Alaska? The impossible question

Jun 6th, 2019, 07:53 PM
  #1  
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Alaska? The impossible question

I realize this is personal, but several of you cruisers have guided me before and your opinions are the best I have. I am counting on you.

We have a few days that has suddenly opened up the first week of July and a friend of DH is pushing Alaska. I used to want to go there, but as I get older, I am more into ancient ruins and places like Turkey and Italy, where I can spend a whole day at one archeological site. I am not much into landscapes, though a very short walk is fine, but with Asthma and kidney disease, I do not have much stamina. I do love seeing animals of any kind, and culture and lifestyle in different places.

I have done one helicopter ride in the Caribbean with my daughter who lives there and knew the pilot, and one hot air balloon flight in Turkey where I had researched carefully the company, best time of year, etc. No hiking, no zip lines, etc. for me, so not much for physical adventure. I also hate being cold. I do like boats and ships of any kind and size.

I had hoped to make it to Sicily again, for Palermo and other places I didn’t see before, early in Spring, but now airfares are out of our budget.

So, based only on your own experiences, do you think we might enjoy a cruise to Alaska, and based on what I have said about our interests and health, what would we enjoy about it?

If we did it, is round trip from the US OK, or is Anchorage to Vancouver best?

Thanks for all your thoughts.

Last edited by Sassafrass; Jun 6th, 2019 at 07:55 PM.
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Jun 6th, 2019, 09:29 PM
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>>So, based only on your own experiences, do you think we might enjoy a cruise to Alaska, and based on what I have said about our interests and health, what would we enjoy about it?<<

Disclaimer -- I am not a 'cruise person' - and while I am fit/healthy - my cousin is not (she is 75 with bad sciatica but a great attitude) -- we took a 7 day inside passage cruise on Holland America from Vancouver and finished up visiting family in Anchorage for 3 days . . . and LOVED every single minute of it. We are both from rural northern California and are used to amazing scenery.

But the the orcas, and eagles and bear and etc etc, and the native villages/artwork, and the gold rush era towns, and the glaciers, and the train ride and the food both on and off the ship, and even some of the 'kitchy' on board entertainment, I think it would be fine for you.

I would not personally do a round trip cruise, and leaving from Vancouver is my only experience but from what I've read -- mostly from Gardyloo, I think that was the best choice for us. They make it very easy for anyone with mobility issues. Our cruise was at the very end of the season (Sept) so lots of rain and some cold, but in July you'd have longer days and warmer eather.

Go for it.
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Jun 6th, 2019, 09:56 PM
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That would be >> . . . longer days and warmer weather.<<
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Jun 6th, 2019, 10:17 PM
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Wow! Thank you, Janisj. Exactly the kind of first hand opinions I was hoping for.
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Jun 7th, 2019, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by Sassafrass View Post
We have a few days that has suddenly opened up the first week of July...
The number of days is crucial. If you choose a one-way cruise (Vancouver to Seward/Whittier or v.v.) you really need to add a few days on land in Alaska; I'd say at least 3 or 4, but more is better. Otherwise you'll get off the boat and have to head to the Anchorage airport (or off the plane and straight to the departure port) with little time to experience anything in southcentral or interior Alaska.

Both the one-way and round trip cruises (one ways from/to Vancouver, round trips from Seattle or Vancouver) take a week and cover the same ports en route - typically Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, with possible stops at Icy Strait Point (the native village of Hoonah) or maybe Sitka or Haines. They'll all do drive-bys of some glaciers, typically either Glacier Bay or the Hubbard Glacier (Glacier Bay only allows a few ships daily) and you'll inevitably have other ships in port when you're there. (Sometimes it can get silly. There are often 4 ships with 3000 passengers and 1000 crew each on the same day at Skagway, population 900 counting dogs. Do the math.) The one-way boats will cross the Gulf of Alaska (typically at night because this is big water) to/from Whittier or Seward, both connected to Anchorage by road and rail. From Anchorage, with enough time, you can do some land touring, for example to Denali National Park, or the Kenai Peninsula, but as I say this means more days.

