Alaska Vacation

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14 Days – 5 People….

1800+ miles by rental car

7 Plane flights – Free

Over $7,000 free

Every Hotel Night FREE  — The Frugal Factor way !

The trip to Alaska.
Why go to Alaska? Well it seemed like an interesting thing to do, several things to see there, and because off all the deals it became affordable. As you read this I will note the FREE stuff, and at the end explain how we ended up  with all the FREE stuff. (Please note that all of the Credit Card points were sign up bonuses, not points earned due to spending money!)  If you have read:

The Frugal Factor, you know how this was done!

Some of the information may only be interesting to friends and family, but anyone traveling
to Alaska will find most of this helpful in planning the trip.

DAY 1

Hotel: Spring Hill Suites by Marriot University Lakeside

2 Nights FREE paid with Marriot CC Sign up Rewards

Hotel Rating #2 on this vacation

So we left the house at 10AM Dropped the car off at a parking place, at a lower cost than the airport would charge
($4.99 a day). 
We used this service because someone had mentioned a Groupon.com  deal. After looking at the Groupon Deal we found several places cheaper. 

Then we took the shuttle to the airport. We arrived at the airport and checked our bags. Of course some bag were free others cost $25 per bag ( But all were FREE because they were paid with Venture Credit Card Points).

After checking our bags we made our way to the gate. Then waited about an hour for the plane to leave. We got on the first plane and made our way out to the launching area, waited 45 min, only to have the pilot state that a warning light turned on and that he needed to return to the gate and have maintenance look at the problem.

When we got to the gate an announcement stated that those making a connection to Seattle to exit the plane. So, we got off. We where the only ones to get off! Our flight was to take us to Newark, NJ then onto Seattle, Wa and finally to Anchorage, AK.

After we got off the plane the ticketing agent made arrangements to get us on another plane so we could make our connecting flight. They also had to get our bags off the plane. Which I am sure took a little time, delaying the first plane even
longer.

After getting on the second plane, we made it out to the runway, only to sit on the runway for 50+ minutes due to a thunderstorm. They shut one engine down while we waited. Then the announcement came that we would take off, but in the other direction, therefore they needed to turn the plane around. After all that we did take off. We were on our way to Houston Texas, not Newark, NJ as planned.

Due to the plane change all of our seats were in different locations on the plane, none of us sat together. This made it a rather uncomfortable but memorable ride. We actually did not get a chance to even talk to each other until landing in Seattle, WA. When we arrived in Houston we were rather late for our connecting flight. I got off the plane first because I was in seat 16,
the rest of my family was farther back. Our connecting flight should have been at gate 43, but as I got off and passed gate 41 I heard the last call for Seattle to Anchorage.

I turned and told the attendant that I think that’s our flight. She said that I better get on and that they are not going to hold the plane. I explained that I just got off the plane, and the rest of my family was getting off the plane right now. She said they will not hold the plane. I smiled at her and said that’s OK, I am sure you can find me another flight. It honestly didn’t matter to me I was on vacation, give or take a day would not be a problem. It might add to the adventure! I think the lady was rather surprised that I did not look worried or concerned. She looked me right in the eye an realized I was being very honest. Of course she did not know I have trip insurance than would pay me $200 per person if we where delayed more than 6 hours. A $1,000 would cover the inconvenience. The insurance provides cheap peace of mind, I use www.InsureMyTrip.com. Plus, I was OK with the delay If we were stuck in Houston for a night, we would simply explore Houston.

Well the wife and kids were all still trying to get off the plane. I called my wife and asked “where are you, the plane is leaving, its the last call for boarding”. She did not take the news as well as I did, my children told me later that she was just
about knocking people over to get off the plane. She met me at the gate and handed us each a boarding pass and we got on. We did not have time to even talk to each other, and again we were in different seats all over the plane.

A very long 6 plus hour flight to Seattle, then after only 20 min in Seattle the same plane was off again for a 3 plus hour flight to Anchorage. But finally we would all be sitting together for the flight from Seattle to Anchorage. We shared stories about the people sitting near us on the other plane flights. The most lively had to be the LOUD drunk lady sitting next to my wife!

Rachel and I got off the plane in Seattle, used the restroom and quickly picked up some snacks for everyone and waited to board again. The rest of the family stayed on the plane.

We arrived in Anchorage and quickly got our bags. At about midnight we picked up the rental van. (Paid for with American Airlines credit card sign up points) then headed to the hotel. We discovered that the GPS we had brought did not work in Alaska. It did not have any maps or points of interest for Alaska. So, we had to use old fashioned maps to get us to the hotel.

Our journey started at 9 AM, and ended at about 4 am Orlando time. Just a few snacks on the plane. We stopped at McDonalds 24 hour drive thru to get something to eat.

Finally we arrived at the hotel, in desperate need of some real sleep. When I went to check in I discovered that they did not have the room that we had reserved. I reserved a room with 2 queen beds and a sofa bed, all they had was a room with a King bed, and sofa bad. Glen the guy who was checking us in said they were sold out.

