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Alaska Post-Cruise from Anchorage (Whittier) - Independent? or Cruisetour?

Alaska Post-Cruise from Anchorage (Whittier) - Independent? or Cruisetour?

Old Apr 29th, 2011, 02:20 AM
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Alaska Post-Cruise from Anchorage (Whittier) - Independent? or Cruisetour?

I'm helping plan a trip for my parents in their mid-fifties. They have traveled extensively in the US and are comfortable driving in new places. They are doing a northbound cruise from Vancouver - probably with Princess. I'm wondering whether it would be better (both from the perspective of cost and experience) to plan the post-cruise land portion of the trip independently or go with booking a cruisetour.

It seems to me that the cruisetour has the advantage of convenience, but it seems like a lot of the time is spent being shuffled from here to there on various means of transportation. And I want them to be able to enjoy their time exploring areas that interest them rather than being shuffled off to the next location.

I'm sure that they would enjoy the train ride in the glass-domed cars, but it seems that this can be booked on its own (at a buy one get one free rate) and that everything else could maybe be covered by renting a car and booking lodging on their own. Or is there something I'm missing?

Ideally, they will have about 6 days (5 nights) to explore, disembarking from the cruise on a Wednesday morning and then flying out of (probably) Fairbanks the following Monday evening.

They love scenic drives...some easy short hikes with great views...and maybe broken up by a little bit of small town culture...and some relaxation. They should have enough money to do an excursion or two of some sort if it's worthwhile.

This will be the final leg of their dream trip that starts in the Canadian Rockies....and I'd also like for them to have a nice celebration dinner on the last night if there is someplace that fits the bill.

I'm not adverse to doing the research, but I am a bit lost at this point and am hoping for a little guidance and some opinions.

Thanks in advance!
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Old Apr 29th, 2011, 04:11 AM
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First, cost. I hope they are planning on doing some excursions while on the cruise - as it is essential to enjoying Alaska. This can add 50% more and up to cost of cruise since, unlike most warm weather ports, there is almost nothing of a hop-in-a-cab or walking distance from pier - everything involves additional significant transportation via train, bus, or air. Well worth it, but be prepared. In addition, everything in Alaska is expensive, largely because of its distance from the real world and the fact that their tourist season is only 3 months long. We knew both of these financial facts, but still had sticker shock.

I would rent a car - probably in Anchorage rather than Whittier - and take 3 days on Kenai Peninsula and 3 days at Denali. That is what we did and found it was the right mix. Lots written here on both places. Check costs of air and car rental - one way returning it and flying out of Fairbanks makes geographical sense, but cost may argue against it. The drive from Denali to Anchorage is long, but some parts are scenic and interesting and if it saves them some money that could be spent on cruise excursions, I would do the drive RT.

This might give you a starting framework to expand with some more research from there. We did 3 nights in Seward, 3 at Denali and 2 separate in-transit nights in Anchorage (we are age of your parents). The people on the cruisetour and bus tours we ran into looked like herded cattle - if your parents are experienced travelers I think they would more enjoy the freedom of a rental car.
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Old Apr 29th, 2011, 06:27 AM
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Agree with gail's recommendation to plan your own land tour and save $$$. Your parents will have a much better tour without the regimentation of a cruise-sponsored excursion. The division of time with 3 days for Denali and 3 days for Seward and surrounding area is perfect. You will get lots of help here, if this is what you want to do.

You asked about a nice dinner on their last night in Anchorage. I have two recommendations - one in the center of town and the other on the outskirts. Orso Ristorante http://www.orsoalaska.com Their smoked salmon chowder is outstanding, as is everything else! The other pick is Southside Bistro http://southsidebistro.com and you will find it in a strip mall away from downtown Anchorage. Needless to say, it is off the radar for most tourists. Don't be fooled by initial appearances. I have been there three times and have never been disappointed. Check out their Tripadvisor reviews: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...ge_Alaska.html

Vic's travels: http://my.flightmemory.com/vogilvie
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Old May 3rd, 2011, 07:40 AM
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Yes, definitely planning shore excursions and aware of the added expense there. Having a little difficulty trying to help them decide on shore excursions keeping in mind the things that they'll be seeing elsewhere on the trip and trying to get a good balance of various things - each in its best setting when possible.

