Thinking Alaska - Summer '11

Feb 10th, 2011, 04:55 AM
  #1  
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Thinking Alaska - Summer '11

Hi fellow fodorites - I am thinking of Alaska for our summer trip this coming August and I don't even know where to begin! We have pretty much ruled out a cruise - we want freedom and the ability to enjoy each location for as long as we want.
We are family of 4, boys are now 8 and 11.
Where should we start?? end?? What are the top things not to miss?? I am thinking a max of 2 weeks, probably more like 10-12 days including travel from Miami.
Alaska is a big state to tackle and I am sure we will have to make multiple trips to enjoy it all!
MiamiBeachMomma is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 05:57 AM
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One of the things I did a few years ago -- I took my grandson(and his dad) to Alaska -- I thought a theme would be appropriate for him -- he was 9 at the time -- so I picked transportation --- and we did a cruise, bus, train, airplane, helicopter, jet boat, raft, ATV and a lot of hiking. As you said Alaska is HUGE -- you do need to make several trips - some other highlights -- whale watching, fishing, gold mining, hiking on a glacier, animal watching(but remember the animals are on their time not yours- so if you see them it is fantastic), ETC ETC. ETC. YOU will enjoy Alaska - it is truly a treasure.
ronko is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 06:29 AM
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Consider renting an RV. We used Great Alaskan.
bigtyke is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 06:41 AM
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Where to start? Most flights from the lower 48 arrive in Anchorage, so that might be a good starting point. In 12 days (minus two days travel time). you could go south (via Girdwood) to Seward (3 hours by car), spending 2 days there and explore the Kenai Penninsula all the way to Homer (again spending 2 days there). Then you might have time to go north (via Talkeetna) toward Denali National Park...spending 2 nights there. With any remaining time, don't neglect Anchorage either. It's not just the big city. The Anchorage Museum, Alaska Native Heritage Center are both worthwhile stops. Your boys might also like the Alaska Zoo (also in Anchorage).

FWIW, Alaska Airlines has an AM non-stop flight from Miami to Seattle. From there, AS has hourly flights to ANC.


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Orlando_Vic is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 07:26 AM
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Alaska is very (!) rainy in August. The earlier in summer you go the better. Ideal -weatherwise- is Mai/June.
KarenE is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 07:35 AM
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We went to Alaska last year with 2 ds 9 & 12 and grandparents. So my boys were very close in age to yours. We had to do some things differently than we normally would have because of my parents being along. But, in thinking how we would do it with the 4 of us if we were going back... Rent a motorhome (we did this ABC Motorhomes using a coupon got 3 days free and was cheaper than renting a minivan but still stayed in hotels). If we hadn't had my parents with us we would've stayed in the motorhome. The motorhome was great for the kitchen and having food available whenever we were hungry. The bathroom!! And room to move around on long travel days and room to store all the "boy stuff" video games, etc.

We did not do the Kenai peninsula on this trip because we had actually been there before but that would be highly recommended. I would say the key spots to visit would be Seward, Denali and everything in between and maybe up to Fairbanks if you have time.

Our favorite activities were(in no particular order) hiking to a glacier, Denali - we hit the motherlode of animals on our trip and saw the top of Mt McKinley, panning for gold, Independence Mine, visiting the dog sled museum and doing the cart ride, Musk Ox Farm.

We loved our trip and I'm sure you will too!
henny16 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 09:08 AM
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The RV approach could certainly work; however I'll only chime in that when our son was 8-11, he got mighty antsy on long car trips. I'm also not sure that in peak summer periods in Alaska you'll save a lot of money with an RV rather than conventional car + hotels/B&Bs.

10-12 days including travel time from Florida really means 8-10 days in-state. That's enough for a fairly typical "basic" tour of the Southcentral AK corridor - Fairbanks or Denali to the north down to the Kenai Peninsula in the south, or v.v., but not a lot of time for "extras" or side trips.

On the matter of kids and cars, again, just a personal observation that the times I've ridden the Park Service shuttles into Denali Park, a number of kids on the buses got pretty bored. The wildlife is not necessarily all that evident, and even if the mountain is visible (which it often isn't) many kids give it a look and say, "cool," then are looking for something else. But the shuttles take hours - a whole day, actually to go from the visitor center to Wonder Lake and back, and tedium happens. Again, just a personal observation that might not apply in your case.

