Fdbk for Alaska Aug06 Itinerary

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Jul 24th, 2006, 09:33 AM
  #1
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Fdbk for Alaska Aug06 Itinerary

Hello.
I would value input and recommendations for following land itinerary for 11 individuals traveling this Aug06. We still have some flexibility in making changes.

In addition to questions I’ve nested in the itinerary, I’d like to know if people have worked with Explore Tours http://www.exploretours.com/home.php?page=intro (I connected to them when I called the ph # at alaska.org) and their thoughts. There’s nothing damning in the BBB recoreds, I’ve read buyer beware stories about paying upfront all fees etc to even a large travel agency. I understand that purchasing 3rd party insurance is also quite costly. I’m accustomed to providing my credit card number at hotels and then having option to cancel (sans penalty if done in timely manner) rather than paying for everything upfront and then risking not getting money back should plans change, etc.
Your thoughts on travelagency-safety and my questions below would be very much appreciated.
Many many thanks in advance for input.

• M.Aug 14
• Evening – land ANC
• p/u rental vans
o Q1: We’re getting better rates with something called usave.com than through agency, is usave.com reputable?

• T.Aug 15
• Morning – drive to Seward
o Q2: Is it great loss to drive this route instead of taking a train? the map suggests the rail and road follow more or less the same route but I’m curious to know if rail is qualititatively better scenic experience. Picking up rental car in Seward and returning in ANC is significantly more costly than ANC p/u-ANC d/o & am wondering (if all things equal) if train experience overshadows cost.
• ~12 pm - Kenai Fjords wildlife cruise
o Q3: recommendations for which company to sail with? We are strict vegetarians with other dietary restrictions so options with all-you-can-eat salmon/halibut/primerib meals, etc have no interest for us. Our main concern is being able to enjoy good views of wildlife and going as far as possible on cruise
o Q4: is there still time to enjoy Exit Glacier after cruise or better to save for another day?

• W.Aug 16
• Morning - Lowell Point 3 Hour Paddle Tour
o Q5: want escorts for lowkey simple kayaking for people who have zero kayak experience in our group – is this a good outfit or do you recommend others? essentially guided kayaking, 2 people in kayak – 1 from outfit and 1 from our group
• Afternoon – SeaLife Center and/or Exit Glacier
o see Q4 above

• R.Aug 17
• 12.45 pm – Whittier to Valdez ferry
o Q6: This days seems like a waste as I heard Whittier is blah town – is there any hope of salvaging any part of day in Valdez?

• F.Aug 18
• Columbia & Meares Glacier Cruise
o Q7: recommendations for which company to sail with? We are strict vegetarians with other dietary restrictions so options with all-you-can-eat salmon/halibut/primerib meals, etc have no interest for us. Our main concern is being able to enjoy good views of glaciers

• Sat.Aug 19
• Drive Richardson Highway – Valdez to Glennallen
o Q8: Will we have time to do anything in Wrangell St Elias once we’ve reached Glennallen?

• Sun.Aug 20
• Drive Glenn Highway – Glennallen to Talkeetna

• M.Aug 21
• Morning – Flightseeing of Denali w/ Glacier Landing
o Q9: recommendations for which company to fly with? Talkeetna Aero or K2 Aviation?
• Afternoon – to Denali

• T.Aug 22
• Denali Guided Tour
o Q10: other than park shuttle which affords flexibility to get on/off bus, which tour is most recommended to see wildlife (Kantisha Wilderness Trails, Denali Backcountry Adventure, etc?). I hear longer tour offers better chance but the 13 hrs can be taxing. And we’re not interested in the lunchtime gold-panning activities either. Unless people think the dogmushing stuff is interesting? Is it better to take a shorter guided tour (and which one, if that is the case) and then the next day travel independently by shuttle bus as far as Wonder Lake?

• W.Aug 23
• Morning – Denali Park Shuttle Tour to Wonder Lake and hike/shuttle back

• R.Aug 24
• Knik Glacier Tour
o Q11: any thoughts on this? cannot find much info about this online or elsewhere except what Explore Tours has told us “Experience the thrill of flying on the water in a fully enclosed Airboat. Keep your camera ready as wildlife sightings are common. The Knik Glacier is awe inspiring as it pours from the Chugach mountains greatest peaks. This 25 mile river of ice is over 5 miles wide and hundreds of feet thick. Pull ashore for a two hour visit to Glacier Camp.”

• F.Aug 25
o Q12: We do not leave ANC until Aug 26 early early AM and I’d rather not spend last day in ANC. Can we add a stop to itinerary or lengthen our stay somewhere?

Any recommendations for good bear viewing on our itinerary? Any thoughts on http://www.emeraldairservice.com/index.html? Seems enticing but slightly cost-prohibitive.
gaps is offline  
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Jul 24th, 2006, 10:20 AM
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Wow, gaps! I wonder if even an Alaskan travel agent could respond to all that. ;-) I'll give it a go . . .

FYI: Great, detailed answers to most, if not all, of your questions could be found by searching on this forum.
1. No idea.
2. Depends on what you consider a great loss.
3. We had a veg. with us, and had no problem with that issue. We did the NW Glacier Kenai Fjords trip and loved it.
4. Probably enough time, but how long is your boat tour? Weather is unpredictable.
5. Not familiar with this co.
6. TONS of great hikes around Valdez, fun just watching eagles come in to harbor, great views on short drives around area.
7. Haven't done that cruise. We kayaked and hiked while in Valdez.
8. Do you have time for a flightseeing trip?
9. We did the summit flight, used the toursaver coupon, and I believe most will book that flight, but only 1 actually flies it.
10. Only the shuttle bus tours are recommended by our expert, BudgetQueen, who knows far more about Alaska travel than most people in the world.
11. ?
12. Many places . . . consult a guide book, map, and/or do a search here.

Good luck with your planning! And for future reference, you will get much better response if you break your questions into separate threads.
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Jul 24th, 2006, 10:45 AM
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I am going to respond to only one of your question as I got lost right in the beginning of your somewhat confusing itinerary.
If you are not planning to stay in Homer there is no way you can do bear watching with Emerald Air Service. They are located in Homer on Beluga Lake. Their trips start at 8:30 am and if everything goes as planned you should be back in Homer around 6 pm. However, sometime due to a weather your trip may start late and arrive back in Homer late. One time we returned at 9 pm. So one more time, there is no way you can do bear watching with Emerald Air without staying in Homer at least two nights. If you want to find out more about this company just do the text search here under Emerald Air or bear watching. One more thing, because there are 11 of you keep in mind that Emerald Service is capable of taking only 9 people on their trips and they are fully booked for most of August anyway. I posted here on this forum extensively about our many experiences with Emerald Air so try to find these posts.

It is very easy to plan a trip to Alaska hence majority of posters here do their own independent planning so it won't be easy to find visitors who used this company.
BTW, by skipping Homer you are not including in your itinerary one of the most scenic spots in Alaska.
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Jul 24th, 2006, 10:49 AM
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Thanks for quick response, BayouGal.
Have seen you in the Fodors text!
Yes, I was concerned I may frighten people w/ volume of info, but I didn't want to waste people's time having to suggest things we were already planning to do. I was hoping more info would be more context but fingers crossed I'll hear from folks.

3/4. It's currently a half day cruise w/ Major Marine Tours - 12.45 - 5.15
8. We should be in Glennallen by 1 pm so I imagine it would be an option but we are doing a flightseeing of Denali - are they 2 very diff't experiences?
9. not clear what you meant here

Thanks!

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Jul 24th, 2006, 10:53 AM
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Pat, your posts are always so much better than mine!

Gaps, I tried to answer your questions, only. You have so much info along with your own abbreviations that it's difficult for me to follow. For instance, it wasn't clear to me that even though you were asking about Emerald Air, you didn't have Homer in your itinerary. I, too, highly recommend visiting Homer.
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Jul 24th, 2006, 10:57 AM
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9. We took the summit flight over the top of Denali (where you need 02 due to the elevation). Only one airline actually makes the summit flight, but others will often book that flight, which may permit you to use a toursaver coupon. I just saw this being discussed on some very recent threads so I'm sure you could find more here.
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Jul 24th, 2006, 11:01 AM
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I cannot advise you on Kennicott as we have not been there, YET. ;-) However, there is also much discussion on that area here, too, so do a search on that topic as well.

Alaska is so huge and so beautiful, that I would not think any one activity could really be duplicated in another area. There may be similarities, but each area is unique.
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Jul 24th, 2006, 11:02 AM
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Hi Pat2003
Thanks much for your input.
Yes, I'd already looked at the logistics of the Emerald Air trip and know it has to be done from Homer in the early AM, etc. Everything I've researched said it's one of the best ways to go. But given it's cost prohibitive for us, I was hoping folks would be able to recommend something else of high quality on our route based on their own experiences.

I'm glad to hear you say it's easy to plan a trip to Alaska. We opted to work w/ this outfit simply b/c I was getting exhausted with the volume of info I was coming across in doing independent research. Anyway, I think I've learned a lot more from these boards than guidebooks and agencies alone and it would've made my planning much easier to have started on a board sooner.

Experience-wise, is it reasonable to make the drive from Homer to Whittier in one morning to make an early afternoon ferry from Whittier to Valdez or is that too aggressive a driving timeframe?


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Jul 24th, 2006, 11:14 AM
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Tell you what - since of 2 of 2 are having a hard time reading my original msg, I'll repost this in a way that's more clear and easy for folks to respond
Thanks
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Jul 24th, 2006, 11:38 AM
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gaps, I have only a couple minutes to respond to your inquiry but don't plan on staying in Homer and making in time for a tunnel opening for your ferry to Valdez in one day.
These are logistics that would better work for you
Anchorage
Homer
Seward
Valdez
Glennallen (personally I rather stay in Copper Center or Sheep Mountain)
Talkeetna
Denali

Anchorage is wonderful city and I hope you will spend some time there and include at least visits to Heritage Center and Museum of Art and History. Anchorage has endless activities and great restaurants.
With only half a day for Wrangell-St Elias you just don't have enough time for any decent visit of this vast area. While in Glenallen take a drive on Tok Cut Off Road to Slana and turn right to Nabesna Road. The views of the park from this road are so spectacular that words cannot describe what's there. Stop at the ranger station and ask how far you can drive on this road, as the road conditions change often.
Expect to see lots of wildlife, including brown bears, in Denali.
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Jul 25th, 2006, 12:30 PM
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Thank you, Pat
I'm in process of researching board for my answers to my other queries and am posting more bitesize questions as needed.
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Jul 28th, 2006, 04:21 AM
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Dear Gaps, you got great suggestions here, did you decide on your final itinerary? Don't try to do too much, Alaska is beautiful, make time to stop often and enjoy it. I hope you won't try to drive from Homer to Whittier in one morning to make an early afternoon ferry from Whittier to Valdez. Too much to enjoy it. Have a great trip.
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Jul 29th, 2006, 05:58 PM
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Ok, I'll give you some input.

No concerns using USave a long established well run company.

The train is superior to the Seward Highway and does not parallel past the Arm. But only you can decide is the cost is worthwhile, you are better off with a car for your Seward activities, so I would suggest you skip the train, even though superior.
Alaska Heritage is the top operator for Kenai fjords, but Allen Marine is excellent too. But you need 6 hours on the water, min. With your priority, I would suggest the Northwestern Fjords tour, always my top choice. Exit glacier is easy to see in an hour, so yes, you can fit it in likely.

Whittier is superb for glacier boat tours, the best in Alaska, I would suggest you at least stop at the Portage Glacier visitor center prior to going to Whittier. Be aware of tunnel schedules, skip the "fast ferry" as the scenery is way superior on the regular ferry.

In Valdez, Stan Stephens is my top pick for boat tour venders.

I suggest you overnight in Copper Center, and get to McCarthy and Kennicott, fly in so to have the whole day, definately worthwhile.

Talkeetna flightseeing. Be educated on the differences, the summit flights, in my opinion is the "top" choice. All the view tours may or may not see the top. It also depends on your flying experience?? A ski plane is a great thrill, but you will be a long way from ice as the landings are on snow. So you may not have that close up blue glacier looks from the ground. superior if a priority is a glacier helicopter landing.

Sorry but I NEVER recommend the day bus "tour" to Kantishna, they do no better than the 1/3 priced shuttle to Wonder Lake, you are essentially paying for a VERY high cost lunch, you have NO time for anything else. If you go to Kantishna- you need overnights, not a day trip. Be certain you want to go 2 days in a row??? Also be aware that 2 days into the park are the same cost as three. Be aware wildlife viewing, goes WAY down past Eielson, the bulk of wildlife sightings are between the entrance and Eielson. As for the Tundra Wilderness tour- not recommended by me either. It's up to you if you wish to pay triple the costs???

As for "wildlife" from a jet boat- forget it. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize wildlife is scarce on loud tours. But the Knik Glacier is worth a day if you have the time??? Easy on your own.

You do not have time for Homer with this itinerary, you need at least 2 nights there, again my opinion, to make the trip worthwhile.
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