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The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

The Itinerary

This is the table of contents for the online version of our trip journal. Here are the chapters and their publishing dates:

December 27, 2015: Part One – To Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

December 28, 2015: Part Two – Vancouver to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

December 30, 2015: Part Three – To Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada.

December 31, 2015: Part Four – To Denali National Park, Alaska.

January 1, 2016: Part Five – At Denali National Park, Alaska.

January 2, 2016: Part Six – Denali National Park, Alaska and the train to Anchorage, Alaska.

January 3, 2016: Part Seven – The train to Seward, Alaska, and on the cruise.

January 4, 2016: Part Eight – Cruising to Seattle.

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 8

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Eight

August 9 (Friday, Day 21, Ketchikan, Alaska) –

Totems

We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and saw the very nice Ketchikan Airport that has a daily Air Alaska flight. Snookums talked to her sister, Judy, about booking a 14-day 2014 Alaskan cruise for her parents and after several phone calls (cell phones are good!), was able to immediately see the Future Cruise Consultant in order to book three cabins.

After lunch Snookums and Filbert met the Sea Cycles Tour co-owner, Vicki, and we were driven in her personal car to Totem Bight Historical State park to start the tour. Totem Bight has a lot of totems in a beautiful park. There is also a clan house. Then Vicki drove us to the float house for our sea cycle tour.

A sea cycle costs $2,800 plus shipping and is two molded plastic seats attached to a frame that rests above two large pontoons. Each seat has a set of bicycle pedals in front of it and there is a rudder between the two seats. You turn the sea cycle by using the rudder or by pedaling backwards. It was easy to do and we started by pedaling to a wildlife estuary. We saw seals, ducks and an eagle.

Seal
Ducks

Then we pedaled through Ward Cove and saw the working cove, including a barge that was moving and could have run us over if we would have timed it just right (or wrong)! We also got to pedal under a ship that was originally built by the Navy at 1/3rd scale as an ice breaker and now is owned by the State of Alaska as a ferry except none of the docks match it so it is just sitting in Ward Cove and running up docking fees! (The State is trying to sell it but hasn’t gotten any legitimate offers for it yet.) We checked a crab pot which had two crabs and three starfish in it. Vicki pulled the starfish out and through them back in the water. Filbert’s butt (he said were his hamstrings attach, but Snookums said butt) was really starting to hurt and we pedaled back to the float house where we enjoyed salmon dip, cheese, crackers, grapes and cookies while learning more about the owners (Amber is the other co-owner) and their lives in Ketchikan.

Crab pot
Salmon

We chose to be dropped off in downtown Ketchikan and Filbert navigated Snookums to the various free charm stores and patiently waited while Snookums ran in and got the jewelry. We walked to the salmon ladder and saw hundreds of salmon trying to swim upstream and saw many dead ones, too, that couldn’t make it. Then we hustled back to the ship. It was a good day and the weather was great.

Prior to dinner, Snookums had time to go to the Front Desk to check the invoice. There was a credit balance of around $160 on it and Rommel told her it could be applied toward a future cruise. Her next stop was the Future Cruise Consultant to book another 14-day Alaska cabin and a 2014 re-positioning cruise. The Future Cruise Consultant didn’t know anything about what Rommel had said and called him and told him that he shouldn’t tell passengers something can be done if he doesn’t know how to do it. Snookums had to speak to Rommel’s supervisor which didn’t help, either, but went ahead and booked the two cruises since she was confident there would be some resolution. Tonight was formal night so the four of us ate in Lido. Laura and Snookums left Lido in order to have dessert(s) in the main dining room while Filbert and John were still discussing the end of the world. Laura enjoyed her nightly after dinner cordial and baked Alaska and Snookums enjoyed her baked Alaska, rhubarb crisp (and it was crispy!) and a honey butter tart. When Snookums returned to the room at 10:15, Filbert was asleep.

August 9th post-sunset

August 10 (Saturday, Day 22, Cruise the Inside Passage) –

No wake-up alarms were set and after turning our clocks forward last night, we woke up around 9 AM. Filbert ate his high protein oatmeal in the room and Snookums waited for lunch. Liesbeth, the Guest Relations Manager, called to tell Snookums that the remaining shipboard credit would be transferred to the next booked cruise since Rommel had misinformed Snookums about being able to apply it to a future cruise.

While Snookums was showering there was an announcement from Captain Jochem Bakker that the water would be turned off for about 30 minutes due to a leak but she was able to finish her shower without incident. Then she went to the Front Desk to get a copy of the invoice and was happy to see that it was correct. She and Laura played “Blackout Bingo” with the winner getting a free cruise for two, but didn’t win. The woman behind us won and we saw that the certificate was good for a 7-day Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruise in a “minimal interior cabin”. Talk about being stingy!!

After lunch, Filbert went to the Crow’s Nest to look for sea life. He saw dolphins, humpback whales and seals before returning to the cabin to continue his watch from the balcony around 3 PM. He put on sunscreen since the fog and low clouds were starting to burn off. Snookums enjoyed lounging in bed while getting caught up on writing the journal. She also watched a creepy thriller of a movie called “Gone” which she enjoyed.

Yep. Whale.

The four of us ate at Pinnacle Grill for our going away dinner. Our reservation was for 6:30 and we were on time. Unfortunately, we didn’t get out of there until almost 10 PM! Pinnacle Grill is always a very leisurely (i.e. slow) dining experience, but this was ridiculous. John ordered his dessert and finally had to leave for his poker game at the casino. When it finally came, Filbert took it to him! This experience will definitely be noted on the survey. We had all been there before and knew what to order so it’s not like we took forever looking at the menu. It just took forever and there were two different times when we had no food in front of us for at least 30 minutes each time.