Keeping in mind that they'll be starting in the Canadian Rockies pre-cruise, I'm wondering:

1. Is it going to be repetitive to rent a car in Skagway and drive the South Klondike Highway?

2. Since they are cruising Glacier Bay and College Fjord, is it repetitive to take a glacier boat tour from Seward?

The basic plan for post-cruise at this point is:

1 (Wed) - Transfer from Whittier to Anchorage. Pick up rental car. Go on to Talkeetna for a flight seeing tour of Mt McKinley. Go on to Denali. Depending on time, may explore within first 15 miles of park.

2 (Thu) - Park bus tour in Denali. 2nd night at hotel near Denali entrance.

3 (Fri) - Drive to Kenai Peninsula - Not sure how far...Probably a full day of driving with stopping along the way. Possibly go all the way to Seward. Stay one night there.

4 (Sat) - If doing any excursion from Seward, that would be done this day. Then evening drive to somewhere near Soldotna. 1st night there.

5 (Sun) - Float plane trip from Soldotna for fishing and bear viewing. 2nd night near Soldotna.

6 (Mon) - Leisurely drive ultimately arriving back in Anchorage sometime in the evening. Late flight from Anchorage.

If they can possibly get another day, I'm sure it would make this a little more leisurely, but if not, is this still doable?

Would you recommend that they rent an RV instead of moving around in lodging?

Thanks for your help!
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Old May 3rd, 2011, 09:39 AM
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I think the basic elements are good but need tweaking.
The drive from Denali to Seward is much too long. I would break it up with a visit to Independence Mine and overnight in Anchorage with a good meal. Anchorage to Seward is maybe 2 hours but so much to see on the way. Can they be up early for an all day boat trip from Seward. How to compare between small boat and cruise ship ... we got very close to a humpback and some orcas. Great photo ops and easy to see everything from an uncrowded small boat.
Seward to Soldotna about 1.5 hours. Soldotna has more of a suburban feel to it, strip malls, etc.
Return trip to Anchorage would be another chance to enjoy the incredible scenery plus stops at Alyeska tram, Portage visitors center, etc.
Scenery between Anchorage and Denali is nice but not fantastic. The long drive can get boring.

I would not rent an RV. Remember, that would mean possibly staying someplace where they will have to cook dinner, it's too big to get in some parking lots, and may require some effort at the end of the day to hook-up if they choose to have a full hookup. Let me just mention that dumping the gray water tank is not a pleasant task. Check with RV place to see if it would need dumping after 3 days. I doubt if they could go 6 days without emptying. When we camp I prefer to use the campground shower if it's decent. Our shower is very tiny.
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Old May 3rd, 2011, 09:55 PM
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Thanks! I had originally thought the same about an RV, but I was starting to think that maybe it made more sense. I'm glad the issues you mentioned were the same that I was concerned about. So...forget the RV! =)

I'm now wondering whether it would make sense to do a Denali Day Trip from Anchorage. I found one operation that does this - 6:40a flight check in at Merrill Field in Anchorage, arrival in Denali by 9:00a, National Park bus tour to Eielson Visitor Center, depart Denali at approximately 5:30p, "depending on weather and time" a scenic flight of Mt McKinley, back to Merrill Field in Anchorage by 8:00p.

It obviously shortens the time in Denali...and it's not the bus tour all the way to the end of the road, but I feel like the drive back and forth is taking up so much time that could be better spent elsewhere...and I'm concerned that the long drive can be tiring. Yet, I don't want them to miss Denali. I'm wondering if maybe this a good compromise.

If they were to do this...and taking in other suggestions...I'm looking at something like:

1 (Wed) - Option A: Transfer to Anchorage, pick up rental car, explore in area for the day.
Option B: Obtain rental car in Whittier (less expensive car rental, but probably more expensive transfer to Anchorage on a later day..probably about evens out for total costs), explore area from Whittier (is the Clughach Whistle Stop / Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop a recommended option?). Overnight in Anchorage regardless of option a or b.

