Monday, February 10, 2014

Summer 2014 is booking up quickly!


It's good for Alaska tourism that so many visitors are making reservations to come to Alaska! But it could throw a wrench in your hopes of a perfect Alaska vacation if you haven't yet made your plans for lodging and activities around Alaska...*

We love to hear the phone ring or web reservations come in, but this year our openings are filling faster than ever! Never in a dozen years have we been in the position of telling callers in January, "No, I'm sorry, we're full on that date in June... Would you like a referral to another great B&B?" Unfortunately for you, a lot of our other local B&Bs are filling up quickly, too.

If you're putting together plans to come to Alaska, it's in your best interest to act quickly. If you like to choose  the amenities and features of your lodging or tour activities, it's time to make those reservations! If you're someone who can "roll with it" and take whatever is still open in a couple of months, you'll be able to find something, but it may not be at your preferred price point or most convenient location or exact room/cabin type you were hoping for.

This is not going to be a good summer to "just wing it" and find lodging day by day as you travel. It is a real possibility that a lot of visitors will be sleeping in their cars for lack of a "room" anywhere close to where they wanted to stop for the night.

Give us a call at (907) 746-2333 to discuss what will work best for you, or you can browse pictures of each cottage and room on our website at http://www.gardengatebnb.com --You can make your reservation through our website, too.

*I'm not an expert on airline changes, but I think I heard there will be a new carrier coming to Anchorage this summer (or perhaps that Southwest Airlines added to their schedule to Anchorage?). That may loosen things up a little by adding some extra capacity, but I anticipate that within two months, I'll be hearing from guests that they had a tough time getting the exact flight dates they were looking for. --Karen

Saturday, January 10, 2009

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS BLOG

Postings on this blog are divided into 4 categories: Itineraries, Tips, Special Interests (such as if you are traveling with kids or enjoy hiking or birding), and Specials. Since Blogger.com organizes its posts by date, here's where you can find each relevant post.

January 2008 - SPECIAL INTERESTS
Fish O! How to Find Salmon & Trout
See Our Area On the Cheap
The B&B is just 1/2 Mile from Hospital & Medical
Romance & Making Your Stay Perfect
Pets Love to Stay Here
Stay at our B&B and explore Pre- or Post-Cruise
Pamper Yourself During Your Stay
Guy Stuff To Do In Our Area
Extraordinary Gardens
Outdoor Adventure in the Mat-Su Valley
Kid-Friendly Things to do in our area
Birding in the Mat-Su Valley
On the Go Seniors
Antiquing and Alaskana

December 2007 - TIPS FOR TRAVEL IN ALASKA
See Our Area On the Cheap
How to Dress in Alaska
Tips to Make Your Vacation Easier
Unpack Only Once: Do-Able Day Trips
Pack Smart
Fly Smart
Be Spontaneous--About Some Things

November 2007 - ITINERARIES AROUND THE MAT-SU VALLEY
5-Day Itinerary #1
3-Day Itinerary #1
1-Day/overnight Itinerary #1: What Not to Miss

October 2007 - SPECIALS FOR ALASKA GARDEN GATE B&B
Stay for a Week, Save 25%
3 Nights for the Price of 2

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Antiquing and Alaskana

If you fancy antiquing or are interested in Alaska's early years, local Antique stores are a great place to root around. You can get a taste of what it was like here, from Gold Rush days up through Statehood in 1959 and the discovery of oil and building the oil pipeline.

"Antiquing" isn't nearly the rarified, gentrified experience here that you might be familiar with on the East Coast. Around here, most usually, it involves digging through piles and getting pretty grubby, which can be half the fun. Most Alaskans don't put a lot of value in "old stuff." In a lot of cases, you'll see something you might consider a priceless antique rotting in a pile on the edge of someone's property or in a bin at a second-hand store. Earlier this fall when I took a load of old clothes to a used store in Palmer, the pickup truck in front of me unloaded about 6 pairs of rustic old snowshoes and several sets of wood cross country skis that had to be 50 years old. It took every ounce of my willpower not to grab those from the donations door and dash.

A friend and I spent one hot afternoon last summer antiquing in Anchorage. How is it that every antique shop smells the same in hot weather? That was fun, and I got to know my way around many of the best spots. Most are in the area of the Old Seward Highway, and are full of Alaskana that show how different Alaska was back in the day. Alice's is a staple at 4131 Old Seward Highway, and the Pack Rat Mall is nearby, too. Right around the B&B, there are several good shops to check out. CoverUps along the main street in Palmer is the home to "the Alaskan Picker," a local fellow who travels the state looking for old signage, furniture, and other collectibles. Chickadees at 175 W. Arctic Ave. is a nice new addition to Palmer shopping, too. Alaskana Books at 564 S. Denali St. in Palmer has rare and unusual books and publications that might be right up your alley. They have limited hours so be sure to call first (907 745-8695) .

