Ketchikan – Snorkeling… in Alaska?!?

June 1, 2016

Today was the first day of summer! (Well, meteorological summer at least). What better way to celebrate than by going for a swim? Yes, even though we’re on an Alaska cruise. Not only did we decide to go swimming (and not in one of the ship’s heated pools), we went snorkeling. You heard that right, you can snorkel in Alaska. How’s that for a bucket list item?

The water is cold, but this excursion is HOT! Brag to all your friends you got to snorkel in Alaska.

Snorkel Alaska, as the name implies, is a company that specializes in snorkeling in Alaska. I have to say, it’s a whole different experience compared to snorkeling in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Florida, or anywhere else warm and tropical. The average water surface temperature fluctuates from 45-65 degrees from spring to summer. On the day that we went snorkeling in Alaska, the water was a brisk 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first thing we needed to do when we arrived was to get suited up. Snorkel Alaska provides 7mm neoprene wet suits which serve to keep you fairly warm while in the water. After getting our wet suits on we took a bus to the snorkeling area and hopped right in the water.

Just your friendly neighborhood sea urchin.

The tour itself was a guided, hour long tour. The guide would occasionally free dive and bring up starfish and other animals for the rest of the group to get a good look at. We wound up seeing a large number of different starfish, crustaceans, shellfish, and jellyfish. We also had a number of bald eagles perch overhead and were even able to watch a few swoop to the water for a meal. 

After we finished the snorkeling portion of the tour, we were given hot drinks and access to hot showers which made getting out of the wet suits much easier. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Ketchikan proper and do a bit of exploring before heading back to the ship.

There is so much to see in Ketchikan, but we always enjoy walking along Creek Street, the historic red light district. There are also a large number of fisheries and salmon ladders that can make for some really good photo opportunities. 

Tomorrow, the ship will be sailing through the inside passage. I don’t have much to add to what I talked about the last time, so I’ll just let you read about it there.

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suggested Excursions in Ketchikan from our partners

Icy Strait Point – Hoonah Whale Watching

May 31, 2016

The cruise lines call this port Icy Strait Point, but as soon as you leave the port you are technically in the native village called Hoonah. This is one of our favorite stops on an Alaska cruise and offers arguably the best whale watching opportunity of any Alaskan cruise port.

Icy Strait Point is the only privately owned cruise destination in Alaska, but unlike the “private islands” in the Bahamas which are owned by the cruise lines, Icy Strait Point is owned by the Huna Totem Corporation. This company is owned by a group of 1,350 Alaskan natives and Tlingit people. The intent of the privately owned port was to preserve the native character and culture of the village, while still allowing the economic growth that would accompany cruise ships.

Rather than booking an excursion through the cruise company, we opted to directly support a local business. As an added bonus, we were able to save a good bit of money by booking direct. On our first Alaskan cruise we booked with Misty Bay Lodge, and on this visit we opted for Icy Strait Whale Adventures.

We opted for a three hour morning tour with Captain Duane, a lifelong Hoonah resident and member of the Tlingit people. The sight seeing tour guarantees that you will see humpback whales, and we were definitely not disappointed. Aside from a wide number of whales, we were also able to see a couple otters, seals, sea lions, and even a brown bear. 

Really, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the local tour companies. The local people know their waters and they know where the whales come to feed and how to make sure you have the best experience possible.

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Selection of excursions in Icy Strait Point from our partners

Sea Life Center and Boarding the Radiance of the Seas

May 27, 2016

No trip to Seward is complete without a visit to the Alaska Sea Life Center. Much like the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the Alaska Sea Life Center focuses on rehabilitation and release of local wildlife. There are a wide variety of seabirds, sea mammals, and fish housed here and it’s a great place to spend a few hours. It’s a popular place, especially on cruise days, but it was well worth the visit.

