Need help with quick trip - Alaska

Old Nov 7th, 2009, 04:37 AM
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Need help with quick trip - Alaska


We (Aussie couple in our 50's) are currently planning a "land-trip" in Alaska (prior to a cruise) but unfortunately only have a limited time (3.5days) and are looking for some suggestions.

We would like to travel on the McKinley train and also visit Denali National Park.

Should we be spend more time in Anchorage or Fairbanks?

Basically our August "itinerary" (loosely-used) is:
Day 1 - Fly into Fairbanks (eta 6pm - from New York)
Day 2 - ??
Day 3 - Denali
Day 4 - ??
Day 5 - Cruise departs Seward (9pm)

Fairbanks ..
Thinking of doing the Paddle Wheel tour or is this "wasting" our precious time?
The train leaves at 8.15am each day to Denali so if we did the P/Wheel tour, we would need to stay in Fairbanks that night.

Denali .. The train arrives at Noon one day and leaves at Noon the next.
Is 2 x half-days enough time to get a "brief snapshot" of the park?
Haven't started researching the bus trips yet, so I'm not sure of the variety or duration.
(We're not big on hiking but don't mind a "short 1km walk" if that helps you).

Anchorage .. What is a "must see" in Anchorage?
Is half-a-day enough time?

Anchorage to Seward .. Any transport recommendations .. how we get to the ship?

Realise this may be a big ask and we're probably trying to squeeze too much into too short a time, but unfortunately time is not on our side.
Open to all suggestions.
Thanks in advance
jgbg is offline  
Old Nov 7th, 2009, 04:50 AM
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We liked the paddle wheel tour and think it worth it. We also really liked the El Dorado Gold Mine tour. They are run by the same company and I think you can get a combined ticket.

The U of Fairbanks museum is excellent.
bigtyke is offline  
Old Nov 10th, 2009, 05:42 AM
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Hopefully someone with more recent experience will respond as well, but here’s my two cents of ideas.

We were in Alaska in 2001; spent three days in the Anchorage area before joining our cruise-tour group for a week on land (Denali, Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay) followed by a southbound cruise. (We’re going back August 2010 for a week-long bear trip on a 4 pax boat; followed by a week in the Seward/Anchorage area.)

If I were in your shoes, with so few days, I’d fly into Anchorage and focus my attention in the Anchorage area.

Assuming you will have a rental car: Some of the things we did on our own in the Anchorage area that we really enjoyed: spirit houses of Eklutna; musk ox farm in Palmer; Thunderbird Falls (make sure you have plenty of mosquito repellent); glacier day cruise out of Whittier (not the fast speed catamaran, but a more leisurely trip with Major Marine); stroll at Portage Lake (we did this after our Whittier cruise - visitor center was closed when we were there, but I understand it is quite good); day-drive on Turnagain Arm with many stops to enjoy the views and chance wildlife encounters, and stop at Alaska Wildlife Center ( in Girdwood; afternoon visit to Lake Hood to watch the float planes take-off and land; flightseeing with ERA (they had a DC10 at the time, but I don't think they use that anymore).

Or, you could spend a day in Anchorage where you could do Eklutna, Palmer, Lake Hood, wander around town, catch the IMAX-like movie, and then go down to Seward a few days before your cruise -- you can do a Kenai Fjords boat trip, visit Exit Glacier, tour the SeaLife Center while there; you could probably also do a Whittier cruise and the Alaska Wildlife Center from your base there.

If the flight to Fairbanks is already booked, then I would focus my attention in that area and do an extended day trip into Denali that takes you farther in than half day trips would. There’s only one road into the park as far as I know, so two half days would have you repeating the same portion.

The tour portion of our cruise-tour spent a day in the Denali area. The short trip into the park was OK, but I didn’t come away feeling like “we’d seen the park.” We were lucky that the mountain was out all day during the train ride up from Anchorage and we really enjoyed seeing it. We also enjoyed the glacier helicopter trip we did while we there. It included landing on a glacier (about 30 minutes of time on the glacier itself).

