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Alaska Trip Report -- Aug. 2021 -- Family of 4

Alaska Trip Report -- Aug. 2021 -- Family of 4

Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 04:50 AM
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Alaska Trip Report -- Aug. 2021 -- Family of 4

Trip report for an August 2021 adventure in Alaska with a family of 4 (8-year old boy, 6-year old girl).

Our original plan:
Day 1: Fly to Anchorage, Drive to Seward (Harborview Inn)
Day 2: Seward
Day 3: Seward-->Girdwood (Alyeska Resort)
Day 4: Girdwood
Day 5: Girdwood-->Denali (Denali Crow's Nest)
Day 6: Denali (Camp Denali)
Day 7: Denali
Day 8: Denali
Day 9: Denali-->Fly out of Anchorage

As you will see....these plans did change.

Day 1:
- Booked rental car through Priceline (Enterprise). Thanks Autoslash! Total cost for the rental car on the trip was just over 1400. Not ideal but also not horrible compared to the rates that were going > $2000 for much of the booking period. Ended up with a GMC Acadia which was perfect for our family. We ended up logging just over 1000 miles.
- 1st stop was the Fred Meyer near the airport to gather various food items, drinks, a cooler, etc for the days of driving.
- Lunch: Chicken Shack in Anchorage -- Nice, casual place. Kids enjoyed the brunch waffles. Would recommend.
- Drive to Seward was scenic as expected. Only stopped at one viewpoint. In retrospect, maybe should have stopped more to try and see any wildlife.
- Checked in the hotel.
- Harborview Inn: Simple hotel. Nothing fancy. We liked the location since it was an easy walk to the marina area and we like walking. If you want basic lodging and that's it, not a bad place.
- After checking in, walked to the marina to see how far for tomorrow's boat ride. Stopped at the Mermaid Grotto Cafe for a coffee/afternoon snack.
- Evening activity: Seaveys Ididaride Sled Dog Tours -- Highly highly recommend. Kids loved it. Guides were excellent, both in their presentation and in their interactions with the whole family. For our tour, there was our family, another family of four and 2 couples. So, they split us into two separate sled dog teams. We were with the other family of four. Takes you on a summer ride through their trail. Great to see how the dogs work together and work out. Then everyone got quality time meeting the dogs, petting them, etc. Definitely was a trip highlight.
Dinner -- Not overly hungry, we just grabbed some chowder at the Chattermark. Was not bad.

Next Post-- Day 2 in Seward aka "How Harrowing can a boat tour be?"
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 09:58 AM
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Nice Start, I am looking forward to finding out how harrowing it was.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 10:35 AM
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Look forward to reading more! We returned this morning from a fairly similar trip. If you're just back as we are, I have a guess as to why your plans changed...
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 11:15 AM
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Uh oh,....
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 02:21 PM
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Tuning in for that harrowing boat ride...
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 06:32 PM
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Harrowing boat ride to come...

Never been to Alaska but a book I'm reading right now says the name Alaska probably comes from the abbreviation of an Aleut word agunalaksh, which means "the shores where the sea breaks its back". The last six words being the book's title.

Looking forward to your, hopefully not back breaking, tale.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 07:10 PM
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Total cost for the rental car on the trip was just over 1400.
Aside: Comparing Iceland and Alaska (both 6 hour flights for me) as a summer 2021 destination I determined that Alaska was going to be more expensive so we went to Iceland instead. Will make it to Alaska when itís cheaper, so will be reading this post.

Last edited by tom_mn; Sep 2nd, 2021 at 07:18 PM.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 07:25 PM
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I'm looking forward to more.

I'm amazed that Alaska is more expensive than Iceland. I've heard Iceland is very expensive.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2021, 08:23 PM
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Looking forward to more! We did the Seavey sled dog visit when our daughter was 7. She loved it and got to hold some puppies!
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 05:58 AM
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Day 2 -- Seward

Main focus for the day was a boat tour. We had pre-booked the Major Marine 6 hour "Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise". Figured it was a good mix of wildlife + glaciers to keep everyone interested.

And on their website, they do say that the boat does goes into open waters where seasickness is possible, so we were prepared with Dramamine, Seabands, ginger, etc,. Walked from the hotel, again to the Mermaid Grotto for breakfast, and then just a couple minutes walk to the Harbor 360 Hotel to check in. At check-in, the monitors and the person checking us in were very clear that it was a stormy, choppy day and the seas will be rough. When we got on the boat, the captain repeated this and said it wasnt even clear if we would do the full itinerary but would see based on the conditions.

So we headed off from the dock. It was gray/rainy but calm waters in Resurrection Bay.

We did have our first (and only) whale encounter of the trip, seeing a humpback whale breathing and his tail going in and out of the water. So that was exciting. They thought we might see orcas as well during the trip but it was not to be in this case. Overall on the trip, we did see bald eagles, two types of puffins, sea lions, and a mountain goat.

Lunch was served -- better than you would expect. Most of us got the salmon sandwich + chips + apple + drink.

