As part of my week in Alaska I made the trip to the North Pole. From Fairbanks, you can take tours that include a stop at the North Pole and the Santa Claus House. I had a tour arranged through 1st Alaska Outdoor School Tours and Sightseeing. In fact, I had two days of touring planned with them. Day 1 – Traveling To The North Pole.
The trip to the North Pole included a stop at the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which we decided to skip since the second day’s tours also included a stop there, a visit to the The Fairbanks Community Museum and the Fountain Head Museum. The cost of the tour, including admission to the Fountain Head Museum was $105. The cost of admission to the Fountain Head Museum is $10 for general admission and I assume the tour company had some group discount.
I can say, without hesitation, that it was the worst tour I took in Alaska and a complete waste of money. The tour guide, Sam, was nice, but really got started on a bad foot, so to speak. He started the tour by telling the group that we were welcome to ask questions but there is a lot he doesn’t know because he doesn’t take the time to research things that don’t interest him. Hmmm….he’s a tour guide in Fairbanks, Alaska, you’d think he’d be knowledgeable about things related to the area, the State, etc…
Sam told us cheesy stories about how his family moved to Alaska looking for a better life, how is mother worked for the state taking care of the “native” people, as he put it. We arrived at the North Pole and took the obligatory photo ops and walked over to The Santa Claus House. The Santa Claus house does have some interesting history, but today is simply a gift shop/coffee shop. The city is 4.2 sq miles with a population of just over 2,000 people (seems like a lot of people in such a small area) and the streets have cute names like St. Nicholas Lane, Santa Claus Lane, Candy Cane Lane, and so forth.
The Santa Claus House was originally a mercantile founded by the Miller family in 1940. The Millers were fur traders and as that business dried up, they needed a new hook for the small town they’d founded. According to the guide, Miller dressed up as St Nick and the local kids called the mercantile “Santa’s House.” This apparently inspired Miller to turn the mercantile into a tourist attraction – and that they did. You can visit Santa, buy just about anything Christmas related with the Santa Claus House logo and North Pole branding or just get a hot coffee and some fudge.
When the guide said we’d spend 30 minutes at the Santa House, I about lost it. We were wasting valuable time in a gift shop? It took me about 5 minutes to get a post card and send a letter from Santa to a friend’s kids. Luckily for me the other two people on the tour didn’t want to spend time shopping either! We stopped to check out Santa’s Reindeer – yes, there are real live Reindeer at the Santa House.
Our guide explained that the Reindeer had deformed antlers because they do not feed them a proper diet and the commercial food they ate had hormones. He also gave some mis-information. I had learned from my earlier tour in Anchorage that the difference between Reindeer and Caribou is that Reindeer are domesticated and usually smaller than Caribou – that’s not what Sam told the group though. It was incredibly sad to see the deformed reindeer outside the Santa Claus House and such a shame to hear that they do not take care of them well.
After the North Pole we headed back to Fairbanks for a tour of the free Fairbanks Community Museum. Sam led the tour at the museum – we were the only people there on a Sunday afternoon. Sam did provide a lot of information here, but I was not sure how accurate it was. The museum is small, but has some interesting exhibits. Throughout the tour Sam pointed out inaccuracies with the exhibits. For example, there was an exhibit with three guns in a case. He said that those were not historically accurate and probably just came from someone’s barn for the display. It really made the tour disappointing to keep hearing that.
Since we skipped the pipeline we headed to a bowl factory, and by factory they mean gift shop. Sam took us to a gift shop where they make bowls out of Alaskan Birch. The bowls were nice, but again, I was disappointed we were at a gift shop. The last stop was the Fountain Head museum. I had not done any research in advance and was surprised to learn that the Fountain head museum was an antique car museum. While I do find antiques interesting, I probably wouldn’t have selected to spend my time in Fairbanks at that type of museum.
We spent almost 2 hours at the museum and the other couple who was on the tour couldn’t get enough of the museum. I was done after about an hour. The thing I enjoyed most about the museum were the cars that had been used in Alaska. They had several cars that were original to Alaska and had photographs from their original era mounted on the wall. Along with the cars was antique clothing that was worn during the period. The museum was interesting and would be a great thing to do if you had unlimited time in Fairbanks or perhaps if you were a local. The other interesting fact that Sam shared was that the car collection belonged to one individual.
A lot of time was spent in a van driving from location to location, and of course, to the North Pole. I’m really glad I can say I’ve been to the North Pole, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I was just disappointed in the tour itself. Since I would be spending the entire next day touring the Arctic Circle with the same tour company I was a little nervous…but since I’d pre-paid, I couldn’t really do much. We’ll see how it goes….