After dinner we packed which was very easy to do since we didn’t bring that much stuff on this cruisetour. And, our cabin was not a suite so there weren’t a lot of drawers and other cubbyholes to store things so after emptying out the closets, we were done.

August 11 (Sunday, Day 23, Vancouver, Canada) –

We used the free transfer that was included in our cruisetour to get to the airport which meant one more bus ride. Well, it was free and since we weren’t in a hurry it worked okay. But no one should ever buy a ship’s transfer to or from an airport. A taxi is always cheaper than what the ship charges for a transfer (unless the transfer is free like ours was) and you always have to stand in line to get on the big bus and then it seems like your airline is always the final stop!

While walking to the gate we decided to check out the duty free shop and saw that local beer was being sold. We bought two 6-packs for an upcoming pool party so that was neat. When we got to the gate, we saw John and Laura. They also had the free transfer but after standing in line for a few minutes decided to just take a cab. (After the land part of this trip, John was completely through with taking busses!) They beat us to the airport by 30 or 45 minutes, but still had to wait since their flight wasn’t that early. Their flight ended up being delayed by 15 minutes so we actually took off before them.

Our flight to Dallas was easy and since we cleared US Immigration and US Customs in Vancouver (which was a nice touch), we were able to spend our entire layover (about 3 hours) in the American Airlines lounge. We landed in Kansas City around midnight and were sound asleep by 1:30 AM. It was far from our best vacation, but we really enjoyed traveling with John and Laura and hope to do it again. Don’t ever take a HAL cruisetour that stops in multiple places or you’ll have to put your luggage out at 6 AM too often. Just go to Denali on your own and then take an Alaskan cruise!

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 7

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Seven

August 4 (Sunday, Day 16, Train to Seward and the ms Statendam) –

All Aboard Again

Our luggage had to be out at 8 AM which allowed us to sleep in later than usual. We are all looking forward to getting on the ship and being able to sleep in tomorrow! We enjoyed breakfast at Snow City Café which was voted Anchorage’s best breakfast for the last umpteen years. Snookums, Laura and John really enjoyed their breakfasts but Filbert’s salmon cakes weren’t spiced at all and his over medium eggs were sunny side up. And, the first pitcher of cream he was given for his coffee curdled it since it was soured! The rest of us, though, enjoyed it and everyone except John ordered a “to go” lunch to eat on the train.

We walked back to the Hilton and dropped off our lunches and got ready for the next excursion to the Anchorage Market & Festival which occurs every Saturday and Sunday in the summer. It’s a combination crafts fair, farmer’s market and festival food row. We found art for our travel wall which is made from torn pieces of washi paper fashioned to look like a mountain scene with a foil bronze colored bear glued at the base of the mountains. It’s a $5 greeting card and will look great in a frame on the wall as a souvenir of our Alaska cruisetour.

The market officially opened at 10 AM and it started with the singing of the national anthem. It didn’t take too long to walk through the four rows of vendors (the website said 300 vendors, but there were several empty spots and some hadn’t opened yet) and after that we went in search of Coke Zero for Filbert. A few blocks away we found some that was cheaper than what was being sold at the market so we stocked up for the cruise.

We boarded the bus at 11:45 and then got on the train just a few blocks away. We arrived in Seward 5 hours later which meant the cruise now started!! The train ride was great since our train car was only half full. The car bartender was expecting a full car, like always, but an excursion was running late and had to take the bus to Seward rather than the train. This train required four people sitting at a small table, two people facing each other, with no legroom so with it only being half-full we were able to spread out. Snookums and Filbert each sat at separate tables and Laura and John shared a table.

The views were great and included an Anchorage subdivision that had a landing strip in the backyard of 20 or so very average looking houses (the landing strip was grandfathered in since there is now a law that prohibits landing on grass in Anchorage), glaciers, waterfalls, fireweed, spawning salmon (and many dead ones). And, with around 30 minutes to go, we saw two moose in a field! The scenery made it by far the best train ride of the three we had, and having so much room made it even better. At one point Filbert spilled some of his Coke Zero but even that couldn’t dampen everyone’s enthusiasm!

Classic U-shaped glacier valley
Glacier behind the trees

With our lofty HAL Mariner Society status, we were able to cut in line and got on the ship immediately (5:45 PM) and were able to unpack prior to the 7:30 PM safety drill. It was very nice to have our entire suitcases unpacked and put away since we had been living out of them for the last two weeks or so. As soon as the drill was done, the four of us went to dinner. We shared the first night’s dinner with another couple and that was okay, but we wanted to sit with just us four. It felt great to go to bed without having to set any alarm.

August 5 (Monday, Day 17, At sea) –

We woke up and had breakfast in Lido and didn’t do much after that and then had lunch. We took naps in the afternoon and explored the ship. Exploring the ship is usually an embarkation day activity, but we didn’t have any time on Sunday and postponed it until Monday. It is very similar to the ms Amsterdam which we had spent 75 days on in late 2012 so it didn’t take too long to figure it all out. We went to Lido for dinner since it was formal night and none of us brought anything formal. Laura wanted to see what the after-dinner cordial was and Snookums wanted to see what dessert was served in the dining room so off they went to get those two items “to go”. The maître ‘d insisted that they sit in the dining room and enjoy them and although they weren’t wearing anything remotely formal, he told them that for women it didn’t really matter and only the men had to follow a dress code that required a jacket! We sat in a corner table and enjoyed our post-dinner treats a lot!

