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Worldtraveler 4727

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  1. On the way back we saw two different types of seals and another pod of humpback whales feeding.
  2. Along the way the captain pointed out various rock formations and discussed how the fjord was created. Eventually, about 3 hours into the tour, we came to the turn around point: Holgate glacier (I think). It is enormous! We stayed at the glacier at least a half an hour with the boat turning around several times so that people standing on all sides and in the front and back could get a good and very close look. (The day we sailed into Glacier Bay, we were very glad we had been able to get this close to a glacier since we did not sail very close to them in Glacier Bay.) The glacier calved several times. Not huge pieces of ice, but enough to make quite a thunderous noise. One of the crew members dipped a net into the water and brought up a piece of glacial ice for everyone to look at and touch. This is the end of the fjord and the turn around point. It's difficult to comprehend in a photo how big glaciers are!
  3. Day #7 June 26, 2018 This morning dawned bright and beautiful with lots of su and 50 degrees climbing into the 60's today. We decided to have the buffet breakfast this morning rather than ordering from the menu. They offered scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, cooked oatmeal, cereals, yogurt, granola, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and make-your-own toast machine. As with most buffets, it was all about room temperature. A better option is to take advantage of the made to order breakfast. We then waited in the lobby for our coach bus to the Kenai Fjords Boat Tour. We booked this through Princess as soon as it became available on our Personalizer as I knew this was the one excursion we wanted to take. Great reviews. New Princess requirements include you pay for it when you book it (many months out). You can cancel it up to three days before. A couple tried to cancel the tour the morning of and despite asking several people at reception/tour desk and in several different ways, the answer was a no. I am not sure how long they take people signing up for the trip. We had two full buses going from the Kenai lodge. The boat holds about 200 people. Note: One question I had posed on CC beforehand regarded booking private excursions from the lodges. We are DIYers, as I mentioned before, and always book small, private excursions. The answers I received were basically no--the lodges are far too remote. This is not accurate. At Denali there is an area directly across the highway from the lodge that offers various private venues including fly fishing and helicopter rides. There was also a "stand" nearby where young people had multiple bikes for rent. Kenai is the remotest lodge, and I paid particular attention on the drive in and out of the area and saw several, small, private signs along the side of the road for fishing guides and rafting trips etc. The replies I received on CC also included the idea that Princess would forbid outsiders to come onto the Princess properties. I can tell you that at Denali, the driveways are wide open and front a busy highway with private cars coming and going all over the place. And even at Kenai, there is no way to stop anyone from driving onto the property. There are no manned gates or anything like that. In fact, Micheal mentioned that a lot of locals come to eat at the Rod and Reel since it's the nicest restaurant in the area. (Kenai also has a RV park to one side of the road on the way onto the property along with a little camp store and laundry.) So....if you are interested in a private company taking you fishing or rafting etc, go ahead and look into it. Discuss with the company being picked up at the Princess lodge--at worst at McKinley you might have to walk across the street to hitch up with them. I don't think there'd be any problems at all, and I'm pretty sure the cost would be a lot less than Princess charges, and for sure involved a lot fewer people. This Kenai Fjord excursion through Princess was $249 pp. Not knowing what sort of weather and temps we'd encounter, we armed ourselves in layers and brought along hats, gloves and Dramamine. Fortunately, we had great weather. Lots of sun and calm waters. It did become cloudy in the afternoon, but no rain, and the water remained calm. The coach bus took us one hour to Seward, and there we boarded the touring ship. The only advice I was able to find regarding where to sit was: on the ground level and near an outside door. Most seating was three seats facing three seats with a table in between. Despite the seats flipping up, it's tight. DH and I didn't want to sit in two outside