Days 15 & 16 – Heading Home

Today’s the last day (kind of—I’ll get to that) of the trip, and we felt both accomplished (from doing mostly everything we wanted to do) and burned out (from doing mostly everything we wanted to do), so we were keeping it easy today and gonna head to the airport in the afternoon.

We stopped by our coffee shop and made sure to tell them to stop making extra sandwiches on our account because it was our last day here! We (by “we”, I mean “me”) broke one of their plastic Adirondack chairs yesterday, but not wanting to put any kind of burden on a deserving small business, we (by “we”, I mean “Megan”) bought two new chairs and set them to be delivered a few hours later!

We wanted to get an early lunch (so we didn’t have to have airport food ALL DAY), and there was only one place we hadn’t been that had been on our radar: Bear Tooth Theatrepub. This half-restaurant/half-theater is a not-so-distant cousin of Moose’s Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing—and it was close by—so we got there just as they opened (luggage in tow) and got a booth. While we didn’t see a movie (showtimes were in the evening) we did check out the connected theater and had a good lunch, then made our way to the airport.

And that’s when the fiasco started. We arrived at the airport around 1:00 PM and Megan was off to catch her 4:00 PM flight while I went to check my bag at the American Airlines counter for my night flight which left at 9:40 PM. It took some time to find the counter and even more time to find out that it’s only open from 6:30-8:30 AM and 7:00-9:00 PM because they only operate two flights out of Anchorage!!! I thought about using the “bag check” service at the airport (where they hold your bags while you explore the town) but I was already tired that I just waited…

…and waited…

…and waited…

…and the counter crew came out around 7:15 PM, but the self-check machines were also down, so those then had to be fixed. I ended up pretty far down in the luggage check line, but knew that everyone there was on the same flight and they’d make sure everyone made it. Plus, I basically skipped to the front of the line when it came to TSA security checkpoint because of my status. It was at least a 30-45 minute line but I was next because of PreCheck, so I waltzed right in and headed toward the gate.

I had my first dirty martini 🍸 on this trip, so I decided to make my last alcoholic drink also a dirty martini at a bar near the gate. Plus, since I have a night flight, I wanted to be extra relaxed for the flight.

But alcohol also inhibits my ability to do time zone math, which is particularly interesting. I’m starting in Anchorage which is AKDT (-07:00), connecting in Dallas which is CDT (-05:00) and my final destination is Tallahassee which is EDT (-04:00). There’s a 4 hour difference between Alaska and Florida. This means that my 9:40 PM AKDT flight is already 12:40 AM CDT and 1:40 AM EDT, but really there’s no telling where my day 15 ended and my day 16 began.

The first flight was 6 hours long. I had my portable CPAP and used it but felt like I got 6 one-hour naps instead of 6 hours of sleep. I arrived to Dallas at 7:00 AM CDT/8:00 AM EDT/4:00 AM AKDT and had 5 hours before boarding my second flight. I basically wandered DFW like a zombie 🧟‍♂️ but didn’t want to sleep because if I fell asleep then I’d likely miss my connecting flight (I was THAT tired). I boarded at 12:00 PM CDT/1:00 PM EDT/9:00 AM AKDT and basically slept soundly (without the CPAP—sorry flight mates) until we arrived in Tallahassee at 3:30 PM EDT/2:30 PM CDT/11:30 AM AKDT.

Even though I had made it home, I wasn’t quite done. I took the taxi 🚕 to the house, only to get in my car and pickup the dogs 🐶🐾 from boarding. Now, when they come home from boarding, they’re excited for 2.3 seconds then they basically sleep for the next 3 days. I’m gonna try, but it feels like the middle of the afternoon to my body. The only advantage is I finally have seen the night! 🌃🌚 Good night!

Day 14 – Fishing (or not)/Museum/Another Rest Day

Before the trip began, one of the things I wanted to do as a “bucket list” item was to go fishing in Alaska. I had scoped out a place near downtown called The Bait Shack that would rent the rod, reel, waders, net, lures, etc. and were right on the creek. They even provided the fishing license and would send you on your way.

