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Trip Report Loved our Alaska trip - June 4 - June 14, 2009. Thanks to you all

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in Jnauary of this year I posted our planned Alaska travel itinerary on the forum for, what I was sure would be, approval. Approval was not what I got and I am so grateful for the candid input I recieved from you all. With help from the forum we planned and had a great trip. Here is our trip report, hopefully in a nutshell.

Well, as I finish the writing it is not in a nutshell so I will summerize here so you don't have to read it all to get our impressions.

It was a great trip and for us a very successful and memorable trip. We were pleased with almost all of it. What we were not happy with was our own fault and actually wasn't that bad.

What we would do differently is we would go to Denali Park first. We planned Denali for the last three days as kind of a grande finale for our Alaskan Adventure. I think that by the time we reached Denali we had seen so much beauty and variety and what I can only call "Alaska" that the commercialization and crowds of Denali seemed mundane and superficial and urban, if that makes sense - other than the magnificient plane ride to the glacier and Mckinley - noted below. I think we would have apreciated the splendor of the park much more had we visited at the start of our trip and, and this is a biggie, had we not utilized the Princess system for our Denali lodging.

The Forum and its contributors helped so much. I also utilized Tripadvisor.com for lodging and activity referrals. I did not hesitate to contact the places we stayed for suggestions as to what we should see or do both in their area and on the way to them. We planned this trip for almost a year and it definitely and positively morphed from its original design to what it turned out to be.

Here we go:

Day 1: Flew into Anchorage in the late afternoon and picked up our rental explorer suv with no hassle and much efficiency on the part of the Hertz staff. AAA hertz gave us the best rate but I kept checking fees up to the last week and the price had come down over $200 from my initial reservation.

We tried to fill as much of the 23 hours of sunlight as we could, with activities and experiences. Often we were surprised to find it was 10 PM and we were still going strong. Sleeping in the daylight did not prove to be a problem.

We stayed at the Hawthorne Suites in Anchorage. It was clean, spacious, had a large hot breakfast and was close to downtown. The best thing the hotel offered was our first encounter with friendly and helpful Alaskans. We were only there one night but I would not hesitate to stay there again and for longer.

We deposited our luggage in our rooms and took off, on foot, to Downtown Bicycle Rental where we picked up bikes and rode the Tony Knowles Trail. We found the owner to be helpful but more attuned to experienced riders than novices. When you rent here, and I encourage you to do so, be sure to state your needs and if the bike is not totally to your liking, say so.

Duly bug sprayed and armed with a repair kit we took off. The ride was lovely and as physically challenging as we chose to make it. We saw territory we would not have seen from a car, encountered many smiling faces and this was amost my favorite part of the trip. It was a great way to get over travel fatigue and to get energized for the adventure ahead.

We tried to eat at Orso but an hour wait without reservations sent us across the street to a perfectly adequate Grill. Great Alaskan Ale.

Day 2 found us off to the Kenai Peninsula. Drove and stopped where we wanted along the way and made the Girdwood / Alyeska stop.

Enjoyed the tram ride and a hike on the Lower Winner Creek trail (trailhead at the base of the tram). One hiker remarked that he didn't know it was a hiking highway as the trail is almost paved for the first mile or so. After that it becomes more of a mountain trail hike. Beware of mountain bikers who disregard the "walk your bike" to the 0.7mile marker and who will come upon you without warning. I am a road biker so I might be prejudiced, but a simple - "Bikes coming" would be better than the sudden rush of 40 sets of spinning wheels which were upon us without warning.

We relaxed with refreshments on the resort lodge patio before continuing on to Portage Glacier. Laughed about and swatted at the giant mosquitos which we would laugh and swat at our entire trip. Yes, they are big.

Portage was our first glacier and a great introduction to this phenomenon.

The drive along Turnagain Arm was breathtaking. I kept hoping to see a whale but as the holligan had not run there were no whales. There were sheep on the mountain though.

The drive on the Kenai Peninsula was beautiful. Against the advice of you Forum advisors, we stayed three nights in Soldatna and used the town as our base for exploring the Peninsula. It worked for us. Our lodging was at the Kenai River Raven Lodge where we had the place almost to ourselves.

As we arrived at the lodge in the early evening, we checked in, deposited bags and got acquainted with the lovely lodge which is right on the Kenai River. Dick and Stevie, the owners, freely gave much apreciated suggestions and recommendations when ever asked and didn't mind when we monoplized their two 8 week old black lab puppies.
We ate the first night at a brick oven pizza place that is also a brewery, whose name escapes me but was delicious. Truly good food.

Day 3: The guys fished the next day and Dick got up with them at 4 AM, made them breakfast and drove them to their launch location. We 2 women slept in, had breakfast at 9, and wandered around the small town of Soldotna where we helped the local economy a bit at a quilt shop, gallery and local shoe store.

A drive to Kenai took we women to another fabric and quilt shop and to the lovely Russian Orthodox Church in the old town area. We had coffee at a small restaurant situated in an old and lovely building directly across from the church. Kenai was another highlight. Small, quite, historical. Beautiful.