Let me suggest a couple of alternatives, just for argument's sake. Obviously you know your family better than we do, but I'll throw them out.

1. Narrow the focus. Pick one area and spend several days there. Take Seward: In August Seward hosts its annual Silver Salmon Derby. If your kids haven't been fishing - and fishing for Silvers in Resurrection Bay is just about as good as it gets - this could be a total blast. If you go with the RV, catch fish, clean and cook them - and you'll have a hugely memorable experience with your family. You can easily combine a couple of days fishing with a tour of Kenai Fjords (lots of wildlife, spectacular scenery) and/or hikes at Exit Glacier. Run up to Cooper Landing and take a flightseeing trip on a floatplane over the Harding Icefield or Prince William Sound... in essence, avoid wasting whole days driving from place to place, then having to look for a hookup/campground - stay local and focus. [Note you could easily do the Seward thing with an ordinary car and a hotel or B&B with cooking or barbecue facilities.]

Or, (2) Reconsider the cruise option, or Option (1) + cruise.

The north-to-south (or south-to-north) cruises out of Vancouver all take seven days. They're all priced very competitively: it's virtually impossible to travel more cheaply in/to Alaska when you consider it's transportation, lodging, food and entertainment all wrapped up into one. (If you're from Florida you probably know the spiel, but just to reinforce it.)

The thing with the cruises is that they're now all extremely kid-friendly, with special programs and facilities for kids, even kid-oriented shore excursions. The ports of call on, say, a Vancouver > Seward cruise are typically Ketchikan (totem poles, forest walks) and Juneau (mountain gondolas, glaciers, whale watching) and Skagway (touristy but genuinely historic town, with easy access by rented car into some gorgeous scenery over the border in the Yukon.) They all stop at some glacier - maybe Hubbard Glacier, or Glacier Bay, and usually some other port of call - Hoonah, maybe.

These destinations are just the thing for kids - lots of variety, lots of activities (and not all of them expensive - it's very easy to avoid the overpriced ship excursions and "do your own thing" in port) and then, good food, a private room for the kids, movies, TV, game rooms... it actually can give Mom and Dad some private time, too.

Imagine this: Day 1, fly to Seattle and take the train or rent a car and drive to Vancouver. Days 2 - 8, cruise up to Seward. Days 9 - 11, go fishing and/or into the Fjords based in Seward. Evening of day 11, head up to Anchorage for the red-eye back to Florida, arriving PM on day 12. Piece of cake.

(Doing this in reverse is doable, but you'll land in Alaska with 5 hours of jetlag, not a good thing if you're about to hit the road with a big vehicle. Using the cruise as a platform to adjust your clocks is way, way easier.)

Anyway, just some thoughts.
Gardyloo is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 09:36 AM
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So far Im loving all the info!!! Thanks to all!!
Im not keen on the RV thing. I'd rather rent an SUV and then stop at a hotel or cabin for the night. I'm not comfortable with driving something so big!
On the cruise - it sounds enticing and relaxing but I find you dont get as much exploration time as you would like when you get off the ship.
Any thoughts?
MiamiBeachMomma is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 10:11 AM
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On the cruise - it sounds enticing and relaxing but I find you dont get as much exploration time as you would like when you get off the ship.

We lived in AK for a long time and were very reluctant to consider a cruise - too packaged, managed, etc. However last year we had to attend a wedding in Anchorage and had an extra few days, while some relatives wanted to cruise up, so we went together. We really enjoyed it.

If you're tied to a car, you have to realize that a vast portion of Alaska simply isn't accessible at all. The road system is minute compared to the size of the state, and because the system is fairly small, the towns and places of interest it serves can and do get really filled up during the summer tourist season. It's counter-intuitive to many people that you'll go to a campground in rural Alaska and have to fight for a space, or get on a trail and find dozens of people in front and behind you. Now, if you want to walk a great distance, or fly on a bush plane into a lake someplace, well then you can experience the wilderness and how. But for most visitors those options are limited by time or money resources.

