Alaska - Help!

Old Mar 10th, 2018, 08:23 AM
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jcn
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Alaska - Help!

My husband and I will be taking our first cruise to Alaska this summer for our 25th anniversary. We dock in Whittier on July 4 and our children will be flying in to meet us that same evening at 7:00 pm. We plan to stay the first 3 nights at the Alyeska Hotel.
I'm sure we will disembark fairly early that morning and are scheduled to ride the train to the Anchorage airport to pick up our rental car (this all was planned before I decided to bring the teenage kids along)
Here are my questions:

Should we just spend the day exploring Anchorage and wait on their flight to arrive?
Is there a way to go from Whittier straight over to Girdwood, then take a train to the airport later to get the car and the kids?

This whole train schedule and the tunnel schedule is a little overwhelming to a first timer. I don't want to backtrack more than we have to, especially on a holiday like July 4.

I have researched this but cant figure out what to do. Any help is appreciated. I've had our rental car booked for months and it's more than double the price to change now. I considered just getting one in Whittier.

Thanks!
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Old Mar 10th, 2018, 10:47 AM
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You won't mind backtracking when you see the scenery. The Seward Highway is spectacular. Since it is July 4, stick to the existing plans. We have not been to Anchorage's 4th of July but the one in Kenai is a big event. Check out what's happening in Anchorage Anchorage July 4th Celebration (shows 2017 info so maybe do more googling). If anything, figure out where the traffic is going to be. The Girdwood Forest Fair at Alyeska is July 6-8 so I hope you plan on attending. It was an interesting craft fair, a good place to get souvenirs, with music and food. We almost saw a bear that had been attracted by the food smells. Both events are a chance to mix with Alaskans instead of all tourists. If you think of changing your car rental or getting there at a different time, I would make sure to double-check when the rental agency is open since it's a big holiday.
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Old Mar 10th, 2018, 12:30 PM
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The rental car agency in Whittier (Avis) is a small station and is probably already sold out for that day, and even if you did rent a vehicle there the one-way fees would be killer. So stick to your current plan - head into town, pick up the car, and spend the day in Anchorage before meeting them at the airport later.

Things to do -

- Visit the Native Heritage Center - Home | Alaska Native . This is well worth your time and will benefit you as you continue your travels around Alaska.
- Go for a burger at the Arctic Roadrunner on Old Seward Highway. Sit by the creek and do what the locals do. https://www.yelp.com/biz/arctic-roadrunner-anchorage-2
- Drive (30 min. or so) up the Glenn Hwy to the Native village of Eklutna and tour the cemetery with its colorful "spirit houses" over the graves. http://www.eklutnahistoricalpark.org/
- Drive down to Ship Creek (below downtown) and see if anybody's catching Kings. Lower Ship Creek | World's Only Urban King Salmon Fishery
- Drive around Lake Hood, right next to Anchorage airport. Lake Hood is the world's largest seaplane base.

What's the rest of your itinerary like?

Last edited by Gardyloo; Mar 10th, 2018 at 12:32 PM.
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Old Mar 10th, 2018, 01:28 PM
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During our 2 days at Alyeska, we plan to take a Glacier cruise out of Whittier and use the next day to go down towards Seward and also see Exit Glacier. When we leave Alyeska, we are staying the next 2 nights in Talkeetna and doing a flight-seeing trip over the mountains.
Our flight doesnít leave until 7:30 pm on Monday night so Iím not sure what weíll do as we drive back down from Talkeetna. I really wanted to see Matanuska Glacier but I donít know if that can fit into the plan.
We enjoy having time to stop along the way and see things we hadnít planned on.

Suggestions?
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 03:04 AM
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Independence Mine State Historical Park was very interesting, Near the Palmer/Wasilla area and from there it's a long drive to Talkeetna. We visited the Alaska Museum of Transportation years ago which I thought had a lot of information about early bush pilots. Iditarod museum but you might have to be a fan to enjoy it.

Gardyloo makes some great suggestions.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 06:56 AM
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Originally Posted by jcn View Post
During our 2 days at Alyeska, we plan to take a Glacier cruise out of Whittier and use the next day to go down towards Seward and also see Exit Glacier. When we leave Alyeska, we are staying the next 2 nights in Talkeetna and doing a flight-seeing trip over the mountains.
Our flight doesnít leave until 7:30 pm on Monday night so Iím not sure what weíll do as we drive back down from Talkeetna. I really wanted to see Matanuska Glacier but I donít know if that can fit into the plan.
We enjoy having time to stop along the way and see things we hadnít planned on.

Suggestions?
Okay, well, I'm going to show some biases...

Skip the whole Talkeetna bit and reallocate those days to Seward. Just in my view (but one I share with others who've lived in Alaska) but the benefit/cost of several hours' drive through mainly uninspiring country to a touristy little place just so you can fly around Denali (or not, depending on weather) - is questionable.

What if you did your flightseeing of Denali out of Anchorage instead? Go to Rust's on Lake Hood - Alaska Flightseeing Tours & Air Taxi Services | Rust's Flying Service - and take one of their Denali flights, or - and this is a major consideration for any flightseeing - if the mountain's not visible, choose one of their other offerings instead: Prince William Sound, icefields, over the Chugach Mountains, across Cook Inlet to volcano country... You have more choice, spend less time on the road, and, honestly, see more at more or less the same cost. (BTW Rust's owns one of the main Talkeetna operators, K2.)

