Alaska - beyond cruising

Day 1 - Travel from New Zealand to Alaska


Flying with Air New Zealand from Queenstown via Auckland to Los Angeles on the Dreamliner was truly amazing! With the overhead luggage storage hidden it feels a lot more spacious and with the option for a skycouch seat makes flying in economy a little more comfortable. I highly recommend choosing a ‘preferred seat’ as the extra couple of inches between the seats does make a difference.

 Flying over Alaska at 11.30pm

Flying over Alaska at 11.30pm

Alaskan Airlines flew us from Los Angeles via Seattle to Fairbanks. I even managed to get a good run in between flights due to customs in Los Angeles taking nearly two (2) hours! If you haven’t been to the United States before, or at least in a few years, you will need to allow extra time to clear customs.

Tip: once in America ensure you take extra water on the plane with you. New regulations restrict you to one (1) glass of water every few hours.

We were welcomed to Fairbanks, Alaska at 1.00am by local traditional music and husky puppies! In the Summertime Alaska has daylight 24/7, so when arriving it felt like early evening.

Day 2 - Fairbanks, Alaska

After breakfast at Bear Lodge, we started our day at the University of Alaska - “Museum of the North”, which is truly an amazing facility with exhibitions showcasing over 1.4million artifacts of the Interior Alaska. Covering history, dinosaurs, plants and wildlife with interactive displays (great for the kids). The museum is forever changing with the research centres new findings being introduced. If you're interested, there is also an offer of great cold brew coffee at the museums’ cafe.

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If museum’s aren’t quite your cup of tea and you would prefer a more hands on approach  then Morris Thompson Cultural Centre is for you. Here we learnt about Interior Alaska people, land and culture through song, dance and stories from the local youth. I even got to partake in a traditional dance, which I wasn’t very good at but very entertaining all the same!

A visit to the North Pole wouldn’t be complete without meeting Santa Claus and his reindeer. The Santa Claus House doesn’t look like much from the outside however, once you are inside it is magical! With all the decorations one could ever want, while meeting Santa and his reindeer I felt like a kid again! Santa really is exactly what you would expect him to be like!

 New Zealand & Australia Travel Agents at Santa Claus House

New Zealand & Australia Travel Agents at Santa Claus House

After all the excitement of meeting Santa we headed to Hoodoo brewing company to try local beers, I suffer from coeliac disease I didn’t get to try any brews but the atmosphere and venue was great with the option to sit out and enjoy a bit of fresh air and sun in their garden bar.

Last stop for the day was at Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum which has over 85 automobiles covering from the late 1800’s through to 1938. Each car is matched with an outfit from each year, the collection has taken 11 years to build. Even if you aren’t interested in cars or fashion this is a collection well worth spending some time exploring!

Food & Drink:

Being gluten an dairy intolerant doesn’t always make travelling fun and at times can be very stressful. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Alaska caters well for dietary requirements and most places either items were gluten and/or dairy free or they had a separate menu.

 Gluten & Dairy Free - Pump House Dinner

Gluten & Dairy Free - Pump House Dinner

Big Daddy’s BBQ - The Northwest Southern BBQ: offering all kinds of meat and vegetables BBQ'd, being in the USA I opted to get the ribs, BBQ corn on the cob and collard greens which was a really good choice!

Pump House - Located on the Chena River, is a great spot to end your day offering ‘Alaskan Style Food’, locally sourced where possible. The Alaskan Salmon and Crab is highly recommended along with more ribs!

Day 3 - Fairbanks

 Riverboat Discovery Cruise

Riverboat Discovery Cruise

This morning we departed on a three-hour Riverboat Discovery Cruise, It was lovely to cruise slowly down the Chena River taking in the views and going into the heart of Alaska. Stopping at the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher & finishing with a local village tour where we learnt about Salmon smoke houses and what life is like for those living off the grid.

 Playful sled dog!

Playful sled dog!

After lunch we visited Just Short of Magic, where dog sledding or commonly known as mushing is a big part of life in Alaska. For a lot of the year everything is covered in snow and in darkness and even though it was summertime we were still able to have a hands-on-experience with the sled dogs and learn about their daily routine. In the wintertime dog sled tours can last from one (1) hour to two (2) weeks depending on how involved you would like to get!  

