Alaska 2021 trip report - in a COVID world, for the less adventurous

Mathmagicland

Disneyland - the original since 1955
Joined
Jul 26, 2014
Alaska day 3 - Fastrack to Denali
Talkeetna, Denali National Park & Preserve

Scheduled itinerary-
- Breakfast in Talkeetna Roadhouse in town, built in 1917
- Brief visit in Talkeetna after breakfast
- Alaska Railroad Dome Train to Denali National Park - includes lunch on the train
- On our own time at Denali National Park Visitor Center
- Check-in and dinner at our leisure at Grand Denali Lodge Alpenglow restaurant

Itinerary changes -
  • we had breakfast at the hotel rather than the Talkeetna Roadhouse, because the Roadhouse is not accepting group reservations this summer.
  • Unfortunately, we were not able to take the Alaska Railroad to Denali as planned. The Alaska RR has a modified summer 2021 schedule and is only running between Anchorage and Fairbanks on alternate days...and on our travel day of Wednesday the RR is running south rather than north. So, no RR trip possible. Instead, we had a 3.5 hour motor coach ride to Denali with a stop along the way.
  • With no train ride, lunch will be at a local restaurant
  • Because of the change to the motor coach transit to Denali, our time at the Denali NP Visitor Center is moved to tomorrow morning.
Of all the itinerary changes, missing out on the Alaska Railroad was the most disappointing. I briefly considered canceling, but decided it was not enough for us to do so. I also looked into adding a railroad trip on our own at the end of the AbD. However, by the time we were notified of the itinerary changes, the railroad options I’d want to do were all booked up for the days we could do them. So the railroad will have to wait for my next visit to Alaska.

Our day -

Thus far, there haven’t been many other tourist people at all. The places we’ve visited have not been crowded at all. We’ve seen one other tour group, from Collette, here at the Talkeetna Lodge. We’ve seen a couple of other touring busses like ours on the roads, but otherwise the roads have been pretty empty. The only times we see “traffic” is when a road is down to a single lane, where we have to wait our turn to proceed,

After a good night’s sleep with no midnight sun watch, we’re ready for our next day. It was drizzly at the hotel when we woke up and very cloudy over Denali; there would be no Denali peak sightings today. We feel fortunate to have seen it the prior two days.

Our report time for today was not until 10:30 a.m.; that’s practically mid-day for me. Being morning people, we were up early & didn’t want to laze around all morning not doing anything. There are a few trails around the hotel, and while at dinner the previous evening we’d seen a lot of flight seeing planes taking off near by. We learned there was a mile-long hiking trail starting at the edge of parking lot that passes by the airfield, so we decided to hike that one after breakfast since the drizzle had stopped. After the overnight rain the plants were wet, but the ground had a nice bed of leaves covering most all of the trail so it was not muddy. I was glad we’d brought our waterproof hiking boots. It was great exercise with pretty views & a nice way to spend the time before heading out for the day. And we can now say we’ve hiked in Alaska!

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Our group headed in to Talkeetna, a town that has approx 800 residents & is smaller than Skagway. Our guide Morgan gave us a short walking history tour, and then we had some free time before our lunch. We saw infamous AbD Orange “power paddle” for the first time here. Until now, it hasn’t really been needed because there aren’t very many people around in the places we’ve been.

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Talkeetna is too small to have a city government so there so there are no elected officials. About 20 years ago, an Orange tabby cat was elected the unofficial “mayor” of Talkeetna. He passed on a few years ago, and the new “mayor” is Denali, a longhaired Siamese cat.

I had not told my sister about the town cat as I wasn’t sure if she’d see it. So I was happy & she was surprised when Morgan spotted him & we stopped. We saw Denali kitty lazing outside one of the shops on our history tour; after getting up for some pets & posing for photos (a good politician never passes up an opportunity to work the crowds) he then escorted us past the next few shops before heading across the street to greet some other folks.

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After our city tour, we stopped by Nagley’s Store, the general store in town and home of Denali kitty as well as the prior “mayor”. This store has a long history with cats in the town. The store also has a little bit of almost everything; a sign out front says if they don’t have it then you don’t need it! We did a bit more shopping, had lunch and then boarded the bus for our drive to Denali.

At our lunch, the travel pods of 2 or 3 were able to sit with one other travel pod which was nice. They had each pod sit on one side of the tables. The guides paired us up, either pairs with kids the same age or else people who had been chatting a bit more at the lake.

A little over an hour into our drive, we had a short rest stop at a lookout point. Here’s the view of Denali from there, it’s above that point in the signage at the bottom of the picture…not visible at all, quite the difference from the day before.

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After our rest stop, Peyton, our bus guide for the day, led us in a fun game of Disney trivia. We arrived at our hotel, the Grande Denali Lodge, around 4:30. We settled into the room and then walked around the grounds a bit enjoying the beautiful views. Dinner tonight was at the hotel, part of our tour but eating on our own time within a starting window of 7-8pm. Each travel pod had our own table.