Filbert decided to set his alarm for 6 AM since he didn’t have to wake up. (This made no sense to Snookums, but lots of things that Filbert does don’t make sense to her!) Snookums did not set her alarm.

August 6 (Tuesday, Day 18, Cruising Glacier Bay) –

Morning on the water

Filbert was up around 5:45 AM and Snookums managed to wake up off and on during his first three hours of being awake and getting his breakfast delivered. She finally got up and showered and had fruit and raisin buns in Lido before joining Filbert outside on the bow of the ship around 9:30 AM. It was sunny and not too windy.

A perfect day for glacier viewing

At 10 AM wine (for sale) and cheese was brought out and at 10:30 AM the famous HAL Dutch split pea soup was served on the outside decks. Laura found us prior to the split pea soup showing up and she was very excited when it was served. We were looking for whales and did see a few spouts and some backs. We also saw some seals, but not many. The highlight of the day was seeing Margerie Glacier but Snookums and Filbert decided that Hubbard Glacier is a lot more impressive. After a quick lunch it was definitely time for a nap due to the early morning.

A Visitor
The Glacier

Dinner was just the four of us and we had a good waiter, Donny. (The waiter we had the first night did not impress any of us.) After dinner the wait staff brought a cake out and sang the Indonesian celebration song to Filbert and that was fun. He took the cake back to the cabin at 8:45 PM and we saw some more whales and went to bed.

August 7 (Wednesday, Day 19, Haines, Alaska) –

At Haines

Haines, Alaska was a great port. Its population is 2,400 people and it rarely gets cruise ships so its summer population is the same. Between September and December around 3,500 bald eagles migrate through Haines.

We met our Rainbow Glacier Adventures tour guide for our $95 per person Chilkoot Lake Nature and Bear Viewing tour. The salmon hadn’t really started to spawn yet so our guide wasn’t sure we would see any bears. But we were hopeful. We piled into the van and she drove to Chilkoot State Park. We saw a nest that had a baby eagle in it and a bigger eagle. We also saw the salmon weir and the sign said that 26 were counted that day. That’s not much during the height of spawning which obviously hadn’t started yet. We DID see a bear across the river so that was neat. It was closer than any bear we saw at Denali.

Bear!

Next we stopped at Garbage Point which used to be a dump but is now a nice place to view the dock and the cruise ship. After a quick stop at the Visitors Center for a bathroom break, we headed to Chilkat State Park for our box lunch. It was absolutely beautiful and we saw two glaciers and a waterfall while we were enjoying our lunch. On the way back to the ship we stopped to see the cannery. It’s no longer in use but is still picturesque.

After our four-hour tour, we walked around Haines. We saw Fort William H. Seward and then walked to Dalton City. Dalton City is the movie set that was used to film “White Fang” in 1991. It has now been turned into a old-time “strip mall” and contains the SE State Fair (not in session during our visit), some boutiques and Haines Brewing Company. Filbert enjoyed for beer tastings of Spruce Tip and Lookout Stout and settled for a pint of Lookout Stout while Snookums had some homemade root beer. We drank it in front of the brewery while sitting on a bench on the wood sidewalk. It was a gorgeous day.

While we had a wonderful day, Laura and John had a worthless excursion to Skagway and its railway tour but they did stop in Effy to get Snookums two free necklaces! (Haines had no tourist stores which is another reason Snookums enjoyed it so much. It was just a beautiful town with magnificent scenery.)

August 8 (Thursday, Day 20, Juneau, Alaska) –

We were supposed to have a Bear Island Wilderness Tour so we went to the base of Mt. Roberts Tramway at 9 AM to meet our pilot. Well, he never showed up. A local person knew of him and actually tried to find him (and call him) but came up empty. Snookums called his cell but it was out of service. He finally called around 10:45 AM and said that due to the weather, he wouldn’t be able to fly us to Bear Island. (It was raining and yucky.) We weren’t too disappointed since the weather was so bad, but it was a bummer to wait for around two hours, in the rain and cold, while trying to find him just to find out that it was cancelled.

Filbert went back to the ship and Snookums went to the Juneau library which was next to the ship to use the WiFi on her phone. Then she went back to the ship and got Filbert and the laptops to really enjoy the free WiFi. After we had our fill of WiFi, Filbert returned to the ship and Snookums went to a few of the stores that were giving away the free charms and necklaces. This was our third time in Juneau so we were okay with a day on the ship, especially since the weather was crappy.

Earlier in the day we were invited to cocktails for tonight. We also found out that John and Laura were, too. None of us could figure out why we were invited but assumed it was because of our Mariner status. We were also surprised when each of our cabins was called to find out if we were attending since the invitation didn’t say RSVP. We showed up for cocktails with Capt. Jochem Bakker and Hotel Director Bert Van Mackelenbergh and buzzed through the receiving line in order to get our free drinks. There were probably 30 or 40 passengers there. Snookums managed to order two different non-alcoholic specialty drinks and a can of Coke Zero while Filbert and Laura enjoyed their glasses of wine and John ordered his Coke Zero. The Captain spoke a few words and then the Cruise Director started to talk about people with the most nights on this cruise. All of a sudden he said something about “Filbert and Snookums” (well, he used our real names, actually) and that got our attention. Then he said that “John and Laura” had a lot of nights, too. Sure enough, the four of us had the second and third most nights on this 7-day cruise and since we were going to be singled out, our cabins were called to see if we would actually attend. We’ll always show up for free drinks!