As locals we had visited the Alaska Sea Life Center a few times before, but it’s still always worth another visit. By their nature, the animals are often changing as some are released and some more are rescued. Aside from the self-guided tour, there are also options for a number of experiences and animal encounters. These experiences are very limited and often sell out well in advance, so if it’s something you are interested in I recommend booking early, or on a non-cruise day if you are spending extra time in Seward.

I suggest giving yourself at least a couple hours to explore the Sea Life Center, and when it is time to leave there is a free city shuttle that runs directly to the cruise port. We took this shuttle as soon as it was time to start boarding and arrived at the port right around 11AM. Even though the ship wasn’t scheduled to depart until 8PM, I love boarding as soon as possible.

Once on board it was time for lunch, and this is one of my main secrets about cruising. The buffet is by far the most popular place for lunch on embarkation day, and it can be chaotic. We instead opted to eat lunch at Park Cafe which is much less well known. Even better, Royal Caribbean lists Park Cafe as a “Snack” eatery, rather than an actual lunch place. This makes it a perfect place to avoid the crowds on embarkation day, and you have 6 more days to enjoy the buffet. Chops Grille is also open for embarkation day lunch, but it does cost extra. 

Once we were fed there was still plenty of time to explore the ship before we needed to report for the muster drill. Radiance is a smaller ship, well designed for the Alaska market. She has more glass windows than any other ship class in Royal’s fleet, so you can get a great view from just about anywhere. 

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Alaska Cruise Take Two


An adventure lasting 12 days from May 22nd, 2016 to June 3rd, 2016.
Total Cost: $6211.17

Typically we try to spread around our vacations a bit and go somewhere new before repeating a vacation, but Alaska is a notable exception. First and foremost, Alaska cruises are absolutely stunning. Secondly, as we were living in Alaska at this time it was a very budget friendly option. Finally, for this trip we had some family members visiting us in Alaska, and we wanted to show them some more of the state.

Alaska is a very remote state, and there aren’t roads between many of the cities. In order to traverse most of Alaska, you are limited to dog sled, bush plane, or cruise ship. When my two brother-in-laws came up to visit us in Anchorage, we knew we wanted to show them around via cruise. Primarily because we love cruises so much, but also because it is much more economical. One way cruises between Canada and Alaska tend to be much cheaper than their round-trip Seattle counterparts. 

In order to keep the price down even more, we opted to do a single cabin for all four of us. All four of us were fully grown adults; ages 27, 27, 21, and 19. If you have ever taken a cruise before, you likely know that the cabins are not super spacious. It can occasionally feel cramped with just two adults, let alone four, but we wanted to see if we could make it work. Ultimately it did work out just fine, but we are also a very close family, and three of the four of us are on the smaller side.

When booking a cruise cabin for more than two people, there are generally two options. The first is to have a room with a pullout sofa bed. If the room is designed to sleep three, the sofa bed will pull out to a twin mattress. If the room sleeps four, the mattress will be a slightly larger double. The other option, and what we went with on this trip, is a pullman bed. These beds are sort of like bunk beds in appearance and pull out from the wall. During the day the room steward folded the bed back into the wall, and remade it while we were at dinner each night.

Example of a Pullman Bed – Courtesy of CruiseCritic user ChristienJ

Pullman beds do have a weight limit and generally are better suited for younger or smaller passengers. We did not have any complaints or issues, but it is definitely not something that every family would handle well. Whether it is better to get two cabins or share one is a decision unique to every family and every trip, and we’d be happy to help you make the best decision when planning your own adventure.

Below you can see our full itinerary along with links to more detailed reviews and pictures of each day. If you are ready to book your own Alaska cruise, contact us today.

