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wismergirl

Radiance of the Seas Cruisetour #11 trip review - Aug 7-19, 2011

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July 29, 2011 (Day 1) – Toronto to Vancouver

The long-awaited trip to Alaska has finally started! We could actually see the land of Richmond where Vancouver Airport is situated after a 45-minute delay at the Toronto airport. This marked the first day of our 9-day pre-cruise vacation in Vancouver.

 

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I bought a Vancouver Entertainment Book for $10 a few weeks before our trip and we started using the buy-1-get-1-free coupon for our first dinner at Tropika Malaysian Cuisine in Aberdeen Centre in Richmond...yummy food, especially the satays!

Edited by wismergirl

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July 30, 2011 (Day 2) –Vancouver Downtown

I forgot to mention that we rented a Nissan Versa hatchback for $183 (8 days) from Hertz. Surprisingly, that little baby could fit all our luggage (3 big suitcases, 3 small suitcases & 3 backpacks) and it could still seat 4 adults. Good job, Nissan!

 

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We decided to explore downtown using the new Canada Line of the Skytrain that connects downtown Vancouver and the airport/Richmond. Instead of paying for 2 zones, we only needed to pay for 1 zone on weekends. It’s important that you have exact fare in coins as sometimes the machines could not give you change or take any bills. It took less than 25 minutes to go from Aberdeen (in Richmond) to Waterfront where the cruise terminal (Canada Place) is.

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A Princess cruiseship was docked there when we were there. On the other side of the dock there was a Holland American one. Seeing them made me REALLY want to go on the Alaskan cruise…can’t wait!!

 

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Walked along the Sea Wall and saw the Olympic Cauldron overlooking Coal Harbour.

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July 31, 2011 (Day 3) – Lonsdale Quay, North Vancouver

 

As it was bright and sunny, we decided to drive downtown for lunch, forgetting that it was Gay Parade that day and there was nowhere that we could park our car. So, off we went further north, past Stanley Park, crossed Lion’s Gate Bridge, to North Vancouver’s tourist destination, Lonsdale Quay.

 

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We had lunch at Burgoo where they had the yummiest Mac & Cheese, yes, so different than the packaged one! Then we had a nice walk along the quay just outside Lonsdale Quay Public Market and had a spectacular view of the Vancouver harbour.

 

 

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August 1, 2011 (Day 4) – Alice Lake Provincial Park, north of Squamish

 

 

Another beautiful sunny day…excellent weather for hiking…we hopped on our rental car and drove for over an hour to Alice Lake Provincial Park. The drive was very scenic, it’s the same route for driving to Whistler (we went there on Aug 4 after this hiking trip). We stopped at the Squamish Adventure/Visitor Centre as the building was very beautiful.

 

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Upon arrival at Alice Lake, we chose the 4 lakes trail which was a nice, easy stroll. We finished the whole trail with lots of photo stops in less than 3 hours.

 

Alice Lake

 

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Edith Lake

 

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Cheekye River with snowy mountain in the background

 

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Fawn Lake

 

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Stump Lake

 

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August 3, 2011 (Day 6) – White Rock, B.C.

 

Many people mentioned White Rock as a must-see in B.C., off we went and... wow … it was truly phenomenal! The “White Rock” – actually a glacial deposit - was PAINTED white to match the name! LOL! However, its long and old pier, the little stores along Marine Drive, the delicious fish & chips and ice cream – even better with the 50% off coupons using the Vancouver Entertainment Book, all added to make this little town unique and authentic!

 

White Rock

 

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White Rock Pier

 

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Low Tide

 

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August 4, 2011 (Day 7) – Whistler, B.C.

 

Our family of 6 joined a local tour that took us to Whistler by coach for $50 per person, then coming back to N. Vancouver by train for an additional $145. It would be so much cheaper to just go by car, but the car could not jut sit there & wait for us to pick it up after our train ride, so we just had to pay more for the convenience. That was a really pricey excursion: $50 (tour) + $145 (train) + $50 (Peak 2 Peak Gondola) + $7.5 (tip for tour guide) = $252.5 per person plus a taxi ride to the meeting place at 6:45 am outside the Yaohan Centre in Richmond. However, the experience was wonderful and the views were spectacular!

 

First we made a stop at Shannon Falls, it was beautiful!

 

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Then we visited the calm Lost Lake in Whistler.

 

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We waited in line for over 15 minutes to buy the Peak2Peak gondola tickets that could take us up the Whislter Mountain, then crossed over to the Blackcomb Mountain, and down the Blackcomb using open chairlifts. We could have asked the tour guide to get us the Peak2Peak tickets to skip the wait, but again we were using the Entertainment coupons for 50 % off a 2nd ticket, 3 coupons used for the 6 of us and we saved $75 instead of $30 through the guide, so we chose to line up and get our own.

 

Peak2Peak Gondola

The red ones were just regular ones and the silver ones were those that had a glass bottom. We waited an extra 10 minutes for the glass bottom one, it`s not really that special.

 

 

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Beautiful scenery up the Whistler Mountain

 

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We saw a black bear on the slope when we were on the chairlift. We didn`t have our tele and so it was just a black spec on our shots, not worth posting. The guide said there were about 70 bears in the Whistler area as they were looking for food.

 

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August 4, 2011 (Day 7) – Whistler, B.C. (con`t)

 

Cruise Critic does not allow me to post more than 6 pictures each time, that`s why I had to keep adding new replies when the limit is reached.

 

Back to the trip report…we did not have time to go all the way to both Whistler and Blackcomb`s highest points as we had to take different chairlifts to go up, then back down and we (basically it`s just me but not my family members!!) were afraid that we would miss the train in the afternoon, so I kept saying ``no, no, no!`` We just barely had time to get a take-out lunch to eat on our way to wait for the shuttle to take us to the train station. The shuttle came on time and there were a lot of other customers who rode the train to Whistler that morning. If we had done a return journey, we wouldn`t have enough time to ride the Peak2Peak gondola. Good job we opted for the bus tour!

 

Our train was schedule to leave at 3:30 and we were on the very comfortable and beautiful train just after 3 pm. It was only a 10 minutes shuttle ride from the shuttle stop at Whistler. Let`s enjoy some wonderful scenery here.

