Pre-cruise advice for a first-timer in Alaska

Old Apr 16th, 2005, 10:20 AM
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Pre-cruise advice for a first-timer in Alaska

We are first-timers to Alaska and are going at the end of May on a Princess cruise from Whittier to Vancouver. We fly into Anchorage at 1:00 a.m on May 27 (actually it would already be May 28) and our cruise leaves from Whittier on May 30th at 9:30 pm.

We have the option of doing a Princess land tour which is not cheap or doing our own thing until our cruise. From an economical and practical point of view and to get the most out of our few pre-cruise days what would be your recommendations?

The pre cruise tour gives us 2 nights at the Captain Cook Hotel (which I gather is the nicest in town -- but really expensive) and a motorcoach trip to Talkneetna, a few hours on our own there, a domed train ride back to Anchorage, free time in Anchorage and the motorcoach from the hotel to the cruise ship. The cost without food is about half of the full price of the one-week cruise!

The first night as we arrive so late we will probably just stay at an airport hotel which has a shuttle go to sleep (as we would have had a very long flight day) and take a taxi to the Captain Cook -- if we do that tour-- or rent a car or taxi to another hotel if a better itinerary could be had.

Someone told me that Talkneetna is a waste of time. That same person suggested that we visit Homer. I would love to see Denali, but I don't think we have the time and I don't want to spend an exorbitant amount of money on the land portion or to fly there as we would have been flying so much to get to Alaska that we want to stay on land.

Is it better to go a hotel and spend a day around Anchorage and take a tour the next day like Gray Line's one day trip to Portage Glacier Tour with a sightseeing vessel portion and Alyeska Resort (or other similar tours)
Or should we rent a car, stay at a B&B (which we like to do on many trips) and drive to Homer or somewhere else and then take a coach to Whittier?

Is there another recommended itinerary that one of you would suggest given the time frame?

Thank you very much

I would really appreciate your views.
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Old Apr 16th, 2005, 03:28 PM
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If your Talkeetna trip includes flightseeing of Denali, it might be worth it, but otherwise I'd say no.

Capt. Cook is very nice, but not a necessity.

With that time, I'd recommend:

Night of 27th, arrive and overnight in Anchorage.

28th -- Get a rental car and poke your way down to Seward with stops at Girdwood, Exit Glacier, dinner at Ray's, then overnight in Seward.

29th - Long Kenai Fjords trip and return to Anchorage (perhaps a dinner at Double Musky?)

30th -- Flightsee out of Anchorage or just tour the town. Head to Whittier for boat.

It's a busy plan, but it will give you a nice mix with what you'll see on the cruise.

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Old Apr 17th, 2005, 03:28 AM
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I would second repete's suggestions. Just double-check what might be open/closed on Memorial Day (May30). You also have time to squeeze in a trip north to Palmer/Independence Mine. You will enjoy being on your own to stop when and where you want. There's a beautiful stream alongside the road to the mine. The mine story is interesting. The view down the valley is beautiful.
If there is a choice of times to take the bus to Whittier. Take the last one. There isn't much to see in Whittier. The town was built by the military and the largest building is an abandoned eyesore.
Because it's a holiday weekend, I would check the Anchorage Daily News to see if a special event/parade is scheduled.
www.adn.com
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Old Apr 17th, 2005, 05:12 AM
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Thank you both repete and dfrostnh.

Someone told me that we should not miss going on the domed train. Yes or no?

Also someone suggested that we visit Homer instead of Talkneetna, Is that good advice?

Thanks
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Old Apr 17th, 2005, 10:58 AM
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Myself, I really like Talkeetna, but the forte here are the availability of McKinley flights, but it is a REAL funky Alaska town. I would NEVER recommend any cruise purchased add on. Just not worth the cost nor do they do much of any geat Alaska "small" stuff. You really do not have time for Homer and definately not enough for Denali Park in my opinion.

