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EdEdwards Jun 4th, 2005 06:58 PM

July -- 6 day itinerary with Denali
We would appreciate advice about 6 days of Alaska touring, after we arrive in Seward at the end of a cruise from Vancouver. Will be arriving in Seward on a Sunday, renting a car, and have already pre-booked Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Denali with a shuttle to Fish Creek in Denali on Wednesday, because we definitely want to go there, and were cautioned that Denali books early. What are some other suggestions about how we might route ourselves before and after Denali? Our restriction is that we must wind up in Anchorage at the airport by 10PM on Saturday night.

We had originally thought we'd drive to Anchorage from Seward on Sunday, spend the day in Anchorage Monday, drive to Denali Tuesday, spend Wednesday in Denali, then leave back toward Anchorage on Thursday. Perhaps overnight in Talkeetna on the way back to Anchorage, on Thursday night).

We've now read great things about Kenai and the Kenai Fjords excursion. If we wanted to do this, we could drive from Talkeetna to the Fjords cruise (does that mean back to Seward?) on Friday, and perhaps take the Fjords cruise on Saturday? Would we have time to do that and still get back to Anchorage by 10PM on Saturday night? Or, of course, we could stay in Seward Sunday night after we disembark, do the Fjords cruise on Monday, stay in Seward Monday night, leaving us to drive all the way through to Denali on Tuesday. In that scenario, we could end up in Anchorage Friday night and Saturday until our flight.

Is it worth taking the long Fjords cruise after having just cruised the Inside Passage on an HAL liner? Since we're already set on Denali, is it worth splitting our nights between Denali and Talkeetna, or should we spend a third night in Denali, or just do 2 nights in Denali and skip Talkeetna overnight? Is one day enough for Anchorage? There are 4 in our family, we're experienced independent travellers, but we know almost nothing about Alaska!

Thank you in advance for any assistance.

BudgetQueen Jun 4th, 2005 11:02 PM

For clairfication- lodging does book up in Denali park, but you can get the held back bus seats 35% of them 2 days before. I have done this several times.

You are underestimating distances and direction, consult a map. And if you don't already, a copy of THE MILEPOST is necessary.

Since you are asking advice, I would suggest you push back your Denali by one day. It most certainly IS EXTREMELY worthwhile for a Kenai Fjord boat trip, WAY superior to anything you will see from your cruise ship. AND more important, it makes no sense to miss out on such an excllent touring opportunity and just pass through Seward.
As you can guess, it is a very poor idea to consider going back to Seward from Denali Park and YES the Kenai fjords boat tours leave from there.

Are you only renting the Seward car for one day?? Cheapest option is to turn it back in in Anchorage and get a cheap round trip Anchorage car. Can be a significant cost savings. Another option is the rail from Seward/Anchorage. Superior scenery compared to the Seward Highway.

At the very least, you can take the 11:30am Kenai fjords boat trip and make the 6pm train, arriving in Anchorage after 10pm. Pick up your car and easily be in Denali Park that day. But with 6 days a better use of time is still to consider an overnight in Seward, Anchorage, 2 in Denali Park, 1 in Talkeenta.

Forget going back to Seward, it's a 3 hour drive and no you won't make your Anchorage flight.

dfrostnh Jun 5th, 2005 02:54 AM

There's a lot of spectacular scenery between Seward and Anchorage whether you see it by car or train. I think you will be glad to have time for a leisurely drive to Anchorage and be able to stop for pictures, the Alyeska tram, Portage Glacier visitors center, etc. OTH there aren't many restaurants so check the Milepost. This trip could easily take 6 hours. Unless you are doing a flightseeing out of Talkeetna, you may want to just spend a few hours there. It's a very small town and you should have a reservation if you plan an overnight. Anchorage to Denali is 237 miles but it's not as scenic and you won't want to stop for as many photos etc. If you wanted to explore the Wasilla and Palmer areas, i.e. Independence Mine, Iditarod Museum, I would consider staying in Palmer on Friday night. There's nice views from the Mine area. You have time for a good meal before you go to the airport but I would recommend getting there at least 2 hours early. There were long lines at security last year and a lot of anxious people who didn't expect such a long wait.

repete Jun 5th, 2005 06:16 AM

You're in a pretty tight situation time-wise. A bite-the-bullet alternative is to do the KF trip on Monday as you mentioned and pay the price with a lot of driving on Tuesday. You could break it up by driving to Girdwood or even Anchorage on Monday night.

As for rail vs. drive between Anchorage and Seward: If you only have one trip, I'd drive unless logisitics make it impossible. Yes, the scenery is better on the train but the experience is usually much better on the road.

If you see moose, dall sheep or beluga whales along the road, you can stop. If you want a great cinnamon roll at Alyeska, a trip up the tram or a dinner at the Double Musky in Girdwood, no problem. If you want any schedule other than the one per day, you can drive.

On this short of a trip, one day is plenty in Anchorage.

The Milepost is a nice book (I bought my first more than 20 years ago) but absolutely do not use it as a dining guide.

