Saturday, July 13, 2024

July 13: The Alaskan Railroad to the Sapphire Princess

Not the most fun I’ve ever had. 

When contemplating whether to take my little three day cruisetour side trip it was the excitement of getting to ride the train that was the selling point. But I have to say it’s not the most fun I’ve ever had.

To get from the Princess McKinley Wilderness Lodge to the train station in Talkeetna required a coach ride of a little over an hour. At the end of that coach ride passengers are dumped right by the train track to wait for the train. No train station, no shelter, very little outdoor seating, and only two Porta potty’s for several hundred people. And wouldn’t you know, pouring rain was added to our experience.

Finally, the train
One of the things I was nervous about had to do with how to get on the train. I saw videos online of lifts taking people in wheelchairs into the train cars, but those videos also showed train stations and solid pavement. Thankfully, there were lifts available in the gravel. 
These are hand cranked
Another thing I was nervous about was the seating arrangement. There was conflicting information as to whether they were seats in pairs or groups of four sharing tables. Tables with others it was. Every spot was full, but thankfully the person sitting on the seat next to me decided to go elsewhere on the train. 
Taken before everyone arrived
Three people at our shared table and all full up everywhere else
We had an opportunity to purchase lunch and drinks on the six hour trip while we admired the views. It rained almost the entire way.
And when we thought we had enough of the rain, we got an even bigger surprise when we pulled into Whittier and the rain was coming down in sheets. Drenched doesn’t even come close to describe how wet we were by the time we finally got on the ship a little after 7:30 PM.
I’m glad I did the cruise tour for the experience of it, but I’m not sure I would do it again. It was a lot of go go go and a lot of hurry up and wait. And I didn’t even do any extra excursions! I am ready for some downtime as we take another seven days on the way back to Vancouver. Next up, a couple glacier viewing days which means sea days. Ahh…yes…

Friday, July 12, 2024

Denali to McKinley

Denali? McKinley? Aren’t they both the same mountain? Yup, but when you’re talking about Princess Lodges they are two different places. Last night I stayed at the Princess Denali Lodge in the magnificent suite overlooking the river. Denali is near the entrance to Denali National Park so while everyone else ran off to the Park I took a relaxing morning to explore the property. 

Found a fun little gift for us ladies of a certain age.

And for a certain man I know.

After a two-ish hour bus ride…

Only picture I took on the bus because I fell asleep again

we made it to the Princess McKinley Lodge with a (potential) view of Denali. This place is about the mountain, not the park. 

Sitting in the bar waiting for the mountain to appear
While drinking a Denali Park Smash
This time my room is back to the twin bed room like at Princess Fairbanks. 

With a less than stellar view.
And no WiFi or cell service unless you go to the main lodge. (Hence drinking and eating while posting this from the Base Camp Bar & Grill.) But that’s okay. Tomorrow I’m on the move again! I’ll be taking the Alaskan Railroad from Talkeetna to Whittier, Alaska where I’ll be boarding the Sapphire Princess for my seven day cruise back to Vancouver. 

See you tomorrow from the ship!

Thursday, July 11, 2024

July 11: Fairbanks to Denali

To say today started out rainy would be an understatement. It poured and poured and poured. Before I even got on the coach I was drenched all the way through, as was the scooter. If it was up to me I would have waited out the rain, but I’m on someone else’s schedule so off we went to the river boat cruise. We sailed on the down the river while getting a taste of Alaska.

We stopped to watch a bush pilot do takeoffs and landings.
Saw sled dogs at work pulling a four wheeler.
And watch them play in the water. As if they weren’t wet enough.
Learned about fish wheels and drying fish.
And even saw reindeer (domesticated Caribou), all from the comforts of a covered paddlewheel boat. Funny sidenote: As the reindeer approached the water’s edge everyone gasped and ran to that side of the boat. What people didn’t realize the reindeer had purposely been let out in that area for our tour. It reminded me of the “cue the deer” scene in the movie Funny Farm.
At one point the tour stopped so we could get off and explore the Athabascan village. While they provided umbrellas, Scooter and I - along with a lot of other people - decided to stay on board.
Only when the tour was over did the rain start to lighten up. I was able to sit outside and eat a little bit of a sandwich before we had to head out on the bus to our next stop, Denali.
It was about a 2 1/2 hour ride from Fairbanks to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. We stopped about halfway, and I probably was more interested than I had been all day when I saw where we had stopped. 
A couple years ago I had watched a documentary called Classic. It was about the small village of Nenana in Alaska who had a yearly contest where folks tried to guess the date the river thawed. It’s an interesting little movie and I’ll definitely be watching it again. Especially since today our tour stop there for a bathroom/snack break. If you haven’t watched it you should, and if you have watched it the importance of these things in the pictures will make sense. 
We were then back on the road to finish our ride to Denali. Here are just a couple pictures from along the way. (I fell asleep during a chunk of the trip so I might’ve missed just a few things.)
We got to the lodge and were given our packets with our room assignments and keys. Wouldn’t you know it, my room is about as far away from the main building as possible. They have complementary shuttles that run guests back and forth, and I waited for a while, but finally gave up and headed out myself.

And that’s about when I cursed whoever made the room assignments. Go down the hill and around and uphill, uphill, uphill. Oops, only stairs there. Turn around and go back down the hill, go around, and back up another hill again. Scooter doesn’t like hills, so I was having to push him up the bigger ones. 
The pink marks the crazy way I took to get to my room.
But then as soon as I opened my door, I no longer cursed the person who assigned it to me. It’s an accessible room (kind of) but it appears to be a suite. It’s huge!
Can’t get worried about that pet peeve of accessible rooms having bathtubs.
This one also has a shower. With two showerheads! And yes, I tried them both out at the same time.
And that balcony and that view! 
Most people are heading on the Denali National Park tour tomorrow, but I decided not to go and took a credit instead. Ed and I went to Denali several years ago when the entire park road was open. Have you ever had one of those experiences where it was so good you don’t want to do it again? The Denali Tour is like that for me. Especially now since a good chunk of the road is closed because of a slide. Can’t get it any better than we had it then.

Tomorrow’s another travel day onto yet another Princess Lodge. See you then!

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

July 10: Whittier to Anchorage to Fairbanks

Today was quite the busy day. I met for the shuttle a little after 6 AM, disembarked the ship, and was on the bus in line to go through the tunnel by 7 AM. 


I had a front seat all to myself, so I was able to look here there and everywhere on the ride to the airport. 

Since luggage was sent ahead of us on a truck we all had to visit the tour luggage room at the airport to pick up our bags. They only let a few people in at a time and with them checking our IDs so no one grabbed the wrong luggage it slowed things down a little bit.
Hidden in the wall by security
I had a few hours to wait at the airport but once we got in the air, all kinds of fun sites were to be seen. 
Ed this one’s for you
I wish my cell phone could pick up the different shades of blues and greens I saw throughout the flight. 
Can you guess who’s peeking out above the clouds?
And meandering rivers were abundant.
When we landed I waited for another bus to take me to the hotel, the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. Most people headed to the rooms, but it was too wonderful of a day to do that. So I headed out to the deck and had some lunch. 
The food wasn’t spectacular, but the views couldn’t be beat.
I have an accessible room with a shower, not a bathtub. Nice! A pet peeve of mine is when rooms considered wheelchair accessible have bathtubs.
I even have a little twin bed in here. 
Luggage will be delivered later but then it has to be out again tomorrow morning around 6AM because I’m off to a riverboat cruise before I head back towards Denali. The short land tour portion of my adventure is beginning!
View from my room