Going to Alaska made me feel like I was living inside a postcard. The views were incredible 24/7.. everywhere we went, the mountains, rivers and glaciers amazed us with their strong colours, gigantic sizes and beautiful structures. I mean, couldn’t stop taking pictures, even as we drove the highways or cruised the waters. This being say, let me tell you everything we did and how we felt about it.
Anchorage – Knik Glacier Helicopter and Iceberg Tour
Anchorage to Seward Highway Highlights tour
The Views from the cruise
Hubbard Glacier – Just enjoy the view
Juneau – Mendenhall Glacier
Juneau – Best place for souvenir shopping
Skagway – Car tour to Yukon territory
Skagway – White Pass Summit Train
Icy Strait Point – Whale watching from the coast
Ketchikan – Totem poles and Creek Street
Vancouver – Hop In Hop Off Bus tour
Vancouver – Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
Tips and Recommendations from my experience
- In general, depending on how many people you are travelling with, renting a car is a great, cheap option to move around.
- Summer is great, but I would have prefered to visit on the end of August-September, for higher possibilities of seeing the Aurora Borealis, the Belugas, Killer Whales, and more snow.
- The Alaska App seems to be a great option for planning your tour (where to go, what to do and see, tour audios, etc)
- While planning, check Groupon for discounts on different tours
- If you are planning on taking an helicopter tour or Kayak tour, then Knik Glacier is a MUST. The best time for a tour is when the sun is not at its top, so that the animals are out and you can see them. To get there, the car is the cheapest option (use GoogleMaps for directions).
- For groups of 6 or more, Tours By Locals is a great, in my opinion the best, option to tour around every city. Even for transfers!
- For whale tours, try booking them while on the cruise, since there is a high possibility of seeing whales without a tour, either on the boat, or on the coast on Icy Strait. If you didn’t, Vancouver is a great option for whale tours (because it is the best place in the world to see killer whales), or Icy Strait Point, since there is not much more to do.
- Wildlife Consevation Centre is a must if you want to see wild animals up close.
- Juneau town was kind of boring. Make sure you go to Mendenhall Glacier (I recommend going with the Evergreen Tour Co). If you want to take a dog mushing tour, helicopter tour or glacier tour, this is also a great place to do so.
- Skagway and Yukon are impressive. Whatever you do, Emerald Lake is worth it. And so is the train! As my mom says, if you go to Alaska, you have to take a train.
- Avoid the trolley tours on Ketchikan. It is better to take a taxi to Saxman Village or Potlack Park, and the Alaska App for audios explaining what you are seeing (check it out before you go because sadly, we did the trolley tour-which was terrible).
- According to what I read, don’t take any tours in Icy Strait Point (besides the whale watching tour) because there is not much to see.
- In Vancouver, staying on a hotel near the Pacific Centre was a great location since we were walking distance from everything, and no car was needed.
Detailed Description of My Trip (with links)
We started our trip by flying to Anchorage with Alaska Airline (SJO-LA/LA-Anchorage). I actually have to mention the airline because I really liked it since the seats were more comfortable than I’m used to, so I really liked it. We arrived to Alaska at 4 am, so we booked a room in the Comfort Suites by the Airport and they picked us with a shuttle (so we saved some bucks in transportation). Later that day, we ate at Village Inn, which is sort of like a Denny’s but better. All of our breakfasts were amazing and the best part was that they serve breakfast all day long so you don’t have to worry about waking up early (and it was walking distance from the hotel).
We reserved a trip to the Knik Glacier that day, and I searched everywhere for shuttle services because we didn’t want to drive, but it was really expensive because we were 7 persons; so, we rented a car on Thrifty (at the Airport). It was the best idea because at the end, that let us drive around the town, choose where to eat, etc. Our tour was at 5:30 pm so we headed out there at 4pm. The drive was nice, and we got there at 5pm. The day was beautiful! The sun was shinning like crazy and the hour of our tour was the best because of the pictures we took with that angle of the sun. Also, since it wasn’t so warm, we saw about 7 bears (since they don’t like it when the sun is heating). Our tour was called Knik Glacier Helicopter and Iceberg tour, and was operated by the Knik River Lodge. The lodge itself had an amazing view, we even told that to the owner, and when we did, he told us: “you haven’t seen nothing yet”.
