Visiting Denali Nat’l Park

Today we would go to Denali Nat’l Park.  Private vehicles can only drive the first 15 miles of the park ….to see the interior requires either a ‘shuttle’ or ‘tour bus’ reservation.

Our shuttle reservation was 7:30.  We were instructed to be at WAC – Wilderness Access Center (now renamed Denali Bus Depot)  by 7:15 which meant we needed to leave Denali Lakeview Inn (accommodations last night) by 6:45. We did…and made it to WAC way ahead of schedule.  🙂

Instructions were to bring a lunch as there is no food available at Eielson.  While there is a VERY SMALL snack bar at WAC, the lines were VERY LONG (and VERY SLOW) with many people purchasing breakfast  AND lunch items.  I was SO glad we had planned our own lunch and weren’t dependent on that line to eat that day.  Now….we DID get in line for a candy bar – and left the line after 15 min. Lining up to get a good seat on the bus was more important to me than any Snickers.  🙂

NOTE:  In checking the website for this year, I found that they are making several changes to the park – namely signage (which WAS needed as their signage in the commercial areas of the park was not clear for navigation/driving) and renaming a few things – i.e. WAC will now be called “Denali Bus Dept”…which will  be more clear to visitors as well…  

 

Boarding Our Shuttle:

The boarding area for buses/shuttles was behind WAC (I would assume that’s the reason they’ve now changed the name).  The process was very organized…. Signs listed shuttle times and we lined up in ‘our’ line. Our shuttle boarded about 7:25 for a 7:30 departure.  From my research, I knew we wanted a seat on the left side of the bus for the best views on the way TO Eielson.  Getting there early meant we were at the front of the line – so had our choice of seats.  🙂

Denali Nat’l Park, Here We Come!

Our bus driver was a young girl who had been driving shuttles/buses in Denali for 10 summers.  (yes…”young” is a subjective term)  We were very impressed with her as a tour guide…but after she handled some ill-behaved passengers and brought everyone/everything back into line, we were even MORE impressed with her.   🙂

The Stops:  The shuttle made quick tops at campgrounds to pick up/drop off passengers, then also short (15 min) sightseeing stops at Teklanika, Polychrome,  and Toklat River before arriving at Eielson.  All stops had viewing areas and rows of very well maintained and clean porta-potties…..with hand sanitizer dispensers in them (a pleasant surprise!!!)

 


 

The first 15 miles of the road is paved and accessible by private vehicles so our shuttle had to maneuver around private cars who might stop in the middle of the road.  Often it was because of wildlife spotted in the distance.  Our driver didn’t spend much time at those spots though…and we were GLAD of that.  We had so many BETTER wildlife viewings ahead for us…I was glad we had more time for THOSE stops!!!

Savage River Trailhead at Mile 15 was the turn around point for all private vehicles.  A gate blocked the road from that point forward.  We stopped briefly to be ‘checked in’ at the gate, then went through.  The road turned to gravel/dirt.  It was a well maintained road so not a bad ride at all –though at times a bit dusty.

Our day had quite a bit of wildlife viewing – a bull moose not long after leaving WAC – but too far away to really photograph, and Dall Sheep on the mountain side on our return trip…not to mention countless marmets. –all pretty common things to see….

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But….The REAL gems were coming up…

Now, before we got very far into our morning, our driver shared with us the ‘Informattion/Rules of the Day’  …..

1. Though this was technically a “Hop On/Hop Off” shuttle, it was not advised that we do much ‘hopping’ today.  (This was Labor Day)   All shuttles were running at capacity.  We were guaranteed a seat on our current shuttle….but if we left that shuttle, we would become a stand by passenger on any future shuttle….and might wait a while to get a seat…

2. IF wildlife is spotted, be very very quiet.  The wildlife are accustomed to the buses, but do NOT know that they contain people….it needs to stay that way!  Windows stay up unless you can be completely quiet…all hands, fingers, camera lenses, etc…stay INSIDE the bus…to hide the presence of  ‘people’ there. She went on to say that if we were noisy…or gave any indication that there were ‘people’ on the bus, she would have NO CHOICE (Park regulations) but to drive away…and we would miss our wildlife viewing. (Denali Nat’l Park is one of the few parks remaining where the wildlife is actually still fairly ‘wild’ and unaccustomed to people.)

Learning that we couldn’t hop on/hop off to hike or ponder in this beautiful place was somewhat of a disappointment.  I had a list of possible hikes to take…and of course, KNEW we would enjoy some quiet time in some of these spots….away from crowds.  That now was going to be either very difficult…or impossible.  HOWEVER….We would still be happy with our day…It just was going to be a little different than we had planned.  *sigh*

Oh Well…..

Bears: About an hour into our day, we came across a IMG_0021Mother Grizzly and 2 cubs!!! The cubs were playing in the creek bed while Mom watched. Our driver stopped for almost 15 min. while we all watched, photographed, etc….  Unfortunately, my photos are taken through the bus window so not the best…but she’s there…  Cubs down below.  🙂

 

A little further down the road, someone spotted a male Grizzly!! Sadly, this was where some passengers began to blatantly ignore the drivers rules and admonishments.  IMG_7097 She kept saying “If you aren’t quiet, I will have no choice but to drive away.”  When passengers didn’t comply, she got their attention -by driving away.  I’m purposely leaving out portions of this story in this public forum…but she DID get their attention…   *sigh*

 

The Toklat River stop had a Visitor Center with a few displays.  It’s just a tent  but DID have Rangers there to answer questions…and a small bookstore.  As of 2018, this area is called “Toklat Tent” and houses the Alaska Geographic Bookstore, exhibits and their employees…no longer Park Rangers.  We had a bit longer at this stop….maybe 20-25 min to explore the exhibits.

Eielson Visitor Center: 

Lunch: When we arrived at Eielson, our driver told us to eat our lunch while here.  We did…though in retrospect, I wish we’d just grabbed our apple and gone inside the Visitor Center….  We could have eaten on the drive back.  We only had about 35 min. at Eielson and I wish we’d allocated it a little differently.  *sigh*

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View from Eielson Visitor Center

 

The Visitor Center there (Eielson) was a rather large building housing a museum, viewing area with floor to ceiling windows and an outdoor viewing deck…and of course, trails behind the Center.  There is running water & electricity here as well as water bottle filling stations.

It was VERY windy and cold at this altitude, but the views were INCREDIBLE.  We stayed out on the outdoor deck as long as we could…then opted for ‘indoor’ viewing.  Time was too short here though.  We didn’t have time to see the film there (always films at Nat’l Park Visitor Centers)  😦   We DID check into the possibility of catching a later shuttle (there are employees there whose job it is to coordinate those who wish to change shuttles) but were told we might have to wait 2 hrs for TWO available seats. (plight of visiting on Labor Day)   We found out AFTER we boarded our original shuttle that we could indeed catch the next one…in 10 min.  At that point, we just decided to stay where we were.  Ten minutes wasn’t enough time for the film or a hike so would really gain us nothing.   🙂

Our decision to stay on THIS bus would turn out to be a GREAT ONE  though….as we were in store for our best view of the day….on our drive back!!!

Our driver didn’t narrate much after leaving Eielson.  Everyone was rather quiet, enjoying the scenery.

When….suddenly, our driver said in very hushed tones.  “What I’m hearing from drivers ahead is that there is a VERY RARE sighting….a Black Wolf….walking down the road  We will stop…and if all goes well, he should walk right past our bus.  Please be VERY quiet”.

And then THIS!!!  black wolf

 

 

We had sat on the left side of the bus to get the best views on the way TO Eielson…never dreaming that on the drive back, we’d be on the ‘best’ side too!!!!  How lucky is that??!!!???  ha!!

 

Another hour down the road and our driver stopped again…this time to tell us that the North Peak of Denali was out (We’d seen the base of her that morning….).  Yes….I had photos of Denali’s base…and now had a photo of her North Peak.  I was contemplating the possibilities photo shop offered…. hahaha!!!  🙂 🙂

Denali North Peak

Well…about 4:00, we arrived back at WAC….exhausted…but thrilled with our day!!!  Bears!  Black Wolf!   & the North Peak of Denali!  Great Day!!


Before leaving the park, we made a stop at the Bookstore – looking for our Denali Nat’l Park Christmas ornament.  This is a ‘must purchase’ for us on all vacations.  The Souvenir You’ll Keep (and LOVE) Forever.

Then…we headed back to Healy….and our wonderful little room with the incredible view over it’s balcony…

After a bite of supper from food I’d prepared at Buttes Bethel B&B and relaxing on our private balcony watching an exquisite sunset, we went to bed.   Our day had been long!   Wonderful…but Long!!

There was a chance of seeing the Northern Lights that night (I had checked:  GI Forecast)so every time we woke up throughout the night, we’d check outside for them.  Alas…no Northern Lights!!!  (Prime time for this is Nov-Apr….but the forecast said there was a ‘chance’…)

Tomorrow, we would head back south…staying in Wasilla tomorrow night with our final destination being the airport in Anchorage and a flight home…  *sigh*  Our Alaskan adventure was winding down.  We were ‘full’….so much beauty!  so much adrenaline!  I couldn’t believe it was about to come to an end!

Other Alaska Cruise Posts:

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Applying for a Passport

This information is accurate as of March 2018. (but subject to change at any time….  🙂    For the most accurate up-to-date information check with the gov’t website:  Travel.state.gov  passports

 

 

Who needs a passport?

Anyone traveling out of the country via

  • Flights:  Anyone boarding an international flight
  • Vehicles across Land Borders:  Anyone crossing a land border in vehicles.  (scaling a wall or swimming a river seems to not require passports as often….)  Passports are also necessary for anyone Legally WALKING across the border i.e. The bridge from Brownsville TX to  Matamoros Mexico  (Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend taking that walk…  We did it 17 yrs ago and it was fine, but MUCH has changed since then…just a personal opinion…)  
  • Cruises:  While passports are still considered ‘optional’ on cruises embarking and disembarking from a US port (speaking of US citizens of course…), I don’t recommend it. Obviously, when cruises begin/end with a flight to a foreign country, a passport is required for the flight.

With the ‘push’ being to require passports for U.S. domestic flights as well, they are  slowly ‘becoming’ a necessary thing for everyone…

So….How do you get one?