As we headed to the open water, the captain again announced for people to prepare for choppy waters and that our itinerary was subject to change. So, no one can blame the tour company for not communicating what was coming. But, they were not kidding on the choppiness. This wasn't gentle rocking in water but was a rollicking ride. And the crew did an amazing job of trying to keep everyone calm and breathing but there were multiple people that got sick. The captain did take us all the way through though as planned and to the calmer seas around the Holgate Glacier which was a nice experience to spend time in the calm waters observing the glacier that ends right at the water (a tidewater glacier). But, that also meant we needed to go back through those same rough waters. i think we were airborne at one point on the trip back. The kids were so tired from the first time through, they essentially slept through this return trip somehow. Even with other kids right by them just wailing after they got sick. Luckily for us, everyone in our family made it through unscathed.

So, in retrospect, did we make the right choice of boat tour:
- The wildlife was ok but maybe a little less than we were expecting. But not sure that is something that is really under their control.
- Seeing the glacier was nice but probably not worth going through that experience of the rough seas.
- The rough seas experience makes for quite the story but am just glad we escaped unscathed.

Taking that all together, I think if I had to do it again, I would opt for a shorter 3.5 hour tour that stays in the calmer waters of Resurrection Bay. But, having said that, I can also see us doing the longer 8 hour tour that goes farther out to a different glacier for even more wildlife. So, who knows what we will do if we ever return in the future.

For dinner, we headed to the Lone Chicharron Taqueira -- the tacos were excellent. You don't go to Seward for Mexican food but I actually definitely recommend this place as a change of pace from all the seafood. And then a scoop of ice cream at Sweet Darlings -- was ok, but didn't wow me.

Next up -- Day 3 -- aka "We Probably Should Have Accounted for Covid Testing in our Itinerary"
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 06:29 AM
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Uh oh...

Re the boat ride, having been on both the short Resurecction Bay cruise and the one to Northwestern Glacier, I also would repeat the Resurrection Bay one. To me, the NW glacier tour (which adds the seals on ice floes) was just too much time waiting for chunks of ice to drop, and more time speeding through open ocean. We did that this year (mid June with the other company, not my choice) and didn't see many whales and zero orca. And it was shortened to 7 hours this year, due to COVID, so less time to chase whale reports.

However we had really good sightings inside the Bay several years ago (early June). I'm not sure if your timing this year affected your bad luck with orca, or the rough seas. But glad none in your group were ill.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 06:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Songdoc View Post
I'm looking forward to more.

I'm amazed that Alaska is more expensive than Iceland. I've heard Iceland is very expensive.
Me too, maybe just car rentals? Iceland is eye-wateringly expensive. And poor value IME.

And no, no, no on that boat ride. Not for me. I get sick just looking at waves. Glad you were all unscathed.

Last edited by Melnq8; Sep 3rd, 2021 at 06:37 AM.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 07:02 AM
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For sure, car rentals were (and are) more expensive in Alaska but gas is about 4x more expensive in Iceland. We paid for our own meals this year in Alaska and I didn't find the prices particularly outrageous. I'm under the impression that food is much more expensive in Iceland, since everyone I know who went this year mentioned it.

Hotel rates this summer in Alaska were also inflated. Seems this was the year everyone needed to do a road trip to Alaska.

So possibly this year it was a wash between AK and Iceland, especially when you factor in exchange rates.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 08:25 AM
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We did the 8.5-hour Major Marine trip to Northwest Glacier a week ago today (Friday). Wildlife sighting was decent. We saw a few humpbacks, including one near our boat. Hard for me to judge that, as I had a whale experience off of Maui a few years back that will likely never be topped. Lots of porpoises, sea otters, lots of sea lions, seals on the ice near the glacier, puffins, eagles, etc. No orca, but we chatted the day before with someone who had been on the trip two days earlier and reported seeing "many." Sorry about the rough seas. Our cruise was reasonably calm, and we didn't spend that long in the "open" water. We started out in the rain, but it turned into a nice, sunny day.

Re: costs, our rental car was expensive, but I know this is an unusual year, and I've paid more than "normal" for cars in other US locations (Portland, Phoenix, Denver, etc.). Gas was expensive but not in the Iceland league. Our accommodations were in the range of what we usually choose to spend. Meals were maybe on the high end of our normal range but well below Iceland. Maybe I'll get around to writing a trip report, too
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 09:32 AM
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My Resurrection Bay cruise featured a pod of "bubble netting" humpbacks inside the Bay, which could have been viewed from the road to Lowell Point! We also had both the Migratory/predatory orca and the resident ones. As well as both puffins and the murre colonies on the stacks at the entrance to the bay. Luck, a good captain and not taking the detour to Fox Island probably helped.

We were far less impressed with the captain doing the Kenai Fjords trip to NW Glacier. His decision to wait, and wait, and wait so that we saw 4 or 5 different ice chunks fall, while droning on about history didn't set well with our group of wildlife enthusiasts.

Sea otters can usually be seen along the harbor also, no need to cruise for those.

