Alaska honeymoon-cruise or no?

Nov 4th, 2014, 06:43 AM
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Alaska honeymoon-cruise or no?

We have decided on Alaska for our honeymoon in August of 2015!

We want to see a lot and are the active type- we enjoy hiking, kayaking, being outdoors, and laid back people that like pubs and music.

We are interested in the possibility of a cruise ship to see a lot of Alaska. then extending our stay in one area to continue the honeymoon.

Would anyone recommend the cruise lines such as princess that cruise for 7 days then stay on land for 3 in the Denali at one of their lodges?

Would it be easier/cheaper/more effective to rent a car instead and plan our own itinerary and drive to wherever we want to visit and stay?

Which route should we go for our honeymoon? Let a cruise ship do all the work and only spend 1 day at each port, or plan it ourselves and stay in hotels and rent a car? Would we be spending more time driving than actually seeing all the destinations a cruise offers?

Which is more effective?!
DreamingEurope is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 06:55 AM
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Well, if you rent a car and do land, you will see quite different places from those you'll visit on a cruise ship, since common cruise stops such as Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan have no roads in. We did a cruise with no land, but the idea of an extension for a few days some place like Denali sounds like heaven.

Some adventurous folks rent RV's and camp--never looked into this, but it would be quite different.
WWanderer is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 07:16 AM
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I would head over to the Cruise Critic website where you can read LOTS of postings by people who have done Alaska cruises. Then read postings on Trip Advisor's Alaska forum from those who have done self-drive tours of the state.

Your choice of cruise vs. self-drive depends a lot on what you want to see and do on your honeymoon; how much planning of the trip you want to do/can do; and what your budget is.

We did an 8-day self-drive tour in Alaska (which was great) and are planning on an Alaska cruise next year (which I expect will also be great). But those two trips are quite different experiences, both in what can be seen/done and in cost.
longhorn55 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 07:19 AM
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It's really a judgement call. On the cruise you unpack once, have a choice of several restaurant/bar venues on the same ship, can order room service, keep your own hours, etc. You don't have to join the expensive shore excursions the cruise line will push at you mercilessly; there are towns visited on typical cruise itineraries that are very easy to visit on your own - take the city bus to Totem Bight park in Ketchikan, for example, a buck each way vs. $100 for the cruise ship's own excursion, or rent a car in Skagway and drive up into the Yukon instead of taking the touristy train.

But you'll be surrounded 24/7 by several thousand other people, and in most ports of call you won't be the only ship in town. On some days, Skagway, population 800 or so, is visited by four cruise ships, each with 2000+ passengers and 700 crew on board. Do the math.

BUT... you'll see the beauty of Southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage, probably get close to a glacier or two, and all of it in a very comfortable waterfront hotel room that moves, good food and fun things on board, and pretty cheap on a per person per day basis.

The land option offers more freedom and more possibilities for you to do your own thing - less regulated, less predictable. It will be more expensive for sure - car rental, hotels, food, and you won't be away from tourist crowds no matter how you cut it in places like Denali Park. Of course it will require more planning.

Note that you'll need more than three days before/after a seven day cruise to/from Vancouver if you want to see Denali. Visits to the interior of the park (all done by means of shuttle bus - no private cars allowed) require you to leave the accommodation areas in the morning and return in the evening, so you can't drive up from Anchorage on day one and see the park, and driving back after a visit to the interior of the park puts you back in Anchorage pretty late, so you need at least three days off the calendar to handle it. If one of those days includes disembarking from a cruise ship in Whittier or Seward, then driving or training into Anchorage, that day is pretty shot.

Visiting Alaska is complicated, and to make the best use of your time and financial resources, you need to do some research of the options (pluses and minuses) to see what fits your interests and wallet. August is a very busy time wherever you go in the state, so use the interim to do some homework to make the best of it.

Oh, and congratulations!
Gardyloo is online now  
Nov 4th, 2014, 08:11 AM
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These are really helpful, thank you!!

Would June be better than August as far as pricing and tourism?

I am a teacher and have June july and August off so we can choose any month. In fact our wedding isn't until October, but bc I am a teacher I can't take the time off around the wedding so we are taking the honeymoon beforehand.

the cruise option that extends the stay for 3 days doesn't go back to Vancouver where it departs from. We go straight to the Denali from our last port of call.
DreamingEurope is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 08:43 AM
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the cruise option that extends the stay for 3 days doesn't go back to Vancouver where it departs from. We go straight to the Denali from our last port of call.