Like a scene from a Seinfeld episode I explained to Glen that they can take the reservation, just not keep the reservation. He showed me that on his computer he was negative one for that type of room. He said that he did not think we  were
showing up. I replied so, you gave my room away. He just kinda shrugged his shoulders. I said great, go wake the people up that you gave my room to and get them out, and give them the single bed room. I got a puzzled look and a “I can’t do that”.

He asked if that room would be OK. I said I don’t think so, I will have to ask the boss. So, out to the car I went and explained the situation to the wife and got her to come in with me – when we arrived in the hotel Glen was on the phone with his supervisor. We ended up taking the room and they brought us some comforters. He stated several times that they would do something to make it up to us.

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Lake behind the hotel

Well we got into the room and slept for 4 hours, got up to have the FREE breakfast at 6 am, breakfast was good, make your own waffles etc. Then went back to the room and slept til 1PM. 

The hotel was the Spring Hill Suites University Lakes. It was a fine hotel, very nice and I would have no problem staying there again. Except they did not hold my room. They should have provided the room they did give us for FREE. We arrived just after midnight. If we had attempted to cancel the room past 6PM they would have charged us for a nights stay. So, I only feel it reasonable for the hotel to follow the same rules and give me a FREE night, if they did not keep my reservations. Of course both nights at the hotel we FREE with our sign up points. On the second night I requested a room change (to the room we reserved in the first place) and they did provide that, and in our room was a basket of goodies and coupon for a FREE
in room movie. Problem with that was the kids (and I) stayed up late watching True Grit instead of getting needed sleep. The basket was a nice gesture but in no way makes up for my family sleeping on the floor and needing to move all of our stuff to a second room.

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At 1PM, We got up, went to Wal-Mart and got our provisions. We would travel by car, so we bought a cooler, Sodas and misc food items. We purchased a new Garmin GPS, that did not work, because it did not have Alaska Maps. The Garmin did have lifetime maps but I did not have the time to download new maps. We then went to Sam’s club and got another
GPS a tomtom that did kind of work. This TomTom GPS did have maps and points of interest, but after using it for a few days we discovered that it had emotional problems. It would tell us to turn to late – after we were in the intersection.   It would stop talking to us in mid sentence, and often stop talking all together half way to the destination. For example, it would say in one quarter mile turn…………. and not tell you which direction.   But it got us there.

Then off to Chili’s for dinner at about 7PM.  The problem at Chili’s was that there computers went down not sending orders to the kitchen. So, they had to hand write everything. They warned us after we waited 15 min to be seated. Since we were on vacation, the wait did not really matter to us, we had time to talk and plan out trip a little more. The waitress was exceptional,
keeping our drinks filled and bringing us at least 3 bowls of chips and salsa. Also, apologizing several times for the delay, that we really did not notice. After a good dinner the waitress brought the check and asked if we wanted desert and that it would definitely be on the house. Well the wife and I said no thanks, and then the kids roared. What, but she said it would be FREE. The waitress said she could make it to go, and we accepted. So we ended up with desert to go. (The Chili’s dinner was paid for with a gift card received from an American Express sign up bonus.)

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Then we drive to Tony Knowles trail, walked the trail basically people watching and found one Geocache
along the way. The kids needed to used the bathroom (no surprise after all that food and desert).

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Above is a Geocache from the trail.

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The Tony Knowles Trail

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We went back to the hotel, looked at lake behind the hotel, and saw a sea otter in the lake! Then the mosquitoes started to attack. The largest ones I have ever encountered – they should be Alaska’s state bird. WARNING – if you visit Alaska buy 100% DEET insect repellant.

Hey, what kind of bird it that?

That’s not a bird, that’s a Mosquito!

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DAY 2 – Same Hotel, Switched to correct room

Got up and had Breakfast FREE of course, and started our journey to Seward. But first we needed to get an Alaska Tour saver book. I had purchased one off of Ebay but we needed two since there were 5 of us. The book has many buy one get on FREE offers, and the 8 hour wildlife and glacier cruise we want to go on is about $150 each.

Well the GPS we purchased took us to a Carrs supermarket that was no longer there, torn down. Then it took use to their
warehouse, finally on the third try we were able to find one of the actual stores. We went in and purchased the book. Another couple was also purchased the tour book, sounded like they were from Australia.

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We called and made reservations for the trip. Use the Capital Venture card since we have about 80,000 points on each of our cards. That’s about $800 each when spent on hotels, airplane tickets and cruises.

Finally off to Seward, what I thought was an 2 1/2 hour trip the GPS states is a 3 hour and 55 min trip. Again the GPS was lying to us – but we did not know it at the time. A very scenic route along the Seward highway. We stopped for a few pictures along the way, and also found a couple of geocaches. I had loaded up the geocache locations along our route before we left home.

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DAY 3

Holiday Inn Express Seward 

2 Nights Paid for with Priority Club CC Sign Up Rewards

Hotel Rating: #3 this trip

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Arrived and checked into the hotel. Holiday Inn Express from what I could see the only chain hotel in the area. There is a Subway, but that is the only chain restaurant. The hotel is on the harbor, if you stay there ask for a harbor view, actually ask for a balcony room. Due to its location and of course FREE breakfast, it has to be the best place to stay in Seward, AK. Our stay was of course FREE with reward points for signing up for the new Priority Rewards credit card. Using reward points does not give you a choice of a room,  but if you use a little social engineering when checking in you can usually get
an upgrade (if the rooms are available). We got a harbor view room that was excellent.