Dinner was at a disappointing fish restaurant recommended by a guy who pulled up next to us at a traffic light. Should have gone to MIkels as Stevie and Dick recommended. The guys caught no salmon, by the way, only a steelhead which had to be thrown back.

Day 4 took us to Homer. While the drive down was lovely and we were able to see the smoke plume from Mt. Redoubt, Homer was less than we had anticipated. We drove out to the spit, saw the dollar bills on the ceiling at the Salty Dwag and had fish and chips and sat on the outside deck at a fish place. The boats in the harbor were beautiful and varied and we did see some very clever "art car" type mobile homes. One in particular was covered in wood siding. It was good to be outside but the area was a bit touristy for us. Perhaps we did not find the area of Homer that everyone talks about. I admit I did not research this area much.

Day 5 found us on our way to Seward but before having a delicious lunch at the Chinook restaurant in the Seward harbor we explored Exit Glacier. Lots of hiking, an almost bear sighting as one had been sighted on one of the higher hiking trails and rangers were on guard, and the chance to hike to the glacier moraine.

Our destination that day was Hatcher Pass but with the many hours of daylight we did not feel pushed or over driven. We switched drivers frequently and enjoyed the scenery, stopping when ever someone wanted to hike, view or rest.

Hatcher Pass Bed and Breakfast was underwhelming. We did have a cabin together so card games filled the evening but it was too far to go back into Palmer and we had brought no groceries so we ate underbaked pizzas from the convenience store across the street and tasty homemade brownies which were on the counter in the cabin. The eggs, sausage and breads provided for breakfast got us off to a good start the next morning.

Day 6's drive to the Independence Mine and subsequent exploration was magnificient. The site is well maintained and informational. We spent several hours wandering the buildings and surrounding mountain trails.

Evening found us at the remote Lake Louise Lodge located, apropriately, on Lake Louise. The lodge is a bed and breakfast, restaurant, bar, meeting site, relaxing, comfortable, full of interesting people both locals and travellers and one of our favorite stops. Wish we had scheduled a second day there but we made the most of our time by canoeing, sitting in the adirondak chairs on the lawn, swatting mosquitos, playing pool and waking up at 11:30 PM to watch the spectacular sunset over the lake.

Day 7 took us to Fairbanks. Along the way we stopped at Rika's Roadhouse for a little bit of history and lunch. We stayed at the Fairbanks Princess which was our entry into the Princess system. We enjoyed ourselves as we camped on a terrace dining area and enjoyed drinks and the river. We also did laundry. Staff was friendly and helpful.

Day 8 found us on the train to Denali. We had a table together in a dome car, had breakfast in the dining room below and enjoyed the beautiful country we were passing through. Our arrival at the Denali train station a little after noon, and transportation to the lodge was efficient.

After being on our own up to this point we were overwhelmed by the crowds of people in the Princess Wilderness Lodge lobby. It was not a happy experience for us and aparrently not for many of the people in the lobby either as most of the faces were set in that dull look you get when you are funnelled from activity to activity but would rather be doing something else. At dinner one night our waiter commented that vacations were supposed to be enjoyable so he was surprised to see so many unsmiling faces around the facility.

Our itinerary packet was wrong so we had to go to the "outfitters" desk where we were assured our itinerary was correct in the computer but we had to stand there while the woman called different places and visited different computer sites in order to assure that this did not happen to anyone else.

Our rooms were nice enough with good linens and clean bathrooms but I do not think the carpet had been vacumed yet this season.

As you can probably tell, we realized we could have done this part of the trip better by booking Denali lodging and rail travel outside of the Princess system. We had thought Princess would provide a luxury we would want after "roughing it" through Alaska but it turned out not to be so. What we had hoped would be the best experience of our trip turned out to be way less than expected. I don't know what we were thinking!

We had booked nothing with Princess other than the rooms and the train to Anchorage so in that respect our Denali visit was salvaged.

5:30 on the night of our arrival at the park we boarded a shuttle to the Healy airport where we donned glacier walking boots and boarded a DeHaviland Beaver fitted out for nine people. This was the highlight of our entire trip. We flew over the park, flew over magnificient mountains and glaciers, and viewed the great Mt. Mckinley both from the air and from a glacier where our plane landed. Amazing and worth it. All I can say here is "Do It!".

Our remaining two days at Denali were spent hiking, viewing the national park sled dog show, riding into and hiking both in and around the park, sampling local restaurants located in the glitter gulch area and in the Princess complex, talking with the young and old people on the Princess staff - they come from all over for this three or four month gig. And, most importantly enjoying the company of our travelling companions who are long time and beloved friends.

Day 10 Our last day at Denali and in Alaska was spent with a leisurely breakfast at the lodge, and an 8 hour train ride through varied topography to Anchorage. At the train station we recovered our luggage, found a cab and made our way to the airport for our return to our everyday lives.

Whew. Amazing!

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