We were on Holland America D1T which began in Fairbanks on Sept. 5th. The ship departed Seward on the 9th. We arrived a day early. It was good to have the extra day in Fairbanks as we toured the Museum at the University (great museum), went to Santa's house in North Pole, AK. We had a good dinner at the hotel restaurant...
The HAL hotel is the Westmark in Fairbanks. Nice hotel but the rooms are a little small and its in need of an update. HAL has a desk at the hotel which was good. Our tour included a very fun and informative ride on a paddle-wheel boat, lunch and panning for gold during the day. We recommend the land tour in Fairbanks. We also went on the salmon bake that evening, which we all agreed was not worth it. The next day we were transported to Denali on the train in very nice observation cars. The observation cars have comfortalbe seats and a bar upstairs and a restaurant area below the seating area and great visibility of the scenery and quite pleasant. The guides were attentive and informative. At the train station in Denali we were transported to our hotel, The McKinley Chalets Resort. Our group was in a separate full sized hotel near the main lodge. It is a 5 minute walk from there to the main lodge and there's a shuttle running every few minutes. Our impression is that building was owned by HAL. The main lodge has a couple of restaurants, a bar and a gift shop. Across the street is the commercial area with many shops, ice cream, pizza, etc.
We took the white water river rafting trio down the Neenana River. Since it was September the weather was on the cool side, but they provided "dry" suits that are water tight and go over your clothing (water tight at wrists, ankles, and neck). It was about 1.5 hours of non-stop class 3 rapids. We have river rafted several rivers, and this was one of the best rides...we all had to paddle and being on the point (up front) is "the" place to be. A great trip and worth it.
The bus tour of Denali was in a refurbished school bus. The seats were uncomfortable and the heat was almost non-existent. The outside temperature was barely 50 degrees. The tour guide was very informative. We saw bears and mountain sheep. Despite the temperature and the seats everyone thought it was a good tour, although I thought that it was too long actually,,,,four hours in and four ours back gets old on an uncomfortable bus. Its definitely NOT a tour bus...small windows, bad seats, bad heater. But we did sear bears, moose, and Doll mountain sheep.
The next day we boarded modern "deluxe" motorcoaches for transport to Seward. Much much better than the old school bus in Denali. It is a full-day with great scenery all of the way. Our bus driver/guide was very informative. The lunch stop was in Wasilla at a very nice restaurant. We were a little ahead of schedule and got to do an unscheduled stop at the Iditerod headquarters in Wasilla where we had up close encounter with the dogs and the had rides available which was fun and a great photo op. Some of the family of racers were there and we held sled dog puppies. If you go on this and can convince your driver to fit it in, it is well worth the 20 or 30 minutes, and it was free except they do charge for the sled rides (the sled is an ATV pulled by dogs since there is no snow in Sept)
We did no sight seeing at Seward. The boarding was straight forward.
At Glacier bay: we got an informative narrative about the Marjorie glacier and the Grand Pacific glacier.
At Haines, we went on a Bald Eagle river float. This is the only tour we took that was not Holland American. It starts at Porcupine Creek...yes the same local where the Discover Channel TV program "Alaskan Gold Rush". We did see many eagles on the Chilkat River, but you don't get all that close to them. Our guide was a real treat as he paddled our rubber raft while telling us about all the things were were seeing. His name is Delbert,,,,if you go on this tour, you will want him. Think of Gabby Hayes who graduated from the Air Force Academy, flew F4's, got an MBA at Stanford University, was a consultant for Arthur Anderson, and left it all to be a river guide on the colorado river in the Grand Canyon, then spend the last several years in Alaska. I enjoyed this trip, but I wish I could have been in two places at the same time. Others went salmon fishing and had a blast. This tour is run by Chilkat Tours Ltd, and is called the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Float. Each raft holds a guide and max of 6 passengers which worked out well for us as we were three couples. Do a google search and you will find this tour. We got back in plenty of time to make our boarding deadline. This tour included a lunch.
In Juneau: It rained alot, which we were told, if you go to Juneau, expect rain. We took a whale watching boat (holds about 120 people). We did see some hump back whales, but no breaches, but that is the luck of the draw. Sometimes they breach and mostly they don't. We had a good red salmon lunch at Orca Point which is an island restuarant. We also took a bus over to the Mendenhall Glacier and adjacent water fall. This was a beautiful area, and there is a gift shop and you can walk over to a creek and see 18 inch or more salmon swimming in the clear water.
At Ketchikan: We went on the HAL tour "Alaska Rain Forest Sanctuary, Raptor Center and Totems." The rain forest sanctuary walking tour was the best part. We saw four bears and video'd three of them for perhaps two minutes as they strolled down a creek near us, catching and eating Salmon. They were as close as 40 or 50 feet. As our guide said, "if they cross to this side of the creek, we're leaving!:" After the tour we enjoyed walking around town. Even though this is the place on earth with the most rainfall, on this cruise it was the only port in which it was not raining! The next day our cruise ended at Vancouver. We recommend the cruise. The best parts are the wildlife and the scenery. Dress for the climate.