seats as we knew the people sitting on the inside seats would be wanting to jump in and out as wildlife presented itself outside in the water. And vice versa. We didn't want to disturb others on the end if we sat on the inside seats. What to do? We grabbed what looked like the only two seat table in the covered, bottom floor. It was directly across from a door leading to the deck outside. Perfect, right? Well, it was COLD and WINDY on the water, and every time the door opened--BRRR. Also, when the dang door was opened too wide, it caught and stayed open. I had to jump up multiple times to unhook it and close the door. There was some seating in the inside upper level of the boat, and that was snatched up immediately by people in front of us, but again, the seating was the same upstairs with the three seats facing three seats over a table. There were also outside chairs, and since it was a beautiful sunny day at the dock, many people sat there. However, as soon as the boat started to go, it got cold and windy up there outside. AND when lunch was served, all those people outside were herded inside and told to find random seats to sit so they could eat lunch. I think if I went again, I'd take the same two seats. Putting up with a bit of cold and wind was no big deal overall. I was dressed for it for the day. The tour was scheduled for 11 AM and left just a few minutes after. We got about 25 minutes away from the dock and into the fjord when the captain came on and made an announcement. He said, "Well, this is a new one on me, but we've been directed to return to the dock to pick up late passengers." All 200 people, almost in unison, said, "WHAT??" Back we went and 8 - 10 people boarded. Then we were off again having wasted more than an hour's time of 190 people. Don't know what was up with that. A little ways into the fjord, there was a flock of seagulls circling above the water. The captain said that is normally an indication there are whales feeding. And sure enough, five humpback whales were bubble netting. We got very close and got a few good pictures.
  4. Thank you! We don't have any special camera equipment at all, but the food sure looks good, doesn't it? ;) Next up after the land tour review, I will write a review of our 7 days on the Coral, southbound from Whittier to Vancouver.
  5. This evening Michael hosted a cocktail party on the deck and bought everyone a drink. It was a beautiful evening--partly sunny, no wind, and no rain. The setting is breathtaking. Huge mountains all around us and the rushing Kenai River below us. We went in to have dinner at 7 PM. This evening we were assigned to dine with a couple from Jersey, the island in the English Chanel between Britain and France. We have met up with them multiple times on this tour, and they are a delightful couple. This evening DH had the halibut, and I had the lasagna. The lasagna was very good, but the halibut was excellent, as usual. John had a great looking pork chop. Janet had the shrimp cocktail for a starter. John had the crab appetizer, and I had the salad. I think DH ordered the calamari as a starter. Halibut on mashed potatoes with shredded onion bits on top I know the lasagna appears over done, but it was really very good Crab app Calamari
  6. At the bottom of the hill and at the end of the looping trail where we began is a house phone to call for the shuttle again. We were picked up and delivered to our room where DH built a nice fire, and we just put our feet up and relaxed --happy to have no other plans for the day.
  7. After breakfast we decided to call the shuttle and have it take us down to the Kenai River. You can walk down to the river, but it's a steep hill. There is an easy trail at the river and three trails off the main trail with with wooden decks built out onto the river. The river is a beautiful, fast-flowing river that is a gorgeous blue-green color--much unlike the waters we have seen so often so far that are mainly dark grey due to glacial silt. We found two of the three deck areas, and in one of them watched a guide with two other people in a boat fishing.
  8. Day #6 June 25, 2018 Chilly this morning--only 44, windless and cloudy. This is the one day in the land portion of our trip where we have nothing planned, and boy was that nice! DH and I just chilled the day away and rejuvenated. We walked down to the main lodge to the Rod and Reel restaurant for breakfast. (If you are here and do not have a meal voucher and do not want to go to the restaurant, the only other spot is in the reception area, and it's a window through which you can buy coffee and sweet rolls and snacks). Both DH and I had the corned beef hash and poached eggs, again excellent. Each morning the restaurant offers a buffet breakfast as well with all the usual fare.