Antique stores can be even better than some of the museums to see varied examples of ivory carving, scrimshaw, art and items made from whalebone, hides, furs, walrus tusks, and other items that are now protected and limited to use by natives. Signs, maps, drawings and other printed items such as aprons and tablecloths tell fascinating stories of how Alaskans used to see Alaska, and what it looked like to tourists--sometimes quite different from how we might perceive this place now! I always find it interresting to thumb through old books which make mention of the Matanuska Valley. Even back to the 1930s at the advent of motor vehicles in the territory, city folk from Anchorage used to come out to the Valley in the early summer for fresh Valley peas and produce, grown by Palmer's colony farmers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Favorite Restaurants & Dining

The foodie scene around Palmer and Wasilla has improved greatly over the past few years. Here are recommendations for our favorite spots to eat, both new and old.

Great:
--Few restaurants in our area are excellent. It's in the higher price range, but the Grape Tap in Wasilla is top notch. They are a tapas style restaurant and wine bar where you can also order full-plate entrees, too. Here you'll have find preparations are very finely detailed and perfectly presented, with very good flavor pairings and complements. My favorite go-to place for quality and warm service is Turkey Red in Palmer. For a moderate price, the meal you'll get is interesting not only for the range of cultures they sample (from an Indian beef stew to a Moroccan cous cous salad to a Thai salmon) but also the nutrient value of using as much local vegetables, dairy and meats as possible from Valley farmers. They are also a bakery, so the variety of breads in your bread basket could be olive foccacia to onion sourdough to a dense, sweet date walnut.

Very good most of the time:
--Vagabond Blues in Palmer, for soups, salads, wraps, desserts and coffee drinks
--Evangelo's in Wasilla is the easiest to get to from Alaska Garden Gate B&B and has the most consistent quality. The entree portions are huge, and for many people, they can split one entree between the two of them. The prices are commensurate--many entrees are $22-27 for what is not extraordinary dining, but is fairly good quality and lots of it.
--Many of the Talkeetna restaurants, including Mile High Pizza Pie, The Roadhouse, and the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge.
--Many of the Anchorage restaurants, particularly "fancy" ones like Orso, Simon & Siefert, and The Bridge serve fine meals in our estimation, but are over-priced compared to what you might pay for an outstanding meal in other metropolitan cities. Yes, it migh be a very good appetizer, drink, and entree for $48, but was it excellent? Maybe, maybe not. Glacier Brewhouse and Humpy's are our favorites in Anchorage.

In the "Can't Go Wrong" Category:
--Most of the Mexican restaurants in the Mat-Su Valley are good and will feed you a lot of food for prices that are as cheap as they come for restaurant-prices in Alaska. Entrees will average $12-16 or so for dinner.
--Fred Meyer and Carr's grocery stores have good selections at their deli's. This can be a cost-efficient way to have a hot meal for less than what you'd spend eating out.
--Fast food prices in Alaska are comparable to what many families are used to spending at sit-down restaurants in the Lower 48. You might choose to have dinner at Arby's or Dairy Queen or Carl's Junior to have a hearty dinner and save a few dollars

Take Your Chances:
--I love the Hatcher Pass Lodge. It's a quaint, historic place in an unbeatable location. Menu items are interesting, but execution is great some days nad lousy other days. It's also a toss-up whether they'll be open. After sending many guests there for dinner, a scenic 20 minute drive away, and had almost all of them come back saying it was closed, now I call ahead to check. Even then, when the person on the phone has said they'll be serving until 7, there have been times when guests come back and say they were turned away at 6:40 or 6:45, when the Lodge staff said they were closing. To their credit, they do overnight lodging there and are up very early for breakfast, so they're pooped by the end of the day, and sometimes they're short on help if a staff person from Palmer can't get up to Hatcher Pass. Lunch is a safe bet most days, but call before you go for dinner.
--Thai restaurants in Wasilla: a good idea that is occasionally well done. Most days they are out of whatever I felt like ordering.
--Schwabenhof Bar and Restaurant in Wasilla: it's got a neat German menu with sandwiches, sausages, and pickles that go great with their vast beer collection, and their deck can be very nice to sit out on, on a hot day. It's almost always smoky, though, if you are sitting inside.
--Red Robin in Wasilla. No matter what the hour, most patrons have at least two and as many as six children in tow, so it's a chaotic chorus of wailing and screeching while you eat a burger and a malt. It's a good burger and malt (and mind you, endless steak fries) so maybe that's why so many parents choose this venue for a bit of enjoyment.

Pets Love to Stay Here

Alaska is a pretty easy place to travel with pets. In most places, it is cool enough during the day to leave a pet in a car while you tour a museum or take part in an activity. Of course, there are loads of outdoor recreation areas for hikes! And you don't have to worry about any of these: fleas, ticks, heartworm, or West Nile virus. None of these exist in Alaska!