After dinner, we strolled their observation deck hoping for another view of Denali but it was still clouded over. The views are still pretty nice even without it. Tomorrow we venture into Denali National park.

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Mathmagicland

Disneyland - the original since 1955
Joined
Jul 26, 2014
Day 4 - Denali Discovery
All day to explore Denali NP

Scheduled itinerary -
- Breakfast at Lodge
- Activity choice of between Scenic Wilderness Rafting or Denali Natural History Tour
- Lunch at Denali Park
- On our own afternoon and dinner in Denali NP

Itinerary changes -
- The National Park Service at Denali was not offering the Denali National History bus Tour this summer
- the river rafting trip was not possible as unable to physically distance enough
  • the replacement activity for these morning activities was a privately guided 1.5-2-mile naturalist hike/walk along flat trails inside Denali National Park
  • The Denali National Park Visitor Center time planned for yesterday after the train trip was moved to today, in the morning following the naturalist hike.
Our day -

It was raining pretty steady this morning, and it was cold, morning temps in the high 40s. Our guides had some contingency plans and those came into play this morning.

The NPS Visitor Center is closed this summer; that is where they show the Heartbeats of Denali film. The Murie Science Center is also closed. Another of those AbD perks - Disney had arranged a private screening of the Denali film for us in one of the Science center rooms. It was a nice movie, we learned a lot about the park. I’m glad we had an opportunity to see it.

The initial plan was to do the naturalist hike first, then the film. But with a light rain falling, we did the movie first. After the film, we did a short walk to the NPS gift shop for a few minutes of shopping. Most of their t-shirts were sold out or only had one or two in the 3x & 4x sizes left; I’d seen one online I liked and was hoping to pick up…I got the last one in my size.

With the rain still a light intermittent drizzle & the air very damp, the guides came up with an alternate activity for those who did not want to do the nature hike. They’d go in one of the busses & head north to some rivers & canyons, to see more of the area not seen on the AbD trip. There were seven of the group, including us, who opted for the bus ride. While none of the scenery was particularly different, it was nice to see some other areas and we were able to check off a couple more boxes on our bingo cards.

36BD00D1-6912-48B5-B436-7FF3EC0376FB.jpeg

Note the seagull in the lower right corner, never expected to see one so far from the ocean.

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We went back to the science center to get the rest of the group and head fo lunch. Hearing some of the comments from the hikers about how cold and wet it was, with no animals out because of the rain, I’m really glad we opted for the bus tour and was grateful the guides had that as a last minute option due to the weather. Since it’s so wet outside, we will be swinging by the Denali NP entrance sign in the morning for some photos before heading on to our next destination.

First we stopped for some hot chocolate to warm up, then after a brief rest we walked over to Prospector Pizza for lunch, which was closed but opened just for our AbD group. This is in “Glitter Gulch” with the shops & restaurants by the hotels in this area. Many other food places here were closed; several of the shops, mostly galleries, were open.

Crowds observation- we’ve seen a few more tour buses on the roads up here, and there is one more in the lot at our hotel besides our two. But there still don’t seem to be a lot of people around the area. Our guides said the traffic on the main road through can get extremely heavy in the summers, but we are seeing only a few cars on the roads even at midday.

We had a free afternoon & evening. The hotel offered bookings for things like flight seeing, ATV rides, rafting, & there were also several offices in Glitter Gulch also offering partial or all day tours & activities. With my sister being less adventurous, we didn’t sign up for any of them. The hotel offers a shuttle to the shops every hour so we took that and wandered the shops for a couple of hours. There were several art galleries so lots of good stuff to browse. None of the shops were busy at all.

I was looking for another t-shirt, found one I liked in “the largest gift shop in Denali”, but it only had 3x & 4x sizes left. Most of the styles were low or gone on medium, large, & extra large sizes…similar to what we saw at the NPS gift shop. No worries, I thought - there’s another “largest gift shop in Denali” at the other end of this string of shops. We walked down there, and same thing with the low to no stock in the M-L-XL sizings. I asked a gentleman if there was any more stock in the back. He said it was all out, he’d just inventoried the day before. He then apologized for not having some items in stock, saying they’d had more visitors than expected already this summer. I reassured him it was OK & that I was happy he had better business thus far after last summer.

The roadway leading up to the lodge has several very funny road signs. Someone has a clever sense of humor. Here are a few of them -

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and probably my favorite of the bunch-

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We had planned today as a laundry day, since we are here for a day or two before and after the AbD. So it was laundry time in the late afternoon; I’m glad we went then as it was much busier in the evening. Then late dinner & pack up for our early departure tomorrow with bags due out at 6:30 a.m.
 

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TXTransplant

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
I don’t think we’ve experienced this to the same extent as your trip. While we’ve also seen closed places, we’ve not experienced as long of waiting times for the on our own meals. I’d say 20 minutes tops. Maybe we are not eating at popular places - haha!

