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  #1  
Old October 11th, 2013, 07:51 PM
2011mom 2011mom is offline
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Default miracle to alaska - questions re balcony, shore excursions

So I've booked my family on an Alaskan cruise next July - yay! Now I have some questions:

1. I booked an amazing balcony - one of the triple-length balconies. But, I'm wondering if it's really worth it. If I do shore excursions every day, do I really need that big balcony, too? I'd save a lot of money, and be near my sister's family, if I booked one of the obstructed view french door interior cabins. Is it better to do that and spend more on shore excursions, which are so pricey?

2. In reading reviews, people rave about the small boat excursion on the Tracy Arm day. It does sound great, but, is it worth the expense ($183 x 4 of us)? Especially if I keep my big balcony, should I spend even more on this excursion? How fantastic is it? And, if I do a whale watch/Mendenhall excursion from Juneau, would I be seeing a lot of the same stuff I'd see on the small boat excursion in Tracy Arm?

3. It looks like a lot of people like Harv and Marv's whale watch. Is there time to do that and take a bit of a hike at Mendenhall glacier?

4. Looking into float plane tours out of Ketchikan. We are 9 people including my sister's family. Recommendations?

5. Lots of choices in Skagway. Anyone ever try Skagway van tours? They'd be able to accommodate all 9 of us for an all day tour for $720. Or maybe we should just go somewhere and take a hike?

I guess in general I'm trying to get a sense of what I should be spending my money on, what's more worth it than something else. Any opinions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
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  #2  
Old October 11th, 2013, 09:22 PM
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Originally Posted by 2011mom View Post
So I've booked my family on an Alaskan cruise next July - yay! Now I have some questions:

1. I booked an amazing balcony - one of the triple-length balconies. But, I'm wondering if it's really worth it. If I do shore excursions every day, do I really need that big balcony, too? I'd save a lot of money, and be near my sister's family, if I booked one of the obstructed view french door interior cabins. Is it better to do that and spend more on shore excursions, which are so pricey?

2. In reading reviews, people rave about the small boat excursion on the Tracy Arm day. It does sound great, but, is it worth the expense ($183 x 4 of us)? Especially if I keep my big balcony, should I spend even more on this excursion? How fantastic is it? And, if I do a whale watch/Mendenhall excursion from Juneau, would I be seeing a lot of the same stuff I'd see on the small boat excursion in Tracy Arm?

3. It looks like a lot of people like Harv and Marv's whale watch. Is there time to do that and take a bit of a hike at Mendenhall glacier?

4. Looking into float plane tours out of Ketchikan. We are 9 people including my sister's family. Recommendations?

5. Lots of choices in Skagway. Anyone ever try Skagway van tours? They'd be able to accommodate all 9 of us for an all day tour for $720. Or maybe we should just go somewhere and take a hike?

I guess in general I'm trying to get a sense of what I should be spending my money on, what's more worth it than something else. Any opinions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Let me first say...I am so jealous!! I love Alaska!!

I have not sailed to Alaska on Carnival, but we have been twice on NCL. They sail to Glacier Bay, and not Tracy Arm, so I can't help you with that part. I would be glad to share our cabin, and shore excursion information with you though.

On the 1st cruise we had an inside cabin, and on the second cruise we had a mini suite with a balcony. Night and Day difference! Although we had an amazing time on the 1st cruise, (obviously, since we did it again 2 years later!) there was nothing like the balcony! I love watching whales, so I spent a lot of time on the balcony!! They would practically have to drag me away, even to go eat!! I am not sure if I would pay so much more for a triple length one though, since there are so many amazing shore excursions to go on! We went in Sept. both times, so it did get a little chilly sometimes. Our cabin steward brought us an extra comforter, so that helped, and the views and wildlife made it all worth it! Going in July should be quite a bit warmer.

1st cruise shore excursions
Juneau- Mendenhall glacier and whale watching...absolutely worth every penny. Auke bay is amazingly beautiful, and we saw so many whales, and so close up! The boat captain turned off the engine, and the only sound you could hear were the blows from the whales. Mendenhall glacier is very beautiful too. Both times we went, the path to go see the black bears was closed "due to high bear activity"!!

Skagway- We did the train ride, and then shopping. The train was fun, but I wouldn't do it again. We had outside platform hogs on our trip(you were suppose to share) so we weren't able to be outside and take pictures. That made it a little less enjoyable, but the views were amazing.