DateItinerary
May 25th, 2016Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Whittier
May 26th, 2016Train to Seward and Exit Glacier
May 27th, 2016Sea Life Center and Boarding the Radiance of the Seas
May 28th, 2016Hubbard Glacier
May 29th, 2016Juneau - Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls
May 30th, 2016Skagway - Alaskan Hikes
May 31st, 2016Icy Strait Point - Hoonah Whale Watching
June 1st, 2016Ketchikan - Snorkeling... in Alaska?!?
June 2nd, 2016Cruising the Inside Passage
June 3rd, 2016Arrival in Vancouver

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Whittier

May 25, 2016

Alaska wildlife Conservation Center

Aside from the lower price, another reason we love the one way Alaska cruises is to add on a land tour. Cruise lines offer a number of guided tours, but even if you just have a couple days there’s a lot you can do. For the first day of our vacation we opted to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. The AWCC lies just off the Seward Highway about an hour’s drive south of Anchorage. 

The Seward Highway itself is a great and beautiful drive. It meanders along the Chugach mountains and Turnagain Arm, giving excellent nature views. As residents we had our own car, but if visiting it would be best to have a rental car. There is very limited public transit in Alaska and the cost for a taxi would likely be higher than just renting a car. There are a number of pullouts and vistas that make for excellent stops along the way as well.

As the name implies, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is home to a wide variety of native Alaskan wildlife. The intent of the center is primarily on rehabilitation and release, and they have been very successful. A year before this visit the center was able to release a herd of Wood Bison into the wilds of the Alaska interior. The Wood Bison is critically endangered, and the work of the AWCC was crucial in their recovery efforts.

Aside from the Wood Bison, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center also had caribou, moose, bears, musk ox, and a wide variety of other animals. The center is much smaller and simpler than a typical zoo, but it’s still a great place to visit for any animal lovers. 

whittier

After we finished at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, we decided to go a little further down the road to Whittier. Whittier is a small town with a permanent population of only 200 people and the town was a crucial port during World War 2. Even more interesting is the fact that nearly everybody in the town lives in a single building. Begich Towers was a Cold War Army barracks built in 1971 and also houses the town’s police station, grocery store, clinic, church, and school.

As a port city, Whittier offers a number of excellent day cruises and sightseeing trips, but we just came down to see the town itself. The only road in and out of Whittier is a single lane, multi-purpose tunnel called the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This tunnel serves car as well as train traffic in both directions. The tunnel only opens up for 15 minutes at a time and alternates between traffic in either direction and the trains when they are scheduled. Because traffic can be backed up, it’s generally recommended that you arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled opening time to make sure you can get through.

For those interested in roads and maps, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America, as well as the second longest highway tunnel. It’s definitely a unique experience to transit the tunnel and visit the town that lives under a single roof.

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Selected Excursions in Whittier from our Partners

Alaska Cruise Tours

Cruise Tours can be a great way to see the sights in Banff National Park

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the cruise tour options available on Alaska cruises.

What is a cruise tour?

Simply put, a cruise tour is a land portion added on either the front- or back-end of a cruise. Cruise tours are only available on the one-way Alaska cruises that either start or end in Alaska. If you’re on a cruise that starts in Alaska, your cruise tour will be in the days before the cruise departs. If you’re cruise starts in Vancouver and ends in Alaska then your cruise tour will start when the cruise ends.

These tours are fully guided and you will have a choice of a dew different itineraries, just like with your cruise.

How long are cruise tours?

Most cruise tours add an additional 2 to 5 nights on land, but there are some cruise tours that last much longer. For example, Royal Caribbean has a 19 Night Ultimate Alaska and Canada cruise tour. This option includes a 7 night cruise, 7 night land tour in Alaska, and 5 night land tour in Canada.

Some sample 3 night Alaska cruise tours from Royal Caribbean

Where do cruise tours visit?

Denali National Park is a popular cruise tour option with amazing hikes and views

Most Alaska cruise tours, even the shortest two day options, will visit Denali National Park and Fairbanks in the Alaska interior. They also typically include tours around Seward, where the ship docks, and occasionally downtown Anchorage as well.

There are also cruise tour options on the Canada side of an Alaska cruise. These often include visits to Banff and the Jasper Ice Fields. We got to see both of these sights on our Alaska road trip, and they are definitely worth a visit at least once.