Well…it’s important to note that there are many scenarios that can come into play here.  To detail every possible situation would make this ENTIRELY too long and confusing.  I’ll try to simplify as much as possible…addressing the basics, but if you have any type of extenuating situation, the website will be your best source of information.  There, they address EVERY ‘if’ possibility.

And THAT is:

travel.state.gov

 

How Do I Get A Passport?

  1. First step:  Get a Passport photo. Get these at:
  • AAA Office – Cost:  $7 for AAA members
  • Costco (for members)  At locations with a photo center.  Call ahead to see if your location does.
  • FedEx –  Cost:  approx $17 though pricing may vary depending on location.
  • Post Offices labeled as Acceptance Facilities (more info on that in a bit)   Cost: $25
  • Take it yourself:  Read the requirements on the government website and follow them CLOSELY (there’s a video if you need extra help) to get a photo that will be ‘accepted’. Crop to specs then print at your favorite photo printing store/service (Walgreens, CVS, Walmart….).   If I were doing this, I would take and print MULTIPLE photos…to make sure I had one that met all requirements without having to do a ‘redo’.
  • ePassportPhoto.com  I recently found this website that takes you step-by-step through the process.  Upload your photo (following all the gov’t requirements)  then use their tools to crop it properly.  Download it as a photo sheet and have it printed as a 4×6 photo.  The website and instructions seem very easy, but I haven’t used it so can’t give any personal recommendations.  I just include it here for information sake….

2.  Find your proper application form at  Travel.state.gov

  • DS-11:
    • ALL First time applicants
    • ALL applicants UNDER the age of 18  ( 17 yrs and younger) 
  • DS-82
    • Renewals for Adult passports
  • DS-5504
    • Name changes on a passport that is 1 yr old or less  (For passports more than 1 yr old, use either DS-11 or DS-82 based on applicant’s age)
    • correcting an error on a previously received passport

Fill out the form filler and print… OR print the pdf and fill it out in ink. 

NOTE:  Before you are directed to the form filler to begin filling it out, you are taken through several screens warning of possible security issues there.  I found that a little unsettling…as this process involves Social Security number, birthdate, etc…  I actually opted for the pdf option.

DO NOT SIGN THE FORM. You will sign this AT the Acceptance Facility after taking the oath.  (much like a Notary process)  If you sign it before that, you’ll have to redo it….

3.  Locate your nearest Acceptance Facility at  Travel.state.gov  These are usually major Post offices or County Court Clerk offices.  There are Passport Agencies in a few major cities, but for most of us, that’s not an option…we just have to go to the Post Office or County Clerk.  Some Acceptance Facilities require appointments; others do not.  Call ahead to confirm appointment requirements and acceptable form of payment. 

4. Bring With You:

  • Application (filled out but NOT SIGNED)
  • Passport photo
  • Proof of citizenship  (ORIGINAL birth certificate, Naturalization certificate or previous passport)
  • Proof of ID  (Driver’s Lic is the easiest for this requirement but there are a few other options listed on the website.  Requirements for minors without a Driver’s lic will be detailed below) )
  • PHOTOCOPY of the front and Back of that Proof of ID.  They will compare the original to the photocopy, then keep the photocopy.
  • Applicants under the age of 18 have some extra requirements in the form of documentation from parents.  That information is detailed below
  • Payment
    • Applicants age 16 and up:  $110.  This passport is valid for 10 years
    • Minor Applicants (age 15 and younger):  $80.  This passport is valid for 5 years

Payment forms Accepted:

  • Cash
  • Credit or debit card
  • Personal Check
  • Money Order

Renewing a Passport:

You will RENEW your passport by mail if you meet ALL of these criteria:

  • You have your most recent passport  (you will submit it with your application)
  • Your most recent passport only shows normal wear and tear  – no excessive damage
  • Your most recent passport was issued after the age of 16
  • Your most recent passport was issued in the last 15 yrs
  • Your most recent passport was issued in your current name OR you can submit documentation of the name change (marriage certificate, divorce decree or court order)

If you do not meet ALL of these criteria, you will need to renew in person at an Acceptance Facility – and use Form DS-11 (instead of DS-82). 

 

For Renewals that Meet All the Above Criteria,  Apply by MAILING These Things: 

  • Form DS-82,  filled out and signed  (Don’t forget that part…)
  • Most recent passport. This will be submitted with your application and returned to you after you receive your new passport….typically in a separate envelope/mailing.
  • NEW Passport Photo – stapled to the application with 4 staples vertically in the corners as close to the edge as possible
  • Documentation of name change (if applicable)
  • Payment ($110 adults)  in Check or Money Order ONLY  (NO CASH)  with full name and DOB written on the front

 

Mail these items to the address on the website (Determined by state of residence) in a large envelope that DOES NOT require you to fold anything.

 


PASSPORTS FOR MINORS, AGES 16 & 17

Applicants age 16 and 17 are very similar to adult applications…with only a couple of additional items (from the parents).  All application for minors age 16/17 must be applied for IN PERSON at the Acceptance Facility regardless of whether it’s a first time application or renewal.  This MAY require an appointment.  Call ahead for this information.    

As ‘almost adults’, these individuals only need to show ‘Parental Awareness’ (i.e. prove that at least ONE parent is aware of the passport application). The parent/guardian can either accompany the minor as they apply OR send a signed statement consenting to the application, along with a photo copy of FRONT and BACK of their gov’t issued ID (typically driver’s lic. or passport) .

 

Bring:

  • Application form DS-11 (printed but not signed)
  • ORIGINAL or CERTIFIED Proof of citizenship (birth certificate, previous passport or other proof of citizenship)
  • PHOTOCOPY of the front AND back of this Proof of citizenship (Officials will  compare the copy to the original, then keep the photocopy.  You retain the original)
  • Proof that at least 1 parent is ‘aware’ of the application process
    • EITHER a parent appears with the minor when applying OR a parent sends a signed statement consenting to the application ALONG WITH  a photocopy (front and back)  of their gov’t issued ID
  • Applicant presents photo ID (Driver’s lic., previous passport or certificate of naturalization/citizenship)
  • PHOTOCOPY of all forms of ID presented.  Each of these photocopies will be compared to the originals.  Officials will then keep the photo copies and return the originals to you.
  • Passport Photo
  • Payment $110  (applicants over 16 yrs of age)

 

NOTE:  There are safeguards in place for the parent NOT appearing or consenting to the application – i.e. the ‘other’ parent.  If the gov’t receives a written objection to the application from a parent or legal guardian concerning the passport application, the application will be denied.  Get more information on the gov’t website. 


PASSPORTS FOR MINORS (under age 16)

Minors under 16  (15 and younger)  will need more documentation than those age 16/17.  All applications for minors under 16 must be applied for IN PERSON at the Acceptance Facility – regardless of whether it’s a first time application or renewal.  Because BOTH parents have to give consent, it is just easier if BOTH parents are there as well,  though there ARE allowances made for those who cannot meet this criteria  (death, incarceration, unable to locate, etc…)  Check the website for instructions. 

Bring:  

  • Application form DS – 11  filled out but NOT SIGNED
  • ORIGINAL or CERTIFIED Proof of citizenship  (birth certificate, previous passport or other proof of citizenship)
  • PHOTOCOPY of the front AND back of this Proof of citizenship  (They’ll compare the original to the photocopy, then keep the photocopy)
  • Passport photo
  • Payment  $80 for minor’s passport

Here are the Differences…..  You also need:

  • Document showing the names of the parents/legal guardians of the minor applying.  (birth certificate, adoption decree or custody decree with parent’s names)  This proves the parentage of the minor making application.
  • BOTH parent(s)  listed on the above document then present a government issued ID (driver’s lic., passport, military ID)   to confirm they are INDEED the ones listed as parents/guardian of the minor and therefore able to  ‘consent’ to the application.
  • PHOTOCOPY of FRONT and BACK of each ID presented  Officials will compare the original to the photocopy, then keep the photocopy.  You retain the original.

 

Now, the ‘circle’ of the minor’s identity (and parents identity) is complete.  They can then….

  • Show parental consent:  BOTH parents/guardians must consent to the passport application.

 

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot meet the above criteria, no need to worry. There ARE allowances made for those with extenuating circumstances. Check the website for your specific situation – or call the Acceptance Facility for information.

Just as with passports for those age 16 & 17, there are safeguards in place for parents of minors under 16 to register an objection to their child obtaining a passport. (in an effort to prevent International parental child abduction)  Check out the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) on  travel.state.gov.   A child enrolled in this program will have their application held up until the parent(s) are alerted.

 


How long does it take to get a passport after application?

The government website says to allow 12 weeks for a new application. (renewals take a little less time….)   While we’ve never waited that long, my suggestion is to allow that much time. The last thing you want is to have that dream vacation disrupted/cancelled because things got backed up with the government offices….

Be aware that Government shutdowns mean NO PASSPORTS ARE BEING PROCESSED.

 

From the travel.state.gov website:  Videos on Applying for a Passport


 Now, lets talk about securing that Passport

Passports have a high value on the black market since the increased scrutiny with immigration, etc….  That means that anyone traveling with a passport should be very diligent about keeping it secure.  Keep it close to your body…or in a anti-theft purse or bag (I really like Travelon or Pacsafe) AND in an RFID blocking sleeve/pocket.  (Travelon and Pacsafe bags have RFID blocking pockets in all their anti-theft bags or RFID blocking sleeves can be purchase on Amazon).

Anti-theft bags are slash proof making it harder for thieves to slash bags and run with them ; RFID blocking sleeves, pockets or bags block scanners…making it more difficult to scan personal information from our passport (or credit cards) while we’re walking around unaware.

For more information on this as well as the shopping process we went through to choose and purchase ours, check out  Security and Anti-Theft Bags

Disembarkation and Driving North of Anchorage

When we awoke this  morning, the view from our Balcony was the sleepy little town of Whittier.  We’d docked there around midnight the night before.

Getting packed was a breeze with only what would fit in 2 carry ons… Sunrise views weren’t as wonderful this morning, but we did get those last photos of the Star Princess.

Breakfast was at the buffet…and VERY crowded at 7 am!!! (typical on debarkation morning)  After breakfast and a few more photos, we collected our bags from the room, said goodbye to our cabin steward and headed to Portofino Dining room – our assigned disembarkation lounge.  Everyone is assigned a time to arrive and requested to not arrive early as they are funneling people through and the rooms get crowded if everyone arrives early. Within a few minutes of arrival, our group was called and we began the DREADED WALK…..

