Is a cruise really the best way to see Alaska?

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#21
Syracuse, New York
49,182 Posts
Joined May 2000
Originally posted by kwagmyre
It’s all WalleyLJ’s fault.

When I sat down to start planning our next cruise, Alaska was on our horizon. As we already love cruising, it seemed like a natural choice given that we would be seeing Alaska from the bow of a ship. But then I saw WalleyLJ’s review. It STARTS with a flight out of Homer to fly 100 miles even more remote, and then literally have lunch with Grizzly bears in the wild. When I saw his amazing pictures, I kept hearing that voice in my head, the one that won’t go away: “You HAVE to do this”.

And the more I have researched about Alaska, which is already a lifelong dream, it seems that going land-based may be the better way to do. We love cruising for all the advantages it offers, especially being able to see so much in such a short period of time.

But Alaska seems to be a place that lends to a much more immersive experience. As I continued my research, I came to realize that you obviously can’t do it all in one trip, and I would have to be selective. Even with that, I realized that, to do all the things we want to do, a week isn’t going to cut it. After further research I managed to whittle it down to 10 days:


Day1 - Flights from Nashville – 1300(round trip)
Day1 - Anchorage B&B - 150
Day2 - rental car from Anchorage, 3 days - 210
Day 2 - Hike Portage glacier(Portage pass) - 0
Day2-4 - Bear Lake Lodging, Seward 3 nights - 645
Day3 - Ultimate Aialik Kayak, Liquid Adventures - 798
Day4 - Hike Harding Ice Field - 0
Day5 – Seward to Homer, need activity (Major Marine cruise?)
Day5-6 - Homer lodging - 200
Day6 - Kbay Air bear viewing - 1300
Day7 – Transit Homer to Anchorage, flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska Air - 400
Day7-10 - Alaska's Capital Inn, Juneau - 800
Day8 - Harv and Marv whale tour - 300
Day8 - Mendenhall shuttle bus - 40
Day9 - Above & Beyond ice cave hike - 200
Day10 - Salmon fishing(TBD) - 600
Day11 – return home

Now, I know this is an ambitious (and expensive) itinerary, and not relaxing in the least. I also know that weather and logistics can and most likely will prevent at least one of the above from happening. But this would meet all of our priorities for Alaska, which include scenery, wildlife including brown bears and whales, “active” excursions including hiking, kayaking and fishing. This also provides plenty of opportunities for glacier viewing. And it does all of these things in a way that I haven’t been able to match up to any researched cruise itinerary.

Obviously this is a very rough itinerary that needs a lot of work, but certainly is a good start to what I am looking to do. I am interested in opinions and feedback as to the feasibility of this admittedly ambitious plan.
One point- you really need to plan your Homer bear trip day 5- if I am reading this correctly- 2 days are an absolute min, to allow. Cancelations happen. I met someone last year who couldn't get a flight out for 3 days and they missed their cruise. Of no concern for you, but you have some hefty cancelation fees or no refunds for some reservations.

I am one to think people are too quick to find out what "others" have done, and tend to duplicate, even when they aren't real taken by a tour/location etc.

Good for you, thinking for yourself, and taking this planning where YOU want to go. Continued fine tuning will only make it better.
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budgetqueenalaska@yahoo.com
#22
Australia
1,513 Posts
Joined Dec 2011
I think the point to be made here OP is why do you have to choose one or the other - cruise or land only?

If LJ's review was inspiration you will notice he did both a land & cruise combo.

We intend doing the same, just not DIY, still spending 2 days in Denali, visting Talkeetna, Aleyska (Girdwood), Anchoratge & Seward before we get on the cruise.

Maybe consider doing both?
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#23
Syracuse, New York
49,182 Posts
Joined May 2000
Originally posted by avalon007
I think the point to be made here OP is why do you have to choose one or the other - cruise or land only?

If LJ's review was inspiration you will notice he did both a land & cruise combo.

We intend doing the same, just not DIY, still spending 2 days in Denali, visting Talkeetna, Aleyska (Girdwood), Anchoratge & Seward before we get on the cruise.