 

 

Rocky Mountaineer at the Whistler station

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The rail follows the mountain with bridges and tunnels

 

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Going in the tunnel

 

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Getting out of the tunnel

 

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Awesome canyon view

 

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View of Downtown Vancouver from train

 

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That`s the end of the pre-cruise vacation in Vancouver. After a day of shopping, walking around and relaxation in Richmond, off we went to Alaska, flying off from Vancouver to Anchorage. Stay tuned for the next post for our Alaskan adventure!

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August 6, 2011 (Day 9) – Vancouver, B.C. to Anchorage, Alaska

 

I am so excited to write about our amazing, brilliant, cool, divine, enjoyable, fabulous, gorgeous, hilarious (wait till you watch or take part in ‘Quest’ on board), incredible, joyful, knowledgeable, luxurious, magnificent, narrative, outstanding, phenomenal, quaint, remarkable, supercalifragilistic (I love Mary Poppins), terrific, unique, venturous, wonderful, x-traordinary, yummy and…let’s sing…Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah (we did get a few days of sunshine so we could see the peak of Mt. McKinley (or Denali) and the whole Alaskan Mountain Range). By now, after the very educational Alaskan Cruise A-Z, can you tell that I am a music teacher in an elementary school?

 

National Car Rental said we did not use our free rental day since 1998, so, in order not to disappoint them again, we claimed our full size car for the day. We got upgraded to a Toyota Rav4 SUV that could fit all 4 people’s luggage (4 big suitcases, 4 carry-on suitcases, 4 backpacks) closely and neatly. We had to take pictures so we could remember how to pack the car the same way to the airport for Fairbanks the next day. I deliberately write about this point as I was always wondering if the rental cars could ‘accommodate’ all our bags, and of course, plus 4 adults (my daughters are 22 & 18).

 

Our rental SUV

 

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We took the 11 a.m. Air Canada direct flight from Vancouver to Anchorage and we were in the Sheraton by 2:30 p.m. As an SPG Gold member, I got a free room on the Club Floor with full access to the Club Lounge. Free fruit, juice, soda, water, hot beverage, candy (like gummy worms & bears) and munchies were available 24 hours. Continental breakfast had only a few choices.

 

View from the Club Lounge

 

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Sheraton’s lobby was very nice with 4 free computers for guests to use. Each log-on would allow you 45 minutes, and you could extend the time. We printed out lots of info regarding our drive around Fairbanks the following day. Self-parking was directly across the street for $10 per night.

 

Sheraton lobby and LINK (where the computers were)

 

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Although Anchorage is the biggest city and most populated in Alaska, the downtown area near Sheraton did not really have a lot of life. If you want more convenient locations, Hilton would be a much better choice with lots more shops and restaurants around.

 

Anchorage Downtown near Sheraton

 

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We wanted to visit Portage Glacier and it’s about an hour’s drive from the hotel, so we had to rush to get a drive-through lunch and hit the highway so we would be in time for the last cruise to Portage Glacier at 4:30 p.m.

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August 6, 2011 (Day 9) – Portage Glacier, Alaska

 

As soon as we were on the scenic Seward Highway, it started to rain…typical Alaskan rainy weather in August. We made it to the Portage Glacier dock at 4:15 p.m. and boarded the last cruise of the day to view our first glacier. There were only about 20 passengers on board the mv Ptarmigan. It was $29 per adult, with a 10% discount if you are AAA/CAA members for the 1-hour cruise.

 

 

Boarding the mv Ptarmigan

 

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As it was raining, we couldn’t sit on the top deck. We had no choice but to take the audio class on the lower deck and listened to all the narration, which was actually quite informative and interesting. After about 20 minutes across Portage Lake, we could see the stunningly blue and white living Portage Glacier.

 

Portage Lake

 

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1st sight of the whole glacier

 

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The boat was so close to the glacier that we took lots of great pictures in the rain. The glacier was from a relic of the Ice Age, with occasional calving (fractures of ice breaking off the glacier and crashing into the water below) that we did not see.

 

Stunning close-up view of the blue and white glacier with black moraine

 

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Our next stop was to visit the nearby Begich-Boggs Visitor Centre to see the glaciology exhibits. The centre closed at 6 p.m. so we only had 20 minutes to see everything. It was still rainy and dull outside.

 

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We ate at a local restaurant called Spenard Roadhouse on W. Northern Lights Blvd. The salmon and the seafood jambalaya were both delicious.

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Like your review. can't wait to see more.

 

Glad you like it. I am choosing my next batch of photos to upload to Photobucket. It takes forever!

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August 7, 2011 (Day 10) – Anchorage to Fairbanks

 

My family boarded the Alaskan Airline flight at 9:45 a.m., and it arrived at Fairbanks in an hour. Alaskan Airline said they would give us a $20 refund if our luggage did not come out in 20 minutes after the arrival time. We wondered how they did it, but then, no refund for us (we were acvtually quite happy about that), as our bags came out in just 10 minutes after our arrival. Amazing service!

 

The arrival/baggage claim area was quite compact. Baggage claim was in the centre of the hall, there were a line of car rental counters against the back wall, and a line of cruiseline welcome stands in front of the window between the exits. When we arrived at Fairbanks, there was no RCI reps there but the Princess & Holland America reps were already working.

 

Fairbanks Airport

 

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We picked up our standard SUV (Ford Explorer) from Alamo this time (Yup! It’s our 3rd car in 10 days…still 2 more to pick up, one in Juneau and one in Vancouver after the cruise. It’s also like a test drive trip!) The car pick-up location was directly across the arrival hall so it’s very convenient. The first SUV’s windshield was all cracked with a big crack of at least 3 feet long. We didn’t feel safe driving that so we went back to the arrival hall to switch to another one. Luckily there were a lot of Ford Explorers to choose from.

 

We saw lots of beautiful and colourful flowers just next to the rental car parking lot. I guessed it’s because Fairbanks had over 20 hours of daylight in the summer so plants could grow luxuriantly.

 

 

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We were planning to go to Chena Hot Springs but it seemed too far, so we just went to Gold Dredge No.8 on the Old Steese Highway near Fox (about 20 minutes drive from Fairbanks). We didn’t know that they offered guided tours and lunch would be included in the $14.95 admission fee. We were just lucky that there were a group of Holland American cruise passengers doing their excursion at that time and we were able to join the guided tour without having to wait.