Oh I HATE THIS PART OF ANY CRUISE!!!!  Down to Piazza Deck…past the crew members who SMILE while scanning your cruise card for the very last time. (WHAT are they so happy about??)

It was raining that morning and they had a covered walkway from the ship to the terminal where our luggage was waiting. We found our color group and luggage, then located the line for A.C.T. Bus Transport.  They gave us our Bus # and we headed out to the sea of buses to find #5.

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A Bit About A.C.T. Transport:    https://alaskacruisetransfer.com/   Whittier is about 75 miles south of Anchorage — so cruise passengers must transport to Anchorage.  (The only thing in Whittier is the terminal/port and businesses/employees related to that).  Of course, the cruise line offers transports…for a pretty hefty price!!  I wanted to find something independent of the cruise line.  As I began researching, I found several companies offering a variety of options – either with half- or full-day excursions (to accommodate those with red eye flights out of Anchorage… ). I was more interested in the ‘transport only’ option though.  Our plans were to get to Anchorage asap, get a rental car and head north –to get closer to Denali Nat’l Park that evening.  I was really impressed with A.C.T. Bus.  They had all the same tours as others (half day, full day, etc…)  but did so in full sized buses with comfy seats, huge windows and restrooms.  (Most other companies ran vans or shuttles) Then…by booking early (as in 10 months early) I got an early bird discount.  My credit card was charged on Jan. 1, but I considered that a ‘plus’ (to avoid high credit card bills AFTER our vacation).  A.C.T.’s process at the terminal was well organized, making sure everyone got on the RIGHT bus as there were MANY  A.C.T. buses in the parking lot – all with different routes/itineraries.

Can You Just Rent a Car in Whittier?  Well…there ARE a few rental cars in Whittier, but they are VERY expensive.  The most recent pricing I saw for a one-way rental Whittier to Anchorage was $400 — for the day!  Our transport was $32pp total (including taxes).

CruiseTours or Land & Sea Cruises:

Most of the cruise lines in Alaska offer Land & Sea Packages  as an ‘add-on’ to their cruises – These are tours inland  (transportation and accommodations) either before or after an Alaskan Cruise managed by the cruise line.  They are very popular…many rave about them.  We did NOT choose to do that…

Reasons:   1) We like to make our own decisions when traveling – where, when, for how long, etc…  On Cruise Tours, you make very few if any of your travel decisions     2) Though these packages cover transportation and accommodations, they don’t typically provide meals — leaving you to purchase those on your own…at wherever THEY take you…often the dining room at the hotel at highly inflated prices.  (You don’t have  transportation to go anywhere else)  When you add the price of the Cruise Tour (pretty expensive) to the cost of inflated meals, the cost for the total trip goes WAY UP!!!  ~all for an experience I consider ‘less than optimal’.  We choose to do things on our own…DIY- for a LOT less money…and a lot more in line with our travel style.

Back to Our Day

Instructions from A.C.T. said to be ON our bus by 8:45 am.  There’s a reason they are ‘strict’ about that…  The road from Whittier to Anchorage goes through the Anton Memorial Tunnel,  a one-lane tunnel that opens in each direction for 30 min.  Northbound traffic was scheduled 9-9:30 am.  Missing that window would delay our trip by an hour.  Our fellow travelers were all on board with time to spare so our driver took us on a tour of Whittier…all 3 buildings – the school, the resident apartments where everyone lives, and the office building where city workers worked (that’s everyone who isn’t working at the terminal/port…haha)  🙂  Yeah…it’s a VERY small town!

After our tour, we went through the tunnel, then began our 1 hr 15 min. transport to Anchorage through the beautiful Turnagin Arm.  Unfortunately, my photos through the bus window didn’t turn out. 😦    At the airport, we picked up our rental car and headed out of town.

Once we left the airport, we found GPS to NOT be a very good navigational aid through downtown and Cook Inlet.  There are many one way streets…and GPS just doesn’t ‘get it right’ concerning those….at least as of this writing.  Also…..once  you leave Anchorage or Wasilla, data coverage is rather sporadic – giving a very good argument for getting a good old-fashioned PAPER map for navigation.  OK…let me put it plainly….don’t rely on GPS…bring a map!  🙂

After a quick lunch and stop at Walmart for groceries, we headed to Buttes Bethel Farm B&B….our lodging for the night.

Butte’s Bethel Farm B&B:    This little place was a real ‘find’ from our perspective…exactlyIMG_0001 what we wanted/needed though I’m strongly suspecting now that they may no longer be in business…it was For Sale when we were there.  Anyway, it was a quiet little place…full kitchen…a washer/dryer and bathroom IN the cabin… (I realized early in my search that a bathroom IN a cabin is not a ‘given’…you need to ASK….) and beautiful scenery. This place had it all!!  The breakfast provided (it’s a B & B) was a cook-your-own giving us the freedom to allocate ingredients as WE wanted to.  (Used the potatoes for our evening meal rather than as breakfast hash browns)

As with all reservations, I checked the reviews. I found ‘mixed’ reviews of this place, but after a phone call, felt confident in booking it.  We found the issues to have been addressed and it was a WONDERFUL place to stay.  I’m a little disappointed it doesn’t seem to be open anymore.


Now….before I go any further, it must be said….on any vacation of more than 7-8 days, it’s necessary (at least for us) to have a “utility” day….a day to take care of the everyday tasks that HAVE to be done in a week –buying groceries, sometimes cooking, laundry…and in our case today, transporting and renting a car. I’ve heard people say “I don’t want to ‘work’ on my vacation”. Well…I don’t know how exactly to make that philosophy work on a 13 day vacation.  Those ‘life tasks’ simply have to be done.  We’ve always just planned a day for them and as long as I’m in beautiful surroundings, I can find enjoyment in it.  🙂       (Honestly…attitude is 90% of the equation…)

IMG_0003After getting settled, we set ourselves to these tasks.  I immediately started laundry, then began our typical ‘assembly line’ cooking. My plan was really very simple.  It involved making a chicken salad from the rotiserie chicken on sale at Walmart, then cooking some simple items for evening meals and to supplement the carb-heavy breakfasts we would have in our Denali hotel. It was all done in a little over an hour – BEFORE the laundry was even dry. The next 4 days of meals were taken care of and we were sitting down to a delicious dinner by 6:30.  🙂   Doing all of that while in such a beautiful, peaceful setting wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon at all.  🙂

What a day this had been!!!  We woke up this morning on a cruise ship….Now we were inland Alaska looking forward to the excitement the next day would hold!! Tomorrow we would head north and possibly (hopefully)  see “her” – Denali!!!!

Budget “Options” and our Choices:

  • Transport OPTIONS from Whittier to Anchorage:  Rental Car: $400 + fuel; Cruise line Transport:   $125pp;  Transport with A.C.T. – $30pp + tax = $32pp with the early bird discount.  Their quoted price later was $35pp +tax   — STILL significantly less than other options
  • CruiseTours (4 days) from Princess to spend 1 day in Denali Nat’l Park and 3 nights accommodations ran around $1500 pp ($3000/couple)  –and that does NOT include the cost of meals…which you purchase on your own -often from very limited (and highly priced) venues.  We did our 5 day trip inland Alaska – rental car and fuel, accommodations, On/Off shuttle into Denali, meals/groceries AND even souvenirs for about $900.   Yep!  We got an extra day…and paid ONE THIRD the price.
  • Rental Car for our Inland tour – The rates for this went down significantly over time.  I continued to cancel and rebook as rates lowered – finally getting it down to $140/5 days.  (Check out Finding Bargains on Rental Cars for tips) Then….a few weeks before we left, we made a reservation using airline miles.  We got the 5 day rental car for $75 in taxes/fees — saving another $65.
  • There’s no way to ignore the savings we had from cooking our food rather than eating every meal out.  I had read so many ‘so-so’,  ‘mediocre’ reviews of restaurants/eateries once you get out of Anchorage.  I just couldn’t bring myself to pay “Alaska prices” for ‘mediocre’ food.  Our own food…prepared to our liking was fantastic.  That chicken salad was INCREDIBLE!!! –and my meatloaf can’t be beat!!!  We ate wonderful food…for 5 days….spending about $43 at the grocery store.  🙂

Budget Traveling 201

The first article I wrote –  Budget Traveling 101  was written several years ago.  Travel (and budget travel in particular) has changed so much over the last few years….it just needed updating.

Happy Reading!

  • If you have the flexibility to travel at various times during the year, you’ll find the BEST travel rates at non-peak times.  Rates for everything – from hotels to car rentals to airfare is much cheaper then.  Sometimes, travel at these times carry some risks (cruising to the Caribbean during Hurricane season, for example)  so make sure you’re willing to deal with those risks before booking,  but if you are, you can snag some pretty good bargains.

  • When renting a car, you can save a lot of money by following these tips:   Budget Tips AT the Rental Car Counter   It will take a little bit of time,  but with that time investment can come some SIGNIFICANT savings.
  • Museums often offer discount admissions (or FREE days)  on a certain day of the week or month.  Check their website for this information.  I like to do this early in the planning process so I can plan our vacation dates to coincide with these days if possible.  I recently learned that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC posts an admission of $25 pp but in small print it says “recommended”.  The only requirement for admission is that you pay SOMETHING….it can be $1…..  While I would certainly want to give a  ‘decent’ contribution  (not promoting the idea of abuse here…) I don’t know that I would give the entire $25 PER PERSON…especially if our schedule wouldn’t allow us to spend an entire day.  They don’t ‘advertise’ this suggestion and I would assume that most either pay the $25 or don’t go. How very sad…  if families avoid this museum just because it doesn’t fit into their budget.   Doing some research can often save you quite a bit of money.
  • TEACHERS:  Some museums (quite a few actually….) offer discounts to teachers with a school ID card.  If you’re a teacher, ALWAYS carry your card when traveling.  You may not know those discounts apply until you arrive…  🙂
  • Your membership in your local Zoo or Science museum may give you free or discounted admission into other  Zoos and Museums around the country.  Contact your local membership office to find out about reciprocal benefits with your membership.  Would it be advantageous to JOIN your local Zoo or Science museum program JUST for these benefits – and be able to use them at home for the year as well?? Something to consider….
  • T3i 103Bring along your own snacks.  Not only are they healthier (if you make healthy choices) but those purchased in convenience stores or at vendors in amusement parks, etc…are highly over-priced.  We bring empty water bottles (or Brita filter bottles)  into theme parks and refill them all day long.  (empty because they weigh less in the backpack) Sometimes, I bring the little individualized flavor packets or the concentrated drops to flavor the water.  They’re small so eflavored water packetsasily fit in a purse or backpack.   Not only are cokes very expensive in these places, but they are also dehydrating.  Nothing quenches thirst better than water!!  🙂