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From the room you can see a view of the harbor. We saw 4 bald Eagles flying, including this one that landed on the mast
of a sailboat.

After checking in we went to Exit glacier. We walked right up to the glacier about a mile walk – round trip. Then we decided to walk up to the Harding ice field – We did not make it to the top — walk to the top is 4.3 miles one way – up hill all the
way.

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Researchers were using ground penetrating radio to examine Exit Glacier.

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It was a long walk with many switchbacks. We met several groups coming back down, most more prepared and better outfitted than we were. They had boots for the snow, bear spray the size of small fire extinguishers, and at least two of the groups coming down had hand guns. Some said they saw a momma bear and cubs, a few minutes later another group came past us and we asked if they made it to the top, they said they turned around after someone coming down said they saw the bear and bear cubs along the way. Bravely we continued on. We also heard many say that we would run into snow and mud. We did not have the proper shoes for that and I said to my girls when I was walking through snow it would be time to turn back. We went about half way up. All that time we were not in view of the glacier, then all of a sudden as we turned a corner, on what seemed to be the top for the 20th time, there it was. An amazing view of the glacier, not from the top, but from the side and we could see the cracks and crevices.

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On the path we saw what we thought was a beaver, but we learned later it was a marmot.

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Above a view of a braided
river with the glacier in the background.

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View from the hotel room.

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On our way up we saw what we think were two beavers on our path, they did not move and seemed curious about us. After taking some photos I tossed a rock and they moved off the path, but not very far, and they continues to watch use as they ate some leaves.

When we got back down, which took more than an hour and used a completely different set of muscles! Oh yeah – lots of mosquito’s.

Very tired we were going to go to the Smoke Shack, a local restaurant with good reviews on trip advisor, but the GPS lead us to nothing, we looked for it but without success we ended up eating at Subway. Which was a good thing because we
were tired and it was 9:50PM we would not know it except Subway was closing. The Sun was bright as it would be at noon in Florida, and the temp a wonderful 60 degrees. In the summer in Alaska it doesn’t get dark, just dust for about 4 hours. The workers on Subway really wanted to close, I never saw someone make a sub so fast!

Mom was looking forward to a meatball sub, but they did not have any meatballs!

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Above is a benchmark found in Seward.

DAY 4

Seward – Same HIE Hotel

Woke up about 6:40 am The sun was so bright and beautiful I thought I over slept. Went down for FREE breakfast, then
made lunch and dinner to take with us on the cruise.

Made our way to the cruise on foot, it was just down the street from the hotel. Boarded the boat at 9:30 and left at 10 am, we arrived back about 5:45PM.

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On the cruise the first thing we saw was a sea otter, who seemed to be playing in the water. Then we continued on our journey to the Aialik Glacier, the boat went right up the the glacier, stopped and turned the engines off. We could hear the flexing and cracking of the ice, and several times saw it calving (Ice Falling) into the water. A very impressive site. On the return to port we also saw humpback whales, and a group of Orca killer whales. We visited islands with sea lions and puffins (birds). If you visit Seward, I recommend taking one of these cruises! Be sure to buy the TourSaver coupon book, using one coupon
will pay for the cost of the coupon book.

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After the hike the day before and motion of the boat ride we were very tired. After dropping our backpacks at the hotel we strolled around Seward’s shops and picked up some subs at Subway. Once again they were sold out of meatballs – no meatball sub for Mom! Seward is small only a few shops and restaurants’, plus since it does not really get dark it easy to loose track of time. So, attempting to get something to eat after 10PM is very difficult. Most of the local restaurants’ and bars close there kitchens at 10PM

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After viewing the glacier we cruised around an island filled with seals.

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…and birds

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When the cruise returned we walked around Seward, seeing the fishing charters hanging and cleaning their fish.

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DAY 5

Hotel: Embassy Suites Anchorage

FREE with AA airline sign up Points

Hotel Rating: #1 this trip, and top 5 hotel I have every stayed at!!

Got up and had our FREE breakfast and started our way back to Anchorage for one night. Only one night due to the distance to Denali.

On the way we stopped at Sealife Center. Much smaller than Seaworld. Saw, Seals and Sealions etc….  There is a coupon in the TourSaver book!

Stopped and saw some rabbits just roaming the streets and drove to Lowell Point.

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The above sign was seen on the way to Lowell Point.

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Near the Sea life center is the Zero mile point of the original Iditarod trail.

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Also on the way we stop at Mount Marathon.  The oldest footrace in the US takes place here every year.  We saw several people walk by covered in mud (I mean covered), so we did not even attempt the hill.

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Along the way we stopped at Moose Pass. It looked like they were having a party!

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We found a new friend!

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The party turned out to be their Summer Solstice Festival.

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Stopped at the Portage Glacier visitors center and saw small icebergs in the water.

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Along the way we spotted people parked looking up the side of a mountain.  We stopped and discovered they were
looking at Dhal Sheep.  They were up the mountain, you needed binoculars or a very good zoom lens to see them.