Gold Dredge No. 8 is a ladder dredge operated by the Fairbanks Exploration Co. from 1928 to 1959. Starting in the 1920s, water was brought to the area through the 90 miles (145 km) Davidson Ditch for gold mining. The Gold Dredge No. 8 cut a 4.5 miles (7.2 km) track and produced 7.5 million ounces of gold (quoted from Wikipedia).

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For lunch, we ate beef stews in buckets and tasted their scones, like the miners in the good old days. After lunch, we visited different houses that were once occupied by the miners and the officers. They were very well-kept.

In one of the rooms, we saw a mini-organ. Did they really play the instrument in a miner’s room? Most unusual! I never knew miners could be so musical!

 

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After the Gold Dredge, my daughters wanted to go to North Pole to visit Santa Claus, but we unintentionally drove past the Alyeska Pipeline. Having a husband who is a civil and structural engineer, and a daughter who is inquisitive about everything, we had to stop there and investigate.

Trans-Alaska pipeline

 

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Teacher says, "Time for Q and A."

Q: What’s the purpose of building the pipeline?

A: to move oil from the North Slope of Alaska to the northern most ice-free port in Valdez, Alaska

Q: How long is the whole pipeline?

A: 800 miles

Q: How long did it take to build the whole pipeline?

A: Construction began March 27, 1975 and was completed May 31, 1977.

Q: Why was the pipeline high up above ground?

A: to avoid melting permafrost and let animals to cross underneath

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Great review. Looking forward to reading more (and hopefully a photo from the Santa's place!):D

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Great review. Looking forward to reading more (and hopefully a photo from the Santa's place!):D

 

North Pole will be on my next post.

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August 7, 2011 (Day 10) – North Pole, Alaska

 

After half an hour on the Old Steese Highway & the Richardson Highway, we reached North Pole, Alaska. Despite the name, the city is about 1,700 miles south of Earth’s geographic North Pole (yes, we were still VERY far from it).

 

Outside the North Pole Visitors’ Centre

 

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Nonetheless, we got so excited to see a big gift shop called Santa Claus House, and the world’s largest fibreglass statue of Santa Claus outside.

 

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Did you see my younger daughter try to be Santa’s reindeer and the other one giving directions? They sure had a lot of fun there.

 

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Santa Claus House (spent a fortune there!)

 

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I bought postcards and sent to my school, knowing that my students will be thrilled to get mail from Santa Claus in North Pole.

Christmas-themed streets like Santa Claus Lane, St. Nicholas Drive, etc. were all over the town, even street lights were decorated in a candy cane motif.

 

Are you ready for class? Study the next 2 pictures, make sure you “actively & attentively & actually” take part in silent reading…just kidding! However, we did spend some time looking for this historic pole…see, we were good students who were following instructions given by the lady in the Visitor’s Centre.

 

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There were many houses close to the visitors’ centre with beautiful green roofs. Many of them were log cabins. I loved this quaint little town with white, red and green everywhere. Just in case you don't know: the city's fire trucks and ambulances are all red, while the police cars are green and white.

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August 7, 2011 (Day 10) – Fairbanks downtown and Pioneer Park

 

After North Pole, we drove back to Fairbanks downtown and had a nice walk along Chena River. In 1901, Captain E.T. Barnett landed here and established a trading post which became known as Fairbanks.

 

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On the other side of the bridge was the modern and beautiful building of Morrison Thompson Cultural & Visitors Centre. The park nearby had a beautiful animal antlers archway.

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Near the Golden Heart Plaza there was a fountain of the Unknown First Alaskan Family, right opposite was the Ice Museum but I heard that it was not very special. Having been to a great Ice Bar in Copenhagen, Denmark, I guessed we didn’t really need to recap the experience here in Alaska nor put on parkas, hats, mitts and boots yet.

 

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We made a final stop at the Pioneer Park before returning the rental car to the airport. I couldn’t believe that such a wonderful park was free! We walked around, boarded the train that went around the whole park twice for the fare of $2, then went to Pizza Hut for dinner…how I wished I had chosen to eat the salmon bake buffet at the park!!

 

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We drove back to Fairbanks Airport just before 8 pm. The very pleasant, friendly and helpful RCI rep greeted us warmly, called the Bear Lodge hotel shuttle and helped us move all our luggage outside the arrival hall while my husband returned the rental car. All these were done in 15 minutes and off we went to the comfortable and spacious Bear Lodge.

 

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Upon arrival, we were greeted by our cruise director, Leah. She explained everything that we needed to know regarding check-in and the itinerary of the 1st day. I asked her about the train upgrade from Anchorage to Seward as my parents would be joining us just for the cruise and I’d like to travel with them if possible. Leah was very helpful and promised me she would check on it later that night, which she did and gave me a positive answer the following day.

Edited by wismergirl

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August 8, 2011 (Day 11) – Riverboat Discovery Cruise, Fairbanks, Alaska (Excursion 1)

 

I hereby announce the official commencement of our 12-night Alaska Cruisetour #11 starting from Fairbanks, Anchorage. We met at 7:45 a.m. to board the comfortable and clean Royal Celebrity coach and met our driver, Michael, who happened to be one of the most humorous, knowledgeable and dedicated drivers (I'll tell you one of his jokes later when we came to the part about Pioneer Park). Our tour friends, average age 65+ (my 2 daughters aged 22 & 18 were like their babies, fellow cruisers kept talking about how cute they were), were so punctual (except once when we had to wait for 2 ladies for 15 minutes in Denali) that we were able to leave without delay every single time, kudos to everyone on tour!

 

We had a short drive to board the Discovery III Riverboat, spent a little time at the gift shop with free coffee, then started a 3-hour cruise on a paddlewheeler that took us into the heart of Alaska.

 

 

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You have to sit on the left side of the boat to see a floatplane taking off and landing on water.

 

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Then we visited the kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and saw how the great dogs pull the sled and ran around the complex 2 times. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual sled dog team race across Alaska. Mushers and a team of 12-16 dogs have to cover over 1049 miles in 9-15 days from Anchorage to Nome. This place was also on the left side of the boat. Thanks to my powerful Jason fast focus 10x50 binoculars that I could follow the dog sled easily even in a great distance.

