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Trip Report [May 24 2019] Radiance of the Seas Seward - Vancouver

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First report after getting back home. It’s been interesting just getting the notes, images and video files in order. DW is mostly unpacked and neglected chores taken care of. All of our animals have made up with us after being alone for over two weeks. I’ve made a text file that shows our expenses, weather, cel coverage for the days of both the DIY land tour and cruise. I’ll post it later. Loading the car with all the clothing that DW packed was a challenge.




Day one required getting up at 3am to make a 6am flight out of IAH Bush Airport Houston to Anchorage via Seattle. Long term parking had been pre-arranged and shuttle was flawless. The interesting hiccup was DW getting the full treatment by TSA. I passed through fine and looked back to see my nearly 70yo wife being run through the body scanner and getting the personal treatment. I’m talking full hands down pockets and inside pants. I was standing next to one of the TSA big wigs watching and he commented that it was the full bling on DWs pants that tripped up the full body scanner. I wish I could have taken a vid. DW is 5’ tall, blond and it was really funny.


We made the Alaska Air 737 with no other issues with a short layover in Seattle for the final 4 hour leg. The view out the starboard side was pretty awesome as we neared the Alaska coast.




We stayed overnight at Lakefront Anchorage on Lake Spenard connected to Lake Hood where we watched over 25 floatplanes takeoff or land during breakfast the next morning. Also saw some practicing touch-n-go. At a suggestion here on cc, we ate at Simon & Seaforts. Awesome service, food and view across Cook Inlet/Knik Arm. Even though it was somewhat cloudy, we could easily see the south end of the Alaska Range 80 miles away including the 11,000’ Mt. Spur & Gerdine. I had fresh caught Copper River 1st run salmon. Best I’ve ever had.



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As discussed, I made a chart showing the cell coverage, weather, and $$$ spent on our trip. We went into this vacation like it might be the only time that we ever get to Alaska. Our minds have changed very much now that we have made our 1st trip. The scenery is just so very hard to describe and pictures just seem to not truly convey how things really appear. Although I will try in many future post on each days details forthcoming. Let me add that I'm a Burger King kind of guy but DW is more a wine and filet Mignon person. We did not choose places to sleep on cost basis. Our suite onboard was also a Grand Suite, both of us wanting a large balcony. There were a few places we shopped for savings - car rental and air travel being the only two I can think of.

Food pricing usually included a bottle of nice wine. The chart does not mention the $200 spent at the Hilton on the room in Seattle, the final $150 on dinner or the air back to Houston which was 1st class $435 on one ticket and mileage used on the other. Nor does it include the $7077 on the cruise. Total cost seems to be ~$16,000 give or take a bit. Don't let this put the fear of cost in your head. It can be done for a lot, lot less. Many here on cc can give you their numbers and I suspect that the $$$ does not impact how much enjoyment anyone can have. I've learned so much more by doing our first Alaska vacation and discovered things I would do more by car that we missed for time issues.



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14 hours ago, masterdrago said:

While we were dining at Simon & Seaforts a cruise ship was leaving Knik Arm. I was told that only one cruise line could come in due to the shallow arm. Not sure which cruise line.









I believe that is the Queen Elizabeth. She was in Juneau with us and DH took a picture.



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1 minute ago, Eileen G said:



I believe that is the Queen Elizabeth. She was in Juneau with us and DH took a picture.



Thank you. You're correct. Someone at Simon & Seaforts mentioned that to me but I had forgotten. She  was in Hubbard Glacier as we pulled in and again in Vancouver with us at the end. Then we spotted her again near Inside Passage.


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1 hour ago, Langley Cruisers said:

Re the ship, Radiance, how did you find the smoke issue? Was it a problem? Radiance class is my favorite but the smoky casino with the smoke drifting out into the Centrum seems to be a deal-breaker for us, as of late....

It was horrible. Drifting out of the casino was a real pain at times. Other times no issue at all. I thought the Centrum was really a neat spot.



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Day #2 Friday May 17 – Explore Turnagin Arm, Bore Tide, Wasilla dinner, Drive to Talkeetna


After having breakfast at the Lakeshore Anchorage on Lake Spenard while watching around 25 floatplanes takeoff and land, we drove down the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm. This road is touted as one of the most scenic drives in Alaska. I would say in all of America.





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Day 2: Bore Tide and Dinner in Wasilla


After driving almost to Portage on I-3, we spotted a carcass of a beached Humpback Whale on the east side of the Twenty Mile River bridge. The river feeds the Turnagin Arm from 20 Mile Lake which is glacier fed. The shot below looks east towards the beginning of the arm.




We then made our way to Bird Point to observe a large Bore Tide.





Although we had the predictions timed correctly as did others, it became clear that the gusting 25-30mph winds from the east were conspiring to flatten and delay the Bore. After waiting with others for an additional 90 minutes, it was a no show. We got word later that it had shown at Beluga Point late and extremely weak.