2 (Thu) - Day Tour of Denali from Anchorage. 2nd night in Anchorage.

3 (Fri) - Leisurely drive to Seward, stopping at numerous sites along the way. 1st night in Seward.

4 (Sat) - If doing any excursion from Seward, that would be done this day. 2nd night in Seward.

5 (Sun) - Are you sure Seward to Soldotna is just a 1.5 hour drive? Google Maps says 2 hrs 42 mins for about 99 miles...so I was expecting at least 3.

If it is really just 1.5, then an early drive to Soldotna is doable. Float plane trip for fishing and bear viewing from Soldotna for much of the day.

What is the recommendation for where to stay this last night? Maybe go a little further west to Kenai? Or head back east to Cooper Landing? Being the last night, I'd really like it to be someplace with good scenery.

6 (Mon) - Leisurely drive ultimately arriving back in Anchorage sometime in the evening (if vehicle rental was in Whittier, will need to obtain a shuttle to Anchorage). Maybe a nice dinner in Anchorage followed by a late flight back to DFW.

I feel like freeing up that drive between Anchorage and Denali makes a big difference and will make the trip more enjoyable with less driving, fewer hotels, and more wildlife opportunities.

So I'm open to thoughts on this revision. Thanks again for the help from everyone!
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Old May 3rd, 2011, 10:14 PM
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I could alternatively move the Denali Day Trip to the last day provided that their flight back home from Anchorage is late enough in the evening to allow for a delayed return from Denali. If they were to do the Denali Day Tip, this might make a little more sense. It would allow them to spend one more night on Kenai Peninsula. They would just spend the last night in Anchorage (night of day 5) so they could get to their early flight.
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Old May 4th, 2011, 04:37 AM
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I found Travel Math that said 1 hour 57 minutes from Seward to Soldotna.

Drive time can also be affected by traffic. The road can be clear most of the time but if it's the day salmon start running in the Russian River or it's a Friday afternoon, you could see a lot of traffic and slow going when you pass by a fishing area.

We stayed in Kenai which is next to Soldotna. When the weather was perfect we book a Kenai Fjords trip for the next day (it was mid-week), drove over to Seward for the night and got on the boat the next morning, driving back to Kenai in the evening. Our schedule was flexible. We never encountered a traffic delay but there was a slow down when we drove past the Russian River ferry area due to the number of vehicles parked and trying to park. Other people have encountered traffic delays due to road construction or accidents. So maybe a tight schedule is not a good idea which is why we stayed in Seward the night before.

I think the scenery is much better in Seward. We stayed in a residential area of Kenai so there wasn't any scenery besides a moose and calf that visited the house next door. Near the end of our trip we finally got to hear Hobo Jim play at a dinner show in Soldotna (DH wouldn't go to a bar because he hates smoke). Some other tourists shared our table but the rest of the people were locals. The food wasn't bad but it wasn't special. The waitresses were dressed up like saloon girls. I think he puts on a good show and I had to hear the Iditarod Trail Song in person.

The scenery between Soldotna and Seward is average nice not stupendous like it is along the inlet. The Soldotna area is much flatter with marshes so there's a good chance of seeing moose. Seward, on the other side of the peninsula, is surrounded by mountains and much prettier.

A very unusual place to stay would be Hope. I think there are some b&bs there but we only made a quick visit. It's a very tiny town with a lot of old log buildings.
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 05:54 AM
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 06:16 AM
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Sounds like a good plan generally, but I would put the check costs for the train from Seward to Talkeetna and then to Denali and back to Anchorage vs renting and driving all that way. Do the train either first or last rent a car for the Seward/ Soldotna part of the trip. This might eliminate some of the worries about time.
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Old Jan 24th, 2012, 06:36 AM
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This post is from last April/May. Maybe the OP could tell people what his folks ended up doing.
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