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wellstnj Aug 10th, 2006 09:57 PM

cruise tour on HAL
We are planning a cruisetour for June 2007 with another couple, going HAL. We have never cruised, always enjoyed doing our own trip planning and being able to go at our own pace. So the cruise isn't really our style of travel.However, the couple we will be with travels at a more leisurely pace than we do and we are concerned that even though we are close friends, we would be frustrated traveling in a car on our own for 2 weeks. We think a cruisetour would solve the issue, since the schedule is set for us. We haven't made reservations yet, so we can adjust our thinking if anyone has other good suggestions as to how we can travel together, seeing Alaska by sea and land. We are looking at tour 5 HAL, the Klondike/Yukon land and 3night inland passage sea. We don't have unlimited $$, but are thinking to go for a balcony. We are 60+years, so won't be doing strenuous activities, but do enjoy hiking and seeing wildlife and scenery, etc. I have read alot of postings for ideas, just want more advice about whether a cruise on HAL is the way for 4 friends to go.This is our first trip to Alaska for both couples, we live in New Orleans and they live in Frederick MD.

Dreps Aug 11th, 2006 03:49 AM

It is very easy to arrange the land portion of an Alaskan tour on your own, and it is considerably cheaper than signing up for a cruise line package. At the same time, to see Alaska, you want to include a cruise. There is a wealth of information on this board and others such as Cruise Critic's Alaskan Board and Luxury Cruise Talk. Budget Queen, who posts here and on CC, is known for her excellent suggestions. We chose to do a pre-cruise in the Denali area a 7-day cruise on Regent, and a post-cruise in Vancouver/Victoria. Regent is luxurious (all suite/all balcony) and all inclusive and, of course, more costly. Food and service are outstanding. However, I suspect that if you arranged the land portion instead of taking a package, you might not be looking at a large difference than a package that included a balcony cabin on many other cruise lines. Just make sure you're comparing apples and apples. If you have any questons, feel free to contact me: [email protected].

CollegeMom Aug 11th, 2006 07:03 AM

You sound like our kind of traveler so will add a few thoughts since we just returned from the HAL tour 25. The cruise was excellent and offered many options on the ship so if you and your friends wanted separate activities, they were available. It will depend on what you want to see while in Alaska since this tour does not do Glacier Bay or College Fjords. Those glaciers were the highlites of our trip. The excursions offer many options at every port so you could do different things yet be with a group tour. Also Tour 5 seems to have a lot of time on motor coaches. Distances in Alaska are large! The coaches are comfortable, but even great scenery gets boring riding hour after hour on the bus! We noticed many on our coach from Anachorage to Denalli slept! We did enjoy the White Pass Railroad tour and learned much about the Klondike Gold Rush and Skagway from the free National Park Service walking (easy) tour. When the ship is in port, you are free to come and go to the ship, so often my husband and I would go into the town in the morning to explore, come back for lunch, and then I would go back for more exploration in the afternoon since he had had enough walking. We both enjoyed the days on the ship more than the days on coach because of the variety. As for as the balcony, if you like to sit privately, have coffee there etc., then go for it. We had an outside room with window and basically only slept there, but we spent a lot of time on the decks or elsewhere on the ship. Before 9 a.m. you are usually alone on the deck. When there is marine life to watch, many people are there, but we had no problem seeing. The ship's naturalist had a set schedule and location for wildlife viewing, and he was very helpful. You wouldn't get his information on a balcony. As for the last tour days, the coach from Anchorage to Denali was 8 hours,the Tundra tour at Denali is 6 - 8 hours and the McKinley Explorer is 8 hours to Anchorage, and then we followed that with an 8 hour flight day so we were very tired of sitting by the time we got home. While we aren't avid exercisers, sitting for so long every day is not our style. Trip 25 has more cruising days but still offers the excursions to the Yukon but with fewer days there. We opted not to go to Fairbanks since it was a coach ride up, a brief overnight, and then more McKinely Express back to Anchorage. If you want try your luck at panning for gold, or to see Fairbanks you wouldn't like our choice. My suggestion is to decide what you want to see---wildlife, scenery, glaciers, cities, etc. and then check the cruise pacakages and extra excusion tours to match it up. Whlie I did most of our reservation research online, Will, a personal cruise consultant at HAL, was most helpful (800-355-3017 ext. 4302)in selecting the tour to match our interests. Happy planning and you will love Alaska!

