Author: Lisa Evans
Date of Trip: June 2016
Alaska – The Last Frontier and GWRRA was there to have fun!
By Lisa Evans #153957-1
It was a pleasure organizing the TX-A1 “Fun”draiser, for 26 of us from NM, TX, CA, & AZ, as we started our adventure in Fairbanks, AK on a sunny day, JUNE 11TH, 2016. We traveled from different airports, but we were all met by the Princess Cruise line reps at the Fairbanks airport, as they transferred us to the Princess’ lodge for our 2 night stay. The next morning, we got to pan for gold, and take a paddle boat ride down the Chena River, as the river guide pointed out wildlife and explained the Alaskan way of life. A stop at the Susan Butcher’s Iditarod dog camp was a highlight, as Susan’s daughter greeted us and explained how these dogs are trained to pull a sled over a thousand miles under treacherous winter conditions to run an annual Alaskan race from Anchorage to Nome. Quite a challenge for any human or canine most assuredly!
While there in Fairbanks, some of us visited The North Pole, and got to see Santa and advise him of our Gold Wing wish list! While others went to The Chena Hot Springs & Ice Museum and got the chance to feel what -30 below feels like while sipping an Apple Martini from a martini glass carved from ice – quite tasty!
Our transfer from Fairbanks to The Princess Denali Lodge for our next two nights stay went smoothly, and we had an excursion planned for the next morning to visit the Denali Park by bus to see what wildlife we could spot. We saw a mama moose and her two calves, a mama black bear and her 2 cubs, grizzlies, caribou, Dal sheep, fox, rabbits and red squirrels. What a thrill to see these animals in the wild – of course we were not allowed to set foot off the bus, but our tour guide was very good at getting us close enough to get very good pictures.
After our 2nd night in Denali, we were transferred to the train with the glass dome top to head to the port of Whittier for our embarkation onto the Island Princess, which would be our home for the next 7 days and nights. The cloudless day afforded us the chance to see the snow-covered Denali Mountain from tip to toe, a sight only 20% of visitors to Alaska get the opportunity to see! What a fantastic trip our train ride was, as we saw soaring eagles, moose, bears, and the beautiful landscape of rugged Alaska as the backdrop.
Our embarkation onto the ship was very easy and we got to our stateroom to find our luggage already there. We headed out to lunch onboard, and had a hearty meal with a bunch of Gold Wingers! We made plans to meet the next morning at the Wheelhouse Bar to take a group picture in the custom-logo polo shirts I had made to commemorate our trip, and everyone looked great!
The fun of this type of group cruise is when we all scatter to experience different excursions at the ports we visited, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, and then grab a meal or a coffee together and relate the sights and fun we had, and the purchases we made, so that we all feel like we were there too!
The sailings into Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier were very exciting too, especially when the glaciers calve and big chunks of ice fall into the sea with a loud crack and splash! The naturalist onboard gave us a wonderful education of how the glaciers move and recede and you can hear the loud crack of the blue ice as they shift – quite thrilling and really cold! There are sea lions that hang out by the glaciers, hoping to hop onto a large ice floe, but that’s also where the Orca whales hang out to try to eat the sea lions. We did see a large Hump Back whale breach the water near our ship, and that was quite a show!
It was fun to dress up on formal nights, and see everyone spiffied up and take formal portraits to remember this occasion. Tom & I got a few great 8 x 10’s which I plan to frame and display in our home. The food was wonderful in the dining room, and I felt really spoiled by the wait staff, so it’s hard to come back home to reality and have to make your own bed and cook your meals – I’m serious!
One of our excursions was a visit to a dog sled camp in Juneau, where we got to meet a 2015 Iditarod finisher (he finished 12th – not bad) and his 32 dogs and puppies. We rode on a wheeled cart while 10 dogs pulled us around a trail with sharp corners and bumpy roads, but what a thrill and a feel for what it’s like to run the Iditarod, except without the cold and snow! Of course holding the puppies was the highlight for me – I tried to negotiate taking one home, but Tom insisted that I give them back.
In Skagway we took the narrow-gauge train over White Pass and into Yukon Territory, a beautiful way to see the interior of Alaska and British Columbia. We started at sea level in Skagway and ended up at an altitude of 2,078 ft. We got beautiful pictures of the landscape, but the train is rather loud, so no animals were in the vicinity.
In Ketchikan we thoroughly enjoyed our excursion on a Wilderness Cruise and Crab Feast. We had a 3 hour boat tour of the interior rivers and creeks to see an amazing eagle family that had a huge nest in the scraggly trees, and the tour guide could call the eagles out of the trees with a whistle and a herring in his hand. These magnificent birds are quite huge, one of which has a 7 foot wingspan we were told. Tom got some great shots and then we went to an all you can eat lunch of Dungeness crab at the George Inlet Lodge. I’m telling you, I’ve never eaten such sweet crab, and we left there so full, I was afraid the bus might not make it up the hill to get us back to the ship!
The shows on board were very good, and we enjoyed the all-inclusive drink package, which included specialty coffee drinks, and also the casino – where I won $800 one night and I made sure it came home with me.
Disembarkation day came too soon, and we had to get off in Vancouver, BC., but we were meeting 2 friends that live there, so we were anxious to explore this beautiful part of Canada with them as our guides. They started with a walking tour of the Rainforest and Capilano Suspension Bridge Park – very scary crossing that swinging & bouncing bridge, but what a view of the rainforest. Then we headed to the Fisherman’s Wharf for a seafood lunch, where I was accosted by a large, hungry seagull who tried to knock my plate out of my hand! No such luck seagull, I would not let go. We took a boat ride around the area and saw all the magnificent million dollar properties that face the water, such a beautiful city, I would definitely come back to spend more time in Vancouver.
All-in-all a wonderful trip with friends. This was the best “fun”draiser we have ever had, as we shared laughs and created memories. Would I do it again, You bet!!