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When we arrived in Anchorage we checked in to the Embassy Suites, this hotel looks normal on the outside, but is very very nice on the inside. We had a two room suite. FREE with American Airlines miles. This Embassy Suites is one of the best hotels we have ever stayed at!

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After checking in we went to Wendy’s across the street for dinner, Mom wanted a Potatoes and they did not have any. This was the third time in a row that a restaurant did not have what she wanted, the first two times it was Subway and they did not
have meatballs for a meatball sub. That was in Seward.

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The sound of the fountain inside the hotel really improves the surroundings in the hotel.

The next morning we woke and went down for the FREE breakfast. Well, this a little different The breakfast was nicer than the normal buffet. I really like the standard buffet breakfast especially when I can make my own fresh waffles.

Instead at the Embassy Suites in Anchorage, they have a chef prepare made to order omelets and pancakes, they also have a buffet of Danishes, scrambled eggs, sausages etc…

Very nice. If you want a high quality place to stay in Anchorage I recommend the Embassy Suites.

 

DAY 6

Hotel – Nord Haven, Healy AK – 2 Nights

Hotel Rating: #3 this trip

FREE – used AA sign up points.

We then packed up and traveled to Denali National park. What google Earth stated as a 4 1/2 hour ride the GPS said was 6 1/3 hours. The GPS was lying again, it took much less than 6 hours. It was a rather long drive with the same scenery which made it boring. I stopped along the way to pick up a few geocaches, just to keep me awake. The rest of the family slept most of the time.

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One of many Geocaches found along the way……to Denali.

Finally I pulled into Denali National Park, finding the visitor center. When I parked the family woke up and we started to walk to the visitors center. One obstacle, the wife saw someone with ice cream. So, before even getting to the visitors center we were on a quest for ice cream. That took a little time but we found it. The entire family was surprised at how much an ice
cream cone cost. The kids realized that we could have bought an entire carton of ice cream for the cost of one cone! (Location, Location – they had a captive audience!)

After the ice cream we went into guest services and got the info we needed. We wanted a bus tour of the park. Regular passenger cars can only go 15 miles into the park, to go further you must take a tour bus. But to get tickets we needed to go to the wilderness center.

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So we left for the wilderness center and made reservations for the five of us. The cost was not bad, children under 14 are FREE, up to 17 is half price and adults about $47. We did not have many choices of times. WARNING if you ever go to any national park and want a tour or ranger talk, get there and make the reservations as soon as you can. You must reserve in person, and some the day before or earlier. In a past trip we missed out on a ranger tour because we were only there the day before and the tours were sold out for a week in advance. All of the ranger talk we have been to at national parks have been excellent. If you visit a national park be sure to sign up for a few, most are free.

Our tour left at 6:15AM, we needed to be there by 6. That means missing out on the FREE breakfast
at the hotel :-(. 

We then drove into the park for the 15 miles we could, we saw a squirrel and a few seagulls, that was all. 

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View from the top of the rock.

We climbed a big rock for the view and then checked in at the Nord Haven hotel in in Healy,
AK. To rest up for the next day. Which is difficult because is really does not
get dark!

For its location the hotel was excellent, living up to all of the excellent reviews on Tripadvisor. They even provided FREE buffet breakfast, which was surprisingly good. To bad I had to miss breakfast the first morning because of the bus tour.

Day 7 – Same Hotel

We woke up the next morning and were on our way by 5:40 am and boarded the bus at 6.

The bus tour would last until 5:30 PM so we needed to bring all the food and drinks we needed. When had loaded up at Wal-Mart with drinks and supplies to make our own sandwiches etc. There are no facilities in the park. Only bathrooms about one
hour drive apart. We took the second longest bus tour to Wonder Lake, the longer bus tour was sold out (it only went a few miles farther).

It was a long tour, but by taking the national park bus we could get out when ever we wanted and then get back on a different park bus when ready to leave. If we used an outside company bus we would not be able to do the hop on hop off.

During the ride we saw a Grizzly Bear and Grizzly bear cub, two moose, several caribou, ptarmigan (its a bird), snow shoe hares, Magpies, and several dhal. I was surprised that most of these animals traveled on their own, not in a heard.

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Momma above, Daddy below, they had 7 chicks following them.

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At one of the rest stops they had antlers you could try on….

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Below is the tour bus.

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Below another braided river.

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It was a long day, after we arrived back we got information about the dog sled demos, and more for the next day. Then we went just outside the park to several of the little gift shops, the kids bought a few things mostly stickers for their scrapbooks.

Then we bought two pizzas at prospectors pizza and returned to the Nord Haven Motel, watched TV and ate pizza. This pizza was better than the pizza we had the night before, I can remember the name, but it was right across the street from prospectors pizza.

The next morning, we slept in a little longer. Nord Haven Motel was good, not a chain hotel but very clean. Of course we stayed FREE paying for the hotel with the Venture Credit Card reward points, but we could have used those points for any
hotel. Some we looked into we sold out. This hotel had excellent reviews on  TripAdvisor.

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On top of the big rock!

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7 little chicks.

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It seemed like the squirrels were on the look out for the safety of the birds.

