Alaska in May? Help needed!

Old Jan 26th, 2019, 09:19 AM
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Alaska in May? Help needed!

We're beginning to plan a trip to Alaska for May. One option is to take a HAL southbound departing Seward May 19th. Questions:
Will the early date impact the ship exploring Glacier Bay?
How else will the early date impact the cruise?

We are planning to spend two to three weeks exploring Alaska on our own before the Cruise, or before flying on. A couple of questions:
Hatcher Pass and the Independence Mine sound interesting. Is May too early to drive into this area?
Driving the Anchorage - Worthington Glacier - Thompson Pass Valdez - Ferry to Whittier loop sounds interesting. Should these roads be open in May?
If we skip the Cruise, we could fly to Juneau and spend a few days at Glacier Bay NP in late May. Would late May be a good time to take the Glacier Bay day boat trips from Bartlett Cove?

Some feedback about what we can expect in May would be greatly appreciated!

Last edited by wendy236; Jan 26th, 2019 at 09:20 AM. Reason: duplicate sentence
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 10:18 AM
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You're just going to have to accept that travel in the first half of May is risky in terms of access to various places. Most roads, including up to Hatcher Pass, should be open, but depending on how late spring breakup is done, you might have muddy conditions or lots of potholes everywhere. (Potholes are a BIG issue on many roads; it takes some time for the roads people to deal with them.) As far as Glacier Bay is concerned, May ought to be fine; it's not as prone to ice preventing access as Hubbard Glacier farther north.

You won't be able to gain access to the interior of Denali Park, and will need to check with your rental car company to be sure they'll allow the ferry from Valdez to Whittier. But otherwise you should have a good time. I think the key is to defer the land portion as long as possible; you might consider reversing things and cruise north, just to allow spring to have another week to progress.
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 10:24 AM
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I personally would not plan a land-based itinerary in Alaska in early May (or even late May actually, though late May will be a lot better). The Cruise should be fine -- and a bargain because the early sailings are often discounted quite a bit. But even the cruise -- you will likely run into muddy and cool/wet conditions in some of the ports. If you can do the trip a month later many of the issues will be 'non-issues'
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 12:58 PM
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Thanks!

Thanks for the feedback. I had read that early cruises could be restricted by ice at Hubbard Glacier, and wondered if the same would be true for Glacier Bay. Good to know that shouldn't be a problem. It looks like land + cruise remains a possibility.

RE May vs June. Thanks for the warning about mud season. I suspect the bugs in June might be a bigger problem. Am I right to assume that biting bugs will be much less of a problem during May? We could head to Alaska in June, but if we go in June, the trip won't include a cruise.

I'll continue to work on an itinerary and post for feedback.Thanks for your help!
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by wendy236 View Post
Thanks for the feedback. I had read that early cruises could be restricted by ice at Hubbard Glacier, and wondered if the same would be true for Glacier Bay. Good to know that shouldn't be a problem. It looks like land + cruise remains a possibility.

RE May vs June. Thanks for the warning about mud season. I suspect the bugs in June might be a bigger problem. Am I right to assume that biting bugs will be much less of a problem during May? We could head to Alaska in June, but if we go in June, the trip won't include a cruise.

I'll continue to work on an itinerary and post for feedback.Thanks for your help!
Mosquitoes will hatch whenever conditions are favorable; they need standing fresh water. There are species that overwinter as adults but these aren't very common. Mid-May should still be okay, unless it's an early spring or a warm winter. In years of living in Anchorage we never felt mosquitoes were a problem in the city, and close to salt water (i.e. on the cruise) it won't be an issue. Avoid swampy conditions or tundra, use DEET, and be mindful that they're at their worst in the early morning and in the evening.

I wouldn't necessarily move everything back a month, particularly if that negates a cruise. SE Alaska is often quite nice in May, although you can get clouds and rain anywhere or at any time. If you have two weeks plus cruise time, I might make a suggestion, however - limit your time in southcentral Alaska to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula - maybe for a week, then use the remaining week around Vancouver at the end of the cruise. You might think about travel to Whistler, or over to Vancouver Island, or up to the Sunshine Coast, where there's a lot to see and do, and it will be cheaper and more accessible. Just a thought, anyway.
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 03:44 PM
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>>I wouldn't necessarily move everything back a month, particularly if that negates a cruise.
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 04:19 PM
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The season at the Independence Mine starts in MID-June. The buses out to Eilson Visitor Center in Denali usually start about June 1 depending on road conditions.
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Old Jan 26th, 2019, 04:20 PM
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I was in Glacier Bay mid-June last year weather was great but we heard that it had been raining just a few days before we got to that stretch of coastline. The people who did the land part before our cruise saw Denali, which would have been about the first week of June for them.

