Alaska Inside Passage : 2019 Trip Report

Oct 8th, 2019, 07:12 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Alaska Inside Passage : 2019 Trip Report

This is our most delayed Trip Report ever, being penned a full 3 months after our return from Alaska. This was our second trip to Alaska – the first being in July 2012, when we did the South Central portion of Alaska : Anchorage, Seward, Matanuska, Talkeetna, Denali, Fairbanks etc. It was our best trip ever, and we were determined to return to Alaska to do the Inside Passage. We had not taken a cruise ship the last time, and were determined to avoid cruise ships this time too. A family which hails from Alaska, and had been our neighbours in India at one time, helped us plan this trip.

We are a couple in our early 60’s, who are voracious travellers of the independent kind. We were being joined on this trip by our 32-year old son, who lives in New York. After much research and consultation on this site and by our acquaintances, we zeroed down to 3 destinations : Juneau, Skagway and Sitka. My Trip Reports are normally quite detailed and lengthy, but for once I did not maintain diary notes, and my memory is fading with the elapse of 3 months ! Better late than never. Here goes the Trip Report, in several instalments.

Day 1 : Thursday, July 4th :

We had selected the 4th July long weekend as the start date of our tour, to make it a bit easier for our son to take fewer days off from work. It was to be a long long travel day. First the 3-hour drive from our home city to Mumbai late in the night on 3rd July, reaching Mumbai around midnight. Smooth check-in on Emirates Business class, and a relaxed rest at their lounge. Then boarded the flight at 4:30 am, to ride the short 3-hour flight to Dubai, reaching at 6am Dubai time. Enough time to freshen up and have a sumptuous breakfast at their Business Lounge. Then boarded our next Emirates flight departing 10 am, for the long haul to Seattle.

I enjoy Emirates Business class travel immensely. The seats are the best in class with respect to privacy and comfort, and the food and service is impeccable. The flight of 14.5 hours went by comfortably, with sleeping, eating, drinking and movie watching. Was quite rested when we arrived at Seattle at 1:15 pm in the afternoon (12.5 hours behind Indian time). The immigration wait at Seattle was the worst I have experienced in any country at any time. We were made to wait standing in a narrow corridor for over 90 minutes, before being let into the immigration hall. Even third world countries have better immigration facilities. Anyway, we were finally done, retrieved our luggage, re-booked them on Alaska Airlines for our next flight to Juneau, and finally met up with our son who had arrived a couple of hours earlier.

We had a lot of time to kill, before our next flight at 8 pm. Seattle airport is not the best place to spend that much time ! We sauntered around a bit, and then had a meal (don’t know whether to call it lunch or dinner). Finally boarded our final flight to Juneau, reaching there 9:30 pm local time (another hour behind Seattle time). We called up the hotel, who sent their complimentary shuttle. The hotel was just a few blocks away – Best Western Grandma’s Featherbed Inn. The hotel was really nice, with rooms being quite spacious. We checked in, had a shower, popped our Melatonin pills, and crashed into bed.

indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 07:42 AM
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Day 2 : Friday, July 5th :
Woke up well rested, and had a great breakfast at the hotel. We called a Lyft taxi, which dropped us at the Visitors Center of the Mendelhall Glacier. It was an unusually warm day, with the temperature around 28 C (I am not exaggerating). No warm clothes were required, and even a normal shirt felt a bit hot. We walked up the steps of the Visitors Center. Unfortunately, there was a bit of haze in the air, which locals attributed to some heavy forest fires blazing elsewhere in Alaska. The haze detracted from the clarity of the views and the photographs, but there was nothing we could do. The glacier itself was majestic, and the views would have been better if the haze had not existed.

We took a short walk to the Photo Point, and next to the Nugget Falls. Lovely views, and felt great to be back in the pristine wilderness of Alaska. After having our fill of photographs, we walked back to the Visitors Center, saw their exhibits, and called for another taxi to take us back.

