the bluffs that form the shoreline along the southwest corner of Revillagigedo Island. Stretching 31 miles long but never more than 10 blocks wide, Ketchikan is centered on Tongass Avenue. On one side of the avenue, many businesses and homes are built on stilts out over the water, while on the other side they cling to the steep slopes and often have winding wooden staircases leading to their doors.

Don't be surprised if it rains during your visit. If you spend enough time in Ketchikan chances are good it will rain at least once. The average annual rainfall is 162 inches, but it has been known top 200 inches. Local residents call it "liquid sunshine" and umbrellas are rarely used.

Rain or shine, the beauty of Ketchikan's setting is immediately apparent. The city is backed by forested slopes and distinctively shaped Deer Mountain and faces Tongass Narrows, a waterway humming with floatplanes, fishing boats, ferries and barges hauling freight to other Inside Passage ports.

Located 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Ketchikan hugs the bluffs that form the shoreline along the southwest corner of Revillagigedo Island. Stretching 31 miles long but never more than 10 blocks wide, Ketchikan is centered on Tongass Avenue. On one side of the avenue, many businesses and homes are built on stilts out over the water, while on the other side they cling to the steep slopes and often have winding wooden staircases leading to their doors.


Things to do

The downtown area is the main commercial district and contains two large harbors, several cruise ship docks, and many of Ketchikan's main attractions, including historic Creek Street, a boardwalk road built over Ketchikan Creek on pilings. The city center is best viewed from Ketchikan's Waterfront Promenade that skirts the busy shoreline and is equipped with historical markers and whale-tail benches for visitors to rest and take in the view.

The road system extends both north and south of the city and leads to more parks, attractions and accommodations. RVers often depart the Alaska Marine Highway and head north to a handful of campgrounds including Settlers Cove State Recreation Area at the end of the road, 18 miles north of Ketchikan, where the sites are nestled among a lush rainforest overlooking a scenic coastal area. To the south, South Tongass Avenue leads to totems and hiking trails.

Ketchikan also serves as the departure point for side trips to Prince of Wales Island, Annette Island, numerous bear viewing sites and the area's most impressive attraction - Misty Fiords National Monument. This 3,570-square-mile wilderness is a natural mosaic of sea cliffs, steep fjords and rock walls jutting 3,000 feet straight out of the ocean. Trips into the monument, whether by tour boat, small airplane or kayak, provide wildlife sightings like seals, otters, bald eagles and whales.

Marla's Note:  Our seaplane ride through the Misty Fjords back in 2005 was one of the most thrilling adventures I have ever taken. I highly recommend this particular excursion.

Probably the most scenic downtown stretch is historic Creek Street, which is only a short distance (three to four blocks) away from the cruise ship docks. Once a raucous red-light district, and during prohibition a row of speakeasies, these days Creek Street is home to a quieter class of establishment but still retains its delightful historic charm. Visitors walking downtown should be sure to include it in their walking tour to see the picturesque wooden buildings that stand on stilts above Ketchikan Creek.

Summer visitors can look down from the bridges that cross the creek and expect to spot salmon gathering in the brackish waters near the creek mouth, preparing to make their final ascent upstream, where they will spawn and die. Depending on time, tide, and other conditions you might also see a hungry harbor seal or two cruising the creek mouth for easy prey

Ketchikan boasts the largest collection of original 19th-century totem poles in the world. Be sure to spend some time at one of the 3 totem pole parks in the area-Totem Heritage Center, Saxman Totem Park and Totem Bight State Park-each brimming with majestic, multi-colored Tlingit and Haida totems amid a spectacular rural setting.

The unbridled beauty and sheer size of Misty Fjords National Monument in Tongass National Forest is a nature lover's paradise, providing all who enter with sweeping views of rugged mountain peaks, glaciers, rushing waterfalls, lakes and wondrous wildlife that defy description.

Additionally, Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center which overlooks Ketchikan Creek, includes observation areas where you can glimpse spawning salmon and enjoy an up-close encounter with 2 bald eagles.

Another popular thing to do is visit the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.  This is Alaska's version of the Texas Rodeo. It celebrates Ketchikan's logging heyday. You get to watch pros compete at log rolling, axe throwing and pole climbing.  The show must go on even if it rains.  The bleachers, thankfully, are covered. The sometimes corny show lasts about an hour, leaving plenty of time for shopping -- the port's shore activity of choice.


Local Culture and Flavor

With a population of approximately 7,800, Ketchikan is the 5th largest city in the state, despite being only 12 blocks long. Because the city takes so much pride in its native roots, it's impossible not to feel its influence wherever you roam, be it in the city center or off the beaten track. Major attractions boast towering totem poles celebrating the various tribes indigenous to the area while shops both big and small offer one-of-a-kind hand-carved items for tourists.

Billed as the "Salmon Capital of the World," Ketchikan's economy is-and always has been-primarily based on fishing. The waters surrounding the town teem with 5 types of salmon: King, Red, Silver, Pink and Chum, making it a destination of choice for professional and amateur fishermen the world over.


History

Founded as a salmon cannery site in 1885, Ketchikan's livelihood was initially fishing and for years the city was known as the "Canned Salmon Capital of the World."

By 1900, the fishing trade was flourishing and the town was officially founded. Ketchikan, already successful from industrial fishing, soon branched out and became a valuable mining supply center due to the discovery of gold and copper in the region, followed by a flourishing logging industry that continued throughout the 20th century.

When cruise ships started plying the waters of the Inside Passage, Ketchikan naturally became a popular port of call.

