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Crusie/Tour on Holland America to Alaska - Excursions

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We have booked a cruise / tour on Holland America to Alaska this August. We are starting in Vancouver and taking a land tour to Denali ending in Fairbanks. We have stops on our cruise at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. I am interested in the excursions that are booked through the cruise line as opposed to seeing the sights on your own. From reading travel guides it looks like there is local transportation available to see the main sights in these area. I am looking for recommendations for these areas as well as Fairbanks. We are not interested in the extravagant excursions such as helicopter and float plane trips. Would we be able to see the basic sights on our own or would we be better off booking excursions trhough HAL?

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    We did three on our 7 day cruise to Alaska last year on Holland America. Our first and favorite was the Tracy Arm excursion. Our ship, the ms Zuiderdam, went into Tracy Arm just a short ways and we loaded right on to a catamaran. The catamaran went to South Sawyer Glacier while the ship went on to dock at Juneau. We had plenty of time to see the glacier, waterfalls up close, see a bear on shore which the catamaran stopped for and also a whale. We also saw bald eagles. We got to Juneau minutes after the ship docked because the catamaran traveled a lot faster.

    The second excursion we took was a bus ride from Skagway up to Caribou Crossing Trading Post, Yukon Territory, Canada and then the White Pass Train ride back to Skagway. The bus tour was a little long, but I'm glade we did it the one time. The train ride I'd do a gain up and back.

    The third and last excursion we did the Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer Excursion out of Ketchican. We boarded the catamaran at Ketchican and took this excursion to Misty Fjords. It was a long trip and I felt like you didn't get enough time at Misty Fjords. We go to Yosemite National Park every year and I'm sorry to say that the section of Misty Fjords we saw pales in comparison. It was interesting and I'm glad we did it, but I would not do it again.

    Have fun!

    Utahtea

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    We took a Holland cruise last year, and you can schedule excursions on your own, other than the Sawyer Glacier tour that Utahtea mentioned. I was sorry we didn't take that excursion, but it was just beyond what we could afford with a family of 4.

    We booked a fantastic whale watching trip with Harv and Marv's in Juneau. We saw humpback, orcas, harbor seals and bald eagles and were in a small boat with just our family. The trip included a stop at Mendenhall Glacier on the way back to the ship.

    In Skagway, we rented a car and drove to Emerald Lake in the Yukon, which was a lovely drive. We were worried about booking the train because it is rather expensive, and the view is often obscured by rain. The car rental was inexpensive by comparison; so we figured we weren't out much money if the weather was lousy. It was in fact raining until we got into Canada. We saw much of the same view by car that you see on the train, and we were able to take a short hike at Emerald Lake. We had time afterwards to explore Skagway and to take a hike there. If you do want to take the train, you may need to book through the cruiseline, because there may or may not be tickets available to the general public, depending on how many they have left after the cruiseline takes what they need. We were the only cruise ship in Skagway so it would have been possible to book last minute train tickets. You might want to check the cruise ship schedules to see how many ships are there on the day you will be in port.

    In Ketchikan, we took a local bus out to a totem pole park and explored Ketchikan. We had planned to rent bikes to explore here, but contrary to the guidebooks we read, none were available. I have to say we really didn't have enough to do here.

    We really enjoyed getting away from the throngs of people on the cruise excursions and being on our own.

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    One of the reasons we booked though Holland America was the fact that if something happened and we couldn't make it back to the ship on time, then Holland America would pay for us to be reunited with the ship. If you go off on your own and have a vehicle breakdown and don't make it back to the ship in time, YOU are responsible for getting back to the cruise ship.

    This was our first cruise and we didn't know what to expect. The two catamaran tours were on the expensive side, but we had waited till a month before setting sail to book our trip and got such a good deal that we splurged on the excursions. That and I wasn't sure how DH would like the cruise so wanted to do everything I could while on this one! LOL The two catamaran tours only held about 125 people so you really did get away from the crowds. We lucked out on the bus ride and got on the first bus leaving and were head of everyone else for the better part of the trip. The train ride was PACKED! We also enjoyed just walking around the towns and going other places than just the shops.

    We got to see Emerald Lake on our bus tour, but we didn't have time for the hike. The views we saw on the bus tour were a little different than what you saw from the train so I'm glad we did both. The train ride did have some exciting drop offs!

    Utahtea

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    We did a similar trip with Celebrity and discovered that we were not really cruise type people, but we loved Alaska and would go back and explore on our own.

    We found that there were indeed ways to go to most of the places that the cruise tours go with a smaller mark up. In Juneau there are public busses as well as city tours that go out to Mendenhall glacier on very regular schedules, no need to worry that you won't make it back to the boat. In Skagway there was a small bus that picked up at the end of the dock and for $2 per trip or $5 for all day you could get off and on and go anywhere it went. One of the places it went was to the gold dredge, for another $20 or so you could tour the dredge, my brother spent twice that to go on the ship tour.

    There are some places that are basicly "company towns", like Icy Strait for Celebrity and the only choice is a tour that is really a ship tour.

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