One place said 30 but we were seated just before 20 had passed. They had open tables but were staggering the seatings so as to not overwhelm the kitchen which was not back to full staffing.

We’ve seen staffing impacts in several areas - many at our Anchorage hotel had “in training” badges, the Denali hotel with a note in our key packets thst some requests might be slow to respond, shops with not all registers open. Alaska has struggled to get their usual summer employees back, from both local and those who come up to spend the summer working there, with this somewhat unexpected influx of travelers this summer.
Yeah, it’s hard to know if those wait times are accurate. We never waited more than 20-30 min for a table, but we didn’t go anywhere that said the wait was longer than that.

We wanted to eat at 49th State Brewery before our flight home, but they said the wait was 1 1/2 hours, so we said “Nope!” and went elsewhere.

We were also very aware of the new staff and staff shortages. The Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge said they had 100% turnover of their staff from last year. Most of the other hotels we stayed at had housekeeping staff shortages.

More than one place said they are on track to have the busiest summer ever, which is pretty incredible since there are no large cruise ships!
 

TXTransplant

DIS Veteran
Joined
Jun 28, 2012
Day 4 - Denali Discovery
All day to explore Denali NP

Scheduled itinerary -
- Breakfast at Lodge
- Activity choice of between Scenic Wilderness Rafting or Denali Natural History Tour
- Lunch at Denali Park
- On our own afternoon and dinner in Denali NP

Itinerary changes -
- The National Park Service at Denali was not offering the Denali National History bus Tour this summer
- the river rafting trip was not possible as unable to physically distance enough
  • the replacement activity for these morning activities was a privately guided 1.5-2-mile naturalist hike/walk along flat trails inside Denali National Park
  • The Denali National Park Visitor Center time planned for yesterday after the train trip was moved to today, in the morning following the naturalist hike.
Our day -

It was raining pretty steady this morning, and it was cold, morning temps in the high 40s. Our guides had some contingency plans and those came into play this morning.

The NPS Visitor Center is closed this summer; that is where they show the Heartbeats of Denali film. The Murie Science Center is also closed. Another of those AbD perks - Disney had arranged a private screening of the Denali film for us in one of the Science center rooms. It was a nice movie, we learned a lot about the park. I’m glad we had an opportunity to see it.

The initial plan was to do the naturalist hike first, then the film. But with a light rain falling, we did the movie first. After the film, we did a short walk to the NPS gift shop for a few minutes of shopping. Most of their t-shirts were sold out or only had one or two in the 3x & 4x sizes left; I’d seen one online I liked and was hoping to pick up…I got the last one in my size.

With the rain still a light intermittent drizzle & the air very damp, the guides came up with an alternate activity for those who did not want to do the nature hike. They’d go in one of the busses & head north to some rivers & canyons, to see more of the area not seen on the AbD trip. There were seven of the group, including us, who opted for the bus ride. While none of the scenery was particularly different, it was nice to see some other areas and we were able to check off a couple more boxes on our bingo cards.

View attachment 583555

Note the seagull in the lower right corner, never expected to see one so far from the ocean.

View attachment 583556

View attachment 583557

We went back to the science center to get the rest of the group and head fo lunch. Hearing some of the comments from the hikers about how cold and wet it was, with no animals out because of the rain, I’m really glad we opted for the bus tour and was grateful the guides had that as a last minute option due to the weather. Since it’s so wet outside, we will be swinging by the Denali NP entrance sign in the morning for some photos before heading on to our next destination.

First we stopped for some hot chocolate to warm up, then after a brief rest we walked over to Prospector Pizza for lunch, which was closed but opened just for our AbD group. This is in “Glitter Gulch” with the shops & restaurants by the hotels in this area. Many other food places here were closed; several of the shops, mostly galleries, were open.

Crowds observation- we’ve seen a few more tour buses on the roads up here, and there is one more in the lot at our hotel besides our two. But there still don’t seem to be a lot of people around the area. Our guides said the traffic on the main road through can get extremely heavy in the summers, but we are seeing only a few cars on the roads even at midday.

We had a free afternoon & evening. The hotel offered bookings for things like flight seeing, ATV rides, rafting, & there were also several offices in Glitter Gulch also offering partial or all day tours & activities. With my sister being less adventurous, we didn’t sign up for any of them. The hotel offers a shuttle to the shops every hour so we took that and wandered the shops for a couple of hours. There were several art galleries so lots of good stuff to browse. None of the shops were busy at all.

I was looking for another t-shirt, found one I liked in “the largest gift shop in Denali”, but it only had 3x & 4x sizes left. Most of the styles were low or gone on medium, large, & extra large sizes…similar to what we saw at the NPS gift shop. No worries, I thought - there’s another “largest gift shop in Denali” at the other end of this string of shops. We walked down there, and same thing with the low to no stock in the M-L-XL sizings. I asked a gentleman if there was any more stock in the back. He said it was all out, he’d just inventoried the day before. He then apologized for not having some items in stock, saying they’d had more visitors than expected already this summer. I reassured him it was OK & that I was happy he had better business thus far after last summer.