Maybe consider doing both?
TIME is why. You aren't going to see much of anything in Seward- unless you dump the cruisetour in Girdwood, nor are you going to Homer. Having mutiple days in areas of interest allow specific tours of interest. This poster has the details on how they are spending their time, and researched the places.

Cruisetours involve way more compromise. There are itineraries with fluff days, that people don't have any activities of interest. How much do you know about Girdwood and Talkeetna, and were they speciifically chosen- or was the cruisetour chosen because there were 2 Denali days. These are GENERAL questions, for anyone to ask themselves.

There is plenty of touring for everyone. Following the pack, can be excellent. But Alaska is so vast, with numerous adventures- it may be well worthwhile to get off the beaten path.
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budgetqueenalaska@yahoo.com
#24
Las Vegas
10,295 Posts
Joined Feb 2007
Originally posted by Putterdude
Is a cruise really the best way to see Alaska?

On the roady you will be staying in some pretty seedy motels, eating in a lot of greasy cafés, getting bumped along and eating a lot of dust on some rough roads.)
Totally disagree. Have you driven AK recently. If you pick better rated B&Bs on TripAdvisor, you will find that almost all of them are wonderful and also cheaper than staying in the Princess cookie cutter hotels that are usually located in bad locations.

Also, having driven almost every road in AK on our recent 3 month road trip, almost all of the roads in AK are paved. Even most of the Dalton Highway is paved which was a bit disappointing to us when we drove it.

Have you driven AK roads and stayed AK off cruise and off cruisetours recently? Have you eaten in some of the wonderful restaurants in AK?

DON
#25
Syracuse, New York
49,182 Posts
Joined May 2000
Originally posted by Putterdude
Is a cruise really the best way to see Alaska?

No, of course it isn't the best way to see Alaska for the most part with a cruise you really only see SE coastal Alaska. Your road trip is much more inclusive then a cruise but the trade off is the comfort you enjoy on a cruise ship. On the roady you will be staying in some pretty seedy motels, eating in a lot of greasy cafés, getting bumped along and eating a lot of dust on some rough roads. However you will certainly have seen a lot more of Alaska then the average cruise customer....so if you find that appealing go for it.....I only wish I was 25 years younger.
I took this as a joke??

But I certainly disagree, if not, absolutely agreeing with Don.

Clearly this is NOT from any experience in the last 10 years- hopefully this will not lead any trip planners to even consider these statements.

I have years of experience traveling all over Alaska and this is completely inaccurate.
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budgetqueenalaska@yahoo.com
#26
93 Posts
Joined Jan 2012
We will be doing cruise only and we're more than happy with that. For us seeing a number of ports outweighs driving and extra time we would need. We're in our 20's and certainly don't feel cruising is for old folk - you're holiday is what you make of it, and we intend to have a delightful one.
#27
North Carolina
1,854 Posts
Joined Mar 2008
Originally posted by kwagmyre
It’s all WalleyLJ’s fault.

When I sat down to start planning our next cruise, Alaska was on our horizon. As we already love cruising, it seemed like a natural choice given that we would be seeing Alaska from the bow of a ship. But then I saw WalleyLJ’s review. It STARTS with a flight out of Homer to fly 100 miles even more remote, and then literally have lunch with Grizzly bears in the wild. When I saw his amazing pictures, I kept hearing that voice in my head, the one that won’t go away: “You HAVE to do this”.

And the more I have researched about Alaska, which is already a lifelong dream, it seems that going land-based may be the better way to do. We love cruising for all the advantages it offers, especially being able to see so much in such a short period of time.

But Alaska seems to be a place that lends to a much more immersive experience. As I continued my research, I came to realize that you obviously can’t do it all in one trip, and I would have to be selective.

Obviously this is a very rough itinerary that needs a lot of work, but certainly is a good start to what I am looking to do. I am interested in opinions and feedback as to the feasibility of this admittedly ambitious plan.
kwagmyre,

I didn't mean to stir up all this controversy! I'm glad I decided to check out this thread and see what it was all about. Your trip sounds terrific. There are lots of interesting points over the course of this thread. So far we've cruised Alaska twice - once northbound, once southbound, with two DYI land tours covering parts of the Kenai (Seward, Homer, Kenai Fjords NP), Katmai/near Lake Clark NP, Talkeetna, & Denali.