Our stay in Fairbanks included the riverboat and gold panning. I enjoyed the riverboat more than I thought I would – there were demonstrations along the way as well as a lengthy stop at a re-created native village (Chena Indian Village), which was quite interesting. The gold panning was “touristy”, but it was fun nonetheless.

How to get to the ship … you can drive, but one way rentals are incredibly expensive because of drop off fees. There are shuttle options as well, but we opted to take the train down. This worked for us since we had driven a good portion of Turnagain Arm anyway. At the time, there were guides on the train that provided narration along the way and the engineer even stopped the train so we could enjoy a chance encounter with a black bear next to the rail tracks. Beautiful scenery. The train pulled right up to the dock and we walked a very short distance to the check-in building (a big shed at the time, but may have changed since 2001).

Have a terrific time … Alaska is a wonderful place.
eenusa is offline  
Old Nov 10th, 2009, 05:58 AM
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I second the recommendation of the Univ. of Alaska Fairbanks museum. It's very good. I also enjoyed the gold panning in Fairbanks.

I think you'd do OK with just the two half days in Denali (though more would be better). I'd recommend taking one of the buses deep into the park on the 1st day. On the second, I'd take the short bus to the dogsledding demo and then I'd walk back (it's not a long walk and mostly downhill). The walk down to Horseshoe Lake is also very nice (and not long). You can get a map of trails around the entrance area at the Visitors Center.

While I like Anchorage, I'd recommend not spending much time there. Take the train or bus down to Seward. It's a nice town. Check out the Alaska Sea Life Center. If you do decide to rent a car, I also like the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (which is on the way to Seward).

astein12 is offline  
Old Nov 10th, 2009, 07:04 AM
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We liked basing ourselves in Anchorage and taking day trips. One of my all time favorites was taking a seaplane from Lake Hood to Mt McKinley:

Also, we rented a car and did a lot of driving, Turnagain Arm is just beautiful! In Seward we took Mitch Seavey's dog-sled ride - loved it!
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Old Nov 10th, 2009, 08:30 AM
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If the paddlewheel boat tour is the one called something like the Riverboat discovery tour, I have to say that is the least favorite thing we did on our nearly two-week trip to Alaska. If time is an issue as it is in your case, I'd stay away from it unless you really enjoy en masse group experiences listening to the person with the microphone do the canned routine as you travel a short way along the river and then back again. It's all personal preference, I know. But if I were to pick one thing I'd change about our trip, I wouldn't have gotten on that boat.
Have a great trip!
bakerstreet is offline  
Old Nov 10th, 2009, 09:54 AM
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You are greatly underestimating time and distances, your ???? days are what??? Sorry you will be traveling those days. You maybe have a morning in Fairbanks, so decide what you want to do. Then drive yourself to Denali Park. You need to consider the shuttle bus to at least Eielson. Next day, you'll be driving to Talkeetna. Hopefully, you will have time for stops along the way. Turn in your COSTLY (hopefully you have looked at one way rates Fairbanks/Anchorage?). Last morning take the train to Seward. I highly recommend you then get yourself on a Kenai Fjords boat tour- not to be missed, frankly. The boat companies store your bags and transfer you to your ship.

A major point I think you have to realize, the train Fairbanks/Anchorage- you don't have time for. It needs more time, than by road. The train also parallels the Parks Highway most of the run. BY far the most scenic portion is Anchorage/Seward. You are greatly shortchanging yourself without a car on the Fairbanks/Anchorage portion.

Commenting on some of the above recommendations- 2 1/2 days in Denali Park is NOT a good option. You will not have your own transportation and the second day will be about useless since the train leaves at noon and you will be dependent on a shuttle schedule and wait time. The arrival 1/2 day, also has you dependent on limited hotel/lodge transportation. The shuttles also don't run real late, so you must also be up to walking back, over a mile to most of Glitter Gulch properties. Your lodging options will also be very limited to only those with transportation. Overall, in my experience, not a good idea.

