I just returned from an alumni trip to Alaska. This was my second time there, and I have to say that Alaska is one very large state! I said that the first time I went, but it bears repeating. Its vast wilderness seems to have no end.
I learned a few things this time around. I could write a lengthy post but will only hit the highlights and share some insight (hopefully useful) should you choose to travel there:
Cruise vs. Land
The first time I went to Alaska, it was a cruise in the southeast passage. We were on a small boat and were able to get into the small coves and inlets. We even had the ability to jump into a kayak from the backend of the boat and paddle around. When the otters started to swim along with us, I was hooked! They were so curious and fun to watch. Highly recommend getting in a kayak to see the sites. On that trip, we saw just about every animal that calls Alaska home: eagles, bears, moose (these beasts are enormous), caribou (can’t figure out how these creatures stay upright with their large antlers), more whales than we could count — you name it, we saw it. I didn’t even need binoculars.
Views like this are common from a ship.The second trip was a land program, which provided a whole new view of the state. We had our feet on the ground more and saw small towns rather than inlets this time. It provided interesting insight into what it’s like to live in Alaska and how challenging the elements can be for locals. I don’t think I would survive one winter.
Both trips offer unique views of Alaska. It just depends on what you want to see and how you want to see it. If you like to hike and meet the locals, do the land. If you like to see the wildlife and enjoy the scenery, take a cruise aboard a small ship.
Our group traveled by bus, train (which was a great way to travel), and boat. We saw glaciers and icebergs and some wildlife. However, I have to be honest about the wildlife. We saw some, but not nearly what I was expecting or saw on my first trip. I thought we would see wildlife grazing by the roadside and traversing through the woods. I thought I would open the drapes in the morning and find moose grazing outside my window. On this trip, we saw wildlife more from afar. Binoculars would have been great. If you travel there, do not forget to bring binoculars like I did! I would definitely add that to our list of the top things to pack for Alaska. Our cruise program did provide more wildlife viewing up close.
Can’t-Miss Sites & Things to Do
We visited Denali National Park, which is a must-see if you travel there. It is one very large park — 6 million acres. When we traveled there, it was a beautiful, clear day. We saw Mt. Denali in its entirety. Our guide told us that 30% of park visitors see some part of Denali but only 10% see the entire mountain. Our group is now part of the 10% club! It was a special experience. Words and photos cannot begin to portray the beauty, so just plan to visit someday.
Hiking is big in Alaska and trails are aplenty! If that’s your thing, be sure to pack your hiking boots and good hiking socks and hit a few trails while you’re there. The trails can vary in length and terrain. Trail maps are plentiful, too, but most staff at the parks and lodges have great recommendations. Oh, and pack mosquito repellent. A powerful one. The mosquitos are vultures! Signs like this are posted everywhere and need no explanation.
Weather and Gear
Alaska is a rainforest, and you can bet that it will rain some of the days you visit… a lot! Whether you travel by land or boat, you definitely need waterproof shoes/boots, rain gear (I wore mine nearly every day), and layers to stay warm. You just have to make the best of it when it rains. You can’t let it deter you from getting out and about. You want to make sure you don’t miss a thing. This picture explains my point.
There are some great things to see right here in the United States. You don’t have to travel far to learn about our world and its people. Michigan Alumni Travel offers this trip every year, and it’s highly recommended by our travel team. And, it doesn’t matter which way you see this great state: land or cruise. This is one trip that should be on your bucket list.