 

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Next we passed by a fish camp to learn about the ancient Athabascan Indian culture and how they caught and preserved their fish. The fish camp was on the right this time but the boat turned around to make a stop there in the latter part of the journey, so, it’s on the left side of the boat again! Don’t stress out if you could not take good pictures since it was so far away from the boat, you’ll have ample photo opportunities later on. I kept deleting pictures that I took from far away…what a waste of time!

 

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On the return journey we stopped at a Chena Indian Village where the fish camp was located and had very well-organized guided tours run by the Alaskan native guides. Below is a picture of Chena Village Alaska Post Office, outside which was a statue of Granite, the famous lead-dog of Susan Butcher, a 4-time Iditarod champion. I loved the green roof!

 

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At the village they split the passengers into several groups and took them to different locations so everyone could have a seat when listening to their explanations. I must give credits to the excellent communication system that Riverboat Discovery used. Whether we were on board or at the Indian village, every word was broadcasted clearly whether they were far away (like the guides at the dog kennels and fish camp) or right at the village. They also showed the special locations using live video on the TV on board, just in case you could not see the kennels or fish camp clearly from where you were sitting. That made our 3-hour journey so much more interesting.

 

The gift shop on board was packed with passengers and the merchandise was quite reasonably priced. I bought a pair of gloves for $1.99 and some little items made by native Alaskans at a 20% discount.

 

We were driven back to downtown Fairbanks for lunch. As my family rented a car and drove around the day before, we didn’t walk around, instead, we had a sit down lunch at Gambardella’s Pasta Bella where the cruisetour guides ate. The bread was good, food was average and the service was quite slow. After lunch, on our way to El Dorado Gold Mine, we passed the Alyeska Pipeline again. This time it was not raining, so we took more pictures and the girls jumped again and again to touch the pipeline.

 

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Thank you so much for taking the time to post your pics and review. You have helped me relive many memories of the cruise tour of a lifetime. Looking forward to the rest!!

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August 8, 2011 (Day 11) – El Dorado Gold Mine, Fairbanks, Alaska (Excursion 2)

 

This was the second excursion that was included in the cruise tour. Our last gold panning experience was back in 1988 in Australia so we were very excited to do this again. This mine was very different from the Gold Dredge #8 we went to, but both mines belonged to the same owner. We were told by the guide that the owner wanted to move the El Dorado to the same site of the Gold Dredge #8 but they had to build a railroad to relive the tunnel experience, which was not easy to do.

 

That being said, we were very happy to be on this 2-hour tour and ride the Tanana Valley Railroad for an adventure into the gold fields through the permafrost tunnel.

 

 

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We also had a short course in underground gold mining, and were given a bag of “dirt” out of a sluice box to try panning for gold ourselves.

 

 

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It was guaranteed that we would find gold in each of our bags. There were many helpful guides walking around to help people “uncover” their gold. My younger daughter was so proud of what she panned that she had to take a picture to remember her accomplishment.

 

 

 

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We then went to the Cook Shack to have our gold weighed and priced.

 

 

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My husband’s and my bags totalled up to be over $20. I combined them to put the gold into a little locket. Bring your own gold chain so you don’t need to buy one there. Everyone was so excited to have their gold weighed and priced that they forgot about the free cookies and coffee that were offered…me being one of them! May be that’s why I lose weight on every single cruise I’ve been onJ

 

After the Gold Mine tour, we were transported back to Bear Lodge. Then we took the 6 pm free shuttle to visit the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska to watch a movie about Northern Light…too bad we could not see the Northern Light in the summer! Hopefully we can come here again one winter and stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort where they would wake you up after midnight if Northern Light was visible. Locals told us that we should be able to see the Northern Light 2 or 3 times a week in the winter months. We did not spend a lot of time there as we had to wait for the free shuttle at 7:10 pm to take us to the Pioneer Park for a delicious Salmon Bake.

 

The beautifully-designed Museum of the North

 

 

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I didn’t forget that I had to tell you one of our driver’s jokes about the husband-wife relationship. He said that in the Pioneer Park there was a bench. On the bench there wrote these words: Husband’s waiting area.

 

 

 

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He said that ALL husbands listened to their wives and would just sit and wait for their wives for lengthy periods of time. One day God gathered all men and asked them to form 2 lines, one line said they listened to their wives and follow their commands AT ALL TIMES. The other line said they were their own boss, they NEVER listened to their wives and would not follow their wives’ commands. All men went to the first line except one. People then interviewed the one standing by himself in the second line and asked him why he would be so different. He answered, “My wife asked me to stand here.” I liked that joke very much!

 

After we had a yummy and filling buffet with all-you-can-eat salad, grilled salmon and prime ribs with unlimited drinks, we skipped dessert and boarded the free shuttle at 8:40 pm to go back to Bear Lodge.

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August 8, 2011 (Day 11) – Auto Museum, Bear Lodge, Fairbanks, Alaska

 

We were back at the Bear Lodge at 9 pm after the delicious and filling all-you-can-eat salmon, cod & prime ribs at Alaska Salmon Bake in Pioneer Park ($31). Since it was still bright and beautiful outside, my elder daughter and my husband went to the Auto Museum on site and they said it’s amazing to see so many antique cars that were still functioning. Too bad my DH couldn’t test drive them all! Usually the admission fee was $4 but we got free passes in our check-in package.

 

 

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My daughter took a picture of the HUGE cabbage amidst full-blossomed flowers.

 

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They went on the Taiga Trail and took beautiful sunset pictures at Wander Lake.

 

 

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Bear Lodge was surely an awesome place to stay. I was glad we stayed there for 2 nights. While the 2 of them were enjoying the beauty of nature…and wrestling with over-friendly mosquitoes, my younger daughter and myself were making full use of the complimentary internet service. For those who want to know about free WI-FI during the cruisetour, here you are: Bear Lodge in Fairbanks – yes; Grande Denali Lodge – yes, only at the lobby, but it was not working!! :( (use the computers in the lobby instead!); Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge – yes; Marriott Anchorage – No, $9.99 for 12 hours, $12.99 for 24 hours.

 

Are you ready for the next post about the train ride to Denali on the glass-domed Wilderness Express? I need to upload more pictures (tonight’s homework!)