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 6

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Six

(Remember to click “read more” if you’re looking at this from the main medary.com page to get the whole article!)

August 2 (Friday, Day 14, Denali National Park, Alaska) –

Helicopter

Once again we had to wake up early and today we woke up at 5:45 AM in order to be in the lobby (after taking the shuttle) by 7 PM. Era Flightseeing was there to pick us up for our heli-hiking trip. We weighed in at the helicopter office and received our safety briefing. One other couple was on the tour with us along with Jeff, the naturalist/hiking guide. We piled in the helicopter and Snookums was the co-pilot once again. This time she had plenty of room but it was only a short 15-minute flight to the tundra.

We were not in Denali National Park, but it looked just like it with all sorts of various types of vegetation and hills and mountains and kettle ponds (pools formed by glaciers). While the rotors were still moving, we all carefully exited the helicopter and stayed down with one knee touching the ground until the helicopter flew off. We immediately spotted Dall sheep on a far off mountain ridge that looked like white dots with the naked eye, but Jeff had a spotting scope on a tripod that he set up.

The tundra is very spongy, yet the soles of our shoes did not get wet. The definition of tundra is “A treeless area between the icecap and the tree line of Arctic regions, having a permanently frozen subsoil and supporting low-growing vegetation such as lichens, mosses, and stunted shrubs.” Besides seeing lots of different kinds of lichens, mosses and flowers, we saw arctic ground squirrel, caribou (but only with Jeff’s scope), a woolly caterpillar, horned lark (Filbert spotted this bird), pika (a rodent that Filbert spotted) and two golden eagles flying above.

The hike was not very strenuous, but it was a different kind of walk since there were many rocks and various levels of moss and animal holes (squirrels and marmots) and since your feet would sometimes sink in a couple of inches and other times they wouldn’t. We hiked down and came upon another flat area and that is when Jeff used the satellite phone to call for the helicopter to pick us up. In the meantime he spotted a big bull moose in the distance and put it in his spotting scope. Neither of us could ever find it, though.

Arctic landscape
Wooly caterpillar
Bear poop
Little red flowers
Mushroom
Arctic ground squirrel
Pika. He (she?) was not happy with our presence.
Look ma! No mosquitoes!

The helicopter came and with its rotors turning, we loaded in one by one. We were told to stay with one knee on the ground until it was our turn and to also hold onto the backpacks that were on the ground. It was VERY windy and moss and dry grasses were blowing around. We all got in and then Jeff gathered all of our backpacks and put them in the helicopter and then we took off. Jeff told the pilot were to fly so that we could see the bull moose and Snookums did see it from above, but in her opinion, that still didn’t count as a moose sighting!

By the time we got back to McKinley Chalet Resort, it was past lunchtime so we took the shuttle back to our room and changed shoes before taking the shuttle back to then walk across the street to Prospector’s Pizza and decided to split a pizza that had reindeer sausage on it. Snookums also ordered a side salad and at the very end of eating it she found two clumps of clay/dirt, each the size of a pea. She also saw “gunk” stuck to the inside of the water carafe and pointed out both things to the server. The server explained that the lettuce was grown a few miles away on an organic farm and Snookums countered that it should have been washed better. When it was time for the bill, the salad had been removed.

Before returning to our room, we decided to take the shuttle to the Denali National Park Visitor’s Center and bookstore. Both were underwhelming and we took the next shuttle back. When we got back to our room, we had a note under the door from Laura explaining that they saw a grizzly bear chase a moose and her calf and also saw a big bull moose with a full rack of antlers (i.e. Bullwinkle). Laura and Snookums have been wanting to see Bullwinkle and now Laura has.

When it was time for dinner we took the shuttle and then walked across the street to the Thai & Chinese Food trailer for dinner and Snookums enjoyed spicy green curry with chicken and Filbert ordered the extra spicy chicken with ginger which he declared as being too hot to really enjoy, but he ate it. The ambiance isn’t anything special (picnic tables on the dusty gravel lot), but the food was delicious and for $10 each, a real bargain, too! Filbert was feeling the burn and decided that ice cream was needed. He ordered a scoop ($3.95) for us to share and asked for two spoons and the server thought he wanted two scoops ($5.95). We managed to eat it all.

We walked back to the lobby and waited for the shuttle to take us down the hill since Snookums was so tired. We were asleep by 10. Filbert woke up at 11:15 when the power went out and his sleep apnea machine stopped. Snookums called the front desk using her cell phone and was told the entire canyon was out which was a 20-mile wide swath. They anticipated it to be out for 3 or 4 hours but didn’t know why. They offered to move us to the main lodge and feed a power cord through the window from a generator outside the window, but Filbert decided to stay put since it was going to be hard to pack up and move in the dark, even with the remnants of sunlight left. Snookums went back to sleep and Filbert dozed. The power came back on at 3:14 AM and somehow Snookums woke up but since Filbert was asleep, Snookums just rolled over and went back to sleep.

August 3 (Saturday, Day 15, Train to Anchorage, Alaska) –

Locomotive

Our bags had to be out by 9 AM which wasn’t too bad, but we had to vacate the room by 10 AM although we weren’t leaving the lodge until 11:45 AM! After the power outage last night, no one was in a very good mood. John and Laura had returned from their evening hike right before the power outage and were going to shower, but couldn’t since there was no water due to the power outage. Anyway, we put the night behind us and carried on in true hardy Alaska fashion!

