Get Away With Fran

August 18, 2009

Take me to the Chena River and on to Denali

Filed under: Cruise,U.S. — admin @ 6:57 pm

If you are in Fairbanks, Alaska, try the Alaskan Ale IPA beer. OK, that’s my recount of last night.


Now for today, we set off on a steam riverboat, Discovery III, complete with red paddlewheel, to explore the Chena and Tanana rivers and learn a little more about Fairbanks. The boat is one of the excursions offered by Royal Caribbean as part of its cruisetours. I should note, you can’t see all of Alaska from a cruise ship, hence the existence of cruisetours that combine a cruise with a several-day inland tour like the one I am currently on. You still won’t see all of Alaska, but you will get a better idea of some of the inland sights (my tour is taking me from Fairbanks down to Anchorage).


The Fairbanks river trip, it turns out, is a well-staged, well-planned tourist excursion for those who like this sort of thing –a few hundred of us watched from the comfort of the three-deck ship’s outdoor areas and heated inside cabins as, on cue, a bush pilot landed a floatplane, reindeer came to the riverbank, the owner of an Iditarod sled-dog camp came out to show off the dogs (which then impressively pulled him in a 4 x 4 at 20 mph) and talk shop (along the way, folks on shore talked into microphones).


We even stopped at an Athabascan Indian camp to see salmon drying in the smokehouse and discuss moose-skin tanning and such (Native Alaskan college students did the commentary). It’s a worthwhile four-hour excursion if you know what you’re getting into (free coffee and donuts included).


We spotted a bald eagle in the sky at one point and beavers in the river at another, and these were unstaged, as were the lovely river views.

After our river trip, we stopped by downtown Fairbanks, wondering, where’s the downtown? Fairbanks really does feel like a northern outpost, although if you look on the map you’ll see there’s a lot of Alaska north of here as well. Fairbanksonians boast their city has the northernmost McDonald’s and northernmost Denny’s meaning, of course, there’s not much civilization beyond these parts (people up north come down here to stock up).

From Fairbanks, we headed in a bus (Royal Caribbean like other lines prefers the term motorcoach) a few hours south to Denali National Park, which is roughly the size of Massachusetts. Denali, which means “highest” or “the great one” in Athabascan, is also the name of the mountain that most of us, except Alaskans, call Mt. McKinley (Alaskans stick to the original name). The mountain is actually nowhere near where I am at the northern edge of the park. And we’ve already been warned views are not guaranteed (especially since it’s raining here again today).

Tonight we go to the dogs again, with a visit to the home of an Iditarod champ (another optional excursion). And then it’s Denali exploration tomorrow.

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