Longer cruise tours will of course visit more cities. Other potential stops on cruise tours include Alyeska, Talkeetna, and Whittier in Alaska or Lake Louise, Calgary, and Vancouver in Canada.

This is the last of our scheduled posts for Alaska Week, but there is still a lot of information available about Alaska cruises. If you are ready to book an Alaska adventure or have questions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us.

Popular Excursions on Alaska Cruises

Alaska has a lot of great sights and experiences to enjoy

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the excursions available when cruising Alaska. Read on for some of the best experiences you can look forward to in Alaska.

Seward

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier is a popular hiking destination in Seward. Know what to do if you run into a bear!

Exit Glacier is a very popular glacial hike in Seward. It is considered a “drive-up” glacier and has several miles of hiking trails, ultimately leading to the Harding Icefield. The Icefield itself is a bit of a strenuous hike, but there are several paths along Exit Glacier that are viable for hiker’s of any skill.

Alaska SeaLife Center

The Alaska SeaLife Center has a wide variety of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.

The SeaLife Center in Seward is a combination marine sanctuary and aquarium. It is Alaska’s only permanent marine mammal rehabilitation facility and the entrance fee goes to help their rehabilitation efforts. Admission rates for adults are $25 a person, and you should plan on spending 2-3 hours at the center.

Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls is a popular and easy hike at Mendenhall Glacier.

By far the most popular attraction in Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is a drive-up glacier with a number of great hikes. There are several shuttle buses that run between the cruise port and Mendenhall. You can also get a taxi or a private shuttle if you would prefer. At Mendenhall, you can see Nugget Falls on a very short and paved hike, or take the slightly rougher East and West Glacier Trails. You can also take a tour to the Ice Caves if you want something a bit more unique. To get to the ice caves you have to kayak and then climb to the entrance, but if you have the time and the ability, it is well worth it.

Whale Watching

Juneau is one of the top ports in Alaska for whale watching. You can expect to see a number of humpback whales; in fact, in Alaska most whale watching tours offer a money back guarantee. If you do not see any whales you will get your money back.

Skagway

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway

The White Pass Railway is probably the most popular excursion in Skagway.

By far the most popular excursion in Skagway is the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway. The railway makes a 40 mile trip to the White Pass summit, lasting 3 to 3 and a half hours. If you book the excursion directly through the cruise company, you can be picked up by the train right at the port.

Hiking

Yakutania Point is a simple hike that offers some of the best views in Skagway

Skagway has a large number of hikes available very close to the downtown area. There are a large number of shorter hikes available for hikers of all skill levels. Yakutania Point and Lower Reid Falls are two of the top hikes available.

Icy Strait Point/Hoonah

Whale Watching

Whale watching is very popular in Hoonah

If Juneau is the most well known whale watching spot, Icy Strait Point is arguably the best. Point Adolphus is commonly called the best whale watching area in all of North America, and sightings are guaranteed by most, if not all, companies.

Zipline

The zipline in Icy Strait Point is the world’s longest and highest. The ZipRider has a total length of 5,330 feet with a total drop of 1,300 feet and a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour.

Ketchikan

Creek Street

Historic Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

Creek Street is Ketchikan’s historic red light district, and has a number of shops. It’s well worth a walk, either for the modern shopping, the views, or the history. The slogan of the area is “Where men and salmon come upstream to spawn.”

Snorkeling

The water is cold, but this excursion is HOT! Brag to all your friends you got to snorkel in Alaska.

Snorkeling in Alaska? That’s right. Ketchikan has a great snorkeling excursion complete with thick, cold-water wet suits. It’s cold, but once you’re in the water it’s not super noticeable.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for our next entry in Alaska Cruise Week. And if you’re already ready to book your next Alaska adventure, reach out and let us help you plan your new favorite cruise.