BudgetQueen Aug 11th, 2006 09:29 AM

Group travel in Alaska is tough. But since you claim you are preferring your own interior Alaska touring, you probably will not be happy on a cruisetour. You spend too much wasted time waiting in lines, waiting to board buses, too long of bathroom/meal stops etc. Superior to go at your own pace and experience Alaska, you never get past fellow visitors on crusisetours, very isolated traveling in Alaska. There is too much time on a bus on the tour you are looking at. Very boring and the least scenic portion of the Alcan and not enough time to really do the good touring of Kluane, biggest loss is missing a significant part of the inside passage- either a great port or glacier.

My opinion only, HAL is an excellent line on their one way trips, Vancouver to Seward. I only recommend independent touring, since none allow any time in Seward- which is a DO NOT miss gem. Kenai Fjords boat tours are just fantastic and superior for varied wildlife and close up glacier viewing.
I suggest an overnight here and then the Alaska RR to Anchorage.

Consider a round trip Anchorage rental car and do your own planning. As a suggested routing, spend a day in Talkeetna, at least 2 in Denali park with the shuttle to at least Fish Creek, NONE of the tours go far enough for my preferences. Consider 2 nights in Fairbanks, or do a loop to Valdez across the Glenn and ferry back to Whittier after a couple days in Valdez.

Overall- how much time do you have??? If you care to, you can get travel planning help that will be completely accurate and superior to any cruisetour. Cost savings a given. :)

wellstnj Aug 12th, 2006 06:49 AM

We have 2 to 3 weeks total, including flights to Vancouver or Anchorage from our home states. Our husbands definitely want a train ride, one is a railroad buff, loves anything trains! I don't mind planning the land portion, I'm retired, so have more time, just want to make good decisions, since there are 4 of us to please. I guess our hesitation to doing the land portion on our own from a cruisetour is that 1 couple gets a later start in the morning and 1 gets going earlier. We don't want that to be an irritation to each other.

desertduds Aug 12th, 2006 07:32 AM

Years ago, my husband and I took an HAL cruise/tour, at that time I believe it was I recall, we got on at Vancouver and were on for three-four nights, think we got off at Skagway, did those sights, train, and boarded a bus for the inland tour. We had THE most wonderful informative young man as our guide(we all predicted he'd be the US President eventually, even though he was a Canadian!!)and the inland tour made the trip! The ship part was, as always, a wonderful cruise, but in late June overcast, gloomy, rainy and foggy, so we wouldn't have seen much from the ship. On land all our wants and needs were met, we stayed at HAL hotels, toured all over the place, went via paddlewheel riverboat by Alaskan native village, Iditerod winner's home/dogs and just many things we wouldn't have seen if we'd stayed on the ship. We went to Denali(no animal sightings) and flew home from Anchorage.

wellstnj Aug 12th, 2006 01:01 PM

Thanks for the advise. I like the idea of the 1 way cruise to Seward. The only way we can get a balcony on the cruise is to do the Denali trip through them, which is a total of 11 days. It is the tour#25, but I really like that it covers Glacier Bay. I guess we would cruise and see Denali with HAL then once back in Anchorage, rent a car or van and do our independant land stuff on the Kenai Peninsula. How many days extra should we add on? The cruisetour goes Sunday to Wednesday, including Denali. Also, I read the Ryndam had sickness on board earlier this summer. Have they controlled that by now?

BudgetQueen Aug 12th, 2006 03:14 PM

If you have a couple that is NOT an early riser, than a cruisetour is not for them. Especially if you are only looking at a 4 day add on, just not enough time and too much in transit. Most all early mornings required.

If you are looking for the train, it is simple to book the Alaska RR on your own. I would plan a stop over however in Talkeetna, and at least 2 nights at Denali Park. Key here is to fully understand the differences into Denali park. My min. recommendation is via SHUTTLE to at least Fish Creek, mile 63. None of the cruisetours go that far. The tundra Wilderness tour goes to mile 53, missing some prime bear habitat.

If your ship is coming into Seward, do your touring then. Why backtrack, save your time for a streamlined routing. The most scenic portion of the entire Alaska RR by far is the Seward/Anchorage portion. Be also certain that you ride the White Pass RR. The rest of the Alaska RR, just about parallels the Parks Highway, and way too many trees in my opinion. :)

I suggest you do your homework, get familiar with areas of Alaska via a good map, read up on areas and make a list of your priorities. Time is necessary, which you seem to have. Make some good choices for your touring preferences.

A significant cost saver for independent travelers is deals do change but take a look for an idea of what is available.

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