Last edited by mlgb; Jan 26th, 2019 at 04:47 PM.
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Old Jan 27th, 2019, 03:32 AM
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Thanks. We'll have to leave the Independence Mine for another trip.
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Old Jan 27th, 2019, 04:07 AM
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Gardyloo,

Thanks for the info re the mud and mosquitoes. We have a mud season too (and midges) so we could get two mud seasons this spring - or none! We'll pack the waterproof hiking shoes - and bug spray.

RE our itinerary. I haven't booked our plane tickets, and we are retired, so the length of the Alaska trip is flexible. Our only restriction is a family event the first weekend of June - on the west coast but not in Alaska. If we take the cruise, we can spend a few days in Vancouver. But spend a week in Vancouver/BC and we'll miss the double birthday party. Fortunately we visited BC, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island a few years ago.

I haven't purchased plane tickets to Alaska. And I haven't booked the cruise. So the "2 weeks in Alaska" could be 10 days, or could be 3-4 weeks. We could also fly into Anchorage and out of Juneau (and skip the cruise). Or fly in and out of Anchorage, and skip the cruise. So I'm looking for suggestions for areas are good to visit in May - and warnings about areas that are best left for another trip. It appears Independence Mine will not be open until mid June. If the road to the parking lot isn't plowed, it's out. We'll pack YakTrax, but we're not planning to pack snowshoes.

Anchorage and a day cruises out of Seward and/or Whittier are definitely on the list. Is May a good time to drive the loop from Anchorage to Valdez and boat to Whittier? Homer? Denali? I know the Denali buses won't start running until around May 19th or 20th, and the first buses only as far as Tolkat. One question re Denali. If we plan to go before the buses start running, ie during the week of May 12th, can we plan to get a room nearby last minute? It would be nice to be able to look at the forcast and decide whether to head to Denali, or if rain is forcast, do something else.
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Old Jan 27th, 2019, 07:43 AM
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I think it's the tours of Independence Mine that aren't available until mid-June. I suspect the road TO Independence Mind will be open and worthwhile. Like I said, one will need to be flexible given the time of year.

You're probably not going to need snowshoes or even Wellie boots; by May most of the snow (except at higher elevations) is probably going to be gone. People's yards and gardens will be starting to green up and leaf out, because daylight hours will be getting longer quite rapidly (over 5 minutes of gain per day.)

Because of the season, I'd restrict my time to Anchorage and areas south. You can do a day trip to Hatcher Pass from Anchorage if conditions are okay, and stop en route at the Native village of Eklutna to visit the interesting historical park with its old Russian churches and colorful "spirit houses" covering the graves in the cemetery. Otherwise you can do a glacier cruise out of Whittier, and spend a day or two in Seward going on a cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park - lots of marine mammals, birds, glaciers, etc. Visit the old gold rush village of Hope on the way to or from Seward.

In looking at cruise schedules, I'd probably pick one departing Vancouver sometime between the 15th and 20th of May - there are several - and choose one that calls at Glacier Bay. For example, there's a Princess departure on May 18 that arrives in Whittier on the 25th. You could then spend five days in southcentral Alaska before flying south in time for the party. There's also a departure on the 15th (also Princess) that would give you gobs of time in Southcentral.

To answer the specific questions, I'm sure you'll find the drive from Anchorage to Valdez to be terrific; the part around Thompson Pass is one of the most scenic stretches of highway in North America. That's IF you can see things. And that's the other problem about road trips in southcentral Alaska in the spring. If the weather's lousy, scenic drives become boring and tedious ones. Homer and Kachemak Bay are always marvelous, but of course the whole of the Kenai Peninsula is basically a giant cul-de-sac; you have to retrace your steps to get back to Anchorage.

So let me complicate things by throwing out a couple of non-cruise ideas. Maybe one idea is to embrace the season and go off - way off - the beaten track.

Try this out. Fly from Seattle to Sitka in Southeast Alaska. Sitka is not a main port of call on the cruise routes because its harbor isn't terribly friendly to big ships. But it's arguably the most attractive of all the SE Alaska towns - very historic, in a terrific natural setting, and with a number of points of great interest to visitors. Spend a day or two in Sitka then fly to Juneau. Visit Juneau and take an excursion to Glacier Bay. Then fly up to Anchorage.