At our B&B, with 10 acres to explore, there is plenty of room to go walking together on the trails or play ball on the lawn. All of our cottages and guest apartments have private entrances, which make it convenient for pets, with direct access to outside.

You must let us know at the time of your reservation that you'd like to bring your pet(s) so we can accommodate you We just ask that you pick up your pet waste and dispose of it in the garbage cans. There is a $20/night charge per pet. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Extraordinary gardens in Alaska

You might not think that our area can grow much, but the Mat-Su Valley is more sheltered and temperate and has several world-famous gardens that are open to visitors. There's nothing like nearly-round-the-clock sunshine to produce lush, huge blossoms. Visitors are amazed by the dinner-plate sized dahlias, abundance of blue and purple flowers which flourish in the cooler summer temperatures, and hanging baskets that achieve prodigious volume in our short seasons.

--If you arrive in Alaska through Anchorage this summer, you can't help but notice the hanging baskets on downtown lamp poles. Traditionally, they are a mix of sapphire lobelia and a yellow annual to create the state flag colors of blue and gold.

--Downtown Palmer is also decked out in gorgeous hanging baskets. The Palmer Post Office boasts some of the biggest, massive mounds of blossoms in their baskets. What's their secret? Other biggies can be found at the Palmer Visitor Information Center, near the center of downtown, in the log cabin. There you'll also find the the historic gardens which are beautifully kept and display the kinds of berries and vegetables traditionally grown on colony farms in Palmer's early days. The flowers are doozies, too. To learn about tree varieties grown in colony days, walk over or drive through the Arboretum. It's in so-so condition; it doesn't get much funding for upkeep, but it'll give you a taste of what kind of trees are native or are brought into this area.

--Two world-renowned gardeners whose places you have to see to believe are Les Brake's Coyote Gardens off of Willow Fishhookand Stan Ashmore's Blue Poppy Farm on Lazy Mountain outside of Palmer. Both, located out in the middle of nowhere, have been featured in national magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and on the Today Show.

--If you're here during the Alaska State Fair in August, take time to explore all the beautiful gardens, created and kept by mastermind Becky Mryvold

--Worth the trip is The Alaska Botanical Garden in Anchorage; you can also see if there is an event being held by the Alaska Master Gardeners

--The local greenhouses and shops are full of information, perhaps the most knowledgeable of all is Jaime Rodriguez at Alpine Garden Nursery

On the Go Seniors

There are great driving-trips in every direction from our B&B, but if you'd like to get out and see more of Alaska than you can see from the road, here are some ideas. These are moderately challenging and accessible to sure-footed folks who can walk a ways.

1. Hike at Hatcher Pass. The Gold Mint Trail has only a slight uphill grade to it on a mostly even and smooth, wide path for the first several miles. It follows a rushing river and affords gorgeous views as you come into each new valley between the tall mountains. It's also easy to walk around Summit Lake. Archangel Road/Trail tends to be more rutted but is also a beautiful hike if you can pick your way along the trail. A very easy, short walk is on the asphalt-paved trail near Independence Mine, where you can stop and read interpretive displays about life at the mine earlier in the 1900's.
2. Rent a canoe and paddle around Eklutna Lake or Nancy Lake for an afternoon.
3. Go on a jet boat safari with Mahay's Riverboat in Talkeetna.
4. Take the half-day ATV tour with Alaska Backcountry Adventures. My mom and I did this, on the full-day tour. She's 66 and is somewhat fragile in health. She was sore after a full-day, but it was exhilerating and she loved being out in the wilderness, fording rivers and buzzing along on her own ATV, seeing eagles, moose and bears.
5. Definitely go flightseeing from Talkeetna to see the wonders of Denali, if your body will cooperate and get you into the small plane.
6. At Denali, consider taking the Shuttle Bus. You can hop on and off at any stop, then hike for as long or short as you like in between bus rides.
7. Tour the gardens at the Palmer Visitor Center, in the center of town.
8. Take short hikes at the Matanuska Glacier. At the Glacier Overlook, there is a short loop walk (free) and nice photo opportunities. At the glacier itself (entrance fee), you can walk right up onto the glacier. Be very careful, though. I've had many guests come back with bloody hands from falling on the wet slippery ice and skinning up their palms when they went down. With precautions, you can get past the wet, melting "toe" of the glacier and up onto it where the surface is more like packed snow. You can also have Mica Guides show you the way. When you go with them, they give you crampons, helmets and walking sticks, which can make it a whole lot easier. Also, they know the best routes around the hazards.
9. For birding, go to Reflections Lake in the Palmer Hay Flats.
10. To get in a quick walk along developed, wood-chipped paths, you can choose challenging or easy among the trails at Crevasse Moraine or at the Mat-Su College, both centrally located between Palmer and Wasilla.