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  #1  
Old October 21st, 2012, 10:28 PM
Denniss516 Denniss516 is offline
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Default Help, going nuts planning Alaska July 2013

Hi, you people sound so knowledgeable. Heres my situation. I booked a cruise-tour with Princess and Celebrity (fully refundable) My research found land tour first and south cruise best. My problem is do I go with the cruise land tour, or on my own, some research found some very good reviews from many companies outside the cruise ships. I guess rent a car, plan each day, then meet on the cruise ship in Anchorage. Or, what about flying into Fairbanks take the train down into Denali and Mt McKinley? Fly into Anchorage? This is my problem....I live in NY. Or let the cruise line take me? Which cruise is better Princess Coral Denali Explorer HB5 or Celebrity Millennium #13. I found Regent was too expensive. What parts are must see and what will be a waste of time, My wife and I are 58, we would like to see wildlife if possible, helicopter to a glacier, dog sled, maybe salmon fishing, raft ride, etc. thanks for your help, this will probably be a once in a lifetime trip, so thats why I am going nuts.
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  #2  
Old October 21st, 2012, 10:50 PM
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First of all you will not catch your cruise ship in Anchorage but either Seward or Whittier which is another 2-3 hrs south of Anchorage.

As for the rest of it you will have to look at travel times. Flying in to Fairbanks is more expensive than Anchorage, but you are closer to Denali and you can work your way back down to Anchorage. One way rentals of either car or RV are going to be more expensive.

What I am doing is settng up a schedule in a spreadsheet. My first idea was to use the AK RR for all my travel - that is almost done. Next I will look at a similar trip using a car and finally an RV.
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Old October 22nd, 2012, 08:48 AM
epixx epixx is offline
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With your priority for seeing wildlife, neither of your cruisetour choices would be good. Each includes only a single night in Denali, with insufficient time allotted to actually get into the Park for maximum possible wildlife viewing. You need to either find a cruisetour with 2 nights in Denali or get yourself there for 2 nights. You can plan this trip easily on your own, if you desire.

Also, consider cruising from Seward (Celebrity, for example) rather than Whittier (Princess) so that you can take the Kenai Fjords boat tour (marine wildlife) and for a sled dog tour, both of which you will find in Seward.
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Old October 22nd, 2012, 09:33 AM
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Since you seem interested in independent, then concentrate on looking in that direction. It is simple to arrange.

I would suggest, with your wildlife priority you include Denali Park for at least two nights and Seward.

How much time do you have?

Repost, and perhaps, some sample itineraries would give you some ideas.

Are you interested in seeing Fairbanks, have priorities for touring? Or was it just "included" in your cruisetour?
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Old October 22nd, 2012, 11:02 AM
DragonOfTheSeas DragonOfTheSeas is offline
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How active are you? Can you carry all of your own kuggage or will having someone else or will having the cruise line handle this be a big help to you?

I ask that question because we traveled with another couple that were about our age. But, they had several suitcases and handling them was an issue for them. (they liked having a cruise-tour)

We booked a RCL cruise on the Radiance (loved it) through an online TA that booked the land portion. We did not realize they had subcontracted through Grayline of Alaska (owned by HAL). So we really had a HAL land tour. (liked it--but, would do independent next time).

Our cruise was northbound. I know everyone says to go Southbound--but, on a NB cruise the scenery gets better each day. Also, the flight to get there is shorter. (we are from VA) We had 2 days in Vancouver to get used to the time change. We were so tired on the way home that the flight did not matter. (Alaska is a very port heavy and tiring itinerary--we got up early everyday--ugh!)
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Old October 25th, 2012, 04:06 PM
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Default We did an 8 day pre-cruise land tour on our own

Here's our itinerary for Aug. 2012

Fri. 8/10 ARRIVE Anchorage 10 P.M. spend 1 night
Confort Suites Creek Street free breakfast , airport shuttle & train shuttle
Sat. 8/11 Pick up rental car & drive to Denali
ARRIVE DENALI Sat. 8/11/12 & Sun 8/12/12
Princess Wilderness Lodge 2 nights 2 for 1 coupon
SUN. 8/12/12 Wonder Lake Bus 6:45AM 11 hours Take food & water.
Mon. 8/13 DENALI BLUFFS LODGE 2 nights 2 for 1 coupon
Arrive Denali Visitor Center for the DOG kennels 9:15 Take courtesy bus. Some seating is available for the demonstration, Programs are given rain or shine. No fees or reservations Demonstrations are given three times daily in peak season, at 10 am, 2 pm and 4 pm.
Tu 8/14 Shuttle Bus Eielson 7:15 AM
Wed. 8/15 Canyon Run Rafting 7:30-11:00 meet at Denali Bluff Lodge 2 for 1 coupon
Return to Anchorage with rental car
ANCHORAGE Wed. 8/15 - 8/18
Hampton Inn incl. breakfast & train shuttle
Th 8/16 Seward Alaska RR L 6:45 AM A 11:05 AM 2 for 1 coupon
Take free shuttle to Exit Glacier, use 2 for 1 coupon at Sea Aquariam
Return to Anchorage L Seward 6:00 PM A Anchorage 10:15 PM
Fri. 8/17 Anchorage Visit Earthquake Museum 2 for 1 coupon & sight see.