Today, Ketchikan remains a treasured tourist destination where some of the world's most awe-inspiring natural wonders share center stage with an intriguing and inspiring Native Alaskan culture

   

Icy Strait Point


Icy Strait Point is located 35 miles west of Juneau in Hoonah, Alaska.  The location is organized around a salmon cannery owned by Huna Totem Corporation.

The Tlingit people settled Hoonah two thousand years ago when they were forced to abandon their original village because of advancing glaciers. Translated, it means, "Where the north wind doesn't blow".

The Tlingit - always respectful of their environment -- lived a subsistence life.  For centuries they survived off the bountiful fishing waters and lush forest. Many also became very accomplished as weavers, carvers and artists -- developing the unique stylized designs you see throughout Tlingit communities today.

Fur traders arrived on Hoonah shores in the 1880's. Schools, churches, and stores were soon to follow.

In 1912, the Hoonah Packing Company built the first cannery in the area. Ownership traded hands several times before the Icy Strait Salmon Company purchased the property in 1932. When a fire destroyed the town on June 14, 1944, many residents made the cannery their home while the city was rebuilt.

Icy Strait Point was originally built as a Salmon Cannery and has been an important part of the community for many years serving many functions. In the mid 1990's the Huna Totem Corporation bought the cannery and created the salmon industry here.  Currently 85% of the staff at ISP are local Tlingit from Hoonah.

For over 10,000 years, the Tlingits have lived and thrived in Southeast Alaska. Access to abundant resources on both land and sea have enabled the Tlingit people to develop a rich culture and complex social structure.

That structure and culture has survived the ages and is still evident today. Each family had a dwelling that could house up to 30 family members with its own identification and clan symbols. Many villages had a large communal building that would serve as a gathering place for ceremonies and other clan or tribal meetings.

Childrearing was pretty much everyone's responsibility with aunts, uncles or grandparents typically taking a stronger role than the parents. This system helped to insure that children would be properly trained and better able to survive in an unforgiving environment.

When visiting ISP, visitors will be introduced to Tlingit history through song, dance, and storytelling -- the same way Alaska Natives have learned for generations.

So what's there to do at Icy Strait Point?

There is so much to do here.  Get out in nature, view Glacier Bay from the air, cruise with the whales, search for brown bears, listen to Tlingit Native stories, go Kayaking, experience Tlingit culture, book a charter fishing excursion, watch the wildlife, or ride the world's highest ZipRider.

Search for Whales, Wildlife, & Brown Bears

-- Imagine being in the midst of humpback whales as they feed and frolic in the bountiful waters of Icy Strait. Then imagine overlooking a wild salmon stream, winding its way out amidst sedges and berry bushes, and suddenly, a bear's head pops out of the grass, or another one appears around the river bend. You can have both of these experiences in one day! Ride a high-speed catamaran through waters that support a wide array of marine life, including orca (killer whales), Steller's sealions, seal, porpoise, and of course the magnificent humpback whales. Along the shore, keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles in the evergreen treetops. The onboard naturalist will describe the biology and behavior of the diverse species that gather here every summer to indulge in the nutrient rich waters, fueled by the long Alaska summer days.

Then cruise back to Icy Strait Point where a local guide will meet you to begin the Wildlife Search. The journey out to the Spasski River is a tour in itself, as the bus travels through the Tlingit village of Hoonah and, quickly, out through the interior forests and muskegs of Chichagof Island. Watch for bald eagles, woodpeckers, Sitka black-tailed deer and even Alaska coastal brown bears all along the way. When you arrive near the river, your guide will lead you down a gravel path across a muskeg and to the river itself, all the way describing and illuminating the rainforest ecology that supports our island's massive bears.

Glacier Bay Flightseeing

Experience the grandeur of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, one of America's premier natural wilderness areas.

The scenery of the park encompasses 3.3 million acres and is part of the largest internationally protected area in the world. Fly over the feeding grounds for endangered humpback whales at Point Adolphus. At the entrance to Glacier Bay, view Lemesurier Island; the massive glaciers almost reached this point before beginning their rapid retreat just 250 years ago. A giant sheet of ice covered all the area you will see. As the flight continues, see how the de-glaciated terrain is developing into lush rain forests of Spruce and Hemlock that line the shores of Glacier Bay. Fly over waterfalls, lakes, deep crevasses and azure blue meltwater pools of Glacier Bay National Park and visit the world as it was at the end of the Ice Age.

Zip Rider

You may also get a bird's eye view from The ZipRider. It is not just a ride, it's a great tour on the way up

The Zip Rider is 5,330 feet long, has a 1,300 foot vertical drop, goes 60 mph maximum speed, 300 feet highest point from ground, with a 1.5 minute ride time. At 1,300 feet above sea level, you sit into a special harness seat and await your launch. Six guests launch at once, and it is a race to the bottom! 3, 2, 1 and you're off, accelerating to 60 mph as you pass 300 feet above the treetops. If your eyes are still open you will see sweeping views of Port Frederick, Icy Strait and our cruise ship far below. The ZipRide concludes with a break-activated landing on the beach back at Icy Strait Point.

   

Juneau


Juneau is the state capital of Alaska located along the Gastineau Channel of southern Alaska's panhandle. Nestled at the base of Mount Juneau amid a dense rainforest, Juneau is the largest capital in area in the United States.

According to Wikipedia, Juneau is also the only state capital inaccessible by car.  You can only get there by air or ship.

(Rick's Note:  Hate to quibble, but I think Honolulu is probably tough to reach by car as well).

Although the population of Juneau is small compared to other capital cities, there is still a plethora of exciting sites to see and adventures to undertake that will surely inspire everyone in the family.