The roadway leading up to the lodge has several very funny road signs. Someone has a clever sense of humor. Here are a few of them -

View attachment 583560


View attachment 583562

View attachment 583563

and probably my favorite of the bunch-

View attachment 583564

We had planned today as a laundry day, since we are here for a day or two before and after the AbD. So it was laundry time in the late afternoon; I’m glad we went then as it was much busier in the evening. Then late dinner & pack up for our early departure tomorrow with bags due out at 6:30 a.m.
Is that the hotel with the sign of a mosquito carrying a human away? If so, it’s no joke! I could not get over how BAD the mosquitos were in Talkeetna and Denali. Bug spray doesn’t even keep them from swarming!

We also saw gulls, and I thought it was so odd to see them so far inland!
 

sayhello

Have Camera, Will Travel
Joined
Oct 28, 2006
I may have picked up a couple of added unplanned Qiviut items…:)
;)

Had not heard about the 10% club, makes our viewings even more special. We’ve been very fortunate.
My first trip (Alaska cruisetour in 2006) I got into the 30% club. My second trip, the ABD in 2009, we saw Denali in all her glory as we were leaving the park, heading to Girdwood. I agree, it was *so* special to make it into the 10% club!

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Re the meals, it has been different than usual but not as enforced as I’d expected going into this. We’ve had a few opportunities to share tables.
That doesn't sound quite as bad.

Thanks!
Sayhello
 

Mathmagicland

Disneyland - the original since 1955
Joined
Jul 26, 2014
Is that the hotel with the sign of a mosquito carrying a human away? If so, it’s no joke! I could not get over how BAD the mosquitos were in Talkeetna and Denali. Bug spray doesn’t even keep them from swarming!

We also saw gulls, and I thought it was so odd to see them so far inland!
The signs are on the road to the Lodge above the hotel with the mosquito sign. Both are owned by the same Alaska Native corporation. And yeah, I am bringing home a bite or two with me…survived them in Denali but didn’t except them at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation center.
 

Mathmagicland

Disneyland - the original since 1955
Joined
Jul 26, 2014
My second trip, the ABD in 2009, we saw Denali in all her glory as we were leaving the park, heading to Girdwood. I agree, it was *so* special to make it into the 10% club!
Nice pic! We saw her again as we left to Girdwood, also the best views of our trip! That’s a sneak preview of the next day’s post, which I’m still working on.
 
  • bobbiwoz

    I'm happy to dance with you!
    Joined
    Aug 26, 2003
    584015
    May 2019, my DSis got this one!

    I appreciate all you are mentioning. We would be less able to do things on an ABD, but it definitely seems as if we would enjoy another one. We did one on the DVC MC and we thoroughly enjoyed the offerings!
     

    Mathmagicland

    Disneyland - the original since 1955
    Joined
    Jul 26, 2014
    Alaska day 5 - Run with the Big Dogs
    Denali to Girdwood, with stop in Big Lake

    Planned Itinerary -
    -Visit Happy Trails Kennels, owned by Iditarod champion Martin Buser
    -Private pizza lunch
    - Travel to Girdwood
    - Dinner on own in Girdwood

    Itinerary changes -
    • none planned or announced prior to departure
    • Lunch at a different place than listed in the itinerary
    • Alaska farm stop, not listed in the itinerary
    Our day -

    This was going to be a long day with lots of bus time. We took a day & a half with an overnight in Talkeetna to get to Denali; we’re making the drive back down to the coast & Girdwood in one day. We had an early report time, luggage out at 6:30 with a departure at 7:30 a.m. The rainy & cloudy weather from the day before had cleared & it was looking to be a beautiful day.

    On our way out of Denali, we made a stop at the Denali NP entrance sign for some photos. Our guides had us line up & they snapped a couple of photos of each party, then air dropped or texted them to us. As this was an unplanned stop for today because of yesterday’s rainy weather, we needed to be quickly on our way again. And, while this would have been a perfect location for the AbD entire group shot, we were not able to do so due to distancing guidelines for the tour.

    Heading south, we had the most gorgeous views of Denali in all her glory! She saved her best views for our last day in this area, with clear blue skies & no clouds; it was postcard perfect!! A couple of folks were going up to the front of the bus to try to get a photo without the window glare we were getting with our side views, so we made another unscheduled stop at a turn out view point along the road. We were able to get off the bus & get several photos of Denali. This stop was well worth it, even with putting us into our Girdwood hotel a bit later than originally planned.

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    A bit later, we made our scheduled morning stop, at the Alaska Veterans Memorial. This site for the memorial was specifically chosen by Alaska as it is approximately half way between Anchorage and Fairbanks. There are pillars for each branch of service, and it looks out towards Denali. After some time to reflect on the service & sacrifices of the Alaska veterans, we had a small ceremony. A couple of the girls on the tour were selected to hold the Alaska state flag. All veterans in our group were recognized. John, one of the bus drivers and a veteran himself, played the Alaska flag song and then Taps on his coronet.