Your last port of call will be either at Seward or Whittier, depending on the cruise line. I assume you're looking at some sort of package sold by the cruise line that would provide transportation to/from Denali - arrival port to Denali via Anchorage, Denali back to Anchorage (airport) then home. It's doable, but the arrival + trip to Denali day will be very long. Seward is 2 1/2 hours from Anchorage, Whittier at least 1 1/2, then Anchorage to Denali is at least 5 1/2, plus you need to allow for all the pax disembarking in the port and making their way to the train/bus for the connections into town or beyond. (You mentioned Princess, hence Whittier would be your landing port.)

As for timing, it's a crapshoot. Some summers in southcentral Alaska can be warm and sunny, others wet, most both. The earlier you visit Denali the more aggressive the mosquitoes will be, the later the higher odds of inclement weather (or, conversely, early and beautiful autumn color on the tundra.)

Where are you coming from? It might make a difference in terms of body clock. If you're coming from several time zones away, then the northbound sailings out of Vancouver allow you to adapt to the local time more gently; if you're coming from the west coast, flying to Alaska first then cruising back might be more preferable - use the cruise to unwind from the land-based portion. Coming from, for instance, the east coast, straight to Alaska, where in June/July it barely gets dark at all, and 4 hours time change, makes sitting on buses or driving six hours to Denali pretty tiresome. Remember in Denali you'll be on buses all day, too.
Gardyloo is online now  
Nov 4th, 2014, 08:43 AM
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As a Brit I have cruised Alaska twice, the last time in 2012, when we went in August. We sailed on a smaller boat Regent Seven Seas which carries about 700 people and can dock in all ports. Although the fare looks expensive it includes everything, drinks plus excursions. The excursions are, in our view, some of the best bits. Getting very close to Whales in a small boat, white water rafting and counting Bald Eagles or getting close to bears. Yes there are some large boats but the small towns survive on tourism and do a great job. When we got off the boat at Steward we spent 2 days in Anchorage, hired bikes and took the cycle path and round one corner came across a Mousse with twins! wonderful sight. We then drove to Homer, a beautiful journey passing grisly bears salmon fishing from the side of the road. We stayed there two days, saw amazing wildlife, great crafts and wonderful sea food.
Gardyloo sounds as if they had an unfortunate experience but we loved every minute on both occasions and would return. Remember that this is not a summer holiday and days can be very cold so remember to take warm clothing and waterproof coats.

Congrats on your upcoming wedding, we are just planning our Golden wedding in 2015.
carol2791 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 08:52 AM
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Do put Alaska into the box that says search by state and look for the threads that have a little flag that indicates trip report to get an idea of what others have experienced.

We did the cruise with the land package from the ship. DH hated the ship portion because there was too much time sitting and seeing scenery go by instead of being in the driver's seat, and when we got to towns, the ship options were very expensive although we did find some local transportation which was great. We both loved Denali.
emalloy is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 09:04 AM
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Gardyloo sounds as if they had an unfortunate experience but we loved every minute on both occasions and would return.

No, I just lived and traveled all around Alaska for years, so perhaps I have a different perspective than others might. There's no right or wrong approach, just what works for each person/couple.
Gardyloo is online now  
Nov 4th, 2014, 09:49 AM
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This is getting harder and harder the more I read posts, trips posted, and cruise forums!

We will be coming from New England, on he east coast.

It sounded at first like the cruise and land package was a no brainer until I read we'd be spending more time traveling than experiencing the land part!

We did two weeks in Europe last year that I planned entirely on my own. It was exhauuuuusting with all of the train rides, flights, metros, etc. that I think I might not be married anymore bc my hubby will not want to do that kind of traveling for a honeymoon!

I guess if I had to put it this way- it's most important to me we see a lot of Alaska and a lot of wildlife doing outdoorsy activities with a day or two in between to take in some of the villages and shopping.
We want to visit villages, go hiking, go kayaking, see bears and moose, maybe take a flight seeing plane ride, or train ride, drink beers in a pub, etc.

Time line of event- we definitely have 7 days we are setting aside, and as of right now plan on spending three or four more. Financially, we cannot afford a full two weeks away.

I did post a comment on someone's trip report approximate expenditures for a non cruise trip. Price certainly would help sway our decision. If it's exceptionally more expensive one way vs another, that info would be very helpful too!!

Thanks so much! As if the wedding isn't stressful enough to plan, didn't think the honeymoon would be either!
DreamingEurope is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 10:00 AM
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Here is an example of the itinerary for the cruise ship AND land package deal.

