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Princess Cruise/Tour, McKinley, Denali, Juneau, Ketchikan

Princess Cruise/Tour, McKinley, Denali, Juneau, Ketchikan

Old Feb 14th, 2009, 11:54 AM
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Princess Cruise/Tour, McKinley, Denali, Juneau, Ketchikan

I will be doing the Alaska cruise tour in July and I am looking for some tips about things to do.

We will be staying at the McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge for 2 nights. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what is most interesting in this area, any excursions you might recommend?

We stay 1 night at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. We are scheduled for the Natural History Tour from 1pm-6pm. There are mixed reviews about this tour. Has anyone been on this tour and if so, was it worthwhile? Does anyone have any alternative suggestions? We enjoy moderate hiking, animal siteings, and beautiful scenery.

In Juneau we are interested in a glacier landing, and a dog sled tour. Does anyone know if the Alaska Tour Saver Book can be used in this area?

Any suggestions for Kechikan? Someone suggested renting a car and driving to Herring Cove to see bears. Another suggestion was a seaplane to Misty Fjords.

I have always planned my trips by following the advice of fellow Fodorites . I look forward to your suggestions. Thanks.
molc54 is offline  
Old Feb 14th, 2009, 12:27 PM
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Sorry - can't help you as we haven't done Alaska yet. You might get more responses if you check www.cruisecritic.com which has a forum for each cruise line on their Boards (look for the link in the upper left hand corner of the home page) section. If you haven't done so, might also post on the cruises forum here at Fodors.
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Old Feb 15th, 2009, 08:03 AM
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If you can spare the $, try a trip to Anan Creek out of Ketchikan. This is a National Forest Service area that you need to fly to via float plane. You also need to get a reservation from the Forest Service well in advance as only 60 or so people are allowed per day. There is a viewing area above the creek where you can watch bears feed on the salmon run. Absolutely extraordinary, if you are into that sort of thing. Very expensive, though - figure about $500/person.
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Old Feb 15th, 2009, 11:14 AM
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We did the glacier landing in Juneau - booked as excursion from Princess cruise. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done in all my travels.

They put you on a small bus and drop you at the helicopter company. You get a brief talk about safety, get fitted with spikey boots, watch a video. They ask everyone their weight - not a good time to lie since total weight and distribution within the helicopter is very important.

I hate small aircraft of any kind, but I was determined to do this. They load 6 passengers plus pilot in a tiny helicopter that would seem to seat half this many. Everyone wears headsets. They lock the door from the outside. The pilot seemed to be about 10 years old - likely older and this reflects my anxiety rather than his competence. As the helicopter lifted off I was terrified and felt like opening the door and jumping out - an obviously bad idea. So I closed my eyes as we soared over Juneau.

After about 2 minutes I realized that if I was going to die I might as well enjoy the view - it was spectacular. After a panaramic flight over the glacier, we landed. There are glacier guides that spend every day on the glacier - not a job I would like. In a small group you walk around, getting an explanation of its history and formation from the guide. The helicopter takes off, ferrying people back to the helicopter center. After about 30 minutes (seemed like much less) the helicopter returns to take you back.

Worth every dollar we spent on it.

In Ketchikan husband and our adult kids did the zipline tour - they loved it. I did a rainforest walk - we saw a couple of bears and some interesting plants.

In Skagway dtr and I did culinary tour and demonstration at Skagway Inn - also excellent. Husband and son did independent hike.

At Denali you could skip the Natural History Tour - which I understand does not go far into the Park, and take Park shuttle on your own.

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Old Feb 15th, 2009, 02:36 PM
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IMHO, the Natural History Tour is a waste of your time and money. It goes only to mile 19 on the park's road. The best is beyond. Less expensive, more successful and enjoyable is a shuttle trip to at least the Eielson Visitor Center. The most logical option would be to book the shuttle independently and see what is this park about, have more opportunities for moderate hiking, animal sightings, and magnificent scenery.

There is no coupon in the Alaska Tour Saver Book for a glacier landing, and a dog sled tour in Juneau. In Ketchikan I found crowds at Herring Cove and no place to park a car. A flight to Misty Fjords National Monument was pleasant, maybe #9 on our list. For someone who never flied on a small floatplane this may be a very attractive activity, for us (at least 300 flights or more on small planes all over the world) it wasn't anything special or exciting. I really enjoyed Misty Fjords NM but would rather have more time and go by boat. Bear watching from Wrangell by boat to Anan Bay was fantastic and #3 or 4 on our list.

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Old Feb 16th, 2009, 12:14 AM
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The problem with the McKinley Princess is that it is going to be a 50 mile shuttle to the nearest town, Talkeetna where all the activities are. So plan carefully and don't do this more than you have to. Best would be to have tours after your arrival, if by rail, and before leaving. Flightseeing is the top choice here, and necessary if you want to see McKinley. Even with 2 days at the lodge, your chances aren't good. There is nothing at the lodge for activities except a short trail.

Sorry, but the Natural History tour is a complete waste of time. Sounds like you already know this. With only one night at the Denali Princess, you may NOT have any other option depending on your mode of tranport and itinerary. Frankly I recommend you look at another cruisetour, which has the nights reversed with 2 at Denali park and 1 at McKinley, a way superior itinerary.

This year, Princess is being noted for NOT giving any refunds for the NHT like they always have in the past. They are allowing upgrades for $60 being reported, IF it can be scheduled for the Tundra Wilderness tour.

As specifics for you to consider. The Park Road into Denali park is 90 miles. The public road is 16 miles, and this is the distance of the Natural History tour. Biggest kick, is the park service does Savage River shuttle buses this distance, for FREE with ranger activites. ALL your significant scenery is well past this. Wildlife is scarce with many NHT seeing none. The TWT goes to mile 53, the shuttle bus to Toklat goes this same distance for $25. My min. distance in is Eielson mile 66, I would never consider any less for me. Wonder Lake is mile 85, this is the area of those scenic McKinley photos. Everything here is equal to distance. The farther you go, the more scenery and wildlife- bottom line.

I drive to Savage River several times during my visits, as an add on and something to do. Not as any highlight.

My take on the Natural History tour is going to Disneyland and never getting out of the parking lot. Plan and simple.

Determine why and how often you are going to get to Alaska. Denali Park is the only highlight of your cruisetour, and you are shortchanging yourself.

Glacier Dog sledding does not have any coupon offers. It is also the most canceled of Alaska tours, ALWAYS have back up plans and know specifics of what Juneau has to offer you, take phone numbers, if you have other tours of interest.

In July, I too, highly recommend Anan out of Ketchikan. Misty Fiords is also a favorite floatplane sighting seeing area of mine.
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