So one of the issues with cruising is managing your shore time. There are umpteen excursions offered in each port, ranging from low-key to ziplining, flightseeing, whale chasing, kayaking, etc. Your budget and energy levels will be the governing factors. There are also lower-budget options, but as you're late in booking, some of them might be unavailable, such as rental cars for the day at Skagway (for a tour up into the Yukon) or things like that.

The cruises can be good value, and the unpack-once feature is pretty nice. The ships are huge and you'd be surprised at how easy it is to get away from the crowds. On the other hand, this is mass tourism and how.

I'll mention a couple of non-cruise alternatives, just to confuse things.

- Fly to Anchorage, get a car, and spend a few days exploring. Rental cars are expensive, but the freedom is great. Visit Seward and the Kenai Fjords, do a one-day glacier cruise out of Whittier, visit Independence Mine and Hatcher Pass near Palmer. If you can free up three days and find accommodation, you can drive up to Denali (around 5 hours) and take the park shuttle buses into the park interior (no private cars allowed) for wildlife and (hopefully) mountain sightings. With five or six days on the ground you could experience quite a lot.

- Go "deep" rather than "wide." With limited time, consider flying to the Southeast Alaska town of Sitka and just stay put for a few days. (There are nonstop flights from Seattle or one-stop via Juneau.) Because its harbor isn't very cooperative, Sitka gets very few cruise ships, so it's a somewhat quieter and less congested place. It's the former capital of Russian America, and there's a very strong sense of history, both Russian and Native American, in the community. There are numerous excursions possible from Sitka - whale watching, hiking, fishing - but also the Fortress of the Bear right in town - a rehab center for injured or orphan bears - and also the Raptor center - ditto for eagles, owls, hawks, etc. This is a microcosm of what's great about Alaska.

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Jun 8th, 2019, 06:24 PM
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You need more than "a few days" just for the cruise..actually at least 7 but that assumes that you are willing and able to fly into the departure port on departure day (probably never a good idea).

My favorite itinerary is the SOUTHBOUND Holland America which stops in Haines rather than Skagway. Only one ship at a time docks in Haines. Pretty much the whole town of Haines turns out when there's a cruise ship in town. There's a free shuttle (school bus) that circulates into town and passes through the old Fort Seward. July should be full on eagle and bear season in Haines. Not sure if this itinerary works for you, but I really liked Noordam last year.

https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US...S07A/N938.html

If you fly into Anchorage the day or evening before, I recommend taking the early train to Seward, then you'd have half a day in Seward before boarding. You might like the Alaska Sealife Center to get up close to some of the critters. The train is quite comfortable, more so than one of the van transfers.

You can click on my name to read my trip report from last year.

For culture in Ketchikan you've got museums and totems downtown if you don't want to go up to Totem Bight. I found Ketchikan overcrowded and was glad to go up to Totem Bight instead.

You arrive very early in Vancouver on the final day so it's possible to leave the same day with a late enough flight. Once we rented a car and went to the Japanese Garden and UBC Anthropology Museum on the way to the airport. Last year I went to Steveston (stayed in Richmond). Vancouver has a great public transit system. I probably wouldn't do a land tour in Alaska if you have only a "few days". It isn't essential.

I think Glacier Bay might change your mind about scenery if you get a good day, but no guarantees.

I have zero interest in Seattle so have never wanted to do the return cruise from there, especially since it means missing out on the Kenai Peninsula.

Last edited by mlgb; Jun 8th, 2019 at 06:38 PM.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 06:39 AM
  #7  
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Gardyloo and mlgb,
Thank you both for opinions, advice and info. It is very, very helpful. We can manage nine days or ten nights to allow travel time, and would definitely want to arrive a day or two before. We do prefer trains to busses or shuttles, and the itinerary is more important than the ship. We like HAL so will look at that one. How much would we miss out if we do not do a float plane? What is the one thing you each feel was the best experience you had in Alaska? Thanks again to everyone.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Sassafrass View Post
Gardyloo and mlgb,
Thank you both for opinions, advice and info. It is very, very helpful. We can manage nine days or ten nights to allow travel time, and would definitely want to arrive a day or two before. We do prefer trains to busses or shuttles, and the itinerary is more important than the ship. We like HAL so will look at that one. How much would we miss out if we do not do a float plane? What is the one thing you each feel was the best experience you had in Alaska? Thanks again to everyone.