We asked the taxi to drop us in downtown area, at the Alaska State Museum. The museum was great, giving a nice illustration of various tribes of Alaska, including their culture, tapestry, tools and totem poles. However, we are not much of the museum variety, and we were exhausted in less than 90 minutes.

We went to the Wharf building on the waterfront, and had some beer and some lunch. It was a nice setting, with floatplanes taking off nearby every now and then. After lunch and some loitering on the wharf, it was time to take our Flightseeing tour of Juneau Icefields. We had booked in advance for the Wings Airways floatplane tour starting at 4 pm. It was our first ever flight on a floatplane, and it was fun to take off from the water. The flight was lovely, lasting about 45 minutes, flying over multiple glaciers with jaw-dropping views. Once again, the haze in the air came in the way of great photographs. Very enjoyable nevertheless.

After the flight, we strolled on the waterfront, then walked back into the downtown area, popping in and out of stores. After a lot of loitering, ice-cream eating, coffee drinking, we finally settled into a Mexican restaurant for a nice dinner. Can’t remember the name, but I think it was El Sombrero or something. Food was decent, and we ate heartily. Then a taxi back to our hotel, where we retired to bed.
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:13 AM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Mendenhall Glacier
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:15 AM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Flightseeing on Juneau Icefield
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:17 AM
  #5  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Juneau Icefield from above
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:34 AM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Day 3 : Saturday, July 6th :
Today was supposed to be a more relaxed day, with fewer activities. This was fine by us, as one of the objectives of this trip was to spend quality time with our son. Today we got up quite leisurely, and slowly consumed the great hot breakfast which the hotel dished up. Each progressive day was mildly cooler than the previous day, which was nice, because we had not travelled to Alaska to experience an Indian summer.

Once again we took a taxi from the hotel, this time to the Mt Roberts Tramway embarkation point. There was not much of a queue, and our tickets were quickly purchased. A nice gondola ride to the mountain top, where we first watched a nice movie in their auditorium with panoramic scenery. Then we took the hiking trails recommended by the Visitors Center, and loitered around the mountain top. The views were lovely, and the waterfront was extremely picturesque. The views as you climb the mountain get better, although the views from the Viewing platform are not bad. We must have strolled around for over an hour, followed by window shopping in their souvenir shop. Finally, we came back down, and once again went to the Wharf building for lunch.

We had been advised to undertake a self-walking tour of the abandoned Treadwell Mines (defunct gold mine), which was on the other side of the river. Took a taxi across the bridge, and it dropped us at the start of the trailhead. We walked around the trail for over an hour, but were quite lost. The signages were extremely poor, or rather non-existent, and it was very confusing as to which direction we should be taking at every fork in the road. Did not see any other tourists, and gathered that this was not a very popular place for visitors. Finally we gave up, walked back to the trailhead, and took a taxi back to our hotel

It was early, so we just took some rest, and decided to have dinner at the hotel itself. They cooked a pretty decent meal, and we just lounged around the hotel, ate dinner, and talked. It was nice to just sit around and do nothing.
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:36 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

View from Mt Roberts peak
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:53 AM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Day 4 : Sunday, July 7th :
This was our last day at Juneau, and we were scheduled to take a day trip to Glacier Bay. This involved getting up very early, and taking the hotel shuttle to the airport, where we boarded a 5:30 am flight of Harris Air to Gustavus. We three were the only ones on the small aircraft, and we alighted at Gustavus in 30 minutes. We had used a local guide at Gustavus to do our cruise booking, and he arrived at the airport to receive us.

We drove with him to the Glacier Bay Lodge, which organizes the cruise to Glacier Bay. Nice hotel, and we had enough time to have a hearty breakfast. Next, we had to take a short walk to the cruise boat, and we managed to get good seats. It was an 8-hour cruise, with lunch served on-board, taking us to various points in Glacier Bay. We saw a lot of wildlife on the way, notably puffins, otters, sea lions, and a few brown bears on shore. The high point was the long pause right in front of a large tide-water glacier. Small glacier calving activity was visible. Once again, a heavy haze in the air, which marred the views. Would have been a spectacular trip if the air was clearer.

