Day 6: Scenic Cruising & Hubbard Glacier

Day 6 started off ROUGH. Woke up with a bit of a hangover and the swaying of the boat left me with this feeling of someone swinging my ankles side to side as I laid in bed. We went to breakfast, tried not to vomit and came back to the room for a couple minutes to change and head to the gym.

This was our roughest day at sea. I attempted to run on the treadmill but couldn’t!  I kept getting thrown about, so I had to settle for speed walking while holding onto the sides lol  After that lousy warmup we hit some weights.

Princess had a “passport” to get yourself familiarized with the ship and get stamps at different locations to hand in to fin a bunch of stuff at a raffle. So after the workout, I got the rest of my stamps and headed to the theatre where they were supposed to do the raffle.  Except they pull 1 name for ever 15 excruciating minutes of presentation about shopping. We were in the very front of the ship in very rough waters.  I was committed to winning something, but I may have vomited all over everyone in front of us. So much to Tim’s happiness, I called it quits and we met the rest of the family at the back of the boat for Bingo.

We had some buffet lunch and proceeded to the Piazza where they had horse racing! It was a fun, cheesy game, played with three dice that are rolled.  There are 6 horses (attached to wood pedestals) and whatever numbers are rolled on the die, the corresponding horse moves across the board. For example, the dice rolled are 3, 4 & 6. So Horses 3, 4, & 6 would each move one. The next roll is two 1’s and a 2, so horse 1 would move two spaces, and horse 2 would move one space. They used volunteers to move the horses, so naturally, I was up there. My horses name was Hoof Art, which sounds like Who Fart, and kept everyone laughing a good long while. You can bet money on horses before the start of each race.

After the horse racing we had mimosas and made our way over to Explorer’s Lounge for some Afternoon Trivia, which we placed third in. Then it was time to get ready for our first Formal Dinner of the cruise.

During this time we were also sailing through very icy waters up to Hubbard Glacier.  It was hard to get ready because there was a MASSIVE glacier out our window that kept distracting us :)

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From the NPS:

It is 76 miles long, 7 miles wide, and 600 feet tall at its terminal face (350 feet exposed above the waterline and 250 feet below the waterline).   The glacier is currently advancing (last 100 years), while most Alaskan glaciers are retreating (95%).  This is not in contradiction with global temperature increases. The Hubbard Glacier will advance during times of warmer climate and retreat during time of colder climates. The current rate of advancement is approximately 80 feet per year.

While observing the glacier, we saw a massive calving (The breaking off of a chunk of ice).  This glacier routinely calves chunks of ice the size of three story buildings, and I am more than certain, that is what we saw. The wave it created must have been massive, but because of our distance, we didn’t even feel it when it finally approached.

After fancy dinner, we went to karaoke, where my SIL made it through to the Pop Princess Finals! Woohoooo!!  lol  We all had a great time there. Then we kept with habit, and drank everything we could, gambled and finished off with the most amazing Cuban Sandwiches from International Cafe!

Stay Tuned for Day 7!

xo Renee

Day 5 – Train to Whittier & Boarding the Cruise Ship!

Woke up, headed to Black Bear Coffee shop, to get a mocha and a blueberry muffin and headed to the train depot.  The train is a two-level, glass-top train.  There is an observation deck, bar and dining room in each car.  The views are very scenic on the train.  We are passing through two different mountain ranges that was carved out by a glacier. The train ride was 9 hours long.  We were told it would be the toughest part of the trip, however, it wasn’t that bad!  We split the time up nicely, writing/reading, walking through the train cars and spending time on the very back observation deck (which was quite a hike since we were in the first car!), we ate two meals in the dining car, spent some time in the lounge area with my laptop plugged in and watched some episodes of Community.