Having made 6pm reservations at the Grape Tap in Wasilla, it was time to move on. It is highly rated and very deserving of the ratings. We were seated in what appeared to be a cozy basement during a very busy hour. Both the service and food were simply awesome and the décor is worth seeing.




After a fine dinner, we drove the hour to Talkeetna where our reservations for two night at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge were waiting. At 10pm, Denali was slightly obscured by clouds.




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I see on your chart/spreadsheet that you have Verizon as your carrier. I'll be curious to see at the end of this month what our

T-Mobile coverage is like in Alaska. When I checked, it sounds like we may be roaming for a lot of it. ☹️ On the upside, we are supposed to have unlimited texts, calls, and data in Vancouver.


Enjoying your report so far, and looking forward to following along for the rest. Thanks!

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7 hours ago, scsagh said:

I see on your chart/spreadsheet that you have Verizon as your carrier. I'll be curious to see at the end of this month what our

T-Mobile coverage is like in Alaska. When I checked, it sounds like we may be roaming for a lot of it. ☹️ On the upside, we are supposed to have unlimited texts, calls, and data in Vancouver.


Enjoying your report so far, and looking forward to following along for the rest. Thanks!

I had talked with Verizon in November and they added TravelPass to the account. This included for $5/day, unlimited calling/text while in Canada. What I do not understand was why my phone showed 4G5bars BUT ROAMING during the short time I was in Canada on a network I had never heard of. DW had airplane moded hers. Another thing that was odd was that the 1st day/night onboard, my phone was on Universal Time (GMT), ship wireless network, and ROAMING. I put DW on their VOOM Streaming plan that I could use if needed by logging her phone out and then turning my phone back on and logging in. I mostly never turned my phone back on after the UTC/GMT shock. Should be an interesting phone bill.

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Day 3: Saturday May 18 Talkeetna


After checking into the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge yesterday evening and seeing the Alaska Range/Denali mostly shrouded in clouds, it was shocking to pull back the blackout drapes to reveal the full glory of Denali. Sunrise had been at 4:55am. The pix is out our window about an hour later. If you look up the weather history for Talkeetna for the 18th, it says 53d and cloudy @5:53. It was much closer to high 30s and clear with some cirrus. This lodge is one of the best places to view the Alaskan Range well.




We had an air flight at 11am w/Talkeetna Air Taxi to fly around Denali w/glacier landing. Things were looking swell – weather, schedule, and crew ready. We got really lucky. We were getting to land at the climbers Base Camp because we were picking up a hiker that had been there a week and dropping off one of the pilots and her daughter so they could ski a few days! Very cool! Also, on our Otter, was a young female F18 WSO. Thanks to her service. I got her to pose with me for a pix! The flight was just over 2 hours and it was surreal. The scale of the mountain is hard to comprehend. It always looked as if we were drifting by the snow covered peaks and passes in a hot air balloon in slow-mo. Clay, our pilot, said we were doing 120mph! I’m planning to put together some GoPro video, but until then, here are a few pix.


Look close to see the trail of folks attempting to reach the summit. I’m told only 50% make the summit.



Clay was a great pilot, keeping us informed of what was below. DW is in the red jacket and note the important supplies – Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.



Base Camp – consist of numerous tents, a custom heli-pad, and an igloo built by a Japanese climbing team.



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Day 3: After flight Talkeetna Discovering Town


After getting back to the airport Talkeetna, we decided to explore the small town. DW went into several of the shops and reported that it was mostly junk unless we wanted a t-shirt, which she bought for her daughter living in S. Korea. DW also found a nice light weight jacket for herself.


We ate at the Wild Flower Café – a nice, small, local place that served a Halibut & Crab sandwich which was scrumptious. DW had Crab Cakes. Tea in Mason jars and a couple of glasses of not so good white wine. Cool. Pricing was not bad for an out of the way place in Alaska. $96 including tip for lunch.


Notice the blue tub full of cleaned Chaga Mushroom. A couple of guys were processing a huge batch of it they had collected in the back country from Birch trees. I had never heard of it but it apparently has numerous medicinal uses.




A short walk down Main St. to the west led us to the confluence of the Talkeetna and Susitna Rivers. The flow was raging and there was a big storm over near Denali to the north.




Back in town, the best guys store is Nagley’s. Everything you’ll need can be found in this place. It’s a bit of everything. I think I even saw a well pump switch.




Arriving back at the Lodge, we found Denali shrouded in clouds and rain. Totally different view than when we awoke.




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  • 2 weeks later...

Day 4: Sunday May 19 - Drive to Denali


The night b4, I had looked at the forecast on Weather Underground and it was showing a pretty much spectacular next two days in Denali. We woke to the low 40s and some high thin cirrus. Another fine weather day was in store for us. Denali was out in full glory again.



