Oct 02, 2014 Leslie Jerden
If you've never been to Alaska, you are missing out. Alaska is a place that touches all of your senses. I have yet to be on a tour that leaves such an impression.
I can still distinctly recall the smell of the air. A scent mixed with water, trees, and earth. It's a crisp and clean quality, a scent I have yet to encounter again. The views were incredible. It felt as if I were walking into a Photoshopped image. Colors were more vivid. Blues and greens were deeper and richer. The sky and mountains humbled me in an instant. The vast wilderness, wildlife, and glaciers were simply amazing.
We started our tour on land. I highly recommend Denali National Park. You tour this park via an old fashioned school bus. There are different tours based on time allotment to choose from. I advise to take at least the six hour tour, the eight hour tour if possible. The longer the tour, the higher into the park you travel. The chances of seeing more wild life significantly increase the higher you go. Some of our group took the six hour tour and were able to see moose up close. Those who took the eight hour tour saw bear as well. Either tour you choose, you are guaranteed some beautiful photo opportunities and even some stops to taste natural glacier water from mountain run offs. The accommodations we used were the Princess lodges. The rooms are clean and fair. If you are used to plush hotels, you may not enjoy the lodges. However, the lodges are some of the nicest accommodations available on land. You can enjoy outdoor fire pits and the goodies to make s'mores for two bucks. They also sell alcoholic beverages fire side. There are plenty of restaurants on site at each lodge to choose from. Go for the nicest restaurant and you won't be disappointed. The pizza places on site at the lodges and other all American style restaurants are mediocre at best. They all have very nice coffee bars and Starbuck's style food in the main lobby's which hit the spot when needed.
In Juneau, I highly recommend a whale watching tour. This is the best place to view the incredible Hump Back whales. Average cost is about $150 per person and it's worth every penny. Choose a smaller single level boat to tour on. These boats were able to get closest to the whales. We were booked on one of these boats and a group of whales swam right below our boat. They came up approximately 15 feet in front of us while they were bubble netting. We were able to get some incredible video and pictures. We were close enough to hear their breath and feel the mist spray from their blow holes. This was definitely a highlight of the tour for us!
We went flying in a small aircraft above the Misty Fjords in Ketchikan. The views from a sea craft are unparalleled. Our pilot landed the plane in a small, mountain-enclosed body of water. We got out of the plane and walked along the landing gear. We peered down into crystal clear water and watched jelly fish float by. The silence was absolute. It was a peaceful and beautiful memory to cherish.
Cruising along with Princess was a great experience. Once we arrived in Glacier Bay, National Park rangers boarded and gave seminars about the glaciers and wild life. Their presentation was very interesting and well delivered. Once in front of some of the largest glaciers we were able to sit for a while and take in their size and beauty. Hearing the glaciers calve is like hearing a loud rolling thunder. The base sound and reverberations are astounding.
In Sitka we learned about the importance of salmon in Alaska. We visited a salmon smokehouse and watched the salmon being filleted and prepared. The site also included a lesson in sled dog training and rearing. We watched the dogs in action and met the trainers. Local teens dressed in some of their native regalia and posed for pictures as well. This was a great place to learn about Alaskan culture.
Shopping can be found most anywhere. Some of the best buys are the all weather coats, woolen knitted hats and gloves, and local art. These items are quality goods and surprisingly very affordable to pick up. There's plenty of Tanzanite jewelry, smoked canned Alaskan salmon, and really great cafés to take advantage of as well.
This destination was on many of our traveler's bucket list. It's a well deserved listing! For me, Alaska was everything I hoped it would be, and more. I cannot wait to visit again!