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Alaska Land Tour

Author: caneable
Date of Trip: September 2007

We're back recently from a trip to Alaska. The first week was on a Princess cruise and was carried on www.cruisecritic.com. This is the section pertaining to the land section of the trip. It's pretty much a log of the trip but I have summarized my views at the end. Hope it's useful!

Saturday, September 1

Disembarkation is always rather weird and this time even more so as it seemed that most of the passengers were gone by the time we got off, though I don't think that was so. After breakfast and a swift walk round the deck, we spent a few minutes playing table tennis before we decided to take a lounger down by the "inside" pool. I went off to get some coffee and ran into Sabin the former National Geographic guy who had been our commentator the day before. I took the opportunity to thank him for his work and for bringing the names of Harriman, Muir and others to my attention. We spoke about Bentley, the snowflake photographer who opened up so much knowledge about these tiny wonders and agreed that the true heroes of the piece were his parents, prepared to back their son in the idea of taking photos of snowflakes. His story should be told to parents EVERYWHERE, because I'm sure that the world would be a better place if all parents truly supported their kids in the way that really mattered and didn't just show up when they were upset (bit of soapbox there Steve, climb down).

Off the shop and almost seamlessly onto the motor coach to meet our driver, Mary. Well she's an ex-teacher from Houston so I'm bound to like her aren't I? But she was a breath of fresh air. Knowledgeable, friendly, patient, she made sure that nothing was missed from the bus. However, before we got started we had to wait for the 10am green light on the tunnel. That gave Mary the chance to run through the airline safety talk for the bus. We were all suitably attentive, especially when she pointed out that her bus was equipped with an International toilet. Puzzled looks around so she explained, when you're on your way there your a Russian, while your in there European and when you come out you be Finnish!

There's not much to tell about Whittier. I mean what do you say about a place that has one big building housing school, city hall, police department, prison, housing and all the rest? Can't be a one-horse town unless it's the wooden horse of Troy!

After our wait we got through the tunnel and headed over to the Begich Boggs Visitor Centre. Here I picked up a cracking little booklet for free which I would thoroughly recommend to all travellers on the Seward Highway. The road is its title and, among other things, it gives double page spreads of the road route together with excellent information about campgrounds, fishing sites, viewpoints and hiking trails. Later on we were to meet a seasoned guide to the area who had never seen it before but vowed that he would get some for his future passengers as soon as possible.

At the centre they have a wealth of information, some interesting displays and a small souvenir shop. There's a snack cafe nearby and some easy, pleasant strolls along the lakeside with good views to Burns and Portage glacier. Although it was an early stop straight after the tunnel, I was delighted that Mary had chosen to give us an hour here and would have happily stayed longer.

Heading out for the Kenai Princess Lodge we drove down the Seward Highway, onto Stirling Highway towards the township of Coopers Landing. The scenery was delightful and the sun had now come out to leave clear skies. The valleys were crisscrossed by numerous creeks and streams, interspersed with pine forest and marshland plants. The red fringe of Fireweed, which we know as Rose Bay Willow Herb (or a pest) looked especially attractive in the sunlight. Occasionally the trees would be broken as we flashed by a lake and, because the day was so still, they all looked like glass mirroring the reflections of the surrounding slopes and peaks.

On arrival at the Lodge we were delighted. Four parties each assigned to a log cabin divided into four generously proportioned apartments with 2 big double beds, a log burning fire (and logs/firelighters supplied) and TEA MAKING FACILITIES. Okay so it's coffee usually and the water still won't boil but at least it's to hand and we're in charge.

The afternoon didn't start well as we discovered that Princess Head Office at Seattle had ignored our bookings for land tours, but as I've posted a separate thread about it I'll leave it at that. Besides, bad news is only as bad as you want it to be on holiday. Suffice to say that Robert at Kenai Lodge Tour Outfitters desk was a real star and helped us to contact the other lodges where we hoped to undertake excursions and by mid afternoon everything was back on track.

We decided to walk the nature trail at the back of the property. Its a simple little stroll made the more interesting by a series of informative boards and the early warning that this is bear and moose territory! There are two options. The basic walk is about 1/2 mile, while there is a longer loop which extends it to 1 mile. With danger afoot we decided to go for it and did the long version. It's a very untouched forest area with ample signs of previous weather damage, animal visits to trees and any number of fungi. There are glimpses of the Kenai river some way below, but not clear enough to form a memorable view. We didn't take chances as I carried on inane conversation for minutes at a time in a loud voice, and Joan rattled her specs case with gusto whenever I paused for breath! Needless to say we saw no wildlife.

Having completed that trail we then went for the whole hog and did the walk down to the river. The walk follows the river shore and has a series of viewing platforms situated at convenient intervals. We stopped to watch several fishermen out in the stream either wading or fishing from boats. I must confess that fishing has never held any appeal to me, but if I had grown up in Alaska I know full well that it would have been the natural thing to do! In addition to human activity, we were amused by the upstream struggle of three Loons, and watched them for several minutes. It was around then that we discovered the most enormous set of footprints in the gravel at the bank, and they weren't mine. Discretion being the better part of valor, we retreated to the lodge.

You can phone for a buggy to give you a lift from the riverside back to the lodge and with the walking done and Joan's replacement knee, I assumed that that was what we would do. However, Joan comes from Manchester, up north, where the men are tough and the women are tougher and she decided that if we took our time she should do just fine. We even beat the bear to the top - just kidding.

That evening we ate in the lodge. Surviving just on entrees seemed a real come down though to be honest it was a good job that we had to provide our own meals as we had eaten way too much the previous week. And I have to report that the food was very pleasant. Retired to the cabin where Joan had decreed that we needed a log fire, so who am I to disagree with that?

Sunday, September 2

Much as though we enjoyed Kenai Lodge and the facilities on offer, we weren't sure that there would be enough to interest us for the full day. However, that brought up an issue. The Lodge is just what it says, a wilderness lodge. You are a long way from anywhere and so finding alternative activities away from the Princess Tour Outfitters Desk is not easy. We're not horse riders and Joan's knee replacement advises against rafting so we plumped for a visit to Seward. Whether this was the best use of the day, I'm not sure, but there were a number of positives.

Straight off I have to praise our guide for the day, Bill Fort. He was, without doubt, the best guide we had throughout the whole trip and plied us with lots of interesting and worthwhile information.

Apart from an unscheduled loo stop and a stop at Tern Lake for photos against an almost mirror like flat lake surface, it was a pretty straight there trip in the morning. On the way we passed through a place called Moose Pass, and Bill was saying that he'd only ever seen moose there twice when, whoa, there's a moose calf! I was on the wrong side of the mini-bus, but Joan saw it from her side and was pleased to be one up in the wildlife stakes!

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