Arrive Depart
Saturday, August 1
Vancouver, British Columbia
4:30 PM
At Sea
Sunday, August 2
Ketchikan, Alaska
Monday, August 3
6:30 AM 2:00 PM
Juneau, Alaska
Tuesday, August 4
8:00 AM 9:00 PM
Skagway, Alaska
Wednesday, August 5
7:00 AM 8:30 PM
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Scenic Cruising)
Thursday, August 6
6:00 AM 3:00 PM
College Fjord, Alaska (Scenic Cruising)
Friday, August 7
6:00 PM 8:30 PM
Anchorage (Whittier), Alaska
Saturday, August 8
12:30 AM
8 Whittier/Denali
Saturday, August 8
Board your comfortable motorcoach for a scenic ride that takes you straight from the ship to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, situated a short shuttle ride away from spectacular Denali National Park. This evening, relax on the deck and enjoy stunning views of the Nenana River Canyon.
9 Denali/Fairbanks
Sunday, August 9
The morning is free to relax or opt for an activity. Then, travel by rail on a scenic journey to Fairbanks.
10 Fairbanks
Monday, August 10
Spend a wonderful day in the "Golden Heart City." The entire day is free to spend however you choose. Stop by the tour desk to plan optional excursions.
11 Fairbanks
Tuesday, August 11
Your tour ends this morning in Fairbanks.
DreamingEurope is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 10:39 AM
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I would want to drop the day in the"Golden Heart City" and spend more time in Denali, not that there is nothing to see in Fairbanks, we actually had a view of Denali from there, a hundred miles away, but I would want at least a whole day for a trip into the park.

See what the cost of renting a car in Whittier, and lodging near Denali for 2 or 3 nights would be and compare to the cost for the land portion of the cruise plan. You could still fly out of Fairbanks as it is much closer than Anchorage.
emalloy is offline  
Nov 4th, 2014, 10:39 AM
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I guess if I had to put it this way- it's most important to me we see a lot of Alaska and a lot of wildlife doing outdoorsy activities with a day or two in between to take in some of the villages and shopping.

We want to visit villages, go hiking, go kayaking, see bears and moose, maybe take a flight seeing plane ride, or train ride, drink beers in a pub, etc.

Okay, a couple of reality checks. One, you can’t see it all. Two, you can’t see much at all in 10 days. Alaska is the size of western Europe with fewer road miles than Los Angeles.

Which means you have to choose. Do you want gorgeous coastal scenery with maybe some whales, some eagles, glaciers and historic towns? Easy – southeast Alaska has it all. But bears and villages? Harder to find, harder to get to.

Moose and bears and spectacular mountain views? Easy - Denali, but no whales, no salmon, not many trees, actually, and some high percentage of visitors to Denali Park never actually see Mt. McKinley, because it’s shrouded in the clouds that it manufactures itself. Very expensive accommodations, lots and lots and lots of fellow tourists.

Villages with fascinating native culture? Midnight sun? Easy – Kotzebue, a short plane ride from Anchorage. Stick a toe in the Arctic Ocean, visit a fish camp, watch the sun NOT set. But bears? Mountains? Trees? Nope.

My suggestion. Fly to Anchorage and get a car. Spend a five days or so on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. Visit Seward and do a Kenai Fjords day cruise. Travel to Homer and take a boat across Kachemak Bay to Seldovia, a darling little village off the road system. Go kayaking, probably with some Orcas (or bigger) for company.

On the way down or back, stop for an afternoon in Whittier and take a “26 Glacier” cruise out into College Fjord, where you’ll see more glaciers in four hours than you’d see in a week on a cruise ship.

Return to Anchorage and lose the car. Fly to Kotzebue and spend a “night” (it won’t be) at the comfortable hotel across the street from the Arctic Ocean. The hotel will cost about the same as one in Anchorage, and the cost of the flights will be partially (or more) offset by not having to pay for a rental car for a couple of days. Maybe go visit the local Inupiat Eskimo fish camp, or visit the cultural center. Scratch “crossing the arctic circle” off your bucket list, if it’s there in the first place.

Fly back to Anchorage and splurge on a flightseeing trip to some bear place – usually across Cook Inlet. Worth the money.

Hang out in Anchorage for the rest of the time. Lots of fun pubs, local hikes. Shop for wonderful native crafts at the Alaska Native Medical Center gift shop – a worthy cause as well as prime stuff.

Now this is a very aggressive and rather whirlwind itinerary. It skips Denali, it skips SE Alaska, it skips a lot. But it will give you a real sense of the incredible diversity and range of experiences Alaska has to offer. Ammo for your next trip.

Just an option.
Gardyloo is online now  
Nov 4th, 2014, 11:44 AM
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DreamingEurope, based on your stated interests, I'd say you are a perfect candidate for a self-drive vacation. Our interests were similar to yours when we did our trip--scenery, wildlife and hiking. We spent 4 nights in Anchorage (2 nights on the front and 2 nights on the back of our trip), 2 nights at the Alyeska Resort and 2 nights in Seward. We skipped Denali simply due to lack of time and due to the many reports that the mountain can get socked in by fog, so you go all that way to see nothing (which was confirmed by our B&B host in Anchorage.)