I woke up, got our usual breakfast from our coffee spot, took the bus 🚌 downtown, and walked toward the area. One big thing I’ve noticed is the vibrancy of color in all of the flowers here. The fireweed may still be my favorite, but the park had all sorts of colors, and across downtown there were the combination purple/yellow flower bushes hanging from the street lights. I also passed the Eisenhower monument, and some black roses.

Past the monument was the same railroad depot we had taken yesterday, but behind it was another building, the Alaska Railroad Corporation—the headquarters was right behind the depot! That’s twice we saw the same name and company in two separate buildings. I’m just glad we made our train yesterday.

Alaska Railroad Corporation building to the left, but notice that you can’t walk straight across. This is on purpose so you have to look up (presumably from your phone) and see whether a train is coming!

Right before you get to the shack, there’s a bridge where you can see the fish right from the water, and right next to it is a restaurant called “The Bridge” which actually is a bridge!

You may have noticed A) the tide is really low and B) there are NO FISH! 🐟 We learned yesterday that the tides can change 30-40 feet, and this was the low tide part. I still went on to the shack and spoke to the team. To their credit, they were honest with me that tide wouldn’t be later (too late for me) and that I was about a month too early for the good fishing! DRAT! But I guess that means I’ll have to come back… 😉

With “plan A” gone, I needed a new “plan B”. Megan had planned on going to the botanical gardens, but it was an overcast day which meant her pictures wouldn’t have the right lighting (at least as much as I understood what she said), so her “plan A” was gone so we met up in downtown and set our destination to a restaurant we had heard from all the Uber drivers that was a must-eat: Simon & Seafort’s. It was a decent walk away, and the food was okay—but it reminded me of more of a “business lunch” venue (for those in Tallahassee—think The Governor’s Club) and it just wasn’t our scene. Once we finished, we then went to see the Captain Cook monument, then did some more shopping downtown, including a yarn boutique and a few places with real Alaskan craft.

Captain Cook

Heading back toward the bus stop, we decided to add one more cultural stop on our tour at the Anchorage Museum. It had an eclectic collection of art, culture, education, and history that I crave in museums. My favorite exhibition was the Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage exhibit that had artifacts from all the major/minor Inuit tribes in Alaska and Siberia. You could see clothing, tools, etc. from each tribe and note the differences based upon environment, geography, etc. (No pictures)

After the museum, we took the bus back to the Airbnb and came up with two solid ideas for that evening. Idea #1 is to go to Arctic Sushi (which we had passed in downtown Anchorage) and walk around downtown some more. Idea #2 was to order Arctic Sushi delivery and eat it while watching TV. After two weeks of moving around—we opted for staying in. And for those keeping score, I actually LIKED the sushi 🍱 today—I might not wait another 10 years to have it again!

Tomorrow’s our last day, so we also spent the evening (because there is no night anymore) packing up, and I even shipped some of my stuff back home so I wouldn’t have to deal with it through airports.

Day 13 – Train to Whittier and Glacier Tour

When we left the cruise ship, we were definitely underwhelmed by the glacier…but then in Seward we found a flyer to see 26 glaciers in a day (on a 5-hour cruise). Long story short…today’s that day!

So far on this trip, I’ve taken a car 🚗, a plane ✈️, a bus 🚌, and a ship 🛳, but no train 🚂! We also got that as part of the glacier cruise deal, so we were super excited this morning as we headed for the Alaska Railroad Depot in Anchorage…after stopping at our coffee shop!

Megan and I are both infatuated with trains. My love comes from not having access to trains growing up—I was an adult before riding on my first train and I enjoy the ability to walk around and “stretch out” without bumping 12 people in a 4-person row on an airplane. This particular train runs from Anchorage to Whittier (another cruise terminal) for 2.5 hours. We checked in, boarded, and left!

If you can’t tell, we’re train enthusiasts.

We enjoyed a few sights along the way, including the “mud flats”. In Anchorage the tide changes 40 feet 😳 so during low tide you can see land much further out. They did advise us not to walk on it ever because it’s like quicksand. And then, when the tide is in, it’s back to “River” status. We should see this on the ride home.

We pulled up to the Whittier “train station” (literally half of a tent) and crossed the street to the cruise terminal to pickup our tickets and board our vessel 🚢 for the day!

