Monday, July 31, 2017

Trip to Alaska!

Here is our Itinerary and a few brief notes, for those friends who do not want to read the whole blog(totally understandable, I write a lot :D).

Our Itinerary

Day 1. Land in Anchorage

Day 2. Drive to Portage Valley - checked out Byron Glacier, Portage Visitor center and Alaska Wildlife Conservatory

Day 3. Prince William Sound cruise from Whittier ( It might be a good idea to take the Alaskan Railway to go to Whittier, that way you can try out the railroad too)

Day 4. Matanuska Glacier 

Day 5. Alyeska Resort and Arial tram

Day 6. Panning for gold and Seward Exit Glacier 

Day 7. Kenai Fjords Cruise from Seward

Day 8. Drive to Talkeetna and Flight-seeing of Denali Mountain Ranges 

Day 9. Anchorage - Tony Knowles Trail and Cooks Inlet.


  • Download the offline map for Alaska in Google maps. This is important as you will not have mobile coverage in many places.
  • The Alaska App is also a very useful to have. This is specifically meant for tourism in Alaska, and they have some very useful information in this.
  • AirBnB Anchorage :
  • AirBnB Seward :
  • Flight-seeing trip (Talkeetna Ait Taxi) : Mountain Voyager with Glacier Landing  with Talkeetna Air Taxi. They take you through the Denali mountain range. You will be refunded the landing fees, if the flight is unable to land on a glacier due to weather conditions and if you are unable to step out. Very highly recommend doing one with Talkeetna Air taxi. This was an experience of a lifetime.Have enough room in your itineraries to reschedule this. We had to reschedule this thrice due to weather. Also you can get out onto the glacier, only if weather permits. Infants and kids are allowed and the flight is safe and there was no turbulence. For infants, it is better you have a carrier to which you can strap them. Carry sun glasses and dress in layers.
  • Prince William Sound Cruise(Whittier) : 26 Glacier Cruise by Philips Tours. Very well organized tour, and you get to see two main glaciers, and very beautiful scenary all around. This is a bigger boat and much more sturdy.Neither me nor kids took any Dramamine and we were fine.  If you are sea sick, you can get the sea sickness patch or drammamine which is non drowsy. Dress in layers, as the decks get pretty chilly.
  • Kenai Fjords Tour (Seward) :  6-HOUR KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK TOUR by Kenai Fjords Tours. You will see only one glacier on this tour. If you want to see more, you need to take the North Western Tour. This tour is good to see a lot of wildlife. This is a smaller boat than Prince William, and is also shaky in open waters. Neither me nor kids took any Dramamine and we were fine. Dress in layers, as the decks get pretty chilly.
  • Matanuska Glacier Hike (Glenn Highway, Mile Marker 102) : Highly recommend this, and to hike with ease, you need spikes and you will be provided spikes with guided tour. Highly recommend doing the guided tour as the tour guides have a lot of information and also they takes you through safe paths. This is an active glacier.
  • Panning for Gold (Girdwood) - We did this at Crow Creek Mine. I think this is a waste of time, as it takes a long time to even get a small amount. If you have children older than 6, they might have some fun with it, but don't expect to find a lot of gold. And this requires some time too and is a lot of hard work. If you decide to do this, I would recommend only paying for one person.
  • Cooks Inlet (Anchorage), nothing much to do here, other than couple of pics and this is near to the Tony Knowles trail.
  • Tony Knowles trail (Anchorage) - very family friendly trail which kids can walk in ease, and this is also stroller friendly.
  • Byron Glacier Hike(Portage Valley, past Girdwood, on the way to Whittier) - easy hike and is family friendly, but you cannot take your stroller in here. Small kids might find it difficult to walk all the way and back, so expect to carry them at some point. There are lose rocks just before you reach the glacier, and children needs to be careful walking over them.
  • Exit Glacier hike (Seward) - The Harding ice trail in Exit glacier is not for children. The one mile hike to the glacier edge is not stroller friendly, and you need to keep a watch out on small kids, as it gets narrow towards the end, and children have to walk over rocks.
  • Alyeska Resort Trails and Aerial tram(Girdwood) : There were beautiful trails starting from the resort. Definitely worth doing if you are spending a day here. But if you are not, you need not. The Aerial tram is worth taking to get a good view of the turnagain arm. I believe you can trek further to get better views once you are up.
  • Clothes for Alaska : In summer, you need a pull over and a rain jacket, and may be a mitten cap. This is because the weather is very unpredictable in Alaska, and it gets cloudy and rainy. So its always good to keep these in handy. We had also taken heavy winter coats which was not necessary. For kids, we had taken heavy winter jackets which are also water proof, and that came in very handy.
  • Food in Alaska : You have enough restaurants here for both Veg and Non-Veg food.  Anchorage even has an Indian restaurant incase you crave for Indian food but this is not common in other areas. For the cruises, give your preference in advance. Two of the restaurants, which were a bit pricy but which we absolutely recommend for food is 
    • Jack Sprat in Girdwood
    • Gene's Place in Seward
  • You have quiet a bit of driving here, so if you have small kids, definitely make sure you get comfortable car seats, and if you do have a lot of stuff, it is recommended to get a bigger car for comfortable drives.
  • Shops for general stuff - there is Target in Anchorage, and a Safeway in Seward, but if you have an infant, it is better to stock up on baby food from Anchorage.
Detailed Blog