 

  • If you arrive at your destination and realize you’ve forgotten a charging cord for a device, check with the desk at your hotel. Hotels have developed quite a ‘collection’ of these cords that past guests have left behind.  They may have one that fits your device for your use while there.  (Leave it when you go so the hotel can offer it to the next guest.)  This could save you from purchasing something you already have at home…
  • When making hotel/motel reservations, ALWAYS call the hotel directly (rather than the 1-800 reservations number)  By talking to the hotel directly, you have a better chance of getting a better rate.  Make your call at a time when they aren’t  busy with check in/check outs.  (an ‘irritated’ or stressed clerk is less apt to quote you a good rate ha!)   The operators answering the phones at the 1-800 numbers can only quote the rates they see on their computers….they aren’t authorized to discount anything like the manager or sales manager at the hotel is.  For more tips on getting the best hotel rate, I’ve written two posts  Finding Frugal Accommodations Part 1  and Finding Frugal Accommodations Part 2
  • On road trips, we almost always bring along our own baked items (cookies, bars, etc…)  OK…I’ll just be honest, these just TASTE better than anythingcookies from Dollar Store you can buy in a store/convenience stop!   However…If I HAVE to buy ready-made snacks, I’ll go for the fig bars at Dollar Tree.  Seriously…they’re really good…and only $1!!!  Dollar Tree also carries the name brand candy bars, (Snickers, KitKat, Payday, etc…)  if that’s your preference.  🙂
  • You’d be surprised how many discounts, coupons and bargains there are out there for those willing to search for them. Amusement parks offer discounts to patrons bringing in a Coca-Cola can…  Museums have ‘free admission’ days.  Teachers get discounts (with school ID)  There’s Groupons for activities, restaurants, etc… (they have to be bought ahead of time, but have some really good prices) Vacation by Groupon   All this information is available if you’re willing to search for it….usually on their websites.  Spend some time online – or set the kids to doing it.  🙂

Other Budget Ideas:

Alaskan Cruise – College Fjord and Last Sea Day

Our Last Day has arrived…  *sigh*

On this…our last day of our Dream Alaskan Cruise, we could have slept in.  It was a sea day…until 6pm this evening when we would be in College Fjord.   In any other scenario, we WOULD have slept in….    However…because of our bout with seasickness last night, by 6am we were READY to get up;  we’d been sleeping for 12 hrs!  haha!

After early morning coffee and views at ‘our spot’ at the back of Horizon Court, we headed to the Main Dining Room for breakfast.  We LOVE Sea Day Brunch in the Main Dining Room.  On MOST cruises, we rarely if ever miss it, but on THIS cruise, there had just not been time.  There was today!

After we were seated, the Captain walked around the room, table to table, greeting people, and having short conversations with each table.  (one of the MANY reasons he’s so beloved in the Princess fleet) He came by our table and had a 30 second chat with us…but then the table next to us asked for that photo op…  When that happens, he politely grants their request then leaves that area.  That seems to be his tactic for not getting bombarded.   🙂  Sad….I wish there was a way to tell people NOT to do that and ruin the ‘meeting experience’ for others….  :/

Not long after that, members of the galley staff came by distributing printouts from the kitchen listing a few Princess recipes AND detailing the number of staff required to provide all this food – truly impressive – 360 from Executive Sous Chef down to buffet or galley stewards. This printout was something we’d never seen on previous cruises.  Way to Go Princess!!  🙂

After breakfast, we had a few errands to run – a stop at Passenger Services to get a new disembarkation time assignment (our scheduled time would REALLY rush us to meet our transport) and checking in with the Future cruise desk.  We just barely had time to take care of these ‘tasks’ before….

The Culinary Show began in the Princess Theater at 10:30.  This is a ‘not to be missed’ activity on all Princess Cruises!!  It’s humor, competition between the dining room staff, entertainment…and a bit of cooking thrown in for good measure (both serious…and comedy).   Everyone cheers for their dining room ….and there’s a ‘winner’ of sorts.  We look forward to this…as does MOST everyone else on the ship as there’s typically Standing Room Only by 10:15.  We arrived 30 min. early and got a pretty good seat…then spent that time purging photos from the camera….   After the Culinary Show (on most ships as far as I know…) they announce the Galley Tour – This is NOT advertised in the Princess Patters (just fyi).  It’s really more of a ‘walk through’ than tour of the kitchen, with minimal narration…but interesting none-the-less.

The Galley tour exited into the dining room where the Onboard Outlet sale was going on….  It was the typical madhouse!!!  There ARE bargains to be found at these Outlet sales – especially when cruising Alaska this late in the season, but it’s also wall-to-wall people and long lines to make purchases.

Our afternoon was spent packing, (bags needed to be outside our cabin door by dinner…and we would enter College Fjord at 6:00pm putting a bit of time crunch on us), enjoying the scenery going past us…and attending the last Naturalist presentation “Understanding Alaska’s Mighty Glaciers, Volcanoes and Rugged Fjords”.  In this presentation, the Naturalist told us that though the Captain was required to keep the ship at least 100 yds from the glacier, OUR CAPTAIN was known for pushing the envelope on that..…getting as close as he dared. That evening, I would have sworn he was MUCH closer than a ‘football field’…. but of course, judgement of distances can be greatly skewed when up against these massive glaciers…..

College Fjord

Our Cruise Itinerary said we would arrive in College Fjord at 6….the Princess Patters said 5:30… The Naturalist told us to be out there by 5….and that the first side to get a viewing would be port side (where our stateroom was). There was always information like this in every Naturalist presentation.  THAT’S one of many reasons I highly recommend attending these…even if you think you’re not interested in the topic.  The ‘extra’ information gained here makes attendance worth the time….  (though I don’t know how anyone could not EAT UP the information in these sessions. Her slides were incredible…and she made a point to NOT be boring!!!)  With this information in hand (port side viewing glaciers first) we decided to start our evening on our portside balcony.   I was really looking forward to a more relaxed viewing at College Fjord this evening…and I’d heard that views in College Fjord could be ‘better’ than Glacier Bay in many ways….

College Fjord

Hearing the narration over the stateroom TV while trying to see things going past from our balcony, once again left us ‘choosing’….either inside listening to the audio…or outside seeing the glaciers…we just went back and forth…

IMG_7010IMG_6998IMG_6993

Port side got a FULL hour to view – probably because we arrived 30 min. early and when the ship turned to give Starboard a view, we grabbed coats, hats, et al and headed up to Lido Deck.  Amazingly enough, there were a LOT of available window tables in the Horizon Court on Starboard side, so since it was nearing 7:30 and we hadn’t eaten yet, we grabbed a plate of food and had dinner in front of Harvard Glacier…  “Dinner With a View”  🙂 🙂

We fully intended to have our luggage out before entering College Fjord…but with the Naturalist presentation…and the time change to 5:00, it just didn’t happen.

Leaving College Fjord

When we left College Fjord at 8:30 that evening, we rushed back to our cabin, changed out of our ‘warm glacier viewing clothes’, used what we needed from suitcases before packing them and put them in the hallway.  Whatever you keep with you that night, YOU carry off the ship. We try to minimalize that as much as possible!!

After luggage was taken care of, we could have done many of the shipboard activities they offered.  There were a lot of them.  Princess Cruises had all the same types of activities on this cruise that they have on any other cruise….we just didn’t prioritize those things.  Tonight, we chose to spend those last bits of daylight on our balcony viewing….reminiscing…taking photos…dreaming of our next Alaskan cruise…  We chose quiet and reflective over ‘hype’….  Spending those last hours in peace, quiet and beauty was the PERFECT way to end our PERFECT Alaskan Cruise!!!  🙂

We also needed some time to come to terms with the inevitable…

I was fairly certain that tomorrow morning they were going to kick us off the ship!!

Alaska:

Alaska Cruise: Cruising Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay Nat’l Park is one of the premier destinations on an Alaskan Cruise (imho).

But Note:  The Nat’l Park System limits the number of cruise ships admitted to the Park to TWO per day and the only lines currently allowed admittance are Princess, Holland America, Norwegian and Crystal. (and Carnival though they only cruise Alaska in shoulder season – May and Sept)

This was the primary reason we chose THIS itinerary…with Princess!

 


 

The alarm went off at 5 am this morning and we popped out of bed. Today was the ‘gem’ of the cruise (imho). Our cruise schedule (and Princess Patters) said that we would enter Glacier Bay at 6:15…but the ship’s Naturalist told us yesterday that the time was closer to 5:15…  We would, at the very least, be out on our balcony by then.

We anticipated today being cold, windy, etc…so dressed in wicking layers, long underwear, long sleeve t’s, hoodies, and had our winter coats/gear and rain jackets  in my tote to carry around the ship that day. The forecasted 45 F didn’t sound miserably cold…but you can’t ignore the fact that Glacier Bay is an ‘ice box’…

After watching the pilot boat bring the Park Rangers aboard at 6am (..always interesting to watch as they board from their small craft onto the platform on the side of the ship…) we headed to the back of Horizon Court (our spot) for some views of the sunrise and a bit of breakfast.  I brought along the Nat’l Park brochure placed in our mailbox the night before (the same type of brochure distributed in all Nat’l Parks) AND my Alaska Cruise Companion, though we only had time for a quick skim of these over breakfast. We had ‘places to go’ and ‘things to see’.

By the time we finished breakfast, we were roasting in those long underwear  🙂  so promptly returned to the room to change!   Ha!!!

We were back on Lido deck by 8am – at the make-shift Ranger station set up above the mid-ship pool.  The Rangers were giving an introductory talk there – something that had NOT been mentioned in the Patters.  We just ‘happened’ upon it and only caught the last half.  (would have been there for ALL of it if we’d known…) There, they had displays, books, information et al as well as an enlarged copy of the Nat’l Park map with additional information.