Use the 2+ Talkeetna days in Seward. Go on a Kenai Fjords cruise, hike up to Exit Glacier, maybe spend a day fishing on Resurrection Bay or inland on the Kenai River or its tributaries. To take the place of your Talkeetna "village" experience, stop in Hope, an old mining village on the south side of Turnagain Arm, reached by a spur road off the Seward Highway. If this is a big year for pink salmon (haven't checked) the crowd of fish in Hope Creek is phenomenal. Also stop at the Wildlife Conservation Center at the junction with the Portage Valley road that goes to the Whittier tunnel.

Just a suggestion, of course.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 08:02 AM
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After 15+ trips to Alaska, I agree with Gardyloo. I always enjoy Talkeetna and the surrounding area but with as limited time as you have, I would concentrate on the Kenai Peninsula also. The Seward area, as Gardyloo suggested, is worth the visit. So is Homer but that may entail more driving than you want to do in such a short time. I would also take the time to see the stretch of Seward Highway between Anchorage and Girdwood. When the weather cooperates, it is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. For an up-close-and-personal animal experience, The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near the Girdwood Junction is always on my itinerary. Have a great trip.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 08:19 AM
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Do you think going up to talkeetna is a bad choice? I thought it was only a couple of hours from Anchorage?
one of our friend keeps suggesting that we spend one night near the Matanuska glacier.
This is so hard ��

Last edited by jcn; Mar 11th, 2018 at 08:22 AM.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 09:06 AM
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Originally Posted by jcn View Post
Do you think going up to talkeetna is a bad choice? I thought it was only a couple of hours from Anchorage?
one of our friend keeps suggesting that we spend one night near the Matanuska glacier.
This is so hard ��
I won't say any choices are good or bad, but with such a short time available my feeling is that you'd be well advised to maximize the bang-for-the-buck experiences. If you had an extra three or four days, then, sure, I'd definitely head up to Denali and spend some time there. But you don't have that time, so I'd suggest you make the most of what you have.

Talkeetna is closer to three hours from Anchorage depending on (yes) traffic, but - IMO - it's not an especially scenic three hours - you're traveling through birch forest on a relatively flat and straight road. The roads on the Kenai, by comparison, are nonstop "oh wow" experiences, at least until you get to Soldotna, after which the road is somewhat similar until you're closer to the water on the southern part of the road to Homer.

With a cruise, glacier cruise out of Whittier, hopefully a Kenai Fjords cruise (glaciers too, but mainly for the scenery and wildlife) plus Exit Glacier (and views of hanging glaciers from Portage Valley and the Alyeska gondola) I'm just going to bet you might be "glaciered out" by the time you leave. I'd personally put the Matanuska Glacier on a list of "next time" destinations; if you were thinking of one of the commercial treks on the glacier, think instead about spending that money by "upgrading" to a Denali flight that actually lands on a glacier. Bang/buck again.

So with the time you have, yes, I'd pass on Talkeetna and look at the Kenai Peninsula and Seward as an area where you'll spend less time in the car and more time actually seeing and doing things.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 10:26 AM
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Thanks so much for all the info!
The sad part about this for me is that I've had a bed and breakfast reserved for the past 8 months in Seward for 2 nights. I cancelled that reservation when I found vacancy at Alyeska! Lol
Back to the drawing board on lodging in Seward but I think I will take your advice and skip Talkeetna.
I appreciate your help.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 11:16 AM
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Gardyloo, how do you know if it's a big year for salmon? I'm considering investing in a bear photography trip in July 2019. The lodge is in Katmai not far from the convergence of the Alganac and Kukaklek rivers. I had the best luck there in 2009 but was skunked in 2010. We were there at the same time both years but the river was high and no salmon so no bears.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 11:20 AM
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If you don't find anything you like available in Seward, try in Homer. DW and I stayed in a nice B&B on the hill above Homer. One morning while we were eating breakfast, a mom moose and yearling walked by the end of the driveway.
We also stayed at a very nice B&B in North Pole (east of Fairbanks) and drove back to the entrance of Denali for our 8 hour bus trip out to Eilson Visitor Center. We got back to the B&B at 10PM but it was still light out (early June).
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 11:58 AM
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Originally Posted by sundowner View Post
Gardyloo, how do you know if it's a big year for salmon? I'm considering investing in a bear photography trip in July 2019. The lodge is in Katmai not far from the convergence of the Alganac and Kukaklek rivers. I had the best luck there in 2009 but was skunked in 2010. We were there at the same time both years but the river was high and no salmon so no be my mkars.
Different species of salmon have different life cycles. At Hope, the pink salmon are on very strict 2 year life cycles, with the biggest runs in even-numbered years. (I checked.)

Other species, like red or silver salmon, have different lifespans, and you can have various species at the same place from one month to the next. I think Brooks Falls is one of those places.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Mar 11th, 2018 at 12:01 PM.
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Old Mar 11th, 2018, 02:57 PM
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Thanks, Gardyloo. I'll see if I can find out.
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