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Alaska Excursions Review


GKMCruising
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Juneau - We did the combined tour of both the Mendenhall Glacier and the Mendenhall gardens nearby. I'd have loved a little more time to hike at Mendenhall on my own, but as we had our 2-year-old with us, all excursions had to be booked through Royal, and several of them were off-limits to anyone under 12 due to COVID and operator policies.

If you go to the glacier, I strongly advise taking the short hike down to Nugget Falls. We had roughly an hour, and we had enough time to go to the falls, take photos, get to the overlook trail, and then grab a souvenir from the gift shop before getting back on the bus.

The tram tour through the gardens was fun - not something I think I'd go out of my way to do again next time I'm in Juneau, but it was a neat excursion nonetheless. The tour guide driving the tram was very knowledgeable and pointed out tons of plant life and mushrooms, and the view from the top was great. Just be warned, the grade going up (and down) is rather steep, so it can be a bit of a bumpy ride.

Definitely a good combo for the cost - as much fun as a helicopter tour would have been, I wasn't going to shell out $500/person for it... and it got cancelled anyways due to fog, much to the chagrin of a couple people who wound up on our tour instead.

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Skagway - Part 1

I'm an avid hiker and trail runner, so I wanted to find a good solo adventure for the morning before our main excursion in the afternoon. I did some research and found a bunch of different trails listed, but settled on hiking up AB Mountain as it was close to the port, looked like a decent workout, and I could easily get a shuttle there and back for not much money.

Let's just say I might have underestimated that trail, at least given the time of year and weather conditions. I thought I'd be all the way to the summit and back down in around 4 hours, instead it took me closer to 5. My GPS showed that I was about 4 miles in (a mile from the summit) when I turned around. The fog up top was really thick, I could barely see the trail markers, and I knew I had to get back to the ship for my later afternoon plans. It was a great hike, super intense, just a shame that it was so foggy - apparently on a clear day you can get some outstanding views.

Special shout-out to my shuttle driver, Ann, from Dyea Chilkoot Trail Transport. She loaned me a can of bear spray (thank goodness I didn't need it) and waited on me at the trailhead even though I wound up getting back almost an hour later than I expected. She simply asked if I could give her a little extra since she sat and waited, which I didn't mind, especially as the round trip shuttle was only $20 to begin with.

If you want a challenging hike while in Skagway, definitely try this one out, but I would advise being in really good shape and being OK alone on a trail - I didn't see another person the whole time I was out there. And yes, I did have to use the ropes in the photos. They were mildly useless on the way down - I slipped and slid so much it wasn't even funny, and completely destroyed the cheap cotton gloves I took for the hike on all the rocks.

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Skagway - Part 2

I know the "default" excursion in Skagway is the railroad, but we wanted to do something different as we didn't think our 2 year old would enjoy just sitting on a train for 3 hours. Instead, we decided to book the musher's camp and s'mores experience. Unfortunately, due to COVID and the reduced number of tourists in port this year, they weren't offering the full experience where you actually got to ride in a dog sled - our guide told us they actually didn't expect to get *any* visitors again this year, so they had to scramble last minute to even get a handful of sled dogs and a few staffers in to run the excursion at all. 

The drive out to the camp was incredible - absolutely beautiful views, just like everywhere in Alaska, and our coach driver was a wealth of information and fun trivia about the Gold Rush, Jack London, and all things Skagway. It was actually kind of nice with the reduced crowds, there were only 7 of us on this particular excursion so it was very intimate.

Once we arrived at the musher's camp, we got to hear all about the history of sled dog racing and got to interact with one of the dogs - the rest stayed nside the fenced in area. It would have been nice to interact with more dogs, but again, just one more thing they weren't able to do because of the reduced operations due to COVID. They only had 7 or 8 dogs on property, whereas he said they normally have way more than that. Also, I was a little jealous - apparently they take one of the dogs onto the Princess ship that comes in every week and do an onboard experience.

We still got to sit around the fire and make s'mores though, as well as walk up a short trail to a waterfall overlook and grab some souvenirs before piling back on the bus. We were running ahead of schedule, so our driver actually stopped at one of the photo overlooks along the route back to town, as well as took us by a couple of extra points of interest in town instead of going straight back to the ship. 

Overall, an excellent excursion at a reasonable price, and I'd love to go back when they're running at full operations to actually take that sled dog ride and get  more time to play with the dogs.

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Sitka - This was a stop that only happened due to COVID. Originally we were scheduled to go to Victoria, but due to the Canada restrictions, the itinerary changed to include Sitka instead, and I'm glad it did. This was a really neat stop, with lots of options to check out. Most of the tours were some combination of time spent at two or three different points of interest, so we looked through and decided on one that went to the raptor center, the totem park, and one of the native clan houses.

 

The raptor center was first, and definitely a must-see if you're in Sitka. There was a short presentation with one of their bald eagles, and then time to explore the rest of the facility, including the flight center, the outdoor enclosures, and the hiking trails. Unfortunately, the bulk of the trails were closed due to bear activity. I asked one of the staffers how many bears you had to see in Alaska to close off a trail, as I'd assume bears were just a fact of life in the area. He said they normally have one or two on the area, but this season they'd been seeing 6 or 7, including a momma bear and cubs. They'd even had one walk across the parking lot just that morning around 8am when the staff was getting there. Additional fun fact - the raptor center is featured on the Nat Geo series "Alaska Animal Rescue" on Disney+, which we've checked out since getting back.

 

After leaving the raptor center, we headed to the totem park. You could go check out the exhibits in the visitor center, or you could go walk the trails. Again, some of them were closed due to bear activity, as these trails apparently connected to the raptor center trail section as well, but we were able to walk most of them and see the totems as well as check out the pink salmon running in the river. We took a quick lap through the visitor's center, and then hopped back on the bus for a ride to the last stop, the clan house.

 

This one, unfortunately, was a little disappointing, simply due to COVID. It was advertised as a tribal dance experience, and while we had a nice presentation and a couple of songs and stories by one of the natives, but we didn't get the full tribal dance performance - I assume either due to low staffing or social distancing protocols. 

 

Overall, another awesome day in Alaska, and for a very reasonable price. If we hadn't been limited to RCL provided excursions, we'd have probably tried to work the science center in as well, as we had plenty of time left in port after our tour was done, but that'll have to wait for another trip.

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On 10/3/2021 at 10:24 PM, BeachGal said:

Wonderful pics!!  It makes me want to go back to Alaska again.

 

4 minutes ago, Baked Alaska said:

THANK YOU for posting these, whetting my appetite for more hiking and adventure!! We head back to Alaska next July.

Glad I could help! Definitely looking forward to going back at some point ourselves. 

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On 10/2/2021 at 8:39 PM, GKMCruising said:

I didn't want to shell out for VOOM, so I couldn't live blog during our trip on Ovation a few weeks ago, but I figured I'd share my thoughts and pics from our excursions, as that's what I took the most pics of. I'll split it into 3 or 4 multiple posts - one for each excursion.

Thanks for the reviews and photos. Gorgeous! Can't wait to go next fall!

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1 hour ago, SPS said:

@GKMCruising Great pictures, thanks for sharing.

We are taking much a very similar cruise next August. (Much of the same ports)

May I ask how the weather was? We will definitely need to know what types of clothing to pack!

