Yay for part two of our trip to Alaska! Last post I told you all about the cruising portion of our trip, and today I will go over the land portion! If you missed my last post, you can find it here.
Before we booked this trip we did LOTS of research. We were able to find lots on what to pack and what excursions to do, but not a whole lot of information about cruisetours. I am giving these reviews in hopes it will help those who are thinking of taking a vacation to Alaska in the future!
Here's an overview of the places we went for the land portion of our cruisetour, and what we did each day:
Day Eight: Train from Whittier to Denali
After two straight days of cruising, it was finally time to disembark the ship and start our land tour! As much as we loved the cruise, we were definitely ready to explore the land. We disembarked in Whittier (close to Anchorage), and boarded our train right outside our ship. The train was a two story train with a dining room downstairs. We had assigned seats at booths with tables, similar to a restaurant. We sat with two lovely ladies from Virginia who were such fun to sit with! The best part of the train were the full length windows, because you got to see all of the scenery on both sides of the train. Our train ride was LONG...almost ten hours. Luckily, you could get up and walk around the train and go outside between the cars. We didn't see too much wildlife, but I've heard that's pretty unusual.
We arrived at the Denali Princess Lodge at about 6:00, and were SO pleased with the lodge! The only drawback is there was no air conditioning in the rooms, but the weather was pretty cold and rainy so it didn't affect us much. After our train ride we didn't really want to do much, so we went to dinner and went straight to our room to relax!
Day Nine: Denali National Park
We had a jam packed day planned for our day in Denali, which is one of the most beautiful forests I have ever seen! We started the morning with a prior purchased zip lining excursion through Princess. This was by far my favorite excursion we did! The value for money was unmatched! They picked us up from our lodge, gave us an ATV ride where we drove 3 miles into the forest, and rode eight zip lines with suspension bridges and climbing! It was incredible! Just look at the forest we got to zip line over (and that photo is a VERY small portion of the views we got). Oh, and there's an awkward selfie for you. You're welcome. :)
After our morning zip line tour, we grabbed some lunch at the lodge and headed straight to a natural history tour of of the park! The tour was actually included with our stay, so that was super nice! The tour beyond exceeded our expectations. We actually thought the tour would be kinda lame to be honest, but it was incredible! We toured on school buses, which was very nostalgic :).
The tour was about five hours long, and it was a very interesting, informational tour! We learned a lot of history about the park, and about the Native Athabazkan culture. There were a few stops made along the tour, including a small cabin that the dog mushers (dog sledding) use during their crazy races. Even though it was pouring rain outside, we still saw plenty of wildlife! Look at the moose!
Our tour ended around dinnertime, so we spent our last evening in Denali at our lodge. We walked around a bit, grabbed some dinner, and went to our room to enjoy our beautiful view!
Day Ten: Arrival to Fairbanks
We departed Denali this morning and boarded a tour bus to Fairbanks. I was a little sad to leave Denali, but was excited to see what Fairbanks had in store for us! We made a stop at a dogsled camp on the way, where they gave dogsled rides and had puppies to play with. Of course you could find me with the puppies!
We arrived at the Bear Lodge at about noon, and didn't have much planned for the rest of the day. We found Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum nearby, and decided it was worth a shot going to.
You guys. This is the most underrated, amazing museum I have EVER been to! There were over 80 cars in the museum...owned by one freaking owner. ONE OWNER. Every car was from the 1930's or older, even having one from the 1890's! Every car was either mostly original, or restored to look exactly like the original. All of the cars (except for 2) ran and drove perfectly! How cool is that? To top it all off, the owner's wife appeases the women by showing off vintage fashion pieces from that time. Again, all original pieces. Seriously, coolest museum ever! If you ever get the chance to go to Fairbanks, make sure you stop by!
The rest of the day was kind of low key. We walked around a wildlife sanctuary for a bit, but there were so many mosquitoes I could hardly take any good pictures (just picture me squirming every time one came near me). We had spent a lot of time in the museum, so we just grabbed dinner after our walk and went back to the room. We were exhausted, and had another full day ahead of us!
Day Eleven: Fairbanks
We had another jam packed day today, and the best part about it? It was all included in our stay again! We started the morning with a riverboat tour, where we saw all of the beautiful houses along the river. We also made a stop along the way to see some domesticated caribou, and to walk around a Native Athabazkan village. It was really cool! Look at the size of the antlers on that thing!
After our riverboat tour we boarded a train to tour the Gold Dredge 8 and pan for gold. The dredge is HUGE! It's way bigger than you would expect it to be. We actually did find $52 worth of gold while panning, so we struck it rich!
We got back to our lodge in the evening. We grabbed some food for dinner, and took the rest of the night to relax. Tonight was our final night of our vacation and we had very long day ahead of us!
Day 12: Homeward Bound
The final day of any vacation is always the worst, because reality sinks in that your trip is over. We were ready to come home and sleep in our own bed, but I could have stayed in Alaska for a lot longer than two weeks. Our flight wasn't until midnight (Fairbanks only does red-eye flights), and our checkout time for our lodge was at 11 AM. This had to have been the only part of the whole trip that was pretty inconvenient. Luckily they took all of our luggage to the airport for us that morning, so we didn't have to lug it around all day. The only problem was that our lodge was in kind of a weird spot. It was about 25 minutes from downtown, so there wasn't a whole lot to do within walking distance. We spent a lot of time at the lodge and the airport, which wasn't all that fun. To top it off, our flight had a 3 hour layover in Seattle at 3 AM, so we were in for a looooong day. We finally made it to Las Vegas at 9:30, then drove home to St. George. What an exhausting day!
Overall Thoughts of Land Portion:
We had a fantastic time in Denali, and truly have no complaints there. I loved the Princess Lodge, despite all of the negative reviews it had online. There was plenty to do nearby, and our excursions were fantastic!
If I were to do our vacation over, I probably would have skipped Fairbanks entirely. We enjoyed our stay there, but our lodge wasn't the greatest, and wasn't in a good location at all. Fairbanks was the only city we went to that didn't feel like Alaska anymore. It just felt like a regular, small city. Besides the auto museum, there isn't a whole lot to do there. If I were to go somewhere else instead, I probably would have chosen Anchorage or Mount McKinley.
Cruise vs. Land:
If I had to choose between doing only cruise or land, I would hands down choose cruising. It's is much less stress, you don't have to pay for each meal, and there is always some sort of entertainment going on.
Having said that, I do thing the cruisetour is definitely the way to go if you can! Spend the extra money to see the inland. Everything is still planned out for you by the cruise line (including your luggage), and you get to see so much more of Alaska. The inside passage is such a small portion of what you get to see on the land portion. Plus, you can see a lot more wildlife off the ship than on the ship, which is always a bonus.
I hope this super long review was helpful for those who are thinking about taking on Alaska. I've said it once and I'll say it again, if you EVER get the opportunity to come to this magical place, take it and run with it! This was the most incredible trip I have ever been on, and am so thankful we were able to go to a place like this for our honeymoon.
Until the next one! Thanks for sticking with me through the end of this one!