  9. Aww thanks. Yes, we, too, were disappointed we weren't able to get to the tree house. And I agree, they need the shuttle to get closer to the tree house. But there is still a steep gravel hill leading up to it. Perhaps if that is paved some day they can get a shuttle/cart up there. I think the whole thing is too new for them and they are still working on the logistics. Actually these joint issues came on us both fast and hard. We thought about canceling, but I had put so dang much work and research into it all for so long, and we were so looking forward to it, so we said we'd go and do what we could. DH and I talked about it since returning on July 4th, and we both felt that really the only thing we missed out on were taking some hikes. At Mendenhall glacier in Juneau, we were unable to walk down to the glacier and Nugget Falls, but we were happy with seeing both from the Visitor's Center. All in all, it was a bit of a struggle at times; the cane helped me a lot, but we did okay and are so happy we went. Glad to hear your operation and rehab went well. It's what we hear from a lot of people. We are not ones, who like others, waited too long, but we are going to be really happy to be on the other side of these surgeries. For DH a knee and for me two hip replacements. I keep saying next year I'll be running marathons LOL!:') I hope you re-book and try this land tour. It's pricey to be sure, but Alaska is pricey. We felt it was worth the money.
  10. Inland Alaska is so different from coastal Alaska. We really felt like "we saw Alaska" having been 8 days in the interior and 7 days cruising the coast. I don't think you'd be disappointed including a land trip next time.
  11. The gift shop sits directly across the circle drive from the main lodge entrance, and our cabin was just behind the gift shop. It was a walkable distance for us to go from cabin to main lodge here. Yay! We were told this property began as a church camp before Princess bought it. Since we were going to be here for three days, and since our luggage was pretty much a mess from pawing through it for days, I took the opportunity to unpack everything into the dresser and the closet. DH and I had a margarita and headed to the lodge to check out the bar and dinner venue. Note: ice was not easy to come by from our particular cabin. The closest place was down the road to the exercising area and up many, many stairs. The bar is small, but I am sure most people want to spend their time outside on the deck. We grabbed a drink and headed outside, but met all those people coming in as it had started to sprinkle again a bit. We sat at the bar with friends until 7PM then headed to the Rod and Reel restaurant to dine with our assigned companions--two delightful ladies from Florida. DH had a large slice of prime rib, and I had the crab topped scallops--both were excellent. After dinner it felt like it had been another long day, and we made our way back to our cabin. An interesting design element to the cabin is that there are two sky lights in it. We have been struggling in this Land of the Midnight Sun to get the drapes closed tightly enough to let in the least amount of light. I wondered at this design since, of course, the room remained quite light all night, but we were so exhausted it ultimately really did not matter. We had fully intended to try out the fireplace, but did not want to start a fire before we went to dinner and had thought we'd make one after dinner instead. As it turned out, we were simply too tired and saved the experience for the next day. Note: just steps away from the door to the cabin is a big wooden box up off the ground filled with more chopped wood, should you need more than what is in the room.
  12. The weather today was cool and cloudy with a sprinkling of rain on and off all day--best day to have this kind of weather--our travel day. We arrived in Anchorage and were dropped off at the Captain Cook Hotel. (This was another unanswered question I had before we left: exactly where will we be dropped off, and how much time will we have in Anchorage.) Michael gave us 1.45 hrs, a map and suggestions for lunch. One of the options I had researched for our time in Anchorage was the one hour city trolley which got great reviews on Trip Advisor, and I thought it would be a great way to see the city of Anchorage in the short time we'd be there. There really wasn't enough time to do it comfortably, and the temperature was a cloudy 55 with some wind. We skipped it and made our way to the Glacier Brewhouse for a bit of lunch, hoping it would not be overly busy as I had read it often is. We walked in and were seated immediately--the place is very large--I had read we might need reservations. DH was thrilled to see that they had a Bloody Mary bar available for $8.95. He received a shot of his choice of vodka, and the waitress brought him a pint glass rimmed with bacon-flavored salt and filled with ice. She suggested