Introduction to Alaska Cruises

Welcome to Alaska – The Last Frontier

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is a basic introduction to Alaska cruises. Read on for a basic overview of the ships, ports, and experiences that make Alaska cruising so popular.

Types of Alaska Cruises

There are two main types of Alaska Cruises. The first is a closed-loop, or round trip cruise. These cruises depart from and return to Seattle, Washington. They are most often 7 night, although this year Holland America has a special 14 night version.

The second type of cruises are one-way, and travel between Alaska and Canada. The Southbound cruise runs from Alaska, typically Seward or Whittier, to Vancouver, British Columbia. These cruises are most often 7 nights, and have to end in a non-US port due to the Passenger Vessel Service Act. Because they don’t need to take the time for a return trip, these cruises often visit more ports in Alaska than the Seattle cruises.

The one-way cruises also have the benefit of being combinable with cruisetours. These are extended land portions around Alaska that allow you to see more areas of Alaska. Mount Denali, Fairbanks, and Talkeetna are common stops on cruisetours. Keep an eye out later this week; we will have posts dedicated to comparing the two types of Alaska cruises, as well as a post detailing cruisetour options.

The Cruise Lines

Radiance of the Seas in port at Skagway, Alaska

Most major cruiselines sail Alaska itineraries, but there are a few differences. Below are some of the most popular Alaska cruise lines, in alphabetic order.

  • Carnival – Only offers Seattle RT cruises and one Vancouver to Seattle cruise.
  • Celebrity
  • Disney – 5, 7, and 9 Night cruises from Vancouver
  • Holland America – Has the only ship with stops in Anchorage
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess – Departs from Whittier, Alaska instead of Seward
  • Royal Caribbean – Will have the largest ship sailing Alaska in 2019
The Ports

Historic Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

There are a wide variety of ports availaible on Alaska cruises, but we will list a few of the most common ports below. Later this week we will have a dedicated post detailing the best excursions available in each port.

  • Seward

    The most common start/end port for cruises in Alaska. About 2 hours south of Anchorage, Seward is a beautiful coastal town. Highlights of Seward include the Sealife Center and Exit Glacier.

  • Whittier

    Whittier is where Princess cruises start/end their Alaska cruises. Whittier is about an hour and a half from Anchorage, although there is a one-way tunnel that is only open at set times for traffic. This can add an extra hour to your drive if you have a cruise departing from Whittier. Located in Prince William Sound, there are a number of whale watching and coastal cruises offered in Whittier.

  • Juneau

    Juneau is Alaska’s capital. Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s most famous landmark, but Mount Roberts is also a very popular site. There is also the Red Dog Saloon, and excellent whale watching opportunities.

  • Skagway

    Skagway was a crucial town during the Alaska gold rush, and still has many museums showcasing the gold rush. The White Pass Railway is Skagway’s main claim to fame.

  • Ketchikan

    “Where men and salmon come upstream to spawn.” Ketchikan has a famous historic red light district and salmon fisheries. It is also located near the Tongass National Forest.

  • Icy Strait Point/Hoonah

    Technically two distinct entities, Hoonah is a local Native Alaskan village, and Icy Strait Point is the cruise industry’s port area. This island is prime for wildlife viewings, with a large bear population and some of the best whale watching opportunities in Alaska.

These are just a sampling of ports you may stop at on an Alaska cruise. Less common ports can include Homer, Sitka, Haines, and others. Cruises also often sail past either Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, or Tracy Arm Fjord.