Glass Top Train, Alaska

Credit: Justine, my SIL & Travel Companion :)

Alaska Glass Top Train

One incredibly rare occurrence that happened on the train was our commute time happened to line up perfecting with the Bore Tide during a full moon returning to the Turnagain Arm in Cook Inlet.  A bore tide is huge, and this is  one of the biggest in the world.  It occurs when a high tide collides with an outgoing tide in a narrow channel.  Waves can reach 10 ft tall and move upstream at 10-15 mph. This is the only bore tide in the far north, and the only surrounded by mountains, and its extremely accessible. The main road runs right along its length for 40-50 miles and the train tracks run right next to the road! Surfers sit and wait, ready and perched for their one chance to catch the way and ride as long as possible.  Most fall and are done for the day.  Some have paddles and if they fall can sped forward to try and get in front of the wave again for a second chance. Our train slowed and we were able to watch the failure and success of the surfers as they went for miles alongside us as the bore tide came in.

Bore Tide - Turnagain Arm

After experiencing the bore tide, we entered 2 tunnels to bring us into Whittier, Alaska. The Portage Tunnel cuts through Maynard mountain and is the only land access to town. We heard a story of a police chase where the runaway car went through the tunnel and really made the cops jobs easy because he was now trapped in the small town of Whittier with no other way out.  The Portage tunnel is 13,300 feet long and is the second longest highway tunnel and longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America. Once we exited the tunnel, we caught the first glimpse of our Cruise Ship, The Crown Princess! 

Crown Princess Cruise Ship

She’s the biggest cruise ship aloud in the Alaskan Inner Passage and holds over 3,000 passengers.  This was the first time T or I had ever been on a cruise, so it was very exciting for both of us! We quickly got check in and made it to our rooms.  H & J had their own room, T & I and our own room, which shared a balcony, and Hob was a floater who sometimes didn’t come back to the room at all.  Parents had their own suite at the very back of the ship.  We made our way to their room where their steward greeted us with champagne, a big bowl of fruit, and a platter of chocolate covered strawberries. It was ridiculous lol.

Our family decided on purchasing the All Inclusive Drink Package.  It was $49 per day, per person, and you had to purchase for the entire trip. I.E, it was roughly $400 a person. This included coffee, tea, juice, milkshakes, water and all alcohol. But OMG did we drink as much as possible!  So that first night included a lot of whiskey! And boy did I feel it the next day on the roughest day at sea.

xo R

Day 4: Denali Tundra Wilderness Tour

We worked out first thing in the morning (Which I will post for this week’s Work-It Wednesday!), had a delicious buffet breakfast and were ready to go on the Denali Tundra Wilderness bus tour!

Our travels inside Denali National Park captured just how vast Alaska is. Pictures cannot do it justice and I’m surely not descriptive enough to have my words paint you a picture, but my god, everything is so far away. The visibility is great and you can see so much and so far that your mind can’t even quantify it.  The valleys and meadows are massive, the huge rushing rivers only look like little capillaries and brooks. The gigantic, 1,800 pound moose, which appear to be just outside the bus window, are hardly visible unless you have a camera with 15x Optical Zoom.

Alaska Moose Comparison

Here is an example of being zoomed out and zoomed in as far as I could. Surely enough, there’s nearly a 2,000 pound majestic creature sitting in the brush.

 

 

Vast Denali National Park

T wishing he was R. Kelly. Don’t worry, those little foothills you see in the back are only like 3,000 ft high. Compare that to Denali’s 20,320 ft and try not to shit your pants.

The park is 6 million acres. Which is about 9,500 square miles. Which is bigger than New Hampshire (9,351 sq miles), and almost as big as Massachusetts (10,555 sq miles). A quote I heard and loved was, “The bear you don’t see might be a bear that’s never seen a human. And that’s only possible in a place this large and wild.”

Mt McKinely and Bear Denali National Park

One of my favorite shots that I captured. Denali and a grizzly.

The ecosystems are interestingly balanced as well.  The snowshoe hare can reach population densities of 600 per square mile (Yes, that’s over 5.5 million bun-buns). This dense population leads to more Lynx (their main predator) and lower food sources. Therefore, the population will crash and both species rise and fall together in 8 to 11 year cycles. 

The tour took about 8 hours.  Packed full school bus for 8 hours? Nothing about it seemed appealing at first.  To be honest, it was one of my favorite parts of the trip (I have so many favorites).  

