I can’t believe it’s been a year since we went on our Alaskan adventure! We went in June of 2016 and it was absolutely amazing in every way. It had been a place that was on both mine and my husbands’ bucket list and with it also being our 10 year anniversary we thought it would be the perfect time to go – with our 5 and 3 year old too. It’s no secret that we love to travel and see the world and Alaska is definitely one of my top favorite places to visit and we will definitely go again! I know a lot of people are unsure about going or think that it is only for an older crowd, so I wanted to share with you our complete experience if you are on the fence. Oh, and added bonus our lovely studio manager Amy can plan this whole trip for you! She’s also a vacation planner and some of her family members went to Alaska a week after we did, so give her a shout here!
Here’s a day by day of our Itinerary.
We actually chose to fly in one day beforehand just to be on the safe side if for some reason flights were cancelled or delayed. Our direct flight landed in the evening so we literally checked into a hotel not far from the airport got dinner and passed out. This is also the moment we really realized it is only dark for maybe 2-3 hours in Alaska this time of year which is a little hard to get used to. I will say every hotel was good about having room darkening shades for those of you that are light sleepers like myself.
The next morning we checked into our hotel that was a part of the trip we booked in downtown Anchorage. We spent that day exploring the town and shopping. That night we checked in with our tour guides and were excited to officially start the land tour of our trip the next morning.
Train Ride to Denali:
I’m not going to lie, when I first read 8 hour train ride (with two young kids) I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, it seriously flew by. The train itself was two levels. The upper area where we had seats was completely covered in glass so you never missed a second of the breathtaking views. The downstairs area is where they would send you down for a seated table breakfast and lunch. The food was actually pretty good. Now on to the pictures just to show you how worth it this train ride is…
Always be on the lookout for wildlife. We saw a couple moose and bald eagles during the ride.
They also serve yummy “mommy juice” drinks on the train too.
The train also goes at the perfect pace to rock your kiddos to sleep should you bring them. There are also electrical outlets in the seats if you bring a DVD player or iPad.
The first hotel we stayed in once we arrived at Denali was one of the most “rustic” ones. They had a descent restaurant to grab dinner in and below are pictures of the area surrounding the hotel.
That night we chose to go see the famous Jeff King – an Iditarod Champion. If you’re as much of an animal lover as me this excursion is so worth it. You literally get out of the van and they are putting puppies in your arms! It was super hard to give them back, they were all so adorable. This is also were you were learn that these are true Alaskan huskies, not siberian that most people of familiar with. Alaskan huskies have more wolf like features.
After they finally force you into giving the puppies back they put on a little demonstration with the dogs. It’s crazy how excited they get to show off their skills.
After the outdoor demo they then bring everyone inside to really go over what it means to race in the Iditarod. Because I had younger kids I got to go with my children and have a “puppy party” at this time. They brought in the cutest bunch of puppies for us to play with for about 30 minutes. My husband did go to the lecture and said it was super fascinating and that Jeff is a really funny guy.
Denali National Park:
The next morning it was time to go check out the Denali National Park and hopefully see Denali Mountain. We opted to do the super early tour because they said that was our best chance at seeing wildlife, I believe it left at 5 am. I am so glad we did this and tell everyone else to take the earlier time. Right off the bat we saw lots of moose. The bus also makes a few stops to get out and walk around and take pictures.
Cute little dall sheep right next to our bus.
As we were driving along our bus driver noticed some professional photographers out with all their gear so he pulled over of us and the most amazing thing happened. There was a grizzly and her two cubs! I’d never been so happy to have my camera on me. They were absolutely adorable and I probably took 100 pictures of them. At one point Momma bear was so close to the bus you could reach out and touch her. I was also super happy at this point that my kids behaved and didn’t make a peep.
Proud to say we are officially part of the 30% group that actually got to see the top of Denali. Apparently she’s shy and doesn’t show very often.