It was VERY windy today and that made us extremely thankful for the great weather we had while in Denali. The four of us walked to Salmon Bake for a filling breakfast and then bought food for the 8-hour train ride to Anchorage. (Snookums bought a Subway sandwich and Filbert bought some beef jerky and almonds at one of the three tiny grocery stores in Healy.)

The train ride was just a lot of trees and no moose and was very long. When we made it to Anchorage we were the first ones off the train and while Filbert went to the room, Snookums went to the front desk to get HHonors Gold perks (free internet, free water, free breakfast). When she got to the hotel room, she realized Filbert was just standing there and he was showing her the dirty standing water in the bathtub! A phone call to the front desk was required to get a new room and after getting situated in the new room, we roamed downtown Anchorage in order to turn in three coupons for free stuff. Three magnets later, we went to a liquor store and Filbert bought two bottles of local beer and then we bought elk gyros ($6.50 each) from a sidewalk vendor. The homemade tzasiki sauce was outstanding and it was a great dinner.

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 5

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Five

(Remember to click “read more” if you’re looking at this from the main medary.com page to get the whole article!)

August 1 (Thursday, Day 13, Denali National Park, Alaska)

Today was a big day since we got to take the official Denali National Park Tundra Wilderness Tour. Unfortunately, Snookums didn’t write the day’s journal entry until a year after the fact! She doesn’t know how she missed writing about today, but she did.

(So, for the record, it’s 3/7 Snookums’ fault that this travelogue is posted 28 months after the fact. – Filbert)

Denali in the distance

We met our school bus at 6:40 AM and piled on. Only official vehicles are allowed into the park so it’s a guided tour on a school bus or else you can catch a school bus shuttle for hiking purposes and things like that. The official tour was included in the price of our HAL tour.

During our almost 8-hour tour, we saw Mt. McKinley, ptarmigan and chicks, moose and two calves, Dall sheep, collared pika, grizzly bear and two cubs, caribou, arctic ground squirrel and a mew gull. Unfortunately most of the animals were not very close to us. However, the bus before us (or after?) had a bear walk right in front of it. So, the animals are all over the place, but you might not see them up close and personal.

Ptarmigan, close
Dall sheep in the (far) distance
Grizzly in the distance
Caribou in the distance
J & P at Denali
J & L at Denali

After we got back, we decided to wander along the highway and visit the various souvenir stores. We were exhausted but we didn’t want to go to sleep. We had a 5 PM dinner reservation for Salmon Bake restaurant since making an online reservation gets 10% off! It was not busy so early in the day, but 10% is 10%. Snookums had the Cajun rockfish and really enjoyed it. After dinner we walked back to the McKinley Chalet Resort and our room.

Denali, one more

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 4

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Four

(Remember to click “read more” if you’re looking at this from the main medary.com page to get the whole article!)

July 29 (Monday, Day 10, Motor Coach to Fairbanks, Alaska) –

Our luggage had to be out at 6 AM and the bus left at 7 AM making it another early morning. For breakfast Filbert ate some of his high protein bars while Snookums went across the street to pick up her pre-ordered breakfast box from Belinda’s. The bus got on the ferry to cross the Yukon River and a little before 9 AM we were at the border. The border crossing opened at 9 and our driver wanted to be there when it opened.

The Border

We stopped at Davis Dome, a scenic spot with long drops, and saw five caribou, probably members of the Pioneer Herd. They weren’t in any hurry to leave and everyone was able to get good photos.

Caribou

We boarded the bus and started our journey and a few minutes later had to stop since there were three more caribou on the road. They ambled off the road after awhile. The fields were full of fireweed, a weed that blooms beautiful pink flowers. The story of fireweed is that when the last bloom opens, winter is next.

Our next stop was in Chicken, Alaska. Snookums bought a so-so blueberry scone and used the long drop. Filbert enjoyed a cup of the free coffee. Chicken consisted of the gift store/rest stop and a few other buildings. It was a typical “town” in the interior of Alaska! They say that the town is named “Chicken” because the settlers couldn’t decide how to properly spell “ptarmigan.”

Chicken, Alaska

Our next stop was in Tok, Alaska. We were immediately served our turkey sandwiches but had to wait for the bumbleberry crisp (blueberry, blackberry, strawberry) hot from the oven. Snookums ate both hers and Filbert’s and ended up with a bright blue tongue and teeth. More importantly, there was cell phone service!

Our final stop of the day was at Rika’s Roadhouse which is an historic sight in Big Delta State Historical Park. People lined up for the strawberry-rhubarb pie, but Snookums brushed her teeth in order to see if the blue stains would disappear. Luckily, they did! Rika was a woman that settled there and ultimately opened up a roadhouse to serve the traveling gold stampeders, hunters, traders and freighters.

Moose and calf

Finally we pulled up to the Fairbanks Westmark and got our room, the Fairbanks Suite! Laura and John were next door, like always, in a normal room. Somehow we were lucky and got the suite. It was just a normal hotel room with a living room attached, but it was more than a normal room so we liked it. We hustled to a Thai restaurant a few blocks away and had a tasty dinner before returning to the hotel for an early bedtime. It’s a good thing that Alaska hotels have blackout curtains since the sun was still bright at 10 PM.