Passenger cars and buses can only access the first 15 miles of the park that is open to the general public. We traveled a full 62 miles into the park! The private access portion of the park is unpaved and only accessible by tour buses, bicycles or by foot. This keeps park attendants supervised and wild nature disruption to a minimum. 

During the 8 hour tour, we saw 2 Moose, 2 Grizzly Bears, 1 Black Bear, a lot of Caribou and other wildlife like birds and squirrels. We encountered a mom and baby caribou on the road back and they didn’t want to get off the road, so we followed them for about 15 minutes. 

Mom and baby Caribou Denali

Bear Denali National Park

Wet Grizzly, crossing the river (Same one that was in front of Denali)

Squirrel Denali National Park

SQUIRREL! They look different in Alaska

Probably the biggest highlight of this Tundra Wilderness Tour was we FINALLY got to see a decently clear Mt. McKinley! The temptation was really building since we only got to see bits of and pieces of it through the clouds until finally seeing the whole mountain in one large view.  We were about 35 miles from the base of it, and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  This is my favorite picture I took. It looks like an oil painting.  This was taken at our turnaround point. Stony Dome, Mile 62.

Mt McKinley Denali National Park Stony Dome Hill

Since the park has only one road in and out, it was the same path back.  We got to see lots of additional animals, but the initial “hype” had passed and many of us took a nice little nap during a portion of the 62 miles out of the park.  

Once we arrived back at Denali Princess Lodge, we grabbed pizza at the on-site restaurant.  After dinner, we walked across the street to the season town and grabbed a six pack and a couple of bombers of some Alaskan craft beers and headed back to the hot tubs where we drank in open-air hot tubs overlooking the beautiful views of the Nananee River. 

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My SIL and Brother (J & H) and my other Brother, Hobey

This was our last full day on land. On Day 5, we boarded a glass top train and rode 300 miles south to our cruise ship.

xo R

 

Day 3: Iditarod Sled Dogs, Talkeetna, & Denali Princess Lodge

Day 3’s morning excursion was one of the highlights of the trip. The entire trip was amazing, but this definitely stands out. 

We woke up, grabbed a parfait and some coffee at the lodge coffee shop and boarded the shuttle to the town of Talkeetna. From there we checked in at Kahiltna Bistro and took a smaller van back to Sun Dog Kennels.

The dogs were so high strung.  There was a brief introduction and then our first activity was to get pulled on an ATV by 15 Iditarod Sled Dogs! The owner of the farm, Jerry Sousa, has run in the Iditarod 12 times and is signed up for his 13th this March!  It was amazing to watch the temperament changes as the owners were choosing the 15 dogs to be picked for our short 5-mile ride. They wanted it SO BAD. The barking was boisterous with jealousy as some were picked and others weren’t. There was over 50 dogs there. Almost all of them running in circles on their short tethers around their little houses that had their names on them. Others jumped up to stand on their houses. 1 or 2 were a little scared of people, so they sat quietly in their homes, looking at us suspiciously.

 Sun Dog Kennels Talkeetna Alaska Sled Dogs

The more dogs they chose, the louder the barking got as they were PLEADING to be chosen to pull the ATV.  We weren’t aloud to interact with the dogs during this first bit because of how high strung they were and how unpredictable they can be at this time.  When 14 dogs were chosen and there was only one more, the barking was at its loudest.  It was deafening.  The moment the owner picked the 15th dog, the barking just about seized completely and there were no peeps from the dogs. It was the most bizarre thing. They knew their chance was up and they’d have to wait for the next ride.  The course was split in half to let everyone ride; 2.5 miles each. It was an amazing experience to be right behind them, being pulled through the forest.  My SIL said, “Is this what Santa Claus feels like?” lol.  

Sun Dog Kennels Talkeetna Alaska Sled Dogs

H& J Getting pulled during the first 2.5 miles

When we returned to the farm, The dogs were wiped and covered in water and mud.  We got to pet the dogs and praise them for their good work.  They were absolute dolls; rolling on their backs for tummy rubs, loving all the attention.  Next, we got an explanation of the Iditarod from the runner himself and he shared his experiences with us.  For those of you that don’t know, the Iditarod is a dog sled race, that is appx. 1,100 miles long, and takes about 11 days, therefore, they run about 100 miles a day. 