That evening we took a scenic flight across the Arctic Circle with Northern Alaska Tour Company unfortunately, due to a pending storm we weren’t able to fly to the village further north instead we stopped off in a small town just across the Arctic Circle, our guide grew up in the Arctic Circle and talked about what life is like being so remote and showed us photos. I was hoping that we would get a glimpse of the Northern Lights but due to the season not officially started as it was still too light and the cloudy night we weren’t able to see the beautiful green glow across the sky.

Food & Drink:  

Alaska Salmon Bake - A must do while in Fairbanks it is an all-you-can-eat of Wood Smoked Salmon, Beer Battered Cod and Slow Roasted Ribs served with salads and the option to either eat in-doors or out.   

Day 4 - Denali National Park  

 View from my seat on the train

View from my seat on the train

Today was an early start and time to leave Fairbanks on Denali Star Alaska Railroad heading to our next destination, Talkeetna. There is something about trains that I like and this one was no exception, travelling in Gold Class which is located on the top deck of the train allowing almost full 360 degree view, comfortable seating, breakfast and dinner was an amazing experience. It was nice to have time to relax and enjoy the views after three really busy days. You can choose to travel through to Anchorage from Fairbanks or to stop off in Denali National Park or Talkeetna. The trip took us approximately eight (8) and was worth staying awake for all of it as the country changes the further south you travel.

Unfortunately, due to a head cold and blocked ears I didn’t get to do a scenic flight around Denali National Park which from what the rest of the group said was a highlight of their time in Alaska. The flight takes you across the glaciers of Denali National Park and around Mount McKinley. Instead, I got to spend time with our amazing hosts Marsha & Tia from Visit Anchorage talking about the area and getting to explore Talkeetna township where I got to look around the boutique shops, talking with locals and and purchasing some beautiful handmade jewelry.

 Tia, Amber, Marsha and our driver Dave

Tia, Amber, Marsha and our driver Dave

By the end of my short time in Talkeetna, I had fallen in love with the friendly locals, boutique shops and incredible food. I felt very at home here and didn’t want to leave. It’s places like these that make me excited to travel, explore and share my experiences.

Where to stay:

Food & Drink:

Denali Brewing Company we started with Beer & Cider tasting followed by Dinner, which was my favourite meal of my time in Alaska getting to eat Alaskan Halibut.  

Denali Fairview Inn - this cute wee pub is a great place to mix with the locals and experience Talkeetna nightlife with live music and two bars.

Where to stay: Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge

Day 5 - Anchorage

This morning we made our way by bus from Talkeetna to Anchorage where we met Jody, our trolley tour guide whom was not only informative but also great entertainment with an amazing voice and kept us on our toes with a song every now and again. It was a great way to look around Anchorage and also learn about history of Anchorage.

 Wild Blueberries!

Wild Blueberries!

Located 40 minutes from Anchorage is The Alyeska Resort which is located near three (3) national parks and amongst the Chugach Mountains. In the summertime the resorts offers a good base for visitors to get outdoors and explore by bike or on foot. In the winter the Alyeska turns into a huge ski resort! In August each year the resort hosts the Alyeska Blueberry Festival which offers a market, fresh blueberries, pies and live music. The fresh Blueberries were beautiful and at the market I managed to pick up a few handmade items, definitely worth a visit whether it’s summer or winter!

Food & Drink:

Seven Glaciers Restaurant, this is a fine dining restaurant located by tram at the top of the mountain, the food here was divine along with a selection of yummy cocktails! The views from here were spectacular.

Where to stay: Alyeksa Resort

Day 6 - Anchorage

Today’s cruise was my favourite part of the trip to Alaska although, we honestly couldn’t have picked a worse day for a cruise on Prince William Sound with Lazy Otter Charters between the low fog and rain we couldn’t see a thing while cruising in and out. However, once we had arrived at our first destination we had forgotten about the rain and fog as we got to see brown and black bears, salmon and otters in their natural habitat. At our next stop we got to experience the walls of several Glaciers, for me this was the highlight of the tour as we were the only ones at this natural wonder, it was peaceful and truly breathtaking!

 Amber at the Glacier wall in Prince William Sound

Amber at the Glacier wall in Prince William Sound

We finished our day with a visit to the Anchorage Wildlife Conservation Centre which is a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife. We unfortunately, didn’t have enough time to drive around the whole conservation centre but the parts we did get to see were great, my favourite animal that I saw would have to be the wolves.

Where to Stay: The Lakefront Hotel, Anchorage

Food & Drink:

Our final dinner in Alaska was at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage offering an amazing menu with lots of different options

If you love exploring the great outdoors then Alaska should be at the top of your list!