On the way back down the road Momma was still out so we pulled over again to really take advantage of the opportunity.
There was a little ranger station we stopped at with antlers to touch and souvenirs to buy. If you have a national park passport be sure to get it stamped here – you can also purchase them there.
Call us crazy, but even after our really early morning and excitement at Denali we signed up for a river rafting tour on our way to our hotel in Talkeetna. Here we saw bald eagles and beavers, it was a nice relaxing boat ride. The hotel by the way in Talkeetna was beautiful, but sadly I can’t remember the name.
The next morning we left for Alyeska Resort located in Girdwood. I really wish we had two nights here. We were supposed to go on a glacier hike that night, but it was actually too warm and it was cancelled. The good news was that we were able to see more of the resort area than if we would have went on it. Alyeska is ski resort so we took a lift up to the top of the mountain and the views we insane! We also saw a black bear climbing up the mountain below us on the way up. They had miles and miles of hiking trails, but unfortunately we didn’t get to take advantage of them. Which is why I wish we had another night there. They did have a warm salt water pool that the kids liked.
These are pictures from one of the stops our tour bus made. They were so great about pulling aside for us to explore a little.
These are from the top of the ski lift. The kids loved having a snowball fight!
This is the resort from the top.
The next morning it was off to Seward to visit the aquarium with our tour group and then to finally get dropped off at the ship. It was kind of sad to leave our land guides as they were so sweet and made sure we had a great time.
Day one was at sea so we could see the Hubbard Glacier. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and it was really foggy that day. It was so beautiful though once we got close to it, the blue ice is really something else. It was a sad seeing it at the same time just because of how much ice was falling off of it in the short time we were there. It sounded like thunder every time part of it fell off into the ocean. Global warming at its’ finest!
If I lived in Alaska I would live in Juneau and have every client meet me at this glacier for sessions (as long as they carried bear spray with us)!
We signed up for a 5 mile hike through a glacier area. Now I know you must be really thinking we’re nuts to do this with our kids, but when we read the reviews it said it was super easy and out of shape people said they handled it fine. Well, I wouldn’t say it was exactly a walk in the park but it wasn’t super hard either. My 5 year old actually did it without complaining and she can’t walk through the parking lot of Target without whining. My 3 year old did a lot of switching off between Daddy’s shoulders and me carrying him and my heavy camera backpack after the first 1/2 a mile. Everything on the trail was pretty natural as far as “stairs” which were usually stones. There was one part that had wooden stairs, but they pretty much went straight up. We did have a break after those and the guide had snacks for us. We had an older group with us so the guide did stop a lot and had lots of good stories. On the way down the glacier is was a pretty steep switchbacking trail. I honestly didn’t want this hike to end. It was so gorgeous and lush. I think I actually held up the hike the most by stopping to take so many pictures. Sorry, not sorry to everyone else on the tour I couldn’t help myself! At the end of the hike their was another ranger post to get more stamps in our passport.
Our motto was go big or go home on this trip since we knew it would be long time before we ever went back, so we signed up for a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier were we went dog sledding. It was unreal flying around up there and seeing the waterfalls going down the glacier. When we landed the three of us (Gavin stayed behind with my in laws) were taken over to our Musher Matt Hall. He introduced us to his dogs and told us a little about him and then we hopped on the sled. The really cool part was that he let each of us take turns in the back being the musher, even Caleigh! I was a little nervous at first when he said she could be back there by herself, but when I realized the dogs didn’t go to fast I knew she’d be fine. It was a really fun experience. Afterwards we went back to the base and….played with more puppies! These ones were 3 weeks old and 3 months old. Matt also took us around camp and showed us their living and hang out areas. They never leave the glacier all summer. Matt was a really nice guy and if you want to learn more about him and his dogs you can visit his website Smokin Ace Kennels.
The tour was actually not very long so we had plenty of time to explore Skagway afterwards.