In Anchorage, get a car and spend five or six days visiting sites around southcentral Alaska. Drive to Whittier and Seward, in essence do the things you'd do at the end of a cruise. Don't bother with Valdez or the ferry across Prince William Sound, and use the money you'd spend (not cheap) on the ferry and rental car to fly north instead.

Alaska Airlines runs daily flights from Anchorage to Kotzebue, an Inupiat Eskimo community located above the arctic circle on an inlet of the Arctic Ocean. In mid-May you'll have not just midnight sun, but 24 hour sun. Stay at the comfortable Native-owned Nullagvik Hotel - Nulla?vik Hotel :: Home - and walk across the street to stick a toe in the Arctic Ocean, or, depending on the timing, possibly walk on it. Visit the excellent local Native Heritage Center and get a sense of life in this unique environment.

The same plane that brings you to Kotzebue stops in Nome on the way back to Anchorage. Nome is a very historic gold rush town located on the Bering Sea. Again, depending on sea ice conditions, you might be able to stick a toe in yet another sea, or maybe watch the (daft) gold miners get ready for their undersea mining, accomplished by some using diving gear. (Check out Bering Sea Gold on the TV if you can find it - Discovery Channel or online.) Hire a local taxi company to drive you out on one of the roads radiating from Nome into the Seward Peninsula bush; you might see caribou or reindeer, muskoxen, moose, a lot of birds, maybe even a bear (unlikely in May.) Nome is a hoot, yet another face of Alaska off the road system.

Then fly back to Anchorage and head south. The combined airfare will be between $300 and $425 but if you happen to have any frequent flyer miles in a program that counts Alaska Airlines as a partner, it's a good value.

I know this is a big departure from more conventional plans, but it's one that I'd do in a heartbeat if I could get the logistics together.

Just a suggestion, anyway.
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Old Jan 27th, 2019, 11:14 AM
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Gardyloo,

Thanks for the update on Independence Mine. If we can drive as far as the parking lot it should be an interesting stop.

Thanks for the suggestions! If we want to fly to Juneau, we will need to do that stop on our way south. The Glacier Bay day cruises do not start until Memorial Day weekend. Presumably we could do Anchorage first. Then Juneau and Sitka on our way back to Seattle and south.

Your suggestion of flying north to Kotzebue and Nome sounds interesting. I'll take a look at that! Fortunately, we have an Alaska companion fare and a bunch of miles.

We do need to head south before the end of May, so we may be better off skipping the cruise this trip. We're "slow" travelers. The type who like to spend a day dwaddling in a museum, and take extra time on hikes. So trying to squeeze a lot into a short time won't work well.

Thanks for your suggestions! I'll pull out the calendar and see what I can put together!
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Old Jan 27th, 2019, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by wendy236 View Post
Fortunately, we have an Alaska companion fare and a bunch of miles.
In which case, do look at it seriously. Intra-Alaska flights are only 5000 Alaska miles one way, and a check for mid-May shows all routes to be wide open.

In my view the glacier cruises out of Whittier are just as rewarding as Glacier Bay, and all things considered considerably cheaper. Phillips' 26 Glacier Cruise starts the first week of May, so timing won't be an issue.
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Old Jan 28th, 2019, 03:45 AM
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Gardyloo,

Does anyone have suggestions about things to do in Kotzebue? It's the gateway to some wonderful parks, but getting dropped off in the wilderness for a few days in 30 degree weather is not something we're going to do.

The NP (Native Heritage) center seems to have a nice museum and some movies. Sometimes other adult activities. I'll ask in a few days when they are up and running again.. And the hotel listed a day tour - again I will ask. I'm hoping someone can suggest a good local guide (local & cultural guide - not back country).. Or other day trips in the area. We like culture, scenery, local color. We'll skip fishing and hunting.

I had a little better luck finding things to do in Nome.

Thanks for all the suggestions! This trip is taking some interesting turns.
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Old Jan 28th, 2019, 06:05 AM
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I think the Kotzebue experience has more to do with just walking around and getting a feel for the place. If your budget allows, I think a flightseeing trip up the Kobuk River would be fab - no idea what conditions will be like at, for example, the Kobuk Sands, but just the sense of the enormity of the arctic is a real eye-opener. If you landed at villages like Kiana or Noorvik, both very traditional places, it would be fantastic. But I wouldn't go expecting visitor activities like you'd get in cruise ports or places in southcentral Alaska; tourism isn't a big deal in these towns.