Alaska has always been in my list of places to visit. But how we decided to do it when Pranav was only 7 months has some background to it. Sree and his team happened to get an award for the project they did, and the award is 3 days 2 nights stay anywhere in the world (within reason of course). Of course you cannot choose a place which is going to be super expensive. Initially they decided on Iceland, but visa requirements made that trip problematic for a few in the team. Hawaii has been visited very often by many in the team, so they decided on Alaska.

Now Alaska, as I have heard from friends, is a place for outdoor activities. We were not sure how it is going to be possible with an infant and a 4 yr old. But having spoken to some of my friends who have been there, we decided that we can still go to Alaska, provided we have the right expectations.

We had these constraints: 

1. Denali National Park was going to be difficult with an infant. The park is 6 hrs away from Anchorage, and driving 6 hrs with an infant is actually going to make that trip closer to 9 hours. That is one day's worth of driving with an infant who is not used to sitting in a car for that long. Once we reach Denali, we have to take a bus that takes you to different locations in the park. Expecting Pranav to sit in the bus, which I heard is also not the most comfortable bus, is not reasonable. He is going to cry in between for diaper changes and food. May be we could have managed, but there are too many things that should align here. And trekking Denali for like 5 minutes or 10 minutes just does not make it worth going all the way there. So yes, this time we are missing Denali. And that means, we are coming back to Alaska again.

2. We cannot plan too many things in a day. We have to give room for feeding, changing, and pacifying Pranav during travel and otherwise. So one activity a day is all we can do. Doing more than one would make it tiresome for all.

3. Our third constraint is we have to choose child friendly activities. Ice climbing is a complete no-no, white water rafting is a no. So anything too adventurous, or even trails that are too steep is out. Another time for all those activities. 

4. Our 4th constraint is we will not be able to travel light. With Tara its still ok now as she is potty trained. But with Pranav, we pretty much have to carry all his stuff, which includes a pack and play. Its not going to be easy managing all this luggage.

Then why bother going right? But our perspective on travel in general is this. Travel because you love to travel. It does not matter if you have kids or not. If you wait for all the stars to align, its never going to happen. Yes, it is going to be a challenging when they are younger, but there is also a lot of fun in just watching their reaction when they see new sights and just experiencing the whole thing as a family :).

Day 1 - Reaching Alaska 

Our flight to Alaska in Alaskan Airlines was at 4:30 pm. Our friend was dropping us at San Jose airport. So yesterday and a bit today, we were packing. Finally after all the packing we ended up with three check-ins, one pack n' play, camera bag, carry on baggage , diaper bag, two car seats and one stroller. We practically had to take everything required for the two kids including winter wear for the cruises that we planned during our stay in Alaska. Plus the additional diapers, a few toys for the little one, the hiking boots, trail shoes and Tara's sleeping bag. I think this is the largest set of luggage we have taken to any trip. When our friend came over, he was surprised how we are gonna manage two kids and all of these. And we fit barely in his mini-van. When you fill up a mini-van, you know you are carrying a lot of stuff with you. 

We reached the airport around 2:30 and then checked in all of the luggage and walked over to the security check. Because I had food in the diaper bag and water, I was called aside for those to be checked and they also ended up doing a full body scan on me. All because I have food for the baby. 

We then did the routine diaper change and boarded the plane to Seattle. This was Pranav's first flight and the air hostess was very nice to give him and Tara each an Alaska airlines first flight brooch. Tara was pretty excited to get it and wore it throughout the flight. Pranav slept off even before the flight took off. And Tara too. But in the middle of the flight, Pranav woke up and was a bit cranky. But we fed him and then he was ok. 

We landed in Seattle, and as we landed we could see Mount Rainier through the clouds. That was a beautiful site.
Mount Rainier

In Seattle airport, we found a place to have something quick and then went to the gate to board the flight to Alaska. Having an infant with us, really helped with getting into the flight right at the beginning of the boarding process and settling down. After the flight took off, again Pranav slept a bit. We thought we will order an entertainment tablet for me and Sree and watch it. We ordered it, but there was nothing great to watch. We then saw a little bit of law and order before Pranav woke up again. He was clearly cranky so we did the routine diaper changes, feeding, and trying to rock him back to sleep. Just before landing in Anchorage, we could see glaciers and mountains of Alaska. We also saw a cruise ship on its way to see a glacier. It was beautiful, and a good introduction to our vacation in Alaska. 

We landed, collected all of our check-ins and went to Alamo to get our rental car. Alamo, National, and Hertz have locations in the airport. That made it convenient. We got a Chevy Malibu. It was a great car! A brand new one too. But we had too much luggage. The car had a big boot and it did fit the three suitcases, but the pack and play and stroller had to be kept inside the car near children's seats. That was not ideal. But we decided we will optimize that later. We reached the apartment that we booked via AirBnB at around 12.30 AM. 