Cute hats we found for the kids in one of the shops.
Icy Strait is VERY tiny. The only excursions are zip lining and whale watching. There is a little museum and a restaurant to visit as well. We decided to go whale watching, which I was so excited to do. Unfortunately it was kind of a let down and definitely not worth the money we spent. I believe we heard that the farther North you are, the better chance you have. We technically saw two whales, but they were feeding and didn’t spend much time on the surface. We actually never even really saw their heads, the came up enough to get some air and I was lucky enough to capture their tails the two times they actually showed them diving down. There were some adorable seals hanging out and we did see some otters in the distance which are apparently new to the area. The kids did like playing at the beach afterwards.
More bald eagles on the way back to the ship.
Our next port was Ketchikan. I thought it was a really cute area. We had already planned on going to the lumberjack show and Potlatch Park to see the totem poles that afternoon. We spent the morning exploring the shops. I wish we had know about the historical red light district area they used have earlier. It was actually close to where we were docked, but we didn’t learn about it until our tour bus was driving us to Potlatch. It looked like a fun area with more historical parts to see.
The lumberjacks were really entertaining, and definitely got the crowd excited!
Ketchikan was our last port so we had to say good-bye to our friend Jose that night at dinner. He treated my kids like they ruled the ship and was instantly bringing them snacks the minute we sat down and lots of extra desserts at night. He made them feel special and looked forward to seeing him every night at dinner.
Our cruise officially ended in Vancouver, but that didn’t mean our vacation did! Instead we had already booked a room in the downtown area. They have a great free bus service that will take you around and from some research before our trip we knew we had to check out Capilano Suspension Bridge. This place is a for sure must do if you are ever in the area. It was so much fun walking along all the bridges suspended in the air. The kids even got a certificate at the very end for making it through the entire park and getting stamps on a special map they are given at the entrance.
The fun kept on going for a few more days for us. The majority of my Dad’s side of the family lives in Seattle and since we knew we’d be so close we decided that we’d take the Amtrak down to Seattle from Vancouver. It was a nice ride down there with a very entertaining conductor.
Because of my family in Seattle I’ve been there more times than I could ever count, but the one place we always have to go – even though it’s a huge tourist trap – is Pike Place Market. The famous flying fish, the delicious fresh produce, quaint shops and people watching make it a must. And we always have to eat at Lowell’s inside Pike Place. I’m craving it right now just thinking about it!
There’s always the famous gum wall alley right behind Pike Place that we stop at too. The sad part is that it was just cleaned off not too long before we came back.
We also drove to Mount Rainier and stopped at Paradise with my Great Uncle and Aunt. More snowball fights in the middle of summer for the kids! We didn’t make it this time, but if you visit Mount Rainier you have to stop at Ohanapecosh. It’s gorgeous there.
One night we went to dinner in Kirkland which is actually the town where my Dad was born. It’s a fun little area that’s right on the water. Lots of shops and restaurants to choose from.
We also made a stop at one of my favorite zoo’s, Point Defiance. It is right on the water and not huge compared to some zoo’s, but it has everything and always a good time.
And one of the main reasons we knew we had to stop in Seattle was to visit my Great Grandma. She was 101 at the time and didn’t move into the nursing home until she was 99 and she put up a fight! This was Caleigh’s third visit with her and Gavin’s second. You would never know she was 101. She still knew everything that was going on, who we were and in pretty good health besides her eyesight. She turned 102 this past December and sadly passed away a month later. She lived an amazing life and I’m so glad we had this last visit with her.
Visits with my Grandma too!
We had some time to kill on our way to the airport after our dinner at Salty’s (another great restaurant) on Redondo Beach so we decided to walk along the pier. I just happened to look down and this little guy was staring right up at me! He stayed this way checking us out for about five minutes. Such a sweet little send off after an amazing vacation.
I hope this helped give anyone the push they needed to plan their Alaskan getaway!