While we have done a couple of things twice (or three times in the case of whale watching in Juneau), we've looked for new and different adventures each time and each stop. We'll never get as many trips in as Budget Queen and a couple of the other posters that have been fortunatel to see Alaksa many times, but I see us following the same track - revisit some favorites, keeping trying new and different things.

We've loved cruising Alaksa and getting to see SE Alaska - something we couldn't do easily anytime soon with out having the time and money to fly or ferry between the various ports we've visited. Would trade those experiences. That said, our land only tours have of course opened up other parts of the state that you obviously see from a cruise ship. For those following my review from our trip last summer, you know our next trip to Alaska will involve boats - hopefully several of them (bears, salmon & halibut fishing, Kenai Fjords, perhaps Prince WIlliam Sound) - but no cruise ships.

We want to see bears again - during the sivler salmon runs. We're looking at Cresent Lake & Mt. Redoubt Lodge & Silver Salmon Lodge too. We want to see Denali in fall color. We'd like to go whitewater rafting, ice climbing, flightseeing around or on Denali, perhaps an ATV adventure. We haven't had a chance to travel to Fairbanks, so that's on our list as a possible stop next trip. We love the outdoors, but I'd love to have the time to stop and enjoy some of the history more.

I'm glad that some folks have liked some of the adventures I've been able to post about and show photos of, but as BQ said - let our trip, and many others folks have posted on here - be the inspiration to figure out your must see & must do list, and make it your own. Between our own trips, and reading others, we keep trying different things.

Somewhere down the road, we'll sprinkle in another cruise or two (still haven't made it to Glacier Bay, Sitka or Haines). Maybe even a Small Boat cruise. Hopefully one day, we'll be fortunate enough to have a month or two - or three (bring on retirement!), and then we'll have the experience of NOT exhausting ourselves and to really slow down and immerse ourselves in certain areas, having built up some knowledge of things we'd like to do again and/or more in depth, as well as having the time to just explore and happen upon the unexpected.

In the end, I think the key is that if you have a desire to see Alaska, any way you can (cruise ship, dog sled, RV, airboat, kayak, float plane, bicycle, on foot) will have benefits and offer the opportunities of many memorable experiences - and ANY trip to Alaska you can manage is better than no going at all. I've forgotten half of the things we've ever done on Caribbean cruises - I remember EVERYTHING we've done on our Alaska trips, and think of them often and fondly.

FYI kwag - we did the all day kayak trip into Aialik Bay with Liquid Adventures (one of our absolutely favorite Alaska activities ever) - I'll post on it seperately.

L.J.
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#28
United States
90 Posts
Joined Jan 2013
Originally posted by kwagmyre
It’s all WalleyLJ’s fault.

When I sat down to start planning our next cruise, Alaska was on our horizon. As we already love cruising, it seemed like a natural choice given that we would be seeing Alaska from the bow of a ship. But then I saw WalleyLJ’s review. It STARTS with a flight out of Homer to fly 100 miles even more remote, and then literally have lunch with Grizzly bears in the wild. When I saw his amazing pictures, I kept hearing that voice in my head, the one that won’t go away: “You HAVE to do this”.

And the more I have researched about Alaska, which is already a lifelong dream, it seems that going land-based may be the better way to do. We love cruising for all the advantages it offers, especially being able to see so much in such a short period of time.