There was a little bit confusion on how to unlock the door, with the pin provided, but after stepping inside, I was pretty happy with the layout. It had two bedrooms with queen beds and one bathroom. Nice living area and the kitchen was equipped with utensils, coffee maker, groceries to make breakfast like eggs, pancake mix, oats, and also there was cans of soup and ramen noodles for a quick dinner. There was also a small cabinet downstairs in the main area with some games and small toys which I bought for Tara and Pranav. We were hungry and we cooked the noodles with eggs for a quick dinner. We set up Pranav's pack n' play and then called it a day as we were exhausted with the travel. 

Day 2 - First day in Alaska

Since we knew we would be flying in late yesterday, and also taking into consideration that we had two little ones, we had kept this day relatively free. Our plan was to check nearby site seeing locations.

We woke up around 8 or so, and then Sree went to the nearby Target and got some snacks and some other necessities. He did mention the Target was huge! I looked into what we could possibly do today and decided Portage glacier hike might be a good one to start with. We all had breakfast, and then got ready. We were able to get out of the house around 10:30. We drove to the Portage glacier visitor center which was around 40 miles from Anchorage. We had to take the Seward highway. We got a glimpse of the towering snow capped mountains along the Turnagain Arm, it was almost like a scene from our Switzerland trip! Pictures or my description cannot justify the beauty of this place. 

Beluga lookout

We did stop at the Beluga lookout point for a few snaps. I also happen to meet Sanjay ( a colleague at Apple) there with his family. What a small world. We clicked some snaps and then started our journey to the visitor center.

We reached the visitor center and it had a nice little cafe, gift shop, and ice cream.

I spoke to a nice lady there who told me there are two trails I can do easily with kids. One was a small trail just to a lookout point from where we could see  the main glaciers Portage, Byron, Burns and, Shakespeare. The other was a short drive away, and it was called the Byron Glacier trail which was again only 1.5 mile trail.

With this information, we all started to the first lookout point, and it was a very short walk. We reached there and it was so beautiful. We just walked around a bit looking at it and then also got into another visitor center which had nice maps and models on the Alaskan range.

Lookout 1 - The small hike from visitor center

We then drove to the second trail the lady had told us about. This was called the Byron Glacier trail and we all started our walk. Since it was a bright and sunny day, and it was 2 PM in the afternoon, the sun was shining right on us. That made us a bit tired. Otherwise, it was a very nice walk along the trail. Tara walked almost all the distance and we are proud of her for doing that. The last bit was very rocky, and Sree did not want to come with Pranav, so myself and Tara walked over the rocks and went on top of the glacier. It was a spectacular sight. Tara really enjoyed it and she was especially brave to walk over the rocks to reach her destination which she called ice:)

Byron Glacier Trail

Touching ice!

We spent some time here checking out the ice. On the way back, I had to carry Tara as her legs hurt. That was tiring. 
I then fed Pranav, and we drove back to visitor center for a restroom break and to fill water. I had to say, the water here tasted so good! Nothing like the hard water of Campbell. I had my fill and filled up the bottle to the brim.

From here, we drove to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). Pappoos was really cranky when we reached the conservation center, and hence, myself and Sree took turns to go with Tara and see the animals there. There were bisons, wolf, bear, moose and, Elk. We also met some locals who gave us some restaurant suggestions.

Bisons all around

We started back around 6, and our idea was to have food in a restaurant in Anchorage downtown.

We reached the downtown, but Tara was almost going to have a potty accident, that I had to run with her to the restaurant. She ended up having the accident and I had to change her clothes. We also enquired and the wait was for an hour or more. And hence we decided to come back home, and have something at home.  I did drive the Chevy Malibu to Target to get some last minute stuff for Pranav. I loved the way the car drove, and liked the almost empty roads of Anchorage. At home, we settled down, had noodles like yesterday, and called it a day.

Day 3 - Prince William Sound

We had booked the Phillips Tours 26 glacier cruise today. The cruise started from a small town named Whittier which was around an hour drive from Anchorage. We got ready, had bagel and cream cheese for breakfast and then took our rain jackets, and kids jackets and some extra stuff in the carry on suitcase. The drive was pleasant. It was the same highway we took yesterday. The interesting part of this drive was that we had to cross the tunnel into Whittier. The tunnel has only one lane and it opened to traffic to Whittier for 30 mins, every hour. It opened to Whittier at 10.30 and we had to make sure we are at the tunnel by 10:30. We were right on time! We saw a lot of flying white flakes and I thought it was snow, but we were told it was cotton from the cottonwood trees. We had to pay the toll for the tunnel, and I took a video of our drive inside the tunnel, it took a good 10 minutes. There were also rules that you could only go at 25mph and had to keep a 100 feet distance from the vehicle in front. It was amazing to see this WW2 creation inside a mountain. We crossed the tunnel, and reached Whittier. It was a quaint town, very similar to small towns we had seen in Switzerland. Again, another interesting fact was, the weather changed at this side of the mountain. It was cloudy in Whittier and substantially colder than on the other side.