Things to See and Do

Mendenhall Glacier

If you seek natural beauty, Juneau has this in abundance. The Mendenhall Glacier, a half-mile wide, 1,800-feet deep ice field, is the most accessible glacier in Alaska and, for many, the most breathtaking.  You can take a helicopter ride to get there.

Mount Roberts Tramway and Juneau Rain Forest

Offering panoramic views of the city, the Mount Roberts Tramway whisks Guests up to an observation deck that is approximately 2,000 feet above Juneau.

The tram makes a six-minute ascent of 4,000 feet directly from the cruise ship docks.  A restaurant, theater, nature center and retail shops are located at the top of the tramway.

Best of all, the nature center connects to a marvelous 4-mile hiking trail that takes a round trip through the frozen wilderness. There several vantage points that overlook the water below, providing marvelous picture-taking opportunities

Once you finish taking pictures of the channel and the cruise ship below, a nature walk through a dense Nordic rainforest awaits you.  Fed by year-round rainfall, there are trees and ferns galore.  A well-groomed walkway makes it easy to smile in delight at nature's beauty.  If you love nature, this is the trip for you.  (Rick's Note:  Be sure to take an umbrella or raincoat)

Marla's Note:  Rick drew the location of the tramway in red.  It was invisible at long range.  As you can see, the tramway is right next to those three cruise ships. There is a virtual paradise awaiting for anyone who takes the Tramway high up into the sky... and the Tramway is literally just 100 yards from the cruise ship.  How crazy is that?

As you can see from the vista in the picture, Juneau is surrounded by immense mountains.  It is this mountain range that explains why building a road to Juneau makes no economic sense. 

But at the same time, building a city right at the foot of a mountain has its advantages.  It is difficult to imagine, but there is a Magic Rainforest Kingdom in the sky hovering right above Juneau. 

Once you reach the top, you are overwhelmed by the beauty of the immense system of hiking trails.  You can see the primitive Alaska rainforest perfectly preserved in its original state.

You may have seen forests in Colorado that are similar, but this is definitely one of the most incredible hiking experiences imaginable.  Thanks to year-round rainfall, the trees are lush and green.  This paradise is one of the highlights of an Alaska cruise.

Better yet - after the $10 tram ride, the walk is all free.  FREE!!  That's where Rick and I are headed.  You can spend the whole day up there with the trails, the nature videos, the restaurant and shops.

Alaska State Museum

Guests looking to explore the natural and cultural roots of Juneau need look no further than the Alaska State Museum, which recounts not only the native people of Alaska and its early settlers, but also the natural wildlife that can be seen throughout the region. From June through October, the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery offers visitors an intimate glimpse of breeding salmon as they make their way up a 450-foot fish ladder.

Historic sites include the Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, the state's oldest operating church, and the Red Dog Saloon, built during the city's mining era, which is home to swinging saloon doors, saw dust floors, live music and unique memorabilia.

For treasure hunters looking to shop, South Franklin Street-which parallels the dock-and the downtown area offers a myriad boutiques and stores selling typical Alaskan wares like furs, Alaskan jewelry, baleen baskets, carved ivory, lacquered boxes and nesting dolls.

Local Culture and Flavor

With its rugged mountainsides, sweeping glaciers and rainforests, Juneau is a scenic wonderland everywhere you look. Witnessing wildlife, like a brown bear fishing for food during a nature hike or a bald eagle casually soaring overhead, is not out of the ordinary.

As the capital of Alaska, Juneau's primary employer is the government-one out of every 2 Juneau workers is employed by the state, federal and municipal branches. Fishing, mining and tourism are also important parts of the Juneau economy. Recreational activities include hiking, kayaking, fishing, skiing, whale watching and wildlife viewing. Of the city's 31,000 residents, a large percent are fisherman, legislators, teachers and business owners.

Juneau is home to Alaska's only professional theater, Perseverance Theatre and the area hosts both the Alaska Folk Festival and the Juneau Jazz & Classics music festivals.

Past and Present

Originally a fishing outpost for local Tlingit Native Americans, the area now known as Juneau was founded in 1880 after 2 prospectors-Richard Harris and Joseph Juneau-discovered gold, thanks to help by Chief Kowee of the Auk Tlingit Tribe. Shortly thereafter, the town, originally called Harrisburg, was struck with "gold fever" and began to flourish, followed by hard-rock mining, sawmilling, canning and an expanding fishing industry. Juneau became the capital of Alaska in 1906.

Today, Juneau remains a treasured tourist destination that includes not only a Tlingit Native American influence, but also a tradition steeped in Russian culture. Boasting timeless natural wonders, museums and the historic sites, Juneau continues to stir the imaginations of all who visit.

   

Skagway


Skagway Alaska has a unique place in Alaska's history; known as the "Gateway to the Yukon" during the Klondike gold rush. Today, one can almost hear the cries of "gold in the Yukon" echoing from canyon walls.

An improbable series of events placed Skagway, Alaska, in the epicenter of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Only two years later, the Gold Rush was over, and treasure seekers had moved on to Nome on Alaska's west coast. Today, Skagway has a permanent population of less than 900, but during the summer tourist season, the number swells into the thousands.

Klondike Gold Rush

Originally home to the Chilkoots and Chilkats Native Americans, Skagway came to prominence when gold was discovered along the Klondike River at Rabbit Creek in 1896.  This set off what would be known as the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s.

In real estate, everything is location location location.  Skagway's place in the Gold Rush actually started a few years earlier.  In 1887, Captain William Moore of Canada accompanied a native packer over a relatively unknown mountain pass in an area near the Pacific Coast about halfway between Seattle and what is now Anchorage.