The “approximate” schedule printed in Princess Patters:

8:30:  Park Ranger Commentary begins
9:20:  Lamplugh Glacier
10:40 Marjerie Glacier & Grand Pacific Glacier

 

From the time the Park Rangers came on board at Bartlett Cove (6am)  until we reached Lamplugh Glacier (and before that, Reid Glacier…)  was about 3 hrs….sailing through Glacier Bay.   Of course, during some of this time, we were eating breakfast, changing clothes, etc…but ALSO viewing the incredible scenery of Glacier Bay from wherever we happened to be.  Sometimes the views were clear…other times there was fog,..but even the fog created some beautiful views and photos.

I know some choose to stay on their balcony this entire day…and the ship DOES turn so you could theoretically see everything from one vantage point. However, MY way of doing things is to go to port side when port is facing the glacier…and starboard side when starboard is facing the glacier…and see glaciers ALL DAY LONG!   – and move from side to side to see whales, otters, bears, etc…  We migrated all day…enjoying a spot until it stopped being enjoyable, then moving somewhere else -Terrace Pool deck (aft), Deck 15 indoor pool area, outer decks on 14/15/16,  Deck 7 (Promenade), Deck 5 inside at the windows (to warm up a bit), and of course OUR Balcony too…All of these afforded excellent views.  I highly recommend ‘moving around’ in order to see all there is to see.

Just a Little Tidbit of Info:  The public areas of the ship (Deck 5/6/7 and 14/15/16) gave us the most access to viewing wildlife as we could easily move about or from side to side when the Park Ranger giving commentary from the Bridge  spotted whales, otters, etc…

 

The Park Ranger commentary was broadcast on the ship PA system AND our stateroom television.  That made our own balcony a nice place to be sometimes.  (though it wasn’t always easy to hear when out on the balcony…)

At 9am we got our first views of Reid Glacier from port side…then a few minutes later,  Lamplugh.    Our spot for this, Deck 14/15 mid-ship around the indoor pool was nice because we had easy access to outer decks for photos…AND were able to duck inside when the wind got too cold…or to get coffee refills.  🙂  The disadvantage of that spot was that the PA system echoed so much from the indoor pool acoustics that we couldn’t really understand anything the Ranger was saying.

As the ship rotated, we ‘rotated’ as well….to the Terrace Aft pool area for views and photos aft…then to Horizon Court for views from that side (and of course, to warm up and get a fresh cup of coffee)   We could hear the commentary very well from INSIDE the Horizon Court….not so much when we were outside.  Of course, being inside meant viewing THROUGH a window…..

Next to Lamplugh is the inlet for Johns Hopkins Glacier.  Ships aren’t permitted to enter that area until Sept 1 (it disrupts the baby harbor seals).  Today was Aug. 31…  ugh!!!  so without sailing up the inlet, we headed to Margerie Glacier.

We arrived at Margerie/Grand Pacific Glacier around 10:30am.  By this time we had moved to the ship’s lower decks (5-6-7).  The deck around Promenade (Deck 7) is covered offering a little protection from the wind – and making it easier to hear the commentary WHEN OUTSIDE.  Coffee was also readily available at carts there. 🙂 The area was VERY crowded though…sometimes challenging to get a spot on the railing for that perfect photo.  IMG_6927

IMG_6918 Glacier Bay

 

 

Grand Pacific Glacier is very ‘dirty’…lots of rocks in it as it has moved down the mountain. The name indicates that it’s ‘grand’…and in the whole scheme of things, it IS pretty Grand…but wouldn’t be labeled ‘pristine’ or ‘beautiful’.    When the ship turned to allow port side to view it, we went back to our stateroom balcony…we had grown tired of the crowds on Promenade.  The commentary was broadcast over the stateroom television.  This was a pleasant viewing experience…but required us to go from inside to outside – to hear or view.  We couldn’t do both at the same time.

I will say though….overall, the best place for information about today and the glaciers came from Alaska Cruise Companion….not because the Ranger commentary was lacking in any way…but rather because it was at times very challenging to hear.  The book filled in any ‘gaps’ we had when we missed commentary from the Bridge.

 

SHOPPING ON GLACIER BAY DAY?  While we brought all the warm weather gear we needed, they DID set up a make-shift store with coats, hats, gloves, binoculars, etc… on  Lido deck for those who needed to purchase them (yes, you need them!!! at least in Aug./Sept)  They bring the shops to the cruiser so the cruiser doesn’t have to go down to Deck 6 to the shops.  Marketing strategy?  Smart?  Meeting the needs of the consumer?  Who knows…  haha!  I just include this info for the reader…  🙂

 

After all the glacier viewing, we got our Nat’l Park Passports stamped, then headed to the Theater for the Presentation by the Park Rangers – at 1:00… – The Patters said that this was simulcast in Explorers Lounge…which told me we needed to be at the theater EARLY to get a seat.  I didn’t WANT to be sent to Explorers… We got there about 12:30 and though there were people there, we found a seat easily.  We just spent that time reading and purging photos from the camera.  🙂

Park Rangers disembarked and we left Glacier Bay at 3:15.   I knew that the sail OUT of Glacier Bay was not be missed. We sailed IN to the Park at 5 am so couldn’t see much…This was the time to see this amazing beauty!  We were on deck or our balcony until 4:30 or 5.

Tonight was the final formal night so about 5:00, we began to get ready ….

However…before long, we realized the huge mistake we had made… not putting on our Transderm Scop patches this morning.  On the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay, the waters were calm…like ‘glass’ in Glacier Bay – so we never needed them.  But when we  headed into the Gulf of Alaska – known for rough seas… We DID!!!

To make a long story short, we never made it to Formal Night that night.  We were sea sick.  Of course, we put on the patches as soon as we realized what was happening, but by then it was TOO LATE. They aren’t as effective after you’re sick…. ugh!

Much later that evening, we awoke and headed to the buffet for a bite to eat (the patches had begun to work).

It’s certainly NOT the best way to spend a formal night on a cruise ship (We really enjoy Formal nights with their enhanced menus, photo opportunities, et al…) but…that was not our experience tonight.

While we were sleeping away our nausea, things were going on on the ship. …not only the typical entertainment, productions and activities but also Alaskan themed presentations/lectures that we CERTAINLY would have attended if we’d felt like it.  The Captains Circle Party happened tonight…as well as the Balloon Drop (something we kind of enjoy doing from time to time…)  We missed them all…  *sigh*

Though we felt somewhat better after eating, we still felt a need to ‘take it easy’…so no ship board activities for us tonight….  *sigh*  Tomorrow would be a sea day – until we arrived in College Fjord at 6pm.  We would also have to pack….so a ‘full’ day.  It was ‘good night’ for us for now….  🙂

My BEST Glacier Bay TIPS:

  • Don’t be dedicated to one spot in Glacier Bay.  Move Around.  The public decks will offer the most opportunity to see wildlife as you can easily move from port to starboard as warranted.  Stateroom balconies are great for a portion of the day…but if you ‘plant yourself’ there, you’ll miss a great deal of what there is to see.
  • Bring that long underwear (for Aug./Sept cruises)  Maybe you’ll need it, maybe you won’t.  But if you don’t have it….
  • Take motion sickness remedies IN ANTICIPATION of the Gulf of Alaska.  Taking it after you’re sick doesn’t work nearly as well….
  • Stay out on deck as the ship sails out of Glacier Bay Nat’l Park.  (especially on NB cruises where you came IN to the park before daylight…)  The views are STILL incredible…even if the Rangers aren’t on board.
  • There are no paper goods (cups, lids, straws, etc…) available around the ship on this day (regulation from the Park Service).  That means if you want a cup with a lid, you have to bring your own… We brought Yeti knock-offs. (NOT real ones as we thought there was too much chance for misplacing it…) I’m still trying to decide if it was worth the space and weight in the suitcase for 1 day….but it WAS nice to have today.
  • Alaska Cruise Companion (the book written by a former Princess naturalist and sold on all Princess Alaska sailings) filled in the gaps of information we missed from the Park Ranger commentary (cause we either couldn’t hear it while ‘out’ viewing’…or it was too noisy to hear on Lido/indoor pool area).  I HIGHLY recommend the purchase!!

 

Security and Anti-Theft Bags

I heard recently that it’s NOT a question of IF your identity will be stolen….it’s a question of WHEN….  I find that fact a little unsettling.  😦

However, my hope is to do all I can to make that ‘when’ NOT when I’m on vacation (i.e.  ‘out of touch’ and difficult to be notified or to take care of it)

I learned of these anti-theft/security bags while planning an upcoming trip out of the country complete with red-eye flights and overnights in busy airports.  I wanted more security than our current bags/backpacks offered.

So….here’s what I’ve learned…and what I purchased.

In shopping, I concentrated on the Travelon and PacSafe brands.  Reviews of both of these companies give them HIGH MARKS – similar in their anti-theft properties.

Anti-theft Technology 

in both of these brands…  🙂

  • Cut Resistant Technology
    • Shoulder straps have cable inside to stop strap slashers.
    • Side and bottom panels have wire mesh inside to stop bag slashers

Travelon LTD Tote   (on my wish list)  🙂

  • Lockdown Hardware
    • Straps can be attached to poles, posts, chairs, etc….
    • Locking zippers prevent pickpockets
  • RFID Blocking Technology:  pockets for credit cards and passports with RFID blocking materials to block ID Thieves.  Thieves can easily purchase chip readers that enable them to simply walk past you… and scan personal information from credit cards/passports INSIDE your purse/wallet…without ever making contact with you or your bag.  Men’s wallets in back hip pockets are especially susceptible.  The RFID blocking material protects your personal information.

And….these bags are actually quite ‘travel’ stylish.  There is a line of leather products, though that was more than I wanted to spend, so I opted for the less expensive lines…but that IS available if that’s your preference.   🙂

**Read below for other options on RFID blocking materials (even a way to MAKE YOUR OWN) if these bags, wallets, etc… are not in your budget.  These aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ option….but they will work – if that’s what you need to do. 

 

These two brands  (Travelon and PacSafe )  are comparable in price and security features. Beyond that, our decisions came down to design and usability…I preferred the Travelon bags for myself.  My husband, who prefers to travel with a backpack, chose the PacSafe. Now….neither of these brands are ‘cheap’….However, some small discounts are out there if you are willing to jump through the necessary hoops.

