Alaska 2013 - the first draft

Jun 28th, 2012, 12:12 AM
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Alaska 2013 - the first draft

I am after your wise advice on the first daft of our planned trip to Alaska and Canada for 2013. On a previous post the suggestion was to visit Alaska during the last weeks of August then move onto The Rockies followed by Vancouver so at present I am sticking to that timeline.

Our little group will consist of two couples from Australia in our mid 50’s, we want to enjoy the scenery, wildlife, do some walking/hikes and just generally soak it all up.
I have read lots of posts and I think I have picked out the main areas to visit; now I am turning to you knowledgeable Fodorites to help me tweak this itinerary.

Here we go:
14 Aug - Arrive in Vancouver at 7.30am on Air Canada, luggage checked through to Prince Rupert so we can take the train into the City to spend the day. We have been to Vancouver before. Flight from YVR to Prince Rupert at 5.30pm arriving at 7.30pm.

15 Aug – Take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry at 7.45am arriving in Wrangell at 9.45pm. AHM staff have told me the schedule for 2013 will be out in Oct or Nov so I am assuming at this stage it won’t alter much, fingers crossed.
This will give us 4 nights, 3 full days to visit the Anan Bear Sanctuary and possibly a trip up the Stikine River with a day up our sleeves to allow for the weather.

19 Aug – Take the ferry at 11.15am overnight arriving in Juneau at 3.15pm on 20 Aug.

21 Aug – Juneau

22 Aug – Ferry or fly to Glacier Bay

23 Aug – Glacier Bay boat trip, fly late afternoon to Anchorage on Alaska Airlines (?)

24 Aug – Anchorage

25 Aug – Early pick of rental car, grab some food, drinks etc and drive to Denali. Stay for 3 nights, this allows for 2 full days.

28 Aug – Drive to Girdwood ?

29 Aug – Drive to Homer ?

30 Aug – Drive to Seward, stay two nights ? Kenai Fjords tour??

1 Sept – Drive to Anchorage, return car.

2 Sept – Fly Alaska Airlines 9.30am to Calgary arriving at 6.07pm

I think the main thing I am struggling with is the days after Denali. If we have been to Glacier Bay would the Kenai Fjords boat trip be too similar? Should we just spend more time in and around Juneau and delete Girdwood/Homer/Seward? We are really trying to avoid too many one nighters, would rather stay put in one place and tour but not sure if that is possible in Alaska as it’s so big! I have so many if’s and but’s going around in my head.

So there you have it, I will leave it in your hands now, I look forward to your suggestions.

Maudie is offline  
Jun 28th, 2012, 04:34 AM
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I did a road trip that included Denali, Seward, Anchorage. I did not get to Homer so can't help you there.

I will say that the Kenai Fjord trip was very well worth it. We took the 90ft boat, 2 levels, holds 100 passengers. It was a 8.5 hour ride that included lunch EXIT Glacier and while in Seward see the Sea Life Center. You won't want to miss either.

Denali: great visitor center, sign up for the bus ride into the park and plan for getting off and hiking along the way, just wave a bus down when you want a return ride, plan to see the Sled Dog Demonstration, see DENALI OUTDOOR CENTER for a rafting trip on the Nenana River, you can drive into certain areas like SAVAGE RIVER and park your car and hike a nice loop. ENJOY!!!

Oh.................and in Anchorage, make sure to make time to see the Alaska Native Heritage Center and if you have time the Alaska Museum of History & Art. We learned SO much about the area and people before exploring.
Kristinesonja is offline  
Jun 28th, 2012, 09:08 AM
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We went to Glacier Bay (on a big cruise ship) and also did Kenai Fjords. Its not redundant at all. Kenai Fjords is more about the wildlife and the scenery...the actual glacier viewing isn't all that impressive, at least Northwestern Glacier isn't. That's the one you see on the 9 hour tour.