We made the drive from Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge to Grand Denali Lodge in around 4+ hours. The scenery is some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. Make sure to allow time for observations and photo stops. The mountains are capped with snow above the tree line (~2500’). Lower elevations are splattered with the remnants of winter everywhere all along the drive on Highway 3.



Peeks of Denali are continuously popping into view.


 I'm sorry about the delay in continuing this trip report over the last week or so but I had to be out of town and could net get to my files.

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Day 4: Sunday May 19 – Grand Denali Lodge


We lost count of the dozens of tour buses we passed on the trip to Denali. Many were marked Royal Caribbean heading south. The gravel driveway to the Grand Denali Lodge is a 400 foot vertical climb on a very tight curvy trail. It is just barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Two buses would be really scary! The lodge sits on a mesa at about 2000’ elevation.




The driveway is littered with road signs put up by the manager/owner that will keep you laughing all the way up.




We ate a late lunch in their very nicely appointed restaurant. The view is of the surrounding mountains and the highway below.




At 6:30 we had reserved a 4 hour ATV tour with Black Diamond Resort Co. into the back-country that included dinner.

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Day 4: Sunday May 19 - ATV with Black Diamond Resort


The high temp was recorded as 69 degrees at Denali on May 19th but I will say that it felt much colder than that while on the ATV tour. We did not get started on the trail to well after 6:30 so the sun was only 25 degrees up in the west, so may have contributed to the feel. At home I run around in shorts and t-shirt in 69 degree weather. Everyone, including DW was staying warm. Here she is with her Mule.




We spotted a single adult Moose on the trail but it was too quickly to get a snap off. Most of the trail contained a lot of elevation changes and some rough trails. The scenery was mostly beautiful tundra expanses but occasionally a snow capped mountain top would peek out.




One spot we stopped had a view looking out over an abandoned coal mine.




The crew leader was Leo and the guy bringing up the rear was Igor who was a complete fun guy. They both got along with the crowd very well and DW wanted a snap with Igor.




There was a cabin in the back-country where we were all served a hearty dinner consisting of chicken, ribs, salmon, rolls, baked beans, corn-on-the-cob, potato salad, coleslaw & wine for the non-drivers. I had tea. There was also dessert. It was my kind of dinner. The cabin had old framed pictures hanging around the room and I noticed one of the gold seekers hiking White Pass.




It was a rough trip climbing the side x side Mules over the rough, steep hills at times but one thing that caught my attention at one of the stops was a 4-5 yo child fast asleep. The skies were very clear but this tour does not get into view of the “Mountain”. It is blocked because the trails are below 2000’ with a ridge of 6000’ mountains blocking the view. The side x side tour we took was well worth the price.

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Also- how do you recommend dressing for flightseeing?  Despite the various discussions on the Alaska Packing List, I am still struggling with what to take.  I will be taking the Princess Coral from Vancouver to Whittier (from June 26th- July 3rd).  I plan to stay overnight in Anchorage on July 3rd.  Will take the train to Talkeetna on July 4th for the flight seeing, continue on to Denali, and then fly back out of Fairbanks.  Thank you in advance for all your tips/advice and for sharing these gorgeous pictures!

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5 minutes ago, swatipandya said:

Your photos are stunning.  I have scheduled a Denali Summit Flight from Talkeetna with K2 Aviation.  How do you recommend taking pictures during the flight?  Are GO-PRO's allowed?

I may have shot nearly 2 hours of GoPro 2.7k 60fps during our flight around Denali w/glacier landing at their base camp. It looks so very slo-mo because of the gigantic size of the mountain even though we were going 120mph! The windows are made of plexiglass so you cannot use a suction cup mount - might scratch the plastic. I had a short Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod that worked well. Easy to handhold.

Dress like it might be warm in the plane. If you're cold natured or will do the glacier landing, take a light jacket. It was 24 at the base camp but we were only out of the plane 15 minutes. I only wore a light weight Marino wool pullover the whole time. DW had a two layer jacket. She is cold blooded in a good way :=]

On packing, I advise taking as little as possible. I brought back many things I never wore since so much can be worn many times - thick sweaters and mid layer cover.

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32 minutes ago, swatipandya said:

Your photos are stunning.  I have scheduled a Denali Summit Flight from Talkeetna with K2 Aviation.  How do you recommend taking pictures during the flight?  Are GO-PRO's allowed?

One other thing I'll mention. My GP7Black takes stunning images although it is not a fast shooter like most DSLRs - it takes a second or two to process the image. But the color, saturation, dynamic range are just awesome. Also having the wide angle lens in the plane is a of great advantage for scenic shots from the air. The absolute only reason to carry a DSLR is for those long animal shots of Bear, Eagle, Dall Sheep, Mountain Goat, Moose, and many more bird species as well as Whale, Seal, Orca & Otter. Cell phones and GoPro are not there yet. But for most of the awesome scenery they are just fine.

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