ARRIVE WHITTIER
Sat. 8/18 L Anchorage Alaska RR 9:45 AM A Whittier 12:05 PM leave luggage with Princess tags at the train station in Whittier. Will be delivered to our stateroom.
Prince William Sound Glacier Tour 12:15 AM -5:30 10% Discnt


Cruise Begins!!!! Aug. 18 Sapphire Princess Cabin C748 S/B Board ship after the PWS tour 7:30 All aboard
Tues. 8/21 rent car Whittier: drive to Emeral lake and back Use Murray’s Guide 8:00 AM – 5 PM Take passports and water Stop at Suspension Bridge
Wed. Aug. 22 Juneau: Whale Watching & Wildlife Tour PU 9AM at Dock Rtn 12PM 2 for 1 Coupon: Mount Roberts Tramway 2 for 1 coupon
Thurs. Aug. 23 Ketchikan: Rainforest tour, walk Married Man's trail to salmon ladder, then shop
Vancouver: take Princess Transfer Bus from Vancouver to Seattle to fly back home
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  #7  
Old October 25th, 2012, 04:33 PM
micruiser12 micruiser12 is offline
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Hi jjpacer

We are planning on an Alaskan cruise in 2013 too. Have a question about the Wonder Lake Bus for 11 hours. That seems like a very long time! I know you get to see more, but did you find it exhausting? Would you do it again?
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Old October 25th, 2012, 11:13 PM
Denniss516 Denniss516 is offline
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thanks to all, this is so overwhelming for me. I know you people that have done it will say piece of cake, but there are so many things to see and do plus, I want to stay at a clean place with good beds. friends of mine said just book a cruise-tour with Princess and forget it, but the Princess cruise-tour charges alot and all it does is train and bus ride and beds at night.
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  #9  
Old October 25th, 2012, 11:50 PM
vbmom87 vbmom87 is offline
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Originally Posted by Denniss516 View Post
thanks to all, this is so overwhelming for me. I know you people that have done it will say piece of cake, but there are so many things to see and do plus, I want to stay at a clean place with good beds. friends of mine said just book a cruise-tour with Princess and forget it, but the Princess cruise-tour charges alot and all it does is train and bus ride and beds at night.
It can be overwhelming to plan a trip to Alaska, but if you are up to it, you will be rewarded with a great trip. Many do love their cruise tours and they are a good fit for many. Others like a bit more independence to see what they want, when they want and for how long they want. Whether you book a cruisetour or plan it yourself, a lot of research needs to be done to get the most out of your vacation. Like you, we had many friends and relatives who told us to book a cruise tour. They loved their tours and thought we were crazy for planning it on our own. We were very used to planning long driving vacations, so it was not as difficult as it might have been for others. It still takes time, but that is part of the fun.

I suggest that first you read about Alaska and find out what things you really want to include in both the interior and along the cruise route.

Read people's trip reports both on CC and on Trip Advisor. You will get some great ideas. Here is my short version of my itinerary back in 2008.

http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showp...16&postcount=2

Once you have that figured out, then you can begin to form your own itinerary. Post your land itinerary here or on Trip Advisor and you will get some wonderful input that can help you tweak your itinerary.

Next look at booking a car rental and your lodgings. Next will come the tours. Some book early, others not so much. I like to book early and have all my ducks in a row.

If you just break the planning into small parts, it will not be that overwhelming. Trip Advisor can be a big help in helping you decide on lodgings. IF you are not family with Trip Advisors, I suggest you do not bother reading reviews that were written by posters with just a few reviews. At this point, I tend to like to see about 15 or more reviews written by someone before I bother to read it. There are just too many fake reviews on TA. However, if someone has a long history of posting on TA there is a better chance their review is legitimate.

Good luck and let us know what you decide.
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  #10  
Old October 25th, 2012, 11:58 PM
vbmom87 vbmom87 is offline
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Originally Posted by micruiser12 View Post
Hi jjpacer

We are planning on an Alaskan cruise in 2013 too. Have a question about the Wonder Lake Bus for 11 hours. That seems like a very long time! I know you get to see more, but did you find it exhausting? Would you do it again?
Not jpacer, but I can tell you that we did Wonder Lake and I would book another shuttle to Wonder Lake. If you are interested in scenery and wildlife you will find that the time goes by quickly. We were just in awe looking out the windows, even if there was no wildlife to be seen. The driver stops about every 90 minutes so you can get out and stretch and use the facilities.