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    Back to the bus & on the road again, we continued on our way to…puppies! At our Welcome dinner, this stop was one that many people, kids and adults alike, were looking forward to. Along the way, we’ve been watching the Disney movie Snow Dogs, which was perfect for our day. We arrived at Martin Buser’s Happy Trail Kennels. Our first stop was to visit with some of the adult dogs on property, all who have run in multiple Iditarod races. They were quite happy to see us, hopping up on their houses to greet us or rolling on their backs for some tummy rubs. This one liked my sister -

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    We then walked to an area to learn about the sled dog racing - prep, equipment for the dogs and the driver, how the dogs are cared for during a race, how the racers manage their team during a race. My most fascinating takeaway from this session - at 63 and after four championships, Martin is still racing the Iditarod! He’s completed 34 races in a row and 36 total. Martin then did a training demonstration for us, using a tractor and a small team of dogs.

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    Finally, it was puppy time! They save the puppies for last, otherwise they’d never get the group to the older dogs or the demo. There were eight puppies, just three weeks old. They were brought out in a laundry basket, and we got lots of puppy time. We were reminded they knew how many puppies they’d brought out, in case anyone was tempted to leave with one - smile! The puppies were too young to be on the ground, so we had to hold them…not that anyone minded. First pic is one from our group, next two are my sister, holding the most storable puppy.

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    Reluctantly giving the puppies back, we loaded back up on the busses to continue on our way. Next stop was an unannounced itinerary change - Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, a farm to table farm. We arrived at the around 2:30 for a very late lunch considering our early departure this morning.

    While not explained, here’s what I suspect - on our Denali park day yesterday, we were scheduled to have lunch in the Park but lunch ended up at the pizza restaurant. To avoid having pizza two days in a row, our lunch today was moved to the farm. I don’t know what prompted the Denali Park lunch change, was it the weather or unavailability of the planned location, or was the Park day changed because our itinerary lunch place today was the one not available for us? Big mystery….

    We had lunch of sandwiches, soup, & salads; the salads used ingredients grown on the farm. After lunch, we boarded wagons (one per bus) pulled by tractors for a tour of part of the farm. Then we walked over to some of the vegetable patches to learn about how Alaska farming is different from farms in the lower 48 - longer days in the summer, crops turning over four times in a season, different growing seasons, and how rhubarb is almost like a weed not needing attention. While this was not part of the original itinerary, I enjoyed this stop. I never realized Alaska had agricultural farms.

    Back on the bus again, still on our way to Girdwood. We arrived around 6:30pm, a long 11 hours after we boarded the bus that morning. While had a few stops along the way, it was still a long day with a lot of bus time.

    After getting to our room, we decided we needed a walk before sitting down for dinner. We needed a Florida license plate for our bingo card, plus pictures of hidden Mickey’s for the tour photo contest, so decided to walk around the hotel grounds and parking lot for a while. While in the parking lot we had one of most exciting moments of the tour - we saw a bear cub among the trees in front of the hotel!!! Besides being a box on our bingo cards, it was amazing to see one in the wild. We kept a car between us & the bear for safety, as we weren’t sure where mama bear was. We watched him for several minutes before he ran back into the hills adjacent to the hotel. We never did find the Florida license plate, but we are very happy we went looking for one as otherwise we would not have seen the bear.

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    After a late dinner, we had a bit more unplanned excitement while we were asleep. Around 10:30pm the fire alarm went off at the hotel. We were awakened to loud horns and PA announcements telling us to evacuate via the stairs. While scrambling to put on shoes and grab coats, purses & my phone, another announcement said to wait where we were and then the alarm was silenced. Thankfully it was a false alarm.
     

    TXTransplant

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 28, 2012
    Alaska day 5 - Run with the Big Dogs
    Denali to Girdwood, with stop in Big Lake

    Planned Itinerary -
    -Visit Happy Trails Kennels, owned by Iditarod champion Martin Buser
    -Private pizza lunch
    - Travel to Girdwood
    - Dinner on own in Girdwood

    Itinerary changes -
    • none planned or announced prior to departure
    • Lunch at a different place than listed in the itinerary
    • Alaska farm stop, not listed in the itinerary
    Our day -

    This was going to be a long day with lots of bus time. We took a day & a half with an overnight in Talkeetna to get to Denali; we’re making the drive back down to the coast & Girdwood in one day. We had an early report time, luggage out at 6:30 with a departure at 7:30 a.m. The rainy & cloudy weather from the day before had cleared & it was looking to be a beautiful day.

    On our way out of Denali, we made a stop at the Denali NP entrance sign for some photos. Our guides had us line up & they snapped a couple of photos of each party, then air dropped or texted them to us. As this was an unplanned stop for today because of yesterday’s rainy weather, we needed to be quickly on our way again. And, while this would have been a perfect location for the AbD entire group shot, we were not able to do so due to distancing guidelines for the tour.