The training for the dogs is pretty exemplary. Their goal is to get 3000 miles logged on each dog before the Iditarod.  They start training in the late summer, starting with 5 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles per day, all the way up to 100 miles.  They start training the yearlings (the younger pups) and pair them up with the older dogs to learn from their wisdom and experience.  I learned that the dogs race almost their entire lives.  The dogs don’t retire from pulling until they are about 10 years old. Which blows my mind because thoroughbreds will only race until about 5 years old, if that, and their life span can reach 25-30 years. 

We also got to play with husky PUPPIES!! They were soft and adorable and fluffy and it was amazing :) 

After leaving Sun Kennel Farms, we walked around the small town of Talkeetna, which consisted of mostly pubs, bars and gift shops. It didn’t take us more than 30 minutes to walk the entire town and go in most stores. Very small. We made our way back to Kalhitna Bistro for lunch where I had the Reindeer Chili, which was absolute to die for. 

We headed back to Mckinley Princess Lodge, played a game of Farkle, desperately waited to see if Denali would make an appearance from behind the clouds, and boarded a bus to get to Denali Princess Lodge.  Once at Denali Princess Lodge, we did a 12 minute HIIT workout (Which I just posted for this weeks WORK-IT WEDNESDAY!, Read why I LOVE HIIT, HERE!) and the went to a dinner theater show! It was very corny and hokey, but thats what you expect in a dinner theater.  It was a lot of fun and the food was great!  I was just about falling asleep by the end of it from pure exhaustion, so it was straight to bed after that and preparing for the next day in Denali!

xo R

Day 2: Hiking Lake Byers

After arriving at Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the bar and prepared for our afternoon hike. 

McKinley Princess Lodge is beautiful! It’s unique for many ways. For one, it can show you one of the greatest views of Denali. However, only an estimate 40% of the guests will see it because of the pesky clouds it almost constantly hides behind. Denali stands at 20,320 ft, so it is hard to miss. With so many surrounding foothills and peaks within view, and all of us so eager to lay eyes on it, we thought we saw Denali a couple times.  However, we were told, “If you are unsure if you are looking at it, it’s not Denali.”  In addition to a traditional “Wake-up Call”, the lodge offers a “Mountain Call”. Someone is always on the look for the mountain, and when it comes into view, they will call all the rooms so you can get a chance to view the peak! We didn’t get a chance to see the peak while at the lodge, but it showed itself to us in the near future.  

McKinely Princess Lodge Night View

Mt. McKinley hiding behind the clouds

Another way its super unique is Princess Cruises created these lodges to expand their business onto the land before or after cruises. The lodges are only in operation from May through September.During the season (May-September) Princess employees and houses about 2,000 employees.  On September 21st, the employees drop to 30. Just a couple people at each lodge to stay back and make sure all is well…..AKA The Shining. NO THANKS. There are entire towns in function because of the lodges.  Signs on the road ways say “All Services May-Sept, 2 Miles Ahead”. People bring their RVs and park them behind the coffee shops, gift shops, ice cream parlors, gas stations, and live there for 4 months, working in the shops all day before returning home during the off-season. 

One thing I love about the summer months in Alaska is the length of the days due to the crazy amount of sunlight.  The sun rises around 4am and sets around 11pm. We were able to go on an evening hike from 2-8 pm around Lake Byers. I was originally not interested in hiking with a tour guide, but he was truly awesome. First, he prepared us with all the proper gear, equipping us with rain coats, pants, boot covers, hiking poles, hats, and anything we needed.  I opted for the rain pants, and am very glad I did, walking the brush and mud, I would have ended up incredibly wet and muddy.  

Lake Byers Alaska

Our guides name was Will, and he was extremely knowledgable.  I learned a lot while hiking 5-6 hours with him. The trails were lined with wild blueberry plants.  They were delicious, and we ate copious amount along the way.  Another plant we learned about was called the wild cucumber.  It looks like a little reddish-pink jelly bean hanging from some leaves. Its squishy.  It tastes like the perfect combination of watermelon and cucumber.  Refreshing! 