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Below one of the dogs form the dog sled team.

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We saw Mt
McKinley peeking through some clouds. Elevation of over
20,000 feet.

DAY 8

Hotel: Alpine Lodge, 3 nights

Hotel Rating:
#4 this trip

Checked out of Nord Haven Motel and went back to Denali

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Went to Savage river loop trail and climbed the rocks again. Went for a walk along the loop and saw a ptarmigan family – mom dad and babies. Also saw two ground squirrels. Went to the visitors center an took the bus to the dog sled demonstration. There were over 20 sled dogs, all very friendly. We watch them hook up the dogs and do a dog sled demo. As they did the presentation the dogs knew when it was there turn to perform, and began barking and howling.

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Then we went on a hike on vista mountain view trail, walked to loop and skipped some rocks in the braided river.

Then we started our drive to FairBanks

Along the way we drove through Nennana

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Above is a sign from in front of an Indian lodge.

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Found a Geocache near one of these signs.

We arrived at about 10PM. For dinner we attempted to goto Wendy’s but they were closed, so we went across the street to McDonalds. We went in and ordered. After placing our order the girls looked for someplace to sit. That’s when we discovered It was the messiest McDonalds I had ever seen, looked like a food fight had taken place. That would not have made much of in impact except there were way to many employees doing nothing but socializing behind the counter. There were no clean tables, none and I will leave out the condition of the bathroom. http://www.thefrugalfactor.com/alaska/120.jpg

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We then went to the Alpine Lodge for the first of 3 nights. It was an OK room, but not near the embassy suits. Small room, Breakfast was just OK no cinnamon rolls or waffles. 

Day 9

Slept late – Got up and went to the Large Animal Research Center at the University of Alaska. Saw Musk Ox and Caribou, 4 baby calves.

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Went to Chill’s in Fairbanks we were surprised and happy that they had classic rock music playing. Had a great dinner.
Then we went to Wal-Mart for more supplies and souvenirs’, we basically ate everything when we were in Denali.

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We then decided
to drive to Chena Hot springs and we drove and drove. We finally decided to turn around, later we discovered we did not go far enough – it was over a 50 mile drive. Found out that we needed to drive until the road came to a dead end. We did stop at a creek and looked around collecting a few more interesting
rocks.

On the way back to the hotel we drove through the North Pole, took pictures of the Post Office, and of Santa’s House. All were closed due to the time. The lamp posts were in the shape of Candy Canes! Santa’s places had some reindeer in the back.

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Day 10

Explored Fairbanks- out of hotel by 8am and drove to Fox, Alaska. Saw the oil pipeline, went to Gold Dredge #8 but it was closed. Drove to Pedro Dome were gold was first found. I had read that the locals pan for gold at this location, but at the monument it stated that someone now owns the claim. Not good news because I wanted to pan for gold. On the internet it was one one of the places listed as a FREE place to pan gold. Most claims are private or require a paid permit to pan, also you see many sign stating no trespassing in the area. I did not want to get shot at!

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Oil Pipeline

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Distances from the pipeline viewing area.

Below – plaque showing the site of the first strike of gold near Fairbanks.

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FREE gold panning!

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Then we saw a sign across the road. Which said we could pan for gold freely. But we did not have the equipment or knowledge. At the time there was no one in the creek.

So then we went to the Eldorado Gold mine, basically a tourist trap. But you need reservations. So using the courtesy phone (no cell service in this area) in there parking lot we made reservations for 5. We had a little time so we went to the North Pole
and had a pizza hut buffet lunch. A great lunch because in the beginning we had the place to ourselves. Then a few customers started walking in, one group of 4 or 5 men came in that all looked like Santa Claus look a likes. There were
several large screen TV’s with cooking shows playing, the pizza was better than all the stuff they were making on TV.

Along the way we found what looked like an open outhouse along the road.  So, I stopped to discover it was a watering hole, well sort of….. A man was filling large jugs of water.  What was it?  FREE spring water. The man said that anytime he was in the area he filled up all his water jugs.  The guy looked like a rustic Gold Miner from a TV show.  We filled up our water
bottles, then continued on our way.   As we left a truck and car pulled up filled with empty water jugs. 

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Since we had more time before our 3PM Eldorado Gold mine reservations we went to the Great Alaskan Bowl company and saw how they make bowls from Alaskan Birch trees.

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Above is the lathe used at the bowl company.

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Then back to the Eldorado Gold mine. What a great operation, after you pay for the experience your are loaded up on the train. As you wait for others to get on, the conductor plays the guitar and sings some songs.. The train goes through a tunnel and makes some stops and you are told about how gold mining was done and the equipment that was used. Then you arrive at the gold mine (which is really only 100 yards away). http://www.thefrugalfactor.com/alaska/142.jpg

Above a photo of the large sluice box.

You get out of a train and they explain how the large sluice box is used and a demonstration of how to pan gold. Of course during the demo they all find gold. You are then given a bag of pay dirt and sent around the corner were you can use the pans and water to pan your own gold, everyone finds a little gold. The grains you find are the size of flat rice. It is interesting how
easily the gold separates form all the other dirt in the pan. We were told its
20 time heavier.

