Date of Trip: June 2012
On Sunday June 17th my wife and I started our 12 day land tour of Alaska and the Yukon Territory. This was a Holland America tour and having spent a very disappointing week on Holland America’s Zaandam we did not know what to look forward too. We felt that the condition of the ship and the service we got were extremely poor and did not know if this part of the package would be any better. We had spent over $12,000 for this tour package and at this point felt we had wasted our money.
We were meet on the ship by our tour director Chris. He came around and greeted all of us and told us about the disembarking procedure and about the bus ride we would have to Anchorage. Very good first impression and it raised our hopes that this part of the trip would be much better than the cruise part.
We had a very nice drive to Anchorage and check in was already done for us and we were given our key packs upon arrival and our bags were delivered to our rooms for us. We never had to worry about our bags the entire trip we set them out side our door, they were picked up put on the bus or train and delivered to our rooms at our next stop. We got use to that real quick. We then went across the street to the big block long flea market that they have on the weekends and got a lot of souvenirs for the kids and grandkid.
The hotels we stayed at were top notch. In Anchorage we stayed at the Hilton, had a corner room on the 12th floor. All the other hotels were Westmarks, which are owned by Holland America, and they were top of the line too. All were designed to blend in with the area and were very clean, comfortable, and had the amenities we would want. The restaurants attached to the hotels were great and the food was delicious.
On the 18th we took the tour of Anchorage bus tour. We went to the cultural museum and wish we had more time to spend there. It was very informative and the guide was just great and gave us a lot of information on the history of the area and the people that inhabited it. Then we went to the Berry Patch for lunch and a move of the area. They have a nice chocolate factory there and a 20 foot chocolate fall, no water just chocolate.
Tuesday 19th we got on our rail couch for the trip to Denali. Very comfortable dome vista cars with dinning below. Dinner on the train was great and the views were out of this world. Saw several forms of wildlife starting off with a big bull moose. It was a nice clear day and we got a beautiful view of Mt. McKinley, or Denali if you are a local. As I said the views were spectacular. Check in again was just getting a key packet and going to our room. Bags were delivered in about 10 minutes. We then went and check the strip mall style gift shops in the area again found a item or two to buy.
On Wednesday morning we took the bus tour of Denali. This is the only way you are going to get into the heart of the park and see all the wildlife. Normal car travel is restricted to the first 15 miles. This bus tour was 61 miles long. They had DVD monitor screens on the bus and the driver had a camera with a telephoto lens on it. So he would zoom in on the wildlife and you could see them up close on the screen. Real nice feature and you can order a DVD of the park and then at the end of the DVD they put all the pictures your driver took with the camera so you can see the animals that you saw on the trip again.
On Thursday we were off to Fairbanks on the train again. Real nice ride and dinner. The rail guides were very informative and pointed out a lot of the history of the areas that we passed. Rode through the town that was the model for the TV show Northern Exposure. There was also a lot of wildlife.
On Friday at Fairbanks we took a paddlewheel boat ride on the Yukon River and stopped at a Native Village and had native people explain how they used to live. We then went out to an old gold mining camp and panned for gold. I got about $25 worth which is hardly enough to pay for this trip. LOL That night we walked down and went through the ice sculpture museum. They have a big contest there every March with artist from around the world coming to do their ice sculptures. This was the coldest tour we took.
Saturday it was on the bus and off to Tok with a stop at North Pole, Alaska a great little Christmas town with good fudge and ice cream too. Then along the way we stopped at a state park that had once been a roadhouse for travelers and had lunch and again the wife found something to buy. It was a big wooden bowl and I was glad they had free shipping to the lower 48. We had about a week or so left and we were home 2 days when it arrived.
We arrived in Tok for just a stop over had dinner there and breakfast in the morning. The hotel was very nice and gave you an outdoors cabin feeling. We loved it. Our guide told us that these hotels would be a little more rustic. Well they were rustic looking but had everything you needed in them and were very clean. These were all at least 4 star hotels.
Then on Sunday we headed to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada and this route took us over the Top of the World Highway. What a beautiful trip and wonderful views and again some more wildlife. We stopped in a little hole in the wall place called Chicken, Alaska. It is just a couple of buildings with a bar and a cafe, for lack of a better term. If you stop there go across the
street and down the slight hill to the cafe down there. It is cleaner, food is better, and it is a lot cheaper. We crossed the Yukon River on a ferry and arrived in Dawson City. Talk about a town out of the mid 1800’s. heir road maintenance was running a grader over the dirt road to fill in the pot holes and then follow it up with a water tanker to keep the dust down. The sidewalks, when there was one, was 2X4 wood planks. Lots of tourist stuff to see and several places to eat and all of them looked good.
Monday morning we did a rafting trip down the Klondike River to the Yukon River and that afternoon did another paddlewheel boat ride on the Yukon. We had a guide that pointed out many different things to us along the way and what the different things were at a native village that we passed.
Tuesday we took off for Whitehorse and stopped at another roadhouse on the way and had one of there giant 9 inch cinnamon rolls. Then we stopped and saw the 5 fingers rapids which is 4 fingers since they had to blow up one of the fingers to make it safer for boat traffic.
Whitehorse was a nice little town, the government seat for the Yukon Territory. It had all the amenities of a big town and we knew we had reached civilization when we saw the Wal-Mart and Starbucks. Oh Well we needed the two day we were going to be there to adjust back to being civilized. There were several tours to take but we felt more like chilling and decompressing from the trip. We did walk around and check out the town, saw the start of the big kayak race that they have every year and went through their visitors center which was very informative.
Wednesday night we had our farewell dinner and said our good byes to several friends we had made on the trip. Then Thursday morning it was off to the airport to fly to Vancouver where we spent the night in a nice 5 star hotel at the airport and then flew out the following morning for home.
I can not say enough good things about our tour director Chris. He kept us informed, entertained, and made each day of the trip a delight and joy. He puts a lot of effort into his job and made us feel that he was there for us and took care of any problem or question anyone had. He helped to make this a fine trip and was a whole lot better than the staff on the cruse ship, MS Zaandam, I don’t think I want to take another cruise on Holland America but I would take there land tour in a heart beat. I just can not say enough good things about it and our TD Chris. I give this a 5+ star rating.