Were you impressed by the glacier? I wasn't, but I suppose if it was anyone's first sight of a tidewater glacier it might be worthwhile. I think doing a cruise that includes Glacier Bay is a better option for that in Alaska (or go to Patagonia )

Last edited by mlgb; Sep 3rd, 2021 at 09:35 AM.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 10:42 AM
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I'm amazed that Alaska is more expensive than Iceland. I've heard Iceland is very expensive.
Briefly since this is off topic, Iceland costs are actual July 2021, Alaska costs were researched April 2021
Lodging: Iceland $170/night avg, Alaska $250 and up per night. (Both locations with private bath.)
Car: Iceland $88/day, Alaska $140/day
Airfare: Iceland $650, Alaska $850
Meals: Iceland same as CONUS, Alaska I have heard is more but I didn't research it
Supermarket items: Iceland same as CONUS, Alaska I have heard is more but I didn't research it
Gasoline: Iceland $25/day, this is the one cost lower in Alaska but it would only have saved about $100 per 1000 miles driven

I do think the US$ is stronger now than 5 years ago in relation to the Icelandic Crown.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 11:54 AM
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I'm not sure about your assumptions about food costs in Alaska. We generally paid $35 to $40 per person for dinner, including a beer and tips. Some items in the supermarkets around Anchorage were higher, but not by a huge amount. Supermarkets were higher in Nome, but our guide had a great location for our dinners, really excellent tempura dinner for the same or less than we would have paid here in Los Angeles.

https://www.menupix.com/menudirector...php?id=5300515

Your averages for lodging and car rentals look about right.
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 04:42 PM
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Day 3: Seward-->Girdwood

The plan:
- Start at the aquarium in Seward
- Lunch (somewhere)
- Leave Seward
- Stop/hike at Exit Glacier
- Stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC)
- Arrive Girdwood

We started with a walk to the Lighthouse Cafe and Bakery. The reviews on Yelp arent exactly stellar but that's largely because of people who didn't like the service. We found the service fine and the man behind the counter even gave the kids a free donut....but you need to be ready for a heavy dose of politics with your order We also stopped by (right across the street) at the Kenai Fjord National Park Visitor Center. At each National Park, the kids love the free junior ranger program which involves them completing some activities in an activity book and then being sworn in as junior rangers and getting a free pin. So, the kids picked up their activity books here.

After that, we headed to the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward (their aquarium). They have timed entry so we pre-bought tickets for when they opened. Getting those tickets the night before was not a problem. Compared to other aquariums we have been to, this one is fairly small/limited. But the kids enjoyed it, especially the apparently new hands-on area, touching sea cucumbers, starfish, etc. Worth going if you have free time to fill but i wouldn't orient your schedule around it.

At this point, we decided to re-jigger our schedule for the day. For Camp Denali, the kids needed a negative covid test that was within 72 hours of when we would be going. So, that eliminated our ability to do the testing at the Anchorage airport when we first arrived (spoiler alert: the covid testing at the Anchorage airport will re-appear in a future day's report....). Seward has a community clinic with free testing so after doing some calling around that seemed like the best option. But that was 2-3 in the afternoon, so we decided to fill the time between the aquarium and the clinic by heading to Exit Glacier for a quick hike.

The Exit Glacier parking lot was quite crowded but once out on the trails it wasnt bad at all. Before heading out on the trails, the kids had already done their activity books, so they were able to get their pins and get sworn in as junior rangers, as the visitor center here is connected as part of the Kenai Fjords National Park. We did the Glacier Overlook Trail. Kids had no problem with it. The signs indicating how far the glacier used to reach in past years sparked good discussion. Nice views of the glacier when we reached the end of the trail although it is not as close as it seems it used to be when you read older reports of people hiking to it.

After that, we headed back into Seward for the covid testing. We were surprised (we probably shouldn't have been) at the length of the car line for testing but we decided that we needed to get it done so we sat in line. To the health care worker's credit, they dealt with everyone, even after it was past the time the clinic was supposed to end. So, the kids got tested and never had to leave the car.

But by this time we were both hungry (had not had lunch yet) and we wouldn't make it to AWCC in time anyway, so we decided to move visiting AWCC to tomorrow. Not sure what to do for lunch, we started driving around and came across a food cart (Side Street Locals) that looked interesting so we decided that would be quick. Turned out to be a good choice. Largely reindeer sausage plates in different forms. Was quick, inexpensive, and tasty. Good for a quick bite.

Back on the road after that and headed to Girdwood to check in at the Alyeska Resort. After checking in and relaxing for a bit, we didnt want to head out for dinner, so had Japanese-eque food at Sakura in the hotel. Was fine but nothing stellar/memorable in my opinion.

As we left though, i checked the email on my phone and saw the mail that would cause our Denali plans to get completely shaken up...

Next report -- Day 3.5 aka "What do we do now?
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 05:19 PM
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Uh oh...

You sure do know how to leave us hanging...
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Old Sep 3rd, 2021, 05:31 PM
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> i think we were airborne at one point on the trip back.

That qualifies a rough seas in my book. Nice report, thanks.
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