Ketchikan- Misty Fjords Wilderness trip. It was unbelievably beautiful! We saw lots of wildlife, eagles, sea lions, otters...no whales though! It rained the entire way out there on the catamaran (which is not unusual in Ketchikan) but once we got out there it stopped. We had an awesome time, and I would highly recommend.

NCL does cruising thru Glacier Bay, which is my favorite place in the world (so far!) Whales, whales, whales, and amazing scenery.

Victoria, BC- Beautiful, lovely city!! We did the Butchart Gardens excursion. It is so amazing! The only bad thing was in Sept. it gets dark to early, and the ship didn't arrive until 6pm. Even though the gardens are lighted, I would have preferred more daylight. You would have that in July though.

2nd cruise shore excursions-

Juneau- We did the same trip-Mendenhall and whale watching. We had other family with us this trip, so we went again...they didn't have to twist my arm to go watch whales!!

Skagway- We did the Glacier Point Wilderness Safari...BEST shore excursion ever!!!! Paddling in a canoe right out to the Davidson Glacier was a once in a lifetime trip and most definitely worth every penny. There are no words to describe the beauty!!

Ketchikan- No excursion this trip. We just walked around town, shopped and saw the sights.

Victoria, BC We did the same here, no excursion. Rode the bus into town, and walked around the beautiful city. Had dinner at a really cool brew pub.

You will love Alaska, I hope to go again someday. I would like to do the cruise and land package to Denali...guess I better buy that winning lottery ticket!!
I hope you have a wonderful cruise!!!
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  #3  
Old October 11th, 2013, 10:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2011mom View Post
So I've booked my family on an Alaskan cruise next July - yay! Now I have some questions:

1. I booked an amazing balcony - one of the triple-length balconies. But, I'm wondering if it's really worth it. If I do shore excursions every day, do I really need that big balcony, too? I'd save a lot of money, and be near my sister's family, if I booked one of the obstructed view french door interior cabins. Is it better to do that and spend more on shore excursions, which are so pricey?

My DH always wants a balcony (put me on a cruise ship & I am HAPPY!) but we actually used our balcony less on our Alaskan cruise than we ever have because we were always doing something!

2. In reading reviews, people rave about the small boat excursion on the Tracy Arm day. It does sound great, but, is it worth the expense ($183 x 4 of us)? Especially if I keep my big balcony, should I spend even more on this excursion? How fantastic is it? And, if I do a whale watch/Mendenhall excursion from Juneau, would I be seeing a lot of the same stuff I'd see on the small boat excursion in Tracy Arm?

We absolutely LOVED the small boat excursion & would DEFINITELY do it again!!! There is a link to my review of our August/September 2013 cruise in my signature & it has pics & a video of our day in Tracy Arm Fjord (with the glacier calving although it does not do it justice!). We saw whales from the ship & on our whale watching tour in Juneau but we did not see any on the small boat excursion.

3. It looks like a lot of people like Harv and Marv's whale watch. Is there time to do that and take a bit of a hike at Mendenhall glacier?

We also LOVED our day with Harv & Marv!!! It was by far my favorite day!!! Again I have pics & videos in my review. You only have about 15 minutes at Mendenhall but you can take a taxi back to the ship if your port time allows. Ours did not plus it was pouring down rain when we were there.

4. Looking into float plane tours out of Ketchikan. We are 9 people including my sister's family. Recommendations?

We did a float plane in Ketchikan but it only held 6 people plus the pilot.

5. Lots of choices in Skagway. Anyone ever try Skagway van tours? They'd be able to accommodate all 9 of us for an all day tour for $720. Or maybe we should just go somewhere and take a hike?

We did the Bennett Scenic Journey with Chilkoot. It was a REALLY long day but our most amazing pics of our whole trip were from that day! AMAZING scenery!!! ABSOLUTELY worth the $$$!