using half of the shot in his first drink, and she would bring him another glass for a second drink. DH happily made two drinks selecting from a variety of mixes and additions. We shared a small pizza, and it was more than enough for lunch. There is a liquor store called the Brown Jug directly across the street from the Captain Cook Hotel, and we made our way there after lunch to take a look around. This is the best place to buy your bottles of wine for the ship, if you choose to take some onboard. We are just a couple days out from boarding, and you would not have to haul it for very long. All the prices looked very much in line with what we see back home. We had assumed they'd be much higher in Anchorage. We picked up a bottle of pre-mixed margaritas to have on our deck at the Kenai cabin. Back on the bus and headed toward Kenai once again. We made a stop at Bird Point. It's a beautiful area that is a great photo op of the mountains and water of the Kenai Peninsula. This is the land point that we are traveling around to get to the lodge on the other side. Whenever we are on the bus, Michael man's the microphone and provides exactly the right amount of commentary about various places and people. He is a wealth of information, interesting, and delightful to listen to with that adorable Irish lilt. We finally (after about 7 hours including the stops) pulled into the Kenai Princess Lodge. The general manager boarded the bus, welcomed us, and gave us a few bits of information about the property and how their shuttle runs. Unlike the other two lodges, because this one is much smaller but still requires a shuttle, you call the front desk and the shuttle will pick you up wherever you are and deliver you wherever you need to go. They do no have a continuous looping shuttle like Denali and McKinley. We received our packet with our room keys, information about the lodge and area, and all the meal vouchers. There are a lot of meal vouchers for this Lodge since we are here for 3 nights. They all have dates on them and whether the voucher is for breakfast or dinner, so you need to keep them straight. To add to the paperwork in the packet, our tickets for the excursion to the Kenai Fjords was also in there. (This was a Princess-sponsored excursion.) We jumped on the property shuttle and were taken to our cabin. It was everything I had hoped it would be! Positively delightful.
  13. Day #5 June 24, 2018 McKinley to Kenai Day 5 began with bags outside our room at 6:30 AM and the shuttle to the main lodge to the North Fork restaurant for breakfast. DH chose the smoked salmon lox eggs Benedict and raved about it. I chose a dish with crab and puff pastry recommended by our waitress since it sounded lighter than the rest of the items on the menu. However, the waitress came back and said that the puff pastry was still baking, and I would need to chose something else. I ordered a veggie omelet and toast, and it was fine. (If you look at the Lodges online, they all list their menus as well.) We boarded the bus at 8 AM for our first leg towards the Kenai Princess Lodge. We stopped at 10 AM in Wasilla at the Iditirod Dog Sled Headquarters. (No where in any of the Trip Itineraries was this stop listed, but it was a cute place and we enjoyed it.) There are two buildings on the property. One is the gift shop with rest rooms and a second room with chairs showing a film on various aspects of dog sledding. Lining the walls are TONS of dog sledding memorabilia, including two large glass cases containing famous taxidermied sled dogs. This was a bit ghoulish, but sled dogs and dog sled racing is extremely important to Alaska, and Alaskans are very proud of all aspects of the history of it. The other building on the property is a small one that had a long line of people waiting to get in it. By this time in the trip you can guess what is inside: puppies. People go nuts for puppies. (On board the ship one evening they brought two puppies into the Atrium. We were having cocktails near by, and I have never seen a longer line in my life. The puppies were in front of the glass elevators, and people had even gotten on the elevators and were staying on the elevators going up and down just so they could get a longer, better look at the puppies and take pictures. It was crazy.) They were allowing people to hold the puppies momentarily. Outside this small building they were offering a dogsled ride. This helps keep the dogs in shape in the off season. They hitched up eight dogs and had them pull a driver and several people around a short track. It cost $10 pp for about a three minute ride. There were plenty of people taking the rides. I imagine the money goes a long way towards feeding and keeping the dogs--an expensive proposition for anyone who owns sled dog teams. We'd seen several demonstrations by now and lots of dogs and puppies, but it's always fun for me to see how excited and happy the dogs are doing their job.
