Introduction - I am excited to share that Mary Carty has joined Cavatica Luxury Travel in a Coordinator role. I hope you enjoy reading about her recent trip to Alaska this summer with her son, Reiner.
Before, during and after my trip to Alaska I spoke with countless people who stated it was "on their bucket list" and I was no exception! Admittedly, I always envisioned this trip when I was in my later years. Sitting back in luxurious loungers, reading a book, sipping on a cup of coffee and anxiously awaiting the flicker of activity in the ocean. However, when I asked my ten-year-old son to propose our next destination, I was surprised when he said Alaska. What, no Disney? No Caribbean island? As most of my travels are geared toward activity and adventure. I agreed “Yes! Let's do Alaska!”
My vision of this trip quickly shifted from quiet nature walks to avid explorer and excursion seeker. Little did I realize, Alaska has something for everyone! It has activities to suit all ages and all modes of travel. You can explore it with family, share the indescribable landscape with friends, or wander the beautiful beaches and rugged terrain on your own. Alaska is perfect for a group of friends or a multi-generational family trip.
As I started to plan the trip I did what I always do: I prioritized the 'must do's' in each location and made note of some 'would be nice to' experiences. The end result was a vacation that suited both my son and myself.
In my opinion, Alaska is a destination that begs to be seen by land, sea and air; your perspective of this unique part of the world changing with each avenue. A common theme with travel anywhere - it changes your perspective on the way you see things. I have shared some of the highlights of the trip below, but words cannot adequately describe the incredible experience of being there in person.
Icy Strait Point: We arrived by boat to this island, which is in the early phase of being developed into an adventure seeker's dream. With a rugged, bending shore, lined with enormous pines the approach is quite dramatic. Within minutes of leaving the rocky beach, we were walking in a rainforest which was alive with berries, mushrooms, moss and evidence of all the wildlife that enjoys them.
There are many nature hikes that allowed both views of the water and surrounding islands while remaining in the canopy of the towering trees. A unique experience, for sure. For those that want to enjoy the bird's eye view, there is a beautiful gondola ride with comfortable seats where you can truly sit back and take in the views. This island also boasts one of the longest and fastest ziplines in the nation. That's right, in the nation! So fast, that they have a break-activated landing; a much more sophisticated and engineered stop point than other ziplines I've encountered. They are in the process of developing a state-of-the-art ropes and climbing course and looking at platforms already completed, it may be reason enough to justify a return. This will be a perfect destination for a team-building trip!
Later in the day we enjoyed walking along the dock, passing through the museum to learn more about the residents, history of the island and future development. We were rewarded at the end of the day with delicious crab legs and a local lager. It was a simple, yet delicious meal. The crab legs were cooked perfectly, the meat extracted easily without knives or crab crackers. The crab was everything we hoped for: sweet, juicy and filling. Coupled with a crisp beer, it was a great homage to the Alaska's best restaurant supplier, the ocean!
Skagway: We arrived at this quaint and beautiful town in the early morning. The day started with a sleepy fog, which seemed appropriate as the town was also quiet. However, by mid-morning the sun was shining and the town came alive. It reminded me of a Western movie town with small, wooden buildings. fronted with framed porches and rocking chairs, great for people watching. The train station runs through the middle of town and seems to enhance that cowboy feel, with the majestic mountains flanking each side, a reminder that you are not, in the desert, but stunning Alaska.
We hopped on the train for a roundtrip view of White Pass Summit. While the steam engine has been
replaced with a more efficient diesel system, the trains are still unintrusive and quaint, but well-appointed with walls of windows and comfortable bench seats. However, the best spot for the views is undeniably on the platforms between cars. The breeze and mountain air against our faces was divine and enhanced the already amazing experience.
The route offers a breathtaking panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels and historic sites. We were awestruck through the entire round-trip ride which takes approximately 2.5 hours. While some rides offer food and beverage, we opted to bring locally prepared smoked salmon sandwiches thoughtfully dressed with arugula, pickled cucumber, pickled onions and crème fraiche, which our fellow passengers eyed enviously. We finished our day in Skagway with some light hiking and shopping. The locals were charming and proud to speak of the history of their town, the pursuit of gold and the sad demise of so many seeking fortune.