I began my research on the company websites (my recommendation…).   That’s where I found accurate information on dimensions, etc…. (As you may know, info on Amazon may or may not be correct) and which bags had the features we each wanted.  Once I knew what bags I was interested in, I compared prices on other sites – Amazon, eBags….and strangely enough, Kohl’s which carries a SMALL inventory of these bags. (Target sells a FEW of their wallets).  Prices really don’t vary much among these sources, but with Kohls coupons/Kohl’s Dollars or discounts with Amazon, there may be some savings.  TJ Maxx and Marshalls occasionally has a small inventory of Travelon items though I’ve rarely found the bags…and of course, their inventory is constantly changing….

For myself, I was looking at TWO bags – a cross body purse for traveling days or days touring crowded public places  AND a carry on for the flights.  My husband was in the market for a backpack.

Purse:  I wanted something cross body, small and lightweight but still large enough to carry wallet, passport, cell phone/cord, and a few personal items.  I found what I wanted in the Travelon Anti-theft Classic Essential Messenger Bag on Amazon.  With discounts/reward points I ended up paying around $25 for it.

 

 

Carry On:  My carry on was a tough decision –

East West Weekender

because I had so many ‘requirements’.  It had to accommodate my laptop and a binder notebook.  I wanted a secured front pocket (locking zipper) for smaller items and an easy access slip pocket for boarding passes, luggage tickets, etc…   I also needed a sleeve on the back to slip over luggage handles once we picked up our checked bags. Finding all of those features – in a bag that was just the right size….took some time…. but I finally found it.  I got the Travelon  Anti-Theft East/West Weekender Tote.  I purchased it from eBags using reward point earned from buying my husband’s back pack the month before. I think this particular bag has been discontinued as they constantly update their inventory, however, with every bag they discontinue, they introduce another ‘better’ one to take it’s place.  ha!!

 

NOTE:  When buying multiple things from eBags, buy the most expensive item first. When the reward points for that purchase post, (30 days later) buy the next most expensive item on your wish list applying that credit…and so on and so on…down your list. Their reward point system is VERY NICE!!!  🙂

BackPack: My husband chose a backpack from PacSafe. In addition to all the security features, he wanted good back structure/support. It also had to accommodate his DSLR camera and all it’s ‘toys’….  He found what he wanted in the Venturesafe X30 Anti-Theft Adventure Backpack.  This now has a rain cover which wasn’t available when we purchased…and would have really come in handy in Alaska.  :/

 

These bags held up very well on our trip. They were really nice to have on our red-eye flights and long layovers where we definitely snoozed a bit.  Being able to lock pockets and secure our bags to chairs or posts gave us a little more security…and more ability to relax a bit.

I expect these bags to be around for years to come.

TESTING RFID

There are multiple YouTube videos  on testing RFID blocking properties.  Here’s what I found on a quick search:  RFID Blocking Testing   When watching these, confirm you’re watching from independent sources and not from a company that’s just promoting their own brand while discrediting their competitors.  Travelon and PacSafe (and a few others) produced successful test results.

 

Now….What if These Products are OUT of Your Budget:

Well, you may not be able to get the ‘slash-proof’ features, but you CAN address the RFID issue less expensively.

  1. RFID blocking wallets –  Travelon, PacSafe or ID Stronghold brands tested well.
  2. RFID Blocking Sleeves:  These can be purchased from Amazon. (and possibly Marshalls or TJMaxx if you happen to catch it just right)  They are sleeves to slide credit cards and/or passports into.  Buyer Beware:  Not all sleeves are the same. Read reviews carefully…with special attention to reviewers who have actually ‘tested them’.  There are sleeves that ‘work’…then there are sleeves that are ‘pretty’….and some reviewers leave you scratching your head when they write reviews saying: “I LOVE my RFID sleeves.  They’re so pretty…all my friends commented that they wanted some too.”    Go figure!!!  *sigh*

 

DIY Test for RFID Blocking:

How can you be SURE these really work?  Insert a work badge…door badge…or any card that is scanned into the sleeve/wallet/pocket and try to use it.  If you can’t use it, then you know it’s adequately blocking.   OR….you can just trust the reviews on Amazon….just look for MULITPLE people saying the same thing.  Of course, Travelon, PacSafe or ID Stronghold are reputable companies that bring with their name a sense of ‘trust’….  🙂

I purchased a pack of sleeves (12 credit card; 4 passport) from Amazon.  They’re nothing fancy…nothing pretty, but they do the job.  I was pleased with them and we are still using them.

Make Your Own

You CAN make your own RFID blocking sleeves using aluminum foil.  These homemade varieties passed the testing when made with THREE sheets of Heavy Duty aluminum foil. Check out YouTube videos for instructions on how to do this (and watch several videos/techniques to gather the best ideas from everyone).

As you might imagine, these homemade sleeves are only a TEMPORARY fix…as they  will require care when inserting or removing the credit card to keep them from tearing…but if an RFID blocking wallet or bag is not in your budget, this CAN work…

Helpful Links:

Alaska Cruise: Skagway, AK

We were up early this morning too…to catch yet another sunrise.  Those are addictive!!

As was the case every morning, the fog rolled in about 7 a.m….then turned into rain.

Skagway:  Skagway is the jumping off point for the Klondike Highway.  The town itself is part of the Klondike Nat’l Historical Park – complete with everything you find in a Nat’l Park.  For those who choose to stay in town, there are many activities associated with the Nat’l Park System to keep someone busy -(Visitor Center, narrated or DIY tours, museums, buildings, etc…)  There’s also tourist shopping on the 4-5 streets in this very walkable town.

Our plan for today would include driving (I’ll explain why we chose rental car over train in a bit…) the Klondike Hwy… stopping frequently –  going as far as Emerald Lake, then returning to Skagway to explore the Nat’l Park.  As is our custom, we would cram as much as we possibly could into our 13 hrs in port…  We got off the ship a little later than planned with the rain – it was 7:45.  We braved the rain and went to see the Klondike!!!     

Donned in our down coats, hats, AND a raincoat over everything we walked the 6 blocks (actually, we ran…) to Avis where our rental car was.

Here we go…with odometer set to ‘zero’ to match mile markers on the Murray’s Guide, we headed out of town.

Murray’s Guide is a mile-marker guide of the Klondike Highway.   It can be purchased online (download) for $5 and includes a discount at Yukon Suspension Bridge and Tutshi Sled Dog Tours.  If those are part of your plan, it’s DEFINTELY worth $5 for the Guide.  HOWEVER, the author has also put on the website a FREE version.  It’s more compact, but fit our needs BETTER as we didn’t think we would have time to tour those discounted locations anyway.  As with the Treadwell Mine guide yesterday, I copy/pasted this to a document and edited it down to manageable size – from 8 pages down to 4.  Avis also sent me an abbreviated mile-by-mile guide several weeks before our trip and I added parts of that to my ‘edited’ version as well… I ended up with a pretty comprehensive guide….   That, along with a simple 1 page map from a brochure I received in the mail was all we needed for our day. (The Klondike Highway is a single highway with just a few spur roads…not much chance of getting lost….but  don’t expect to rely on GPS…   There’s very little if any data connection a few miles out of Skagway)

Driving the Klondike Highway:

The first stop I had ‘planned’ was Gold Rush Cemetery and the trail head to Lower Reid Falls.  It was still raining pretty heavily as we drove by that pull off so we decided to catch that on our way BACK…  (we didn’t…but that’s another story….) 

From there, we just kept an eye on the odometer and constantly referred to my printed guide.  There were many pullouts –  everything from waterfalls to rivers to lakes to the William Moore asymmetrical bridge…and multiple historic sites about the Klondike gold rush and trails or Venus Mine.  The views were spectacular and the Murray’s Guide gave us information about what we were seeing.

We crossed into Canada around M15….which means the “Welcome to Alaska” sign was on the opposite side of the road.  We got our photo THEN….thankfully…as on our return trip that afternoon, there were buses, shuttles and cars lined up with many people waiting for their chance at a photo with the sign. 

We didn’t actually go through Canadian Customs until M22.  This was a pretty painless stop…they asked us why we were there, and when we told them we were cruise ship passengers, they waved us through…  I guess there’s not much chance of cruise passengers over-staying their welcome.  NOTE:  YOU MUST HAVE PASSPORTS FOR THIS DAY’S DRIVE….TO GET INTO CANADA!!!!  (Make notes of that….in RED!  haha!)  

This is the Thompson River  (approx M20) and the WP&YR Railroad.  We were fortunate to be here just when the train crossed…I had hoped for that, but didn’t know exactly HOW to make it happen.  How lucky were we??    🙂  

Many recommend the WP&YR  as a “Must Do” activity in Skagway. It sounds wonderful in all the descriptions…and everyone who does it raves about it.  However, that was not what we chose to do.  In our ‘shopping’ all our options, we realized that our desire was to stop, see, gaze,  all on our own ‘schedule’.  The only way to do that is with a rental car.  

All the ‘train excursions’ (there are several options…train round trip…train/bus combination, shuttles or vans, etc…) don’t stop at all…no time for ‘gazing’ or ‘enjoying’.    That…plus the fact that our rental car for the day driving all the way to Emerald Lake was the cost of ONE train ticket to ONLY go to Carcross, was enough for us to know that car rental was the best choice for us.

The road follows the Tutshi River then Tutshi Lake for 10 miles.  The fireweed (that we learned about a couple of days ago from the Naturalist on board) is showing the ending of summer…

Tutshi Lake

 

The “Welcome to the Yukon” sign is at M50.  We took THAT picture on the route TO Carcross as well.  – All the pullouts were much busier in the afternoon so I advise to take any photos you want in the morning!!  

 

Bove Island and Tagish Lake….one of the highlights of the drive… 

Bove Island & Tagish Lake M59

 

When we arrived at Carcross, we decided to go on past it…to our furthest point, Emerald Lake…and work our way back.

Carcross Desert IMG_6790 Carcross DesertCarcross Desert is labeled as the World’s Smallest Desert…  It did indeed look pretty small…so I guess they’re right?  🙂 🙂 🙂 

 

Emerald Lake  

Emerald Lake M 73

 

Carcross:

Carcross is 66 miles from Skagway.  Our trip all the way to Emerald Lake was 75 miles (one way).  Going any further than that risks the potential for fog….dense enough to limit visibility to 5 ft.  – making for a long and dangerous trip BACK to Skagway.  We didn’t want to risk that….  Also, the ‘word on the street’ is that there’s really nothing past Emerald Lake spectacular enough to warrant the extra time, drive and ‘risk’.

