We arrived at Anchorage from Vancouver on August 6 and started our 1-day pre-cruisetour sightseeing before flying to Fairbanks the next day. National Car Rental said we did not use our free rental day since 1998, so, in order not to ... Read More
We arrived at Anchorage from Vancouver on August 6 and started our 1-day pre-cruisetour sightseeing before flying to Fairbanks the next day. National Car Rental said we did not use our free rental day since 1998, so, in order not to disappoint them again, we claimed our full size car for the day. We got upgraded to a Toyota Rav4 SUV that could fit all 4 people's luggage (4 big suitcases, 4 carry-on suitcases, 4 backpacks) closely and neatly. We had to take pictures so we could remember how to pack the car the same way back to the airport for Fairbanks the next day. I deliberately write about this point as I was always wondering if the rental cars could 'accommodate' all our bags, and of course, plus 4 adults (my daughters are 22 & 18).
We took the 11 a.m. Air Canada direct flight from Vancouver to Anchorage and we were in the Sheraton by 2:30 p.m. As an SPG Gold member, I used my points to get a free room on the Club Floor with full access to the Club Lounge. Free fruit, juice, soda, water, hot beverage, candy (like gummy worms & bears) and munchies were available 24 hours. Continental breakfast had only a few choices. Sheraton's lobby was very nice with 4 free computers for guests to use. Each log-on would allow you 45 minutes, and you could extend the time. We printed out lots of info regarding our drive around Fairbanks the following day. Self-parking was directly across the street in a big parking lot for $10 per night.
Although Anchorage is the biggest city and most populated in Alaska, the downtown area near Sheraton did not really have a lot of life. If you want more convenient locations, Hilton would be a much better choice with lots more shops and restaurants around. We wanted to visit Portage Glacier and it's about an hour's drive (55 miles) from the hotel, so we had to rush to get a drive-through lunch and hit the highway so we would be in time for the last cruise to Portage Glacier at 4:30 p.m.
As soon as we were on the scenic Seward Highway, it started to rain...typical Alaskan rainy weather in August. We made it to the Portage Glacier dock at 4:15 p.m. and boarded the last cruise of the day to view our first glacier. There were only about 20 passengers on board the mv Ptarmigan. It was $29 per adult, with a 10% discount if you are AAA/CAA members for the 1-hour cruise.
As it was raining, we couldn't sit on the top deck. We had no choice but to take the audio "class/lesson" on the lower deck and listened to all the narration, which was actually quite informative and interesting. After about 20 minutes across Portage Lake, we could see the stunningly blue and white living Portage Glacier. The boat was so close to the glacier that we took lots of great pictures in the rain. The glacier was from a relic of the Ice Age, with occasional calving (fractures of ice breaking off the glacier and crashing into the water below) that we did not see. We had lots of stunning close-up views of the blue and white glacier with black moraine.
Our next stop was to visit the nearby Begich-Boggs Visitor Centre to see the glaciology exhibits. The centre closed at 6 p.m. so we only had 20 minutes to see everything. It was still rainy and dull outside. Then we went to eat at a local restaurant called Spenard Roadhouse on W. Northern Lights Blvd. The salmon and the seafood jambalaya were both delicious.
After a week's Alaska cruisetour with Royal Caribbean, we were back to Anchorage on August 12, with a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Centre that was included in our cruisetour.
This excursion happened to be the one that I liked the least, probably because we had visited many of the similar villages, and we had learned a lot from our professional guides in the past few days. Our tour guides were definitely very knowledgeable. They even inspired my younger daughter so much that she wanted to be one of them as her summer job! Nevertheless, we did learn about the 11 different cultural groups in Alaska, enjoyed their performances using traditional authentic musical instruments and props, and their everyday life now.
We spent over 2 hours there. After less than an hour, we finished walking the lake and visited all villages. We then spent the rest of the time looking at exhibits and watching performances. Merchandise in their gift shop was the most expensive compared to all the Alaskan places of interest we visited in the last few days.
At 4 p.m., we were driven to Marriott Downtown, met up with my parents who arrived at the hotel a couple of hours earlier, felt relieved when I found out that both their luggage and themselves were able to arrive safely, especially after a 1 hour delay in Toronto! There was only 1 direct flight from Vancouver to Anchorage, if they missed that connecting flight they would have to fly down to Seattle and then to Anchorage, it would take another 6-12 hour...how I hate connecting flights!
Marriott was a much more luxurious hotel compared to the accommodations of the last few nights. However, there were basically no shops or restaurants close to it, and it's very expensive to eat in the restaurant, which provided average food but extremely slow service. We didn't have dinner there but our breakfast experience there was not pleasant at all! Locationwise, Hilton on 3rd Ave would be more desirable with lots of shops and restaurants nearby.
After saying goodbye to our wonderful tour director, Leah, and received from her our upgraded train transfer vouchers to the Seward Port plus our room keys at Marriott, we started to walk to our dining venue. I made dinner reservation for the 6 of us at Simon and Seafort's on L Street at 5 p.m. It took us just 10 minutes to walk there from the hotel. The restaurant was in an office building with a very small sign outside so it was quite hard to find. Luckily I printed out directions beforehand. On their website it stated that they offered panoramic views of Mt. Susitna and the Alaska range, and was famous for their Alaskan seafood. The best part was that they had a $25 three-course meal if ordered between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. daily. Since it was a beautiful day, my parents did enjoy the great views (way better than the views we saw a week ago when it was rainy and gloomy!) but the food was not even up to par. My soup was not hot enough and it was so salty that I had to ask the waiter to take it back, telling them that the chef might have put double salt in it! Alaskan food in general was oily and salty, probably because it's so cold there they need more oil and salt to keep them warm!! Read Less