Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Around Alaska in 11 Days 2016 - Travel Itinerary (Part 1)

We looked through different states in the US to see where is the best unique place to spend quality time together. R was wise to check out youtube videos and from New York, we shifted our destination to Alaska instead. Why Alaska? Because it has so much to offer that cannot be seen in the Philippines. It has very interesting sights like glaciers, mountains, ice caves, and animals. We thought seafood here will be superb. Also R really wanted to do the dog sledding thing. So Alaska it is. 

Our trip planning started and ended in May. We only had a month to book everything. I got my US visa back in Feb 2016 since I knew R and I will be going to the states. So all that is left is the actual plan. It was quite stressful, looking through several blogs and tours. Not only was the price really high but logistics required great planning. I did not manage it alone so I delegated the finalization to R. When he finalized the activities we will be doing, I did all the early morning calls and frequent emails to book everything. 

For booking flights, we used SkyScanner to find out the cheapest flights while making sure it matches the tours we have booked. We ended up booking several connecting flights throughout Alaska. So I will blog about our LA (June 4-June 9) side trip on another entry and just focus on Alaska for this post. 

From LAX, we flew via Alaska Airlines to Anchorage Alaska. Paid $340 for our flights. Our flight was 11:55 PM and was set to arrive 4:15 AM. We had about an hour to spare before boarding to we looked around LAX and saw that TUMI was on sale. We ended up buying R's laptop bag since his old one is torn and a bag for me too that I will use for my laptop/travels too. Coincidentally, we bought bags of same color since other colors were not available - Red Orange. The bags have a lot of features like multi-purpose bags, slash proof material, water resistant, etc... but my favorite feature of the bag was that R and my bag has a 'RJS' initials on them. Makes me happy whenever I see it. Anyway, it was a full flight and we did not get to choose any seats. Sadly R and I were apart. 

June 10 2016
We arrived at ANC airport around 4 AM. We called a taxi to bring us to the train station since we had to get there by 5:45 AM to check in our luggages. For this ANC leg of the trip, we booked a 6 day tour with Alaska Heritage Tours and paid $50 for the services (on top of a crazy accommodation charge which I will explain later). We paid $20 for the taxi to the train station. Upon arriving at the train station we waited until it opened at 6 AM. We got our boarding passes to Seward and checked in our luggage at the train. For this train ride, we got a Gold Star pass that means that we get to stay in the nice car that has unlimited drinks/snacks with a private area for viewing, it also has a 360 glass dome that lets you see the sky as the ceiling. Also the breakfast food is also included. $362 for 2 people. The seats are very comfortable and the toilet is big. Train ride was from 6:45 AM to 11:05 AM. We took photos and videos for awhile, then proceeded to the food diner car when called. R and I got the Aurora Scramble since it had everything, for $15 a plate you get 3 scrambled eggs with veggies, reindeer sausage and bacon. Sided with potatoes. We sat across a Georgia married couple, a banker and an entrepreneur, Nancy Prescott of Call it your Casseroles. They were fun to talk to and we learned a lot about marriage from them. Then we headed back upstairs since other people had to eat. Since R and I did not have any decent sleep coming from an almost midnight flight. We slept most of the train ride to Seward. Upon waking up, we got fetched by the shuttle of Seward Windsong Lodge. Since the check-in was not until 3 PM, the driver left us at the city proper for us to explore while waiting. We decided to go to Alaska Sea Life Center. We paid $78.97 for our admission pass and behind the scenes tour. We spent a great deal of time here, we learned a lot about the animals residing in Alaska. Among all, I love Sea Otters the best. I got to touch different sea creatures like sea urchins, starfishes, and things I do not know of. I saw different birds (Puffins!), sea lions, and seals. We learned a lot from the behind the scenes tour, we saw how Alaska Sea Life center monitors the species and rescue them as needed. They have cameras the monitor breeding grounds of Stellar Sea Lions and it was cool seeing the control room. They also toured us around the center, different locations behind the glass displays, feeding area, surgery area, and training area. It is amazing how this one institution serves the whole of Alaska. We arrived exactly at the shuttles pick up time which was 4:30 PM. We went to our Standard Double Room $538 for 2 nights. We really liked our room, it was very cozy and had all the necessities. Plus it was very spacious. We rode the shuttle again to drop us off Thorn's Showcase Lounge for dinner. They are known for the Halibut. I ordered those and R ordered steak. We spent $60 for our meals. After dinner, we went back and slept fr our boat tour the next day.

