Date of Trip: July 2010
When I was researching Alaskan cruisetours I was surprised I couldn’t find many reviews out there. Maybe its because we would like to forget them? Our recent experience started in the Seattle airport. We signed up for the HAL bus to Vancouver, our departure point. No one told us we would wait 1 hour in line to check in and 2 more hours before actually departing and that we would have a half hour pit stop. Also we did not expect to have to use a shoehorn to get in our seats. We arrived at our ship as everyone else was on deck for the lifeboat drill. Lesson 1, you could walk to the ship faster than the bus. The good news was there was no line to check in and they whisked us and our luggage on very promptly since they were about to pull anchor. The next disappointment was that although we were supposed to see Tracy Arm and the Sawyer glaciers. We did not go all the way to the glacier because of what was called an “obstruction”. However as we saw a Celebrity ship of the same size go past us, I have to assume the “obstruction” was the Celebrity ship and apparently they had priority and we did not. They should be honest about that kind of stuff up front. We had been to the glacier before and couldn’t see the point of the $200 “new” excursion offered until it was too late. We were not the only ones who did not understand.
In Skagway we took the Whitepass Yukon RR trip as planned, but having seen the movie and PBS special in advance, the actual trip was a real disappointment. We were pretty much crammed in like sardines and could not see the scenary all that well, nor could we see much from the miniscule view platform between cars. The HAL tour bus picked us up in Fraser and the buses are truly magnificent. They are hugely spacious and well fitted out. The trip to Whitehorse had a stop in Carcross that was OK, but don’t worry if you never see Carcross. The Westmark in Whitehorse was OK, but hot with no a/c in the rooms. The hall ironically was ice cold and air conditioned. The room had a tiny window and fan. We had dinner at the local Indian restaurant. It used canned chicken in its dishes, so you know it was not very good. Our package included the Frantic Follies at the hotel. The show was jammed packed and so hot that my husband left at intermission. While the show was not awful, it also wasn’t all that good.
The next day we drove to Dawson City with a couple of hokey rest stops on the way. In Dawson City we learned that the Yukon 11 boat was not running because the road at the other end was washed out. We were going to get a $100 voucher because of missing that and they were going to take an alternate route. We checked into the Westmark in a room overlooking the Shell Station with no a/c. Luckily there were 2 normal sized windows and a fan and it wasn’t all that hot out. We had dinner at the Greek Taverna in town. We ordered the meal for 2 for about $58 and it was pretty good.
The next day was a “free” day in Dawson and we went to Tombstone Park in the rain. I felt bad for the tour guide since there was a huge bus and 4 of us. The park was nice enough, but some of the views were obstructed by clouds. The box lunch tasted like a box. Back in Dawson we walked around a bit in the mud (streets are not paved. Some boardwalks, but not everywhere. We had dinner at Sourdough’s which was fried halibut and french fries for about $18 each. Pricey, but decent. That night we all got called at 12:30 in the morning to tell us that plans had changed and the group was being broken up into 3 smaller groups. The next day we waited around the lobby since plans had changed once again. A few had gotten up at the crack of dawn, been driven to the airport where they waited without food and water for 5 hours and then flown to Fairbanks.
In Fairbanks the next day they were treated to a full complimentary day of sightseeing. Another group was taken to the airport later and eventually flown to Northway and then driven to Tok. They had a complimentary margarita dinner and waited around much of the next day for us to join them before being taken by bus to Fairbanks. The third group got to hang around until they finally took us to the airport around 11am, where we waited for an hour until they decided to drive us back to the hotel, give us lunch and then drove us back to the airport where we flew to Northway and boarded a bus to drive to Fairbanks. We got there about 8:30pm. We took a quick walk down to the river and back and that is what we saw of Fairbanks! So now we have missed the 3 hour Yukon river cruise, the stop at the various little gold mining towns, the Gold Dredge and any time to see any sights in Fairbanks. Because they comped us meals in Dawson City HAL figures we’re even.
The next day the tour continued as planned with boarding the McKinley Explorer train. The train is quite nice and we were comped breakfast ($20 value). We got into Denali around noon and the McKinley Chalet rooms were pretty good for National Park lodging. We were not very close to the park buses or lobby so we had to take a shuttle around the property. We took the 2pm Tundra tour and we saw a fair number of animals but they are all very far away. They do have screens throughout the bus and the driver will video the animals so you can see a little better, but Discovery channel need not worry. By about hour 6 we were ready to strangle anyone who found an animal. We ate at the fish and chips restaurant across the street from the Lodge and I don’t know what kind of fish it was that we ate at 10:00pm, but I am pretty sure it was not halibut which is what we ordered.
The next morning we went to the Park visitor center and the mushing center on our own before joining the group to wait for the train. The 8 hour train ride to Anchorage was just plain tedious. I would never recommend it to anyone. We had prime rib for dinner for $29 and while it wasn’t bad, it was also not memorable. By the way the beer and wine list on the train is truly bad. The Hilton in Anchorage is old, but was fine. One of the best parts of the trip was the flight from Juneau to Seattle. We had great visibility and if you had a window seat the scenery was terriffic. Also I was surprised that the $6 angus burger with swiss and BBQ sauce was very, very good. Kudos to Alaskan air for arriving on time.