Because we were a last minute booking, we didn’t get a prime location for seating. It wouldn’t have mattered—the people with the good seats booked months in advance, and everyone was free to walk around. The seating advantage was really only about meal delivery. The cruise included a meal of either seafood chowder or vegetable chili (I couldn’t have the chowder because of the dairy 😭). They also had a bar and were serving “glacier ice margaritas” (basically a margarita with blue curaçao added) so we got some…but they were made using regular ice. It was a little of a let down, but was also tasty so we went with it.

As we made the cruise they told us about the wildlife and different glaciers as we passed them. We also passed sea otters and a few other critters and finally ended up at “the big one”—Surprise Glacier. (I was not in charge of naming the glaciers.) This one glacier alone made the trip worth it!

We were stopped at Surprise Glacier for awhile, and to our enjoyment, they fished some ice out of the water (not chipping off the glacier but had already detached) and took that onboard to make glacier ice margaritas WITH GLACIER ICE!!!🧊 I’m not sure it tasted different, but it felt colder! 🥶

There was one other oddity on our way back. It’s either referred to the “wall of birds” or “wall of 💩” because it’s where all the gulls nest near a waterfall. It was intriguing, but I wasn’t getting up any more—I had my margarita(s)! (So I got a few pictures from my seat)

Once we made it back, we took the 45-second hike to the train station, where our train pulled up about 5 minutes later and we were off.

I’m not exaggerating—it’s 500 ft from the dock to the “depot” (half a tent)

Our train arrived back in Anchorage a few minutes early, and we had seen the 49th State Brewing Company on the train out, so we decided to sample the local food & brew, and it was close enough to walk…once we got the address right!

We did pass the brewery on the way, but it was their canning/bottling facility. The actual brewery was (of course) uphill from where we went. Then, because we came from the wrong direction—we couldn’t find the entrance. We ended up at the talent entrance (they have live music often) but there was an elevator with a hefty queue, so we walked around the building some more until we finally reached the entrance.

In addition to some rich stouts & porters, we also ordered dinner. I ordered a pizza (again, vegan cheese was available) and “cauliflower wings” with blue cheese dressing on them. And yes—it was VEGAN blue cheese dressing! I had Megan try it since I don’t like blue cheese to start with, and she confirmed that she wouldn’t know it was vegan! The wings themselves were super crunchy and spicy.I ate it all, and my sinuses definitely thanked me for it!

The worst part of the day was when we left the restaurant, it had closed already—so it was about 10:30 PM AKDT…but still looked like daytime! I think it’s starting to get to me—I haven’t seen nighttime in a few days…

Day 12 – Anchorage Rest Day

We opted to make today a rest day so we could wash clothes, get groceries, and settle in.

We started by discussing the coffee ☕️ option and found a little coffee house called Aftershock Espresso. It was a 9-minute walk away and had a grocery store nearby, so we put on our Alaska clothes and went out…which lasted about a minute.

It was hot! 🥵 When the sun is out, it was warm enough that we only needed short sleeves. Regardless, we moved on, and I’m glad we did. The coffee shop itself was a tiny freestanding building that displayed a PRIDE flag and had stickers signifying a woman-run business. They had closed the lobby due to COVID but converted the drive-thru to a “drive & walk”-thru and had some outdoor seating available. They also had alternative milk options AND vegan breakfast sandwiches (all stuff I can consume) and very quickly became our Anchorage Coffee Spot. (P.S. if you’re Megan’s Seattle coffee spot—you’ve got competition.)

We enjoyed our breakfast then went to the grocery store for a few items. Back at our Airbnb, there was a paper bag filled with other paper bags, and when we got to checkout we then knew why. Apparently most of Alaska has a plastic bag ban but they readily have paper bags available for $0.10. We didn’t have much so we got everything into the paper bag and headed back.

Since it was a rest day, we had made plans to see a movie. On the way to the theater we had a conversation about yarn (Megan is an artisan knitter) and we actually found a yard store within walking distance of the theater AND had about 45 minutes to kill. So, without further ado, I present the Megan in her natural habitat…

One of the theater options we considered was called Bear Tooth Theaterpub, but our movie wasn’t playing there that day. But a few taxi 🚕 drivers told us to try Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. Bonus: it was within walking distance of the theater! Double bonus: they had vegan cheese!!!