I may be misreading Kristinesonja's post above...Exit Glacier is the one you see from land, not the boat tour. And its worth going to see too. We didn't try to hike up to it, or on it, but I understand that's a lot of fun.

we did 4 nights in Homer, 2 in Seward, 1 in Girdwood. I don't recommend the long ride to Homer unless you are going to stay for more than a night. And the main reason to go there is for fishing or bear watching. You could definitely do 2-3 nights in Seward. There was a lot to see and do in the area and we didn't scratch the surface.
china_cat is offline  
Jun 28th, 2012, 09:51 AM
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oops...................typo in my earlier post. I wanted to say:
"It was a 8.5 hour ride that included lunch on the boat and dinner on their private island. On your way out of Seward, don't miss EXIT Glacier and while in Seward see the Sea Life Center."
Kristinesonja is offline  
Jun 28th, 2012, 12:38 PM
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Since you have 3 nights for Denali I highly recommend you stay at one of the wilderness lodges deep inside the park, instead of staying near the park entrance and driving back and forth to the park and spending two days riding the park shuttle. Specifically, Camp Denali, where you have full-on views of The Mountain (when it is "out") or nearby North Face Lodge, operated by the same family, if you prefer something less rustic. The price seems expensive but consider that it includes everything: transport to the lodge (wildlife tour on the way), lodging, all meals, and guided activities if you choose. Also bikes and canoes. It is the best way to really experience Denali.

For a 3-night stay you must arrive on a Friday; you are picked up around noon at the train depot that day. It looks like in 2013 that Friday would be Aug. 23 so you would have to move Denali up by two days---maybe cut one dayy off Wrangell and also skip the full day in Anchorage (you can add that later).

There are two other lodges out in that area, slightly less expensive but not nearly as good. Camp Denali is celebrating their 60th anniversary this year and in all that time they have only had two operators---the original founders (two women who were bush pilots in WWII) and the Cole family which currently runs it. They do everything right.

As for the rest---I agree with the comment above that Homer is too long a drive to go for one night. You could choose between Seward and Homer, and spend several nights. Although Seward is not really redundant after Glacier Bay, you might find Homer a more unique place. One thing to do there is ride the Danny G over the water to Halibut Cove for dinner at the Saltry. Check out these photos to see this tiny village (sort of artist colony) built over the water on stilts.
enzian is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 12:44 AM
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Thank you so much for your interesting replies.

Sounds like it could be a toss up between Homer or Seward for 3 days, we will have to give that some thought. I really think that will be the best idea, 3 nights in one place is much more appealing. And they both have plenty to see, hard choice.

Enzian, great suggestion for Camp Denali. I had looked at that some time ago but dismissed it due to the cost but looking again it does sound fabulous so I am going to certainly put that on the table to discuss. If I am reading the Alaska ferry schedule correctly we have to stay in Wrangell for 4 nights and wait for the next ferry to come so that's a problem. But I have come up with another plan, possibly to fly directly to Anchorage or Fairbanks and see Denali first then continue on by reversing the above itinerary - gives us something to think on.

I noticed they have quilts on all the beds at Camp Denali, being a quilter myself that really appeals.

Love those photo's of Halibut Cove, thanks for the link. I guess beautiful weather sort of helps too!

I remember you being very helpful to me some years back when we were planning a trip to Switzerland, so a big thank you to you for that. And we had an awesome time too!

Thanks again
Maudie is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 06:22 AM
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Hi Maudie--- thanks for remembering me! We are going to Alaska ourselves this August. It will be my first time back since I lived there 30+ years ago. We are traveling with two other couples and yes, we are going to Camp Denali. We are balancing the cost with lower-priced self-catering cabins elsewhere.

Starting in Fairbanks would make sense as you could take the train to Denali. The Camp Denali bus is timed to meet the train coming from Fairbanks. You could save four days of car rental cost that way. Take the bus on to Anchorage afterward ( or the train but it is more expensive) and pick up your hire car there.

Speaking of car hire, I learned a trick on the Tripadvisor Alaska forum that saved us about $800 on our 14- day hire. Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Anchorage generally offers a great price from their off-site ( not airport) location for booking around 10 or 11 months in advance. One of the regulars there announced when it was time to book for this summer and I took advantage.

I'll post back after the trip and let you know how things went. We are going to Seward before Denali, and two of our group are going to Homer. We can compare notes.
enzian is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 06:30 AM
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Also, since you are a quilter--- you might build in a half day at the Alaska State Fair ( generally the last week in August) to see the quilting and other fiber craft exhibits. Women in Alaska put those long winter nights to good use and are experts at quilting, knitting, weaving, etc. It is very popular and the competition is keen. ( years ago I won a ribbon for my knitting!)
enzian is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 06:36 AM
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I totally disagree with China Cat about the glacier at Kenai Fjord not being interesting. A lot of the tours take you to Ailik Glacier. Seemed pretty awesome to me.
spirobulldog is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 06:42 AM
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spiro, I really only meant it wasn't impressive in comparison to Glacier Bay. Northwestern glacier was much smaller, and didn't calve much for us. As opposed to Marjorie glacier which put on a heck of a show when we were parked in front of it. So I don't think you and I really disagree...certainly the Kenai Fjords glaciers are interesting, and worthwhile. I jsut thought that for me, the highlight of Kenai Fjords was really the varied wildlife...we saw humpbacks and orca and otters, eagles, puffins, sea lions, harbor seals and even a bear on the beach. And that's what makes it not redundant with a trip to Glacier Bay.
china_cat is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 07:53 AM
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maudie- going to Halibut Cove was very fun- do the evening trip and have dinner at the Saltry -