We packed basically jeans and long sleeved shirts, along with lightweight rain jackets and mid-weight regular jackets, along with knit beanie/toboggan hats and gloves. I think it stayed in the mid fifties to low sixties for most of our trip, so it worked out perfectly. As long as the wind wasn't blowing, it was almost warm enough for short sleeves and long pants. I saw a few people in heavier coats, but I also saw a handful in shorts... 🤣

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19 hours ago, GKMCruising said:

We packed basically jeans and long sleeved shirts, along with lightweight rain jackets and mid-weight regular jackets, along with knit beanie/toboggan hats and gloves. I think it stayed in the mid fifties to low sixties for most of our trip, so it worked out perfectly. As long as the wind wasn't blowing, it was almost warm enough for short sleeves and long pants. I saw a few people in heavier coats, but I also saw a handful in shorts... 🤣

Do you need waterproof boots/shoes? I realize it depends on the excursion. We'll probably do some where we are on a boat, and maybe some moderate photo excursions.

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40 minutes ago, Cruiser58 said:

Do you need waterproof boots/shoes? I realize it depends on the excursion. We'll probably do some where we are on a boat, and maybe some moderate photo excursions.

I didn't, but you're definitely going to want hiking/trail shoes with good support for anything where you'll be doing a lot of walking over uneven terrain. I also recommend wool socks - even if they get wet, they tend to dry quickly.

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On 10/2/2021 at 8:39 PM, GKMCruising said:

I didn't want to shell out for VOOM, so I couldn't live blog during our trip on Ovation a few weeks ago, but I figured I'd share my thoughts and pics from our excursions, as that's what I took the most pics of. I'll split it into 3 or 4 multiple posts - one for each excursion.

when you say a few weeks ago are you talking the last full week of September or earlier?

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4 minutes ago, GKMCruising said:

Slightly earlier. We were on board September 10th - 17th.

thanks that put it in better perspective for me - we did Aug 20-27, 3 weeks prior to you.  Our big hike in Skagway was the Chilkoot Trail and Rafting and we both loved it, spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town.

Excellent Review by the way.

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On 10/3/2021 at 8:57 AM, GKMCruising said:

Sitka - This was a stop that only happened due to COVID. Originally we were scheduled to go to Victoria, but due to the Canada restrictions, the itinerary changed to include Sitka instead, and I'm glad it did. This was a really neat stop, with lots of options to check out. Most of the tours were some combination of time spent at two or three different points of interest, so we looked through and decided on one that went to the raptor center, the totem park, and one of the native clan houses.

 

The raptor center was first, and definitely a must-see if you're in Sitka. There was a short presentation with one of their bald eagles, and then time to explore the rest of the facility, including the flight center, the outdoor enclosures, and the hiking trails. Unfortunately, the bulk of the trails were closed due to bear activity. I asked one of the staffers how many bears you had to see in Alaska to close off a trail, as I'd assume bears were just a fact of life in the area. He said they normally have one or two on the area, but this season they'd been seeing 6 or 7, including a momma bear and cubs. They'd even had one walk across the parking lot just that morning around 8am when the staff was getting there. Additional fun fact - the raptor center is featured on the Nat Geo series "Alaska Animal Rescue" on Disney+, which we've checked out since getting back.

Even though we have specific places in Victoria that we will visit if that's a stop, we would be quite happy to have the itinerary for May change to include Sitka.

Fun fact - my parents are major benefactors of the Raptor Center and the endowment fund was recently renamed in honor of my dad after he passed in February and included that fund in his estate plan.

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34 minutes ago, D Alt said:

any northern lights sightings during your cruise?  was the sky clear or cloudy?  

Love all the photos! this is a must trip. 

No, no northern lights during our cruise, as far as I'm aware. It was a bit too cloudy the night after Skagway when we'd have been far enough north to see them.

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On 10/8/2021 at 10:42 AM, Cruiser58 said:

Do you need waterproof boots/shoes? I realize it depends on the excursion. We'll probably do some where we are on a boat, and maybe some moderate photo excursions.

When I did the helicopter / walk on glacier tour they supplied boots with huge spikes on them. I had a mid weight jacket and on the glacier I had it unzipped because it wasn't that cold. That was a surprise, I just knew it would be colder, but it wasn't. This was in September. 

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