So initially when we started, we thought why we should take all our winter clothes and I actually left my winter jacket behind, and even forgot to take my gloves. But once we stepped out in Whittier, it was cold. Thankfully we had packed layers, and had the kids jackets with us.

At Whittier


We had to park a little far from the cruise boarding area. We donned on our layers, and a rain jacket and also put on a winter jacket for Pranav. He looked like an Eskimo :). We walked over to the boarding area, and it was so beautiful to see the water and the mountains behind. Alaska is truly beautiful. We had to leave the stroller behind, as it was not allowed in the cruise, and we also left the carry on suitcase behind.

Before getting onto the cruise, Sree put a sea sickness patch and Tara had a small chewing tablet. I did not have any, as I wanted to feed Pranav in the cruise if required.

We all boarded, and had assigned seats. Inside the boat, the temperature was right, so we took off all the jackets. While Pranav slept, myself and Sree took turns to go to the upper deck and enjoy the view from there. The boat cruised at its maximum speed of 40 knots (about 45 miles per hour) during certain long stretches, and it was really windy and cold in the upper deck, but both of us enjoyed being there. I also took Tara up there. There was nice commentary from the captain as well as a US Forrest Ranger on board about the various glaciers and the stories behind them. We also saw a black bear, sea lions, sea otters during this trip. The boat lingered for a long time near two glaciers and went near many. They took us very near the face of Surprise glacier. It was magnificent. During this time Tara was sleeping, and so myself, Sree and Pranav went up to top deck and we could get a good view of the glacier. We took a lot of snaps and also saw the ice breaking and falling into the sea.

It was beauty everywhere. I was really humbled with this. Nature is so beautiful and I was so happy I got to see all of this today. 

Surprise glacier

I have to mention the boat had a snack bar for drinks and snacks, complimentary coffee and lunch (which was yummy) and a snack was included too. All in all, we really enjoyed this cruise. The boat was a large catamaran and was built for comfort of the passengers. We did not experience the usual rocking motion that is typical of small boats and it had all amenities.
There was also a fun junior ranger program. Tara slept off, so she could not be part of it, but the ranger was kind enough to give me a badge for her when asked.

After the cruise, we changed Pranav, and drove to cross the 6 PM tunnel opening. 
We stopped at Jack Sprat to have dinner. This was one of the places the local couple had recommended yesterday and was right next to the Alyeska resort we were going to stay tomorrow night. Sree ordered a Halibut and I ordered a dish which had different type of sea food in tomato broth. Both were amazing. We also fed Pranav there, and then started back home. We were just 30 miles away, but there was so much traffic, that instead of 40 mins, it took us more than an hour to reach home. I drove back. Once home, we wanted to finish off laundry, so did that and called it a day.

Day 4 - Matanuska Glacier trek

We had to check out of our AirBnB in Anchorage today. We packed everything, and got both the kids ready. It was 10 AM by the time we got out of our apartment. Our plan for today was the glacier landing tour by Talkeetna Air Taxi. We called them up, and they mentioned to us that the weather conditions are not ideal, so its better we reschedule it. So now we don't have a plan. As Sree bought coffee and something to munch on, I was looking at whether we can trek the Matanuska glacier. There were sites that mentioned that MICA guides do not allow children under 8 for Matanuska. So we were wondering whether to make a trip there or not. But at the same time, I do know that Vivek (Dwarak's friend) has trekked the Matanuska with his son. I also recently saw a friend's pics in facebook trekking on the glacier with her two kids. 
So we decided we will just go to the area anyways, and just see the glacier and come back, even if we can't trek on it with kids.

The drive was along Glen Highway and we had to drive around a 100 miles. So this is 2 hrs from Anchorage. 
Initially the scenery was more like what we saw in Yellowstone. But as we drove further these enormous mountains were all around us and it was just magnificence everywhere. We thoroughly enjoyed the drive. There were multiple spots which we could have stopped and checked out but we did not, thinking it might delay us a lot. We had put our directions to the Matanuska Recreation Park. On googling it had mentioned that this was just a place where we could park and see the glacier but I was not sure if we could trek upto the glacier from here. I whatsapped Vivek to find out where to stop. He told me that there will be a pizza joint on the side of the highway, and the glacier access point was 2 miles further up from the highway. Now this is out nowhere and as we drove, we saw a yellow truck after sometime with 'Pizza' written on it.

It was closed but still, I got down and I enquired with someone else there, who I believe was a guide to the ATV tours and he did mention that after around 2 miles you would see the access point to the glacier and you can drive down that.

So we got back in again and drove down and finally I saw the yellow house and the access point. We drove down a muddy road and at places I was a bit scared on whether we would slip off. Finally we reached a small community with a gift shop and visitor center.

