Published: May 16th 2011
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Cruising Alaska

We begin in Anchorage. We take a train up to Denali National Park where I will go fly fishing and take a tundra wilderness tour. After 2 nights we will take a bus down to Seward and board the boat. We sail from Seward and head to Haines via College Fjord and Glacier Bay. While in Haines, I will do another wilderness safari, but some of this will be by kayak. The next port of call is Juneau where I will take a helicopter tour over the Juneau Icefield and land on the Herbert Glacier at the Blue Kennels dog camp. Here I will have the opportunity to drive the dogsled and mush the dogs. After the helicopter tour, I have booked a small whale watching boat (only takes 6 people) and we will go in search of whales on the bay and bears near the shore. In Ketchikan, we will tour the town and maybe take in the lumberjack show. Our route will take us along the Inside Passage into Vancouver. We have extrended our trip by 4 days to allow us to explore Vancouver and Victoria. We fly home from Victoria. Overall it is a 16 day tip and roughly 2000 miles.

I'm set to go on a cruise in Alaska with two friends; a married couple. They booked a veranda suite on Holland America and I booked my single interior cabin just across and down the hall from them. Cheryl and I figure we'll have coffee on the veranda in the mornings while Mike sleeps in. They're good friends so a polite walk across the cabin to the verandah won't bother Mike, or so Cheryl says.

Today I'm researching the best places to eat crab. It seems Juneau may be one of the best, (Crab Shack or Twisted Fish) but it's also the best for helicopter tours, dog sledding, and whale watching. My list of things to do is so long, that I don't think I'll have time to eat! Good thing they offer box lunches! So for now, it looks like I might be able to get good Alaskan crab at Captain Cooks Crows Nest in Anchorage and then maybe some Dungeness at Steamers in Ketchikan.

Hmmm. After doing all this research, I'm getting hungry. I think I'll go get some Alaskan crab for dinner. It won't be fresh, but it will have to do for now.

Planning Excursions

The crab dinner was good and I discovered I can't even eat two legs of a King crab. Good to know when I sit down to feast in Anchorage. A little bread, a little wine, maybe a salad so I can feel healthy, and one BIG Alaskan King crab leg.

I'm researching excursions now and want to explore options other than what is offered by the cruise line. These can be expensive and also crowded. People signup for them though because it's easier and they worry that if something goes wrong and they're late getting back to the dock, the ship won't leave them behind. I have a friend that says even though she booked a shore excursion through the cruise line, the ship still left without her when she was late. They can't hold up hundreds of people just for one or two, so you may as well shop around and find the type of excursion you want at possibly a better price. If you miss the boat, you just catch up and meet them at the next port.

Fly Fishing: What to Wear?

While in Denali, I've decided I want to try

Frog Togs, Drake Fowl Waders, Super Tuff
fly fishing. I've never done it before, so it will be a new experience. Even if I discover I can't cast very well, just standing in the streambed amidst the trees and forest should be a beautiful and peaceful experience. I googled "how to fly fish" and found several videos with instructions. I'm sure it's harder than it looks, but I'm determined to try. So that done, now I need to decide what to wear. I know they'll be providing the waders, but they make more than one kind! Who'd have thought? Let's see, the frog togs seem chic, or then there's the drake fowl waders with marvelous camouflaging (don't want the trout to see me coming) or the full body waders called "super tuff".

My family has warned me to not wear the drake fowl camouflaged waders, because the rescue helicopters may have trouble spotting me after I fall down in the stream. Also, based on my past accident-prone nature, they are recommending the "super tuff". I'm not sure the look suits me, but maybe a pink hat will really set it off. Such a hard decision. After all, it's important to look good.

So even though I don't have a clue how to fly fish, I think it will be a good way to commune with nature. I spent some time finding a guided small group trip to a "remote" stream, so I'm hoping I won't end up standing next to 30 other people all fishing within a few yards of each other. Picking out predesigned tours can be tough, but doing a little research up front, usually pays off with a more unique and authentic experience. I'll blog the experience for you later.

Helicopter tour and Dog-sledding

Most people tell me the helicopter or float plan excursion over a glacier is not to be missed, and so is mushing a team of huskies. But it seems so extravagant and expensive that it becomes a tough decision. After reading other cruisers' comments it's beginning to seem like a must do. The rationalization is that, "After all, I'll only get this one opportunity and it is a unique experience."

So now, which tour is the best? Do I just do the flyover, see the glaciers and forget the dogs? Do I do the dogsled experience on a cart with wheels, over cement and grass in Anchorage? Or do I combine the two and land on the glacier, thus seeing the icy terrain from the air, and mushing the dogs over snow on a sled? Well, when I put it that way, budget permitting, there's no contest.

With the decision made, I begin to look for the best experience at the best price. There are many offerings out of Juneau, most going to the Mendenhall Glacier. My cruise offers two experiences involving helicopters, glaciers and dogs. One goes to the Mendenhall Glacier, costing $579.00 and the other goes to the middle branch of the Norris Glacier, costing $544.00. For someone who has never been to Alaska (me!) the decision can be difficult. What's the difference between the two? As best as I can figure, the trip to Mendenhall is more expensive because that's the glacier you will hear and read the most about. It's offered by "the oldest operating dog sled tour company". More people visit it, so more people hear about it, so more people choose that as their excursion. But the other trip (Norris) bills itself as having "seasoned veterans of the legendary Alaskan Iditarod Sled Dog Race," to teach you how to mush the dogs. Both offer the same time in the air and the same time at the dog camps.

I decided I liked the idea of Iditarod experts and possibly a less frequented, quieter glacier. Once I got off the idea that I had to go to Mendenhall, I began researching the helicopter companies. I found one who works independently from my cruise line that will fly me to Herbert Glacier, (next to Mendenhall, both coming off of the Juneau Icefield) to an independent husky camp. The helicopter company, Coastal Helicopters (1-800-789-5610) offers the same time in the air and at the camp as the other tours. The small camp, Blue Kennels, has Iditarod qualified and experienced mushers who teach you about the dogs and go with you on the sled ride. I especially like that they have won several dog care humanitarian awards, and proudly post these on their website. The sleds are smaller (fewer people per trip) so individual time spent mushing may be longer, and the glacier should be quieter and less trampled than Mendenhall. Sounds perfect right? I think so, and the cost is $100.00 less than Mendenhall! So for $479.00 I think I have found the best option for seeing the glaciers and ice fields from the air and having an authentic dog sled experience. I'll let you know


18th May 2011

Hi Barbara and Welcome to Travelblog
Those are some tasty looking crabs! When we took our cruise we took the plane ride at Talkeetna up to the top and around Mt. McKinley. That was amazing. We did the helicopter ride to Mendenhall Glacier and it was nice but I'll bet the other one is good also. Sounds like a great trip. Can't wait to read more.
29th May 2011

Trip planning
Thanks for starting your blog. We are in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Alaska next year. Will follow your "adventure" with great interest. BTW we love crab legs, too. (lol)
30th May 2011

Camo on the fly
I definitely vote for the "Drake Fowl Waders"--camo is so hip--but the overall "Super Tuff" looks not only uncomfortable but also impossible when hitting the bathroom!
19th June 2011

Awesome!! Ready to go. You have really done some great research
19th June 2011

One crab leg at a time.
Thanks for your comments and for following the blog. If you know of a "not to be missed" restaurant on my route, please let me know. I'll be doing my best to eat my way down the coast.

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