Our Amazing Alaska Cruise Vacation!

My extended family (grandpa, aunt, uncle, brother) and I just got back from the adventure of a lifetime: twelve days in Alaska, including a weeklong cruise. We saw and did so many amazing things, and I’m definitely feeling the post-vacay blues. Here’s a rundown of everything the trip entailed!

(All photos in this post are mine.)

Wednesday, August 1st (Atlanta –> Anchorage)

Joshua and I met our grandpa, Uncle Robert, and Aunt Sherri in the Atlanta airport. We had an eight-hour flight straight to Anchorage; I had to purchase Wifi and spend most of it doing a work project. Once in Anchorage (I wished we had more time to explore the city), we took a bus ride to the hotel and I went right to bed, going to sleep to the sound of horse hooves clopping in the street.

Thursday, August 2nd (Anchorage –> Denali)

Breakfast in the hotel was our first encounter with the Eastern European college students that come in droves to work in Alaska during the summer. They get a special visa and work in restaurants or hotels.

Shortly after breakfast, we got on a train and spent the next eight hours riding through Alaska, which was so fun! We saw beautiful scenery, such as mountains and small circular lakes with swans. We also saw a house called the Dr. Seuss house that looks just like the Weasleys’ Burrow.

For lunch, we ate in the train dining room; it was SO much fun to sit by the window, eat delicious food, and watch Alaska go by. (Aunt Sherri: “This dining room is so elegant, like in the old movies when people go on trains.” Joshua: “And then someone with a gun comes barging in!”)

Finally, we arrived in Denali National Park and Preserve and checked into the Mckinley Chalet Resort, where we stayed in the Canyon Lodge. I was so exhausted, nauseous, and dizzy; my nerve pain was bad, too. We went to a dinner show but I didn’t take in much because I was so exhausted.

Friday, August 3rd (Denali)

We took the shuttle (we spent half of our time at the resort waiting for shuttles) up to the main lodge for breakfast. I had the Denali Scramble every day: a biscuit with the most amazing freezer raspberry jam, scrambled eggs with ham/peppers/onions, and breakfast potatoes. I also had some of Joshua’s reindeer sausage, which tasted normal but a little coarse.

After breakfast, we got on a bus with our tour guide Justin and headed into Denali Park (the Serengeti of the Arctic) for eight hours. We saw lots of amazing scenery (360 mountains and meadows), and–although we were told not to brag–we also saw way more wildlife than most people see! We saw a moose with a calf, a grizzly bear with two cubs, Dall sheep, caribou, a wolf with pups (less than 3% of people see wolves on tundra tours), Arctic ground squirrels, ptarmigans, and an owl. We also drove on a road that was featured on a History Channel documentary of the world’s deadliest roads, got to know some of the people on our tour, and learned so much about Alaska.

By the time we got back, I was utterly exhausted. We had pizza for dinner and then I was in bed by eight.

Saturday, August 4th (Denali)

This was our free day in Denali. After breakfast (which started in the usual way: walking through the mountain mist listening to 25 by Red Rocks Worship), we saw a demonstration of how park rangers use sled dogs in Denali National Park. After that, Aunt Sherri and I went shopping, and then I went to the room and read (finishing Marley and Me in one sitting) and slept.

We went to Denali Square for dinner. I had chicken and waffles and we shared a skillet cookie. (Grandpa: “You know the worst part of this vacation? We haven’t had enough ice cream.”)

After dinner, we went to DogGoneIt, a family farm in Cantwell that trains sled dogs! We had intended to go to Husky Homestead, but all of the tours were full–and considering there were three full busloads of people (from our resort alone) headed there that evening, we were so glad there were eight people total on our tour.

We held two-week-old puppies, we saw the adult dogs head out for a training run, and we learned so much about the Iditarod. Mike, Caitlin, and their helpers were so friendly, and I highly recommend visiting DogGoneIt… I’ve been obsessed with the Iditarod since I was five or six, so it was a huge highlight of my trip!