Day 11 – Departing cruise into Seward

Today’s our final day of the cruise, but unlike other cruises, we had to be off by 9:00 AM! 🥱

We did have time for breakfast and then went to our staterooms to wait on our number to be called. Luckily, we were only waiting a few minutes then got called through.

I’ve seen the cruise terminals at Port Canaveral, Tampa, Miami, and Vancouver. All were fairly massive. The Seward cruise terminal was…NOT. It was about half as long as the ship itself and we just walk in, find our luggage, and walk out.

Megan and I stopped to porter our luggage and then met the others’ taxi driver who was taking them to Anchorage. She did offer us the nickel tour of Seward so Megan and I hopped in and rode around to see where we would go today, then got dropped off at our first spot and off they went!

Seward has a population of around 2,800 and mostly relies on summer tourism, so we wanted to spend some time and see a few places here. The first stop of any day is coffee ☕️, and I had pre-selected Mermaid Grotto for our coffee. It has a nice decor, alternative milk options, and a shop out front. We settled in with our coffee and started to get used to steady ground.

Mermaid Grotto

Seward also operates a free community shuttle for getting around town, and we left at the perfect time to catch the shuttle! We rode it a few stops and reached the South side of Seward at the Alaska SeaLife Center. We took a self-guided tour through the center and saw many aquatic and avian animals including sea lions 🦭, seals, otters 🦦, fish 🐟, and PUFFINS! I had never seen them before!

Toward the end there was also a demonstration on how trash (especially plastic bags) in the waters can affect the ecosystem, and check again—those aren’t jellyfish, but it’s enough to confuse other sea creatures. We then went to the gift shop and I got a few souvenirs and guess what kind of bag they gave me for my souvenirs??? Actually…none. Most everyone has a backpack (including me) and I was happy they stuck to their beliefs and didn’t provide a bag.

The Iditarod historic trail marker is also in Seward and next to the Sea Life Center, so we went over for a quick picture.

A little ways down is Lowell Creek Waterfall, which made the news when a rockslide washed out the road a few years back. You can see the remains as well. And in case it wasn’t clear…This is not New York.

Around this time we were hunting for snacks/places to eat and stumbled into a restaurant near our next destination that had food and beer, so we checked in. They had empty tables but we later found out those were for a tour group coming in later. We managed to get served before the tour group came in, so it didn’t really impact us and allowed us to get out of the rain.

Since getting to Alaska, we had been trying local Alaskan beers. So when we saw that one of those beers was from Seward Brewing Company, we knew we had our next destination! (Those lunch beers were our warmup.) They also didn’t open until 3, so the late lunch bought us some time. And then beer! 🍻 We sampled a few of the local brews, then headed out to catch our bus.

The bus stop (also doubling as a hotel) was on the North side of Seward…but the town is only 2 miles long so we opted to walk the 17 minutes to our stop. One key difference between Alaska and Florida is the humidity—we didn’t even break a sweat. Once there, we boarded the bus 🚌 and made our way to Anchorage!

On our way, we did get a short glimpse of a moose! One more animal on our “Alaskan Animals” BINGO card.

A few hours later, we got off the bus and took a taxi to our Airbnb, got settled in, and then looked outside. It was almost 10:00 PM, yet this is what we saw…

Day 10 – At Sea/Hubbard Glacier

Despite our best efforts to relax yesterday—we didn’t. Fortunately, today is “Hubbard Glacier day” as we pulled through the waters to get a monumental view of the glacier.

I also got the bright idea to use a Zoom lens…which is just me holding the phone up to the binoculars to take the pictures.

Last night at dinner, our Head Waiter gave us the opportunity for a discount on a specialty seating on a specialty restaurant experience called the Taste of Royal, where we enjoy a four course meal where each course is from a specialty restaurant across the Royal Caribbean fleet of ships! Most importantly, they accommodated my dairy allergy with every course!

