Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Alaska - Staff Trip by Bolanle

BA World Traveller Plus is quite comfortable and in my opinion, is worth upgrading although I preferred economy but I guess that’s because I’m a shorty! Arriving in Seattle was simple and clearly signposted. After collecting your baggage- you think that's it but it has to go through further security again whilst you catch a train to the main terminal whether you’re connecting or ending your travel in Seattle- advantage- you don't need to worry about carrying your baggage around. Finding the taxi depot is however confusing and when you do find it, there’s apparently always a huge queue which I also experienced- took me 25mins to finally get a taxi
Hotel- Comfort Inn & Suites is not based in downtown Seattle although the description says it is- instead it’s about 35miles away from the airport and costs about $80 for the taxi. Hotel itself was nice with laundry, pool and business centre available free of charge, close to some shopping and restaurant. The only disadvantage is the distance.
I have been advised that Bellview area is the place to be and is closer to downtown Seattle and the airport.
Alaska Airline to Ketchikan- easy to check in, online check in and drop off your baggage in an allocated space and continue to your gate. 2hrs flight, same flight goes on to Wrangell, Juneau and ends in Anchorage although on their system, it states that it is a direct flight, but please note that it always stops at the destinations mentioned. For Juneau, there is 1 direct flight and that’s a late flight

Day 1
Ketchikan airport is small but serves its purpose, very quick and no immigration to go through. From the airport, you have to take a water taxi or ferry into town- leaves every 30mins but only takes 2mins to cross over- costs $11 if you have a car and $5 for foot passenger’s roundtrip. Takes about 10mins to get to your downtown hotel including your transfer
The Best Western Hotel is definitely one to be recommended- it has recently gone through refurbishment, has 2buildings, one that is solely accommodation and the other has the restaurant, business centre, fitness centre, gift shop and a pub. They have wifi connection in all rooms which is free, complimentary shuttle bus into town and Airport courtesy shuttle also available
Activities available in Ketchikan; Humpback whales and seals- May to September but have killer and grey whales all year round. Snorkelling and Scuba Diving. No grizzly but a lot of black bears which you can see from your backyard sometimes (so I was told). Hiking and Ziplining ($169per person) also available 15mins away from your downtown hotel by car both guided and unguided.
Deer mountain hiking- independent- would take the whole day.
Recommended day trip to Prince of Wales Island by flight and board the ferry in search of the Minerals- you can only fly to Prince of Wales Island from Ketchikan. Bar Harbour restaurant is a nice place to have dinner. Although people mainly only cruise through Ketchikan, it is very easy to fill 3days of activities here.

Day 2
Black bear Inn- is about 10mins from downtown (4miles) and is a lovely place to stay especially in Summer when its so busy- this place is quite secluded with outdoor hot-tub and BBQ. Clients can make their own food and feel like they are back at home. I would suggest clients hire a car although there is a bus service from downtown during the week but nothing over the weekend and I would suggest staying at least 2nights. Mainly for ‘fishers’ but there is a guy across the road from the lodge that offers kayaking trips which is highly recommended-

Salmon Falls Resort- open mid May to Mid Sept and is 17miles out of Ketchikan. Mainly for Halibut and fly fishing, they are high-end, will collect you from the Airport and take you back, very secluded, No spa facilities but the best fishing resort in Ketchikan. Although secluded and solely for fishing, if you want to go out to see the bears/ Misty Fjords, they will arrange that for you

Alaska Undersea- 90mins underwater in a boat- chances to see otters, whales (orcas and killer whales), Octopus. Also offer a 2hr bear watching, eagles, salmon and seals- has to be pre-booked. Based in downtown and have to make their own way to the depot. This company did look good only disadvantage is that they don’t provide a pick-up from your Hotel. It’s ok if staying in a downtown Hotel.
Gilmore Hotel for the night- right in downtown Ketchikan across from the dock- old hotel, rooms are small although all rooms are 1bed suites- it does make rooms very claustrophobic- bathroom is VERY small and all that is in there is a shower-no bath. I personally didn't like this place, topped with the fact that my room was freezing and the Hotel couldn't do anything to help.

Day 3
25min flight to Wrangell- small place- reminds one of Dawson city but a bit more recent. In Wrangell, you can go out on Jetboat to see the wildlife- 4hrs trip with Summit charters- - $149per person or Annan Creek where you’re most definitely guaranteed to see the bears. Trip range from 4 to 7hrs depending on which trip is of preference to the clients. July- August- best time to see the black and brown bears
There is also a hike that can be done with Rainwalker expeditions, along with kayaking and biking tours (

Day 4
A city tour of Wrangell with - To see the museums and cultural sites- this is actually a recommended tour and would advise people to take this tour first so that they get a feel for Wrangell and a bit about its history.