I went inside the gift shop to enquire on how we would access the glacier hike. I went in thinking they would say children are not allowed and maybe we would just see the glacier and go back. That was what was written on the MICA guide website. But I got some good news:)

They said they have guided tours available and also unguided tours at a lesser rate and with guided tours they would give us the baby carrier, spikes and, helmets and also it will be a private tour. It was a 100$/ adult and for Tara it was 60$ and Pranav would be free.
The fact that this was our first time on glacier and managing two kids and the fact that they would also give us the equipment was tempting and we went ahead and took the guided tour.

This was the best decision.

We then did our routine of feeding Pranav and changing him and also just packing some light stuff required for him and drove down another 2 miles on the muddy road to a shack where our guide Jackie was waiting for us.

Jackie gave us helmets, walking pokes and she also checked out our sizes for spikes. Tara was super excited and Sree carried Pranav in the carrier.

We were ready for the expedition ;).

Jackie was so informative about the glacier and she told us a lot of details about black ice, blue ice and, white ice. We saw these small water holes made by movement of ice. It was actually an incredible feeling that we were walking on 1000 feet of ice.

Just before we started walking on dense ice, we sat down and put on our spikes on the shoes. They had picnic tables all over and it was a nice touch.
With the spikes on, it was so easy to hike on the glacier. Tara and Pranav made no fuss for a long time, and we are really grateful for that.
Jackie was so great with Tara and she even played with her, engaged her and picked her up and walked a bit when required. She was also our photographer:)

Did you know that people use the mud on the glacier as face pack? Apparently they have a lot of minerals in them which is good.

We went on further into the glacier and then Tara wanted to go potty. Jackie and myself tried convincing  her to just pee on the ice, but she would not. And Pranav got a bit restless too. So we decided to head back. This time I carried Pranav and Sree carried Tara as she was a bit cranky.
So this was an adventure to carry two children and then walk over ice. Sree got his share of exercise for the year!. After we reached back 3 hrs later, we felt extremely proud to have achieved this with two small kids. I was not even expecting to see the glacier properly in the morning.

With Jackie

trying her spikes

We thanked Jackie immensely for all her help with Tara and for giving us so much information about glaciers. Jackie is an intern guide here and she actually is doing her college in Canada. So we told her if she ever comes to SFO we are happy to be her guide.

We then did the routine, feeding and changing diaper for Pranav and started back.
Jackie did mention some good places to eat, but since we were running late, we started our drive back and decided to get something on the way. The journey was not great for Pranav. He was just restless in the car seat and also had to be fed and changed in between. So we had to stop twice. We also got some food from Fred Meyers and had it in the car. Finally after 3 hrs of driving we reached Alyeska resort. Waiting to have a relaxing day tomorrow with swims and spa:).

We checked into the room, and they had a crib ready for us. Again after routine bath and bed routines for kids, we were finally exhausted. Calling it a day! But an incredible one!

Day 4 - Alyeska Resort 

We woke up late today, and today was the day we were planning to take it a bit easy. So we got dressed and went down for breakfast. We had a nice breakfast and took our time. David and Aileen and Zohaib dropped in after a while. These are Sree's colleagues who have also come down to Alyeska resort, as part of the award. We told them about the places we have been to till now, and they chose to go to Alaska Wildlife Conservatory Center and trekking the Byron Glacier.

After breakfast, we changed and went down to the pool. We all got into the pool and it was Pranav's first time:). He did not cry at all. Tara had a life jacket on, and there was also another girl, 5 yr old and soon she was playing with her. Myself and Sree took turns to hold Pranav in water, and also tried our swimming skills here and there. I tried the back float under Sree's guidance, and after some practice, I was able to float for a short time.

After swimming, we came back up, and again changing, feeding Pranav etc happened and we all changed our wet clothes and got ready again to take the tram up the hill. That was a nice experience. Tara was not scared at all and was pretty fascinated by it. We went up there for lunch at the Deli cafe there. The soup, and sandwich was delicious, but the fish and chips was bad. We hung around there taking in the view of the turnagain arm and after a while David, Aileen and Zohaib came, by there for lunch. They said, they loved the AWCC and they saw a lot more bears, and animals than what we did in our trip there. They also did the Byron Glacier. 

After this, we went down to catch the tram back down, and we met a couple from Kerala settled in the middle east, who came to the US to visit their daughter doing her bachelors in Berkeley, and they came to Alaska for 4 days. 

In the tram

After this, we decided to do check out the trails starting from Alyeska resort and it was so beautiful out there. I was reminded of Switzerland so much. Tara totally trekked even the steeper climbs. It was just so beautiful to see from there.

Then, Sree and kids went back, and I wanted to try another trail called the Winner Creek trail which is part of the Chugach State Park. I went a little bit in, but since the trail was going into the forest, and with no one in front of me or behind me, I decided not to do this one alone.

Bluberry pancake hike

As I was coming back, Sree and kids were getting something to drink and we also met Aileen on the way back. She was bored and she was planning to just sit around, so I asked if she wanted to go for check out the trail and she said she would be interested in it too.

So we both walked and chatted and the trail was actually really beautiful. It had these small creeks and bridges and also chatting and walking was fun too.

Winner creek trail

We went about 30 minutes inside, and then turned back and walked back.