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After your done you go through the gift shop and they will weigh your gold tell you what its worth, and you can buy a locket to put the grains of gold you found in it. They also provide “Free” chocolate chip cookies. You can also pick up a large gold nugget worth about $60,000. Probably the largest gold nugget you can actually hold in your hands. I noticed that were were always two or more employees guarding the nugget. 

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Then you get back on the train for a very short, maybe 500 – 1000 foot ride to the other side of the trees and you back in the parking lot!

A tourist trap, yes – a great business – definitely, because everyone left happy, they all found some gold. Even though all the customers realize they were actually mining tourists! Even knowing all that I highly recommend visiting the El Dorado gold mine, it was truly a unique experience.

After that we drove to Wal-Mart and picked up some pans and did our own panning at Pedro dome. When we arrived there were lots of locals panning. One family had a portable sluice box, pump etc. They said it was just a hobby but with all that
equipment, they must be making some money. We found a little gold dust and maybe a tiny tiny bit of gold but not much.

While we were panning several people showed up asking questions. Mostly tourists like ourselves that we could honestly tell them that we don’t know what we are doing, but we are having fun. Then two guys showed up asking a few questions, after talking with them for some time we found out that they were from Kodiak, AK. One of the largest Islands in Alaska.
One of them told me that he had never been East of Anchorage! It was interesting talking to them, they had lead very
different lives.

After panning for gold we were tired and wet. We stopped at Subway and picked up subs went back to hotel. Finally, Mom was able to get her meatball sub.

Watched TV and went to bed.

DAY 10

We woke up and got out of Alpine lodge by 9:30

Then went to University of Alaska museum of the north. I am not fond of many museums but this one was good. It contains excellent displays of wildlife, the people, pipeline, gold and even the gemstones and rocks found in Alaska. It was a great place to learn the names of everything you have been looking at on your trip. For example what we thought might be beavers, were actually Marmots.

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Above is a picture of Polar Bears.  Even though we were only 130 miles from the arctic circle
we were still to far South to see polar bears.

This is a picture of a picture in the museum!

There is also art in the museum.  Below is an artists outhouse!

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On our way down the highway all of a sudden we saw a clear view of Mount McKinley. When we were in Denali clouds covered it. Now all of a sudden even from hundreds of miles away, the view is amazing. The massive mountains’ were lit up, bright white by the sun.

We drive back to Anchorage stopping back in Denali on our way and went to Mountain View trail again to visit the braided river and toss and collect some rocks. During our earlier visit I picked up an interesting rock, OK it was a little big – it
would make a nice paper weight. But of course the wife said how are we going to get it home. You see most of our luggage was
near the 50 pound limit. So, I decided to take up the US Post Office offer on “If it fits it ships” and ship back our rocks.

So we wandered around the braided river looking for interesting rocks, crossing several streams. The kids decided the build their own rock walkway across one of the streams and Mom and I continued to walk.

We got farther and father from the girls, then from behind I heard my wife squeal moose. I turned around to see a large caribou that emerged from the bush walking slowly down the river about 50 feet from us. Quickly I pulled out my camera and started taking video, the wife behind me with her hands on my shoulders kept the camera moving up and down. We stood still and watched him walk down the stream. As it got farther away I said stay here I will get the girls, she did not want to stay, so I said OK, you get the girls, and off she went.

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I watched and then followed the caribou so it would not get out of site. Finally the girls and mom returned and we followed, then all of a sudden it stopped, ate some of a bush, then turned around and began walking back our way at the same pace. Mom freaked out a little and started walking faster and faster away, she was in the lead away, leaving her kids behind.

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So much for the Mom protecting her young 🙂

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It was walking slowly but it was so large that it was gaining on us….. it was not interested in us, just heading our way.

As I walked away from it toward the bush, (to get out of the open area) I looked ahead to see my wife walking in a zig zag pattern, like that was going to fool the caribou?

After a while it stopped and just sat down next to the river. The girls called to Mom – Its OK, it sat down.

The girls we found out later were not that impressed because they had already seen it as it walked pass them as they built the stone bridge. Rachel saw it first any yelled moose, then corrected herself I mean caribou. Sabrina fell in the water in her
rush to get to the other side with her sisters.

We left Denali and headed back to Anchorage. Drove through Talkeetna, but not much there just souvenir shops and a restaurant.

DAY 11

Hotel: Spring Hill Suites , Anchorage – 1 more night, again FREE w/reward points.

Hotel Rating: #2 this trip

Arrived back in Anchorage at the Spring Hill Suites about 12:30 am. This time they had our room, and same guy checked us in.

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Above a snow removal train.

The next morning we started in south anchorage, taking another but much shorter boat cruise. The portage Glacier Tour. It was only an hour boat ride buy got us a close view of the glacier. It was not calving, but the glacier ice was a very deep blue.

The caption had a stone throwing contest to see who could hit the glacier with a stone from the boat. No one could. The glacier was so large it looked like it was just a stone throw away, but it was much farther away. Kind of the opposite of a side view mirror (“Object appear closer”)

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The sign above was on the glacier cruise ship.

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Stone throwing contest to see who could hit the glacier.