July 30 (Tuesday, Day 11, Fairbanks, Alaska) –

Riverboat Discovery

Laura was sick and didn’t leave the hotel. Filbert, Snookums and John boarded the bus at 10 AM for a 3-hour cruise aboard the authentic sternwheeler Riverboat Discovery. We expected it to be another worthless boat ride like we had in Dawson City, but this one was great. The captain was very enthusiastic and knew everyone that lived along the river. Susan Butcher, the late Iditarod champion, lived there and her family still does and trains sled dogs. While we were on the boat, her widow gave a demonstration. After about an hour we reached a reenacted Chena Indian village and had three different interesting lectures/demonstrations. Then we enjoyed a hearty family style lunch of cheddar cheese soup and miner’s stew that was served incredibly fast.

Sled Dogs

After the riverboat tour we got back on the bus and went to Gold Dredge 8. We had a close-up view of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, an open-air ride on a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad, exploration of Gold Dredge 8, and then we got to pan for gold after each of us was given a little bag of dirt and stuff. Snookums let the bus driver, who pans for a hobby, pan for her gold and her baggie produced $14 in gold. Filbert panned his own gold and discovered $19 in his. John found $10 in his. We combined all three gold flake amounts and John bought a very nice pendant for Laura that contained all of the flakes.

Goldstream Dredge No. 8
Panning for gold

Dana, a woman that Snookums knew from work and went on a 2-week African safari with 25 years ago, picked us up and we drove by University of Alaska-Fairbanks and saw musk oxen in the distance at its Large Animal Research Station. Then we went to dinner at The Pump House and had a very enjoyable night.

July 31 (Wednesday, Day 12, Train to Denali National Park) –

Alaska Railroad

Our bags were outside our hotel door at 6 AM and we met in the lobby at 7 AM. The early mornings are starting to get old. We got on the train at 8:15 and had already decided to enjoy breakfast on the train. That was a mistake. Snookums’s food was wrong and Filbert’s was cold. After some other mistakes, including getting a hash brown with a bite out of it, we were done and our meal was free. We returned to our seats and shared our experience with John and Laura who were smarter and did not plan on eating on the train. The train ride itself was uneventful and we didn’t see any wildlife but did see lots of trees.

Flying to the Glacier

We got to McKinley Chalet Resort at 12:30 PM and we were shuttled to our building. There are a lot of housing units in this “resort” so a shuttle is needed to get people from their units to the main lodge where the restaurants are and where are tours start. We quickly unpacked a little bit and went to the main building for a quick lunch. Then the four of us were picked up at 2:30 for our Fly Denali glacier landing flight ($359.25 pp).

Mt. McKinley (Denali) from the air

We had about 100 minutes of flying time and Snookums was in the cockpit seat. None of the passengers, including Snookums, had much room and Filbert seemed to be really squeezed in his seat. Snookums was not allowed to move her feet since there were pedals down there. Anyway, the pilot flew us directly towards Mt. McKinley and it scared Snookums since it seemed like we were so close. We also flew over the great gorge of the Ruth Glacier. After seeing that spectacular scenery, we landed on Pika Glacier for about 20 minutes. It was pretty neat. Too soon it was time to bundle back into the plane. We saw Mt. McKinley on the way back, too. Many times people that visit Denali don’t get to see McKinley due to cloud cover so the fact that we got to fly right up to it and see it was pretty cool.

On the Glacier

At 7:15 the four of us went to “Cabin Nite” dinner theater for dinner and a show. We knew it would be corny but Snookums had a “buy one, get one free” coupon so dinner for the two of us was $63 which is a bargain in Denali. The food was pretty good and it was served family style and the show was okay. It was over at 9:30 PM and our long, but good day finally ended.

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 3

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Three

(Remember to click “read more” if you’re looking at this from the main medary.com page to get the whole article!)

July 27 (Saturday, Day 8, Motor Coach to Dawson City, Canada) –

The Bus

Our luggage had to be outside our hotel room door by 6:30 and the bus departed at 7:45. We saw a fox within the first hour of the trip and a moose, too. For the next 7 hours, though, we only saw around 10 houses and 20 RVs and cars. The bus stopped every two hours and our first stop was at Braeburn’s. This little store, with Cinnamon Roll Airstrip across the road, sold $10 cinnamon rolls the size of a paper plate and 4 inches tall. Snookums was in line to buy one but when she saw it was $10, decided not to. Our lunch stop was at Minto which consisted of a dining hall, a few cabins and a bathroom with showers and laundry facilities. Our bus driver and tour guide served us chili and soup and there was also tossed salad and coleslaw and Nanaimo bars for dessert. Two First Nations people were seen in the kitchen, but they stayed mostly behind the scenes. Our next stop was at Moose Creek Lodge which is owned by a German woman. It was a tiny store, several cabins and a toilet house. Snookums bought one of her tiny strawberry rhubarb tarts. It was pretty good. Filbert bought one of her sausage rolls and enjoyed it. He also bought a book called “Klondike” by Dawson City author Pierre Berton. (Jack London and Robert Service also lived in Dawson City.) When John saw Filbert’s book, John ran back into the tiny store and bought a copy. They are both book lovers and history buffs.

John exiting Moose Creek Lodge

After Moose Lodge our next stop was at a scenic overlook that also had long drops (outhouses). It was a very clear day and the scenery was beautiful. Our guide said that the other times she had been to this overlook it had always been foggy.

We finally pulled up to our Dawson City hotel. Dawson City is 8 hours from Whitehorse and has a population of 1,800. There is nothing between the two cities (other than Braeburn’s and Moose Lodge) and we didn’t see much all day other than maybe 10 houses and 20 RVs/cars! When we were at Whitehorse we were at the edge of nowhere and now that we are in Dawson City, we are in the middle of nowhere!! In 1898 at the height of the gold rush, Dawson City had a population of 30,000.