Carcross is a small town – built up to accommodate the tourists coming in on the train.  There is a school, Post Office,  General Store, etc…and even a Hotel and city pool.    The place we HAD to find was the Sourdough Bakery. She was selling her cinnamon rolls for half price by the time we arrived…Thankfully, she accepted USD as that was all we had….and I HAD to have one of those!!!    

While in Carcross, we saw a train come steaming into town.  🙂 🙂  That almost made me wish we’d taken the train….but I had to remember what a relaxing and wonderful morning we’d just had…and the fact we’d seen Carcross Desert and Emerald Lake by driving- to remind myself of WHY we made the decision we did.

We stepped into a few shops and had a bite of lunch…followed of course, by that delectable  cinnamon roll.  🙂 Then it was time to RELUCTANTLY head back to Skagway.  We DID want to have time to see the Nat’l Park museum and  Vis. Center et al. -which would close at 5:30.  🙂

We got some pretty good photos on our drive back…some areas that were in rain or fog on our drive north.  In fact….several of the photos I’ve posted above were actually taken on this drive back to Skagway.

We got back to town about 4 pm and headed straight to the Visitor Center.

Klondike Gold Rush Nat’l Historic Park:

The entire town of Skagway is part of the Nat’l Park system.  In addition to the Visitor Center/museum, etc…there are several houses and historical buildings open for tours….until 5:30.  Unfortunately, the clock and time were not our friend…we just didn’t have time to go in them.  We started at the Visitor Center…and it’s museum next door.   It was very small…but gave a pretty good overview of the gold rush, miners and the Chilkoot Trail.  After watching the film, it was nearing 5:30…the Nat’l Park service buildings were closing so we just walked around town a little bit.  We darted into the Red Onion Saloon for a quick look, then decided to drive over to Dyea and walk a bit of the Chilkoot Trail before re-boarding the ship.

The Chilkoot Trail is the trail minors used to get to the gold fields – it’s 33 miles long, but we like to walk trails like this…for just a little way to say we’ve ‘done it’.   🙂  Dyea was about 6-7 miles east of Skagway but not long after we turned onto Dyea Road, it turned to gravel.  Gravel roads were forbidden by Avis Car Rental.  We debated what to do, (could we get by with breaking the rules??? hmm….)  but finally decided we’d better just turn around.  On the way back we stopped at a scenic pullout for views of Skagway and the harbor….and of course, our ship.    IMG_6853  Skagway

To Note: The Star Princess was at Railroad Dock Forward….the dock against the mountainside – the first (front) dock.

We returned the rental car, and got back on the ship.  The ship wasn’t scheduled to leave Skagway until 8:30 that evening, but after 3 port days in a row…and a very full day today, we were exhausted!!!  With this change in plans, we found we were actually able to go to the Main Dining room tonight.  It was nice to have an ‘unplanned’ night there after missing a ‘planned’ night for whale watching outside of Ketchikan.   🙂

What a GOOD decision this was!!!  Crab legs and Crème Brule were on the menu!!

After dinner, all we wanted to do was relax…unpack our daybags…and turn our sites to tomorrow – GLACIER BAY!!   We were due to pick up the Nat’l Park Rangers at 6:15…but the Naturalist had told us to be out by 5:30am…It would be ANOTHER very early day as we saw “All Things Alaska”.

Nope….no time (or energy)  for entertainment…or art sales…or MUTS (Movies Under the Stars).  The Finale for the Voice of the Ocean was tonight….we missed that one too.  We were busy every minute with “Alaska”…and if we weren’t ‘busy’, we were exhausted from all the ‘busy-ness’.  It was time for bed!   🙂


Budget:

Cruise Line or Private Company Tours:  The cruise lines and tour companies offer as many options for going up the Klondike Hwy as there are people to buy them. There are tours that take the train round trip, bus one way and train the other.  Shuttles…vans…either with or without a train trip one way.  They have tours that include gold panning…or lunch….stops at dog sledding, Fraser or Bennett….and on and on.  The options are somewhat overwhelming.

Prices for these in 2017  ranged from $45pp for the basics of a trip to M14 (doesn’t even enter the Yukon/Canada)  to $229 pp for round trip train to Carcross with the extras.  However…NONE of them go all the way to Emerald Lake that I could tell.

OUR Plan:  We rented a car for $125 + fuel for the day…   We were able to go not only PAST Carcross to Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert, but stop as we wished throughout the day…and before returning the car, drive up to that scenic overlook for views of Skagway and the harbor.

Yeah…I’m a huge cheerleader for the “rent a car” option.  🙂

 

Tomorrow:  Alaska Cruise: Cruising Glacier Bay

Also:

Alaska Cruise: Juneau AK

Terrace Pool Deck 12Aft  017

This is actually the Terrace Pool on Caribbean Princess, but basically the same on all Grand Class ships.

 

We were up early and out at the Terrace Pool (aft) to see the sunrise again this morning.  At 6 am it was beautiful…by 7:30 the fog had rolled in and you couldn’t see 5 ft off the side of the ship.  Have I said it before??  At this time of year, the fog MAY roll in around 7-7:30am…to see the ‘beautiful stuff’, you have to rise before the fog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juneau:  Juneau is the capital of Alaska…but one of the things that makes it so unique is that it is ONLY accessible via air…or water.  There is a highway going through Juneau…it’s 37 miles long…with a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’.   There’s an airport…with LOTS of floatplanes…and of course, the Alaska Ferry provides transportation for many…but you can’t drive TO Juneau.

We docked at Franklin St. Dock. (where Princess docks most frequently)  It’s not the ‘closest’ one to town but is still  within walking distance (if not mobility challenged).  We disembarked at 8 and walked to Mt Roberts Tramway…about 6-7 blocks??  We had purchased our Tramway tickets through Princess with our On Board Credit (part of the 3-For-Free from Princess when we booked).

Mt Robert’s Tramway:  The “official word” from many tourists about the tramway is to not go up if it’s cloudy or foggy…however, because the ticket would allow us unlimited trips all day long, we decided to go ahead and purchase it.  Once at the top we were ABOVE the fog…and had a rather nice view.

OUR views on this ‘foggy’ day… Not Bad!!

By arriving there early, we avoided many of the crowds that LINED UP later in the day – and we didn’t have to vie for window space for photos (the windows ‘swing’ open btw…)  There is an extensive trail system at the top and we walked a small bit of it…far enough to got some great views of Juneau and our ship in the harbor below but then came down off the mountain… There was no time to waste!

photo taken from the trail – Mt Roberts Tramway

 

This is Juneau (on the left),  the Douglas Island Bridge crossing the Gastineau Channel…and Douglas on the right…  (location of Treadwell Mine where we’ll head later today)

 

 

 

When we got off the mountain, we transported to AJ Dock and Juneau Rental Cars.  Juneau Rental Cars rents older model, higher mileage cars…for FAR less than the name brand companies in town.  An additional benefit to renting from them was ‘location’.  This summer, (2017)  the hotel that housed the downtown offices for Avis was closed for remodel.  All Avis reservations defaulted to the airport which would mean wither a city bus ride (time consuming BOTH ways) or taxi (quite expensive…) to pick up and drop off cars.  That’s when I found Juneau Rental Cars. They are located next to AJ Dock (about a mile from our dock) but once I found out that if there’s a ship at AJ Dock, there will be a shuttle from the Vis. Ctr, our decision was made. From AJ Dock, it’s a 1 block walk to the Rental office. We had no trouble with our ‘older model, higher mileage’ car.  It got us where we needed to go…at a very good rate… and in much less time than renting from the airport.

First Stop:  Mendenhall Glacier – about 12 miles out of town. The Visitor Center had large viewing windows…exhibits and a film.  There are several hikes, but the two we took were Photo Point Trail and Nugget Falls Trail.

img_6659.jpg

 

Photo Point Trail (.3 mi one way) gave us a straight on view of both Falls and Glacier.

 

 

 

Nugget Falls Trail  (1 mi  one way) is a spur off of the Photo Point Trail- and provided an  ‘up close and personal ‘ view of the falls with the glacier behind.  It’s possible to get all the way UP to the water (if you choose???)  We didn’t get quite that close….  🙂

 

On the drive back to town on Egan Hwy, we stopped for lunch.  We passed several local diners, but were a little apprehensive about stopping someplace without knowing anything about it…so we just opted for  McDonalds.  It was quick…and came with wi-fi. 🙂

Then, it was on to DIPAC McCauley Salmon Hatchery.  (DIPAC)  A tour had just begun as we arrived and we were instructed to join them in progress.  I wish we had waited for the next tour as we missed some good information joining that way…

The guide took us through the life cycle of the salmon from hatching to release, showing the tanks and describing how the salmon are cared for at each stage.  There are self-explanatory exhibits along the way as well…and viewing from above the tanks and ladder – or viewing windows to see below the waterline.  Quite a bit of what we learned today ‘explained’ what we saw yesterday in Ketchikan.

Inside the building, there were 2 rooms of exhibits – and a touch tank.  Though the touch tank was more geared to kids, the guide invited everyone to ‘touch’.  🙂  The ‘spikes’ on these creatures are actually all for ‘show’….they’re actually very soft in spite of their “ominous” appearance.

 

Next Stop:  Crossing Douglas Island Bridge (10th Street)  to Douglas Island..and the Treadwell Mine.

Treadwell Mine is (was) the largest gold mine of all time – producing $70 million in gold 1883-1917.  Then in 1917 after a particularly high tide, within 3 1/2 hrs, the sides caved in and approx. 3 million tons of seawater filled the mines…all but destroying the operation there.  (a few mines further away stayed open until 1922 but it was never the operation it had once been)   There is now a Historical trail – with numbered markers denoting point of interest,  foundations, stamp mills, vaults, and even a few shells of buildings through the area.  Full descriptions of the markers can be found at:  http://www.juneau.org/parkrec/facilities/documents/TreadBroch1.pdf   I doubted seriously if I’d have data connection to access any info on my phone, so I copied/pasted this info and edited it down to a manageable size (it was 11 pages when I started…3 pgs when I finished)…and brought that.  I was SO glad I had done that as as that was the only info we had (and data on our phones was spotty at best).  NOTE: The one thing I failed to keep in my edited version was the map of the area.  I assumed the path and markers would be self-explanatory. The paths intertwined and we found ourselves often searching for the next marker.  If I were to do this again, I would DEFINITELY print the map!