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Then to Alaska Wildlife Conservation center. A refuge for wild and rescued wildlife. Moose, Caribou, Reindeer, Bison, Owls
Eagles, Porcupine.
If you are in the area this is another must see. Not expensive and you really get to see a wide variety of very active animals.

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We saw bears playing, and one sleeping. Funny thing, the bear woke up. While only the wife and I looked on – none one else around, the bear woke up, walked over the the fence, right in front of my wife, turned around and peed and pooped, then walked away.

 

Then for Dinner we went to Red Robin. I have heard several commercials at home and wanted to try the place out. Well I was not impressed. Over priced hamburgers, and poor service was my experience. The menu advertised there famous all you can eat French fries. When asked for more fries – the wait brought one small basket and said there was only one basket ready more will be out in a few minutes. More than a few minutes later he came back and asked if we were done and I asked what happened to the fries, I got “oh you still want those”.

Now another thing was the bathroom was a mess, and lets just say that it did not have the materials needed to complete the task, otherwise we would have eaten more all you can eat fries even if they did take a long time to appear.

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Below – a Clean McDonalds!

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DAY ?

Sheraton Hotel Rating for this trip – Dead Last

The last two days we stayed at the Sheraton in Anchorage. What an amazing difference. This was without doubt the least customer friendly hotel on our trip. I would not stay at this hotel again. No, major problem but compared to the other hotels
this one rates dead last. Why?

No Free Breakfast. — Wanted us to pay $10 per
day for parking. — No Microwave in the room.

Now, every hotel, even the one in the middle of nowhere (Denali), had FREE breakfast. When checking in I asked about breakfast, and mentioned that the Embassy Suites provided an excellent breakfast. So, the guy checking me said he would do what ever the Embassy Suites did and gave me 2 voucher for breakfast. Then I went to park the car. That’s when I discovered the sign that stated we needed to pay $10 a day for parking, I went back in asked about parking and explained that the other hotels do not charge, he stated it was the hotels policy and agreed that the Sheraton is charging for everything now. I told him that I was not even paying for the stay, it was FREE with reward points. It’s almost like the airlines charging for baggage! (Like buying tires – the tire is ten dollars, oh you want them mounted, balanced and on the car – well that’s an extra $100 per
tire) He said I could park on the street. So, I went and attempted to park on the street, but quickly decided I did not want to take the chance of have the  car towed away.

So I went back in and told him I would take the parking permit for 2 days. Gave him back the two vouchers for breakfast, since they were per person and I had more than two people to feed. He kindly offered me two more vouchers, but I declined to take them. I told him – I have not even made it to my room and already I am not happy.

The room was standard, but small room. Then after settling in I said I would get some sodas from the cooler in the car, when one of the kids asked if there was a microwave to pop some pop corn. No microwave but there was a refrigerator. On my way down, I stopped at the front desk and said – there is no microwave in the room, is there one in the hotel I use. The response was – “there sure isn’t”. 

I gave the guy one of my Frugal Factor cards and told him to check the site in two weeks for a review of my trip including the hotel.  

When I checked out the girl at the desk asked how my stay was and I just said less than positive, she asked if there was something she could do and I just said ” no, there is nothing you can do, its not your fault”. A least when I checked out and got my receipt, there was no charge for parking. That was good, but also upsetting for all that I had gone through!

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Day ?

Same Sheraton Hotel

So, in the morning we went to McDonalds’ for breakfast. My wonderful wife got lots of pleasure when the order taker asked if I was a senior citizen (to give me a lower price on my drink) I said close but not not yet, and she said how close a year or two, I said no more than 10. —- Oh, well if it was a year or two I would give it to you. My wife laughed knowing that I wanted the discount!

Then we went to Eagle River to visit a friend of a friend who owned a radio shack. When we arrived Radio Shack was on the main plaza sign but was not in the plaza. We stopped at a local business and discovered that it had closed a month ago
because he retired. We walked down to its old location to see a large sign that said “Gone Fishing”.

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Then onto the Eagle river nature preserve. We took a three mile walk down the trail and had a rock throwing contest across a river.

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We visited the Ulu Factory. Not many people working when we were there. They actually make the knifes at this location. Problem is that the real Ulu factor knifes are cheaper at Wal-Mart. Even cheaper ULU knifes are also available at Wal-Mart , but they are made in China. The most upsetting thing is they are hard to tell apart, you really need to look at the box, if you want one made in Alaska. Does it really matter? So, much of the stuff that I have seen on this trip as Alaska souvenirs say made in China on the bottom.

I wonder is there a really big store in China were I can buy souvenirs’ for all over the world, and I wonder where souvenirs’ for China are made.

After the ULU Factory we walked over the ships creek to find a Geocache since I noticed it was less then 300 feet away. Happy I went after that one, due to looking for it we saw all the people fishing on the creek.

The Salmon are just starting to run up the creek. So there were lots of people fishing and from the bridge you could see the LARGE fish in the water. While watching we saw more than 4 Salmon caught. If we had a few more days we could have gone
fishing!

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We will miss the big surge of fish. I have never seen so many people fishing at the same time

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Then we went to Sicily Pizza Buffet for dinner. It was OK, nothing special. We were going to try Moose Tooth Pizza because is had such good reviews, but as we drove by the parking lot was full and we saw people standing outside.

