It was two years ago today that my Alaskan adventures started and although borders are currently closed, I thought I’d share some of my unforgettable experiences that I had in this big ‘n beautiful slice of the USA.
I have to admit, despite always being top student in geography class and having spent more than half my lifetime in the travel business, I knew very little about Alaska. Which is actually a plus I think, because I went in with no expectations. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’ll learn more about Alaska than I did so you will likely have expectations that I didn’t….but I’m sure your experiences will be different to mine as we’re all different people and how we perceive things differs too.
My trip was what’s referred to in the travel business as a “fam trip”, short for “familiarization trip”, meaning we were there to do inspections (accommodations, transportation, services, experiences, etc) and this fam trip was hosted by Celebrity Cruises. Our group wasn’t there to so much inspect their ships (though we DID do a quick one of the Millennium) we were there to experience their Cruise Tours program (spoiler alert: it’s amazing).
All right, let’s get into it…..my 5 Unforgettable Alaskan Places To Add To Your Must Visit List!….
The fam started at the Marriott in Anchorage, but I like to fly in a day prior to actual fam start dates because I like to familiarize myself as a NON-fam visitor first. So I booked myself a one-night stay at the Susitna Place.
Upon arrival at Susitna Place, I wasn’t even sure I was at the right place, because it’s very unassuming from the outside, but once inside, I realized how spacious this bed and breakfast was. There’s a large common room which offered beautiful views of Cook Inlet, lovely shared kitchen (lots of variety for breakfast) and my room (with private en suite bath) was far larger than I needed.
I wanted something clean, walking distance to downtown, and affordable. And that’s exactly what Susitna Place is. The owners are a wonderful couple who were always on hand if I had questions, but they were never intrusive to my stay.
One other thing I appreciated at Susitna was the free and reliable WiFi….versus at the Marriott where they charged $14.95 USD for WiFi and it wasn’t reliable at all.
A friendly heads-up….if you like snacks….buy them before you get to Alaska. A bag of Smartfood White Cheddar Popcorn was $5.69 USD, a bag of Doritos Cool Ranch was $7.29 USD and a bag of Fritos Chili Cheese Corn Chips (which I’ve never seen in Canada but wish we have them here as they’re yummy!) was $6.19 USD….and these were at the grocery store, not at a convenience store where prices are generally higher!
Seward (population 2773)is described as a city, but it’s hardly that…..and I love that it’s NOT like a typical city. Seward is quiet, unassuming, and oh so scenic! Also, if you love halibut, the BEST halibut I’ve had in my life, was at Thorn’s Showcase Lounge.
Thorn’s was recommended to us by a local, so we knew it would be good. What we didn’t know was that it would be GREAT! The local recommended we order a “Bucket of Butt“. We thought he was pulling our leg. What it is, it’s 1 oz sized chunks of deep fried halibut in homemade beer batter (very, very light!) served with homemade tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and lemon wedge (but honestly, the fish is so fresh and juicy and delicious it doesn’t need any sauces).
I ordered the “Basket” which came with 7 chunks and French fries for $22 USD. Had I known it was so delicious, I would have ordered the “Large Bowl” (no fries, just fish) which comes with 14 chunks for $32 USD.
(just for perspective: I have travelled the world, and I was a pescatarian, so I have eaten a lot of fish/seafood)
From Seward, we experienced a lunch-included Kenai Fjord tour which was so scenic and beautiful, it was really something special.
We were heading back to shore when all of a sudden we smelled something chocolaty. As it turned out it was the best chocolate chunk cookies I’ve ever had!! I just had one because it was very rich! I’m not usually a “cookie person” but after being out on the open water, feeling the wind-swept chill of fresh spring Alaskan air, and then smelling that awesome smell of freshly baked cookies, well, I just couldn’t resist.
Another highlight in Seward is the Alaska Sealife Center where you can have a close-up visit with some friendly puffins (so cute!!!).
We were visiting Alaska in May, so we had about 22 hours of daylight; I had never experienced that before but appreciated it very much because I had “only” one week to discover Alaska and so having longer days was awesome.
I put “only” in quotes because Alaska is MASSIVE. Alaska is the largest state (in size, but smallest in population). Before I move on, here are a few fun-facts about Alaska:
“Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are in Alaska. Denali, the highest peak in North America, is 20,310 feet above sea level. Known by the federal government as Mt. McKinley since 1896, it was officially renamed Denali, its state-known name in the indigenous Athabascan language, in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama.
Only about 740,000 people call the state home. Alaska has the lowest population density in the nation, with fewer than 1.5 people per square mile.
19 different U.S. states can fit into Alaska; not just the smaller states, either. Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia can all fit inside Alaska with room to spare.