On the cruises, you're visiting towns that aren't accessible except by sea or air. They're very small places, without a lot of places to drive, or hike. It's true that 5 or 6 ships with 2000 people each aboard can pretty well whack a town like Skagway (pop. 900 counting dogs) but if you rent a car and drive 30 min. up the road, you're pretty much alone. Ditto Juneau - get a car and drive up to the glacier, then over the bridge to Douglas Island, and you wouldn't know you're one of thousands visiting that day. Hang out at the shops selling Tanzanite, and you'll have a different experience.

The port calls are typically pretty long, and the ships sail between towns at night, so your time is actually used pretty efficiently. You can't drive overnight from one campground to the next; you have to use days that could otherwise be spent hiking or touring around. The logistics of the cruise are actually superior if you want to spend your days doing stuff rather than arranging for food, a place to stay, etc. for the coming night.

And the views from the boat, or snapshots of life you can get in your own little excursions, are not too shabby. A couple of examples:

Roadside chalet, Douglas Island (Juneau): http://gardyloo.us/20100708_7s.jpg

Hubbard Glacier: http://gardyloo.us/20100708_246s.jpg

Yakutat Bay: http://gardyloo.us/20100708_135s.JPG
Gardyloo is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 01:59 PM
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My parents recently did a 17 day cruise/land tour. I think about 10 days was on land. I think I would go Land if I had to choose. They really did enjoy it.

We went to Alaska a couple of years ago and pretty much just did the Kenai Area. We took a helicopter/glacier landing/dog sledding tour from Alyeska/Girdwood. This is on snow. The one in Denali is just on dirt(although my parents said it was great)-expensive. Took the Alyska Tram and hiked on a glacer at the top.

In Seward we did the All Day Tour to a calving glacier and it was really good. Did a 4 hour Midnight Sun Kayak tour and it was good also. However, if it were to do over again, we would kayak around the glacier and probably just overnight there with a guide. This would be in a tent on or nearby the glacier.

We then drove to Soldotna and did and took a Floatplane/Bear Viewing/Salmon Fishing trip. Saw 20+ black bears within 15 feet of our boat. They didn't pay us much attention, they were to busy eating salmon. We caught our limit of Salmon and had it processed and shipped back to our house. So we ate for several months on the fish we had caught. I think we had like 150lbs of sockeye. We also saw 6 or 7 bald eagles within a few feet of the boat. Landing and taking off in the water was pretty amazing, since we had never done that. expensive.

My parents did Denali and they did a plane that landed on a glacier. I would say that was the highlight of their trip.

Oh, we did ride the train from Anchorage to Seward and we thought it was great too.


My next trip, I plan on taking my nephew(about your boys age) and we will do some activities in Wrangel.

There is a lot to do in Alaska, but most of it requires time to get there and can be expensive.
spirobulldog is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 04:16 PM
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We were in Alaska the first two weeks of August last year. For the most part we had good weather - just rained a couple of days. But there were some pretty chilly ones mix in there!

My niece and nephew (11 and 10) liked Denali a lot (it helped that we saw the entire mountain AND lots of wildlife, some very close up). We did a 4-day cruise as part of the package trip and they enjoyed it as well (Skagway-Glacier Bay-Ketchikan-Vancouver).

The Tanana Valley State Fair is in Fairbanks in early August (the first full week, I think). The boys might enjoy it. We were too tired to go, but some other people on our tour did.

The distances between places really are vast - adults will like the scenery, but children will want stuff to occupy them while getting from place to place (books, games, etc.).
Cranachin is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 07:27 PM
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I spend 7 years working in SE Alaska. It is a very beautiful area. I never went into town when the cruise boats were there. In fact, we laughed at some of the passengers running into the tanzanite shops. The people that run these shops leave in September and go the the Bahamas to get ready for the winter season.

I always recommend to friends to take a ferry in the inside passage ( the same route the expensive cruise ships take) and see an area.

You can drive to Price Rupert, BC (which is lovely and a good side bar in itself) Catch the ferry. And pick where you want to go....

Every town in Alaska has float plane excursions and fishing tours. So close your eyes and stab the map.

