Alaska Trip Report Part 1: Glaciers, Whales, Boat Tour, Waterfalls
I finally made it to Alaska and I will say that it lived up to the hype in terms of beauty. If you want to see snow capped mountains, huge glaciers, crystal clear water, wildlife, road side waterfalls everywhere you turn…wait who doesn’t want that? Let’s just say that Alaska is for you if you want to see natural beauty everywhere you turn. You see it so much that by day 2 or 3 you are almost numb to it … almost. I figured I would share my Alaska trip report from our 4 day trip in the Anchorage area exploring the Kenai Peninsula.
The plans changed from our original itinerary but I will share both options with you. I think that is what I like most about miles and points, the ability to change things on the fly. So let’s get into those deets of my 4 day Alaska trip report part 1!
This trip will be broken up into 2 parts for the 4 days and I will follow up with a complete breakdown of my costs in a separate post. I will also do an article on the most intriguing small town I have ever been to.
Alaska Trip Itinerary
Here is the overview itinerary for our 4 day trip to Alaska.
- Night One – Staying in Anchorage after a late flight.
- 1st Day / 2nd Night – We drove to and stayed in Seward hitting Exit Glacier along the way.
- 2nd Day / 3rd Night – We stayed another night in Seward and did a 6 hour marine boat tour.
- 3rd Day / 4th Night – We headed to Whittier, Girdwood and Alyeska and did another glacier hike and found some gold!
- 4th day / 5th Night – We took a tram to the top of the mountain and headed back to Anchorage for our early morning flight.
Visit Alaska 2021 – Our Flights
Even though I shared this information previously I wanted to do a quick rundown for you just in case you missed it earlier. I booked first class flights for the two of us both ways. I used miles for my son and paid cash for myself.
- Detroit has a direct flight into Anchorage on Fridays and Saturdays so I booked that flying to Anchorage, Alaska. The cost was 52,500 Virgin Atlantic miles. I could have done it for 32,500 Flying Blue or 45,000 Delta Skymiles but I shared why I choose Virgin before so check that post out if you missed it.
- On the way back we had to connect through Minneapolis so Virgin wasn’t an option because they price awards by leg. We went with 45,000 Delta Skymiles for this flight.
- The cash price was for around $1200 roundtrip per person which I paid for myself. I used numerous Amex airline incidentals to cover a chunk of this price tag.
First Night – Anchorage, Alaska
On the first night we landed at 8PM, which was midnight our time, and headed to the National car rental counter. There was, of course, only one agent working the counter but luckily they did actually have the cars onsite, my biggest fear from this trip.
After about 20 minutes we made our way up to the front and I was offered an upgrade. I assume it was because I paid for a GPS in case my phone lost signal for directions etc. and ended up with a brand new Nissan Rogue. She had pulled out the GPS bag but I think there was an issue with it and then she offered the upgrade. That was a nice surprise since I had paid $265 for a Jetta or similar. The problem was…there was no GPS in the car.
I accepted the loss and moved on. The car had 14 miles on it so I didn’t even need to do Shawn’s video walkaround and accepted the $8 a day or whatever I lost for the GPS as an upgrade fee. I was too tired to go an argue about it and figured I could possibly fight it at drop off.
We spent the first night at the Embassy Suites which is one of the, if not the, highest rated hotels in Anchorage. I wanted something close to the airport since we were just going to crash. I used a free night certificate that was expiring in August (I booked it before they extended them again) since the cost was over $300 a night or 70,000 points. It wasn’t the best use of the cert but I wanted to burn these suckers wherever I could.
The Embassy Suites was a fine hotel. The furniture was a little beat up in the room but the lobby was nice and they served a full breakfast. There was also a cool library area to hang out if you want. I will say breakfast was manned by one woman. She took all the orders, filled them and cooked all the omelets. She did an amazing job but it could have been quicker and it was kind of crazy they didn’t have other people doing anything.
It was a little bit of a mess and this was another time I would have preferred the dining credit to be used the night before 😉. The breakfast was decent and they do have a pool so it is a solid option if you are staying in Anchorage. I wouldn’t stay in anchorage any more than you have to though, there isn’t much there.
Alaska 4 Day Trip Day 1 – The Exit Glacier & Seward, Alaska
After we got up and had our breakfast Connor headed to the pool for a bit at the Embassy Suites. They were doing the pool time by reservation and everything was booked the night before so we reserved space in the morning. It was just the two of us in the pool which was kind of nice.