I guess in general I'm trying to get a sense of what I should be spending my money on, what's more worth it than something else. Any opinions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Only you can decide what is important to you. We decided Alaska was probably a once in a lifetime trip for us so we did not scrimp on excursions. I would not change one thing we did except possibly the very little time we had in Victoria.
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Carnival Miracle 10/5/2012
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http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1775109 My Adventure of the Seas review
Carnival Miracle to Alaska 8/27/2013 http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1913329 My Alaskan Review
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http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2113684
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  #4  
Old October 12th, 2013, 12:34 AM
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taragl taragl is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 2011mom View Post
1. I booked an amazing balcony - one of the triple-length balconies. But, I'm wondering if it's really worth it. If I do shore excursions every day, do I really need that big balcony, too? I'd save a lot of money, and be near my sister's family, if I booked one of the obstructed view french door interior cabins. Is it better to do that and spend more on shore excursions, which are so pricey?

2. In reading reviews, people rave about the small boat excursion on the Tracy Arm day. It does sound great, but, is it worth the expense ($183 x 4 of us)? Especially if I keep my big balcony, should I spend even more on this excursion? How fantastic is it? And, if I do a whale watch/Mendenhall excursion from Juneau, would I be seeing a lot of the same stuff I'd see on the small boat excursion in Tracy Arm?
I can only really comment on these two questions:

1) I used my balcony more than any other cruise. When you head to destinations like the Bahamas, there's a lot of "at sea" time with nothing but ocean. But in Alaska, you're often sailing through narrow passages with mountains, fog, small towns, other cruise ships, whales, and dolphins. Not to mention, because you're in the pitch black, the stargazing on clear nights is unbeatable. I booked an extended balcony and was out there every spare minute.

2) The Tracy Arm Fjord was my favorite excursion. We got so much closer to the glacier than the ship was able to go. Cool Breeze Cruiser was on our sailing as well *waves to her* and we got to see a couple of amazing glacier calvings. I found it was well worth the cost. The only hesitation was the cost for kids. Our teenager didn't want to go, so we got a refund for him that morning, but our preschooler came with us. He really liked it, but it was steep for a little one who sat inside the boat with grandma most of the time!

Enjoy your cruise -- Alaska is breathtaking!
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Carnival Pride May 2012 - Bahamas
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Last edited by taragl; October 12th, 2013 at 12:36 AM. Reason: grammar fixes
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  #5  
Old October 12th, 2013, 03:00 AM
2011mom 2011mom is offline
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Wow! I'm really appreciative of these informative responses! Now I really have to think about how much I can afford!
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Old October 12th, 2013, 03:49 PM
Budget Queen Budget Queen is offline
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Originally Posted by 2011mom View Post
So I've booked my family on an Alaskan cruise next July - yay! Now I have some questions:

1. I booked an amazing balcony - one of the triple-length balconies. But, I'm wondering if it's really worth it. If I do shore excursions every day, do I really need that big balcony, too? I'd save a lot of money, and be near my sister's family, if I booked one of the obstructed view french door interior cabins. Is it better to do that and spend more on shore excursions, which are so pricey?

2. In reading reviews, people rave about the small boat excursion on the Tracy Arm day. It does sound great, but, is it worth the expense ($183 x 4 of us)? Especially if I keep my big balcony, should I spend even more on this excursion? How fantastic is it? And, if I do a whale watch/Mendenhall excursion from Juneau, would I be seeing a lot of the same stuff I'd see on the small boat excursion in Tracy Arm?

3. It looks like a lot of people like Harv and Marv's whale watch. Is there time to do that and take a bit of a hike at Mendenhall glacier?

4. Looking into float plane tours out of Ketchikan. We are 9 people including my sister's family. Recommendations?

5. Lots of choices in Skagway. Anyone ever try Skagway van tours? They'd be able to accommodate all 9 of us for an all day tour for $720. Or maybe we should just go somewhere and take a hike?

I guess in general I'm trying to get a sense of what I should be spending my money on, what's more worth it than something else. Any opinions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
If there is ONE tour, I find "necessary" with your itinerary, it is the add on Tracy Arm excursion. This is GROSSLY superior to any viewing from a cruise ship. AND absolutely not, a whale watch will not be any "repeat".

With your preference of booking a whale watch and wanting a "hike" at Mendenhall- you HAVE to combo book with an independent, and watch your time, since it appears you have only a partial day. Shuttle buses back to the dock from Mendenhall end by 7pm or earlier. A cab could be a good option to consider, especially if you have a late departure.

You make several references to costs. Only you can determine what you bottom line is, but your slant seems to be for "skipping" tours in favor of your balcony? Up to you, but you also must realize you have chosen the least scenic itinerary with 2 sea days? People rave about balconies for Alaska determine for yourself, IF the ship is what you are most interested in, or is it going to be Alaska- if your funds are going to be limited?