What I would do different next time is pay attention to the weather. If it was a cloudy/rainy day I would not continue on to Wonder Lake. When the shuttle makes the stop at Eilson, I would arrange to take another shuttle back. The main reason to go to Wonder Lake is to get a view of Mt. McKinley, which I have been told is great to see from there. A short walk is supposed to take you to Reflection Pond where you can see the mountain reflecting into the water. Our shuttle driver told us that she rarely saw wildlife between Eilson Center and Wonder Lake. Now, as I write this, I know someone will come on and challenge me on this. All I can say is this is what my driver told us. I know there are always exceptions, but she told us it is rare. Knowing what I know now, I would only go on to Wonder Lake if it was a clear day.
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  #11  
Old October 26th, 2012, 09:49 AM
Budget Queen Budget Queen is online now
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Originally Posted by micruiser12 View Post
Hi jjpacer

We are planning on an Alaskan cruise in 2013 too. Have a question about the Wonder Lake Bus for 11 hours. That seems like a very long time! I know you get to see more, but did you find it exhausting? Would you do it again?
The time flys by. It is a constant change and unknown. If you want to bail out, simple, yell stop. Get off the bus, and catch the next one with open seats going in the other direction.
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  #12  
Old October 26th, 2012, 02:05 PM
mapleleaves mapleleaves is online now
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Originally Posted by Denniss516 View Post
thanks to all, this is so overwhelming for me. I know you people that have done it will say piece of cake, but there are so many things to see and do plus, I want to stay at a clean place with good beds. friends of mine said just book a cruise-tour with Princess and forget it, but the Princess cruise-tour charges alot and all it does is train and bus ride and beds at night.
I highly recommend that you buy Ann Vipond's book "alaska by cruiseship'. The book discusses the ships, intineraries, and ports, as well as the sights & activities at each port. You'll find lots of useful information to help with your planning. I think Frommers also has an Alaska cruise book.

For the land portion, read some trip reports on the Alaska forum of tripadvisor. The reviews follow a specific format so it's easy to spot the ones that are cruise plus land. The reports will provide you with helpful information on destinations, activities, lodging, how far to travel, etc. Here's one such report:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic....html#42244428

Look down this page and read recent trip reports from Silvertrees and alaskawdw12. Both were cruise plus land.

Driving is quite straightforward in Alaska. There are only a handful of highways and except around Anchorage and Fairbanks, they are only 2 lanes. The drive from Anchorage to Denali is only 5 hrs, plus stops. If you want to take the train, there is only 1 departure a day, so it's restrictive. However the ride between Anchorage and Seward is supposed to be very scenic, so if a train ride is a priority, that would be the leg to choose. It might also be a great way to get to/from your ship which will use either Seward or Whittier. http://www.alaskarailroad.com/travel...8/Default.aspx

The bus has 2 departures a day, which allows a little more flexibility in your planning. http://alaskacoach.com/

Planning any trip requires some research. Even if you choose a cruisetour you need to THOROUGHLY research the details of that tour. Many of those tours are spent in transit and provide little time at one destination, or too much time another. So be very mindful of arrival and departure times to ensure you have ample time to explore and have fun.

Last edited by mapleleaves; October 26th, 2012 at 02:06 PM.
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  #13  
Old October 26th, 2012, 05:04 PM
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Default Planning can be overwhelming

I remember when we first decided to do a land tour on our own, it was very overwhelming. The more I read and researched, the more sense it made. You can do it, too. You need to decide how much time you can spend. Once you have that timeframe, then decide what you want to do and see. Fit those things into your time frame. Originally, we were going to start in Fairbanks, but since one way rental cars are not practical, we decided to skip Fairbanks this time, and start & return to Anchorage. Then we took the train to Seward for the day, and use the train one way to Whittier.

It is a good idea to post your itinerary and get imput from CC who have done it. We posted ours, and got great feedback.

We spent 4 days in Denali. We thought it was the perfect amount of time. But if you have less time, plan for 2 days.

You asked about Wonder Lake. We went into the park 2 times. The first time was the Wonder Lake bus. We saw a lot of wildlife, and time goes by quickly because you are enjoying the trip. It was a sunny day, which made the trip more enjoyable. If you're only going into the park one time, you should at least go to Eielson Visitors Center. Depending on the weather, you can decide whether you want to continue to Wonder Lake. You can take a bus back anywhere along the road, if you change your mind for any reason. We wanted to give ourselves the choice of going all the way to Wonder Lake, if we wanted to. The 2nd day was a clear blue cloudless sky. But since we had already gone to Wonder Lake, we spent time at Eielson Center, then headed back.