  14. Once again our paperwork for today indicated the couple Michael paired us with for dinner in the North Fork Restaurant inside the main lodge at 7PM. He found us a little later in the afternoon and explained that the other couple had decided to go to a talk and wanted to have dinner much later, so Michael made reservations for just DH and me. This was our best meal so far. DH had the Tenderloin Oscar, and I had the Crab-stuffed Halibut. Both were out of this world. We decided to share half-and-half and had a bit of a surf and turf meal. I chose the salad with blueberries and candied pecans, and it was outstanding. DH chose the French onion soup, and it too was very good. Sometimes restaurants make this soup with a very salty dry mix, but this French onion soup was very, very good.
  15. At 4:15 we caught the shuttle and went over to the theater building to see Todd Huston speak. He is a mountain climber and inspirational speaker. He lost his leg as a teen in a boating accident and went on to climb the highest peaks in all 50 states in, including Denali, in less time than anyone else. He was truly inspiring. From there we went made our way to the deck in the back of the lodge and joined new friends for cocktails and to take a look at the mountain. The clouds had been clearing for most of the day. It was a windless, sunny afternoon. We were able to get a good look at the mountain. There were some low-level clouds near the bottom, but it was very clear midway and to the top. Michael stopped by our table, and I asked him if with this view of the mountain we could consider ourselves in the "30% Club." (It is said only 30% of everyone who tries to see Denali actually succeeds) He said he would consider all of us in the 10% Club! Yay! The shuttle drivers had mentioned to us that for the past two weeks the mountain had not been visible AT ALL. We felt very fortunate that we got to see it on this beautiful day.
  16. Day #4 June 23, 2018 We have apparently finally folded into more of a touring/vacationing routine, and were able to sleep fairly well last night. This morning required that our bags be outside our room in the hall by 7 AM with the DPL (Denali Princess Lodge) tags off, and the new MPL (McKinley Princess Lodge) tags on ready to be transported to our next stop: McKInley Lodge. Speaking of luggage...we met a couple on the lodge shuttle who said one of their pieces of luggage was lost for over a day and a night. She had been quite panicked about it, but it did finally show up. Honestly, it's a wonder that this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. The shuttling and shuffling of the massive quantities of luggage over literally miles of lodge rooms has to be a logistical nightmare. Our breakfast voucher entitled us to a breakfast buffet in the Denali music theater, or a made to order breakfast in the King Salmon restaurant, or a much lighter breakfast at one of the grab 'n go venues on the properties. Since we had 2.5 hours before we needed to meet the bus at our A/B lodge entrance, DH and I decided to take the shuttle to the King Salmon restaurant and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. The restaurant is truly beautiful, and we were seated at a table for two by a window overlooking the trees at the back of the property. DH was fairly hungry and ordered the king crab stuffed omelette with pan fried red potato cubes and toast. I have a hard time eating early morning breakfasts, especially when we have dinner at 8 or later the night before. I ordered the yogurt with blueberries and granola. Quite enough for me this morning. After your meal, you just place your vouchers on the table, and the wait staff will collect them. Often we were asked to just sign the voucher on the back. Sometimes we received a paper receipt and were asked to sign that as well. The vouchers work very simply, and you can order whatever you'd like. I know the cost of the food is all folded into the cost of the package, but it was a real treat to look at menus and try new and different things. After breakfast we took the shuttle back to our room, picked up our backpack, and relaxed in the lounge area with the others until the bus showed up. The coach bus ride was only 2 hours long and shortly after leaving the lodge, we came across a cow moose right on the shoulder of the highway like she was looking to cross the road! Michael told us that 300 moose are killed on this stretch of highway every year! We reached McKinley Lodge, and Michael gave us our packets with instructions and room keys, and the bus driver took us to Building 18. We all found our rooms (ground level). Some were ready and some were not, but you were able to place your hand luggage in them and go about your day until later. When we opened the door to our room (#1811), it smelled just terrible! The room had its bed stripped and the windows were closed. The only way I have been able to describe the smell