If you want to look at the train, by far the best portion is the Anchorage/Seward portion, but again you are short on time for this. My suggestion would be to rent a car with an AVIS one way Anchorage-Whittier- the best option. Even though a $125 drop fee it still makes the best of your short time without wasting time backtracking. So if your interest is Seward- on the first day- carefully select an am Anchorage activity if of interest. The Native Heritage museum is worthwhile, or consider a downtown walking tour- map in visitor guide. Request a copy www.anchorage.net Then make the drive to Seward with 2 nights there. As mentioned consider the Northwestern Fjords boat trip- take precautions if prone to seasickness- just excellent and far better than anything you'll see from your ship. The morning of your cruise- check out- Exit Glacier, Seaveys Sled dogs, Sealife Center, museums, flights etc. And by mid afternoon head to Whittier. Be certain to have the tunnel schedule and Avis office closing time.

If you do go with the Homer option- there won't be much if any time for Anchorage and I again recommend only the one way rental car. As you can see, best is to budget at least another week add on to any one way cruise.
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Old Apr 17th, 2005, 01:01 PM
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Thank you bugdet queen (I love the name)
I think we're opting for the rent a car option and have the info re Avis and the fact that they are the only ones who go to Whittier. The cruise leaves at 9:30 pm and I have to find out from the travel agent what time we are expected to be on board.

ILike dnfrost says if you take the shuttle, to take the last one (which I think is at 3:00pm??) The Avis terminal closes at 8:00
I got a very inexpensive rate for Anchorage airport pick up with a drop off in town from Hertz. And I wonder if it is best to do that and take the shuttle -- or do what you suggest.

The more I think about it, what you say with the one-way fee anchorage to Whittier makes sense. I wonder though because of the short time if it would be best to pick up our car in the morning May 28 at the airport, visit Anchorage and area and stay in Anchorage on the 28th, then head for Seward on the 29th, overnight there and head for Whittier on the 30th when we take our cruise. Or do we need 2 days in Seward to do this cruise that you suggest.

There were some small 1 -hour cruises that can be done on the mv Ptarmigan on a drive
down to Portage Glacier. Is that worth it considering the short time-span?

Yes I see that we need more time, but unfortunately that is not always an option.

Where do I find out about the tunnel schedule and is there a tunnel fee?

Thanks again
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Old Apr 17th, 2005, 02:20 PM
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It will take you 2-3 hours (depending on usually heavy traffic) to get to Seward. The Kenai Fjord tour is anywhere from 6-11 hours long. Most here will recommend that you do the 11 hour for the best sites or the 8 hour at the minimum. It seems like a long time to be on a boat but it will be something that passes quickly and will be worth it.

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Old Apr 17th, 2005, 03:02 PM
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Thanks Connie,

I can see that if we were to do the Kenai Fjord tour we would really need two days in Seward.

Several of you say that this fjord trip is a better one that the Glacier tours that we will see on the cruise. (We're supposed to go to College Fjord and Glacier) however, if we take the Anchorage to Whittier car rental, plus gas, plus hotels in Seward, plus the one Kenai Fjord tour, it will still cost more than the pre-cruise option to Talkneetna by coach and domed rail and 2 nights at the Captain Cook.

As I'm trying to be economical considering we'll be doing more travelling after the cruise (but not in Alaska) I'm can tell it is less expensive to what repete suggests of one or two nights in Anchorage or one night in Anchorage and one in Seward, plus a rental for Anchorage only and then take the shuttle to Whittier and do land tours, perhaps Alyeska resort aerial tram , Ptarmgan mini cruise and the other suggestions along the Anchorage to Sewad road.

All the suggestions sound great :I'm looking (as usual) for the best for the least with the best time-value available.