Everyone was trying to pace themselves during the risotto meal, so Megan asked for a “to go” container to consolidate the risotto and not waste food. They told her that she must have fresh risotto to go, and brought her out an ENTIRE container of risotto before we left! 🥹

There were some post-meal naps that I also got photos of, but it is bad for “my health” to post them! 🤪

We were moving pretty fast by the afternoon and my cellular data worked for about a second, but I did snap a quick screenshot of our progress. Yakutat is the mouth up to the glacier and we’re heading to Seward.

There was ONE place on this ship that I wasn’t allowed to go…

Hair salon is for those with…hair

Overall, it’s been a great cruise. We had to pack up our luggage and souvenirs (to which I’m stoked that I brought a packable duffle bag) and put them out for disembarking tomorrow. But tomorrow also starts the post-vacation. It was cheaper to fly back in 4 days than to fly back tomorrow, so we rented an Airbnb for tomorrow onward, and play to spend the day in Seward.

Day 9 – Snacking our way through Skagway

After a few thrilling days, we decided to “take it easy” today, and rallied behind the idea of snacking our way through Skagway. (Spoiler alert: we did.)

As we disembarked today there was a shuttle that cost $5 round trip to take us to Skagway. We figured many would take the shuttle since it was basically required in Sitka, but you could literally see the shops from the port, so we opted to walk and it only took 8 minutes. I also got a few nature photos on the walk.

We did some shopping for souvenirs then had our first snack. We got some coffee-esque beverages and some Alaskan Fry Bread! The best part is NO DAIRY! It’s literally flour, salt, and water.

We tried taking a picture before we ate it, but it was not possible to wait… 🤤

We spent some time exploring the shops around Skagway. It’s a nice town, but given the Klondike Gold Rush theme, Skagway almost feels like a Disney theme park area as the buildings were historically-maintained but it felt fake.

As we walked into town this morning, we noticed what looked like a painting on the side of the mountain. We made a joke that it would be good advertising, but couldn’t quite figure it out.

We pulled out the binoculars and tried to make sense of it. The part we could make out was Kirmse’s Curios and what looked like a clock but wasn’t sure. We thought nothing about it until we saw…

Turns out it was a famous store called Kirmse’s Curios that used to sell and repair pocket watches and also expanded to other items. The paint was done a few years after they opened (and before billboards existed!) and it’s stayed there since!

There were two places we really wanted to visit before coming to Skagway. One of those was the Skagway Brewing Company (because 🍺) and now is the time. They had a restaurant upstairs and a pub downstairs—we opted for the pub to get beer and some snacks. We snacked on salmon dip (not me because of dairy) and blackened fries (exactly what it sounds like) and made a hidden dish—scoop the salmon dip onto the blackened fries! I had a flight of beers in order to sample a few different ones, including a spruce-flavored lager that was surprisingly tasty.

The other “must see” destination for us was the Red Onion Saloon which was a famous saloon and brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush, and was the third stop for our snack tour. The dairy-eaters split a deliciously-smelling pizza and I had the main share of a bowl of chili…and some beers! 🍻

After collecting enough souvenirs, snacks, spirits, and steps, we headed back to the ship 🛳 with time to spare so we could all take a little siesta and enjoy the evening.

I did finally explore up to the 12th floor of the ship and found that there was a glass area that overlooked the below decks.

12th floor looking all the way down to the 4th floor.

Day 8 – Sitka

Sitka was a “bucket list” item for me. There’s a few reasons why, but it boils down to watching The Proposal a few years back. Of course, I found out that the Sitka scenes were actually filmed in New England…but still had to explore.

We had a late start getting off the ship, but were surprised when the gangway wasn’t full of people. As we disembarked we saw the Serenade of the Seas (another Radience class) parked next to us, and we walked toward shore…

Well, there is a bus that takes you to Sitka, and it had a 45-minute wait! The two ships together meant the port was twice as busy. Luckily it also meant we had to to explore, and Owen found an absolute treat: Huckleberry licorice! They have officially ruined Twizzlers for me because this was SOOO GOOD!

We boarded the bus to downtown Sitka and we’re discussing what we wanted to do. Cassidy suggested that we should try to see bears 🐻 today, but all the excursions were sold out or couldn’t get us back in time. We tried seeing if we would have another opportunity but things were looking grim.

