Visiting Alaska’s Denali

A cruise-land tour to Denali National Park on the Wilderness Express from Seward, Resurrection Bay, with stops in Alyeska and Anchorage.

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Above photo: First look at “The Great One”.

We visited Denali as part of a cruise-land package. Many travelers enjoy this combination of cruise and land tour as it is a comfortable way to visit this part of Alaska. We took the cruise from Vancouver and then traveled over land. If we were to do it again, however, we would do the opposite. It would be much better to spend a number of days touring and then have a wonderful seven nights to relax and be pampered on the ship.

We disembarked our cruise in Seward where we visited the Alaska SeaLife Center and then enjoyed a Resurrection Bay Wildlife Cruise. Seeing the variety of fish, birds and animals was amazing. In the early evening we boarded the Wilderness Express which took us to Girdwood where we spent the night at the Hotel Aleyska. It is our understanding that some cruise lines offer train service all the way to Denali. The trains are made up of glass domed observation cars with a dining room on the lower level. The cars themselves are actually owned by the cruise ship lines.

On the second morning of our adventure we took the Alyeska Tramway to see the views from 2,300 feet above the valley. We had time for some hiking and took lots of pictures. In the early afternoon we boarded our bus and spent the next night at the Marriott in the city of Anchorage. While in Anchorage we spent time at the downtown market and had a light meal at a wine bar, Crush Wine Bistro. The following day we spent most of the time on the bus getting to Denali with a stop for lunch in Talkeetna. We also got our first good views of Mt. Denali.

We arrived late in the afternoon at the Denali Visitor Center where we took the Discover Denali Tour, a 1.5 mile walk familiarizing us with the park and all it has to offer. We spent the night at the McKinley Village Lodge (now Denali Park Village). The next morning we embarked on the tundra wilderness tour, approximately 8 hours on a bus dedicated to enjoying the scenery and wildlife and learning the park’s history. There were lots of photo stops and a “bag lunch” was included.

If you are planning on going to Denali on your own it is important to understand three things. First, the park is vast and has very little in the way of rest areas or visitor centers. Second, the park generally does not allow private cars far beyond the entrance and visitor’s center. Lastly, you need reservations to take the park operated bus tour and they book up weeks, maybe months in advance. Visiting Denali is not a casual process and considering the vast distances crossed in Alaska, you need to make your arrangements months in advance.

The highlight of this whole trip was the day touring the park. The scenery is inspiring but so is the very desolate and wild character of Denali (map). The focus of the tour is the wildlife but that too needs some explaining. Area wise, Denali is our largest national park. It encompasses about 9,492 square miles (larger than the state of New Hampshire) and most of it is without roads or even trails. The animal populations are much smaller than most would expect with only 70 Grizzly bears per 1,000 square miles. Other census numbers per 1,000 square miles show 131 Black bears, wolves less than 8, and the estimate for the total Denali Caribou Herd was about 2,230 animals. Dall Sheep totals for the park are less than 1,900. Based on these numbers it’s easy to understand that looking for wildlife is the major focus of the tour. We were lucky and saw two grizzly bears, a small herd of Caribou and two different groups of Dall sheep. We also saw many “suicide squirrels” so named because locals think they prefer to die in front of buses rather then face the prospect of a grizzly bear encounter.

The landscapes are vast and rugged and North America’s tallest mountain, Denali (previously Mt. McKinley) stands above everything. The only problem is that it is shrouded in clouds most of the year, but, even if you miss the “Great One,” the Alaska Range is awesome.

After another night near Denali our bus headed for Fairbanks and our flight home. In Fairbanks you can see and walk under The Alaska Pipeline, visit an interesting history center and see gold mining operations. We love cruising Alaska but this land tour was a truly unforgettable trip.

Photos top to bottom: Featured – Mt. Denali Range, Sea lions Resurrection Bay, Wilderness Express interior, Wilderness Express rounding turn, Approaching the Alaskan Range, Park Service tour bus, Park landscape, Grizzly bear, Caribou, Dall sheep, Park landscape.

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Skagen, The Watch & Town

A few months ago when we started this blog we mentioned buying a Skagen watch in Skagen and we actually did. For a long time we have admired Skagen watches. Generally they are stylish, thin and not outrageously expensive. So when we found ourselves visiting Skagen, Denmark on a cruise it seemed a natural thing to do. Skagen (pronounced as if the g wasn’t there), Denmark is a smallish port located on the Jutland peninsula and Denmark’s northernmost town. Besides having a watch company named after it, Skagen is also noted for its scenery. On the northeastern outskirts, Grenen Beach is at the convergence of

Town Square

the Skagerrak and Kattegat seas. We walked into town and found THE Skagen watch shop along with a few hundred of our fellow shipmates. Maybe the shop isn’t accustomed to the number of people a cruise ship can deliver to their door, or at least that is how they acted. First you had to get the help of a sales clerk to answer questions and write up your order. Not efficient, but so far so good. Next you had to wait in line to pay at the counter and that is where things really broke down. Two or three hundred customers times ten to fifteen minutes divided by

Watches in the Skagen Store

two cashiers means you are going to spend the day here. At the time of the visit we really didn’t know much about the watches other than we liked them. We should have done our research. The watches are made in China and use a Japanese Miyota quartz movement. They have never been made in Skagen. Founded in 1989, the company has always been based in the United States. Started by Henrik and Charlotte Jorst, who moved from Denmark to the US in 1986. According to the Wikipedia , the company, Skagen Designs Ltd. was named for Skagen, Denmark , with the stated corporate aim to present honest, simple, purposeful designs and thus share Danish ideals globally. After locating the Danish-owned clock and watch manufacturer, Comtech Watches, a supplier that could manufacture watches at a lower price through its Hong Kong factory, the Jorsts began designing their own watches, Today Skagen is a subsidiary of Fossil, which agreed to

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Welcome to Skagen

buy Skagen Designs and its international affiliates for about $236.9 million in cash and stock in 2012. While we can claim that we bought our Skagen watch in Skagen we discovered that we paid manufacturers list price. Since then we have also learned that we could have saved considerable time and money buying the same watch onboard ship or in duty free shops elsewhere.

Before leaving Skagen we did some shopping and discovered Glaspusterblaeser, a great glass blowing shop in an old post office building located at Sct. Laurentii Vej 13. We bought a number of hand blown Christmas ornaments for our tree and to give as gifts.

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Our Caribbean

Discover the Caribbean

For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.

Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.

The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.

There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:

Barbados      St. Croix      Antigua      Curacao      Sint Maarten

St. Kitts       St. Lucia       Caymans      Jamaica       St. Thomas

Dominica      Grenada      St. Barts     Bahamas      and more

We have also taken more than a dozen Caribbean cruises and we will offer some comments on these as well. Cruising the Caribbean I offers an overview of cruising the Caribbean.  Cruising the Caribbean II talks about the short 3 and 4 day cruises out of South Florida and their destinations. Cruising the Caribbean III looks at the seven day and longer cruises.

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Cruising the South China Sea

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A First Visit to Southeast Asia

We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).

Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.

Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.

Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.


Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.


In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.