    Heading south, we had the most gorgeous views of Denali in all her glory! She saved her best views for our last day in this area, with clear blue skies & no clouds; it was postcard perfect!! A couple of folks were going up to the front of the bus to try to get a photo without the window glare we were getting with our side views, so we made another unscheduled stop at a turn out view point along the road. We were able to get off the bus & get several photos of Denali. This stop was well worth it, even with putting us into our Girdwood hotel a bit later than originally planned.

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    A bit later, we made our scheduled morning stop, at the Alaska Veterans Memorial. This site for the memorial was specifically chosen by Alaska as it is approximately half way between Anchorage and Fairbanks. There are pillars for each branch of service, and it looks out towards Denali. After some time to reflect on the service & sacrifices of the Alaska veterans, we had a small ceremony. A couple of the girls on the tour were selected to hold the Alaska state flag. All veterans in our group were recognized. John, one of the bus drivers and a veteran himself, played the Alaska flag song and then Taps on his coronet.

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    Back to the bus & on the road again, we continued on our way to…puppies! At our Welcome dinner, this stop was one that many people, kids and adults alike, were looking forward to. Along the way, we’ve been watching the Disney movie Snow Dogs, which was perfect for our day. We arrived at Martin Buser’s Happy Trail Kennels. Our first stop was to visit with some of the adult dogs on property, all who have run in multiple Iditarod races. They were quite happy to see us, hopping up on their houses to greet us or rolling on their backs for some tummy rubs. This one liked my sister -

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    We then walked to an area to learn about the sled dog racing - prep, equipment for the dogs and the driver, how the dogs are cared for during a race, how the racers manage their team during a race. My most fascinating takeaway from this session - at 63 and after four championships, Martin is still racing the Iditarod! He’s completed 34 races in a row and 36 total. Martin then did a training demonstration for us, using a tractor and a small team of dogs.

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    Finally, it was puppy time! They save the puppies for last, otherwise they’d never get the group to the older dogs or the demo. There were eight puppies, just three weeks old. They were brought out in a laundry basket, and we got lots of puppy time. We were reminded they knew how many puppies they’d brought out, in case anyone was tempted to leave with one - smile! The puppies were too young to be on the ground, so we had to hold them…not that anyone minded. First pic is one from our group, next two are my sister, holding the most storable puppy.

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    Reluctantly giving the puppies back, we loaded back up on the busses to continue on our way. Next stop was an unannounced itinerary change - Pyrah’s Pioneer Peak Farm, a farm to table farm. We arrived at the around 2:30 for a very late lunch considering our early departure this morning.

    While not explained, here’s what I suspect - on our Denali park day yesterday, we were scheduled to have lunch in the Park but lunch ended up at the pizza restaurant. To avoid having pizza two days in a row, our lunch today was moved to the farm. I don’t know what prompted the Denali Park lunch change, was it the weather or unavailability of the planned location, or was the Park day changed because our itinerary lunch place today was the one not available for us? Big mystery….

    We had lunch of sandwiches, soup, & salads; the salads used ingredients grown on the farm. After lunch, we boarded wagons (one per bus) pulled by tractors for a tour of part of the farm. Then we walked over to some of the vegetable patches to learn about how Alaska farming is different from farms in the lower 48 - longer days in the summer, crops turning over four times in a season, different growing seasons, and how rhubarb is almost like a weed not needing attention. While this was not part of the original itinerary, I enjoyed this stop. I never realized Alaska had agricultural farms.

    Back on the bus again, still on our way to Girdwood. We arrived around 6:30pm, a long 11 hours after we boarded the bus that morning. While had a few stops along the way, it was still a long day with a lot of bus time.

    After getting to our room, we decided we needed a walk before sitting down for dinner. We needed a Florida license plate for our bingo card, plus pictures of hidden Mickey’s for the tour photo contest, so decided to walk around the hotel grounds and parking lot for a while. While in the parking lot we had one of most exciting moments of the tour - we saw a bear cub among the trees in front of the hotel!!! Besides being a box on our bingo cards, it was amazing to see one in the wild. We kept a car between us & the bear for safety, as we weren’t sure where mama bear was. We watched him for several minutes before he ran back into the hills adjacent to the hotel. We never did find the Florida license plate, but we are very happy we went looking for one as otherwise we would not have seen the bear.

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    After a late dinner, we had a bit more unplanned excitement while we were asleep. Around 10:30pm the fire alarm went off at the hotel. We were awakened to loud horns and PA announcements telling us to evacuate via the stairs. While scrambling to put on shoes and grab coats, purses & my phone, another announcement said to wait where we were and then the alarm was silenced. Thankfully it was a false alarm.
    OMG...the fire alarm went off at like 230 am in the morning during our at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge! We got up, gathered important personal items, put on shoes, and went down to the ground floor hallway.

    I looked outside, and there were no fire trucks in sight or even sirens sounding in the distance. We went back up to the floor with our room on it only to have the alarm stop. Shortly after, a hotel employee walked down the hallway with a smoke detector that he had obviously pulled out of the ceiling in his hands.

