Early in May I took an Alaskan cruise. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but believe it or not, the weather in Alaska was MUCH better than the weather back home. In fact, it snowed THREE TIMES at home while I was in AK, and we had nice, sunny weather the whole time!
I have been on one Alaskan cruise before, I’d never been to Anchorage, the state’s largest city. I decided to go a few days early, and then take the bus transfer to our departure port of Whittier.
In a nutshell, Anchorage was GREAT! I got there on a Wednesday afternoon, and took a taxi to my hotel, the Anchorage Grand Hotel. (You’ll find more info about the hotel in my Anchorage City Guide, including my TripAdvisor review.)
I got to Anchorage before the cruise hordes did. In fact, ours was the first ship to leave from Whittier, but the first ship into Alaska was still a few days away. I was there just before the high season began.
The first thing that strikes you about Anchorage is how friendly everyone is. Being a native New Yorker, I tend to be a bit skeptical of overly-nice people, so I made it my mission to find an UNFRIENDLY Alaskan. I’m happy to report that I didn’t meet a single one in the nearly two weeks I was there. And I don’t think it’s just people putting on a show for the tourists: I went to lots of non-touristy places and never once encountered anything fake or put-on. Alaskans are just nice people!
Downtown Anchorage is not a large area, and it is a very “walkable” place. Signage is really good everywhere, and the handy (free) tourist maps you can get at the Tourist Information Office either in the airport or downtown makes it very easy to find out what there is to see, and how to get there.
One of the highlights of my time in Anchorage was meeting the sled dog, “Denali”, in the Log Cabin Tourist Information. (It’s right downtown: you really can’t miss it!) One of the very friendly and helpful ladies that works there brings her dog to work with her (she’s a retired “musher” and still trains dogs!) There are lots of places in Alaska where you pay to see sled dogs and puppies, but usually you’re fighting a crowd and it isn’t much of an experience. But here, you just walk in and the dog walks right up to you! Very friendly and GREAT with the kids. I thought to myself, “THIS is Alaska: get a city map and play with an Alaskan sled dog!”
For me the most amazing place to visit (after I finished playing with the dog!) was catty-corner to the Log Cabin. It’s actually the old Federal Building in Anchorage, and there are still courts and other “official” functions in the building, but it also contains maybe the BEST collection of knowledge and information anyhere in Alaska. It’s called the “Alaska Public Lands Information Center” and if you miss this, you’ve missed a LOT!
This is what it looks like from across the street, at the Log Cabin.
You’ll have to go through security at the front door (like at the airport) but here the officers are (big surprise!) FRIENDLY and it’s a very quick process. Once you gone through that, you walk straight into literally a gold mine of information about everything Alaskan.
For passport stamp collectors, they have stamps for:
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Iditarod National Historic Trail
There are other stamps but I can’t remember them at the moment!
There are literally dozens of interactive displays, videos, maps and so on here. It is DEFINITELY kid-friendly: they even have little animal stamps scatttered around, which kids can add to a little booklet as they learn about the animals of Alaska. The rangers here are first-rate: more knowledgeable you’ll not find! They do all kinds of demonstrations and will answer all your questions, in as much detail as you’d want.
They also have a list of movies that anyone can request to watch. Just check in at the desk and find out “what’s next”: if no one has requested anything, take your pick! Here’s what they had in May:
Narrated by a young boy, this charming film provides spectacularly fun footage of some of Alaska’s coolest wildlife! This Emmy Award winning film is suitable for all ages.
Join former President Jimmy Carter, former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond, and others as they discuss the unique history of public lands in Alaska
From the ruggedness of North America’s tallest peak to the delicate eco-system in the low-lying tundra, this film explores one of America’s most wild landscapes through all four seasons.
This film provides a brief history of the construction and operations of America’s only state-owned railroad.
filled with survival testimonials and historical footage, this gripping film recounts Alaska’s 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America.
Explore the extreme remoteness of Katmai National Park, while observing the greatest population of brown bears in the world!
This high definition documentary illustrates the rich history of the Klondike Gold Rush and it’s impacts on Alaska
Here’s a clip from “Alaska’s Coolest Animals”, which is very popular with kids!
I could’ve spent days in here, there was that much to see and do. Oh and maybe the best part, if you’ve got a family: IT’S ALL FREE! 🙂