We returned to Gustavus at 3:30 pm, and after a short while, the hotel’s shuttle dropped us back to the airport. Had some coffee and soda at the airport terminal (if you can call it a terminal !!), until we boarded our 6 pm Harris Air flight back to Juneau. This time we had two more passengers, and we were back before 6:30.

We went straight to our hotel, as were too tired to venture back into town. Once again we had dinner at the hotel, and retired to bed.
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:56 AM
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Calving Tide-water Glacier
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 08:57 AM
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Vistas at Glacier Bay
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 09:01 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,767
Just started your report and will have to come back later to catch up . . . just wanted to say I always enjoy your TRs and this one is bound to be wonderful too. A big advantage to the 'New and improved' Fodors is we can now post photos!

(You two DO get around )
janisj is online now  
Oct 8th, 2019, 09:13 AM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Hi janisj . Nice to bump into you again - we have interacted on this forum several times.

"You two DO get around "
Yes, the world is huge, and life is short. So many places to visit, and so little time that we have on this planet !!
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 8th, 2019, 03:41 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 9,452
I am enjoying your report. Thank you!
MichelleY is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 02:05 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,787
<
(You two DO get around )>>

Exactly what I was going to say, JJ.

great to see another TR from you, Indiancouole, especially as ideas of visiting Alaska are formulating in my brain for a few years time.

Loving the fact that we can see your photos too - a real advance.

and I share your pain about US immigration, though my misery at DC's Dulles Airport last month only lasted about an hour. Although we were at least in the immigration hall the organisation was chaotic and i was unlucky enough to get behind a party of about 7 who as well as having their photos and finger prints taken seemed to be getting the immigration officer's life history. Coming in by train from Canada last year was much easier.

Looking forward to your next instalment!
annhig is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 03:52 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 5,875
Great start to your TR, Indiacouple. I'm sorry for the haze, but your pictures are great in any case.
emalloy is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 08:26 AM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Day 5 : Monday, July 8th :
Today was to be essentially our travel day, from Juneau to Skagway. We wanted to experiment with different modes of transport, and had booked the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system for this leg of the journey. We were told that the State run “cruise” boats were very scenic, and that this leg was particularly beautiful. We were booked on a ship departing Juneau’s Auke Bay at 7:15 am, so we had to be up early, and reached the boarding point on time. We had booked a cabin also, to stow our luggage and have a place to rest, and I realized that this was a good decision – very small extra price for a lot of comfort.

The ship was actually quite nice, and the dining facilities were much more than our expectations. Very good vantage points to stand and watch the scenery go by. We had breakfast on board, and loitered around the ship, looking at the mountains go by. Unfortunately, the haze was at its worst on this day, and I can only imagine how beautiful it would have been otherwise. When tired, we rested in our private cabin, then went back for lunch in their restaurant. Finally, we docked at Skagway at 2:15 pm.

We called the hotel, who sent their shuttle to pick us up. As we drove into town, we immediately fell in love with Skagway town. The entire town was preserved in a vintage 1930’s look about it – like the wild west in days of yore. Very pretty – touristy no doubt – but we were tourists after all. A very small town, about 8 blocks long and 3 blocks wide ! We reached our hotel – the Westmark Inn. Pretty nice place, and right in the centre of all the action.