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August 9, 2011 (Day 12) – Fairbanks to Denali on board the Wilderness Express (train)

 

The train rides had been a major component that made us choose this cruisetour. We were very excited to board the luxury glass-domed railcar of the Wilderness Express to travel from Fairbanks to Denali.

 

 

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We had to meet at 7:30 am to catch the 8:30 train. Regarding luggage, all we had to do was to put it outside our room by 7:10. Then the driver would go back to Bear Lodge and pick it up after dropping us off at the train station. The coach would be driven by Michael to Denali. He would unload our bags at the Grande Denali Lodge and deliver them to our rooms. The way RCI handled our bags was just incredible. On the first night, our cruise director gave us 2 coloured labels, one was for our carry-on and the other one was for storage. While at Bear Lodge we had to pack a carry-on with everything we would need for the next few days. All items that we didn’t need would be stored and locked in the luggage compartment of the coach. We would be given all our bags in Anchorage at the Marriott. On the day of embarkation, we did the same and left our bags outside our room. Our luggage would be picked up at the Marriott and delivered to our stateroom on the Radiance. It was super convenient for us!

 

Since my family was the “youngest” on the tour (average age for the 4 of us only 35, 30+ years younger than the rest), we always boarded the coach, train and bus last, so all the elders could take the front seats. It proved to be a great advantage as the train guides would call people for meals from the back of the railcar. I actually knew about this by reading others’ reviews…a bit of cheating here! Though being the first group called, it was close to 9 am by the time we could sit down in the dining car downstairs. After the first 20 passengers were called down, others would have to wait till we finished before they were escorted down to eat their breakfast…or should I say brunch! The breakfast was at a very reasonable price and they were delicious too. Specialty coffee was only around $4 each, tasted great!

 

Which side should you sit on the train? Look at these pictures…just don’t be mistaken...:

 

 

They were all trying to take pictures of Mt. McKinley, not knowing that way better views were awaiting at Talkeetna. DSC01715.jpg

 

Everyone was so excited about the beautiful scenery outside that they did not want to miss any photo opportunity, and started taking pictures when they saw anything different than what they could normally see, like a snowy mountain or a creek. Sit on the left if you want the beautiful canyon views, the view of the whole train, the view of Goldstream Creek, the coal seams, the view of the Nenana River near Denali with people doing white-water rafting (couldn’t wait to go rafting the next day!!)…actually most of the Nenana River was on the right but it’s not visible from the train, and the view of the town of Denali with the beautiful Grande Denali Lodge on mid-level of the mountain.

 

The coal seams…can you see the black lines?

 

 

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The Nenana River

 

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The train along Nenana River with many rafts

 

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Grande Denali Lodge up on the hill

 

 

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All the above pictures (except the first 2) were taken on the left side of the train. At 12:40 pm, we arrived at Denali National Park, and our 8-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour on board a National Park vehicle (which looked like a school bus with comfortable coach seats) was scheduled to depart at 1:35 pm.

Edited by wismergirl

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Absolutely fabulous. Cannot wait to see more!!!! THank you for posting your pictures and sharing your trip !!!!!!!!!

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Wonderful. Keep em coming :D

 

Great review - excited to see / read the rest!

 

Here they come again, with the best wildlife viewing in Denali National Park!

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Absolutely fabulous. Cannot wait to see more!!!! THank you for posting your pictures and sharing your trip !!!!!!!!!

 

You are most welcome! Glad you liked my pics and reviews.

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August 9, 2011 (Day 12) – Tundra Wilderness Tour, Denali National Park – 1:35 – 9:40 pm (Excursion 3)

 

Yeah! We hit a grand slam for the day, seeing all “BIG 5” of Denali National Park: 1 caribou, 2 moose, 3 wolves (5 times), 3 bears & 12+ dall sheep, plus other little ones that were not part of the “BIG 5” group. Even the bus driver was very excited as he said he didn’t hit the Grand Slam for quite a while. Seeing all the above wildlife make this LOOOOOOOOOONG tour very memorable, unforgettable, and totally worthwhile. We were SOOOOOOOO lucky! Some cruise tours were only at Denali for 4 ½ hours, and they said their tours were boring and unrewarding, just riding on the bumpy dirt road for the entire time! Again, it's an excursion included as part of our cruise tour, like the Riverboat Discovery and the El Dorado Gold Mine tours.

 

Here are the pictures:

First that’s the moose, seen quite far away as I could barely see it using my binoculars! Thanks to my DH’s zoom lens (Canon EF 75-300mm) for getting such a wonderful picture.

 

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Next was the bear…with the antler of a dead caribou which was eaten by a fox/wolf/bear just a few days ago (according to the driver) in the foreground.

 

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We did see a caribou during the day:

 

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Then we saw many wolves a few times, as 2 of them (too bad they were not lovers and did not walk together) were actually walking on the road just in front of the bus at different times and locations. Have you ever seen wolf poop? See the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics…check the greyish-blue lumps that appeared like stones in the “After” picture:

 

Before

 

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After

 

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We saw 4 of the big 5’s and were very satisfied, so we told the bus driver that even if we saw more, we didn’t have to stop as it’s getting quite late (past 8:30 p.m.) and we still had an hour’s journey to go. On the way back, we did see more, and it completed the sighting of the BIG 5. We saw dall sheep more than once, high up on the mountains, even the powerful zoom lens could not make them appear bigger:

 

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And we saw the wolf 2 more times. Our driver believed it was the same one that we saw earlier on, just going on and off the road.

 

We were given a lunch box with a sub, an orange and a bag of chips on the bus. Since we had a big hot lunch at the National Park, we decided to skip dinner and just finished off the lunch box instead. Rooms at the Grande Denali Lodge were not as good as the ones at Bear Lodge, and they were like 3-star motel rooms with all basic amenities. We were very frustrated as we spent lots of time trying to use the WIFI at the lobby…without any success with connection. Front desk staff could not help so we ended up using the hotel computers at the lobby.

It will be white-water rafting tomorrow! Stay tuned!

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Love the moose pic. Became a moose fan after our close encounter in Denali. Such a privilege to experience the wildlife in their native habitat.

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Love the moose pic. Became a moose fan after our close encounter in Denali. Such a privilege to experience the wildlife in their native habitat.

 

I totally agree!