As for a guide in Kotzebue, I'd rely on the hotel. The hotel is owned by the NANA Corporation, the regional Native enterprise created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) as the main mechanism for wealth creation and distribution in the northwest arctic. They will know all the options.
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Old Jan 29th, 2019, 05:07 PM
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Good points. The North is an intriguing option. I'll check in and see if we can arrange a local tour - and find out what is available at the NPS.

If that doesn't work out, Sitka + Juneeau sounds good! Looks like I have some more work to do.
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Old Jan 30th, 2019, 04:53 PM
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I really like the Southbound Holland America cruises, such as the one you are looking at for May 19. .You have virtually a full day in each port, except Ketchikan (which is only 8 hours). If you want to experience small town Alaska, you have a stop in Haines. And it visits Glacier Bay.

I really don't know why you are thinking of not including that cruise, actually, unless it's just Gardyloo's persistence.
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Old Jan 31st, 2019, 04:47 PM
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mlgb,

Thanks for your feedback. The HAL southbound cruise is still on my radar. The problem is that a cruise leaving May 19th means we visit Denali and Seward area before the Denali buses and Seward NP folks are open for the summer. A "but" - but the southbound cruise is still on our serious options list.

We have never been on a "cruise" (ok - a 1 nighter on Doubtful Sound - on a boat that held 72 people. A one week boat with 2000 passengers feels like a different animal) and generally prefer to travel at a slower pace. So we're a little reluctant to sign up for the CRUISE.

Alternative is to skip the cruise this trip, and take advantage of some of the stuff that opens late in the month. But the HAL cruise is still on our possibles list.
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Old Jan 31st, 2019, 05:55 PM
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If it helps, HAL is more sedate than your average cruise line. It isn't like a Caribbean booze cruise. I went to only a few lectures and some of the Blues or Classical music performances. The dress is casual, even on their so-called Gala Night you just need better than tshirts and jeans. The Chocolate Surprise parade on the last Gala night is so much fun!

The only time it felt crowded was trying to get breakfast in the Lido dining room on a port day, during a popular time. I would usually order coffee to the room and then grab some smoked salmon or yogurt and fruit and eat on the back deck or back in the room. The rooms have little refrigerators so also kept some snacks in there (bring some small containers and coffee mugs). Another tip is that the Library has free snacks at the coffee bar..eg mini pastries , parfaits, and sandwiches. Even if you don't pay for a fancy coffee (All of this is from last year).

The stops are pretty much a full day and there is plenty of time for sightseeing.

In some ports you can rent cars, or use public transportation. I've done two cruises and never booked a ship's tour.

In Seward, there will be cruises running before your departure...Major Marine does Orca Quest from May 13 and the 5 Hour Kenai Fjords from May 17 onward, probably to time with the first HAL cruise of the season. Most recently I took the early train down to Seward and did a pre-cruise cruise! I'd suggest calling Major Marine and asking what packages and discounts they offer. They gave me 10% off for asking. If you book a train transfer, room and cruise through them it may be an even better deal.

Although the ACT bus is okay, I preferred the train since you could walk around during the trip. Some people drive but I haven't thought it was worthwhile for one person, maybe for two it would be.

Both those Major Marine cruises get back to Seward by 5pm which is okay for getting on the cruise ship by 7pm for an 8pm departure. (Even if you have to walk to the terminal!)

If it helps, I was never a cruise person, either. I think Alaska is a good "starter cruise". I took a friend on a repo cruise a few yearw ago and she decided it was like sailing without doing any work..either on the boat or housework/cooking. It is nice not to have to pack and unpack and plan all of the transfers between stops. Plus coming back to a neatly made up cabin at the end of the day!

Last edited by mlgb; Jan 31st, 2019 at 06:48 PM.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2019, 09:27 AM
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MLGB,

Thanks for all of the info about the HAL Alaka cruise! I have a couple of questions. You indicate that Gala night dress is fairly casual. Would slacks (khakis or white pants - not jeans) with a nice t-shirt (sleeves and no big logos) be OK for women? We will need to pack for both Alaska and So California - I'm hoping to skip the dress & dress shoes...

Also, a question about the Crows Nest area. Does the smoke from the Oak Room spill over into the Crows Nest area? Or into the nearby hallways? I'm trying to figure out if a nearby room would be a good idea - or a very bad idea.

And a question for anyone who has been on Noordam recently. What are the current internet packages? As someone who has never been on a real cruise, I am trying to estimate the real price.
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