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Trip Report Alaskan Cruisetour for the non-cruisters

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Thanks to all who gave us some input on our cruisetour to Alaska. This was our first cruise and was a real learning experience for me as our usual style is to do a car trip from home or fly and then hit the road.

We were joined by two of my siblings and their spouses who had cruised before. DH was not too enthusiastic about the idea of a week on a ship and not being able to do the driving, but did bite the bullet and came along. We left our son and family at our cottage on the water in Stonington, CT with Hurricane Irene threatening.

Aug.23: Picked up DB and SIL and headed to Boston for the Ramada on Morrissey Blvd.
where we could leave the car for two weeks. We were told to park “next to the fence behind the resturaunt beside the motel”. Looked a bit sketchey, but the car was fine when we got back.

Aug. 24: Met with DS and BIL at the airport for 6 am flight from Boston to Vancouver, BC, arriving in the afternoon. With 6 people and luggage it turned out that the least expensive way to get to the Marriott Pinnacle was in a limo. Took a walk along the waterfront and grabbed a meal at a place near the water.

Aug. 25: Up early (time change) and breakfast then city tour with drive to a nice island/park with a beautiful display of totem poles. Then walk to late lunch in “gas town” , walk back to hotel and collapse. Getting adjusted to the time change. Weather was very warm and sunny.

Aug. 26: Meet cruise people and get processed for boarding. Transfer from hotel to ship by 11:00. Aboard Celebrity Millenium by noon. Checked out the room and ship, Departed for cruise at 4:30. It was partly cloudy and warm.

Aug. 27: Cruising the inside passage. Lovely views, but DH was feeling a bit like a caged animal on the ship and had seen enough beautiful views as he likes to be the driver and control the pace/direction of the trip, the rest of us were happy to relax and enjoy. It was overcast and cooler.

Aug. 28 : Docked in Ketchikan, AK from 7:00 to 3:00. It was raining cats and dogs. DH was still crabby and chose not to go out. DB and SIL had signed up for a “rainforest tour” , DS, BIL and I went to town, looked at shops and went to a very nice natural history/ history museum . Back to ship for cruise to Icy Strait Point. DB and SIL were soaked from the thighs down after the rainforest tour, but did enjoy it and saw their first bears. We saw whales on the way to Icy Strait Point.

Aug. 29: Tendered at Icy Strait Point. 8:00 to 6:00. Icy Strait Point has a small shopping area near the harbor and a native village about a mile and a half away. DS, SIL, DH and I took a tram through the rainforest to the beach on the far side of the point. It was overcast and misty, but no longer raining. Cruised at night.

Aug. 30: Docked at Juneau from 7:00 am to 8:30 pm. DH and I went to town, signed up for an afternoon bus out to Mendenhall glacier, then went to the State of AK museum. The museum was very nice and a short walk from the pier. The trip to Mendenhall was great. The glacier was very impressive and we saw salmon in the river it melts into and bear trying to catch salmon. There also was a porcupine on a tree there. DH is getting less crabby. Cruised at night.

More to come.

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    Back again.


    Aug. 31: Docked in Skagway from 7:00 to 4:00. DH and I took the shuttle ($5 for all day) to town and our first mission was to find DIL’s cousins who have a shop there. A very nice lady was on the corner giving tourists directions and was able to figure out where we would find their shop even though we didn’t know its name or their phone numbers. The girls were happy to see someone from back east and their shop was very nice, all local items. Then we hopped back onto the shuttle and went to the Klondike gold fields dredge where we paid for the tour. Thanks to Fodor’s advice we did not sign up for the cruise tour of the dredge which would have cost about $30 each more (DH and SIL did). Weather was pretty nice, low 60’s and partly cloudy cousins said it was the nicest weather in weeks. Cruised at night.

    Sept.1: Cruising to Hubbard Glacier. Wow, it was clear and calm, so we got to within a half mile of the glacier, saw it calve several times, dodged icebergs, avoided the wave from one larger calf, worth the price of admission, and the naturalist said it was the best/closest view of the glacier all year, no fog. Fantastic views of the mountains, especially liked Mt. St. Elias. Cruised all night.

    Sept. 2: Up early to debark in Seward at 7:30 am. Boarded the motorcoach for the ride north. Stopped for 2 hours in Anchorage for lunch then on to Talkeetna. Mt.McKinley (Denali) was mostly in clouds today but weather was nice. Stayed at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge.

    Sept. 3: Boarded the train, Wilderness Express, for the trip to Denali. Double high train with seats on top and windows overhead as well as on the sides. Dining cars were on the first level and food was surprisingly good. Views were spectacular and Mt. McKinley showed for a brief view from the train. We also saw a moose crossing a pond near the tracks. Lodging at McKinley Village Lodge. Took the free shuttle to the VC just before closing.