We rested awhile, and then spent the rest of the evening just loitering about the cute town. Walked in and out of stores, had icecreams, popcorn, and kept clicking pictures. Great place for wandering. Yes there was a fair amount of cruise day-visitors, but with passage of time they all departed back to their cruise ships, and the town was a lot quieter and nicer. We had a round of beer at a nice pub, and dinner at a Thai restaurant. Then back to our hotel for the night.
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 08:29 AM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Skagway town
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 08:32 AM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Another look at Skagway
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 09:06 AM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141
Day 6 : Tuesday, July 9th :
Today was to be the high point of the entire trip – an action packed day. We got up early, and went out for breakfast, as it was not included in our hotel rates. Today were booked on a helicopter ride to a glacier top, where we were supposed to do dog-sledding on ice. We were really excited. While we were completing our breakfast, there was a call from the TEMSCO helicopter company, stating that they were calling off their morning helicopter tour due to bad weather. We were crestfallen. However, they said that if weather cleared up, they might be able to fly at 12:30 pm (instead of 9:15 am), if we wished to take a chance. We were all ready to take a later flight, and promised to check with them later.

There was nothing to do but while away the next two hours loitering in the town, and praying for good weather. There was no further call from the helicopter company, and the weather seemed to be getting better. We landed up at the helipad at about 11:30 am, and to our delight, they promised to fly us at 12:30 pm. We were suitably outfitted for the adventure at their terminal, and a short while later we were airborne in the helicopter.

The pilot told us that he would take a particularly scenic route flying up to the glacier, and he lived up to his promise. The views were jaw-dropping, and we felt an adrenaline rush as we crossed wonderful snow-clad mountains and lovely valleys. Finally, we landed on a large glacier, and as we stepped off, it seemed as if we had arrived in Heaven. The scenery was to die for, and it was hard to stop clicking the camera.

We understood that the team sets up camp on the glacier top for a full 3-4 month period. About 250 Alaskan huskies live there for the entire summer, each with its own private portable kennel. Larger tents house the humans, who also live there with the dogs. The humans come down once every 10-12 days for a shower and rest, and then go back up again. They keep the place in pristine condition, and every bit of scrap and poop is all collected in trash bags and brought back down in helicopters, so as to not pollute the glacier. Very impressive.

After a brief orientation at the top, we were led to our sled and our musher tied about a dozen huskies to our sled. The dogs were itching for the exercise, and they barked loudly, wanting to be picked for the journey ! After that, off we went. My son and I took turns at standing at the rear of the sled, pretending to be the musher – of course the actual marshalling was done by the experienced musher. It was a great sled ride, about a couple of kilometres, through pristine scenery. Never seen anything so beautiful, and this will remain as one of the WOW moments of my life.

After the sled ride, we were taken to meet the puppies. First the puppies who were 3-4 months old, and finally to the new born pups, who had yet to open their eyes. We held those cute little things lovingly, while their mother kept a sharp vigil on our behaviour ! All good things have to end, and soon it was time to return. Reluctantly, we boarded the helicopter for the return journey. The return route was not as scenic, but we had had our fill.

Back in Skagway, we ate a quick lunch, as we had to board a scenic train – the White Pass & Yukon Railroad for the Summit excursion, departing at 3:15 pm. We were told that they have a longer trip to Lake Bennett, which is prettier, but that involved crossing over into Canada – this meant getting a Canadian visa for us, which we did not wish to take for such a short excursion. Hence we had booked the Summit excursion, which remained within US borders.

The train journey was undoubtedly scenic, and relaxing, with nothing to do but to sit inside an antique train, and watch the scenery go by. It was nice, but slightly anti-climactic after what we had experienced in the morning. Some old dilapidated bridges that we crossed by were particularly pretty. We returned to Skagway around 6 pm. Had some drinks and a quick dinner somewhere (have forgotten the names of most eateries by now !). We were booked for the “Days of 98 Show” at 8 pm – a live show depicting the days of the gangster Soapy Smith who had once wreaked havoc in this town. It was a nice show, and quite enjoyable, and I would recommend it to every visitor at Skagway. Finally, back to our hotel and into bed. A great day, that we will never forget.
indiancouple is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 09:10 AM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,141

Aboard the helicopter, enroute to glacier top
indiancouple is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:22 PM.