On the last day we checked out of the Sheraton had lunch at Wendy’s and headed for the Alaska Zoo. I was a very nice small zoo, with animals you may not see anyplace else. The Sea Otter and Seals were very active. But the number one thing we will
remember is another bear. A very Very large brown bear was sleeping. We were about to leave when it started to grunt, and finally rolled over and got up. You can guess what happened next.

Well the bear stretched, walked right over in front of my wife, turned around and pooped and peed. What are the odds in two bears at two locations doing the exact same thing to the same person!

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The bear above is much bigger than he looks.  He is the one that got up and did his business in front of us!

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Look at them claws,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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After the zoo we went to Wal-Mart to pick up snack for our three plane plane flights home. Then we stopped at Sam’s Club to return the emotionally and verbally challenged GPS. Then off to subway to pickup some Subs and headed to lake hood to watch the sea planes take off and land.

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Finally it was time to get to the airport.

We stopped in the Marriott parking lot to get our luggage situated and clean out the van. We also had a cooler to donate to someone. We could not bring it home, they would have charged up $35 for the extra bag. We actually did bring one home from our Grand Canyon trip, putting our souvenirs inside and taping it shut, but that was back when they allowed two free bags per person.

A girl was parked next to us talking on the phone and I approached her window, she abruptly said can I help you…. I said yes, I noticed you license plate say your from Minnesota – would you like a FREE cooler. At first she was puzzled, I explained everything and she said sure I had thought of getting a little cooler for the trip back. Well this one was a little larger that she would have bought but the price of FREE could not be beat.

We emptied the cooler taking out several cans of soda and water, and leaving the rest for her. Then off to the airport turned in our rental car, checked out luggage and headed for security.

We stopped and looked at the security sign, probably the only one in the country that shows that an ULU knife can not be brought past security. But we could not bring the water or drinks either. So we sat down and drank them down.

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After that we went through security and made it without any additional searches you you have been selected for additional screening.

I am happy to report that the three plane rides home went without any problems. 

When we arrived at the Orlando International Airport we needed to get our car. Hey, does anyone have that ticket with the phone number of the parking place on it. Of course my wife had it and we gave then a call. Then we gave them a gall again. We kept seeing all of their competitors’ vans drive by several times and finally after about an 45 minutes they appeared.

We loaded our luggage into our van, as we did a guy walked up and complained that he had been waiting for a half hour and that the driver just drove by him. The driver said he would drive around and get them.

Well we all got in the van. The driver attempted to back up, but the van would not go in reverse, it was stuck in drive. The shifter on the vans steering column was just loose. He had his foot on the break and then put the parking break on and shut the van off. He called for another van. We got out of the van and unloaded our luggage. I walked down and told the guy
and his wife who were waiting – they were visibly very unhappy. It told him that we were not happy either and it was between three different places and we won’t pick this one again.

After some time another van appeared. We loaded up and were driven to the parking place. Even the van that picked us up needed some work, either tires balances, alignment or both – to say it wiggled above 50 miles per hour would be kind. So, if you are leaving Orlando I suggest selecting some parking place other than – EZ Park and Fly. When we arrived at the parking facility they also charged us a one day fee because we were late…… Yeah OK, we will not be back, and check out the review on my website in a week.

That’s the trip.

Now what was FREE

ALL of the
Hotel Night were FREE. All paid for with Credit Card Reward sign ups, not spending money. If you want to know the strategy of how to get these cards read The Frugal Factor.  Now there are techniques to getting all of the cards at one time so you can use them for a vacation.  All that information is in the book.  Also, at least twice a year I list the card offers on the web site www.TheFrugalFactor.com

American
Airlines
Credit Card 75,000 Sign Up Points, Both of us signed up so thats 150,000 points.  Those points gave use the rental van FREE, and The Embassy Suites, Pineview Lodge hotel nighs FREE

Continental Mastercard = points provided one FREE plane ticket.

American Express Gold Rewards
Card 50,000 Points (after spending $500) – Provided us with $300 in WAl-Mart gift Cards, some $150 in Chili’s gift cards, and $50 in Subway gift cards.  We both signed up for this but only used one set of gift cards for this trip.

Venture
Credit Card

85,000 Points (75,000 match to AA card +10,000 first Use) – we both signed up for this.  We did not use all the
points.  But this gave us the cruise’s for FREE and the Nord Haven Hotel FREE, and the Cruises for FREE.  (ABOUT $1,700 free)

Marriot Premier Credit Card 30,000 Points and one FREE night – We both signed up for this, so thats 2 nights FREE and 60,000 Points.  THis gave use the three Spring Hill Suites nights FREE.

So the end result was that we paid for three plane flights, Gas – which ranged in price from $4.52 to $3.99, food, and a few of our excursions, but some of those were free if they were considered travel by the Venture credit card.  Even the small can of pringles I purchased on the plane was considered part of the plane flight and paid for with points – so you never
really know!

Hope this helps someone with a trip or to save a little $$$

Note: This trip was taken in the Summer of 2011

The End ##

 

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