Once I reached back, we got the kids dressed and Sree and kids went down for the dinner arranged by the company. I reached about 10 minutes late.

Everyone was there, and it was a really nice dinner that the admin had arranged. We sat around and chatted for a while. Both kids slept off for a while, and then woke up again. After sometime, both of them got a bit cranky and we as well as everyone else also decided to call it a day.

With the ladies at the dinner

Day 5 - Panning for Gold, Exit Glacier and reaching Seward

We woke a bit early and then packed everything as we have to checkout from Alyeska by 11. The kids slept through, so we could pack in peace. Then, we got everyone dressed and went down for breakfast and met David, Victor, Zohaib, and Rohit there.

But since Pranav needed a high chair, we had to move out of the booth in which we were sitting with David and had to move over to a separate table near them.

Pranav was cranky during breakfast, so we took turns to have it. We later on went for some shopping, as our gift card still had some money left. Everyone joined us. I got some coloring stuff and a book for Tara and a moose soft toy for Pranav. We checked out around 11:45 (after packing all our stuff back into the trunk), and stopped at 'The Bake Shop' to get some lunch packed. Vivek had recommended this place, and it has a nice ambience. Loads of flowers in the area outside the shop and I took some snaps of Tara with the flowers.

The Bake Shop - Girdwood

With packed lunches with us, we started off to Crow Creek Mine for panning gold. Alaska had a lot of gold during the gold rush time, and I have heard from friends of mine that they have done panning for gold and its an interesting activity for the kids. So we went there thinking it would be fun for Tara.

The mistake we did was, we got 3 pans each costing $20 for us and $10 for Tara. Instead we should have just got 1 only for her. It costed us $50, and truthfully, I don't think that was necessary.

We then followed the path to a log cabin where a girl explained to us how to do panning. She told us to clean the sample mud given and remove rocks and slowly filter out the gold from it.

It was exciting to see gold specks. She then told us to pick a bucket and a shovel and walk towards the creek and start digging and panning. We took a short trek to the creek and could see others sitting and looking for gold.

Meanwhile, there was a baby squirrel and lots of ducks, and Tara had a fun time feeding them and watching them:)

We practiced panning with the sample mud given, and found some gold specks in it which we collected. By the time, we went to the creek and started to pan, Tara wanted to go potty again. Man! this potty comes at the wrong moment.

The potty was right in the beginning of the trail, so Sree told me, he is going to take her and with Pranav on him, he is not going to be able to pan anything.

Also, there were too many flies around, which kept bothering us.

So these guys left, and I sat around for some time to try my luck.

I did not get anything for around 10 minutes, and then I asked someone next to me if she found anything and she said, she has not got any either.

So I lost hope and walked back.
That's the only gold we got.

We then did the routine diaper change and feeding for Pranav, and started off to Exit Glacier. 
The drive was beautiful again. We reached Exit Glacier around 3:30 PM or so, and it started to rain.So we all got into our rain coats and started to walk the trail named "Edge of the Glacier".

There is a harder trail, but it takes around 6 hours to complete that, and its also steeper. The ranger adviced against that with kids. So we started our walk on the shorter trail. Initially it was well paved roads and there were no issues and it was actually fun as it was a trail through the forest. After a point it became very muddy and rocky. That was a bit challenging for Tara and I was making sure she would not slip and fall. With the rain, it was also slippery. But she was so brave about the whole thing and walked all the way to the end of the trail.

We clicked a lot of snaps through out. It was a nice experience to walk in the rain and get to see the beautiful exit glacier. The blue ice was so prominent.

We started our walk back, and Tara got a bit cranky. She initially wanted to be with only Sree, and then she wanted me to carry her. But after a while we got into a small game of spelling out every word and she got distracted and walked.

By the time we started from Exit Glacier, it was already 6:00 PM. We drove down to our Airbnb accommodation. It was a very interesting set up. The house was surrounded with lush greenery as if it is in the middle of the forest. The neighbors are a bit far apart, so very different from San Jose. It looked like a tree house. There was a swing in the front of the house. The owner came out and greeted us. She has 5 kids, and she said if there are any questions just text her. They also had slides and swing in the backyard and also a trampoline. Tara and myself went and checked them out. 

Play Structure

A swing:)

Our AirBnB in Seward - covered with lush greenery all around

We decided to go to Salmon Bake for dinner. It was just a 5 mins drive from the stay.

We reached there, and took turns to have dinner, as Pranav got a bit cranky again.

After dinner we went to Safeway to get milk and met Rohit there. He mentioned his rafting was pretty boring because of the weather being very chill and that someone else was doing the rafting.

We came back, and set up the Pack n Play for Pranav. We used the one provided to us by the owner. And for Tara, we set up the sleeping bag which we had carried. She was excited initially, but she ended up sleeping with us on the bed. That ends another day at Alaska.