Acting on a hunch that gold would soon be discovered in the area, Moore settled at the foot of the pass. He named the area Mooresville and waited for the gold seekers to arrive.

Ten years later, as Moore predicted, gold was discovered in Canada's Klondike region, across the White Pass from Mooresville.  Skagway was inundated with prospectors because it offered the most direct route into the back country.  Overnight the population swelled to approximately 10,000.

During this time, hundreds of thousands of gold prospectors settled into the area in search of fortune. Because of its proximity to the Yukon where gold was plentiful, Skagway acted as the gateway to the treasure, and the town grew both in size and structure because of this sudden economic boom. By 1899, gold rush fever had passed.

By 1898, the name Mooresville was changed to Skagway, and the  A rough frontier town, Skagway was ruled by con men and good-time girls.  When gold was discovered in Nome in 1899, most treasure seekers moved on to the next big thing.

Now Skagway was nearly deserted.  The town fell into ruin.

Today, Skagway with its sweeping mountain and river views is a city of approximately 900 residents that embraces its place in American history. Ironically, it wasn't the gold that put Skagway back on the map but rather the tourism of that time that came soon afterward and remains to this day.

Saved by tourism in the 1920s, Skagway today is a sort of living history center. Every summer, hundreds of actors and historians recreate the excitement of the Gold Rush for thousands of cruise ship visitors.

White Pass and Yukon Railway

Marla's Note: The name of the game in Skagway is to take the train into Alaska's interior all the way to the Canadian border.  The scenery is unbelievable.

As it turns out, the thing that saved Skagway was its train. 

The narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Railway was begun in 1898 to ease the crossing to the Klondike gold fields but was not completed until 1900, when the Gold Rush had already ended. Nonetheless, the railroad proved vital for both shipping and passenger transport.

The railroad ceased operations in 1982, but was revived as a tourist train in 1988. The train takes guests through steep climbs and cliff-hanging turns, through tunnels and atop towering bridges, past glaciers and picture-perfect waterfalls.

This train has become practically a gold mine in itself.  Tourists love to line up for an exciting train ride deep into Alaska's back country.  They aren't disappointed.  The views one gets are both wonderful and memorable. 
 

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

In 1998, Skagway was recognized as the Gateway to the Klondike, and the town became one of four members of the international Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park system. The National Park Service maintains a visitor center and museum in Skagway and is responsible for the maintenance of three additional buildings in town. Free guided walking tours depart from the visitor center five times per day throughout the summer tourist season. Led by national park rangers, the tours are historically accurate and professionally presented.

Red Onion Saloon

The Red Onion Saloon, built in 1897, is one of Skagway's most famous stops. Originally a pub with a brothel above, the Red Onion epitomized Skagway's frontier appeal. Today, actresses in period garb give tours of the brothel, introducing travelers to some of Skagway's most notable residents. Downstairs, the pub still serves up fresh Alaskan fare and strong alcoholic beverages.

Downtown Attractions

Downtown Skagway is pedestrian friendly. Dozens of historic sites, museums and entertainment options compete for tourist dollars with shops and restaurants. Instead of planning out your entire day, allow plenty of time to stroll through town and visit the spots that catch your eye.

The Skagway Museum and Archives displays a diverse collection of age-old treasures from the town's illustrious history, wonderfully curated in a historic granite building. And along the scenic Chilkoot Trail, hundreds of relics of the past rest untouched for all to see. From age-old old pick axes to decrepit wagon wheels, these tools of the gold-mining trade were ditched by the original miners and left to history.

The Days of 98 Show with Soapy Smith has been performed continuously since 1930. During the Klondike Gold Rush, no name was better known in Skagway than Jeff "Soapy" Smith. An underworld boss from Denver, Soapy decided to follow the Gold Rush to Skagway. He founded a highly popular saloon, which served as a front for his cons. Yet as depicted in the show, Soapy had a heart of gold.

Local Culture and Flavor

Known for its legendary seat during the Gold Rush boom, Skagway is a sleepy town frozen in time. A plethora of magnificent albeit quaint landmark buildings along the main thoroughfare in town, Broadway Street, help to illustrate what life was like during Skagway's heyday, when opportunity and riches were as easy to find as the gold that everyone was searching for. Walking along this historic 7-block stretch, don't be surprised it you bump into residents wearing late 19th-century attire from when the town came into prominence.

   

Hubbard Glacier


Nicknamed the "Galloping Glacier," this east Alaskan glacier is rapidly advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska into a pristine area known as Disenchantment Bay. In fact, its movement temporarily formed a natural dam that twice closed off nearby Russell Fjord from the bay, but the intense water pressure building within the fjord-turned-lake has thus far been enough to explode through the wall of ice.

The largest tidewater glacier in North America, Hubbard Glacier measures 76 miles long and plunges 1,200 feet into the depths of the bay. Its immense beauty and phenomenal blue hues are enchanting, even from afar.

But it's when your cruise ship draws closer that its towering surface really impresses, dwarfing even the uppermost deck on your ship at a whopping 40 stories high. You can't help but gasp as the cruise ship keeps getting closer and closer.  The ship stops about 200 yards from the ice. 

There, with the snowcapped mountains serving as a glorious backdrop, you'll have a prime viewing spot from which to witness the glacier calving, as it often expels icebergs the size of 10-story buildings-imagine the splash!

When a glacier this big moves, people notice. And so it was in 1986 when a pilot, flying over the giant ice mass, noticed the glacier had moved forward, blocking the outflow of nearby Russell Fjord. Trapped in the fjord, behind the dam of ice, where seals, sea lions and dolphins, many of them soon rescued by concerned citizens from all corners of the world.