But Alaska seems to be a place that lends to a much more immersive experience. As I continued my research, I came to realize that you obviously can’t do it all in one trip, and I would have to be selective. Even with that, I realized that, to do all the things we want to do, a week isn’t going to cut it. After further research I managed to whittle it down to 10 days:


Day1 - Flights from Nashville – 1300(round trip)
Day1 - Anchorage B&B - 150
Day2 - rental car from Anchorage, 3 days - 210
Day 2 - Hike Portage glacier(Portage pass) - 0
Day2-4 - Bear Lake Lodging, Seward 3 nights - 645
Day3 - Ultimate Aialik Kayak, Liquid Adventures - 798
Day4 - Hike Harding Ice Field - 0
Day5 – Seward to Homer, need activity (Major Marine cruise?)
Day5-6 - Homer lodging - 200
Day6 - Kbay Air bear viewing - 1300
Day7 – Transit Homer to Anchorage, flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska Air - 400
Day7-10 - Alaska's Capital Inn, Juneau - 800
Day8 - Harv and Marv whale tour - 300
Day8 - Mendenhall shuttle bus - 40
Day9 - Above & Beyond ice cave hike - 200
Day10 - Salmon fishing(TBD) - 600
Day11 – return home

Now, I know this is an ambitious (and expensive) itinerary, and not relaxing in the least. I also know that weather and logistics can and most likely will prevent at least one of the above from happening. But this would meet all of our priorities for Alaska, which include scenery, wildlife including brown bears and whales, “active” excursions including hiking, kayaking and fishing. This also provides plenty of opportunities for glacier viewing. And it does all of these things in a way that I haven’t been able to match up to any researched cruise itinerary.

Obviously this is a very rough itinerary that needs a lot of work, but certainly is a good start to what I am looking to do. I am interested in opinions and feedback as to the feasibility of this admittedly ambitious plan.
I've gotten a little too beat up and older to not do a cruise. My wife and I have have spent a lot of time in a rental car while one of my sons was stationed in Alaska. We've already done Anchorage, Fairbanks and Denali. It almost seemed like a second home State. Starting in the 90s, I use to charter a float plane and rent a raft. The float plane would drop me and one of my sons off 250-miles out on the tundra and we would float down river for two weeks where the float plane would pick us up, weather permitting. To me, that is the only way to see Alaska. Now I am looking forward to just sitting on my balcony and watch Alaska go by.

Mark
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#29
Northeast US
955 Posts
Joined Jan 2011
We did an Alaskan cruise RT from Seattle a few years ago, early season. The scenery was fabulous...snowy mountains. As others have pointed out, we got in and out of the port towns not reachable by car. We did active excursions - you can kayak, snowshoe (early season), hike. Explore. We walked the ship's upper deck each night for at least an hour and saw lots of whales, orcas, and other sea life. I wasn't particularly enamored of the cruiseline, but we did enjoy the things we did on the cruise.
We are going back this year, spending most of the time on a very small boat 'cruise' (12 pax), and then flying up to Anchorage and heading up to Denali DIY.
There is no 'right' or 'wrong'. Try something that sounds nice. Learn what you like, what you would change. Give up on the idea that there is a perfect trip and that you're going to see everything anywhere you go. Enjoyment is loving what you're doing at the time, not worrying about what could have been.
My $0.02
#30
Las Vegas
10,295 Posts
Joined Feb 2007
[quote=azevedan;37503181] As others have pointed out, we got in and out of the port towns not reachable by car. /QUOTE]

Everyone seems to be forgetting the Alaska Marine Highway ferries. They go everywhere including many places that the cruise ships do not or can not get into. You may end up being stuck in a small town for several days until the next ferry comes along. However, that is part of the fun of it - spending several days in Wrangell, Yukatat, or Kodiak.

We did the Marine Highway from Haines to Prince Rupert on trip. Some day I hope to do the Marine Highway all the way out to Dutch Harbor.

DON
#31
Boston
116 Posts
Joined Feb 2011
[quote=donaldsc;37509452]
Originally posted by azevedan
As others have pointed out, we got in and out of the port towns not reachable by car. /QUOTE]

Everyone seems to be forgetting the Alaska Marine Highway ferries.
DON
In my planning for a cruise, I would love to take an extended ferry vacation next vacation. I believe that you can buy a pass for the ferry to use as much as you want for a period of time, so you can plan your own trip.