The helicopter was a 15 min drive to the glacier. On our way, we saw 5 black bears on the mountain! They looked like ants because of the distance but it was really exciting! The view was amazing of course, and the feeling of flying on that thing was liberating… it really felt like flying. I mean, when you fly an airplane, it is so stiff, like you can only go strait, but with a helicopter, you can do anything, even getting closer to what you are looking at, so you yourself feel like you are the one that’s flying. So, we got to the kayak camp, which was in the middle of nowhere, and we just couldn’t believe the view we where seeing! Tons of icebergs of all shapes and sizes, floating on Lake George. It looked amazing, and it was even better when we paddled by them with the kayak. 1.5 h of paddling wasn’t enough… this was one of the best experiences of my life. As my mom said, “a bucket list experience”. Where else can you kayak in between icebergs? It was crazy!! And there was also this tinny scary feeling of falling into that 0º C water! So worth it hahaha.
Sadly, we had to return, and we say another bear and a moose on the way back, and the glacier pools which’s colour was impressive, like a deep light blue. Then, we drove back to Anchorage, and on the highway, we run into another bear!! This one was my favourite because it just relaxingly crossed the street! We had dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse, and it was okay, and the beers were really good! If you are into beer, you better try the ones from Midnight Sun and Glacier Brewing Co – IPA.
The next day we had to leave Anchorage and get to Seward to take the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship. I evaluated the alternatives of how to get there: We could have driven a rental car, take a bus, the dome train, a shuttle, or how we did it, a tour! There is a company called Tours By Locals, that offer tours worldwide for a cheap price if you are travelling with a group because you can split the costs. In our case, since we were 7, this was the best option. The tour guide (Bill) picked us up at the hotel, and took us on a small tour around Anchorage (if you ever do this tour, tell him not to do it.. there is not much to see, so its better to start by heading up to Beluga Point). We mainly saw a view of the port (Point Woronzoft -which is great to see the sunset) and planes taking off.
Then we headed out to Beluga Point, a place in the middle of the highway were you can spot belugas, but they told me we were 3 weeks before time, so it must be in mid-august. We kept driving and went to Alyeska Resort, a place were in fall and spring, you can ski, and in summer, you can walk the mountain and see a great view. We ate at a restaurant on the top of the mountain (you have to take a tramway) and then we returned to keep moving.
Our next stop was the Wildlife Conservation Centre. A great place to appreciate all the different and unique animals you find in Alaska from close and on a environmental friendly way since they are all saved animals, instead of captured or raised in captivity ones. We saw moose, elks, caribous, bisons, fox, brown bears, black bears, black tail deers and porcupines. Coming from a tropical country and seeing this animals that are so different from what we are used to was really impressive! Sadly, that was our last stop because we spent a lot of time there, so we went straight to the cruise port and into the ship.
Our first day we went to the Hubbard Glacier. The day was beautiful so the ship went closer than usual and we had a great and clear view of this amazing and gigantic glacier. The next day we went to our first port, Juneau. We wanted to save some bucks because we had already done the helicopter tour, kayak tour and an all around tour, so, we took a cab from the Evergreen Company (I booked it and the driver was waiting for us outside the dock) for $35 each way to the Mendenhall Glacier. We also payed $5 per person for the park’s entrance. The place was amazing! We could see the glacier from really close and took a walk to a nice waterfall that is next to the glacier. You can see icebergs as well (although not as nice as the once in Knik) and bears eating salmon if you are lucky! Sadly, we weren’t so lucky haha. Later on that day, the cab driver gave us a small tour around the town and in the salmon breeding centre. For the last few hours, we walked through the stores downtown and then back into the ship.