As the summer months passed, water behind the glacier dam rose higher and higher, finally reaching a heights of 90 feet above sea level. On October 8th, it broke, releasing an estimated 5.3 billion cubic meters of water back into the bay, believed to be one of the greatest water discharges ever recorded in North America.

While sailing up to the face of Hubbard Glacier, notice the ever increasing numbers and size of icebergs floating nearby. Notice the interesting, shapes, patterns of dirt and rock, and the amazing shades of blue some bergs have. If you are lucky, you'll see a seal or sea otter resting or playing on or near the larger pieces of ice. Notice the birds as they swoop down to the water from the nearby cliffs as sea animals are disturbed by the constant hammering of ice into the water.

As you get closer to the glacier, look to the east side of the face and imagine it covering the entrance to Russell Fjord. Now consider the fjord filling with fresh water, at an amazing rate, and the pressure this wall of water is placing on the ice dam. Think about the sea animals trapped in this quickly becoming fresh water lake. Finally, picture the glacier as the forces of nature overpower the mighty glacier in a single moment with a thunderous crash and the spilling of millions of gallons of water. This was nature at her best.

When you get very near to the glacier's face and you look up at the 300 foot wall of ice, listen carefully to the sounds it generates. Bang! Pop! Creak! Boom! Even without calving, the glacier speaks. Sometimes like rifle shot, the sound echoes throughout the area. Then a groan. Note the variety of sounds, sounds that you'll hear again and again as you recall your visit to this awe-inspiring work of nature.

If you are lucky, and Hubbard seldom disappoints, you will see chunks of the glacier, some as big as a 30-story building, crash into the sea below. It begins with a few chunks cascading down the face, and then in an instant, thousands of pounds of ancient ice comes thundering down, and an enormous wave propagates out into the bay. On a good day, the show seems never-ending.

For a few lucky folks, the glacier treats them to a shooter. A block of ice, sometimes as big as a bus, bursts through the surface with a mighty splash as it reaches for the sky, only to fall back into the sea. Often, the waves generated by calving and shooters are big enough to feel in the largest of ships. It's no wonder the captain never gets closer than about a quarter mile from the glacier.

The area around Hubbard Glacier is also renowned for its wildlife, where whales, harbor seals and otters swim, brown bears, moose and black-tailed deer roam ashore, and a wide variety of seabirds soar gracefully across the sky.

   

Seward


Seward is not large, but it is a very important city in Alaska. 

Seward is a sort of Grand Central Station for transportation in Alaska.  For starters, it is located at the terminus of both the Alaska Railroad and the Seward Highway.  And it serves as an  embarkation - disembarkation port for many cruises, including our trip.

Flanked by rugged mountains to one side and sparkling Resurrection Bay on the other, Seward has a quaint downtown, fantastic hiking nearby, plus a fascinating Alaska Sea Life Center

From Seward, many visitors to Alaska head on to the interior of the state.  This town of 2,619 residents is easily accessible from Anchorage yet can serve as a base for anybody who likes to kayak, hike, fish, whale-watch and glacier-view.

Overshadowing Seward is Mount Marathon, the scene of one of Alaska's most famous and challenging foot races. A friendly wager in 1909 resulted in this annual 3.1-mile run to the top of the 3,022-foot peak. The race attracts advanced runners from all over the world and is a highlight of Seward's lively Fourth of July celebration, one of the best in Alaska.

Things to do

The city also serves as the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Created in 1980, Kenai Fjords spreads over 587,000 acres and is crowned by the massive Harding Ice Field from which countless tidewater glaciers pour down into coastal fjords.

The impressive landscape and an abundance of marine wildlife make the park a major tourist attraction. Many visitors take a day cruise along the coast south of Seward to watch glaciers calve into the sea and spot seals, sea lions and whales.

Another popular attraction in Kenai Fjords National Park is Exit Glacier, which lies just north of town. This road-accessible glacier offers an impressive up-close view of the glacier along with information and hiking trails.

The more adventurous can rent a kayak and arrange a drop off deep in the park to spend their afternoons paddling among sea otters and their nights gazing at glaciers. There is also a series of public-use cabins that can be rented in advance. For more information on activities in the park contact Kenai Fjords National Park.

History

Seward was founded in 1903, when settlers arrived to plot construction of a northbound rail line. By the time the Alaska Railroad was completed in 1923, this ice-free port became the most important shipping terminal on the Kenai Peninsula.

The city also served as the southern terminus of the 1,200-mile Iditarod National Historic Trail to Nome, long a major dogsled thoroughfare via the Interior and Bush.

Like many towns in Southcentral Alaska, Seward began a new era of history in 1964 after the Good Friday Earthquake caused fires and tidal waves that destroyed 90 percent of the town.

If you are curious, you can view the slide show covering the earthquake, "Waves Over Seward", in the public library.

   

Cruise Tour Extension:

Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks

(Marla's Note: 10-14-2013: SOLD OUT)

(Wait List for cancellations only)

   


Marla's Notes:  One of the frustrating aspects of a cruise trip is that our destinations are limited to ports.  As Rick is fond of asking, why aren't there cruise trips to Switzerland?  As you can guess, I had to schedule a river cruise just to shut him up.

That said, the ocean cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are starting to learn ways to add a "land component" to their offerings.  The Alaska "Denali Extension" is a prototype. 

Many of us have heard of the amazing Denali National Park located in central Alaska and would love to visit it.  There is only one problem - cruise ships don't do well on land.

Fortunately, Royal Caribbean has devised an impressive 3-night Land option to add on at the end of your cruise.  After all, once you are there, you will want to see as much as you possibly can.

