Okay, I've teased you guys long enough! Here's a report from my recent 2 1/2 week trip to Alaska.
The trip was about a year in the making. Wife has wanted to go there for years (for one thing, she's a fly fisher, and Alaska is like mecca for flyfishermen.) We'd discussed it, talked about budget, what we'd like to do, etc.
Of course, being an ExPo type, I naturally wanted to drive the Alaska Highway and tour on our own, but 3 things prevented that:
1. Time. Driving to AK would take a minimum of 5 days (and that would really be pushing it, a week would be more reasonable) and driving back would take as long, so we'd exhaust 2 weeks of leave just getting to and from Alaska;
2. Cost. My preferred method would have been to drive the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks, then proceed to tour Alaska, then drive back via Haines/Skagway and the Alaska Ferry to Bellingham, WA, and then to drive back to CO. But factoring in about 7,000 miles of highway driving and assuming ~18mpg (probably optimistic on some stretches of road) would equal roughly 388 gallons of gas used.
At $3/gallon that would work out to about $1200 just for gas, and as I later found out, $3 is probably a ridiculously low estimate for gas prices in most of the areas I'd be going (in Anchorage, cheapest we saw was $3.33.) I have no idea how much gas is in Canada but I'm going to guess it's more expensive
than most places in the US outside of Alaska.) So realistically, I'd have been looking at clost to $2000 just in gasoline, to say nothing of food, lodging, and any repairs that might have to be made in 7,000 miles. On top of all that, taking the ferry from Haines to Bellingham would have run another $2k for the
wife and I and our vehicle (roughly $900 for the two of us and about $1100 for our vehicle);
3. The wife: God love her, but she doesn't like long car trips. That's just the way she is. And I'm sure you've all heard the saying "if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." This was supposed to be her dream vacation and making her miserable for a week didn't seem to be a great way to start it off.
So, we started looking at alternatives, including flying up and renting a vehicle, etc. After we crunched numbers and looked at what we wanted to do, we (grudgingly) acknowledged that it made sense for us to book a "package tour" through a cruise line (Holland America), so that's what we did. We booked a "Cruise-Tour" that included 7 days on the ship and 7 days off. The cruise departed from Vancouver, BC and went up the inside passage to Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, before ending in Seward.
I'd been to Alaska twice before, once in 1983 and once in 2001, both times with the military, and both times for only two weeks, where I spent the majority of my time on-base. So the idea behind this trip was that we wanted to see as much as we could, with the idea that we could decide what we liked and come back to see that in more detail later.
The cruise was, well, a cruise. I'd never done a cruise before, and I can't say I was all that fond of it. All that stuff of being herded around in a large group was too much like being in the Army for me, I guess. Still, it was nice to have our own room in a floating hotel and to wake up in a different place
each day. The downtown tourist traps were a waste of time but we did have fun on our excursions, especially in Skagway where we rode the White Pass railroad to the top of the pass and a little beyond (to Fraser, BC) and then rode bicycles (!) all the way back down into Skagway.
We saw this Orca in the waters off of Juneau:
Here's a pair of them:
Looking into Skagway from the White Pass railway:
Our trip back down:
To be fair, being on the cruise ship did get us the opportunity to see a lot of Glacier Bay National Park, one of the least accessible parks in the US (the only access is by small aircraft or ship.) We spent a full day at Glacier Bay and even got to see a large chunk of the glacier "calve" into the water.
...To be continued...