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Alaska cruise excursions tips & logistics help

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Aug 13th, 2013, 11:20 AM
  #1
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Alaska cruise excursions tips & logistics help

Hi guys!

I'm hoping to get some advice for an upcoming trip to Alaska. My family (of 4 - with a 20 yr old girl & 25 yr old boy) are going on a northbound cruise departing from Vancouver. I have been put in charge of planning our days off of the ship.

A little bit about my family - we enjoy low-moderate level hikes. We are not looking to bike, kayak or fish. I have been whale watching before and found it rather boring. However, I would be excited to see some bears. I would loveeeee to go dog sledding, except I've read that it's pretty disappointing in the summer, unless you fly to a glacier.

Ideally I would like to divide our day between exploring the town and partaking in a special activity. I am running into two main issues: 1. I am on a budget. I've cruised the Caribbean before and am aware that excursions through the cruise, although convenient, are rather expensive. I'm open to booking things from the vendors off-ship, but I want to ensure they are licensed & not scams, and research ahead of time to see which are the most enjoyable and the best bang for your buck. My second issue...there is so much to see in just a few short hours! I've read some trip reports, blogs and looked at the ships excursions to get an idea of the typical tourist attractions. Although I do like going off the beaten path for most trips, the time factor is limiting here. I have listed below our tour route & a list of rough ideas of what to do in each place.

The advice I'm mainly looking for...is it possible to do this on your own? If so, do you recommend certain transportation? If logistics are too much of a hassle I'm not completely opposed to booking things through our ship. A rough estimate on how long activities will take. Anything that's a must-see I'm missing out? Also- authentic restaurant suggestions for lunch (can't forget that! Ha. One of us is a vegetarian though, and only one eats fish. Guess that crosses off salmon bake and crab fishing!) Any help & advice is greatly appreciated!
Depart Vancouver
(We will be getting here 3 days early - haven't researched anything yet)

Cruising the Inside Passage
(Day at Sea)

Ketchikan (7am-4pm)
-Misty fjords (I've read about sea plane trips here. Due to budget restraints, most helicopter excursions are not possible, however I'm thinking it may be fun to splurge on one extravagant adventure.)
-Saxman native village
-Totem brite state park
-Explore town

Juneau (10am-8pm)
-Mendenhall Glacier & gardens
-Mount Roberts tram
-Explore town

Skagway (7am-8pm)
-White pass railway (having a hard time understanding this one. I'll admit I haven't looked that much into it, but many people have said its gorgeous and some said its way too long. I'm looking at the 3 hr or 4 hr one, but having a hard time justifying spending 1/3 of my time on a train.)
-Mushers camp and dog sled (see above concerns, is it worth it?)
-Chilkat Eagle Preserve
-Klondike gold fields (I think our kids might be too old for gold panning, but it seems like a big attraction. Is it more historical?)
-Original street car
**definitely not doing all of this

Glacier Bay
(Day at Sea)

Hubbard Glacier
(Day at Sea)

Whittier --> train to Anchorage

(We will have approximately 1.5 days in Anchorage before our flight home. We made reservations to rent a car. I haven't looked up things to do here yet, but I did see that Denali Park is rather far and probably not possible in this time frame )

Speaking of renting a car - I something called rent a wreck - a company that brings rental cars to the cruise ship dock, do you think this is useful in any of the ports?

Again we are concerned with trying to do this on the more DIY style, minimum costs incurred, but we definitely want to make this a trip to remember and would like to see as much as possible, without trying to shove in too much, fine line. Any specific or general tips - greatly appreciated Thank you in advance!!
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Aug 13th, 2013, 11:24 PM
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Although we weren't in Alaska on a cruise, we found Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway very easy to tour on our own.

Ketchikan: both the Saxman Village and Totem Park were excellent; there's a good museum in town, and a place that shows how they've restored the totem poles.

Juneau: liked Mendenhall Glacier and some of the walking trails around it, Mt. Roberts Tram, the Alaska State Museum, and the State Capitol (although our interest in state capitol buildings may be idiosyncratic).

Skagway: the White Pass & Yukon RR was a wonderful way to spend a few hours. Also liked the National Park walking tour (and their exhibits), Carrington Museum and (IIRC) the City Hall Museum.

You are correct that, with only 1.5 days in Anchorage, going to Denali is not the best idea. In Anchorage, the Native Heritage Center (that's not exactly the right name), Art & History Museum, Earthquake Park were highlights for us.