At a Glance

Here is a brief description of the Royal Caribbean package

June 20: Seward to Anchorage to Denali

Upon arrival in Seward, you leave the ship and board a deluxe motorcoach.  Your luggage will be stored on the coach.

From Seward, you can enjoy a scenic drive to Anchorage. Here you will meet your Adventure Specialist.  While in Anchorage, time is provided for lunch on your own.

Then it's on to the beautiful destination of Denali.  That evening you will spend the night in a lodge in Denali.

June 21: Denali and Fairbanks

In the morning, you'll depart on the Denali Natural History Tour.  Or if you wish, for an additional charge, an upgrade to the Tundra Wilderness Tour is available through your Adventure Specialist.

Here you will discover the beauty of taiga forests and gaze at miles of rolling tundra and abundant wildlife.

In the afternoon, you will board a glass-domed traincars known as the Wilderness Express for a luxurious ride to Fairbanks.  You will stay overnight in Fairbanks.

June 22: Fairbanks, Alaska

After breakfast, you'll enjoy a fun-filled day in Fairbanks, including a Fairbanks City Tour and a tour of the Gold Dredge 8.

You're afternoon is free to explore on your own. Consult your Adventure Specialist for the many options to choose from including a visit to the Museum of the North or a ride on the Riverboat Discovery.  This riverboat tour is pretty interesting.

June 23: Fairbanks, Alaska

After spending a second night in Fairbanks, the next morning your Adventure Specialist will see that you are transferred to the Fairbanks airport for your flight home.

Five Royal Caribbean Videos

Marla's Note:  Royal Caribbean seems to understand this Denali Extension is a bit unusual.  Consequently they have prepared a series of videos that will give you a better idea of what the Denali Extension looks like and what you can expect.  In all fairness, if you are on the fence regarding this trip, I must warn you that viewing the Alaska scenery will only serve to ratchet up the temptation to join.  So watch any of these videos at your own risk. 

Besides the video I have linked to, you will find links to four other videos as well.  The five videos help explain other aspects of the Denali Extension.  To an extent, these videos overlap.  For example, you will see some of the same pictures in the different videos.  That said, taken together, the five videos definitely offer valuable explanation and add enticing background scenery.

The Royal Caribbean Alaska Experience: Exploring the Last Frontier by Land and Sea

About Denali National Park

"Denali" is what the native native Athabaskan Indians call the majestic peak that is the tallest mountain in North America.   The word "Denali" means "the high one" and refers to the mountain itself.

The mountain was given its Americanized name in 1897 by a local prospector in reference to President William McKinley.  The President had just been assassinated and perhaps the sentiment was to remember him in some way.  Unfortunately, McKinley had never visited the mountain and had absolutely no connection to the mountain. 

A controversy immediately developed.  The name 'Mount McKinley' was subjected to intense local criticism. That is putting it mildly.  In actuality, that name has long been considered a tremendous insult by the people who actually live in Alaska. 

Over the years as respect for the rights of Native Americans has grown in our culture, many people have come to agree. Over the past century, people have preferred to use 'Denali' as the name for both the mountain and the park even though it officially continued to have the McKinley name still attached.

People assume the national Park was established because of majestic Mount McKinley.  That is incorrect. Charles Sheldon conceived the plan to conserve the region as a national park.  His original intent was to protect its large mammals from hunters.

Naturalist and conservationist, Sheldon first traveled here in 1906 and again in 1907. Sheldon devoted much of his 1907 travels to studying boundaries for the proposed national park that would include territories suitable for a game refuge. When Sheldon returned to the East in 1908, he helped launch the campaign to establish a national park. Largely due to these efforts, Mount McKinley National Park was established in 1917. Its population of Dall sheep and other wildlife were now legislatively protected.

However, Mount McKinley itself was only partially included within the boundaries.

Sheldon himself wanted to call the park 'Denali', but his suggestion would not be followed until 1980 when President Jimmy Carter ordered the switch that established Denali National Park as the new official name.

In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) enlarged the boundary by 4 million acres and redesigned it as Denali National Park and Preserve.

At 6 million acres or 7,370 square miles, the park is larger than Massachusetts. It exemplifies interior Alaska's character as one of the world's last great frontiers for wilderness adventure. It remains largely wild and unspoiled, as the Athabascans knew it.

The changes in names and boundaries that have occurred over the years can be confusing. Slowly but surely, over the years, the name "Denali" has begun to dominate over "McKinley", but as it stands today you will see both names at various times when you visit the area.

President Carter's renaming was a step in the right direction, but left the issue of the mountain's "McKinley" name unchanged.

Size

Denali National Park and Preserve exemplifies interior Alaska's character as one of the world's last great frontiers for wilderness adventure.

Denali National Park and Preserve is managed as three distinct units: Denali Wilderness, Denali National Park additions, and Denali National Preserve.

Denali, the "High One," crowns the 600 mile long Alaska range.

Many generations of native Athabascans wandered over this region before Caucasians began to discover and explore it. Nomadic bands hunted lowland hills of Denali's northern reaches spring through fall for caribou, sheep and moose. They preserved berries for winter, netted fish, and gathered edible plants.

As snow began to fall, they migrated to lower elevations, closer to the river valleys' better protection from winter's severe weather. Much of the Alaska Range formed a mighty barrier between interior Athabascans and Cook Inlet Athabascans to the south.

Denali Wilderness, the former Mount McKinley Park, is managed to maintain the undeveloped wilderness parkland character. Backcountry use is regulated and most usual national park regulations apply here. Denali Wilderness is closed to sport and subsistence hunting and trapping activities.

