Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Into the Wild, Volume Two

A week and a day after we'd left home, we boarded the Princess train in Whittier to travel to Talkeetna (and from there, to the Princess Mt. McKinley Lodge). The train ride was fairly uneventful--I slept for a bit and we saw some moose and that's about all. When we arrived in Talkeetna, we took the opportunity to explore the town--which is really just a stretch of road a few tenths of a mile long. We ate lunch at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, which has great food and is also a famous (infamous) place of rest for those about to set out or just coming back from a McKinley hike. We visited all of the [very few] shops that the town had to offer and caught the first available bus up to the Princess McKinley Lodge.

The Great Room at the McKinley Princess is beautiful, and I can only imagine that it offers amazing views of the mountain. Unfortunately, we saw nothing of the sort--it started sprinkling when we were in Talkeetna, and by the time we arrived at the lodge it was downright pouring. We checked into our rooms and headed to the 20,320 Grill for food and drinks. The fare here was delicious, although I will say that it was quite a shock to have to pay for our meal (we'd gotten used to the cruise, what can I say?)! Once finished we went back to the Great Room and drowned our sorrows over the rain with Alaskan beers at the Grizzly Bar.

The mirage-esque peak in the distance is the best view we got of Mt. McKinley
The next morning, as we prepared to board our bus to Denali, things were clearing up a bit...but we still only caught a brief glimpse of the base of Mt. McKinley before making our way to our next stop. Disappointing, yes, and to be completely honest if I'd known that only about 30% of the people who stop at the McKinley Princess really get to see the mountain, I probably wouldn't have bothered spending the night here at all.

I slept through most of the two-ish hour bus ride to the Denali Princess Lodge, but I do know that our bus
Look, it's 10:45 at night in Denali!
driver was informative and not overly so, which was nice. Thankfully, when we arrived at Denali the weather was clear. Clear, but cold. I don't think it topped 35 degrees at any point that day! We participated in the Natural History tour of Denali and saw plenty of animals (although no bears or wolves or anything quite that interesting) and even went to the Music of Denali show. The food was average at best and the show itself was completely cheesy, so to be perfectly honest if this is the only night one were to spend at the Denali Princess I think a regular restaurant would suffice (considering the dinner show cost).

Steamboat in Fairbanks
The very next morning it was on to Fairbanks! We made a stop in the city to do some sightseeing...but there really isn't much to see here. After this we were carted over to the river for a steamboat ride, which was definitely much more fun and interesting than walking around the city itself--we got to meet and converse with a woman who is training to run the Iditarod, as well as see some real sled dogs at work (pulling an engine-less ATV, in fact). Very cool.

Once the steamboat trip was through, we
were dropped off at our hotel--and this is where some things got severely, err, messed up. Princess had overbooked their Fairbanks lodge and therefore sloughed us
It's midnight in Fairbanks!
off on another local hotel (the Wedgewood Resort), which didn't really have the amenities that the Princess lodge offered. We walked a couple of blocks to the only restaurant nearby and had an average-at-best Italian dinner and drank away our woes with wine. Following that, most of our trip mates went to bed while a couple of us stayed up until the hotel bar closed, drinking Moosehead and waiting out the 20 hours and 1 second of daylight in Fairbanks.

Although we wanted nothing more than to leave the next day, our flight was later in the afternoon and we therefore lounged in our rooms until we got kicked out, ate a leisurely (but not exactly tasty) breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, and then hung out in the lobby until they literally practically forced us to "go for a walk". Seriously, a manager approached us and in no uncertain terms told us that they didn't allow loitering and then gave us a couple of "options" for nearby "activities". It apparently didn't matter that we were waiting to leave for our flight--they did not want us in that lobby.

They've got crabs! (yeah, I know, Ha. Ha.)
Needless to say, once we were through the Fairbanks airport and on our flight to Seattle we couldn't wait to be somewhere that had actual nearby activities. We arrived late that evening and really only had time to catch the public bus from the airport to our hotel, the Renaissance Seattle. This hotel was in the business district and I wouldn't call it extremely close or convenient to the sites, but it is a beautiful and comfortable place to stay.

Upon our arrival in Seattle, we came back to the real world when we realized that the Red Sox were in town playing the Mariners! We knew that we couldn't miss out on this and made plans to see the following night's game after our day of sightseeing--and sightsee we did! We spent our morning at Pike Place Market (which was as amazing as I'd imagined), our afternoon exploring the Space Needle and surrounding area (although we didn't go to the top, it seemed just a bit too pricey at the end of such a very long and expensive trip), walked through Pioneer Square (beautiful) that evening, and had dinner and beer at the Pyramid Brewery (yum) before heading across the street to watch the Red Sox lose to the Mariners (sad).
At Pyramid Brewery, showing off my Curve Ball beer and my ticket to the Red Sox/Mariners game!
The next morning was an extremely early one, as we had a 6 AM flight back to the east coast. Still, our little taste of Seattle helped us end our trip on a high! Because when it was all said and done, I'm not really sure I was that impressed with our Princess CruiseTour. Don't get me wrong, we had an awesome time--but considering the cost and what you get for that cost I wouldn't be the first to say that "a Princess CruiseTour is the only way to see Alaska".

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