Well I lived there for quite a while, so the "one thing" list would be in the hundreds.

With nine or ten nights I'd frankly just do a round trip cruise out of Vancouver. There's a HAL round trip from Vancouver departing on July 6 that includes Glacier Bay, and according to Cruise.com, you can get a balcony cabin for $834 per person, which is a steal.

(The Vancouver round trips are more scenic than those from Seattle as they travel east of Vancouver Island on sheltered "inside passage" waters while the Seattle boats travel on open ocean to the west of the island.)

Use the other nights to explore Vancouver. Maybe hit a Shakespeare performance at Bard on the Beach, rent a car for the day and drive up to Whistler... umpteen options.

No, you don't have to ride in float planes if you don't want to. There are many, many excursion options that don't involve flying.

You won't regret it.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Jun 9th, 2019 at 07:13 AM.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 07:48 AM
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I'm probably more into scenery than you are, but I'd say that Glacier Bay is hard to top (if you get a good day, which I've had both times). After that is Haines town (Brewery and town shuttle) and Chilkat flats on the back side of town with the bald eagles and wildflowers They do have car rentals in Haines if you aren't too late for that, or tours. And after that, probably the day where I took the train and the Major Marine short cruise where we had puffins and bubblenetting humpbacks! Least favorite was the time in overcrowded Ketchikan town... not as nice as when i was there in early September on my first cruise. Also on that first cruise, the inside passage was gloomy and overcast. I've been lucky with weather. Just a bit of drizzle in Juneau last time and the bad day on the Inside Passage on the September trip. Even had sun in Haines and Ketchikan both times!

I would go with Holland America just for the more adult entertainment and better overall food and service than Princess (even though they have the same corporate owner and access to Glacier Bay).

Do look at the itineraries carefully as the times in port can be significantly different.

Balcony cabins on that June 30 cruise are marked down to as low as $692 directly with HAL and $651 on Vacations To Go (these would be "Guaranteed Category") cabins. I've found VTG great to deal with (you have to call them to book) but you could try calling HAL and see if they'll match the price.

Here's another Trip Report from 2014 on an early season southbound cruise

Holland America Southbound Cruise - early June

Usually the one way cruises cost less, but you'd want to run the numbers on all in airfare, transfers etc. Vancouver is great for flying out of, since you do US customs there so none to deal with at your home airport. Of course flying into Anchorage you're US to US so no immigration lines on arrival.

Bear in mind that hotel rooms in Vancouver are CRAZY expensive during cruise season. I'd say $100 per night more than equivalent Anchorage hotels.

Here's my trip report from an even earlier cruise last June with more details
Alaska Seward to Vancouver June 2018 Noordam

I booked the train direct with Alaska Railroad and called Major Marine.
https://www.alaskarailroad.com/ride-.../service_class

Last edited by mlgb; Jun 9th, 2019 at 08:24 AM.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 09:56 AM
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I highly recommend taking a Lindblad cruise from Juneau to Sitka, around 80 passengers. The ship goes where big cruise ships canít go, charming, in crowded small towns, saw so many whales, bears, etc.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 10:24 AM
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Thank you Fodorites! Without you, we would not likely do this last minute. I appreciate the time you have taken. Your input is invaluable. When I really need help, I realize how important Fodors is.

Gardyloo, Sitka sounds really interesting to me, and I much prefer staying in one or two places. We may need two trips.

Our dates are extremely limited, depart by June 28 - 30 and return preferably by evening July 7 or very early July 8. Mlgb, the HAL ship, the Noordam, departing June 30, looks perfect, time wise. Thank you. Do you all think that itinerary is good?

How important is the balcony in July, when we could be on deck and will be off the ship a lot? An inside is just under $400.00 pp. Balcony is about $650.00 pp. We could save over $500.00 total by doing an inside, which we have done before and do not mind at all. That would go a long way towards excursions, or airfare. However, I do not want to cheap out if a balcony would really make a huge difference in experience.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 11:03 AM
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That depends on you -- I don't like inside cabins. The balcony really makes the room seem larger with that wall of windows. Caveat -- I've been on exactly 2 cruises -- to Alaska with a balcony and a river cruise in Europe where I was on the lowest deck and there were two very high larger than a porthole windows but being 5' tall I could not see out them without standing on the bed .