June 11 2016
We woke up early to get to the Kenai Fjords office by 7 AM, using the lodge shuttle. We were there really early and R craved for some choc chip cookies. Soon after the ship arrived and was boarding people in. We took the Northwestern Fjord tour $378 which was the longest tour, it starts at 8:30 AM and ends at 5:30 PM. There were snacks and lunch included. We were seated with an Indian couple who lived in San Francisco. They were really fun to talk to, they made the 9 hour boat ride bearable and I am very happy to have met them. Gupta and Esha were vegetarians and they had snacks with them. They were very kind and sweet. We had chicken wrap for lunch and some chips. R and I got sea sick and was slept almost half the trip. We did see glaciers and they were really cool. We also saw humpback whales, otters, and several birds. At one point, we were even surrounded by 6 humpback whales. We docked at around 6 PM and went to Woody's Thai Kitchen. By far, this was the best food we have eaten in our whole Alaskan trip. We spent $44 for our scrumptious dinner (Soup and Shrimp rice) that I will forever treasure. 

June 12 2016
We shared a breakfast plate at Roadhouse, we spent $22.34. We checked out Seward Windsong Lodge and got picked up by Park Connection bus ($250 for 2 pax) at the lobby. We traveled from Seward to Talkeetna 10:30 AM to 5:30 AM. While stopping 1 hour at the Anchorage Museum for 1 hour and 30 minutes so that we can grab lunch. We ate lunch at the food court of a mall. Hawaian BBQ The Shaka Shack for $14.95, it was not a good meal but it was sufficient for the trip. We arrived at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge by 5:30 PM and checked in our double room. It was $640 for 2 nights. We then went to their Lodge to eat dinner, we spent $110. We tried their Alaskan King Crab legs (not good), their appetizer Korean Fried Cauliflower is something I never want to eat again, but their dessert was to die for. The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge room was once again great and we loved how it was integrated with nature. It has an amazing view of the mountains. Also fun fact, Talkeenta's mayor is Mr Stubs... a cat.

June 13 2016
We got picked up by K2 Aviation $865.10 for our 9 AM Mount Denali Grand Tour. Our flight was from 9 AM to 11 AM. We were given special protection shoes, we we took a mini plane that sat 11 passengers including the pilot. It took 1 hour to go to the glacier landing site, and we spent about 20 minutes on the site for photo ops and videos. It was R and I's first close encounter with a glacier so we were so happy and took lots of photos. We got back around 11:30 at the Lodge. We then took the shuttle to the town to grab lunch and buy souvenirs. We ate lunch at the Denali Brewery. We spent $75 for 2 orders of steak the most memorable dish here is the Key Lime Pie! I love it! We walked around for a bit, since there was nothing much to see we headed back to the lodge to rest. We then ate dinner at the Lodge restaurant again since we do not want to the shuttle anymore. We spent $48 for this meal since we tried to be more economic this time around, just the typical vegie burger and fish and chips. Nothing memorable.