Day 6 - Kenai Fjords Cruise 

We started around 10:20 to the Kenai Fjords cruise center for our 11:30 AM cruise.
I am glad we took the 11:30 am one instead of the earlier ones as I am sure the kids and we would not have made it. 
Sree went in and checked in and dropped us at the boarding area, and went to park the car a mile away or so. The tour company had buses to drop you back. We forgot to take Dramamine, so Sree bought it on the way from the gift shop. Only he had it, I and Tara did not have it. We boarded the boat and it was open seating. Though we boarded at 10:50 all the window seats were already taken. The boat was not crowded and had many free seats. So we had enough space to keep all our things which includes the camera bag, diaper bag and, our jackets.

The tour started at 11:30 and they immediately served lunch. The lunch was good. This was a much smaller boat than the Prince William Sound and it did bounce a bit in open waters. Also the, narration by the captain in Prince William was I felt more informative. 

As we cruised through I felt it was very much like Prince William Sound cruise, but soon the scenery changed and we were able to see porpoise dolphins, puffins, killer whales, hump back whale, many sea lions lazing around and so many different kinds of birds. The entire scene with the birds perched on the islands and the water all around was amazing to watch with the cool wind on your face. 

Lazy Sea lion


Tara slept off in the beginning itself so she missed the wildlife part. Pranav was cranky at times and Sree stayed back most of the times to pacify him. I went on the docks and captured pictures for a while. 

We then went over to Holgate glacier and by then both Tara and Pranav was up and hence we could capture a family pic:).

Glacier again

After that myself and Tara spent a while on the docks and though it was chilly, we both completely enjoyed just sitting there and talking silly. 

Once the boat docked, we got out and Sree went to get the car. We walked around a bit thinking that was downtown Seward. But that was only the south harbor  area.
We went to a visitor center and got a map and just drove in the other direction and went through the Seward downtown in search of a waterfall. We found the waterfall, and enjoyed views from Resurrection Bay. We drove further towards Miller Landing enjoying the scenery . We drove back to Alaskan sea life center and parked there to enjoy the views. 

After this, we researched on a place to have dinner and came across 'Gene's place'. 
We went in and it looked like a boutique dining place. It was the restaurant associated with the Seward Hotel. The owner spoke to us and also gave us a private room. It was decorated in Christmas theme and it was so convenient with two children. We had our own privacy.
We ordered the Salmon, a vegetarian dish with tofu, cheese sandwich, coconut covered shrimp and lemon tart. Everything was perfectly cooked and it was so delicious. We gave great reviews to the chef himself as well as the owner. They also gave us fresh baked bread as complimentary which was so yummy too. This was the highlight of the day. After having a delicious dinner, we came back and quickly packed as we have an early drive tomorrow to Talkeetna. That is provided we can fly tomorrow with Talkeetna air taxi. 

Day 7 : Talkeetna

Pranav kept waking up in the night so I could not sleep after 3:30 am. I kept looking at what we should plan for incase the Talkeetna flightseeing does not happen. 
Tara and Sree woke up around 5. We all got out of our Seward AirBnB by 7:30 and started on our way to Anchorage. I called up the air taxi place and they asked me to call after 10 am once I am in Anchorage. Me and Sree chatted in the car while both kids slept through until Anchorage. We did see some beautiful reflections on trees and mountains in a lake and stopped over for couple of snaps.

On the way from Seward to Anchorage

We reached Anchorage and on called air taxi again, they told us, our 2 pm flight might not work and we might have to take the 6 pm one or move it to tomorrow
I was already feeling a bit down with the plans down the drain and not having any backup plans. Finally over a subway sandwich, we decided that we will reschedule to 6 pm today and if that does not happen, we will just cancel it. 
We decided to drive in the Talkeetna direction and at around 4 pm will call and check on status. On the way, we stopped at Eagle river visitor center. In the Alaska app, it was marked as a popular destination.  On enquiring the ranger did mention that there is a small trail which we can do with kids and it also has a guided option at 1:30. I was thinking of doing the guided trail walk only because the ranger casually mentioned we have bear and moose all over and they casually walk in the parking lot etc! She said, ' ya, while walking just know how to react to when you you see a bear, and clap hands and walk, that's about it. And if you have bear spray, carry it with you'. Now it's difficult even for normal adults to follow bear protocols when you see one, how am I going to make a 4 yr understand? Since we were too early for the guided tour anyways, we decided it's not worth staying for an hour in the parking lot and left to the Eklutna village. 

On reaching here, Sree stayed back in the car to feed Pranav, and myself and Tara went to check this out . But I had to take Tara twice to potty, and hence ended seeing nothing. But once Sree fed Pranav, we all went over to check it out again, and the lady there gave us some information. It was interesting to see the oldest Orthodox Church still standing( built in 1830's) inspite of the earthquakes in this area. The area has been inhabited since 1600, and the way they buried the eklutna clan was with house colors instead of house names. Also, the loved ones kept interesting things near the burial site like chocolates, drinks etc. 

We also saw a beautiful house built for a lady by her husband and here it is below. Apparently she passed away in a fire. 

