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ALASKA...In Three Parts - Part 2 (The Adventure Continues)

As I'm banging away on my keyboard, there are ten roofers banging away over my head; gosh what a racket! Our cats are spooked and don't understand why their generally tranquil household no longer has single hiding place immune to the thunderous hammering. Fortunately for us all, this too shall pass, as did the hailstorm that damaged the roof in the first place.

By now you've read the first part of this three-part series and you're ready for what happens next...the land portion of your trip. This is the part that many people don't know about until they actually discuss their trip with an advisor. It's really a huge part of your Alaska vacation. So, imagine yourself on what might be your once-in-a-lifetime trek to the nether regions of the northern hemisphere; the adventures you had on your cruise are just the appetizer, and believe me, you won't want the feast to end. You go to Alaska to see Alaska, so take advantage of land-based add-ons that let you experience first-hand a smidgen of the wildness of the state. There is no other way to do this, save watching those hard-core homesteaders on TV.

Your cruise line offers these combination cruise and land journeys. They land portions are multi-day trips that start when you disembark, then travel by bus or rail to perhaps Fairbanks, Anchorage, or in the case of a Holland America Lines Land+Sea Journey, their own Denali Square at McKinley Place Lodge, the base from which I enjoyed my three-day add-on.

Denali Square at the McKinley Chalet Resort is the ultimate base camp for adventures to Denali, followed by relaxing evenings around the fire or at a show. Enjoy soaring views across the Nenana River into Denali National Park from virtually anywhere on this amazing property, as well as great dining, quality entertainment, and unique local shopping opportunities. The Tundra Wilderness Tour, gives you an up-close view of the mountain and the best wildlife viewing. The hope is to catch a glimpse of of Alaska’s 'Big Five': grizzly, caribou, moose, Dall Sheep and wolf, along with other animals on this expertly guided six- to eight-hour tour (I saw them all!). In addition, there are myriad once-in-a-lifetime adventures to choose from—river rafting, flightseeing (including the chance to land with a ski plane on Denali itself), hiking, or visiting the home of an Iditarod dog musher.

With more than six million acres of pristine Alaska wilderness, Denali National Park with its abundant and easily viewable wildlife and North America’s tallest and most impressive peak will be sure to make your Land+Sea Journey experience one you’ve dreamed of.

From your base, you branch out into guided excursions such as glacial treks, glacier sight-seeing by air, Denali National Park tours, backcountry trips, ATV-ing, Arctic Circle adventures, and so much more.

As I mentioned, we were fortunate to see all the 'big five'; watching the wolf feasting on the caribou carcass by the river - priceless. Wilderness at its finest. The most momentous event was being able to see Denali itself - the day was cloudless (a rarity, I'm told) and the mountain is SO big you think you're looking up a giant cloud bank coming out of the horizon. It was truly impressive. As you look at the photo below, bear in mind that those mountains in the middle ground are mountains too - they're just dwarfed by THE mountain.

Denali in all it's glory at 20,308ft is taller (not higher) than Mt. Everest.

The end of our Land+Sea Journey was also a high point - a day-long train journey to Anchorage to catch our flight. Through the all-glass train cars came the all-day panoramic views - rivers, remote cabins with ceiling hatches that let the residents come and go in deep snow that render the front door useless; moose, bears, villages, wetlands, forests. The train travels no faster than 35 mph and you get to see EVERYTHING. A full meal is included for lunch - don't nap afterwards or you'll miss what you came to see.

Next week - the third and final installment: expedition-style Alaska vacations; more adventurous, and just as luxurious.

'til next week.

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