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August 10, 2011 (Day 13) – White-water rafting in Denali (Excursion 4), train from Denali to Talkeetna

 

This was our first optional excursion in Alaska booked through RCI. After some wonderful experience on white-water rafting near Golden, BC, this rafting trip on the Nenana River in Denali had been one of the highlights of our tours.

 

Again, we had to wake up before 7 am to get ready for the rafting trip (you should see how grumpy my younger daughter was…she’s a #1 night owl!!). The trip was about 3 hours long and we had to get back to the coach by 11:30 a.m. to take the Wilderness Express to Talkeetna. The rafting company sent us a green bus to take all customers (not just RCI’s) to their office in the downtown area. There were about 30 people on the bus.

 

 

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After a brief visit to the Porta toilets (how I hate those!!), each of us was given a whole set of waterproof gear to put on. My daughter’s illustration would show you how we were dressed.

 

 

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If someone had told me about this earlier, I would have left our aqua shoes at home (3 lbs. of our luggage weight!!). In my backpack I also packed all scarves, hats, mitts, extra sweaters, etc., and I found myself totally ignorant for doing so. We had to leave everything in the lobby (without lockers), so we had to carry all valuables on ourselves. Luckily our jackets had big pockets (yes, we could wear our jackets underneath the dry suit) so it was not a problem for us. It’s important that you do not wear turtle-necks or have bulky clothing round your neck area, as the dry suit had an expandable rubber-tube-like neck covering which was very air-tight and it stayed close to your skin. We were only allowed to bring disposable water cameras, but the company took a great picture for us for $20.

 

 

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It was very fun as we did not need to paddle ourselves, basically the guide did it all. My daughters were not happy about it but I was more than OK with it. Nevertheless, our guide let my daughters paddle for a little bit on the calm waters and they did struggle for quite a bit – lack of coordination! We went through many Class II and a few Class III rapids, it was a lot of fun, though a bit rainy at times. Amazingly, we were all wet on the outside but it was all dry on the inside…great dry suits! It was cold but we were not even shivering.

 

The guide dropped us off at a different location on the river and we were all transported back to the company’s office by bus. All 5 rafts (each could accommodate up to 10 people) were taken back by 2 vans.

 

 

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By noon we were on the Wilderness Express again. The elders didn’t learn from their last train experience and continued to get on board first. As a result, we, being the last ones on board, were the first table to be seated in the dining car for lunch. Boy, we were really hungry and luckily my younger daughter got a free dessert (2 scoops of ice cream with yummy brownie) as the guide was introducing the lunch menu. How spoiled she was! Dessert before entrée!

 

 

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This time we were sitting on the right side of the train as my DH wanted to capture the breathtaking views of Mt. McKinley. We were really lucky to be one of the 30% who were able to see the peak of N. America’s highest mountain. You think we were psychic to know which side to sit? Not really! I read past cruisers’ reviews and we bought Alaska Railroad’s Ride Guide for $5 to confirm what we read. The Ride Guide was for sale on the train from Fairbanks to Denali and it was a great book with clear maps and points of interest.

 

 

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After several rainy and dull days, we could finally enjoy Talkeetna with bright and beautiful sunshine!

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August 10, 2011 (Day 13) – Flightseeing with Glacial Landing (Excursion 5), Talkeetna

 

This happened to be the BEST day of our entire 12-night cruise tour. After whitewater rafting in Denali, we said Good Bye to the wet and dull Alaskan summer days and stepped into the Sunshine World. This optional flying tour was AWESOME, STUNNING and SPECTACULAR, as only 30% of all visitors to Alaska could see the peak of Mt. McKinley, and we were one of them. If I knew K2Aviation was the contractor of this excursion, I would book the tour online by myself, as K2 offered very good summer specials that could save us $50 per person. Besides, K2 was very flexible with timing, they would just put you on a plane when you’re there, regardless of what the actual booking time was. Since they were so flexible, and even sent a van that could not accommodate all customers waiting to be picked up at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, it would not be a good idea to do this excursion in the morning of the day that the coach departed for Anchorage. Due to the very compact schedule of our cruise tour, I highly recommend booking all excursions through RCI, except for this evening that we were so free and relaxed that we could totally do our own planning. To make it even more memorable, only 10% of all visitors to Alaska could see the whole Alaska Mountain Range (highest peaks were Mt. McKinley, Mt. Foraker & Mt. Hunter), we were also one of them! Besides, we got to fly on top of the Alaska Range and enjoyed the breath-taking views of the highest peaks in North America. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day to enjoy the wonders of the Alaskan Wilderness high up in the sky.

 

 

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The planes were so tiny from high up, we’re landing there?!

 

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Finally we’re landed…YES, on the glacier!

 

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We had no problem walking on the glacier as K2Aviation provided overshoes for us. We thoroughly enjoyed this amazing tour! It was 9 p.m. by the time we got back to the Talkeetna Lodge and had dinner there, overlooking the terrace with an incredible view of Mt. McKinley at sunset.

 

 

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August 11, 2011 (Day 14) – Wildlife Jetboat Tour (Excursion 6), Talkeetna

 

This was another optional tour that we picked. At the first part of the tour I found it quite boring…anti-climax to Denali NP, whitewater rafting & flightseeing! However, the beautiful sunny weather with the sight of the whole Alaska Mountain Range, plus the spotting of different wildlife made the tour more interesting. The view of Alaska Range, this time on water, was gorgeous!

 

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We saw a bald eagle on the branch of a tree, it was very visible using our binoculars.

 

 

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Then there was a bear on the shore.

 

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Next there was a very big bald eagle nest on the right side of the boat with at least 2 birds in the nest.

 

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On the way back, we stopped and got off the boat for a bit of very easy hiking on a trail. We saw different types of animal pelts, a cache, antlers, etc….very similar to the Indian village we saw on our Riverboat Discovery cruise. Being a teacher, I liked this exploration (educational side tour), and our guide was very good. The scenery was beautiful and we took a picture of our all glass-enclosed jetboat while walking back to it.

 

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Just couldn’t believe that was what we saw…a plane flying over the peak of Mt. McKinley…though many pictures taken already, we had to take more to glorify this magnificent sight. Praise the Lord for His wonderful creation. These songs kept coming to me, “For the Beauty of the Earth” & “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (both by John Rutter).