We like self-guided walking tours and often find them in guidebooks--or I compile my own from several books.
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Aug 15th, 2013, 05:18 AM
  #3
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We have also done a few Caribbean cruises and did an Alaskan Cruise in Sept. 2011. I found that shore excursions in the Caribbean are quite different than Alaska. In Alaska, we didn't find much price difference between independent operators and Princess. About $50. We traveled with my elderly parents, so convenience was a key to us. For our Sept cruise I started researching tours in that January and found that most of the popular excursions offered by the independent operators were already booked. We were on a budget also and, the independent operators required full payment upfront with booking while booking with Princess we did have to pay until the cruise was completed. Gave us so much more time to save up. I did notice with Princess that the closer it got to the sailing date, the higher their excursions prices went. About $100 more than when I booked in January.

In Ketchikan we did the Misty Float Plane with Princess. It was OK, but from reviews I thought it would be more. We did not see any wildlife. I was disappointed when we landed on the water we didn't get any awesome photos with the float plane that I had seen in other people's reviews. Afterward, we walked down to Creek Street and also did a little shopping. We stopped and ate at the Fish Pirates Saloon across from the cruise pier. It was expensive and not that great.

In Juneau, we did the whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier with Princess. I am so glad we did the whale watching with Princess and not an independemt operator. The Princess boats were double deckers with inside and outside viewing. It was cold and windy and I would not have wanted to subject my parents to outside viewing. The inside part had full floor to ceiling windows and was not crowded. They offered free coffee and the yummiest cocoa I have every had. We have also been whale watching on previous vacations and by far this experience was the best because the whales are so active. Never saw this many whales or that much activity on any other trip. So definitely not boring. We had 2 Nautralists on our boat that gave really great history. I noticed that the independent operator boats were following the Princess boats around.

Afterward, we took the bus to Mendenhall Glacier and visitor center. After seeing it was so glad we did pay the huge amount of money to walk on the glacier. Didn't seem worth it to us. We ate lunch at the Red Dog Saloon. Yes, its full of tourists, but it's a fun and lively place and the food was quite good.

In Skagway, we did the full day White Pass Railroad by train and bus that included a 15 minute dog sled ride with Chilkoot Charters. The day was very long and exhausting, but so worth it. We went up by train and back down by bus. On the way back, we stopped frequently for photo ops. They offered lunch at Carribou Crossing along with the 15 minute dog sled ride. The dog sled was on just the typical ground, not snow. Afterward, we ate again at the Red Onion Saloon. Again, another tourist place, but it was fun and the food good.

I did tons of research on excursions at cruisecritic.com. We were very satisfied with the choices we made for our first trip. We went out of Seattle and spent 4 1/2 day there since we hadn't been before. Next time I would definitely go to Denali. Just can't do everything in one trip.

If you are interested I have all our photo posted on our share site:

https://kvrlvnphotogallery.shutterfly.com/pictures/5

Just scroll down to the Alaska books. I made a separate book for each port.
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Dec 3rd, 2015, 12:41 PM
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My husband and I did an Alaskan cruise this summer. We have done many Caribbean cruises and always felt like we had to plan something just so we could get to the water. We didn't necessarily find this the case in Alaska, as we toured most of the places ourselves.

-Ketchikan- Walked around town for a bit; Walked through the shops on Creek Street; Totum Museum; Got a bit lost and found this baseball field with gravel instead of sand (odd)....this was near salmon hatchery that we soon discovered. As for food, Alava's Fish n Chowder was awesome. Just a shack looking place but we got their early and the owner told us they weren't open yet cause her husband was out catching the fish. I call that winning! We also grabbed an Alaskan Brewing Company beer and sat on the rooftop of Asylum (near the cruise port)

-Juneau- We got off the boat and ending up purchasing one of the whale watching/Mendehnall glacier tours. We were able to haggle a decent price. In retrospect, grab a cab and get them to take you to Mendenhall (there is also cheap public transport). I could have spent all day out there and skipped the whale watching. Lots of easy walking trails! As for food, we got clam chowder at The Hangar on the Wharf...amazing. We also split the salmon tacos at Twisted Fish and they were some of the best tacos I have ever had! We grabbed a few drinks at the Red Dog Saloon. Super super super touristy but it was such a fun experience. We played darts for a while at the Imperial Saloon, which was nice cause it just seemed more local.