EdEdwards Jun 5th, 2005 10:44 AM

Thank you all for taking time for such thoughtful and authoritative responses! We are now considering the following schedule:

Sunday - overnight Seward after our cruise
Monday - KF cruise, then another overnight in Seward
Tuesday - drive Seward to Denali, overnight Denali as planned (as repete suggests)
Wednesday - Denali shuttle bus, overnight Denali
Thursday - activities in Denali, then overnight in Talkeetna
Friday - drive to Anchorage, overnight there
Saturday - day in Anchorage before 9PM at airport

We will have the rental car the full time, picking up in Seward. I don't think I underestimated the distances (I'd already consulted a map!), but it sounds like I did underestimate the amount of time we'd want to spend on the drive. It sounds like 6 hours from Seward to Anchorage, then 4(?) hours from Anchorage to Denali? If I understand your responses, that would be a full day, but would include a lot of stopping en route from Seward to Anchorage, and through driving without much stopping between Anchorage and Denali.... Does that sound like too much for Tuesday?

Some related questions: Is it worth stopping at the Portage Glacier after having just taken the Inside Passage cruise and having just cruised KF? Or are we likely to be glaciered-out? (We're a family who probably would appreciate a great cinnamon roll at Alyeska, but I'm not sure about more glaciers.) Is it necessary to get the KF cruise tickets in advance, or can we wait until we get to Seward? Which of the KF trips is most recommended for a family with 2 teenage daughters who primarily would like to see the glaciers and wildlife up close?

We're pretty much used to touring places at leisure, so I am a bit concerned about such a hectic and pre-scheduled pace. Also, I can understand what seems to be a general Alaskan policy to demand full pre-payment for all activities, but sometimes we hate being so tied to a schedule. For instance, it looks like we need to book now, if we want to spend a night in Talkeetna. But after reading the comments of dhfrostnh and repete (and doing a search on Girdwood and Palmer on the Net), I'm thinking that once we're there, we'll probably find many places we'd rather stay, instead of the major tourist areas like Talkeetna. If, keeping the above itinerary otherwise, we were to drive from Denali toward Anchorage Thursday but NOT prebook a room in Talkeetna, would we have trouble finding a town and a nice clean hotel on the spur of the moment, en route to or closeby Anchorage, where we could get accomodations for the night? Or is everything likely to be pre-sold?

And a last question for now: BudgetQueen has frequently recommended The Milepost in postings, as have many others. If the book isn't good for restaurants, I'm wondering what's it's primary value for a trip as short as ours? I haven't been able to find a copy in the local bookstores to actually see it, so will have to order from Amazon (where, btw, readers have all raved about it in their reviews, as well).

Again, many thanks.

Pat2003 Jun 5th, 2005 01:40 PM

I suggest you get to the airport earlier than 9 pm even for a domestic flights. if you are not flying first class sometimes regular lines get very long and waiting time is long too.

I never had any experience with a general Alaskan policy to demand full pre-payment for activities. A number of trip to Alaska and never paid for anything in full in advance including acommodations and bear watching day trips.

I too agree with others about Seward. Leave it for your next trip. You can't do all.

BudgetQueen Jun 5th, 2005 04:45 PM

Frankly, I would suggest you consider the Kenai Fjords boat trip your day of arrival in Seward. Easy to arrange and not a problem even taking the Northwestern Fjords tour leaving at 9am. you just walk off the ship in Seward and Kenai fjords tour will pick you up at the ship. YOU MUST have reservations with your short time frame and DETERMINE WHAT tour you want NOW. This then frees up another day to overnight in Anchorage. For clairfication- it is about a 3 hour drive Seward-Anchorage and then about 6 hours, Anchorage/Denali Park with brief stops.

The necessity of the MILEPOST is for services and descriptions of WHERE you are and exactly where you want to go. UNDERSTAND, the last grocery store is Wasilla, NOTHING until Fairbanks about 300 miles away except, small convenience stores. It lists gas, sights and most important where you are. Get a copy.

Portage Glacier Visitor center is definately worth a short stop, can be in and out within an hour. It sounds like you will have enough glacier viewing so, no don't bother with the boat ride here. But a stop at Exit Glacier is a great hike for a close up look if of interest again, shouldn't be more than a couple hour stop.

Yes you will absolutely have a VERY difficult time finding lodging without reservations in Talkeetna, Wasilla, Palmer. These are not areas of stip motels, and lodging bill boards. All the B&B's are "hidden" with no blairing signs out front. At the VERY least, you will need a big list of lodging choices and be willing to make several calls. This of course cuts into your touring time. Wasilla and Talkeetna are only an hour + apart. Best is to have your loding choices made before you go, then if you have to, double back, but with time for the drive factored in with plenty of stops, it shouldn't be necessary.
AND lastly, I would definately price out the car separately, sometimes the savings can be significant with a round trip Anchorage car, turning in a one way Seward Hertz car.

dfrostnh Jun 6th, 2005 03:13 AM

For clarification, as budgetqueen pointed out, you need the Milepost for the location of restaurants (and services) not as a dining guide. You would probably be able to find last minute lodging available in Wasilla or Anchorage area but Talkeetna is very small. We did not have reservations and even the expensive fancy hotel was booked up. The Talkeetna visitors center told us we would have to go back to Wasilla but then remembered some cabins way off the road which were closer. The cabins were great but there wasn't any nearby restaurant. The Portage Glacier visitors center has an interesting video and exhibit. We did not take the boat tour. You might also see a big chunk floating in the lake. If you are short on time the tram ride up Alyeska might be more fun than the visitors center. There is a distant view of several glaciers plus the opportunity to make a snowball in July. With a tight schedule I would reserve for the KP tour.
I've been caught up in that "there might be something nicer" dilemma. You don't have a multitude of choices outside of Anchorage and your time is too limited. You've planned a great trip.

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