 

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When we got back to town of Talkeetna, we went to Roadhouse to grab a breakfast take-out. That place was packed with people and it took us 30 minutes from ordering to actually getting the food. The food was very oily and salty, very typical for a lot of Alaskan dishes, and that was our brunch to eat on the coach from Talkeetna to Anchorage. One more excursion at the Alaska Native Heritage Centre in Anchorage, then we’d be done our wonderful 5-night cruise tour. I couldn't wait to get on the Radiance!

Edited by wismergirl

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August 11, 2011 (Day 14) – Alaska Native Heritage Centre (Excursion 7), Anchorage

 

This excursion happened to be the one that I liked the least, probably because we had visited many of the similar villages, and we had already learned a lot from our professional guides. Our tour guides were definitely very knowledgeable. They even inspired my younger daughter so much that she wanted to be one of them as her summer job! Nevertheless, we did learn about the 11 different cultural groups in Alaska, enjoyed their performances using traditional authentic musical instruments and props, and their everyday life now.

This is the building and the lake, with different villages set up around it.

 

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We spent over 2 hours there. After less than an hour, we finished walking around the lake and visited all villages. We then spent the rest of the time looking at exhibits and watching performances. Merchandise in their gift shop was the most expensive compared to all the Alaskan places of interest we visited in the last few days.

 

At 4 p.m., we were driven to Marriott Downtown, met up with my parents who arrived at the hotel a couple of hours earlier, felt relieved when I found out that both their luggage and themselves were able to arrive safely, especially after a 1 hour delay in Toronto! There was only 1 direct flight from Vancouver to Anchorage, if they missed that connecting flight they would have to fly down to Seattle and then to Anchorage, it would take another 6-12 hours…how I hate connecting flights! Marriott was a much more luxurious hotel compared to the accommodations of the last few nights. However, there were basically no shops or restaurants close to it, and it’s very expensive to eat in the restaurant, which provided average food but extremely slow service. We didn’t have dinner there but our breakfast experience there was not pleasant at all!

 

After saying goodbye to our wonderful tour director, Leah, and received from her our upgraded train transfer vouchers to the Seward Port plus our room keys at Marriott, we started to walk to our dining venue. I made dinner reservation for the 6 of us at Simon and Seafort’s on L Street at 5 p.m. It took us just 10 minutes to walk there from the hotel. The restaurant was in an office building with a very small sign outside so it was quite hard to find. Luckily I printed out directions beforehand. On their website it stated that they offered panoramic views of Mt. Susitna and the Alaska range, and was famous for their Alaskan seafood. The best part was that they had a $25 three-course meal if ordered between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. daily. Since it was a beautiful day, my parents did enjoy the great views (way better than the views we saw a week ago when it was rainy and gloomy in Anchorage!) but the food was not even up to par. My soup was not hot enough and it was so salty that I had to ask the waiter to take it back, telling them that the chef might have put double salt in it! Alaskan food in general was oily and salty, probably because it’s so cold there that they need more oil and salt to keep them warm!!

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August 12, 2011 (Day 15) – Day of Embarkation, Anchorage to Seward (Train)

 

Hooray! Finally this day had arrived! We’re boarding the Radiance today! We put all our luggage outside our room at the Marriott and only carried with us our camera bags, a backpack containing a bag of food for lunch, our toiletries bags, our pyjamas and our cruise documents to board the train. It had never been so easy before! Kudos to RCI for providing such smooth seamless luggage arrangements! I’ll really consider joining pre-cruise cruisetours just for the sake of the easy handling of luggage, especially in Europe and Asia!

 

THE PART BELOW WAS ONE THAT MANY CRUISERS WERE MOST CONCERNED ABOUT REGARDING CHECK-IN (I’ll try to be as detailed and specific as possible):

 

At 8 a.m. we went to the 2nd floor of Marriott where RCI had a big conference room set up for check-in. The main purpose was to give everyone their train tickets and assign them a bus # with departure time from hotel to the train station, or transfer vouchers for those who used the bus instead of the train. Since there were 6 of us, we had priority and special service. At the reception desk outside the conference room, we were given a number and each of us was given a health form to fill out. We then went in the conference room, sat at a table and DID NOT NEED TO STAND IN LINE where other passengers were standing and waiting. An RCI rep came to our table, sat with us and checked everyone’s passport and health form, then took our train vouchers that our cruise director gave us the previous day, and gave us coloured train tickets with train car # and seat #. The bus that we would go on was the 11:50 one.

 

After check-in we still had 3 hours to spend before boarding the bus. My daughters went back to their room to sleep and I had breakfast with my parents & DH at the Marriott Restaurant. We had to wait for a table for 20 minutes (not that they did not have empty tables but there was no one available to clean them up), then 15 minutes for a menu, then another 15 minutes for a pot of coffee, before we could actually place the order. Since the service was so slow, we decided to have buffet breakfast instead. When we finished, it was almost 10:30 a.m…a 2-hour buffet breakfast, my goodness!!

 

Since we still had an hour before our departure time, DH and I went for a walk to enjoy the unusually beautiful sunny day. We ended up at a supermarket called New Sagaya’s City Market (900 West 13th Ave) which was only 10 minutes away from Marriott. We bought some food and drinks for lunch on the train. On our way we went past a beautiful park and saw a reindeer in a fenced area of a house.

 

Back to the Marriott we woke our daughters up (first time for us to be in connecting rooms in 5 days, they were usually in the rooms next to ours), got all our belongings and went back to the big conference room where they called each bus by colour and time. An RCI rep would escort the whole busload of passengers downstairs to board the bus, very efficient and well-organized.

 

At the train station which was adjacent to the airport, we waited in a spacious lounge where lots of tables and chairs were set up.

 

 

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At around 12:30 p.m. they called us by car # and we were on the train. If your seats were C & D you would be facing the front, A & B sat directly opposite to C &D, and ABCD shared one pretty big table. My family sat together and my parents sat next to us with another couple. RCI had all our seats pre-arranged so we could be together and got the tickets with printed seats when we did the check-in at 8 a.m. I couldn’t be more thankful to our tour director as she did communicate with RCI continuously to allow such perfect arrangements to be made so we could travel with my parents who were not on a cruisetour. Lots of passengers who had booked the bus from Anchorage to Seward were asking for the train upgrades at the Marriott and were not successful in securing any train seats. They should have asked their travel agents to book their pre-cruise stay and specify “Hotel with Train” instead of “Hotel with bus”. Calling the regular RCI booking line would not be helpful when it’s about Alaska sailings, ask for transfer to Alaska Cruisetour Help Desk to get morer help, though many times they would ask you to direct your concerns to your travel agent and have the agent called them instead.