in the room was that it was like an animal had died in it--perhaps somewhere in the walls. We once had a mouse die in the walls of our laundry room, and it smelled like this. It lasted for a long time, and DH finally had to open the wall in the laundry room. We immediately opened the window in the room, and that helped a bit, but we knew we were not going to be able to stay in this room. There was a young lady in the hallway with a cart cleaning rooms, and I asked her to step into the room for a moment. When I explained to her that the room smelled terrible, she said, "Oh yes! We always have trouble with this room. It always smells bad like this." Okay. That was enough for me. I pulled out my phone and called Michael. He answered his cell phone immediately and asked us to come up to the main lodge. He would meet us there and take care of it immediately. By the time we got to the main lodge (about 5 minutes later) Michael was there with the manager of the lodge. They both apologized profusely and gave us another room. This one was far from the others, but it didn't matter. We were in Building 6 (#601). They also gave us two tickets for a coffee at any of the Princess lodges. It was a minor blip and could happen anywhere as these lodges are all in remote areas. While we were in the main lodge, we went to the reception desk to give them our cell phone number and to ask to be put on the Call List. I had read that you need to do this EACH DAY. Reception will call you 24 hours a day if the mountain comes out. I had read that everyone just comes out in their pajamas to take photos if the mountain comes out late at night. That's what my research had told me. Reality was, the woman at reception asked only for our room number and insisted that that they will only call the rooms. So if the mountain is out, and you happen to not be in your room, you won't get the notification. The lodge looks and feels much older than the Denali Lodge, and there are really no rooms with a "view." Almost all of the windows look out onto trees, shrubs and grass. However, from the outside of Building 6 we were able to see a bit of the mountain through the trees. After we got our new room key, we decided to go out onto the balcony behind the lodge and to see if "Denali was out." It was a partly cloudy day with temperatures in the mid 60's. Very pleasant, but there were clouds at the top of the mountain so it wasn't totally visible. There is a part of the deck that is used for food and drink service. We were given a seat in the sun, ordered a couple beers and a snack, and relaxed and just drank in the atmosphere. While we sat and mountain-watched and people-watched, we looked over the information in our packets. One of the things we had wanted to do was to get up to see the Tree House built by Pete Nelson. They did an episode on Tree Masters on the Animal Planet cable channel a while ago, and it is now open to the public. DH and I grabbed a shuttle as far as it would go and then set out on foot the rest of the way. It was not easy going for the two of us with the serious joint issues we were dealing with on this trip. We made it as far as where the hard road ended and the gravel path began. We could see the steep gravel hill up to the Tree House, and there was simply no way either of us could make it up or down that trail, so we had to turn around. It was disappointing. The view of the area is supposed to be wonderful from the Tree House. After that mis-adventure to the Tree House, we returned to our room, and there were some chairs on the boardwalk outside our room. We had a room on the far end. The rooms in this building are motel-like in that they all have separate doors leading outside. (Building 18 where the others were had doors all inside a hallway, more hotel-like.) It was a beautiful afternoon, and we spent it just relaxing. We could see snippets of Denali through the trees from where we were sitting, so we kept our eye on it hoping the high clouds would dissipate. (Can you see the mountain in the background?)
  17. Footnote to Denali: When we arrived, Michael gathered us up in the courtyard of our A/B building with the mountains and the river in the background and had a photo taken of our group of 26. On our last night together, we all received a color 8x10 in a folder with a slip of paper inside identifying each of us by name and stating the photo was taken on the Summer Solstice: sunrise 3:30 AM, sundown 12:54 AM 21 hrs 24 mins of daylight, 2 hrs 36 mins of darkness. It is really a nice keepsake of a great trip. Michael also coordinated collecting an email from us all. It will be nice to keep in touch with several of the couples we spent a lot of time with. It was also nice while on the Coral for 7 days to already know and to see the other 24 people here and there.
  18. Thank you for following along! It's nice to know readers are out there!
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