I suggest you look at this closely and realistically.
BudgetQueen is offline  
Old Nov 10th, 2009, 10:07 AM
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Hi jgbg,
You have precious little time to see everything on your list. If the flight to FAI is already booked, then go see Denali NP and then proceed directly to Seward. You can travel to Seward via the AK Railroad. Skip Fairbanks and Anchorage sightseeing. There isn't enough time to see them with these limitations. At Denali. You can take a 6-hour National Park Service bus tour of the park leaving at 6 P.M. (pre-booking is recommended at ) and get back to your hotel shortly after midnight or so. You can be on your way south the next day. It's certainly not much time at the park and not ideal by any measure, but it may be better than nothing, particularly if it may be your only trip to Alaska.

If your flight to Fairbanks is not set in concrete yet, you could do as eenusa recommends and focus instead on seeing a little of Anchorage and the drive to Seward via Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Penninsula. The points of interest given for Anchorage are all worthwhile. I would add to the list, the Alaska Native Heritage Center
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Old Nov 10th, 2009, 10:48 AM
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What month is this?

My recommendation would be one of two alternatives.

First, drop Fairbanks if you can, fly into Anchorage instead and book a car. Drive the next day to Denali Park, tour the following day, and drive back the fourth. The train takes too long, is IMO not all that scenic, and right now your time is more valuable than waiting around for the train.

If you can't skip Fairbanks, book a car and drive to Denali Park instead of taking the train - if possible, do it the day you arrive (long, long daylight if you're traveling in June - August.) Take a day bus ride into and back out of the park the next day. The third day, return the car to Fairbanks airport and fly to Anchorage. A one-way car rental is prohibitively expensive. Then on the fourth day tour around Anchorage.

You really don't have enough time to see both Denali and anything on the Kenai Peninsula in the same trip. You will see the Turnagain Arm scenery just in the process of getting to Seward, so that can be dropped. (These are all compromises necessitated by your schedule.)

Or, frankly, I'd just consider skipping Denali and take the funds you'd spend on train/car/expensive hotel, and spend them on a really good flightseeing trip out of Anchorage, or Talkeetna (preceded by a longish drive) if there's a reasonable prospect of the mountain being visible. Summer in southcentral Alaska is always a crap shoot as to whether McKinley will be visible, so with your tight time frame I'd work around that uncertainty by planning alternate activities that will guarantee a good payoff.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Nov 11th, 2009, 02:23 AM
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I assumed your flights are booked?? IF not, then absolutely skip Denali and fly into Anchorage. IF you can add a day, then Denali Park is more doable. Overall you are best with two overnights there and two transit days. You need to allow 6 hours for the drive Anchorage/Denali Park. I still, will never recommend Denali Park/Seward in a single day. At the least, you are greatly shortchaning yourself with the lack of time for stops and touring along the way.

You really would be far better off, finding out about interior Alaska areas, understand fully, distances and time. THEN book your flights from the best area for a doable itinerary. What you have posted is not a good plan.
BudgetQueen is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2009, 03:13 AM
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Big thanks to everyone who has replied. We haven't booked our flights yet so we're flexible as to which town we fly in to.

You have certainly given us some alternatives and really appreciate the weblinks. Thanks again.

Cheers from "down under"
jgbg is offline  
Old Nov 11th, 2009, 03:31 AM
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Anchorage to Seward .. Any transport recommendations .. how we get to the ship?

Take the train to Seward

Listen to Budget and others. I wouldn't waste my time in Fairbanks or Anchorage if I had only a couple of days. I would do Denali or might even just go to Seward and do Kenai Fjords. You could even fly out on a small plane from Anchorage on some excursions. You might look at Girdwood. A person can easily be entertained there for a couple of days at Alyeska Resort. stick with flying into anchorage. flying into fairbanks is going to cost a lot of time.
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