The next day we went to Skagway. I read about all the things to do in Skagway and found out the train is super recommended. But, I wanted to see the Emerald Lake, to we took a tour by Tours By Locals (our tour guide was Becky) where they took us to many interesting points in between Skagway and the Emerald Lake in the Yukon Territory, including 2 waterfalls, excellent view points like Bowen Island, the smallest desert in the world, the Carcross (where we ate at the deli), a forest with a nice river, a musing camp, and of course, the lake! On the way back, the guide left us in the train station and we rode the train back to Skagway for a different experience and perspective of the landscape. Totally worth it! If you are ever in Skagway, consider riding both by car and by train, because you enjoy both differently and they really are different! And I must say, the views I saw are some of the most amazing and wonderful places I’ve ever seen!
After Skagway, the ship made a stop in Icy Strait Point. This was a really small port, with a little town called Hoonah. You can see that the port was build for Cruise ships only, and there isn’t much to do besides walking through the stores, maybe going to one of the restaurants, or walking to Hoonah which is about a mile away. The great part about this point, is that it is really common to see whales! And, they are usually really close to shore so you don’t even need to pay for a whale watching tour. Sadly, we weren’t lucky that day, but everybody said it is really really common to see them. The cruise didn’t stay there too much, so about 2pm we left the place and headed out in direction to Ketchikan.
Ketchikan is really nice cultural town, which means, this is the best place to see totems. The village is nice, and you can take a cab and go to Saxman Village (or to Potlatch Park). The best choice would be to hire a taxi driver that is tourist guide as well (like we did in Juneau), so that he can explain the story of the totems (in other words, even though you can get there cheaper without a tour, it is more impressive if somebody explains what you are seeing), and he can also take you on a wildlife tour (its about $80 per hour). If you want to save even more bucks, you can download the Alaska App, and it contains audios that explain to you the history and fun facts for what you are seeing, and this works for many places in Alaska! Whatever you do, you will find Alaska wonderful, but I will really recommend you NOT to book a wildlife and totem tour on the tourist centre, specially the ones with a trolley (we took one because I had nothing planed for Ketchikan, and it was a waste of money). Another great thing to do here, is walking on Creek Street and just feeling like you are part of the town.
Sadly, after Ketchikan, the cruise ship was over. It made port at Vancouver and we stayed there for a couple of days before returning home. The first day, we took the hop in, hop off bus from Grayline. It has plenty of stops (24) so you can practically move around all of Vancouver with it. We saw all the famous totems and sculptures, we walked around Stanley Park, to the Granville Island where we had lunch and saw the Giants, then headed to China Town and walked all the way to Gastown for dinner. We ate at Al Porto Ristorante, which was really good (I had a delicious Lasagna). On the night, we walked back to the hotel (The Metropolitan Hotel), while enjoying the lights and fresh breeze. The next day, we took the free shuttle to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. This bridge has about 140 ft and was fully crowded with people… impressive how it holds up so many persons! The park is full of beautiful tall trees, and views of the cliff. I liked it, but, there where too many people, so I would recommend going on another season (not summer) to enjoy it better and feel the bridge moving, since it didn’t because of the amount of people. Later on that day, we walk around Robson Street, and went shopping for a while (but let me tell you, Vancouver is not cheap), and then we ended up at the Lenox Pub, just relaxing. I wanted to take a whale tour, in hopes of seeing Orcas (killer whales), but no one else did, so I didn’t, but I will definitely tell you to do one, because its the best place to see them! In fact, I just found out there are live cameras around Vancouver, where you can see if there are whales around.
At night, we hanged out and ate at the Cactus Club Cafe. The next day, we took our flight back home, with a 7 hour stop at LA, so we took an Uber to Venice beach, walked around, then went to Santa Monica, to the Bungalow Bar, we had dinner on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and went back to the Airport, and home.