Flight from Wrangell to Juneau- 1hr including a stop in Petersbourg
Some of the few things one can do in Juneau- hiking (100 trails), the Glacier Gardens, the brewery, steamboat rides, glacier flights, fishing, kayaking are just a few and of course the Mendenhall Glacier
Goldbelt Hotel- nice hotel in downtown Juneau with spacious rooms, gym, business centre and wifi facility

Day 5
45mins flight with Alaska Airlines to Sitka where we were taken round the city with Sitka Tribal Enterprises-
Tour included Sitka National Historical Park, the Alaska Raptor Centre, St. Michael's Cathedral church, Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers and the Archangeldancers show (definitely recommended).

A visit to the Westmark Inn- lovely place and seems to be the best property in town with views overlooking the harbour and to finish off the tour in Sitka, take a semi-submersible with sea life discovery tour to see the underwater ecosystem.
Back to Juneau and a sight inspection of the Best Western Country Lane Inn and Grandma's Feather Bed. Best Western Country Lane Inn is 10mins walk from the airport but whilst you’re there, you don’t feel so close to the airport, all rooms are like Motel rooms, very spacious, clean and actually a nice basic alternative for people who may not want to be in downtown. Grandma’s Feather Bed- this place reminds me of Abigail’s B&B in Victoria , Canada, when you get in, so as you can imagine, very nice, all rooms are different which makes it all unique. Grandma’s Feather bed also has a restaurant and the food there is awesome, it is 2mins walk from the Best Western and owned by the same person.

Day 6
Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Haines- 'the Fairweather’- takes just over 2hrs and is a very comfortable and smooth ride with a place available to buy food and children’s play area.

Arrived in Haines and have to say, I felt that this place really was the 'real Alaska'. It had so much history and culture to offer. Activities available- rafting with which can be incorporated with a cook-out lunch- same place- about 30mins out of Haines town- on the way to Kroshels. This place also offers canoeing from/to the mouth of the glacier in Skagway. There's also Kroshels Wildlife Centre, which was the highlight of the trip- very inspiring and educational. Kroshel is a film producer who works with Mario ..... who can both be seen on the wildlife channel- together they own the wildlife centre, training all kinds of animals from wolves to moose and minx. The animals are not held in captive, they are animals who either have no 'mother' and cannot survive in the wild or injured. Kroshel takes an hour and half tour telling you how they live, eat, how or if they use them for any filming. This place is about 45mins out of Haines town.

Stayed at Hotel Halsingland- old army cadet hall. This place has character, however basic but they do ensure that your stay with them is VERY comfortable. Haines also has the world's smallest brewery.

Day 7
Chilcat cruises to skagway- 35mins from Haines. Again, very comfortable cruises with the possibilities of seeing some wildlife on the way- such as mountain goats, otters and whales. Took the White Pass & Yukon Railroad train for 3hrs roundtrip to the Summit. From Skagway, we were scheduled to go dog mushing on the glacier but weather didn't permit so we took a city tour and ended up in Dyea- 15mins away from Skagway on a dirt road. In Dyea, we visited Chilkoot trail outpost which is a brilliant place and somewhere I think we should feature if people are taking a self drive option through Alaska. They have different cabins and include breakfast with all their packages but require a 2night minimum stay, which again I feel is right. They offer wildlife viewing and hiking opportunities. Skagway is only 15mins away and also the White Pass & Yukon train. Here is where we got the chance to see 3 black bears walking across the road.

Skagway air to Gustavus- 1hr- baggage and weight restrictions but is a nice and inexpensive way of flying over the Glaciers. Gustavus- population of 3300-very small and secluded
Each lodge on this Island offers transfers from & to the airport. Bear Track Inn- totally beautiful. Probably the best lodge on the Island with only 14rooms, no TV or phone in the rooms. Rates include all meals and will help to arrange activities such as kayaking with the orcas, glacier trip, bear/whale-watching. This place is only 15mins away from the airport.
We actually stayed at the Glacier Bay lodge- biggest lodge on the island. Not as nice as the Bear Track, but the next best thing available. Motel type cabins but spacious, again, no TV's, but there are phones in the rooms and include breakfast in their package.

Day 8
Walked down to the harbour- 2mins and boarded the Catamaran for a 7hr cruise to Glacier Bay. On the way, we saw whales, sea otters, puffins, mountain goats, black bears, moose, eagles and of course the Glacier. This trip is definitely worth taking, costs $160 and includes lunch and snacks. Departs at 0730 and returns back to the lodge around 1530. Back at the lodge, took a transfer back to Gustavus airport (25mins). Note that it takes so long because of the speed restrictions put in place & they are very strict on it too. There is only one car hire Company on the island- Bud car rental- he will meet you at the airport with the car including a tank of petrol

Wings of Alaska scheduled flight to Juneau - 9 Seater - 30mins flight to Juneau and transferred to 'sheepscreek' for dogmushing which again was awesome- you get to learn about the dogs, history and way of living for both dogs and trainer. Trip costs $160 for 2hr tour and includes pickup & drop-off from your hotel or airport.
Recommended place to eat is at the top of Mount Roberts Tramway.
Final night at the Westmark Baranof Hotel, looks like the best Hotel in town, spacious, right in downtown, 2 restaurants and very high-end. Suites and standard room available here

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