Denali National Park additions, established by the ANILCA in 1980 (excluding Denali Wilderness), allow customary and traditional subsistence uses by local rural residents. This recognizes the longstanding dependence on wildlife, fish, and plant materials for subsistence in rural Alaska.

Denali National Preserve allows subsistence uses and also allows sport hunting, trapping, and fishing under Alaska Fish and Game regulations. There are 2 such preserve areas.

Paradoxically this expansive landscape, habitat of large caribou, moose, and grizzly bear, lies adorned with miniaturized plants.

Their diminutive size contrasts with their large importance as food to the animals that live or migrate through here. These plants have long been adapted to survive northern life, but there is newness in the landscape too.

The rivers are so young and so laden with pulverized rock, called rock flour, that they can wander across their broad, flat valleys to set new channels in a matter of days. The delicate beauty of the tundra points to the lofty, isolated, and often cloud-covered grandeur of the Mount McKinley massif.

The Land

More then 650 species of flowering plants as well as many species of mosses, lichens, fungi, algae, and others grace the slops and valleys of Denali. Only plants adapted to long, bitterly cold winters can survive in this sub arctic wilderness. Deep beds of intermittent permafrost - ground frozen for thousands of years - underlie portions of the park and preserve. Only the thinnest layer of the topsoil thaws each summer to support life.

After the continental glaciers retreated 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, hundreds of years were required to begin building new soils and to begin the slow process of re-vegetation. Denali's lowlands and slopes consist of two major plant associations, taiga and tundra.

The Trees

First time visitors immediately ask where all the trees are.

There are trees in Denali, just not very many.  The problem is that Denali is very close to the northernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere where trees can grow.  Extremely cold temperatures, especially when prolonged, can result in freezing of the internal sap of trees, killing them. In addition, permafrost in the soil can prevent trees from getting their roots deep enough for the necessary structural support.  The high elevation of the park is yet a third reason why trees struggle to survive.

Taiga, a Russian word for northern evergreen forest, describes the scant tree growth here near the Arctic Circle.

Much of the park and preserve's taiga lies in valleys along the rivers. White and black spruce, the most common trees, are interspersed with quaking aspen, paper birch, larch, and baslam poplar.

Strands of deciduous trees occur along streamside gravel bars or where soils have been disturbed by fire or other action. Woods are frequently carpeted with mosses and lichens. Many open areas are filled with shrubs such as dwarf birch, blueberry, and a variety of willow species. The limit of tree growth occurs at about 2,700 feet in the park and preserve. For comparison, the elevation at the park hotel is 1,750 feet.

Above the tree limit, taiga gives way to tundra.

Tundra is a fascinating world of dwarfed shrubs and miniaturized wildflowers adapted to a short growing season. There are also two types, moist tundra and dry tundra, with myriad gradations in between.

Moist tundra varies in composition: some areas contain tussocks of sedges and cottongrass; others contain dwarfed shrubs, particularly willows and alders. Plants of the dry tundra occur above shrubline. There, meadows abound. Higher up the mountain slopes close to 7,000 feet, complete plant cover yields to scattered patches amidst barren rock.

These tiny highland plants grow closely matted to the ground, creating their own livable microclimate. Mountain avens, dwarf fireweed, moss campion, dwarf rhododendron, and forget-me-not (Alaska's state flower) dot the rocky landscape offering stunning summer displays of delicate blossoms. Although small in stature they loom large in importance because their nutrients provide food that sustains even the largest species of park wildlife.

Wildlife of Taiga and Tundra

Spring, summer, and fall provide a compressed respite from the sub-arctic's long season of deep cold. For most animals, it is a busy time during which they must garner most of their annual food supplies. Dall sheep, relatives of the bighorn sheep, graze the alpine tundra for the young shoots of mountain avens. Ewes and rams live apart in summer, while the lambs are getting their start. In early summer sheep are at lower elevations, but they will follow the snowmelt higher and higher as summer progresses.

Caribou, like the Dall sheep, travel in groups. Both sexes sport antlers, the only deer family members to do so. Caribou migrate great distances from their calving grounds south of the Alaska Range and northwest of Mount McKinley to their winter range in the northern reaches of the park and preserve. The Denali Herd has fluctuated greatly in number over the last 30 years. Today groups of 20 or more may be seen from the park road, quite different from the thousands seen many years ago.

Moose, the deer family's largest member, are not herd animals. Bulls may group in threes or fours or wander alone until they pursue several cow moose during the rut, or mating season. The calves are born in May and will stay with the cow one or two years. In spring, the cow and calf feed on willows and other new green vegetation. At this time of year, be cautious about traveling in the willow thickets. A cow moose can be very dangerous while protecting her calf from a perceived threat.

Wolves are rarely seen, but they plan an important role in the nature scheme. In winter, wolves generally hunt in packs. Individuals, however, can be sighted as well. Pack organization is strongest during the whelping (pupping) season in spring. The presence of wolves in Denali is an indication of the quality of this wilderness. If you are lucky enough to see a wolf, consider it a rare and privileged experience.

Grizzly bears are omnivores, eating small plants, berries, ground squirrels, moose or caribou calves, and occasional carrion. They are seen throughout the park. Sows generally bear two cubs, sometimes one and rarely three. They too are fiercely protective of their offspring. Wolves and grizzly bears play an important role as predators. Ever ready to take advantage of an opportunity, they cull old, newborn, and sick animals from the caribou, moose and sheep population.

Smaller mammals abound within the limits of this harsh, northern environment: fox, weasel, wolverine, lynx, marten, snowshoe hare, hoary marmot, red squirrel, ground squirrel, pika, porcupine, beaver, shrew, vole and the lemming. There are 37 mammal species recorded in the park and preserve.