We had great shuttle bus drivers who did a wonderful job of narrating.

Hang in there, and things will make more sense to you as you get your trip outlined. You will find a lot of great info on CC.
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Old October 26th, 2012, 05:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mapleleaves View Post
I highly recommend that you buy Ann Vipond's book "alaska by cruiseship'. The book discusses the ships, intineraries, and ports, as well as the sights & activities at each port. You'll find lots of useful information to help with your planning. I think Frommers also has an Alaska cruise book.
I second this suggestion. I picked up the book a couple of weeks ago and having been going through it. There's plenty I knew already (gathered from this FABULOUS board! ) but certainly found plenty of other great suggestions. I also like the maps of the cities and the addition of some historical facts.
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Old October 27th, 2012, 04:32 PM
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Also, consider cruising from Seward (Celebrity, for example) rather than Whittier (Princess) so that you can take the Kenai Fjords boat tour (marine wildlife) and for a sled dog tour, both of which you will find in Seward.
I agree with this 100%. We did a one week land tour that I planned myself, then a southbound cruise out of Seward. The Kenai Fjords tour was my favorite activity! Lots of whales, sea lions, birds, Dall porpoises, and sea otters. The best part, for me, was getting up close to the glacier. The capt turned off the boat engines and we could really hear and feel the glacier calve in a much more intimate and exciting way than on the cruise ship.

I planned my own tour because money was an issue and I went with my family, me, DH, DS and DD, both in elementary school at the time. Alaska is not that expensive if you plan it on your own. We rented a car RT out of Anchorage and stayed in a cabin about 7 miles north of the entrance to Denali. Three years ago, we paid less than $150 including tax for a cabin with a small kitchen, two queen beds, and a couch bed. We found great little local places to eat. I was so glad not to be part of the glitter gultch herd. Check out places on trip advisor. Look at hotels and make sure to include a 10 mile radius or so from the entrance. Some of those independently owned places actually raise dogs and may have dog sled packages available. (I'm not a dog lover, so I didn't pay attention to those things.)

The one thing we did that I would not recommend is white water rafting! We went on the river right outside Denali. You wear dry suits, but it is still very cold water - 32 or 33 degrees. The water is from melted glacier and has lots of fine, muddy silt in it. There was only one place with many rapids, and the scenery wasn't anything special. I would save rafting for another state. I think some excursions include kayaking in the ports of call during the cruise and people enjoy that.

You say it's a once in a lifetime trip. I thought that, too, but am headed back next summer! Alaska is such a unique, unspoiled place, you may find yourself in love and headed back sooner than you think!
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Old October 27th, 2012, 04:37 PM
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Forgot to mention - we did get a one way, one day rental from ANC to Seward because the car rental was soooooo expensive. There was only one company at the time that had an office in Seward, and boy, did they take advantage of their monopoly. The train or the bus may be cheaper for two people. The drive south was gorgeous, though. Lots of fjords and glaciers. We stopped at Aleyska and took the tram to the top of the mountain. They have a cafeteria for lunch up there, too.
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Old October 28th, 2012, 01:53 PM
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I agree with this 100%. We did a one week land tour that I planned myself, then a southbound cruise out of Seward. The Kenai Fjords tour was my favorite activity! Lots of whales, sea lions, birds, Dall porpoises, and sea otters. The best part, for me, was getting up close to the glacier. The capt turned off the boat engines and we could really hear and feel the glacier calve in a much more intimate and exciting way than on the cruise ship.
The thing is the Prince William Sound Glacier Tours out of Whittier are also fantastic. In fact, my DH preferred it over Kenai Fjords. I don't think one can go wrong sailing out of either Whittier or Seward.
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Old November 1st, 2012, 09:24 PM
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The thing is the Prince William Sound Glacier Tours out of Whittier are also fantastic. In fact, my DH preferred it over Kenai Fjords. I don't think one can go wrong sailing out of either Whittier or Seward.
We did Prince William Sound Glacier tour out of Whittier and it was fantastic.
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Old November 18th, 2012, 10:57 PM
Denniss516 Denniss516 is offline
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Wow, thanks for all your help. We lost power at my home during the hurricane here in NY. So, I am now back on track for planning this vacation. I will take all your advise and do my research. Plus, I gotta get cracking, I only have seven months left. Another frustrating aspect is the flight to and from. 15 hours total from NY to Anchorage plus its costly. Thanks, Dennis
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