Highlights of an Alaska Cruise

A pair of wood bison in Portage, Alaska

There are many things that you can experience on an Alaska cruise that you won’t find on other cruises. Some of the typical highlights of Alaska cruises include:

  • Wildlife – Bears, moose, bison, and whales are all common Alaska wildlife, but you can also see deer, otters, seals, and porpoises. Alaska is a haven for all sorts of land and marine wildlife.
  • Glaciers – Although they are shrinking, Alaska is still home to a number of very impressive glaciers. Go for a hike, a helicopter tour, or a dog sled ride to see these natural beauties before they are all gone.
  • Seafood and Fishing – Alaska has some excellent seafood that you can enjoy fresh while on an Alaska cruise. Alaskan King Crab is a local favorite, as is halibut. If you are a fisher, nothing says Alaska adventure like going out on a halibut fishing charter.
  • Culture and History – From the Native People, to the gold rush, to the modern last frontier, Alaska is filled with unique culture and history to explore.
  • Nature – Alaska has a wide variety of natural sights. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, and even a rainforest. If you are an avid outdoor explorer or hiker, Alaska has nearly every type of terrain available to explore.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for our next entry in Alaska Cruise Week. And if you’re already ready to book your next Alaska adventure, reach out and let us help you plan your new favorite cruise.

10 Amazing Animal Encounters


One of the wildest experiences you can have when travelling the world is getting to see local wildlife up close and personal. Zoos and aquariums can be a great way to see a wide variety of animals, but sometimes there is an even greater adventure out there waiting. We have gathered together 10 of the best animal encounter vacations you can plan today. It is very important to note that some tour companies who offer animal encounters do not care for the welfare of the animals. All of the excursions we feature are responsible, and this list will be updated if any of these activities no longer meet that criteria.

Animal Encounters in North America

1. Polar Bears Under the Northern Lights – Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Polar Bear Mom and Cubs
Churchill Wild | Great Ice Bear Adventure

Churchill Wild operates four remote, fly-in ecolodges in Manitoba, Canada. Two of their lodges, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge and Seal River Heritage Lodge are members of the esteemed National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection. All four of their lodges are remote and their tour packages include transportation to Winnipeg, then Churchill, and finally a scenic flight to the lodge.

Between the four lodges, Churchill Wild offers 9 unique polar bear safaris. All have a chance to see the Northern Lights and many polar bears, as well as a wide variety of arctic wildlife. Aside from polar bears you can see Beluga whales, wolves, black bears, moose, caribou, foxes, and hares. Tour packages range from 7 to 11 days, and start at $10,000 CAD per person, although that is almost all inclusive. The season lasts from July to November each year.

2. Salmon Fishing with Brown Bears – Katmai National Park, Alaska

Grizzly Bear with Salmon
Dmitry Azovtsev | Wikimedia | daphoto.info

Katmai National Park and Preserve is a 4 million acre park filled with volcanoes and a wide variety of Alaskan wildlife. Most famous of all the wildlife in the park is the Alaskan Brown Bear. Every year in July and September hundreds of bears flock to the Brooks River to feed on Sockeye salmon.

The park is only accessible by float plane, landing at Lake Brooks Seaplane Base. Flights are available from Anchorage, Homer, King Salmon, Kodiak, and a few other towns in Alaska. Lodging options in the park are limited to a few lodges or camping. Brooks Lodge is the most popular destination in the park, and the best place to bear watch. The National Park Service even has a number of webcams setup, so you can bear watch from your home.

For more Alaska adventure ideas, check out our review of our first Alaskan cruise.

3. Bike with Gators – Shark Valley, Everglades National Park, Florida

Alligator at Shark Valley
Shark Valley | January 13, 2017

When visiting the Everglades one of the most popular wildlife tours is taking an airboat ride. Unfortunately, the loud and rough airboats can have negative impacts on the local wildlife. As a result, the National Park Service has been instituting restrictions on the number of airboats and where in the park they can go. If you want a chance to see the famous alligators of the everglades up close while maintaining the peaceful atmosphere, your best bet is the Shark Valley Trail.

Shark Valley Trail is a 15 mile paved loop with a number of walking trails and an observation tower. You can take a tram ride, rent a bike, or walk the trail, all while in the company of hundreds of alligators and a wide variety of birds. The trail is flat, and a very enjoyable experience no matter how you choose to see it.