In July another highlight would be Anan out of Ketchikan, for peak bear watching. Misty fiords is also very worthwhile. There is no other way to see the vastness of Alaska then by air.

The van tours can be good options for Skagway- there are several vendors to chose from. Car rentals are also excellent, and with full cars, a bargain. I had no problem with 5 people in a compact car from Avis. You could get by with 2 cars, likely.

Final thought, split up your group, and don't drag people on tours, that are of little interest. Allow individuals their choices. My opinion only.
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Old October 12th, 2013, 08:54 PM
2011mom 2011mom is offline
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Okay, I'm convinced it's worth it to spend a little! Another question: the Tracy Arm small boat tour has two times, 11am and 2:30pm. Any advantage of one over the other in terms of morning or afternoon fog, or any other considerations?

Thanks!
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Old October 13th, 2013, 12:19 AM
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the Tracy Arm small boat tour has two times, 11am and 2:30pm. Any advantage of one over the other in terms of morning or afternoon fog, or any other considerations?

Thanks!
This doesn't make any sense to me? Tracy Arm needs several hours of time, with the cruise ship dropping off or picking up passengers. Not sure how they can have two different times? Are you certain there are two times? What is your exact Juneau listed itinerary?
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Old October 13th, 2013, 03:09 AM
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Carnival does this excursion during a day in which the ship is cruising Tracy Arm. The small boat comes to the ship, and loads right in Tracy Arm. The ship doesn't actually stop at any port that day. Since it's already in Tracy Arm, the small boat doesn't need to travel to get there. So it's only a 3 hour excursion, and it has two possible times to take it.

That's why I was wondering if the small boat was worth it. The whole ship is in Tracy Arm anyway the whole day, but the small boat can get right up close to the glacier.
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Old October 13th, 2013, 02:08 PM
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That's why I was wondering if the small boat was worth it. The whole ship is in Tracy Arm anyway the whole day, but the small boat can get right up close to the glacier.
So whether or not it's worth the cost is a very personal call. I will give you this information to help you make your decision:

- The Miracle could only make it down one arm of Tracy Arm Fjord. I don't believe the passengers were able to see the Sawyer Glacier at all, just the South Sawyer Glacier.

- My family was in Alaska specifically to see glaciers, so this excursion was important to us. We wanted to get as close as possible, so the cost was worth it. If you're going for an all-around Alaska experience, or you're going to see Mendenhall, there may be other things you'd like to swap in.

- Mendenhall doesn't really calve, so if crashing ice piques your curiosity, go with the smaller boat.

- It's hard to guess whether morning or afternoon would be better. There might be fog in the morning, might not. We were on the morning tour and it was clear blue skies for miles. We also had one major, and a couple of minor calvings. I heard that the afternoon tour had no calvings. You take your chances.

- Most important, there's often a waiting list for the tour, and it's not charged until the morning of, so you could reserve your spaces, then decide the morning of if you don't want to go. We got a full refund for our teenager who wasn't feeling like going.

Either way, there's so much to do in Alaska, anything you choose will be a treat. Enjoy!
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  #11  
Old October 14th, 2013, 08:47 PM
2011mom 2011mom is offline
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Thanks so much to everyone for your help! I've booked the Tracy Arm small boat tour, a 6-hour private Yukon van tour in Skagway, a flightseeing tour with Island Wings in Ketchikan (since the planes only hold 6 there will be two planes). In Juneau we're going to just take a shuttle or cab to the Mendenhall Glacier and do a hike; I've done some pretty awesome whale watching in the past so we decided to forgo it on this trip.

Thank you so much to everyone on this forum - it was so helpful to have people's opinions!
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Old October 15th, 2013, 07:34 PM
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Thanks so much to everyone for your help! I've booked the Tracy Arm small boat tour, a 6-hour private Yukon van tour in Skagway, a flightseeing tour with Island Wings in Ketchikan (since the planes only hold 6 there will be two planes). In Juneau we're going to just take a shuttle or cab to the Mendenhall Glacier and do a hike; I've done some pretty awesome whale watching in the past so we decided to forgo it on this trip.

Thank you so much to everyone on this forum - it was so helpful to have people's opinions!
Michelle only flies ONE plane, and it holds 8.
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