At least one private company will also put together vacation packages on the ferry. I kinda like this package http://www.akferry.com/tours/akicy.html

With the ferry trip, you can also do it US only if for some reason you can not get a passport.
#32
Northeast US
955 Posts
Joined Jan 2011
Not forgetting them - I just never did them. Certainly, another way of getting into a port that you can't reach by car. I do remember my BIL talking about taking the ferry years ago and pitching a tent on the deck. I imagine they have rooms, too?
#33
Wasilla, Alaska
3,573 Posts
Joined Oct 2006
Kwagmyre (I love the spelling of that!)...here's one more thought. Perhaps just continue your land trip to Denali and then back to Anchorage, or up to Fairbanks, and fly home, instead of flying to Juneau. And then some other year, simply do a RT cruise out of Seattle (or San Francisco), when you could do Juneau then. I only suggest this because it's far easier/cheaper for you to get to the west coast than it is Alaska. I say this as someone who took a major detour to get to Nashville "just once in my life", and ended up going 3 times in 2 years. And now I never plan a trip without seeing if it's a reasonable expectation to be able to get to Nashville on that trip. I will get back!

Also, continuing on with BQ's notes on when to schedule the bear viewing flight...since that is of importance, you might head straight to Homer from Anchorage, and visit Seward on your way back. Depending on what kind of accommodations you have selected, that might give you more flexibility for getting out on your bear flight in case of inclement weather.
#34
Las Vegas
10,295 Posts
Joined Feb 2007
Originally posted by azevedan
Not forgetting them - I just never did them. Certainly, another way of getting into a port that you can't reach by car. I do remember my BIL talking about taking the ferry years ago and pitching a tent on the deck. I imagine they have rooms, too?
They still allow tents. You can also sleep in the lounges. We slept in a room. the room was fairly cheap; the car was definitely not cheap.

DON
#35
North Carolina
1,854 Posts
Joined Mar 2008
Originally posted by WalleyeLJ
FYI kwag - we did the all day kayak trip into Aialik Bay with Liquid Adventures (one of our absolutely favorite Alaska activities ever) - I'll post on it seperately.

L.J.
kwagmyre,

I won't hijack your own thread with the Aialik story, but if you want to read/see more about it, it'll be in my next review. The photo below pretty much sums up the uniqueness of the trip and why it was such an great and unusual experience.







L.J.
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2012 July Radiance of the Seas - ALASKA 2.0!!
2011 May Serenade of the Seas - Southern
2010 March Carnival Dream - Western
2009 May Radiance of the Seas - ALASKA!
2008 April Adventure of the Seas - Southern
2007 April Mariner of the Seas - Eastern
2006 May Mariner of the Seas - Western
2005 March Voyager of the Seas - Eastern

#36
Chantilly, VA
118 Posts
Joined Dec 2007
My parents and myself did 3 weeks in AK last year and did a DIY and cruise portion. Now if I had to do it again I would just do the DIY land tour via RV that we rented from Great Alaskan Rentals. Now everyone has their ideas of comfort needs and such, but to me this was the best way to see Alaska. You are basically travelling in your rental car, can camp all over the state (which is your hotel), and it is a very RV friendly state. Now the cruise was nice but I just kept getting the Caribbean vibe on excursions and such but just not the Caribbean weather. This didnt take away from the cruise but I just like and enjoyed the value of the DIY land portion better. So taking that into perspective it was all good, but I want to go back rent another RV again and travel around the state further north to fairbanks and hopefully to Kodiak via Ferry. Look at my blog that I filled out it starts here, http://hokiefan01.blogspot.com/2012/...a-8262012.html

and goes for about 3 weeks and includes the cruise.

hokiefan01.blogspot.com
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#37
280 Posts
Joined Nov 2011
Originally posted by WalleyeLJ
kwagmyre,

[b][color=#006400]I won't hijack your own thread with the Aialik story
Not sure how it would be a "hijack", since it's on-point to this thread. (That's an invitation for you to hijack away).

Regardless, looking VERY forward to hearing/seeing from you about this. But what do you mean by your "next" review? Seeing as how you still have your existing Alaska one going (new cruise pics posted up from you this morning)? Just trying to find out when/where to be on the lookout for this.
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