-Skagway- So Skagway was the only place we booked an actual shore excursion. Maybe my least favorite day. Though it was raining cats and dogs so that may have influenced. We took a bus up to the Suspension bridge then went to Liars town for the Salmon Bake. Bit hokey but the food was good. The route up to the suspension bridge was gorgeous with so many amazing views. It was a cloudy day so unfortunately many of these views were partially hidden. Our driver was awesome and gave us alot of background info we would have never known about. Came back into town and had a drink at Skagway Brewing Company...thought Alaskan Brewing Company drinks were a bit better. We also stopped in the Red Onion Saloon to grab a cup of chili cause it was freezing. Cool place to sit down at for a bit but I wasnt impressed with the food.


Hope this helps some!
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Dec 3rd, 2015, 12:42 PM
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Forgot to mention that I am actually vegetarian too. However, I converted to seafood only just for this trip because the seafood options in Alaska are just fantastic!
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Mar 19th, 2016, 02:25 PM
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LizDMac2424-

You mentioned you are vegetarian. I was wondering if you could help me out. I will be going on an Alaskan Cruise many of the same ports that you went to and I am vegan. I am planning on brining some food with me (as I always do for international travel). Do you recall if there are any vegan options at any of the restaurants in the ports that you ate it? I am guessing it will mainly be salads and side dishes. Any insight on this will b helpful!
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Apr 15th, 2016, 09:53 AM
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I did an Alaskan cruise with my sister last summer and LOVED it! The 2 trip highlights for me were:

Juneau - Mendenhall Glacier Trek and Ice Caves. There is nothing like stepping onto the glacier and feeling the ice beneath your shoes. The Ice Caves are the most amazing things I have seen!! Here is my trip report with photos: http://livelifeoutofoffice.com/mende...lacier-alaska/

Anchorage - Matanuska Glacier Ice Climbing. We joined a beginners ice climbing excursion (through MICA Guides) and I will never forget it. No trip to Alaska is complete without stepping onto the glaciers! It is so different than just viewing them from afar. This glacier is only 90 minutes north of Anchorage and it is beautiful. Here are some photos: http://livelifeoutofoffice.com/matan...lacier-alaska/
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Apr 26th, 2016, 09:01 AM
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You might find some useful information in my trip report:

http://www.fodors.com/community/unit...-land-tour.cfm

Instead of booking those overpriced cruise excursions, we rented cars in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, saved $$$ and saw twice as much. The only splurge we did was a heli flight with dogsledding on a glacier - very pricey, but a once-in-a-lifetime-experience.

Lunch will not be a problem, you will find places everywhere.
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Apr 30th, 2016, 01:24 PM
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To europe2011
Are you sure you can bring food onto your cruise ship?

And if you arange it ahead, can't they arrange vegan meals for you onboard?

I know there are grocery stores in Ketchikan, if you use the public bus to Totem Bight there is a Safeway on the way.
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May 2nd, 2016, 07:51 AM
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On each of my 13 or 14 cruises, we could bring food onboard, and often we have done so. Only alcohol is forbidden.

They always have vegetarian dishes on the menu, but I am not sure about vegan. For people who have complicated eating habits, the buffet restaurant is the best option anyway. If they are very strict vegan (like avoiding gelantine), they should better abstain from going on a cruise.
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May 9th, 2016, 04:24 AM
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Looks like you have it all well planned and there were great advise posted. Here is my 2 cents worth.

Misty fjords is my favorite, You can book at dock and is cheaper than the ship. With the 4 of you, you can barter a bit. Some smaller planes seats 7 or 8 so you can fill half the plane and have some bargaining power. Should be able to get deals for under $200 per person.

Go to creek street afterward and look for the tram/elevator to the Cape Fox lodge. There are nice trails up there and a decent exhibit inside the lodge. There are totum poles outside at the back of the lodge but not as tall as the one in the state park. Best of all, it is all free, and walking distance. (except they ask for a $2 donation at the tram/elevator)

For Juneau, pay for the bus ride to Mt Roberts Tram way. It's a 20 to 30 minutes walk from the dock to the tram station. Buy a combo Mt Roberts tram and Mendenhall Glacier bus package and then explore on your own. Those 2 will take up the majority of your time. For short hikes, there is a trail at Mt Roberts. At Mendenhall, you can follow the trail to the waterfall and glacier itself, very easy hike couple of hours round trip.

For Skagway, take the White pass railway if you are a train buff. Hard to justify the cost and time but the scenery is great. Skagway is inside a national Park so go into town and look for the Ranger station and get the free guided walking tour. Buy a one day bus pass to get from one side of town to another. If you like flowers, Jewell garden offers some surprises.

NO dog sled please, I know what they do to the dogs, Sorry.

