If you're going to Alaska, no trip is complete without a train ride. Whether it's a glass-domed train trip all the way to Fairbanks, or a shorter version from Anchorage to Whittier, a train is a great way to sit back and enjoy all of Alaska's beautiful scenery.
I just got back from an Alaska cruise that sailed from Whittier. The closest airport is Anchorage, which is over 2 hours away. If you're sailing from Whittier, and flying into Anchorage like I did, you have a few options: rent a car, take a bus, or take the Alaska Railroad. We opted for the Alaska Railroad's Glacier Discovery Train, and I'm so glad that we did. The ride is extremely scenic, the seats are comfortable, and it's easy to get up and walk around, get a snack, and some fresh air too. Renting a car might seem like a more flexible option, but it's hard to look around at the scenery while you're driving, and you might run into a slight issue at the tunnel (more on that later).
Our train ride was scheduled to leave Anchorage at 9:45am, and arrive to Whittier at 12 noon. We were supposed to arrive an hour early for check-in, but since our hotel's shuttle left every hour on the hour, we ended up arriving closer to 8:15 vs. 8:45; that worked to our advantage as there were absolutely no crowds! It was easy to drop off your suitcases - just put your cruise luggage tags on there, and they took care of getting them to the ship for you in Whittier. Then go inside and pick up your tickets... and that's all there is to it! While you're waiting, you can browse in the gift shop, go outside to take some pictures, or purchase a cup of coffee or small snack.
Boarding is quick and easy. The seats are pretty plush, and there's plenty of room under the seat or above you on the overhead shelf to store any bags you've carried on. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view now!
There are Alaska Railroad train route booklets available for purchase onboard for $5 (cash only, prices as of July 2013), as well as a free magazine that was still relatively informative about what we were passing along the way.
Note: the last portion of the ride to Whittier involves 2 tunnels, so it does get dark for a few minutes. The benefit to railroad is that they have priority through the last tunnel, which is shared with trains and cars, and only allows one-way traffic. If you decide to drive, you'll need to know the schedule, or you may be stuck waiting up to an hour until it's safe to drive through!
Great Views of Turnagain Arm
Keep a lookout for Beluga whales in the water!
More Scenery along the way
There's more wildlife to watch for in the mountains, especially Dall Sheep. You can also see some remnants from the big earthquake from the 1960s.
When you arrive in Whittier, it's a short walk across the street to the cruise ship terminal for checking in. Since your luggage was tagged for the ship back at the depot in Anchorage, it will automatically meet you at your stateroom in the afternoon!
The Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train was a really easy and scenic way to get to the cruise port - I highly recommend this for cruisers flying in or out of Anchorage! We also met several locals who were doing a daytrip to Surprise Glacier, so note that the Alaska Railroad has many options, not just cruise transfers.
A thumbs-up from the kids
A few notes on kid-friendliness: This was a great trip with children! Here's a few reasons why: