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Itinerary input re: Greater Anchorage, Denali & Kenai Peninsula sought. Thx!

Itinerary input re: Greater Anchorage, Denali & Kenai Peninsula sought. Thx!

Old Jan 21st, 2019, 03:19 PM
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Itinerary input re: Greater Anchorage, Denali & Kenai Peninsula sought. Thx!

Our family of 4 is planning a combined land/cruise Alaska trip this June (late 60s dad, late 50s mom and two early 20s sons).

I have not yet booked airfare or arranged many land details (car rental, hotels, any tours, etc.), but have booked the cruise portion of the trip (Royal Caribbean; leaving Seward 6/7; arriving Vancouver 6/14). I've also booked two nights (June 3 and 4) at Denali (i.e., 9 miles away). Note: if the 6/3-4 timing for Denali doesn't seem to be ideal, I'm open to trying to change dates, assuming there's availability.

I'm now in the process of trying to determine how many "land" days we'll need and how best to fill them, given our areas of interest. We'd like to see Denali
(... crossing fingers for clear skies) and would like to also explore the Kenai Peninsula area before embarking upon the cruise portion of our trip. I anticipate we'll be flying into Anchorage.

Our interests include seeing beautiful scenery and nature/wildlife, learning about an area's history/culture, and participating in outdoor activities. Given our varying ages, our sons' activity/energy level and interests will skew more active than those of my husband and me (e.g., something like kayaking would tend to appeal to all of us, but more strenuous activities like serious hiking, probably, only to our sons). Another noteworthy detail-- my husband is reasonably healthy for his age, but has crummy feet (i.e., flat footed) and isn't happy when he's standing for long periods of times (e.g., waiting in a long, slow line to gain entrance somewhere or walking multiple hours on a tour/hike). He tells me walking is better than simply standing still. If we were taking a walk/hike for more than an hour, he'd likely want a place to stop and rest his feet. On recent trips with just the two of us (e.g., the NPs around Seattle and Bryce/Zion, we've tended to focus on scenic drives, visiting park visitor centers, etc). However, with the addition of our boys on the Alaska trip, we'll also want to consider some more "active" activities (e.g., hiking, kayaking, etc.).

One idea I'm contemplating is to book an apt/condo vacation rental place in Anchorage for some period of a week or less (e.g., air b and b, v r b o, or the like). My thinking is that it would allow my husband greater flexibility to rest when he wants to and join us when he wants to (we'll have flown in from the East Coast so he'll likely be pretty jet-lagged, at least to start with and then may fatigue at different points of the trip. If he's really jet-lagged, this might even include his opting to skip Denali and stay in Anchorage while the rest of us head for Denali). Renting an RV has been suggested as one way to accommodate my husband's potential desire to join us/not join us, but based upon past family trips, I know 24/7 "togetherness" in an RV wouldn't be a great idea.

So if the idea of using Anchorage as a base is a reasonable one (please tell me if it's not), I'm thinking we could start out with a day/two/three of day trips north and/or south of Anchorage (suggestions appreciated), followed by Denali, followed by the Kenai peninsula, and ending in Seward with the start of the cruise.

I'd greatly appreciate any thoughts or suggestions regarding any aspect of the above trip details. In addition, I also have some specific questions:
1) How many days are needed for Anchorage, Denali and Kenai peninsula add-on (i.e.., land portion)? Do we need a full week or could we get by with fewer days?
2) Given that we'll have a rental car, is that the suggested best way to get to Denali and the KP?
3) How many different lodging sites do you suggest-- 1? 2? 3? more? (1 Anchorage, 2 Denali, 3 Kenai Peninsula?). If KP lodging is appropriate, any suggested areas/places to stay on KP?
4) Any suggestions for activities/day trips around Anchorage and between Anchorage and Kenai peninsula?
5) Any thoughts on transportation? For example, rent a car in Anchorage and drop off in Seward (I realize there will be a drop off fee)? Or rent and drop off in Anchorage, but transport elsewhere via other mode (train?), etc., etc..??
Thank you in advance for any advice you might offer. I really enjoy (and so very much appreciate) Fodor's travel forum advice-- it's always so very helpful in creating great trips and wonderful memories.
jpmackay is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2019, 07:09 AM
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Many of the flights into Anchorage arrive at night. (10:30-midnight). I was lucky to be able to get a morning flight into ANC. We spent 3-4 hours walking around Anchorage and ate breakfast at the Snow City Cafe.
We had our lodging for the first night at the Microtel in Eagle Creek which gave us a good head start on the way to Fairbanks/North Pole. There is a Fred Meyer at the north end of Eagle River that has a gas station. Fill the tank there before heading to the Denali area. Never pass a gas station with less than half a tank. There are some long stretches without gas stations.
We drove back from North Pole early in the morning to the entrance to Denali for our 8 hour bus trip out to Eilson Visitor Center and return. We got back to our B&B outside North Pole at 10PM but it was still daylight.
Our hosts were nice enough to pack breakfast sandwiches and drinks for our trip back to the Denali entrance. We had picked up sub sandwiches the day before to eat on our bus trip.
When we left the Fairbanks area, we went east to Delta Junction and drove all the way to Palmer. The Palmer Hotel was not the worst place we stayed and was good enough for one night.
We drove through Anchorage with a stop at Costco for gas (cheapest price in Anchorage area) on our way to the Kenai Penninsula. We had a nice B&B on the hill above Homer which was much better than trying to deal with the cruise ship mobs in Seward. If you can drive slow, you can get away with driving the Skilak Road (good gravel road). You might see some wildlife. I saw 3 moose on the Kenai and only a cow and calf in Denali.
We spent several hours in Anchorage on our final day before turning in our rental at the airport. Our flight out was a red eye. I took a good sunset picture at midnight from the window at our gate at the airport.
tomfuller is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2019, 07:24 AM
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Here's the deal with Anchorage. The local saying, which has a lot of truth in it, goes like this: "What's great about Anchorage is that it's 30 minutes from Alaska." These days it's closer to 45 or 60 minutes, but you get the idea.

Here's my personal feeling about Denali. First, you'd be arriving at the very start of the season; you'd be able to get into the park as far as the Eielson Visitor Center but no further. Second, while you'll probably see some wildlife, recognize that it's also early in the season for the beasts, and some, such as the bears, might well be in short supply. Might not, but it's a crapshoot. As is actually seeing the mountain. Denali in the spring can be socked in more times than not; I don't know the percentages but the odds are not super good.

But the combination of those factors - limited access (but still requiring a full day on a school bus - 8 hours round trip to Eielson) plus - possibly - limited wildlife, plus - possibly - limited visibility, well... you can see where I'm headed.

Let me fast forward to your cruise, then come back to the land portion of your trip. I looked at the cruise itinerary and noted that the only "drive-by" glacier experience you'll have is the Hubbard Glacier at the head of Yakutat Bay. That's a good thing - the Hubbard Glacier is spectacular. However, your timing puts this experience at some risk. Often early in the season it's hard for the big ships to get too close to the Hubbard Glacier because of sea ice and major icebergs between the glacier and the ships. Again, there's an element of luck involved, but IF IT WAS ME I'd take the time to have some up-close glacier encounters during your land touring, just as a fail-safe later. Now this is one thing that CAN be accomplished from a base in Anchorage, which brings us back to the land tour.

Try this out as a thought experiment. What if you skipped Denali and took the expense of the hotels and shuttles in Denali and allocated those funds to some flightseeing instead? Look at the offerings from Rust's, a major flying service with a base at Lake Hood, next to Anchorage airport: https://www.flyrusts.com/

First, in my view getting up into the air is a "must-do" for any visit to Alaska. You simply cannot imagine the experience of flying over the vastness of the land, or flying toward Denali, which simply gets bigger and bigger as you approach it, until it fills the sky. Or flying over glaciers and icefields, or over isolated sea inlets where you can see whales... It can be life-changing. Second, doing a flightseeing trip out of Anchorage (as opposed to, say, Talkeetna) is that you've got options. If Denali is socked in, you can go fly over Prince William Sound, or over the Knik Glacier and Chugach Mountains, or out across Cook Inlet to volcano country. Now it's not cheap, but neither are hotels near Denali, or rental cars. If you did a day's flightseeing, it could save you three days of land touring for Denali (one to get there, one to visit the park interior, one to get back.)

So what if you did this? Fly to Anchorage and get a B&B or VRBO for three nights. One day, do a flightseeing trip, and maybe visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center. On another day, cover your glacier "hedge" with a day trip to Whittier and a "26 Glacier" cruise out of that quirky port. Stop on the way there, or on the way back, in Girdwood. Maybe splurge with dinner at the Alyeska Resort, maybe at the "Seven Glaciers" restaurant at the top of the gondola, overlooking the mountains and Turnagain Arm far below. On another day, drive 90 minutes or so north to Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine, way up in the mountains above Palmer. There are easy-to-strenuous day hikes, or just terrific sightseeing. On the way back to Anchorage, stop at the Native village of Eklutna for a tour of its fascinating cemetery with its brightly-painted "spirit houses" over the graves, and the old Russian Orthodox churches in the village's Historical Park.

Then move down to Seward, stopping at the Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage, and maybe at the old mining village of Hope, along the way. In Seward, do a cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park for your wildlife fix (and more glaciers.) Maybe somebody would like to go halibut fishing in Resurrection Bay, or hike to Exit Glacier, or go kayaking. There are lots of options. Spend a couple of days in Seward, then get on your ship.

I think this combination of activities would leave you with a good sense of Alaska, and while it might involve missing time on the ground at Denali, I think you'd have a pretty terrific time as it is. Just a thought, anyway.
Gardyloo is offline  
Old Jan 23rd, 2019, 10:11 AM
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Thank you both so very, very much for all the helpful info. You've given me lots to think about and consider. Will further "digest" and get back with any additional questions. Thanks again for your help in creating what I'm sure will be a great family trip with wonderful memories!
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Old Jan 24th, 2019, 02:29 AM
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Gardyloo's recommendation for Independence Mine is great. I thought it was one of the best historical sites we visited. The recreated mining town has interesting displays. It's also a beautiful area so your sons could enjoy some hiking while you and your DH did something less strenuous. I recall watching some children pan for gold. We were there late in June so wildflowers were nice plus we stopped to admire a stream by the side of the road that was a beautiful color. While you are in Anchorage, stop in at Title Wave bookstore. They have a great selection of books both fiction and non-fiction about Alaska. The Museum of Transportation in Wasilla is about an hour south of the mine so you could do both in one day. It was a little dusty but my husband loves old vehicles of all kinds and there was interesting info about early bush pilots.
I also like the visitors center at Portage and listened to recordings of people telling about their experiences during the great earthquake. This is another area where some could do some hiking and some spend more time at the museum.
We lucked out with a very calm and sunny day to do the longest glacier tour out of Seward. Glacier didn't calve but they turned off the boat engines so we could hear all the creaking and groaning as ice moved also the clunking against the boat. It was also an incredible opportunity to get close to orcas.
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Old Jan 24th, 2019, 06:44 AM
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We didn't spend money on flightseeing or on an ocean going boat tour. The 8 hour+ school bus tour in Denali was enough for us. When we got to Anchorage our rental company was out of economy rental cars but gave us a choice of 3 other cars at the same price. I snapped up the Subaru Outback and was very happy with it. Instead of Anchorage for your base, I would suggest Eagle River (Microtel), Palmer or maybe something in Wasilla.
Outside Palmer we went to see the muskox farm. They do sell yarn, hats sweaters etc. made from the muskox wool. They are quite expensive compared to other woolen goods but are quite warm.
I did hike up to the toe of the Exit Glacier outside Seward. Here in Oregon I have a choice of several glaciers that I can hike up to so seeing the toe of an Alaskan glacier was not that much of a thrill.
The things to see in Fairbanks include the University of Alaska - Fairbanks museum which has a lot of interior Alaska artifacts and a couple of small Alaska dinosaur skeletons.
In the center of a park in Fairbanks, is a small aviation museum. At the SW corner of the park is a great Salmon Bake place. The price is quite reasonable for the amount of food you get.
We drove a few miles north of Fairbanks so I could stand underneath the Alaska Pipeline and see the spot where gold was discovered in a stream.
In early June you stand a chance of seeing some great Northern Lights if you venture out sometime after midnight. The farther north you are, the better the chances.
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