We survived 16 hours of driving over three days with an eight month old! As much as I was looking forward to our first family vacation I was also nervous that little man wouldn't do well being stuck in his car seat for so long, or that we'd have a problem getting him to sleep well at the hotel. As is true for most of the things I worry about my concerns were unfounded and he did great! The few times he started to get fussy we'd pull over and one of us would hop in the back with him and he'd calm right down. We spaced out the drive so that the 7 hours were divided up with many stops. We'd break every 1-2 hours if he was awake to use the restroom or get gas. If he was sleeping we'd try to drive as long as possible. Both going to Anchorage and coming home we stopped at Denali and the Target in Wasilla. Oh, Target, how I missed thee.
After moving to Fairbanks last October I was immediately struck by how much it didn't look like how I pictured a town in Alaska looking. The majority of the time there's not a mountain in sight, and it just feels like any other small town in the lower 48. During the drive down to Anchorage it finally felt like I was really in Alaska!
Within two hours of starting on our trip Travis spotted a bald eagle and had to pull over and snap some photos of it. We have very different road trip mentalities. There are dozens of areas to pull off and take photos along the way between Fairbanks and Anchorage and he would have stopped at every one if he had the choice. I'm more of a 'get to the destination as soon as possible' type of person. We met in the middle and ended up having fun stopping at random places, but still getting to Anchorage in time to do a lot in the short time we had.
When we arrived in Anchorage on Friday we went straight to the mall. We got into town at about 4 p.m. and had just 2-3 hours before little man had to go to bed, so we figured we'd knock that out. After talking about how great it would be to finally have lots of places to shop at again (the shopping in Fairbanks is pitiful) we walked out empty handed. Didn't buy a single thing! We did get some food court pizza for dinner. Baby started throwing a fit because he was hungry and I normally feed him dinner around that time, so I gave him a piece of my pizza crust to chew on. #motheroftheyear
Saturday we were up bright and early and hit up the hotel breakfast at 7 a.m.. We stayed at the Springhill Suites at University Lake and the hotel was gorgeous. The rooms had separate living areas, and there was a beautiful lake and trail in the backyard of the hotel (overlooking a massive mountain range.) The breakfast was delicious, and after we filled up on carbs we took baby to the indoor pool for his first time swimming. He loved it! We will definitely be taking him to the local pools here this summer.
At 10:00 a.m. we headed toward Whittier Alaska to take a glacier cruise. Whittier has a town population of just over 200 people and they all live in the same apartment complex. NPR has an interesting story on Whittier.
The town is only 1.5 hours away from Anchorage but we had to leave early to make sure we got to the tunnel in time.
Oh, the tunnel.
So, the only way to access the town by car is via a one way tunnel. To go into Whittier the tunnel is only open every half hour for 15 minutes. If you miss it, then you have to wait 45 minutes. To leave Whittier the tunnel is open on the hour for 15 minutes. To make it to our 1 p.m. cruise they recommended getting to the tunnel at 11:30. That would give us an hour and a half to find parking and get our boarding passes.
I don't hide the fact that I am a fairly anxious person. The moment I learned about the tunnels I started to worry that we'd miss them. Our cruise ended at 4:45 p.m. so I worried we'd miss the 5 p.m. tunnel and be stuck on the island until 6 p.m.. The cruise narrator said as we got off that it wouldn't be a problem for us to all make the 5 p.m. tunnel.
The drive to Whittier is absolutely gorgeous. It's on Highway 1 which everyone raves about for it's views. We took hundreds of photos because just when we thought it couldn't look any more majestic, we'd turn the corner and see something ten times more awe inspiring.
We got to the tunnel with plenty of time, but parking was a nightmare. We looked at the map they gave us to see where to park, but when we got to that spot a lady told us we had to park across the street. We waited in line for 20 minutes there before someone walked by and told us parking was full and to go back to the original spot. Time was running out and we thought we'd miss the cruise. Finally, Travis talked to the harbor master (that's a thing) and he said to just park wherever.
With just a few minutes to spare we loaded up the stroller and headed to check in. We were the next to last couple in line to board and as we were about to get on a staff member came up to tell us we couldn't bring our stroller. When we made the reservations I specifically asked if we could and they said it wouldn't be a problem. It wasn't a huge deal, but I didn't bring a carrier to wear him so we had to take turns holding him for almost 5 hours (the seating was incredibly tight so sitting with him in our laps didn't work out to well.)
Within thirty minutes of boarding the served us lunch. When we made reservations we had our choice of chicken, fish, or a vegetarian/gluten free option. I was happy to see they offered that on the menu! The lunch was great, and it was my first time trying rice pudding. I'm a fan. I'm also a fan of the hot chocolate chip cookies they came around with for free toward the end of the cruise.
If you look very closely you can see some stellar sea lions on the right (there's a boat to the left of them.) We also saw the tail of a humpback whale! It didn't resurface again close to the boat so we all missed seeing it a second time but I'm still shocked I got to see it's tail! They are about 50 feet long. We are already planning to go to Seward, Alaska, before we leave to go on a whale watching cruise.
The boat sailed through iceburgs and the crew used a net to pick one up and let kids come and touch it. They brought it over to baby so he could feel it which I thought was very nice of them. The cruise was billed as family friendly so there were a lot of kids on board and the staff was great with them.
I went into the three day vacation with a bit of a 'yolo' attitude and ate whatever I wanted, didn't exercise, and tried to just enjoy myself as much as possible. On the cruise that entailed a nice margarita made with glacier ice. I think it's the second drink I've had since the baby was born and I loved every sip.
There was a woman narrating the cruise who worked for the National Park Service. She was so sweet and came over and talked to us a few times. Our son is so happy and personable he smiles and laughs at whoever looks at him so he's quite the conversation starter. At the end of the cruise she came over and asked if we'd like a badge for him. Once the cruise ended we headed back to the office to pick up our stroller they held for us. Two girls were working inside and brought the stroller out. As we were putting the baby in one of them said, "mam, what is your name?" Thinking they just wanted to confirm the right person was picking up the stroller I told them, and I about fell over when they asked if I used to teach at Pensacola State College. They had taken my Human Growth and Development class a few years ago! I couldn't believe it! They came up to Alaska one summer with their church and come back every summer to work now. It's surreal how small the world is!
On the way back to the car Travis wanted to stop by a gift shop to look for a magnet (he's legit obsessed with getting a magnet everywhere we go.) The plan was for me to take baby to the car and get loaded up so we could make it out of the tunnel in time. He was done shopping before I was even ready to go so I figured we'd make it out with plenty of time.
Once we arrived at the tunnel there was a police officer telling cars which lane to get into. We were the last car put into a lane filled with cars so we figured we were going to be the last car allowed to go (cars behind us were being added to a new lane.) The tunnel opened, and cars started moving. Occasionally a light would turn red at the start of the tunnel stopping cars from going in to allow adequate space between cars in the tunnel. The light only stayed red for a few seconds before turning green.
The light turned red for the car ahead of us.
And stayed red.
We looked at the clock and it was 5:16. One minute past the time the tunnel was set to close.
We both looked at each other and started talking about ways we could boycott the entire town of Whittier. We were hungry, the baby was crying, and after a very, very long day all we wanted was to get some food and go back to the hotel.
After the longest two minutes of our lives the light turned green and we started to drive!
Tomorrow I'll share photos from our trip to the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center, the Anchorage Zoo and Denali!
How was your Memorial Day weekend?