It was one of the highlights of the trip- we were there last Jul- weather was cool but the Saltry has a great outdoor fireplace on the deck.

They give you enough time to walk around the area- a couple of artist studios open-

The most amazing thing I saw when I was in Alaska was the humpbacks doing "bubble net feeding." This was at Juneau.
You can google and watch some videos of this amazing whale behavior- we saw 2 different pods do it several times.
sunbum1944 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 08:39 PM
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Hi Enzian
We have been debating the Camp Denali question back and forth, with the huge airfares we have to pay to get across to the other side of the world I'm afraid it's just going to be out of the question for us. It looks amazing and would be a "once in a lifetime experience" but I will just have to live it through your eyes when I read your trip report.

Our travel style sounds similar to yours, we stay in self catering accommodation as much as we can to save some money, we also like to eat in at times. When you're away from your normal pattern for weeks eating out all the time looses it's appeal. I will be curious to see your choices as it may help me with the accommodation side of things.

Thanks for the tip on the car hire, that sounds like something worth pursuing. Any chance you can post the link to the TA thread?

Thanks for the heads up on the quilts at the Alaska fair, I can see my hubby rolling his eyes at that one. Maybe I just won't say anything and come across it by chance!!!

So the Seward vs Homer question is still open - this is going to be a tricking one. Might be a flip of a coin. Chinacat, the wildlife viewing on the Kenai Fjords boat trip certainly sounds very appealing. But then again sunbum1944 piques my interest with the description of Halibut Cove. Thank you for the info on the bubble net feeding, I do hope we get a chance to see something like that.

If we went with Homer, what suggestions can you give me for tours/activities?

So I am back to draft one, do we need to change anything or can I get a pat on the back?

Thanks again everyone.
Maudie is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 09:26 PM
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Homer suggestions? Halibut Cove is a suggestion for the Homer area.
We stayed at Alaskan Suites in Homer- nice cabins with a great view- kitchens- continental breakfasts.

Bear viewing from Homer - very expensive but if you call the day before and they are not full, you can get 1/2 price tickets. My cousin went and thought it was great and she paid the full fare of $600
sunbum1944 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 09:40 PM
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Hi sunbum (love the name).
If we see bears from Wrangell then we would be looking for something else to fill a couple of days. Maybe just driving around soaking up the scenery?
Maudie is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 10:02 PM
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well then do the Halibut Cove trip - we also went to a winery outside of Homer- some of the wines were not bad which surprised me. The best halibut we had was in Homer- its kind of a cute little town- there was an eagle sitting on almost every light post -

There is a quilt store in Homer -
sunbum1944 is offline  
Jun 30th, 2012, 06:15 AM
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That is too bad about Camp Denali but I completely understand the cost issue. We are flying on miles tickets so did not pay airfare. Coming from Australia you have a big expense just for that alone. And you will love Denali Park no matter how you go about seeing it.

There is a guided kayak/wildlife tour from Homer that looked good to me. I'll see if I can find that link.

Homer has lots of B&B places and some cabin options as well.

In Seward we are staying at Alaska Paddle Inn. They only have two rooms and we are using both. Check out their website, and I willmlet you know how it was.

Now to find that car rental link on Tripadvisor. . .
enzian is offline  
Jun 30th, 2012, 06:43 AM
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Kayaking at Homer with Center for Alaska coastal Studies:

We would have done the overnight in a yurt, but had to take Homer off our list due to time shortage. I will advise our friends, who are going there instead of to Seward with us, to check this out.
enzian is offline  
Jun 30th, 2012, 06:50 AM
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As usual with me the following is full of lots of words, sorry.

I'm just going to throw this out and will understand completely if it's rejected on budget grounds; it's just me beating a drum that's already well-beaten.