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Lake Byers is a salmon spawning area.  We saw all sorts of salmon in different parts of their life cycle. We learned a lot about the plants, birds, fish and wildlife during the hike. It was a beautiful day with only minimal rain, a short 5-10 minute drizzle towards the very end. 

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This entire bridge is tilted at least 30 degrees to the right. Its extremely sketchy!

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After the hike, we had dinner at the Lodge Restaurant, aptly named Twenty Three Twenty (20,320) which is the height of Denali. We had some great laughs during that dinner. My dad and I were crying over the silliest things. I think we were becoming delirious because of too much oxygen, not enough sleep, time zone change, and good beers. After our late dinner, we got ready for the next day!

xo R

 

Wait, Post-Vacation Blues are actually a thing?

I literally googled, “that sad feeling after you get home from vacation” lol.  Along with my travel companion, many other people experience this sensation.  You mean other people also feel this emptiness after an amazing life experience has concluded? Who woulda thunk it?

12 days felt like 12 weeks, in the best way possible. It feels like we woke up from a dream.   Where was I? What was I doing before we left? Why was I doing it?  I’m finding it difficult to just pick back up in this semi-monotonous (beautiful) life we have. Not that it’s at all boring, but compared the the adventurous we’ve had in Alaska, its not the same.

I look out my windows and see the wrong things. I yearn to see the Alaskan Landscapes. The Valley needs more mountains. T woke up in the middle of the night confused where he was.  I wanted to pay for my groceries with my cruise card!

Mt McKinely and Bear Denali National Park

I’ve started going through the 75 GBs of footage we’ve collected over the 12 days. It makes me homesick, well, vacation-sick I guess….but it feels like homesickness.  We jammed everything we could into a 24 hour period, everyday. And it hardly ever felt rushed.  We were all so committed to doing everything we possibly could while being in a miraculously beautiful state.

Alaskan Sunset

Like I did for our last family vacation in Utah, I will be compiling a video of all the highlights of the trip.  The whole trip was a damn highlight, so it will be hard to get it down to under an hour, but I’ll see what I can do.

I plan on recapping each day we spent in Alaska, as I did find the time to journal most days.  I want to document it for my future-self, and to share with others, maybe you’re planning your own trip to our biggest state?  If you’re not, you should start!

SIDE NOTE:  I ate more Reindeer over the course of that first week than I care to admit. EVERYTHING IS REINDEER.  Its delicious.

xo R

Day 1: Anchorage, Alaska

Wow. We are in Alaska! What a day! We’ve been up for 23 hours.

We woke up at 3:30am EST. Limo to the airport! Surprise!? The flights were good. It was T’s first time on an airplane!! Very exciting new experience for him! Our plane to Alaska supposedly had a flat tire that was detected during take off. When we landed in Anchorage they had to have Emergency Personnel on the landing strip. The Pilot landed the plane very smoothly and we then had to wait on the runway for a bit for the tire to be inspected. All was fine in the end, but a little stressing!

My brother and SIL met us at the Anchorage airport and we went to the Captain Cook Hotel.

We went to early dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse and drank some amazing craft beers. Between the 6 of us beer drinkers (Barbara got wine), we had a Blonde Ale, Amber Ale, IPA, Oatmeal Stout, Strawberry Cream Ale, Bavarian Hefeweisen and I had a Raspberry Wheat. 

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The food was amazing! Tim and I shared the Brewhouse Blue (a salad with grapes, walnuts and blue cheese crumbles) and a Reindeer Sausage & Blue Cheese Brick Oven Pizza. 

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Apparently Reindeer sausage has very little fat and almost straight protein.

The brewhouse had an amazing Tuesday Growler special. It was $5 to buy a growler (64 oz beer container…that makes a great souvenir if you can fit it in your luggage) and only $5 to fill it! Amazing! So we got a growler of the IPA and headed back to the hotel.

We walked around Anchorage and went to the inlet. Its crazy how bright it is at 8:30 pm here, sun still decently high in the sky.