    Sept. 4: All of us opted for the extended 7 -8 hour tundra wilderness tour in Denali NP. This was an extra $ 50 or so pp and well worth it. We rode on a bus (think a little better than a school bus, but not much) a box lunch with a roll, reindeer sausage, cheese, carrots, chips and water was included. The driver/naturalist was very knowledgable and gave a great naration. We saw moose, grizzley bears, caribou, dall sheep, and several birds including golden eagle and ptarmigan. The driver had a camera that could zoom and the images were fed to monitors in the bus so that animals that were farther from the bus could be seen clearly without binoculars. There were plenty of animals that went very close to the bus, one female moose ran in front of the bus with a male in pursuit, and several of the dall sheep were right on the road in front of and next to the bus. McKinley was visible again from a stop on this trip, so we got another look. At 4:00 we boarded the train again for the trip to Fairbanks. Had a very nice prime rib on the train for dinner. Lodging at Pikes Waterfront Lodge.

    Sept.5: Delta cancelled the early flight home and put us on a 9:20 pm flight. This gave us a day to do something in Fairbanks. We opted for a cruise/tour on a stern wheeler. This was surprisingly good. The Captain had a friend with a plane take off and land next to the boat then, we stopped to look at a home of the late Susan Bucher (who won the Iditarod 4 times) where her husband and girls showed their sled dogs and puppies and a bit about how they train them. Then it stopped at a small recreation of and Athabascan site where there were presentations by young girls (college age and late high schoolers) on how they catch and process salmon, hunting, and processing hides, etc. and also an area where the dogs were. This was a very nice way to spend some time before the flight back. McKinley was visible again from Fairbanks, amazing three and a half viewings on one trip and it is spectacular.

    Sept. 6: Arrived at Boston at about 11:30 am (changed planes in Minneapolis). The car was still where we parked it YIPPIE. DS and family had to deal with the hurricane and put up the sea door in the wall, boarded up the windows, took in the furniture, umbrellas, cleaned out the frig, etc. It came through with minor damage which he came back and fixed and a yard full of sand, shells, seaweed, and rocks thank goodness !!

    Sept. 7: Back at our regular house no one did the frig, so with no electricity for 5 days then back on again while we were gone , I found it with food that had thawed and refrozen, YUCK. Hours later I had it thawed, tossed out, cleaned up. At least no one was hurt and the house is safe. Now to get laundry done.

    Some things I found out on this trip.

    It is confirmed that DH is not a cruise person. The pace is not good for him.

    Expect to pay premium prices for side trips/tours especially if you sign up on a cruise. Fodors folks were right, you can book most trips/tours when you get into port and see what the weather is like. Taking public transportation in port and doing tours from locals is much more cost effective.

    Expect rain in Alaska but stay flexible and bring raincoats.

    There are towns like Icy Strait Point that are stops for the convenience of the cruise lines and to extend the length of the trip. All the shops near the ports seem to be owned/controlled by the cruise lines and close once cruises end in Sept/Oct.The same can be said for most of the hotel/motels on the land portion of the cruise tour.

    Food was generally ok on the ship, but you needed to pick things that didn’t care if they spend extra time on the stove or warming table. When they get a meal for the crowd, your steak will probably be way too well done, but the braised short ribs may be delicious.

    Baggage was handled by the cruise crew and was moved from room to room when we were touring.

    I would love to go back to Alaska and visit the Kenai peninsula and well as Denali again, but not on a cruise.

    I'll get some pictures posted, but unfortunately most of mine in Denali were damaged.

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    I forgot to mention, in Denali fall has come and the aspens were yellow and the tundra was a rosy red, very beautiful. The people there said that the color changes very quickly and does not last long so we were very lucky to see it in full color.

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    emalloy -Glad to hear you had a good time in Alaska. Sounds like it was beautiful!

    Just as an FYI to others contemplating cruisetours, I went on a one to Alaska and the Yukon last year with my mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. We went through Holland America and chose it because the cruise portion was only 4 days (Skagway/Glacier Bay/Ketchikan/Vancouver). We did 9 days overland before the cruise.

    We picked that itinerary as a compromise between 7 days on a ship and 0 days cruising, and it turned out to be the perfect choice. Mom and Sis have had their fill of cruising; BIL and I would do it again, as would the kids.

    By the way, we saw Denali as well (from the train and both days at the park), so we feel blessed.

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    Very helpful trip report. I'm in the process of planning for next summer and thinking of the last week of July/first week of August. Still trying to decide whether or not we do Alaska or Vancouver Island. The other couple is worried about too much rain in Alaska but I'm afraid it will be similar weather in Vancouver.

    We do not plan on doing any cruises so your trip report was very helpful in that respect. Thaks!

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    Cranchin, sounds like your trip was better in terms of the balance between land and sea, and it is fantastic to see Denali, we found it a real bonus that we could see it from Fairbanks, over 100 miles away, lets you know how big it really is.

    Jubilada and Mixter603, I didn't want to be totally negative on the cruise, and there are some places that you can only see by going on a boat or plane, like Juneau and Mendenhall and Hubbard Glaciers. That said it can be done on ferries or with shorter boat/plane trips from places you can get to by car which is more our style. The rest of our family was very happy with the plan as we took it. Alaska is fantastic and I would go back and explore some more.

    You can never predict weather, but if you are going where there is a rainforest like near Ketchikan, expect rain. Skagway is in what was called a "rain shadow" area by a local, due to the topography and does not get as much rain as some of the other coastal areas. We found our timing was lucky as we had great conditions for the end of the trip and were not bothered by insects at all.

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