As soon as we got to our Dawson City Westmark room, which was MUCH nicer than the Whitehorse Westmark, Snookums found two empty washers and did laundry. After the clothes were dried, we went to the Drunken Goat for Greek food. We each had a $16.95 gyro with Greek salad and it was fantastic. Filbert also had two pints of draught beer at $4 each since there was a special. We had been warned that food in Dawson City was very expensive and we did see some exorbitant prices at the grocery store, but for the most part prices seemed to be around 30% more expensive.

After dinner we wandered to the Downtown Hotel since Filbert wanted to join the sourtoe cocktail club. (Sourtoe is a takeoff of sourdough and you can read more about it at the Downtown Hotel web site). Laura had said she wanted to become a member, too, after they watched the $10 show at Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall. When we got to the bar, we saw a notice saying that Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush series was being filmed. Since we are not on any country’s wanted list, that didn’t stop us and we walked in and saved seats. Sure enough, the cast of Gold Rush: Alaska was there since Parker Schnable turned 19 on Monday and was celebrating tonight since Canada’s drinking age is 19. He was going to three bars in Dawson City with the Downtown Hotel being one of the three. (Gerties was another bar and we don’t know the third.) Parker drank his sourtoe cocktail and then it was Filbert’s turn, while the cameras were still rolling.

Do you really want to keep reading?

For those of you that aren’t interested in going to the link to read about a sourtoe cocktail, suffice it to say that some man lost a toe many, many years ago to gangrene and saved it under the porch of his house since that is where you put valuables back in the day. The man that found the saved toe under the porch of his newly purchased house then made money by drinking drinks that had this toe in it. Now the preserved, black toe is offered to visitors to “enjoy”.

The Toe

First you pay $5 for a shot of Yukon Jack (a sweet whiskey) and then you pay $5 to Captain Dick (a grizzled old man) to put the amputated toe in your drink. He reads the proclamation and fills out the official certificate and wipes the toe off with Lysol wipes between drinkers. After the ceremony is done, it is time for the drinker to drink the alcohol while making sure that the toe touches the lips or else it doesn’t count.

Filbert with Captain Dick
He didn’t!

When Filbert turned his glass upside down to get it to touch his lips, the entire toe fell in his mouth and he then proudly swished it around before spitting it in his glass. And, to make it more dramatic, he spit something out afterwards. (Snookums thought he was just being dramatic but Filbert said that there was definitely a piece of something in his mouth that he spit out!) After he was filmed and he signed his waiver, he realized that he didn’t have to pay the $5 to Captain Dick since Discovery Channel took care of it. What a deal!! The episode is scheduled to show in January 2014. Next it was Laura’s turn and the fact that she wanted to do it at all absolutely stunned her husband, John.

Laura with Captain Dick
She didn’t!

Filbert is definitely a bad influence on her. Up until two years ago non-drinkers could participate by putting the toe in a glass of water and then drinking that but the health department stopped that. As a non-drinker, Snookums was crushed to hear that. (Yeah, right!) Our tour guide, Kim Booher, also enjoyed a sourtoe cocktail, her fifth over the years!After all that excitement, the group called it a night and went back to the Westmark for bed. Filbert kept saying he wanted to use about two gallons of Listerine, but he managed to survive by thoroughly brushing his teeth.

July 28 (Sunday, Day 9, Dawson City, Canada) –

Dawson City

After a very good late breakfast at Belinda’s Restaurant in the Westmark we walked around Dawson City. Dawson City has only one paved road and the others are gravel. There are boardwalks for sidewalks and several of the buildings are intact from 1898. However, the builders back then didn’t know how to deal with permafrost and the buildings are buckled and not square. Some of them have been made safe while still looking rickety while others have been condemned.

Old buildings

It was dusty and surprisingly, many of the places were closed since it was Sunday. Given that it’s such a small town and gets 99.9% of its tourists in the summer, Snookums expected that the businesses would have been open while tour groups were in town. It was soon time for our included Klondike Spirit paddlewheel ride along the Yukon River so we did that. It was hot inside the boat where the chairs were so everyone was standing along the rails during the 1.5 hour ride and there wasn’t that much to see. The guide that had the microphone was no good, either, and no one was sure why Holland America decided to add this to everyone’s package.

On the Yukon

After we got off the boat, we were going to have dinner at a restaurant but it was closed on Sundays so we ate at Belinda’s again. We were surprised to be served an amuse bouche prior to dinner and our meals were very tasty. We turned in early since there wasn’t anything else to do in Dawson City.

The 2013 Alaska HAL CruiseTour, Part 2

The 19-Day Holland America Line Alaska CruiseTour, Holland America ms Statendam

Text and pictures by Snookums, webification by Filbert

Part Two

July 24 (Wednesday, Day 5, Vancouver, Canada) –

Stanley Park Geese

After last night’s late night, we woke up and made it to the Regency Club before breakfast stopped being served. We were just hanging out on the balcony when John and Laura showed up around 10:35. We watched a film being filmed on the top of a building down the street and then decided to walk to Stanley Park together. After they ate a quick breakfast at Tim Horton’s, we met in the lobby at 11:15 and walked to Stanley Park in order to walk along the seawall. We took a path through the park to get to the seawall and saw a raccoon. We also saw ducks, geese, swans, birds and squirrels. We saw low tide at 1:34 PM and found out that the water temperature was 67º. There were lots of people enjoying the nice beaches, the park, the walking/biking paths and the swimming pool. It looked more like a weekend than a Wednesday afternoon, but it must be the laid back West Coast culture. It was a beautiful day.