If you are looking for Mountains good to Denali. But Alaska has lots of Mountains

If you want to see smoking volcanoes, go to The Valley Of 10,000 Smokes in Naknek or King Salmon (you can fly into either one)
Ketchikan only has a few things to offer. Some good restaurants (Annnabelle's and Salmon Falls (which is out of town on a dirt road--either rent a car or take your own or cab--worth the drive). Cape Fox has the best view but mediocre food. August is the Blueberry Festival--check the web for dates. New York Cafe for coffee. Potlatch at night to watch the fishermen relax. And the Sourdough at the city dock is a great bar that has photos of wrecks that are worth looking at.

I always recommend POW(PRince of Wales Island) the ferry goes there. You can tour the whole island. Craig is a beautiful town. Nice gift shops, nice hand crafts. A few bars to see the local fishermen. B&B's. Fishing charters. Float planes. Ruth Ann's is a great restaurant and hotel. The oyster's are great and they even have some from the island. We rented a car and did this one year. Different stories to be told than the "cruisers"

Kodiak Island has 2 jet flights a day. Rent a car and drive the Island . did this as well one year. You see the real Alaska if you get away from the cruise boats and tourist shops

But if you don't want to do it yourself, definitely go with the smaller cruise ships/boats. Some of the ports mentioned previously are only abtainable by small vessels. I can guarantee that the Norwegian, Princess, and Celebrity cruise lines do not dock in Hoonah (which is a lovely fishing town that offers fishing tours) or S.t Petersburg/Wrangell. The Wrangell Narrows are exactly as it sounds too narrow for large ships.

Alot of IMO!
bredhairedgirl is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 10:14 PM
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My husband and I cruised out of Seattle on Princess cruise line in 2007 for 7days and did not feel we got to explore Alaska the way we wanted to, although I agree with other posts that it is economical in that it is all inclusive and you are not doing all the driving. But in order to really experience the state I think renting a vehicle and driving to whatever areas you are interested in is your best bet as far as controlling where you are going each day and how much time you want to spend in each area without the constraints of a time schedule to meet a train.
In 2008 my husband and I flew to Anchorage and rented a car and drove to Denali. We did not do any sightseeing on our way up because we just wanted to get to our lodging and sleep before the next days trip on the bus. I just want to say that there is not much outside of the park in the way of restaurants and really not much to see, of course the park is the highlight and in order to really enjoy it you have to take the bus in. Plan for overnight accomodations outside the park but if you stay close to the highway it is very noisy Denali Cabins is where we stayed and heard trucks all night long. But it was close to the park entrance and the parking lot where we left our rental car and rode the shuttle to the bus we had to meet to take us into the park. Also I recommend staying the 2 night minimum inside Denali National Park at Kantishna Roadhouse, might be expensive but if you get a good clear day and see the peak it is worth it to be able to enjoy and photograph at your leisure. The food at the Kantishna Roadhouse is excellent and fresh and a variety of activities including day hikes for all levels of experience and ages and or flights around the peak or bike riding, panning for gold, seeing sled dogs is all included with your stay. If you have your heart set on Denali National Park you must stay inside at Kantishna in order to really see it. Otherwise the drive up there is not worth it.

We have 2 girls age 8 that we would like to take to AK and have discussed same things already posted like how much time they would tolerate driving in a day and whether they would truly appreciate the bus ride into Denali which if you go all the way in is an all day ordeal. Be sure to take binoculars for all in your party to enjoy seeing the wildlife from the bus if you do decide to go into Denali.