The Drive To Seward
After that we headed out to the Exit Glacier which is just outside Seward, Alaska (our next main destination). The drive is just over two hours but it is very scenic & beautiful and there are at least 10,000 places to stop (an exaggeration but not really) and check something out or take a picture along the way. So you can make it last as long, or as short, as you like.
We stopped and grabbed some snacks at the Moose Pass along the way. I would suggest hitting up the Summit Lake Lodge for lunch on the drive if you want to stop. We ended up hitting it on the way out of town and had some pretzels and pizza at their snack shop by the lake. The view is amazing!
Once we got to the Exit Glacier we did all 3 of the paths that were moderate or below. The Exit Pass and Fields were doable by pretty much anyone. Overlook Trail took a little more effort but it wasn’t terrible either. The worst part would be the uneven areas for most. We didn’t dare the much longer Harding Icefield Trail.
The views were amazing but seeing how much the glacier had receded over the years was the truly shocking part. The path starts where the glacier was in the early 1900s. In just 5 years it can move a ton. Look how far away it is from the 2010 marking. It was the highlight of the day for sure.
Harbor 360 Hotel / Seward, Alaska
Once we got to Seward we checked into our hotel, the Harbor 360 hotel. It was the highest rated hotel in the area on TripAdvisor. The location looked premier, overlooking the marina, and I booked a cruise tour with their partner for one of the days as well. If I booked both at the same time I saved 20% on the tour tickets so that played a big role in it.
The hotel is pricey and it is decent but nothing great. We paid $663.78 in total for our two nights including all taxes and fees. The rooms are clean but nothing special. Would I stay here again? Probably not. I would probably book the Seward Windsor Lodge if looking for something nice or Exit Glacier Lodge if on a budget. The Exit Glacier Lodge is next to where we ate dinner and around the corner from everyone’s favorite dive bar, The Pit.
I figured being downtown Seward would be a plus but nothing really impressed me with the area. The dining options were limited and many had strange hours, even on the weekends. There was nothing outdoors overlooking the marina / water which surprised me. Many places didn’t open until 4PM and one closed at 3PM to reopen at 4PM, which was really strange. We ended up driving to the other end of town for dinner one night anyway so I would stay outside of town next time myself.
We had dinner at The Salmon Bake which had some funny signs out front. The one that said cheap beer and lousy food had me sold 😂. Come to find out, the beer wasn’t that cheap and the food was pretty good.
I ordered 1 LB of Alaska King Crab (for $44) which was cheaper than other prices I had seen. It came with two sides and was steamed to perfection. The service was good and the interior was pretty cool even if random. I think it bested most of what I saw downtown.
Alaska Trip Report Day 2 – Boat Tour
Our 2nd day was the day I was looking forward to the most before the trip started. I have booked a 6 hour glacier boat tour out of Seward. That is a big reason why I picked the Harbor 360 Hotel since they partner with one of the better tour companies (Major Marine Tours) in the area and offer a discount for combo bookings.
Major Marine Boat Tour
The cost per ticket was $169 for adults and $84.50 for kids. We got 20% off of those prices for staying at the hotel, a $50 savings. It included a trip to one of two glaciers which would be decided day of depending on weather etc.
The Boat Setup
The boat had had three levels and assigned tables for everyone. The first level had the bathrooms, tables for about half of the patrons and the food cart. Lunch was provided but you could also purchase any food, drinks or alcoholic beverages you wanted during the trip. There was also a viewing area outside on the bow of the boat which was very useful for some of our whale sightings.
The second level had another large indoor dining / seating area. There was a smaller outdoor area on the stern of the boat with some benches you could take in the stunning views.
The third level was a complete open air observation deck with plenty of seating and that is where the captain is at as well.
Trip To The Glacier
We were able to see a little bit of wildlife in the bay, some otters, and take in some of the breathtaking views. As we entered Resurrection Bay we hit some fog and couldn’t see much of anything. It definitely had me worried that we just wasted a few hundred dollars on this tour.
We were quickly informed by the captain that it should clear up as we got closer to the glacier. That is one thing I will say, all of the tour companies and boats seem to work together. They let each other know which glacier to visit and where animal sightings are etc.
Along the way we were lucky enough to run into a school of orca whales. They were hunting so we got to see some decent activity. We also saw some sea lions resting on the rocks (my son’s favorite) and some dall’s porpoise (my favorite) swam along the side of the boat. They look like baby orcas and are very curious and hung out with us for a bit. We also saw a humpback whale, but just barely, but it never fully breached the surface.
Glacier Views & Trip Back
Once we got to Holgate Glacier the views were stunning. The sides of the cliffs all around the glacier had waterfalls everywhere from melting snow. The glacier itself was beautiful and we got to see some of the chunks fall off into the water. It was a much more up close and personal view than the Exit Glacier hike. I didn’t know this before the trip but a glacier is actually a moving river of ice which the captain explained once we arrived.