Gold panning is fun but most will get bored after a short time unless you are a die hard fan. I learned to gold pan years ago and did it on the river bank for days/weeks and we pan for real gold. The tourist set up are exactly that: a set up. They make it easy for anyone to get the "gold" nugget. They put gold beads/flakes so they are much easier to find (they are heavier and sink to the bottom and stays in the pan better) but they are seldom pure raw gold.

I have a TR elsewhere that you can look for and you may find interesting tidbits there.
http://www.fodors.com/community/crui...-the-cheap.cfm
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May 10th, 2016, 09:34 PM
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We are going on our first Alaska cruise this August, a 7 day round trip from Seattle, with stops at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. We are considering arranging independent shore excursions, mainly in order to see as much as possible. We like to walk and hike, and don't mind taking public transportation. Growing up in Czechoslovakia, I have been on enough slow trains, and agree with many points made by traveller 1959. We have traveled by various means of transportation all over the world, but don't have much experience with cruises.

My question is: How important is it to make prior arrangements and reservations? I think that we would have to reserve a rental car if we decide that we need one, but what about the buses and trams, e.g. in Juneau? Could we take a public bus instead of the slow train in Skagway? With only two of us, public transportation and perhaps a short taxi ride, may be more economical.

We used to travel without much planning and act spontaneously, but of course this is not possible on a cruise, due to the time limitation in each port. We plan to take a separate trip to the Denali National Park and surrounding area by flying to Anchorage and staying a week or two, probably next year.

Could any of you experienced cruisers recommend a taxi company or a local travel company in Alaska? Can we just walk out of the ship, take a short walk, and hop on a bus or tram? I think that we could explore the towns on our own or take the Park Ranger tour in Skagway. We are more interested in the nature, particularly the scenery. We have seen enough bears too close for comfort here in California (though probably a different kind), and try to keep them away when camping.

The tips and information in these posts have been very helpful. Thank you in advance for answering my additional questions.

Marie
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May 12th, 2016, 10:27 AM
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Juneau there are several agents selling tickets for the buses to Mendenhall.

Ketchikan you can use public bus to the totem parks.

Dont need to reserve. And you can return when you want for Mendenhall, dont need to pick a return time.
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May 12th, 2016, 02:02 PM
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BTW if there are several of you traveling together and are comfortable renting a car, I would do that.
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May 12th, 2016, 04:53 PM
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Thanks, mlgb. We are considering renting a car, even if it's just for the two of us in Skagway. Are the views from the train much superior to the road? An alternative would be the train/bus combo, but we could probably do more and at a lower cost on our own. Crossing into Canada should be no problem, since we have valid passports.
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May 12th, 2016, 06:45 PM
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Train vs car on the Whitepasss is totally different and not comparable. The experience is also different.

They don't really check passports but they did ask everyone to hold their passport high over their head. I single single official walk through and make sure everyone has one and that's it.

Skagway town-site is very small and is walk-able, You can also buy a day pass for their "town bus" that goes in a loop.
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May 15th, 2016, 02:43 AM
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My cruise went to Haines instead of Skagway, so can't comment on the bus vs train.
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May 15th, 2016, 02:43 AM
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I mean car vs train.
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May 29th, 2017, 04:58 PM
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Going on Alaskan cruise this Aug with my husband and two college aged daughters. We love wildlife and the beautiful outdoors.

- What should we plan so not to miss any highlights?
- What excursions are the best and worth the high price?
- What tour companies are a rip off and we are best to self tour?
- Can we see bear, whales without a guide?

Ketchikan:
Just booked a 2 hour floatplane in the morning with Misty Fjourds Air and Outings for $239/pp, hopes it's clear and wondering if I should have waited until we arrived to book this? Can do a self guided tour later that afternoon to the Totem Pole park, Creek Street, Cape Fox Lodge. Anything else that I might have missed? Where can we see bear? Is this the best port of call for that?

Juneau:
Would love to see some whales and understand this is the best port for that. Should I book a whale watching tour? Which company is the best? I heard Har and Marvs is good but seems pricey and not sure it's worth it. We have from 8:00am - 9:00pm here which is good because there's so much to see on our own here and with public transit we could easily get to the Mendenhall Glacier and Mt. Roberts,so no need to pay for guides here, correct?

Skagway:
We need to see the sled dogs. Not sure I want to ride any though now that I understand they are often mistreated. We are huge dog lovers and my daughters would love learning about them. Any recommendations for the best excursions for this?

Is the White Pass RR a must do? Should we do this with a guide or on our own?

Any recommendations for tour companies would be appreciated. I'm not wanting to book with Princess Cruise Line so I can avoid the large crowds and save a few bucks too.
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