Riding in a van along the dirt road that led from the Bear Track Inn to the Glacier Bay Lodge, I marveled at how the van driver could use his right thumb to scroll through apps and pull up information on his iPhone while using his left hand to steer the vehicle. Alas, on that trip to Southeast Alaska in June of 2008 I only had my “dumb” Motorola flip phone and print guidebooks to help me “connect” and find my way around the state’s Panhandle.
Since then, I purchased an iPhone 3GS and have taken it along with electronic guidebooks and various mapping applications on trips to Europe, the Monterey Peninsula, Southern and Central Oregon, and British Columbia. I’ve also reviewed several iPhone travel apps in this blog’s Travel Tech section.
Here’s my take on the e-guide, Alaska: Real Southeast (now called Alasksa’s Inside Passage), that I purchased (originally $1.99, now $2.99 on the iTunes Store) this week after meeting its author, Edward Readicker-Henderson, on Monday.
Finding The App’s “Stuff”
By default, this e-guidebook displays all of the information it contains, arranged in alphabetical order. So, if you want to learn about “Bald Eagles” or “Glacier Bay”, you just scroll down the list of entries and tap on the one you want to read.
But Edward has also broken the guidebook down into these categories: “Beds” (places to get a room), “Cultural Stuff” (museums, events, local Native Americans), “Stuff Alaskans Know” (but visitors may not), “Stuff to Buy”, “Stuff to Do”, “Stuff to Eat”, “Stuff with Wild Animals” (where to see them, festivals, “How Not to Become Lunch”), and “The Basic Stuff” (facts about towns, animals, history, weather). Each category can be sorted by name, cost, or town.
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? I always look at photos that accompany a travel story or brochure when deciding whether or not to to visit the place. Alaska: Real Southeast has a fairly extensive slideshow of photos, each of which links to an informative piece about the place or subject depicted.
The app’s “Map” function pulls up an interactive map of the Panhandle. Tap on a place name or a photo to learn more about that spot. Using it, I discovered that “Hot Bite” in Juneau serves the best fish sandwich in town and that the best glacier isn’t in Glacier Bay, but much farther to the southeast in Tracy Arm.
Covering The Panhandle
Alaska’s Inside Passage probably covers this part of the 49th State as well as one could expect any iPhone app to do. Although e-books don’t seem to take up too much space on the phone, there are obvious limits to the amount of information and photos that one can pack into a single electronic travel guide.
The app’s list of lodgings is far less extensive than one would find in a printed guidebook or by searching on-line sites, but it does include my Ketchikan digs (The New York Hotel, which I liked a lot) and at least one place to bunk in most places (excluding Sitka) in Southeast Alaska.
“Cultural Stuff” listed all of the major museums I visited during my trip, plus the incomparable Sitka Summer Music Festival, a real “must-do” for classical music fans who are headed to Southeast Alaska in June. This section also covered locations such as Skagway which are on my list of “maybe next time” stops on future trips to this part of Alaska.
“Stuff Alaskans Know” is a fun part of this app. Did Wyatt Earp come to Wrangell? You betcha! I also learned that bears can smell salmon, and you, from more than a mile way. (Good news: They probably prefer the aroma and flavor of fish flesh to that of humans).
With guidebooks, the print version is likely to be easier to use and contain more information than an electronic counterpart whose chief asset is portability, particularly since we iPhone users tend to always have our smartphones handy in pocket or purse. This is the case with Alaska: Real Southeast, and the author told me that his print guidebook, Adventure Guide: Inside Passage & Coastal Alaska, provides much more detailed coverage of the Panhandle. So on my next trip to “Southeast” (as Alaskans call it), I’ll have Alaska: Real Southeast stuffed in the pocket of my rain jacket along with my iPhone while my printed guidebook stays warm and dry back in my hotel room.
(Dick Jordan spent two weeks traveling independently throughout Southeast Alaska in June of 2008. Stories based on that trip have appeared in the Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times. He met Edward Readicker-Henderson at the Alaska Media Road Show in Santa Barbara in October of 2010.)