That was OK because there was still light and glimpses of sky but if I was in and inside cabin it would probably feel like a cell. But that is just me. You might be fine in an enclosed room. On our Alaska cruise it was Sept and cold and rainy some days but we still used the balcony a few time -- the main advantage IMO was the view and expanding the sense of space.

If the savings is important -- then sure . . . just my 2Ę and I know others think inside staterooms are just fine. (I don't like hotel roow w/o windows either - like in a yotel)
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Jun 9th, 2019, 11:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Sassafrass View Post
Thank you Fodorites! Without you, we would not likely do this last minute. I appreciate the time you have taken. Your input is invaluable. When I really need help, I realize how important Fodors is.

Gardyloo, Sitka sounds really interesting to me, and I much prefer staying in one or two places. We may need two trips.

Our dates are extremely limited, depart by June 28 - 30 and return preferably by evening July 7 or very early July 8. Mlgb, the HAL ship, the Noordam, departing June 30, looks perfect, time wise. Thank you. Do you all think that itinerary is good?

How important is the balcony in July, when we could be on deck and will be off the ship a lot? An inside is just under $400.00 pp. Balcony is about $650.00 pp. We could save over $500.00 total by doing an inside, which we have done before and do not mind at all. That would go a long way towards excursions, or airfare. However, I do not want to cheap out if a balcony would really make a huge difference in experience.
I found that an inside cabin was just fine, the Noordam has lots of nice places to hang out with views (eg Library, Crow's Nest especially if you drink, as well as some of the window side seating near where the orchestra plays). It doesn't feel crowded like some of the Princess ships which block a lot of their windows with the displays of photographs they're trying to sell. I also really liked the covered full walking deck on that ship, as mentioned in my trip report.. PS I think a balcony would be a waste on that first full day of cruising when you're in the Gulf of Alaska. Glacier Bay and the Inside Passage are more sheltered and there would be scenery at Glacier Bay, maybe on the Inside Passage if it isn't fogged up... I figured also if the weather was bad I wouldn't mind just holing up inside. If you buy an inside cabin "guarantee" there's always a chance you'll get upgraded, too.

If you need help getting up in the morning, you could pack one of those Phillips Wake Up Light Alarms, but I find that room service coffee and turning on the TV is enough to get me going. Remember, in late June it will be light nearly 24/7 so being inside has it's advantages for getting some sleep.

I also liked having my breakfast out on the deck behind Lido, if the weather is good.

If you decide to go for it, do lock down your hotel rooms, the less expensive ones can sell out.

Also I don't think you need the upgraded Train package, the Adventure Class is just fine if you want to save a bit of cash.

Last edited by mlgb; Jun 9th, 2019 at 11:27 AM.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 12:19 PM
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You're coming from the east coast, right? Washington DC area?

I think the June 30 - July 7 Noordam itinerary looks great, but you need to be very careful with time management, especially on the way home. You really need 24 hours on the ground in Alaska prior to a southbound cruise; the cruise line shuttles or train from Anchorage to Seward leave in early to mid-morning of cruise day, so you'd need to fly into Anchorage on the 29th, having left home early that day. You wouldn't have time for any sightseeing in southcentral Alaska, aside from the very scenic drive or train ride to Seward. Then when you get to Vancouver, by the time you've disembarked and cleared Canadian border formalities, there would be comparatively few flight options that would get you home the same day; you'd need to depart YVR airport around 11 - 11:30 AM, which is doable but not especially comfortable as you have to go through US immigration and customs at YVR airport, so that connections in the US are treated as domestic. Right now the best airfare I can find for those days from any DC-area airport (BWI, DCA, IAD) is around $1500 for flights that meet those time criteria. If you're willing to endure a redeye returning (arriving the morning of the 8th) then the price goes to just under $1000. Note that's before transfer costs from Anchorage to Seward, which will run around $100 - $150 per person (plus taxi in Anchorage.)