On the way back some of the workers fished out some floating glacier ice from the water and used it to make a glacier ice margarita happy hour special. The price was $5 for the adult version or $3 for the kids version. My son liked it so much he had two. It was a fun way to experience the glacier and break up the ride back.
The ride was pretty smooth since the boat is usually in bays or near land. When it did hit open water, for around 30 minutes each way, it did get a little rocky. It wasn’t terrible, but I could see that being an issue on a stormy day.
All in all the experience was pretty amazing and I was glad we did it. Be sure to dress warm since the temp is 10-15 degrees lower out on the water. My son even got invited up to steer the boat for a bit. The captain and crew were fantastic the entire way.
Dinner At Seward Brewing
We were pretty exhausted when we got back and I had asked my son if he just wanted to get something on the boat to make it easier. As I talked about on the podcast, getting food was a struggle because of capacity issues. My son said he wanted to go to a restaurant instead. It ended up taking some time to find a spot that could fit us in but it worked out in our favor.
We walked around the hotel area and every place had a decent wait and was mostly seafood, which my son is not a fan of. We drove to the other end of town to check out Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. I wanted to try their famous bucket of butt (halibut) but I noticed the Seward Brewery when parking. We decided to hit it up and I was pleasantly surprised.
The beer was very good and the pizza was the best we had in Alaska. I also ordered some cod but it was pretty terrible and took forever to come out. I asked the waitress about their halibut and she said it wasn’t worth the mark up. Too bad she didn’t say to stay away from the fish all together.
One spot that looked like it was worth checking out if in Seward is Red’s Burgers. It is a couple of old buses put together and looks really cool.
Alaska Trip Report Part 1 – Final Thoughts
The first two days of our Alaska 4 day trip were pretty picturesque. The weather was great which worked out perfectly as we hit the two biggest things on our itinerary that required clear skies. Finding dining options was somewhat of a struggle so be sure to get reservations or show up when a place first opens. That may mean waiting outside the door at 5PM but that is better than waiting 40 minutes plus for a table.
The food is not served very late either, many kitchens closed at around 9pm, which I found strange. There is a Safeway in Seward so that may be a good option as a backup, especially if you are doing the trip via RV.
Sorry that this went a little long but I wanted to put as much detail in there as I could since I know this is a very popular destination this year. I should have part 2 up Sunday for everyone to check out as well.
The first two days were pretty action packed and we got a lot accomplished. I think day 3 was the busiest day of them all in terms of things we did and saw though. So be sure to check that out tomorrow!
Remaining Photo Dump
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Mark, you should definitely consider a cruise to Alaska from/to Vancouver. You will see totally different things than what you did on this trip. I think the scenery is even better than this. You will see even more when doing a land tour to Denali, in conjunction with the cruise. Before Covid, pricing was fantastic for a cruise/tours. Now, not so much, because of capacity restrictions. But wait awhile, things will get better.
Sounds awesome – I’ll have to check it out in the future.
Thanks for the post, Mark. My family and I will be doing this same trip over Labor Day weekend – flying into Anchorage and spending time in Seward for a couple of days, so this is right on point! Can’t wait for the follow-up posts to see what we should do the other couple of days of our vacation.
Glad you enjoyed it Clinton. I got swamped so hopefully will have it out Tuesday or Wendesday.
Nice! Love the details. We were at Exit Glacier in 2005 and teared up a bit at the 2005 sign. Driving in the road, it took me awhile to figure out what the year signs were
Glad you enjoyed it Bill! It is crazy how far it has receded over time.
Enjoyed reading your article Mark. Thanks for sharing. I went on an Alaska cruise a couple of years ago and would love to see Alaksa by land.
Thanks for reading Jonathan – glad you enjoyed it. It would be interesting to see which way you preferred to see Alaska. I have never been very tempted by cruises but the Alaska one is one of the few routes I would make an exception for.
Great article – I appreciated all your details.
Just wondering, was there a specific reason (other than the direct flight) for you to choose Anchorage and Seward now? We had been planning an Alaskan cruise, but now that’s totally out of the question, so we’re trying to figure out how best to see Alaska. Any plans for a future trip to another city in Alaska?
I picked it mainly because of the new direct flight from Detroit there and a couple buddies spoke highly of the area. No plans to go to a different part of Alaska. Glad I saw it once but not a place I find myself needing to go back to personally. If you love trails or fishing etc. then I could see it being a place that you go back to often though.