As you say, it's a huge expense to come from Oz to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, so in my view anything that causes a significant cost increase had better be worth it. Upgrading from adequate accommodations to superb ones may satisfy many people's "worth it" test, while others would say words to the effect that "a bed's a bed" and that the view goes away at night.

So in that context, and looking at your itinerary a little holistically, I'm going to suggest you do the math a little and think about getting out of the car for a couple of days and fly to a Native bush community well off the road system, maybe someplace like Barrow or Kotzebue in the arctic.

A round trip air ticket from Anchorage or Fairbanks to Barrow will run around $500 per person, so not to be taken lightly. Of course, the days you're in the bush are days you don't need a rental/hire car, so there are some savings there, but there's no question that the net cost of such an excursion will be an increase over your current estimates. And, in terms of time, something will have to give. And that's where the "worth it" issue gets even more complicated.

With the ferry, bears and the Stikine, Juneau and Glacier Bay, Denali, Kenai Fjords, Homer etc., you'll certainly have seen a wide variety of landscapes, and will have put yourselves into areas where if there's wildlife to be seen, you'll have seen it. Now if only the creatures will cooperate.

But even so, Alaska is so vast and so diverse, that you'll still have missed out on one big aspect that in my view is "worth it" to experience: life in traditional communities in the far north.

As you know (and I know only a little from limited experience) Australia is as much about its people as it is about its geography. Well, the same goes for Alaska, so I'd suggest that a short visit to an Eskimo community in the arctic might help you get some sense of that diversity. And, in fact, the physical differences between the mountain/water/tree world of everything else on your itinerary (except the interior of Denali Park) and the tundra country of the arctic, and the lifestyle it imposes, are remarkable.

Put a toe in the Arctic Ocean, learn about the remarkable culture on some of Alaska's native peoples. It may cost a couple hundred dollars more than a day driving around the Kenai Peninsula, but in the context of your overall trip, it might be a good investment, and "worth it."

It might require some re-programming of your trip, but you have lots of time to plan.
Gardyloo is online now  
Jun 30th, 2012, 07:03 AM
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On Tripadvisor, there is no one thread, but the same guy who talks a lot about booking the car 11 months in advance:

"Usually I book my rental cars for Anchorage 11 months in advance. The past three summers Enterprise on E. International Blvd (a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport) has offered weekly rates on their smallest cars for under $100/week plus taxes.

"But for next summer, at least for booking now, it appears that Alamo at the airport is cheapest (even with the exhorbitant airport fees), but nowhere near the rates I had the past three summers. Nope, no strings attached. Just be sure you book for the exact dates (and pickup/dropoff times) that you want. Any changes later will basically nullify the good rate you get now.

"Most car rental rates for people booking next spring for next summer will be $500/week plus taxes. So grab what you can now."

He also advises to compare prices as sometimes it is Enterprise on International Blvd. and sometimes Alamo at the airport. The best rates apply to compact cars and that may not be large enough for you. We are going to try it as we won't be spending much time in the car.

Also note that to get the great rate you cannot make changes in the reservation, or they will bump the price up to the current rate.

So following that advice I booked our car for the August trip early last October. Again, I'll let you know how it goes!
enzian is offline  
Jul 1st, 2012, 06:27 AM
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Enzian, yes it is a pity about Camp Denali but we will still enjoy seeing it on "the cheap". Unfortunately we can't see and do everything, it comes down to money and time which seems to the the constraints by which we travel.

Thanks too for the links and also info on the car hire, that certainly sounds like it's worth checking every couple of days when the time gets near to book. The Yurt looks really interesting, I was looking at one of those elsewhere. When I showed hubby the Paddle Inn he just said, decision made Seward it is! It's just the sort of place we love so I hope it lives up to your expectations, we will wait and see. I am going to be hanging out to read your trip report. Can't thank you enough for your help and suggestions. I do hope your trip is amazing and guess what it's next month!

Gardyloo, thank you for your suggestion, it certainly gives us something else to ponder. Not really sure if we can swing it but I will discuss with our friends. In all the reading I have done I have noticed this suggestion from your before and I can see that you are very passionate about visiting native communities.

We are very fortunate to have visited the Arctic circle from Norway, so very different from our hot dry land in Western Australia I can assure you.

Thanks again for all the great ideas, what a brilliant wealth of knowledge there is out there and how kind people are to share.
Maudie is offline  
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