Any thoughts

Thanks
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 04:09 AM
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Here's a link to the tunnel schedule. There is $12 toll going in.
http://www.dot.state.ak.us/creg/whit...el/index.shtml
Personally, I liked Homer better than Talkeetna because I enjoyed the Pratt Museum so much plus the views overlooking the Spit as you approach town and from the road above the airport plus the abundance of eagles. The drive from Anchorage to Homer is about 5 hours but the most scenic part is along the Turnagain Arm before you get to Seward. Most of the activities you will want to do are along that stretch of highway. Seward is a small town with interesting shops. The Sea Life Center is wonderful but small. If you check their hours you would have enough time for a morning visit before returning to Anchorage. I also liked the Alyeska Tram ride and Portage Glacier visitors center. We haven't taken the train ride. I think there could be a big argument about where the scenery is best and where you will see the most animals. I also liked the Trolley Tour of Anchorage that included the ride out to Lake Hood where the float planes are parked. Anchorage is unique and beautiful but it's also a big city. You don't have to drive very far before Mother Nature rules. If you'd like to spend some time watching or playing it by ear rather than being on someone's schedule, opt for the car rental. The big glacier didn't calve for us the day we went on the tour but OTH we got so close to a pod of orcas, sea lions, many kinds of birds, etc.
I think you will be happy with whatever you choose. It's too bad you have such a short time ... but maybe you will return again some day.
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 05:48 AM
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Thanks dfrostnh

All this makes me want to stay longer. I think we may opt for the car rental and go with the flow. The boat tours that take you close to the sea life is interesting and the other suggestions sound good too. I've been to Newfoundland (but my husband has not) and went on a small boat cruise to see the whales, We really got up very, very close and saw lots of whales) I wonder how this compares -- I suppose the scenery in Alaska however is the big thing as the whales were fascinating in Newfoundland but I would not call the scenery majestic.

I also wonder what the aerial tram view is like atop Alyeska -- if it is worth it ?? We're skiers and have gone up several much higher aerial trams on the way up to ski -- in fact recenty came back from Jackson Hole Wyoming, where the tram goes way up (although not as high as some of the trams in Europe). I heard Alyeska was beautiful -- although small in elevation but our ski standards. Our ski club went there a few years ago (and got rotten weather -- rain not snow). We were disappointed that we could not go because of work commitments (although were less disappointed when we heard the weather news). What 's the concensus among the erudite Alaska travellers?

Also have any of you ever stayed at any of the B&Bs in Anchorage? We happen to love B&Bs as opposed to hotels as you usually meet people and actually talk to them -- we've even made friends with some couples we met at B&Bs in Europe.


Thanks
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 08:09 AM
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I would second the trip to Seward and not to Homer, not enough time and there is more to see in Seward area. You could do with one night with the 6hr tour the next morning and then drive back to Anc if you have r/t car or a second night if you go for the one way Anc-Whittier. Portage Glacier is worth the short stop on the way down but I don't think the boat tour or time for that is as good a value as leaving more time for Exit Glacier, Seavy Dog kennel tour, and the NP tour. You will get much closer to glacier on Kenai NP tour than you will from ship in College Fjord or Glacier Bay.
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 08:30 AM
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Again, my take. Your comparism to the ship add on tour is not comparable to touring Seward. Glacier viewing and wildlife opportunities are WAY superior to anything you will see from your cruise ship. I still suggest you consider the one way car rental to make the best use of your time. ANY ship transfer is costing you $50 Anchorage/Whittier via bus, so the cost difference for an Avis car isn't that big. I would leave Seward around 4pm for Whittier and if time stop at the Portage Glacier Visitor Center. Keep track of the tunnel time. Then plenty of time to get on the ship.
I would take the following tour that morning from Kenai Fjords tours.

