Thank you to Sophia Curcio who submitted this trip report about her pre-cruise stay in Anchorage.
Thanks so much for helping to plan our Alaskan cruise last year! I thought you might like to know some of the things we did in Anchorage before our cruise. We had decided to save Denali for another visit, so wanted to add on an extra night in Anchorage to get used to the time change and see some sights in Anchorage.
We arrived in Alaska on a Thursday night – my birthday! – and picked up our rental car before heading to our hotel. We were there in June, two days before the summer solstice, so the fact that it was still light out at 11 pm was definitely a strange feeling at first! The nice thing though is that a lot of outdoor activities also stay open late so you can really enjoy every second of your time there. Having flown from the east coast that day, we were pretty tired and headed straight to bed after a quick dinner. We had rented a car for our time in Anchorage, so we stayed at the Holiday Inn on points (an easy ten minute drive away from downtown), but for those looking to stay carless, there are hotels right downtown as well.
Bike riding the Coastal Trail
On our only full day in Anchorage, we rented bikes to explore the 11 mile Tony Knowles Coastal trail in the morning. There were plenty of people out, walking, running and biking this trail, which hugs the coast around Anchorage. The trail provides extraordinary views of downtown Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains, Denali (Mount McKinley), Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady), and Fire Island. It was a gorgeous way to get our first taste of Alaska! (There are often moose sightings along the trail, but sadly we did not see any.)
We biked most of the trail (it’s paved the whole way), but many people just bike or walk as long as they want and then turn back – I believe there are multiple places you can pick up the trail – I recommend it even just for an hour or two. Make sure you pause as you circle around the back of the airport, as you’ll get a great view of planes landing!
Visiting the Musk Ox Farm
After biking and lunch on the first day, we headed about 45 minutes outside of Anchorage to Palmer and visited the Musk Ox Farm. It was really interesting to learn about the origin of Musk Ox in Alaska (did you know they are not native to Alaska and as well as learn more about qivuit, a fine wool which is more expensive than cashmere and is made from the Musk Ox’s inner wool. Although you can’t pet the Musk Ox, you can take a tour and feed the babies if you’re lucky 🙂 It was a nice way to spend an hour and we really enjoyed it. (Note: we also headed to the nearby Reindeer Farm, but did not enjoy it as all – it was basically a petting zoo where reindeer mobbed you for the treats you were given for them. It all felt a little overly commercial and sad, so we were glad we did the Musk Ox Farm first as we probably wouldn’t have gone after our not great experience with the reindeer.)
For dinner that night, we tried Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewery – they had flights available to try all their unique local flavors of beer. A word to beer lovers, Alaska was full of microbews and brewpubs and I highly recommend trying one or two on your trip. We really enjoyed finding new breweries in pretty much every port we visited and trying new beers – the food was usually excellent too! It was definitely a highlight for Chris!
The Anchorage Museum
On our last day in Anchorage, we had planned to hike Flattop Mountain Trail but since we had biked the day before, and it was raining a little anyway, we decided to instead spend our morning at the Anchorage Museum. It was a wonderful way to spend a few hours actually – a ton of history and information about the state, its indigenous people, the explorations of Captain Cook (I had NO idea he made it to Alaska before I visited!), as well as a special exhibit that Chris really enjoyed – baseball in Alaska! I
The Road to Whittier (to catch our cruise ship)
To get to Whittier from Anchorage, we chose to book a shuttle that would provide some sight seeing opportunities for us along the way – it picked us up at the airport at 3 pm (so we dropped our rental off after the museum) and got us to the cruise ship around 5 or so. (Note – it’s also possible to just get a one way rental car, but to be honest the price difference is pretty significant unless you book way in advance!) We got to stop for some photo opps at Turnagain Arm (keep an eye out for Beluga Whales!), Portage Glacier, saw some wildlife with some time at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and then made our way into and through the infamous Whittier Tunnel (built for WW2, it requires alternating traffic as there is just one lane through the 2.5 mile long tunnel!) to our Princess cruise.
Overall, I really liked having an extra day in Anchorage to start relaxing and get a small taste of the area before our cruise, and I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of whether or not you are also visiting Denali before your cruise. Although we didn’t squeeze them into this trip, there are a variety of other things we could have done, including a trip to Aleyska Ski Resort, a cruise on Portage Lake, a trek on Matanuska Glacier, and even booking a charter tour to see Denali via plane in one day! If we had more than 2 days, I wouldn’t choose to stay the whole time in Anchorage, but for one extra night, it was a great beginning to a wonderful trip!