Now HAL has a round trip itinerary on the Nieuw Amsterdam that departs Vancouver on the 29th and returns on the 6th of July - https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US...G07B/I946.html which you might also look at. If you flew in on the 27th and out on the 6th, the airfare would be around $925 (from/to BWI) but you'd have 1 1/2 days in Vancouver before sailing in order to get your clocks adjusted. Interestingly, that would put you in Ketchikan for the 4th of July, when they conduct a fun parade downtown (we were there a few years ago.)



It's your call, of course. Personally I'd feel the extra flying and rather rushed ground time (in both cities) with the one-way cruise wouldn't be worth it (to me) given that you'd basically have no time on the ground in southcentral Alaska. But either way you'll come home ready to plan the next visit.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Jun 9th, 2019 at 12:22 PM.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 01:26 PM
  #15  
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Gardyloo, right, going from Baltimore. Now that I am all excited about it, this may just be too hard with that time frame. I have come to think it does not make sense to spend a lot of money getting someplace, then be too tired or not have enough time to experience and appreciate it. Will work it tonight.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 01:33 PM
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Gardyloo, you are amazing and so kind to do that research for me. DH was so surprised that you went way beyond what I ever expected.
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Jun 9th, 2019, 02:15 PM
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Do you have to leave from BWI or does DCA work? If so, there are also a few good flight options the afternoon of the 29th with reasonably short layovers. I've liked flying Delta via Salt Lake City. Either one allows you to catch the 6:45 am train to Seward the next morning, and either visit the SeaLife Center or take a short cruise on Resurrection Bay. (refer back to my trip report on the same itinerary). The Noordam leaves at 8pm, you don't need to be onboard til 7pm, I'd try to be at the terminal by 5-6pm.. Plenty of time to do something in Seward on that day if you take the early train. Bottom line, Gardyloo is incorrect about not having time to do anything other than the train. Although, I'd have liked an extra full day in Seward myself (which it sounds like you have time for).

I have always DIY'd my transfer back to the YVR airport, and booked the last flight of the day that was reasonable. On a recent repo cruise I chanced it and had a flight at 11am, but it was less busy that time of year, and I wasn't too concerned about missing the flight.In cruise season I think a 1pm flight is safe, 12:30 is slightly risky. My early flight still worked out since I already knew how to walk to the SkyTrain station (having used it from Canada Place once before). You have to assume in cruise season that you might have to wait an hour to disembark even if you "walk off" with just carryon luggage, and allow an hour at the airport for customs. ( I can manage a week with just a carryon and tote, YMMV). But you could always do the no-stress ship's transfer. Of course there's also an option to spend a night in Vancouver (if you can stomach the hotel rates). I absolutely do think you can do it, don't be discouraged by someone pushing a different agenda.

https://www.google.com/flights?lite=...sp:2.USD.55530

https://www.google.com/flights?lite=...sp:2.USD.43830

For BWI this isn't a bad flight

https://www.kayak.com/flights/BWI-AN...t=bestflight_a

Last edited by mlgb; Jun 9th, 2019 at 02:37 PM.
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Jun 10th, 2019, 05:11 AM
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I'm not trying to push some agenda, but I don't want to get involved in any fights, so I'll back away from this thread. I hope you have a terrific trip, whatever options you choose.
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Jun 10th, 2019, 08:31 AM
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>>I'll back away from this thread<<

That's too bad Gardyloo -- I think your advice is spot on and extremely valuable . . . and w/o an 'agenda'.
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Jun 10th, 2019, 05:18 PM
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Gardyloo, I hope you are still following and will continue to respond because the more input I have, suggestions, personal experience, etc. the better decisions I can make. I really appreciated the reality check with timing for train to Seward, getting through airports, etc. OTOH, I also appreciate the advice about how to squeeze in more sightseeing. I definitely appreciate the flight suggestions.

Honestly, guys, I did not see a problem with any of the advice. I see several people, each trying to help me out. So, please don’t any of you abandon me yet. I am a big girl and have traveled enough to look at options and determine what might or might not work for us, considering timing, budget, travel style, etc. I hope to make a decision tonight and post an itinerary soon for your review.
Thanks,
​​​​​​​Sass
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