One Day National Park Tours
A great way to see the abundant marine wildlife found in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge! Every tour includes a hot lunch and visits a tidewater glacier. Don't miss this opportunity to see the untouched beauty of Alaska's coastal waters.
8:00am Departure - Add to Itinerary

Cruises May 15, 21 thru September 4 and 11
6-hour cruise (8:00am to 2:00pm)
Be the first to see wildlife on our morning tour
Includes hot lunch served on cruise
$115 for Adults plus tax and fees
$57.50 for Children (2-11) plus tax and fees


With this option you need the night before in Seward but have that day flexable if you want Anchorage activities. As I mentioned, request their visitor guides, more than several days worth of activities in each area. I would skip the time involved in the tram and if of interest in doing one, go out of Juneau. I think you are best served focusing on what YOUR priorities are - and if with scenery and wildlife- Seward is the answer.
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 12:54 PM
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Swanee, you make a good point about the tram. We're not skiers to the view from the top was something different for us. I think you can see 5 glaciers? And Budget Queen makes a good point that you can do a tram tour in Juneau. We have stayed in b&bs in Palmer (loved Alaska Garden Gate B&B) and enjoyed talking with Karen, the owner, and other guests. I made last minute reservations at two other places that had vacancies. The one in Whittier was really a small one room apartment but there wasn't any common area. The other in Seward we didn't care for. Like anyplace, there's a big difference between b&b's. I like the ones with a hot breakfast served with other guests. If you search this forum you will find recommendations for b&b's in Anchorage. If you do the Seavey kennel tour, read up on them before you go. Various family members have competed in the Iditarod and their dogs are well trained. Visit www.cabelasiditarod to read daily updates from March's race. You'll find several about the Seavey teams.
The tour boat spends about 1/2 hour about 3/4 mile from a glacier with the engines turned off. The fjord is filled with floating chunks of ice. Even though we missed seeing a big chunk calve, there is creaking and groaning as the ice moves and thunderous sounds. I thought of all that happens in nature without anyone around to see it or hear it.
Who knows, you might see a mother moose with a calf right on one of the hiking trails around Anchorage.
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 02:46 PM
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If the weather is equal, however, the view from Alyeska's tram is markedly better than Juneau's. It's longer, cheaper, higher and your chances of clear weather are better in Girdwood.

Also, drinks and food at the top are far superior . . .
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 05:39 PM
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Thanks everyone,

Now I have to process all this and make a decision. Will probably have more questions. You've given great suggestions.

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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 09:07 AM
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As for Alyeska tram vs. Jackson tram, I've only done the Jackson tram during ski season, but the difference is that you can do more at the top at Alyeska.

It's been years since I was at Jackson but I don't recall much at the top of the tram -- or maybe we were just too focused on Corbett's.

If you were just going for the views on the way up and down, then the difference is less. It's basically Tetons vs. Cook Inlet -- both very nice. But if you're going to the top to dine, have a couple of drinks, glacier hike or mt. bike down, then the Alyeska trip might be worth it.

But as with much of AK, weather plays a huge role -- as your skiing friends found out -- if the mountain's covered in clouds, it's probably not worth it.
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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 02:12 PM
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Do any of you know a good B&B in Seward?
I called the Windsong Lodge but they are booked on May 28.

dfrostnh, you mentioned that you stayed in one that you did not like but no name-- what was it so not to book.

Thanks
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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 05:19 PM
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For a bargain, Morning Calm is my top pick in Seward.
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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 05:44 PM
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Thanks Budget Queen
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Old Apr 20th, 2005, 04:01 AM
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Swannee,
the B&B was over a garage with a cold bagel for breakfast. There was plenty of room and privacy which might appeal to some. I just prefer a hot breakfast and visiting with other guests in a common area. I would recommend checking the amenities based on your preferences. For what we got, we should have stayed in the in-town hotel we'd visited before and walked someplace for breakfast. If you search the archives, I believe last year there were recommendations for Seward B&Bs. I kicked myself for not bringing a list but we only pre-planned our weekends and left everything else to spur of the moment. Needless to say, the better places probably don't have vacancies for last minute people. Someone else might have really liked the Seward B&B for the privacy and bagels for breakfast are fine, so I don't think I should give them bad press.
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