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Captain Cook Hotel had a great fitness area. It was seperated into Mens and Womens, so unfortunately, I couldn’t workout with T if I wanted to use weight or carsio machines. But there was a seperate studio aerobics room and a joint pool/hot tub. So we spent an hour or two in the pool, taking lots of videos on the GoPro!

We tried to stay up as late as we could so we didn’t wake up ridiculously early in the morning.  We made it until about 10:30pm and passed out cold. I was still up at 4 am but was able to force myself to get a little more sleep until 6 am.

J (my SIL) T & I went down to the studio aerobics space to do a 12 min HIIT  this morning at 7 am. It blasted our cores! We didn’t want to focus too much on legs because we are doing an 8 mile hike this afternoon.

We had a nice big breakfast at the Sandwich Deck. It was delicious! It was a small town-y place, but they were grwat at accommodating our group of 7.

I’m currently writing this entry on a Coach on our way to McKinely. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to post this. Maybe upon arrival deoending on the WiFi situation.

The mountains here are beautiful!  Can’t wait to upload the photos from my Nikon and videos from my GoPro.

Xo R

Alaska Agenda!

Just finished packing for Alaska! Here is a very brief rundown of our agenda!

Day 1 – Travel to Alaska, Stay one night in Anchorage

Day 2 – Travel to McKinley – Stay one night

Day 3 – Travel to Denali Wilderness Lodge – Stay 2 nights. Will be visiting sled dog farms & hiking!

Day 4 – Denali

Day 5 – Travel to Whittier to board Cruise Ship

Day 6 – Scenic Cruising

Day 7 – Scenic Cruising

Day 8 – Skagway – Rock Climbing & Rappelling – Skagway Brewing

Day 9 – Juneau – Bike & Brew Mendenhall Glacier

Day 10 – Ketchikan – Sea Kayaking

Day 11 – Scenic Cruising

Day 12 – Arrive in Vancouver, Fly Home!

I CAN NOT WAIT. Going to do one more workout/shower before heading down to my parents for the night so we can catch a ride with the van to the airport!  ITS HERE ITS HERE ITS HERE! ITS HAPPENING! Zooohhmahgidygoddlajwdoihasdw!!

I will try and post and bring you updates while its happening, but the last thing I want is for blogging to get in the way of me fully experiencing everything I can, so no promises! But I’ll be journaling and writing down the deets to transpose to my blog when I get home!

xo R

Overwhelmed

I leave for Alaska on Tuesday and have so much stuff to get done. This is also one of my rare weeks that I’m working 40 hours. (YAY MONEY!) Needless to say, it has been crazy .

I’m drawing power from my very wise sister-in-law’s advice about how IT’S OKAY TO SAY, “NO!”.

We need to create priorities and we dont always have time for everything. Sometimes I just need to cancel. Not because I have something else to do, but because its been a freaking busy week and I need a moment to myself to breathe and not punch everyone I see in their ovaries (or testicles).

I’m such a people pleaser. And I ALWAYS try and make time for everyone and go everywhere with everyone. But we have to remember that WE are our own number ones!

Its okay to be selfish when it comes to you’re own happiness. “Do what you want, when you want to”….as my best friend, A, said (not so eloquently during Cinco De Mayo freshman year in college).

Cheers to “Me Time”.

xo R

Prepping for Alaska

We leave for Alaska in ONE WEEK! I can’t believe this trip we’ve been planning for two years is almost here!

I’ve done research on weather, hours of daylight, sunrise, sunset, where the cruise boat ports, local town maps, craft breweries, excursions, cruise ship photos, videos, room layouts, packing lists, what to wear, and how to layer! I’m sure that doesn’t even cover half of everything I’ve looked into!

I can’t wait to experience Alaska.  I’ve got my GoPro, so I’ll will be taking videos hiking, rock climbing, biking and kayaking to edit into a documentary film of the family vaca. 

Itineraries have been made! WE ARE EIGHT DAYS AWAY!

I plan on posting as often as I can.  I am not sure how the wifi situation will be, we will have to be flexible, and I don’t want this to get in the way of fully experiencing everything I can while I’m there.

If you have ever been to Alaska and have any tips for packing, sightseeing, what you liked, etc., I would love to hear it!

xo R