 

The scenery of this train ride from Anchorage to Seward, IMO, was the best out of all the train rides we were on. The beauty of the glaciers and canyons was unbelievable.

 

 

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Most of the beautiful scenery happened to be on the left side of the train where the even number seats were.

 

This is not a postcard!

 

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The glaciers were so close to us!

 

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One of the many waterfalls pictures

 

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After a 4 hours’ journey (1:00 – 5:00 p.m.), we finally arrived at Seward’s cruise terminal. The train stationed right next to the terminal building and we were lucky to be the second car that got called off the train for check-in. Yes, we had to check-in again, this time they still needed to check all documents and issued us our SeaPass cards. The line was very long but it moved quite quickly. As Diamond members we did not have to wait in line and were instructed to proceed to a check-in counter right away using the Priority Check-in line for Platinum, Emerald, Diamond, Diamond Plus & Pinnacle members. We set foot on the Radiance at around 5:30 p.m., went straight to our staterooms one after another, making sure that all our bags were delivered, then grabbed the Cruise Compass and Crown & Anchor’s coupon books and made our way to the Cascades Dining Room on Deck 4 to enjoy our 1st dinner on board, right at 6 p.m. (main seating).

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August 12, 2011 (Day 15) – on board the Radiance (Day 1 of the cruise portion)

 

Are you sick and tired of my lengthy posts? What I wrote were answers to a lot of questions that I had before the cruise tours and the cruise. I was trying to help as much as I could. You’re most welcome to skip the written parts and just look at the photos.

 

How about some fun now to look at 2 types of staterooms that are quite hard to book for most sailings? Either you don’t have at least 5 people to stay in one room, i.e., the Family Oceanview; or someone grabbed the D2 Oceanview stateroom with a huge balcony (3 times the size of a regular one) faster than you.

 

First, let’s look at the Family Oceanview #8002 (390 sq.ft) with a sitting area (double sofabed), a bedroom area that had 2 twin beds (convert to a Queen), and a tiny separate bedroom for a twin bed and a pull-down bunk bed.

 

 

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The whole room can accommodate 6 people and you need to have at least 5 pp to book that type of room. However, just 1 month before sail date, that room became available as an ordinary Oceanview room that allowed double occupancy. My parents (in their 70’s), happily gave away their E2 mid-ship balcony room (on the Starboard side which should have been great for watching Hubbard Glacier) for a more spacious room. They LOVED their huge room and really enjoyed the separate sleeping areas. You want to know the price difference between an E2 and an FO? Over $500 per person at the time of switching! However, we booked their E2 1 year ago on board the Oasis so the price difference was less than $100 per person and we were refunded. Thanks to our incredible travel agent who kept checking for lower room prices and upgrade availabilities!

 

Next there were my room and my daughters’ D2 Superior Oceanview room with balcony that were side by side (with no connecting doors), Room #1104 & 1604. Those rooms were just regular D2 rooms with room size of about 200 sq. ft. However, our balcony measured to over 100 sq.ft. (more than double of a regular balcony), it was wonderful for watching Hubbard Glacier with our camera on tripod all set up. These balcony rooms were located at the aft of the ship…a long walk but they were very quiet as no one walked past them. We had very good sleeps as no one talked outside our room while walking by, excellent for light sleepers!

 

 

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This was a picture of my daughters’ balcony that I took from my own balcony. We stayed there to watch Hubbard Glacier together while maintaining our own little privacy…reading, writing trip journals, balcony dining, etc.!

 

 

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After dinner, there was a Muster Drill at 8:15 p.m. My parents' station was inside the Aurora Theatre and my family's was on Deck 5 Aft. Then we used some of our 20% discount coupons to book our spa services, and attended the Welcome Aboard Show which was late at 10:45 p.m. for all guests, with some pretty entertaining juggling tricks. Looking forward to Hubbard Glacier on Day 2!

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Hi wismergirl. I'm enjoying your review. Thanks for sharing the info and pictures of the Family Oceanview room. There hasn't been much info on these rooms. We are booked in one for next year on the 7th floor. My only concern is that I will be be seasick due to the room being at the very front of the ship. Did your parents encounter any seasickness? Was the ship rocking more at the front? Are the porthole windows big enough to get a good view out? Thanks in advance for your help.

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After dinner, there was a Muster Drill at 8:15 p.m. My parents' station was inside the Aurora Theatre and my family's was on Deck 5 Aft. Then we used some of our 20% discount coupons to book our spa services, and attended the Welcome Aboard Show which was late at 10:45 p.m. for all guests, with some pretty entertaining juggling tricks. Looking forward to Hubbard Glacier on Day 2!

 

Do you know how that worked for the late dining seating? Although I think I read that you don't have to take your life jacket w/ you, so I guess if they were pretty quick you would just head straight to dinner.

 

Leaving in the morning for a few self-touring days then on the last southbound cruise of the season on Friday.

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Hi wismergirl. I'm enjoying your review. Thanks for sharing the info and pictures of the Family Oceanview room. There hasn't been much info on these rooms. We are booked in one for next year on the 7th floor. My only concern is that I will be be seasick due to the room being at the very front of the ship. Did your parents encounter any seasickness? Was the ship rocking more at the front? Are the porthole windows big enough to get a good view out? Thanks in advance for your help.

 

 

I'm glad you found the info helpful! I too was trying very hard to find them pictures of their stateroom and I could only get some for #8000 with a big pothole window on top of the bed. My parents were glad that they could sit right beside the window on the sofa and looked outside without feeling cold. The window was very big and the view was good. Are you doing NB or SB one way cruise? If so, your cabin would be most wonderful watching Hubbard Glacier. Round trip Alaskan cruises do not go there but you'll still see a lot when the ship enters each port.

 

We had very calm waters throughout the cruise. Even when we could feel the movement at ship aft, my parents said they didn't feel much motion at the front of the ship . The Alaskan cruise was the calmest out of the 10+ cruises we were on. I'm sure you'll enjoy the ship and the cruise. It's definitely a trip of a life time!

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