BTW, the Big Bear B&B in Anchorage was fantastic. You'd love the Denali Room which has a 2-person Jacuzzi tub! The owner is a former home ec teacher and prepares the most fabulous breakfasts!
longhorn55 is offline  
Nov 5th, 2014, 12:06 PM
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I don't think it was discussed here but consider also a small ship cruise. The boat we took a few years ago the Wilderness Explorer is now operated by Only holds about 70 passengers. You can hike, kayak etc right off the boat. With an extra day or two at each end in Ketchikan and Juneau it was a great trip.
laurie_ann is offline  
Nov 5th, 2014, 11:33 PM
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Be sure to get an Alaska Airlines credit card. It comes with a $100 companion fare. That saves you so much on airfair. Use the same card to book your hotel and car rental. It's comparable in price and locally used.

Living in SE Alaska, here are my suggestions. Fly from your home to Seattle. Stay the night at a hotel near the airport with shuttle service. Take time to freshen and prepare for your 7AM flight to Juneau in the morning. When you arrive in Juneau, hire a rental car at the airport. From there head out to see Mendenhall glacier and the bears. Then go to see St Theresa Shrine. After your drive, head back to downtown to your hotel.

While Juneau is Alaska's state capital highlighting it's capital building and unique Governor's mansion, it's also a shoppers delight. So cute with shops and boutiques. I'd use a map to catch all the sights. It's so fun to walk up and down the hilly streets peeking into all the little alley ways. Crazy stairways heading up to beautiful painted Victorian homes. Walk Basin Road, a wooden road leading to a mining museum. Unique architecture everywhere. Murals painted on sides of building. Take the tram up Mt Roberts to have your supper looking over the channel. An amazing view!

From Juneau, you'll drop off your rental car at the airport, and hire a taxi to the ferry terminal to board the fast ferry FairWeather to Sitka. It's a four hour sailing through amazing water passages and gives a real view of how Alaskan's travel to their nearby communities. I saw a visiting bagpipe troupe piping on the back deck. The Alaska Marine Highway travel is a rare glimpse into the local culture. A truly authentic Alaskan experience.

There's so much to see in Sitka. It's even neater than Juneau. Plan to stay at least two days. I'll be happy to make more suggestions.

So one overnight in Juneau, two in Sitka, then fly out from Sitka's airport to Anchorage.
Kansan is offline  
Nov 7th, 2014, 11:40 AM
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You have received quite a bit of good advice. I'll just throw in two thoughts:

- One, the cruise ship will be the more economical option. Things are just pricey in Alaska, so expect to pay more for food, gas, lodging, you name it. With the cruise option, this caveat applies to excursions.

- Two, be aware of how much farther it is to Alaska than, say, Seattle. One poster alluded to that with a suggestion to fly into Seattle, rest, and then catch a flight to Juneau or wherever.

Your challenge is balancing budget against the freedom you'll want to engage in all the activities you enjoy. If you choose to do the cruise, I would rather tack on several extra days on my own rather than a cruise-sponsored land-sea option. Also, I would really look closely at the small boat experiences mentioned, as it might work out to be the best compromise.

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!
sludick is offline  
Nov 7th, 2014, 11:58 AM
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Like the OP, I would describe myself as an active type. And, for what it's worth, the small ship cruise of the Inside Passage that I took with a friend was one of the longest weeks of my life. Maybe cruises just aren't for me, but it just felt really stifling. We took advantage of the various excursions--and they were okay, but it was otherwise mostly a gigantic yawn. Alaska is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I like my "active" vacations to a be a lot more active. I just don't enjoy passively watching scenery go by. If I had to do it all over again, I would put my own itinerary together, doing a mix of kayaking and hiking, and skip the cruise. Of course, this is all very personal, but since you're debating what kind of trip to take, I thought I'd share my experience.
indyhiker is online now  
Nov 7th, 2014, 02:07 PM
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Years ago, we took a cruise from Vancouver to Seward, then rented a car. We took the advice of several Alaskans and skipped Denali. WE spent a week exploring the Kenai Peninsula and had a wonderful time. Lots of wildlife, awesome scenery, fun activities, and good food. On the way back to Anchorage we took a train over the pass to Whittier.

I am really glad we chose to see Alaska this way. We loved the cruise and seeing the coast towns, and also loved poking around the Kenai. It was mid June, so the weather was good and we made up our itinerary as we went. It was very relaxed and WeI have no regrets at missing Denali.
lcuy is offline  
Nov 8th, 2014, 09:18 AM
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The Kenai is great but so is Denali. I suggest you look into both and then decide which to visit.
charsuzan is offline  

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