Lil, Phyllis, Donna, and Don wanted to go to Alaska. Lil heard about a one week Charles Stanley cruise there, but it seemed pricey. Lots of study led us to select a better value with Holland America Line for a one week land tour and one week cruise. All was set for Monday, June 1, 1998.
Lil & Phyllis drove to Columbus, and flew to Fairbanks via Minneapolis and Seattle. They flew up the coast on Alaska Airlines, with great views of the Pacific and coastline. Don & Donna flew over land from Minneapolis to Fairbanks, with little to see. Lil & Phyllis were at the hotel when Don & Donna arrived at 10:20 p.m. (2:20 a.m. here when Mom & Rob were notified we were safe). It was still daylight, stayed daylight 24 hours a day, and we never saw darkness the first week.
Riverboat Discovery a.m. cruise on Chena and Tanana Rivers. Made Don’s day by passing Susan Butcher’s home (she is four time winner of Iditarod sled dog race), having her talk to us by microphone, and seeing all her dogs and kennels. Saw bush pilot demo (takes off in 90 feet), and visited Athabascan Indian village (sled dog demonstration). Bussed to Gold Dredge #8 (commercial gold mining like sand diggers on the Ohio River), and panned for gold (Lil got $12.00, Phyllis & Donna $4.50, and Don $5.85). Served a "sourdough lunch" like miners in old mess hall. Viewed Alaska Pipeline, and toured Fairbanks. Packed a "small overnite bag" for next three days, set large bags outside room, and hoped to meet them in Anchorage on Friday.
Boarded McKinley Explorer domed rail cars for four hour ride to Denali National Park. Saw three moose and two calves, and great scenery as we neared Denali in Alaska Range. Checked in at McKinley Chalets (Don & Donna’s first assigned room occupied, second too smoky, and third a shuttle bus ride away but fantastic – new chalet down near roaring Nenana River). All went to dinner theater for "Alaska Cabin Nite". Family style eating 1930’s style, food served in pots, and great blackberry cobbler. Guess who was promptly named "Diamond Lil".
Phyllis, Donna, & Don bussed away for 13 mile, two hour whitewater raft ride back to chalets on the Nenana River. Class III rapids with great scenery, and saw moose with two calves, gray owl, porcupine, and Harlequin ducks. Even floated over San Andreas fault line for earthquakes. Then all went on "tundra tour" 54 miles into Denali. Saw four, maybe five, grizzly bears, three moose, several caribou, many Dall sheep and lambs, coyote, willow ptarmigan state bird, arctic ground squirrel, and red fox. We even saw Mt. McKinley, a 1 in 7 chance.
Boarded McKinley Explorer again for 8 hour ride to Anchorage. Lots of scenery, Alaska traffic jams (described as two cars at a railroad crossing), and a red squirrel. Passed Elmendorf Air Force Base. Our luggage was at the hotel as planned.
Anchorage tour. Saw the city, airport, Iditarod media headquarters, world’s largest float plane base, and museum. Went shopping (setting on benches in shopping mall, you could feel earth tremors almost constantly).
Went to Embarkation Center for cruise sign-on. Shocker was cabin assignments – contracted for K inside cabins, but got D413 & D415 large outside staterooms with ocean view windows overlooking deck that circled ship (1/4 mile around). Checked later, and free upgrade would have cost us $700 per person extra over the K. Bus to Seward broke down and delayed us an hour. Second bus driver was Montanna, a bus driver in summer and artist in winter. She lived alone with dog in 10X12 cabin on side of mountain near Seward, with no electric or running water. She rode out to her truck on a snowmobile. Toured Portage Glacier, our first of many, on "Ptarmigan" boat, and saw Begich-Boggs Nature Center. On to Seward and boarded the ms Statendam for week cruise. We were assigned a table for the week which was at the rear of the ship, with large windows and a panoramic stern view. As we were dining, we set sail out into the Gulf of Alaska (Pacific Ocean). A storm at sea made 10-12 foot waves and a rough ride with lots of staggering.
Awoke to the sound of small icebergs scraping along the ship. We were cruising along College Fjord for some close ups of glaciers. Back out into the Pacific for more rough riding. Dressed formally for Captain’s Reception in VanGogh lounge (picture with Captain and Exec), dining in the Rotterdam Dining Room, and first of nightly entertainment shows.
Cruised Glacier Bay throughout day. Don & Donna saw humpback whales. After first glaciers, Don stayed on deck while others rested. He saw more glaciers and harbor seals. Many seals were birthing near one of the glaciers, and the ship could not approach this main group, but did get close to some stragglers. Back to sea, but smaller waves.
Sitka, Alaska. Anchored, and "tendered" ashore. Walked around sightseeing and shopping. All the passengers were talking about having "sea legs" (things seemed to be moving after the rough ride). Back to ship for naps, and an evening of casual dining. Out into Pacific again.
Juneau, Alaska. Docked, and we chartered a city tour by van. Saw eagles, the State Capital building, an SOB (State Office Building) and visited Mendenhall Glacier. Did some shopping, and set sail again.
Ketchikan, Alaska, the best port of call. Walked around sightseeing and shopping again. Saw many totem poles (Tlingit Indians), and restored Creek Street (famous early 1900’s red-light district). Smooth sailing, with formal farewell dining and entertainment.
Smooth sailing of the Inside Passage. Lots of sights to see from the enclosed "Crows Nest". It was our favorite place on the ship, except for the Lido Deck where we got all those wonderful breakfasts, lunches, and midnight buffets with superb desserts. The whole ship was beautiful, and the nightly entertainment was great. Pearl Kaufmann was one of the performers, a great movie sound track pianist with over 200 movies to her credit such as Dr. Zhivago. The ventriloquist was also superb. The ship had a "no cash" policy, and when we ordered special non-alcoholic drinks they were charged to our room account. Lil wondered how she would explain her "bar tab" to Rob.
Vancouver, British Columbia. We were the first ones off the ship, boarded a bus for Seattle airport, cleared customs, saw the Space Needle while passing through Seattle, and caught our flights home. Lil & Phyllis flew to Cincinnati and then Columbus. They had a rough flight in Cincinnati with thunderstorms. Don & Donna flew to Denver and then Baltimore. Their plane in Denver had problems, was taken out of service, and replaced by another one. They got into Baltimore at 2:00 a.m. Monday. On their flight over Ohio they could see the lightning in the distance from the storms Lil and Phyllis experienced.
The trip was fantastic. Our travel agent was great, and arrangements were excellent. Holland America had all the bases covered, with every step of our tour/cruise planned and scheduled, including vouchers, transfers, busses, luggage, and even box lunches. It was a learning experience for all of us as we adjusted to doing things as a group with our fellow tourists. Holland America is truly a class act.