We started walking back to the Hyatt and stopped at Vera’s Burger Shack for lunch. Snookums really enjoyed her fried salami with sautéed onions and mustard and Filbert liked his bunless double bacon cheeseburger. It was a nice rest after a couple of hours of solid walking and we finally made it back to the Hyatt at 3 PM. For the first time during this stay, we had time to visit the Regency Club in the afternoon and picked up some cookies, trail mix, wrapped granola bars and nuts.

The four of us met in the Hyatt lobby at 4 PM and shared a cab to the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel. After a quick check-in, Filbert enjoyed watching the planes from our upgraded room with its runway view. The four of us ate dinner in the Fairmont bar and made an early night of it. Sunset was around 9 PM.

July 25 (Thursday, Day 6, Fly to Whitehorse, Canada) –

Whitehorse Community Market

Snookums realized that there was a lounge near Air North that she had (expired) access to so she and Filbert managed to get in and enjoyed free scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon. Snookums also had a Nanaimo bar which is an unbaked chocolate and custard bar cookie that supposedly originated in Nanaimo, British Columbia. We also loaded up with free cans of Coke Zero. It was a nice way to start the travel day. Our Air North flight was great and included a good sandwich and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. We even had an empty seat between us.

After tagging our luggage at the Whitehorse airport, 44 of us loaded on the tour bus and after 10 minutes arrived at the Whitehorse Westmark and we quickly got our hotel room key and luggage. Whitehorse has around 25,000 people in it and is the capital of the Yukon Territory. The entire population of Yukon Territory is 33,000! There was a welcome dinner at 6:30 and since it was free, we definitely wanted to attend. For 2 ½ hours prior to dinner, we walked around Whitehorse and went to the Fireweed Community Market that occurs each Thursday. It was a small farmer’s market and Snookums bought a large bag of kettle corn and Filbert bought a cup of coffee. It was overcast and raining, but we were prepared so it didn’t deter us. We walked along the Yukon River which is a beautiful shade of greenish blue and only saw a few mosquitoes. We went to a local sporting goods store and bought mosquito jackets and Filbert also bought mosquito pants and regular zip-on/zip-off pants. The mosquito garments are made of fine see-through mesh that are worn over clothes to keep the mosquitoes away. Filbert also bought three Yukon and Alaska Rand McNally maps at the local independent bookstore (open until midnight during the summer!).

Flowers along the Yukon

Dinner was uneventful and afterwards, we called it quits and enjoyed a quiet night in our (rather dingy) hotel room. Sunset was at 10:50 PM.

July 26 (Friday, Day 7, Whitehorse, Canada) –

Rain on Grey Mountain

We had a nice breakfast at Burnt Toast Café and had plenty of time to get organized for our 10 AM “Day in the Mountains” hike with Boréale Explorers. It was lightly misting when we got picked up and were driven to the cell phone towers on the side of Grey Mountain. We got out of the van and quickly realized we needed to put on our mosquito netting. Our guide didn’t think the mosquitoes were bad, but they were buzzing all around. We’ve seen them worse when we were in Anchorage two years ago, but since we had the netting, we used it!

Mosquito Netting

We hiked up the mountain and there wasn’t much to see since it was so cloudy. We did notice that the vegetation changed as we got higher and the trees were non-existent. The 360º view from the top was nothing for us since everything was clouded over. We did see two chipmunks and some bear scat. We turned around and made our way down to the van and our guide said that we got farther than any of his other trips and that made us feel good. Our legs were feeling the climb up and down, but we did it just fine. After we got in the van he took us to Miles Canyon which is another part of the Yukon River that is very pretty and we walked across the suspension bridge and did another little hike. (And it was little! He was going to take a Holland America tour group on this little hike tomorrow.) He was then going to take us to the free paddlewheeler that is now a museum, but we were just too tired and wanted to go back. We got to our room at 3:30 and changed shoes and then went to dinner.

Eagles in the nest

We ate at Klondike Rib & Salmon, which was next to the hotel. The restaurant is housed in the two oldest buildings still in use in Whitehorse. The dining room started as a bakery around 1900. We ordered the grilled vegetables ($16.95) and the salmon and rib dinner ($32.95) and it was a lot of food, but we managed to eat all of it except for the huge bed of rice pilaf the salmon and ribs were sitting on. John and Laura walked in after we placed our order and sat with us and after they were done eating, Snookums and John split a piece of bumbleberry pie (rhubarb, apple, blueberry, blackberry) with vanilla ice cream. It was great!

After a few minutes to let dinner settle, it was time to get with John and Laura for our 6 to 10 PM 4×4 tour. We piled into the jeep and our guide drove us up to the top of Mt. McIntyre which is the ridge between Fish Lake and Whitehorse. When we finally got to the top we had a spectacular view of Whitehorse and Grey Mountain that we had climbed earlier in the day. We saw several ground squirrels and caribou tracks, but that was all. The ride up to the top was very interesting since it was off road and our driver had to dodge boulders, potholes, deep puddles and all sorts of bad terrain. But, the driver is the owner of the jeep and maintains the “roads”. He said he came out in mid-May to get rid of three feet of snow in order to take his first tourists of the season! It was an adventure and during our stops prior to getting to the top, the mosquitoes were out and about. At the top, however, it was very windy and cold and there were no mosquitoes (and no trees, either). Snookums only managed to get bit by one mosquito today and it got her on the back of her hand.

On Mt. McIntyre

Although the sun was up until 10:50 PM, we all slept well!