Sunday, August 5th (Denali —> Seward)

There were several people who were part of our tour group on the land portion of our vacation and the cruise, and it was so fun spending time with them throughout the week–such as a couple with their granddaughter from Asheville, and my friend Kathy from Phoenix.

After breakfast at the main lodge, we got on a bus for another eight-hour ride with driver Sean–back down to Seward to get on the ship. We saw an igloo hotel with 40 pie-shaped rooms that was never opened because it never met codes. For lunch, we stopped at a very remote Mckinley Princess lodge; it was windy and was the first day I’d really been cold. Then we watched a movie on the Iditarod, stopped in a shopping center in Wasilla (where we saw a big German truck and were confused), and I listened to music and wrote down plans and goals for the fall.

We drove along one of the most beautiful scenic highways in the world. I listened to Only the Beginning of the Adventure and it was so beautiful. We also stopped at a rest stop on this highway that I could’ve lived at… mountains and fireweed (it looked like New Zealand) and so much beauty. I was the last one back on the bus.

Once in Seward, we boarded the cruise ship, had the drill, and went to dinner in the fancy dining room. I had seasonal greens, rainbow trout, and brownie cheesecake; our friends from Asheville came in and sat next to us; and we all tried not to be rednecks. The waiter brought Grandpa, who had ordered clam chowder, a bowl with a clam in it and said, “Enjoy your soup.” Then he walked away. Aunt Sherri cried laughing. The waiter came back and poured the liquid over it, but that was our big joke for the whole week.

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Literally the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I was so happy.

Monday, August 6th (at sea)

We had a late breakfast at the Lido (the deck 9 buffet) and then Uncle Robert, Joshua, and I went to the sports deck and played basketball and tennis in the wind and rain. Next, Joshua and I went swimming and sat in the hot tub; then I organized my clothes while he watched ESPN. We all five had a late lunch, Joshua and I played checkers in the library, and he and I played ping-pong.

It was a gala attire night in the dining room. I was feeling good about myself until I got back to the room and realized the back of my dress had been unsnapped ALL night. Hopefully no one noticed. The food was great: ham, salad of arugula and frisee, cracked pepper tenderloin and grilled shrimp, and Black Forest cake (well, that wasn’t great). We waved at friends and laughed hysterically about stuff and my aunt did a little matchmaking. What else are aunts for?

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Tuesday, August 7th (Glacier Bay)

I was in the library at 6:30–I had to purchase Wifi so I could attend a job interview. After that, we had breakfast; then we heard a lecture by a ranger about Glacier Bay and a lecture by a cultural representative about the native people. I rested in the room, my own family stood me up and didn’t meet me for lunch, and then we got dressed to go on the deck and see the glacier.

Seeing the glacier was such an amazing experience! We saw it calve, which means a big chunk fell off; it made a thunderous booming sound, and our cruise ship rocked from the wave. It was amazing. After watching the glacier for a while, I rested in the room some more, and then Grandpa and Joshua and I went to dinner.

This was my favorite dinner of the week: halibut with a lemon potato puree and zucchini, plus chocolate puff pastry and raspberry tart. So so good! Then Joshua and I played four games of checkers in the library and ran all over the boat, laughed, and probably went some places we weren’t supposed to.

Wednesday, August 8th (Haines)

Our first stop in Haines was a hammer museum; then we went to a coffee shop for Wifi, and then to a museum about the Tlingit people. (Who are all Slytherins–that was my main takeaway).

Next, we headed to the American Bald Eagle Foundation. We heard a lecture on bald eagles, one on falcons, and one on the general ecosystem. After that, it was so cold and rainy we decided to call it a day and go back to the ship.

We played ping-pong after lunch, as well as three games of Scattegories. Then Joshua and I went to the hot tub. We intended to stay only a few minutes, but we met a homeschool mom, her daughter, and her friend (both of whom are exactly my age–they grew up in Alaska) and ended up talking to them for an hour. It was so fun.

For dinner we went to the Lido (buffet)–they were having a “Taste of Alaska.” I had salmon, but I mostly just ate plums (three) and chocolate pastries (two). We all five sat there laughing hysterically for an hour about nothing really while we watched Haines recede.