Juneau: Juneau was, perhaps, the most surprising part of our trip. The second largest city in Alaska, I didn't expect all this town had to offer.
We traveled by motorcoach to Mendenhall Glacier, which was accompanied with a history lesson. We were entertained with stories of Alaska's first, record-breaking McDonald's and knowledge about the extreme tide changes in the middle of town (where does the water go?!?!). We were also awarded with frequent sightings of bald head eagles.
We enjoyed a lovely hike to the glacier. It is a two mile walk and well worth it as you can elect to walk off the beaten path along the water (with bits of glacier floating about) or along the trail, which is teaming with life and the unique fauna and flora native to the area. We passed groups, individual hikers, dogs, grandparents carrying their grandchildren! Truly, a hike that can be experienced by all, even those with mobility limitations!
At the end, you are rewarded with the tip of the glacier extending out, begging to be seen from every angle. It boasts an amazing view of the mountains beyond and the rocky beach below. Beside it, a powerful waterfall spilling into the lake with sizeable rocks inviting you to climb them. And, if you aren't afraid of heights, I highly recommend doing so. You can feel the intensity of the water cascading beside you. The ground feels alive.
And the food - oh, the food! Of note, we located a hub of small shack-like structures, each offering delicious bites for every palette! My son opted for a visit to the Alaskan Crepe Escape while I couldn't resist trying the irresistible looking meals coming out of Deckhand Dave's Fish Tacos. Coming from a coastal town myself, and not generally associating Alaska with tacos, I was curious. The menu offered locally sourced fish and chips as well as their famous fish tacos. I opted for the latter and, because rockfish is not commonly found on the Eastern coast of the states, I elected to try it. It was the BEST TACO EVER! I was torn between selflessly offering my son a taste, as he did for me with his mouth-watering crepe, and hoarding my taco. I was relieved when he declared himself too full to indulge in a taste. I had it all to myself and enjoyed every, last bite!
Also conveniently located amongst these gems are a Champagne Oyster bar (exactly what it sounds like) and Captain's Smore & Brew which allows you to enjoy both traditional and non-traditional smores paired with amazing coffee; all, while seated in the shared common area, which has firepits and plenty of casual seating arrangements conducive to sharing stories with fellow travelers and residents. The whole area has an unpretentious, hipster vibe and we were loving it! I walked away looking backward in the hopes of returning in the near future.
We finished our time in Juneau the best way possible: a glacier seaplane tour and salmon bake! Once again, a thrilling and unique experience for all ages and all travelers! The planes are small so everyone has a window seat. There are headsets to remain informed of what you're seeing along the route. You'll be tempted to take an endless stream of pictures, but I encourage you to be present and enjoy the experience as the camera doesn’t do the scenery justice. I caught myself on numerous occasions, mouth agape, awing at the beauty and diversity of the landscape.
Leaving the main dock, the plane is airborne with great ease. There are dramatic changes in color as you're flying outbound, away from Juneau's charming portside town. It was similar to watching the texture and vision from Bob Ross's paintbrush unfold before you. The plane smoothly hugs the coast and, as you pass through the mountains flanking either side of the water, the texture of the trees somehow stand out amongst one another; and, given the vastness, of its pretty incredible. As the plane climbs higher, the pilot banks to the left and it's as if the entire canvas has been swapped out before you. Once a collection of trees nestled tightly together morph into a sea of green with contrasting specs of brilliant, white ice in seemingly sporadic patterns strewn about.
Against the perfect white, you can easily spot wildlife if you're lucky enough to be flying above at the right moment. The glaciers were more massive than I could have ever imagined based on our hike just hours before. Brilliant pops of aqua and blue light pierce the surface and, due to the size and maneuverability of the seaplane, you're close enough to see the stress cracks and distinct ice patterns. Overall, this was my favorite experience in Alaska, and this alone answered the question "why is Alaska on so many people's bucket lists?"
We came for the glaciers, we left with it all! I enjoyed the first section of the journey every bit as much as our unparalleled arial view of the snow-topped mountains and the icy glaciers. I can't wait to return.