Alaska is about one-fifth the size of the Lower 48. The next largest state, Texas, would fit into Alaska 2.5 times. In fact, if you combined the area of Texas, California and Montana, it would still be less than the size of Alaska.
Alaska has coastlines on three different major bodies of water: the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean. With about 34,000 miles, Alaska has more shoreline than the rest of the U.S. combined.
Alaska is one of seven states without a state income tax.”
Ok, now, let’s move on from wonderful Seward to the cutest little village I’ve ever been to….
Talkeetna is really tiny….population of about 1,200 people; if you blink, you’ll miss it, but DON’T blink because it’s definitely worth a stop here.
Talkeetna’s located about 115 miles north of Anchorage. A turn-of-the-20th-century gold-mining center, Talkeetna has retained much of its early Alaskan flavor.
You can easily stroll through the entire village within an hour (max!); there are cute old-fashioned stores, food trucks, boutiques, and at the edge of town a path that takes you down to the rivers. Talkeetna is located at the confluence of three rivers, the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna.
We stayed at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and woke up to an epic view of Denali, shining like the diamond she is, in the distance.
From Talkeetna, some of us opted to purchase the optional excursion of flying to Denali in a small aircraft, courtesy of K2 Aviation. As travel consultants and guests of Celebrity Cruises, we were given a discount on this excursion, but I would gladly have paid full price for this, it is worth every single penny! If you’re going to splurge when you visit Alaska, splurge on this experience as the memories will last you a life-time!
Our plane held eight people, plus the pilot, and in this lucky case, me in the co-pilot’s seat!!
I snapped hundreds of photos and videos both up in the sky and once we landed on the glacier, but none can possibly do this experience the justice it deserves.
Another reason to visit Talkeetna, the Wilderness Express, which is similar to the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada in that it has glass-domed cars which offer panoramic views as you travel in roomy seats and get served delicious food along the way.
Our overnight in Denali was at the Denali Park Village Hotel, where we had an awesome dinner-theater experience which included family-style dining and ribs just like my Mama makes ’em!
Our first experience in Fairbanks was aboard the Riverboat Discovery (which included another family-style meal) and it was a really cool way to experience what felt like a trip back in time.
We stopped along the way to learn a bit from Susan (Howlet) Butcher’s husband, David Monson, about their amazing sled-dogs.
Now, prior to doing this (the riverboat experience that is), we had the option to go visit sled-dogs, but I declined, because I thought it was a cruel thing to do, to “make” these beautiful dogs do something they don’t want to do.
Boy was I wrong! These dogs are true athletes, they LIVE to run! Just a bit of back-story, in case you haven’t hear of Susan Butcher:
“Susan Howlet Butcher (December 26, 1954 – August 5, 2006) was an American dog musher noteworthy as the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1986, the second four-time winner in 1990, and the first to win four out of five sequential years. She is commemorated in Alaska by the Susan Butcher Day (first Saturday in March).”
And in case you’re unfamiliar with what the Iditarod is:
“The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome (roughly 1,100 miles/1,770 km). Mushers and a team of 14 dogs, of which at least 5 must be on the towline at the finish line, cover the distance in 8–15 days or more.”
Our accommodations in Fairbanks were at Pikes Waterfront Lodge along the Chena River. I loved the hand-written note we had waiting in our room (small touches like that mean a lot to me), along with the bag of large marshmallows we could toast over the fire-pit later that night.
A unique feature of this property is that they have a tiny theatre where they play non-stop John Wayne movies.
Another highlight in Fairbanks was the Alaska Salmon Bake; even if you don’t like fish, you would be hard-pressed to not walk away with a belly ache from eating all the delicious offerings.
In the evening, we were treated to a hilarious performance at The Palace Theater, which is described as “an old-school musical-comedy revue about frontier life”.
Our final experience in Alaska was at Gold Dredge 8. I had never heard of this place so I had zero expectations. I hope I don’t spoil it for you, but you basically get to pan for gold. You’re guaranteed to get some gold, but the quantity varies. It’s a lot of fun and I would definitely recommend this family-friendly activity.
Spotted in Fairbanks, and it really resonated with me:
I LOVED my time in Alaska, and I can’t wait to go back, next time in my tiny-home-on-wheels (hopefully in 2022). If you’re like me, and you love nature, wild-animal viewing, hiking, adventure, nature photography, delicious food, and friendly people, you should really add Alaska to your “Must See” list. This is a place that photos don’t do justice too, you really have to see it for yourself.
Thank you for giving me fiveish minutes of your day today!
I hope I was able to bring something for you to think about and that you found value in this post.
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I am so glad Elizabeth for you to be able to visit such amazing place.
I hope that many travelers will also wish to go to Alaska and experience a beauty of that state.