Birdlife is varied and interesting. Most birds migrate long distances between their nesting grounds here in the park and their wintering areas. Wheatears winter in Africa; arctic terns in Antarctica and southern South America; jaegers take to life at sea in the southern oceans.

On the open tundra, you may easily see ptarmigan, Lapland longspurs, and various shorebirds. Short-eared owls and northern harriers can be seen soaring low in search of rodents. Golden eagles patrol the higher elevations and ridgetops.

Raptors - birds of prey - of the spruce forest are the hawk owl and goshawk. In these forests, you may also see the spruce grouse and varied thrush. Plovers, gyrfalcons, mew gulls, and snow buntings are among the 156 species of birds recorded at Denali. Raven, ptarmigan, magpie, and gray jay are some of the species that winter in the park and preserve.

Winter challenges wildlife with frigid temperatures and the cessation of plant growth.  Food is scarce. Grizzlies fatten up in the summer and remain in a torpor or deep sleep most of the winter. Ground squirrels and marmots hibernate, their body functions virtually halted. Beavers and red squirrels hole up and subsist on food caches. Weasels, snowshoe hare, and ptarmigan, however, turn white and continue the struggle to survive above ground against extreme conditions.

As one might gather, survival in this region can be very difficult in this frozen wilderness. 

   
   
Marla's Explanation Regarding the Denali Extension

Marla's Note:  As you can see, the price tag for this Denali Extension is very expensive. For example, when Rick saw the price tag, he commented that the price of the Extension was even more than the price of an Inside Cabin on the cruise.

Rick asked me if I thought the price was fair. I said I would find out.  Now I want to share what I discovered.  If you were to purchase each place to stay and each transportation ticket and each tour on your own, the list below covers what each item on the trip would cost you.

  Marla's Independent Travel Breakdown
 01. Motor Coach from Seward to Anchorage: $59 pp
 02. Motor Coach Transport from Anchorage to Denali: $86 pp
 03. Grande Denali Lodge: 1 night @ double occupancy: $350
 04. Denali Park Entrance Fee: $10 pp
 05. Denali Natural History Tour: $68 pp
 06. Train from Denali to Fairbanks: $121
 07. Pike's Waterfront Lodge or comparable (Fairbanks)
      2 nights @ double occupancy: $420
 08. Fairbanks Gold Dredge Tour: $40
 09. Riverboat Discovery Tour: $60
 10. Fairbanks City Tour: $30
 11. Motor Coach from Fairbanks hotel to airport $20
 Total: $1264

Marla's Note Continued

Basically Royal Caribbean is selling you everything I have listed above for about $1,000. 

Now let me explain Royal Caribbean's pricing. 

If you are in an Inside Cabin, your add-on price for the Denali Extension will be $1014.  If you are in an Oceanview Cabin, your add-o price will be $965. If you are in a Balcony, your add-on price will be $815.

I understand that in a perfect world, the price should be the same for everyone.  I made that exact point to my Royal Caribbean agent.  The agent shrugged her shoulders and said that's the way it is and it isn't going to change. 

That said, all three prices are still significantly LOWER than the prices you would pay if you did this same trip on your own. 

I might add that the chance to have everything conveniently arranged for you ahead of time is a terrific benefit. Royal Caribbean has put together an extremely well-organized package.

I would now like to explain what Royal Caribbean offers on their Denali Extension in more detail.

For starters, the RCCL Denali Extension includes everything I listed above.  Even better, what you may not realize is there is a tour guide included with tour.
This is a definite asset.

The Denali Extension includes knowledgeable Adventure Specialists who act as guides, historians and concierges.

They are by your side for the entirety of the land tour, providing insider tips and local perspective. He or she will be able to point out the many natural wonders and explain the area's history and culture. It's a definite perk to have a resident expert along to provide insight on one of the most fascinating places on earth.

I might add the transportation furnished by RCCL appears to be top of the line. 

On our trip from Seward to Denali, for example, we will ride in the newest fleet of deluxe Prevost motorcoaches.  These specially designed motorcoaches are complete with television monitors, adjustable air vents, plenty of overhead storage, and foot rests.  It seems likely your transfer to Denali will be done in pure comfort.

And the best part about traveling by motorcoach on your tour is that you will have the same driver and motorcoach throughout the entire trip. This means you will never have to worry about your luggage, camera cases and sweaters. Everything will be there, safe and available whenever you need it.

After Denali comes a real treat.  We will travel by train from Denali to Fairbanks in the center of Alaska.  We will travel onboard the Wilderness Express, Royal Caribbean's luxurious, glass-domed train.  The idea behind the glass is to maximize your viewing pleasure.  This train ride should be a marvelous opportunity to relax in comfort and simultaneously view the incredible scenery of Alaska as we ride to Fairbanks.

Summary

As far as I am concerned, there is no doubt it is expensive to travel to the interior of Alaska. However, now that I have compared to RCCL's price and package to what it might cost for me to do all this on my own, I promise you that their price is more than fair.   If this is something you wish to do, you should not feel taken advantage of.  I didn't say it is "cheap".  What I am saying is that their price is fair based on Alaska prices.

If you want to travel in the most hassle free manner without having to plan a million individual details, the RCCL Denali Extension is the clearly way to go.

Rick and I are definitely on the Denali Extension.  Our attitude is that we paid a premium price to get this far.  And now that we are here, we want to see as much of Alaska as we possibly can.

   
   

 More to Read!

Rick Archer's Travelogue for our 2005 Alaska Cruise Seward's Folly - the Story of Alaska
   
   
   
   
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