    While I was pretty certain it was a false alarm, I was shocked that the fire department never came. I thought that was pretty standard (it was always what happened when the alarm went off in the building I studied in while in college).

    Even more alarming was the number of people who never even left their rooms! Evidently, a lot of people completely slept through it. One older woman with curlers in her hair opened the door to her room, looked out and said “I can’t go out like this!”, shut the door, and went back to bed!

    In all our trips, this is the first time we’ve ever had an alarm go off in the middle of the night.

    I did think to look out the window and try to see Denali at “sunrise”. But since it had been pretty much completely obscured by clouds the evening before (and there were still some clouds at sunrise), I didn’t know what I was looking at. So, I got pictures of the two smaller peaks off to the side and thought the bigger of them was Denali. 🤦🏻‍♀️
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    Ah!! That photo of Denali is from the same turnout as mine! Isn't it amazing? Crazy that such a fabulous viewpoint is just by the side of the road! :lovestruc Gorgeous photo! And the puppies! Adorable! I love the picture of your sister scritching the adult dog who is very much acting like a puppy!

    And your bear encounter is very cool! VERY good idea to stay far away!

    I like the idea that they added the farm stop to your day. I love those kinds of experiences. They are some of my favorite ABD activities!

    Sayhello
     
  • Mathmagicland

    Disneyland - the original since 1955
    Joined
    Jul 26, 2014
    Alaska day 6 - A Touch of Frost
    Girdwood

    Planned Itinerary-
    - Gold Panning at Crow Creek
    - Lunch on own in Girdwood
    - Spencer Glacier Float Trip & Salmon Bake Dinner

    Itinerary changes -
    - the Spencer Glacier Float Trip could not be offered due to inability to physically distance as larger rafts with more people per raft would be used
    - Replacement activity - a Portage River scenic float trip, 5-mile Class I (translation - gentle glass-like river) float trip down the Portage River to view Hanging Glaciers and wildlife. This uses smaller rafts and each travel pod would have their own raft.
    - Salmon Bake dinner - since we couldn’t do the Spencer Glacier float, the Salmon Bake dinner was also not possible; instead, we’d have a group dinner at the hotel

    Our day -

    Today’s itinerary seemed to infer we’d do gold panning in the morning and the float trip after lunch. However, we ended up doing both activities in the morning with some free time after a late lunch in the afternoon. We did these activities by bus groups - we started with gold panning while the other bus did the float trip, then swapped locations for the other activity.

    The day started out with a bit of a drizzle off & on, not enough to detract from the day or get us wet enough to be uncomfortable. We first headed to Crow Creek Mine, a historic gold mine that’s been there since 1896. The same family has owned it for over 50 years, and has preserved many of the original buildings and mining equipment. They offer tours and gold panning experiences. We had a very interesting tour with one of the owners, who shared history about the property and buildings.

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    We then walked down to the creek to spend some time panning for gold. After a quick lesson, we were each given a bag with some rocks, sand, & gold flecks, so we’d be guaranteed to find some gold if we did the panning correctly to wash the dirt out and let the gold settle. We each got a second bag to pan, and then could use shovels to get dirt from the creek bed if we wanted. We spent about an hour here, and while none of us made a fortune it was fun. No drizzle, which was also nice! I have a new appreciation for the minors who came to Alaska, the Yukon, and California to try to find their fortunes by panning for gold…it’s a lot of work for relatively little return.

    My sister panning for gold. She’s wearing the mask & gloves because the mosquitos were pretty bad here by the creek, and she can’t do the insect repellent. The mask & gloves helped keep the bugs away.

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    We then boarded the bus to go to the river float activity. Here we had a pretty significant change in our tour physical distancing protocols. Rather than the expected one raft per pod, we were placed in 2 or 3 pods per raft. And, another change - while tour guests could frequently have our masks off when outdoors, the AbD guides had to keep their masks on all at all times. However, on this float trip we had one of the guides in our raft along with another pod, and all of us were OK to have our masks off including the guide.

    I asked the guides about it the next day, as nothing was formally announced, and they said they’d received a call from AbD that these additional relaxing of guidelines was now OK. Masks still required indoors, though. The timing of this change followed what I’d found prior to the trip, with health & safety protocol changes coming approx every 10 days. I was glad to see Disney continually making changes as their guidelines relaxed, rather than waiting until a new tour group to do so.

    It was lightly drizzling the first half of the float trip, so we were happy to have the provided rubber boots and waterproof ponchos. The ponchos have a hood and were long enough that we could sit on them in the raft.

    My sister gets very apprehensive at new unfamiliar experiences, so she was a bit nervous about the float trip. I’d read up on it ahead of time, including descriptions of Class 1 waters. I described it to her as a combo of Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean, so she agreed to give it a try. (Thankfully she didn’t pay close attention to the pre-trip safety about what to do if we fell into the water!}. She really enjoyed the trip! Talked about it quite a bit after it was finished. And, it turns out I was spot on in my comparisons to those two rides.