Thursday, August 9th (Juneau)

Our first activity in Juneau was to take the tram to the top of the cliff. It was so foggy we couldn’t see much, but we did do some shopping… then we rode down and did more shopping. Juneau isn’t a big city, but it seemed like one after Haines. It felt very Alaskan, and I loved it.

We came back to the boat for lunch and then went on a whale watching tour. To get to the boat, we drove through the largest temperate rainforest in the world (with my favorite bus driver/tour guide of the week, Tara. We had so many tour guides, I can immediately recognize good or bad ones now! Half of them are college students, and the other half are teachers). The whale watching tour was fun–we saw six humpbacks total. They’d come up and spout (once I was on the deck, and I could hear the sound); then they’d dive down. We also saw about a hundred sea lions… and, we saw sunshine for the first time since arriving in Alaska! On the way back to the cruise ship, we saw 20+ bald eagles sitting on lampposts.

For dinner I had shrimp tacos, salmon, and gateau Argentina (chocolate cake). I also had a scarring experience when I ate an entire anchovy without realizing what it was. The Indonesian waiters in the dining room had a celebration song they sang for birthdays/anniversaries, and they sang it eight times that night, which was the record for the week!

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Friday, August 10th (Ketchikan)

We had breakfast and stood on the deck watching floatplanes take off and land. I loved Ketchikan; it was so bright, colorful, and cute.

We walked around a bit and went to the lumberjack show, which was overrated. Then we went back to the ship. I decided to stay on ship after lunch; I did some lunges around the deck and ran all 10 flights of stairs three times. Although I didn’t do any formal workouts during the trip–the gym was always too crowded–I did make a point to walk or run up all the stairs at least once a day, even though it killed me. After running stairs on Friday, I sat on the deck and started writing a short story, edited another short story, and reread World on a String (my April Camp NaNo novel) for the first time since finishing it.

Dinner was another gala attire night. I had delicious pan seared sea bass with parsnip puree and passion fruit cheesecake with Oreo crust. (Uncle Robert had foie de gras, which was another scarring experience.) At 9:00 we went to hear an hour-long program of Dvorak with the pianist, the cellist, and one of the violinists. It was wonderful!

Each night, we’d have a different towel animal in our room. It was a monkey on Friday.

Saturday, August 11th (at sea)

I slept late and just barely got breakfast. Joshua and I sat in the hot tub, had a very light lunch, and we heard Schumann’s Quintet in Eb, which was excellent. (Schumann is not Jamaican.) Then I packed and rested in bed for a while.

For dinner, I got Wiener schnitzel and trout, which were both good. We left early because I was panicked about making it to the music in time. That night was an American music program–Copeland, Bernstein, Gershwin, and the like. It was music the general public is more likely to know, so the musicians and audience alike really got into it, and it was fun.

After that the three of us (Grandpa, Joshua, and I) went to the Lido for chocolate cheesecake. Then Joshua and I caught the last 30 minutes of the comedian and magician’s show.

Sunday, August 12th (Vancouver –> Seattle –> Atlanta)

We spent breakfast and the subsequent time waiting for our bus saying goodbye to all of our friends. Then we had a 45-minute bus ride through Vancouver; I really loved the city. Customs was easy and we had a short flight from Vancouver to Seattle. We had lunch in the Seattle airport and then flew to Atlanta; I spent most of that flight rewatching The Parent Trap, which I love so much. We arrived in Atlanta around eleven PM and my parents picked us up.

When I finally got in my own bed at one AM, it felt like a lifetime had passed. This was the most amazing trip. I spent time with family, saw and did so many amazing things, and had a much needed break from work and life… I made great friends, had lots of adventures, and of course ate lots of amazing food! I’m so grateful for this trip, I miss it so much, and I’ve already booked a hotel for my next travel adventure. Alaska was the adventure of a lifetime!

Have you ever been to Alaska? Have you ever been on a cruise? Where is your favorite place you’ve ever been?