June 14 2016
We checked out at the Lodge by 9 AM and took the shuttle to the train station. We got on a regular train called the Alaska Railroad Adventure. Cost us $188 to get to Denali from Talkeetna. Our bags were checked in and I pre-purchased food vouchers so that we can eat on board the train. $29 for the both of us. Our train ride was from 11:20 to 3:40 PM. It was short and we were able to take a quick nap. We got fetched by the Denali Park Village shuttle and upon getting to the lobby we checked in. We got charged $818.88 for 2 nights. This was by far the most regretful part I have been on this trip. Remember I mentioned I booked everything with Alaska Heritage Tours? This is were they failed me. Since Alaska Heritage Tours does not own or partner directly with Denali Park Village, we were charged DOUBLE the price of the published room rate of Denali Park Village (via checking online and asking front desk). The ridiculous price difference was due to a contract Alaska Heritage Tours had with an external vendor Denali Park Village. Honestly, we do not understand how the price can be is really too much. Usually external partners do contracts but still retain a cheap price. This is the first time ever that I experienced this with a travel agency. The very high room rate was not amendable by the tiny room. We were expecting a very nice room due to the price, but we were very disappointed when we saw the room...which led us to question the charge to us. It was really disappointing, but we cannot do anything...we tried to refund but its not possible. We'll just charge it to experience. Then we went to the area where we will be having a Cabin Night Dinner $144. The show is set to start at 7:30 PM, so we just walked around the area and bought chips and the like. When it was 7:30 PM, we were greeted by the cast members and seated. We were served unlimited salad, ribs, salmon, potatoes, beans, and blueberry cobbler. The ribs were great and I just happened to not eat to my full potential. Soon after, the play started and it was funny/educational. The actors were fun and full of character. Story line was about Alaska's Historical characters like Fannie Quigley. After that was over, we went back to the lodge and slept.

June 15 2016
We were fetched at the front desk by 7 AM for our Denali Kantishna Experience which was from 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM. This is $455 for 2 heads. This was one of the looked forward activities since Denali Park is known to be one of the prettiest. So we just had to tour the park when we can. We were given a bag filled with snacks for the whole trip. By lunch, we were given chicken wraps. The trip was very long and exhausting, we slept at about a quarter of the trip. But we did see beautiful sides of Mount Denali. No clouds for the whole day. The driver/guide said its about 1% it ever happens. We were blessed and to add to that, we also saw a lot of wildlife from bears to foxes to eagles to goats to caribou to crows. It was a great day. Learned a lot about wildlife. And the park was simply breathtaking. Went back and ate dinner at the Lodge diner called Gold Rush. Food service was really slow and we did not enjoy the taste so much. Spent $74.

June 16 2016
We checked out and took our park connection from Denali to Anchorage 7:15 AM to 1:30 PM. Paid $180 for the bus ride. We stopped at Anchorage Musuem since we wanted to go to the Alaska Heritage Tours office hoping they would give us a refund, but sadly we did not get any refund...only apologies. We then took a cab to the ANC airport for $22. We ate lunch at Pork and Pickle in the airport after check in. Spent $22 since we only shared a meal. I was feeling really sad with the Denali Park Village overcharge. Before we knew it, we were en route to Juneau via Alaska Airlines 6:55-8:30 PM flight. It was short. $189.30 for this flight. Upon arriving, we called Driftwood Hotel for their free airport shuttle. I reserved their shuttle long ago but apparently their admin did not get any of the 3 reservations I placed. Good thing we had a US number on hand. 15-30 minutes, our shuttle came and we arrived at the hotel. We checked in and I liked our room for 3 nights. We booked it through expedia and paid $504. We no longer ate dinner.

June 17 2016
We left the hotel at 7 AM and went to the Marine Park Dock for our Tracy Arm Adventure Bound. It was essentially a boat tour 7:30 AM to 6 PM to Tracy Arm which was another route where you can see different glaciers. We paid $327 for this tour. We rode a small boat but it was cozy, and we did not get sea sick. But we still slept almost half of the trip haha. We were not in any mood to mingle so we did not make friends during this tour. We bought some noodles and chips for lunch $8. It was a really good tour, we saw a lot of active hump back whales, bears, otters. The glacier was beautiful as well. It was a good day. When we got back, we went to Tracy's King Crab Shack for dinner. We had crab bisque. Spent $28

Since the entry has reached the maximum number of photos, I need to create another entry for the succeeding days. Read Part 2