    It was a nice easy float. We saw some glaciers, a few birds, wildflowers, evidence of some beaver & moose activity, but no wildlife. Our float guide did all of the rowing and was very knowledgeable about the birds we saw and heard. At the end of the trip, they had hot chocolate and snacks for us.

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    And, a pic of our AbD guide, with the raft guide, and masks off!

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    After dropping our rubber boots off at the float trip office, it was 2pm & we headed into Girdwood for a late lunch. We were on our own, and had approx 90 minutes before the bus would take us back to the hotel. However, Peyton told us we could text or call if we needed a bit more time. This was the place where the restaurant we chose was spacing out seatings so as to not overload the kitchen. There were a lot of locals showing up for lunch, so we figured it must be good & opted to wait until a table was available. They’d said 30 minutes & we were seated after 15-20 minutes. There were a couple of other groups from our bus also waiting so I’d texted Peyton about the situation & that we might need 15 more minutes.

    Turns out we needed the extra time. Peyton found us there, & said they’d take some others back then return to pick us up. That timing worked out perfectly. We were the only ones on the bus for the later pickup, and appreciated not having to rush our lunch.

    We had a little less than a couple of hours before having to meet for dinner, not quite long enough to take the Girdwood shuttle back into the town area. AbD has provided each of us with tickets for the tram that goes up to the top of the mountain where there are great views and a couple of restaurants. Some of the group did that during that time, and there were also some hiking trails around the hotel. My sister does not like those trams, so we didn’t do that. (I will never get her on the sky liner during our next trip to WDW.)

    I mentioned the hidden Mickey photo contest yesterday. The guides were having a fun little photo contest during the trip. Three categories - Hidden Mickey’s, most scenic Alaska, and best Only in Alaska. We decided to go searching for hidden Mickey’s around the hotel, as we’d not really been looking much for them. We were also secretly hoping for another bear sighting but no such luck there. However, we did find a few hidden Mickey candidates. It was a limit of one photo per category per person. Our hidden Mickey took first place! Ours won because it was an all natural Mickey, of a leaf on some plants we found. Pretty cool find, we thought. Our prize was a Denali sticker.

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    Dinner this evening was at the hotel. They called it a Salmon Bake, but it was a buffet with salmon and hamburger options, not the outdoors grill/ baking dinner experiences we’d seen offered at some places or what I expected from the name. The buffet was served to us, and the salmon wasn’t that good. It wasn’t warm enough for my taste. It seemed the hamburgers were a popular option for both kids and adults. One nice thing was the seating- we could sit where we wanted, with other groups if we wanted…a bit more relaxing of the pod distancing separations & safety protocols.

    After dinner, the guides led us in a game of Alaska Jeopardy, it was teams of bus against bus. Our bus was ahead at the end of the rounds, with Final Jeopardy coming at our farewell dinner the following evening.
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    Is Robyn one of your Adventure Guides? She posted a photo of one of the dogs from Happy Trails Kennel on her Instagram today. She is *FABULOUS*!! If she is, please say "Hello!" from me! :)

    Sayhello
     
    Last edited:

    Mathmagicland

    Disneyland - the original since 1955
    Joined
    Jul 26, 2014
    Is Robyn one of your Adventure Guides? She posted a photo of one of the dogs from Happy Trails Kennel on her Instagram. She is *FABULOUS*!! If she is, please say "Hello!" from me! :)

    Sayhello
    No, we had Peyton from AbD and Morgan as the local Alaska guide. Maybe Robyn did the prior week’s tour? We were Peyton’s first of this season so someone else did the first AbD Alaska of the summer. Or Robyn could be on this week’s tour if the photo was just posted as today would have been their day to stop at the kennel.
     

    sayhello

    Have Camera, Will Travel
    Joined
    Oct 28, 2006
    No, we had Peyton from AbD and Morgan as the local Alaska guide. Maybe Robyn did the prior week’s tour? We were Peyton’s first of this season so someone else did the first AbD Alaska of the summer. Or Robyn could be on this week’s tour if the photo was just posted as today would have been their day to stop at the kennel.
    Ah, OK, thanks! I think it's probably the latter.

    Sayhello
     

    TXTransplant

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jun 28, 2012
    Is Robyn one of your Adventure Guides? She posted a photo of one of the dogs from Happy Trails Kennel on her Instagram today. She is *FABULOUS*!! If she is, please say "Hello!" from me! :)

    Sayhello
    I saw her picture, too, and wondered the same thing! We had Robyn in Italy.
     

    aggiedog

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    May 13, 2012
    Sounds like a great trip! My dh is in Reno right now and was telling me that all the restaurants are at "capacity" and it's very difficult to get in to any of them. "Capacity" noted because they all apparently have limited wait and kitchen staff so they're just not seating as many people and the service is really slow. Seems to be an issue everywhere.
     

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