We were basically alone on this peaceful trail….other than locals walking their dogs.  This isn’t a top tourist attraction like Mendenhall….which is part of the reason we enjoyed it so.  🙂

Our original plan for the evening was to go BACK up Mt Robert’s Tramway (the ticket offered unlimited rides) to photograph in the evening light.  However, instead, we opted to get back on the ship to see/hear Libby Riddles (first female Iditarod Champion…).  We returned the rental, transported back to the main square…walked the 6 blocks to the ship – darting into a few stores, then got back on board.

Libby Riddles Presentation was at 7 pm that evening.   I was a little surprised to see how many passengers were there considering that “All Aboard” wasn’t until 8:45.   🙂

She is quite an interesting lady…left home at age 16 to come to Alaska…got her GED, lived among the natives for 6 yrs, and learned how to breed and train her own dogs.  She went on to win the Iditarod (first female to do so)  in 1985.  She is a primary presenter for Princess cruises – boards all of their ships in Juneau to meet and talk with passengers about mushing, the dogs, the Iditarod…and to autograph her books.  I’m so glad we modified our plan to see her!!!

The remainder of our evening was getting a bite to eat, repacking our day bags for tomorrow, watching a beautiful sunset during Sail Away and reading Alaska’s Cruise Companion about all the sites and wonders awaiting us tomorrow in Skagway…

Budget:  To Do What We Did Today Via Princess Excursions:

  • Mendenhall Glacier  – $45 pp.
  • Mendenhall WITH the Hatchery and Glacier Gardens (a botanical garden) was $85pp.
  • Mt Roberts Tramway tickets were the same price either from the cruise line or at the Tramway gate….   We purchased ours from PCL and used our OBC (On Board Credit) so for us, they were ‘basically free’ …

There are no Cruiseline excursions to Treadwell Mine.

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To Do What We Did Today with Booked or Public Transportation:

  • Taxi to Mendenhall:  $35 each way
  • Private Excursion companies offer shuttles to Mendenhall.  These companies seem to ‘come and go’….but prices stay pretty consistent – approx. $30pp this year.
  • Public Transit $2pp each trip:  In 2017, Capital Transit (Blue/White Bus)  dropped visitors off 1.5 mi from the Mendenhall Vis. Ctr.  Visitors walk that distance there and back.  (Perhaps that will change in the future – but that’s the ‘story’ from 2017)  Public Transit goes to Douglas Island and ‘close’ to Treadwell Mine – drops off  (and picks up)  .5 mi from the Mine/Trail area.

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Our Costs:  Rental car FOR THE DAY – $60 + fuel.  We could go anywhere or to as many places as we chose….AND have a place to stash day bag, coats/jackets, etc… while sightseeing without having to carry them all day long.  Transportation to pick up and drop off from Juneau Rental Cars was free.  (not so if renting from an airport location)

 

Tomorrow:  Alaska Cruise – Skagway AK

More:

 

Alaskan Cruise: Ketchikan, AK

Today started very early….out on our balcony as the ship came into port.

Ketchikan is quite a picturesque port to sail in to.  We were scheduled to arrive at 6:30 but learned from the Naturalist yesterday that it would actually be 5:30.  We were on our balcony by 5:29  🙂  (Last night, we entered Alaskan waters and Alaskan Time Zone moving our  clocks BACK an hour.  Purposely keeping our bodies on C.S.T. made this change and all our early mornings easy….)   The lights of the sleepy little town against the backdrop of the mountains was worth getting up early to see!IMG_6532

 

After a scenic breakfast (window table at the back of Horizon Court)  we gathered our things and got off the ship – as soon as they opened up the gangway!

Ketchikan gets on average 340 day of rain/year. Our forecast today according to the Princess Patters was sunny with light clouds, high of 66.  Yes…we were there on one of the 25 ‘dry days’.  🙂

Ketchikan has TWO Claims to Fame:  Salmon Capital of the World…and  World’s Largest Collection of Totem Poles.  There’s also the Tongass Trading Company with it’s FABULOUS jackets, raincoats, & hoodies at incredible prices…

Our plans today would encompass ALL of these.  We would take the city bus to Totem Bight State Park to see the totem poles, then come back to town to walk Creek Street and see the salmon.  (hopefully leaving just enough time for a quick run into Tongass Trading Co. to make our purchases)

Finding the ‘right’ place to catch the ‘right’ bus to go north of town proved to be somewhat challenging… We were actually sent to the wrong place twice…but we DID finally get to the right intersection.  🙂  When the bus driver let us off, he told us when to be back to catch the returning bus (buses on this loop only run every hour so catching that returning bus would be QUITE IMPORTANT with our short port time!!!)

There were 3 options for seeing totem poles that day;  we chose Totem Bight because of their authentic restored poles…and their scenic location on the Inside Passage. At the entrance, we received a brochure with a map and descriptions/story behind each pole.  Then…there’s the Clan House – Now…everything I’d read previously said that only those on official tours were allowed into the Clan House.IMG_6555 However, the woman at the gate told us that if there was a tour inside there, to just go in.  If anyone said anything to us, to reply “The lady at the gate said it was ok if we enter…”  When we got to the Clan House, there was a tour group there.  We went in quietly and no one said anything to us.IMG_6560

 

I liked being on our own, though.  We went at our own pace, read the brochure for information, and only joined a group when we wanted to. (Within half an hour there were 5-6 tour groups there)  It DID seem that  a lot of the guides were telling little stories or antidotes…which was usually when we’d leave the group.  🙂

 

 

 

We kept an eye on the time and were  back at the bus stop 10 min. before the bus was due to arrive  (we couldn’t take any chances on missing the bus).

Back in Ketchikan, the driver dropped us off near Creek Street and we headed to  “Married Man’s Trail”…

Creek Street is on the National Register of Historic Places….and it is teeming with salmon from late summer through Sept. (different varieties).  We not only saw the salmon…but had a ‘chance’ of seeing other wildlife that might come to see the salmon as well – bears, eagles, etc…  We walked up the stairstep trail –  “Married Man’s Trail” all the way to the top – where the salmon ladder was.  This trail was a back-path through the trees…used by married men in the days of the Gold Rush to  visit “ladies of the evening”…Yeah, the history of the gold rush towns could be a little ‘sorted’.  Walking the trail now is just a picturesque way to see the town and salmon… (In case you don’t really want to share all the ‘other’ details about the trail with the children… 🙂 )

IMG_6565  Ketchikan  Creek Street

 

 

This DID involve a lot of stairs (fyi for those with mobility issues) …

But we saw the salmon…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the ladder…

IMG_6570  Ketchikan Creek Street

Salmon Ladder – Ketchikan AK

unfortunately, no bears or eagles….

At the final portion…quite steep and swift,  we actually found ourselves watching their struggle and ‘rooting’ for them…cheering them on.  🙂 🙂  They’re such determined and resilient little guys!!!

 

Before getting back on the ship, we made a quick stop at one of the Tongass Trading Company  stores. There are actually FIVE of these – each a little different, catering to different shoppers/preferences.  Even though I THOUGHT we’d get jackets or raincoats, we ended up both opting for ‘Alaska’ hoodies….thick, good quality…for $20 each!!

Boarding the ship today was a longer line than I’ve ever experienced in port before.

I came to realize that it was because of the very short port time (6:30-2)… everyone (3000+ passengers and crew) were trying to board at basically the same time.   The process took 45min-1hr.

Once we were finally back on board, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the 3rd naturalist presentation:  “Experiencing Alaska’s Awe Inspiring Flora”.  This was one title we were a little unsure how interested we would be… we sat on the end of a row in case we wanted to make a quiet exit.

CC license – as they were not this fully in bloom in late Aug…  🙂

Well…wouldn’t you know it.  It was just as interesting as the last 2.  🙂  We stayed the entire time!

 

Of particular interest to us was the information about the Fireweed.  This flower begins to bloom in the Spring ..and blooms from the bottom up.  At the height of summer, the blooms have reached the top.  Then…as summer wanes, the blooms begin to die from the top down. When all the blooms are gone, Summer is over…  You can ‘read’ the season in the Fireweed.


 

 

After this information, we were much more attuned to the Fireweed – especially as we drove the Klondike Highway from Skagway in a few days.

CC license

The OTHER news we got from the Naturalist this afternoon was:  We were sailing through prime humpback whale territory – starting at 5:30 today.  She would be on the bridge offering commentary….and we were invited to be out on Deck 15 forward (directly below the Bridge) to (hopefully) see whales.

We had originally planned to eat in the MDR that evening…but those plans were immediately changed. We were going to see WHALES!!!

Here’s the Most Amazing Part!  While we were out there…we heard a lady squeal…and  turned around just in time to see a whale breech!!  YES!!!  REALLY!!!  Sandra Schempp (our Naturalist) said that was really unusual for this time of year.  The whales were still feeding and they usually practice their ‘breeching’ AFTER that (when they’re full and ready to start the ‘flirting’ process…. 🙂    Of course, it all happened too quick to get a photo…I don’t know that anyone got one…but I promise!!  It happened!!!!  🙂

 

TidBit of Info:  A whale’s tail is how he is identified.  Each one is different and unique…much like our fingerprints…

We stayed out on the deck until probably 7:30…then got a bit of dinner in the buffet and went back to the cabin to prepare for tomorrow.  Every port day required packing of a day pack – to fit what we were doing/where we were going.  We packed that the night before to make the next morning easier….and tomorrow we had FULL schedule so wanted to get off the ship as soon as possible.

There WERE many activities happening on the ship this evening.  I’m sure there were many passengers who were enjoying those things…Princess wouldn’t continue to plan them if someone wasn’t attending…but we were kept SO busy learning about Alaska…and seeing Alaska…and spotting whales (and seeing them breech) in Alaska.  We just didn’t have time for anything else.

 

Budget (and Savings) Today:  Ketchikan CAN be a rather inexpensive place to visit as it lends itself very easily to exploration on your own…

Cruise ship Excursions vs. Doing It On Your Own:

  • Totem Bight:  Princess charges $47 pp for their excursion;  We got there and back on the city bus for a total of $4 pp…plus the $5pp admission to the park.
  • Princess offered Whale Watching excursions out of Juneau for $160-$190 per person…  We saw whales…even one BREECHING out on Deck 15 forward of the ship this evening…for FREE
  • Princess included Creek Street in several of their excursions, but there’s no way to put a price on that portion as it was ‘included’ with other things… But this is just a stair step path….there’s no charge for walking it.   Just find it and start climbing.  🙂

Next:  Alaska Cruise:  Juneau