We had been warned that if we do see a 🐻 on a trail, that we need to make ourselves look “big” and to make noise to drive them off. But if you see baby cubs then you need to disappear because Mama Bear will protect her cubs. And Marie is no different—she saw her “cubs” wouldn’t get to see the bears and swooped into action, calling every taxi 🚕 in Sitka and found one that would take us to the bear rescue AND wait there while we explored before taking us back to downtown. A few minutes later our taxi arrives and we are off to Fortress of the Bear.

Fortress of the Bear is a bear rescue in Sitka where they repurposed an abandoned water treatment facility (concrete tanks make good bear encampments) to rescue orphaned bears, nurse them to health, and give them a humane and easy-going life. They do not receive government funding and are a donation-based non-profit, so they also use the natural location to provide viewing areas for tourists and charge a nominal fee (which is a more than fair price for admission). They are also accepting donations (hint hint) where you can also buy the bears fruit, freeze pops, tires, etc.

On our taxi 🚕 ride back into Sitka, I kept seeing these lovely pink flowers which we (err, Megan) identified as Fireweed. It grows sporadically and we’re seen it around Alaska this far but it was a little tough to get pictures in the moving car.

We had a little time left in Sitka and we wanted to eat at another local restaurant. Ur taxi driver Mary recommended Bayview Restaurant because it had good food, good beer, and (shockingly 😱) a view of the bay. It was another restaurant with an interior hallway to other shops—which we figured is more for the wintertime.

Our group split off after our meal—Megan and I stayed to finish our beer while the others checked out the historic Bishop’s House. We all then boarded shuttles back to port, picked up more Huckleberry licorice (because why not!) and boarded the ship. 🛳

Day 7 – Icy Strait Point

Today’s the day I’ve been waiting for…

When I saw the itinerary for the trip, I started searching for excursions, and the ZipRider caught my eye! It’s a single zipline over a mile long and taller than the Empire State Building.

In other words…I WILL ABSOLUTELY DO IT!

Ask anyone in our party: one of the first things we did is visit the excursion desk and purchase this excursion. It was one of the few that could not be purchased beforehand, and I wanted to make sure we could take the plunge. Since we had timed tickets, we had a quick breakfast and headed ashore…but didn’t get very far before seeing more astonishing views!

As you cross the bridge, you enter the first camp with a few walking paths a smokehouse/brewery, the zipline landing area, and a gondola to the second station. We boarded the gondola and caught some of the zipline riders coming in!

Once we got to the second station, we checked in for our ride, put our stuff in a locker, and headed up using the second gondola. Bear in mind that the first gondola was never more than 15-20 feet off of the ground—but the second gondola at one point was nearly going STRAIGHT UP! We snapped some spectacular views while not trying to shake the cab very much…

One we made it to the summit, regrouped and waited for our turn. We had a small safety course on wildlife and a short hike to the launch area. They split us off into groups (they can launch 6 at a time), and the first group saddled up to ride down…it was finally “go time”

It. Was. A. Rush!

It took me a minute to recover after coming down. I remember not feeling like I was falling, but more like I’m on a roller coaster. The ride down took about 90 seconds. Our group got split into two, so we went down to the viewing area to see the other two come in for their landing, and then went to get the official photos! (Will be posted later)

We explored Icy Strait Point for awhile longer, including getting a tour at the cannery. We had also thought about making our way to Hoonah, AK (1.5 miles away) but decided to make today a “rest day” because we still had a lot of vacation left. But there was one other thing we had to do today…

Mini golf! ⛳️ (or Putt Putt Golf depending on where you’re from) Our ship as an onboard 9-hole course, and it turned out to be a great way to unwind. We got a little competitive, but had more fun commentating the others’ shots. Owen walked away with the win in 1st place 🥇 with 22 strokes.

I had also been wondering about the dessert for tonight. Last night was a good effort but just wasn’t for me. So for tonight they had asked me which desserts I liked if I could eat them and they were going to go from there. So when dessert came out I was pleasantly surprised to find crème brûlée that WAS dairy free! The consistency itself was a little off but I honestly thought it tasted better than dairy-included crème brûlée.