Beautiful house shaped funeral bed

Oldest Orthodox Church

After this we drove to Mt McKinley Overlook. The scenery completely changed again with stubbed dry trees due to forest fires and then into more lush greenery. We reached Talkeetna and after a quick enquiry in the Alaskan lodge, we went to the overlook. But there was nothing to be seen and we saw a trail which goes into the Talkeetna town. But since the kids were sleeping, we decided not to walk and drove to the town. The Talkeetna town has a nice quirky vibe to it. It felt more like they follow gypsy culture and we could see many campers all around. 

Quirky town of Talkeetna 
We stopped at a coffee shop and while Sree got coffee, I called Talkeetna air taxi and they said, yes they have started flying! Wow! So we quickly had subway sandwiches which we had packed and fed the kids and went over to Talkeetna Air taxi.

Here we had to check in an hour before, and they also mentioned the flights are a bit delayed. So we hanged around Talkeetna air taxi and we also heard reports from people who completed the flights that the later flights have been able to land on the glacier. Our pilot and guide came over and we were all pretty excited to board. 

Once boarded, we all got a headset to listen to the pilot and we started. It was the first time we were flying in such a small plane. Pranav was strapped tight to Sree in the carrier but when the flight took off, he cried a bit but Sree was able to pacify. Tara was pretty excited herself to get her own seat and headset.  The plane flew over Talkeetna river, and headed towards Denali National Park. 

After sometime the Denali range came into view. The snow capped mountains in between the clouds was a site to see. And what more, the plane was able to go very very close to the mountains and they loomed up before us and we could see the cracks on the glaciers, then white snow all around us, and the plane looked so so small in front of the giants. It was an experience of a lifetime to see Denali ranges. So beautiful. The pilot did mention the different names and also more information on glaciers. He said around 1200 people yearly climb the Denali summit. It's one of the most difficult mountains to climb due to glaciers and freezing temperatures. He looked for an opportunity to land on the glacier and we got one:). We saw the camp of mountaineers and we landed a bit away from them. Due to fog, the pilot requested us not to get out, as if the fog becomes heavier we will be stuck on the glacier. It was also 7:30 pm in the evening, so we did not want to risk it either. 

So we sat on the plane for a few minutes on the glacier and he took off again and back to Talkeetna. The whole flight was about 1.5 hrs and we felt so happy to have got a chance to see Mt McKinley. This day turned out to be double awesome:). 

We got some pictures in front of the plane and then started back after feeding Pranav. 
We stopped at Talkeetna town in a place called Mountain High Pizza Pie and ordered pizza's to-go which we had in the car on our way back. Pranav was pretty cranky from a long day in the car and it was quiet a while before he settled down. We had to stop twice to feed him and calm him down.


Finally we reached Anchorage and checked into our Airbnb by 12:00 am. This was the same Airbnb which we had booked for our initial stay in anchorage, but the owner gave us the downstairs apartment this time which was much nicer and bigger than the top one. Soon we settled down and called it a day as we were super tired but yet super happy:)

Day 8: Tony Knowles Coastal Trail & Cooks Inlet

Today we decided to take it really light. With the long travel yesterday, we all wanted extra hours of sleep. We woke up around 8:30, and sat around a bit. Made pancakes for breakfast. I checked out if we should do the Alaskan railway to GrandView, but for that, we had to leave by 11:30, drive all the way to Portage, and then take the 1:30 train. We would reach back Portage by 5:00 or so, and then drive back, have dinner. By the time we would reach home, it would be around 8. Sree did not have the energy for it, so we decided to go to Cooks inlet and check out the Tony Knowles Trail. After a lunch of yummy noodles, and relaxing baths, we all left for Cooks Inlet. We went to the Captain Cooks Monument, and clicked some pics there. There is a possibility of seeing salmons at high tide. When we went it was low tide, and we did not see salmons or Beluga whales. 
We then walked over to the trail entrance of Tony Knowles Trail. It was a really nice walk. We walked for almost a mile or so, reached a resting area and then walked back. Tara got tired and hence we made her sit in Pranav’s stroller, and surprisingly she still fit in it.
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

I got tired a bit pushing her and walking and was ready for some good food. Sree found this Thai place which had good reviews and decided to have there. The food here was just ok, and it was also spicy. I was expecting better food based on the yelp reviews. We reached home, and it was funny to see Pranav laughing at every antic Tara did, and I also took both of them out to the front grass area of the Airbnb and tried to click some random pics.After this, we did some laundry, packed our bags and called it a day. We have to wake up early tomorrow around 4 AM for our flight back to San Jose.

Day 9 - Back to San Jose 

Our flight was at 7:40 am today, and we had to get up around 4 am. All of us had not slept enough and Tara was very cranky due to this during the entire time until we boarded. 
We decided that no more early morning flights with kids. It totally does not work.  We could not catch much sleep on the flight with Pranav waking up in between and wanting to be played with and was happy to reach back home after a long day and get some much needed rest in the night. 

So that's an end to an amazing vacation where we got to see glaciers for the first time, walk on one, also see the Denali range up close in flight, see wildlife and also enjoy the beautiful scenery which Alaska had to offer along with trying out some amazing food.