Otherwise driving south from Anchorage to Seward for a day or two is also great. On the way down is a Wildlife Conservation attraction that the boys would enjoy seeing Alaskan wildlife like Caribou, Black Bears, Moose. Not expensive at all and even though the animals are rescued wildlife and are behind fences they are still magnificent to see so close up and you will not be attacked by the bears. Nice photos also. You could also visit some of the glaciers. Also there is a Marine Museum in Seward that is worthwhile for the boys and you could take a day cruise out of Seward to see glaciers and marine wildlife. You could even do some fishing for halibut which would be a blast for your boys to catch. Lots of fishing charters leave out of Seward. Make sure to pick one that meets all the safety requirements. You could stay a night or two in Seward depending on how much you want to do from the port city, but it is a very small town and unless you plan on going out on a boat you will only want to stay a night. From Seward you can head over on the Kenai Peninsula all the way to Homer. There is a fishing hole in Homer that the boys could catch salmon, which would be fun. Also you can take a water taxi over to Kachemak Bay State Park and take an easy hike to Grewingk Glacier Lake, look it up, absolutely gorgeous, pack a lunch which you can easily make your own from the grocery store in town, take small back packs, not a lot of gear just enough to carry something to drink and eat for the day and just enjoy the wilderness, no noise from traffic or people, you could be the only ones there, and you can take the saddle trail back and climb over logs and fallen trees, the boys would really feel like they were on an adventure and so will you. Recommend if you take a fishing charter out of Homer to do this on one of your last days and you can have your catch processed right off the dock at Coal Point and they will flash freeze it and box it up. If you have it in a 50lb. box you can take it straight to airport and have it put in freezer or see if your hotel has a deep freeze and then you can just check it in as luggage and save bunches of money by just taking your fish home with you on the plane. Fresh Halibut, yum. I hear Alaska calling me, my freezer is empty.
mtsbeaches4me is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 07:25 AM
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>>I always recommend to friends to take a ferry in the inside passage ( the same route the expensive cruise ships take) and see an area. <<

I can go on a luxury cruise for less money than the Alaska ferry. The ferry is the way to go if you want to spend multiple days in some ports.
explorenorth is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 08:17 AM
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The subject of kids and Denali bus ride always seems to be very controversial. I think it must depend on the kids personality and each parent needs to think about their own kids and how they travel. My boys didn't have any problems whatsoever with the long bus ride (9 and 12). We do drive a fair amount and they are used to longer car rides and we were fortunate to have some exciting animal sightings. My 9 yr old did doze on the way back a few times.

On our trip we did one week on land and one week cruise. I definitely felt that we saw and enjoyed Alaska more on the land portion. The cruise was great and we definitely enjoyed that as well but more for the cruise itself than seeing Alaska from the ship. The sightseeing on shore was great but limited in having to choose what we wanted to do while there.

My recommendation for the OP would be to rent a car and do the "typical" Kenai to Denali trip. Focus on those areas and research what your families interests are - wildlife, fishing, kayaking, hiking, fly-in. There are so many things you can do and see in those areas. Are your kids really into trains or planes, then you want to work those into your trip. You have a nice time frame to work with and should be able to get a great itinerary with time to see alot.

Also, check out the 2 coupon books for savings - Northern Lights and Tour Alaska are the names I think. We were able to get some great savings using these.
henny16 is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 01:35 PM
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The second one is Toursaver http://www.toursaver.com

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Orlando_Vic is offline  
Feb 12th, 2011, 09:24 AM
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My husband and I are planning a trip leaving May 28th thru June 11. We are flying in to Anchorage and staying at a B&B (using this as our home base). The next day driving down to Seward taking our time and doing some hiking on the way it is a 3 hour drive down but a lot of nice hiking according to everything I have read. The next day we are taking a day Cruise in the Prince William Sound. On May 31 we are driving to Whittier to hope on a ferry to Valdez. This will take all day. So we are planning to spend the night in Valdez and taking a 6 hour kayaking trip then that evening drive to Chitina to spend the night. From Chitina we are driving into McArthy/Kennicott area(need to get a certain kind of car to drive this road). We are spending 2 days in McArthy/Kennicott and then driving back to Anchorage. When we get back to Anchorage we are dropping off the car and taking the train to Denali for 2 day then back to Anchorage then on to seattle. In Valdez I am looking for a Kayaking group I found one day on line but can't find now. It drove you to the spots to kayak in instead of taking you on a boat. You spent more time kayaking and the pictures were amazing but I can't find the site anymore. I think your boys would in joy this route. Hoped that helped.
bennettbeach is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 05:11 AM
  #18  
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Thanks to all for this amazing info!!! We are deciding between Alaska and Scandinavia (thinking Norway and Sweden.)
We may wait on Alaska till the 8 year is older so we can do more a more adventurous itinerary. But, then again, maybe not - still thinking!!
Thanks again!!!
MiamiBeachMomma is offline  
Feb 24th, 2011, 07:05 PM
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My wife and I spent 8 full days in AK last June. We flew to Anchorage, rented a car, drove down to the Kenai Peninsula, took two day cruises (one from Seward and one into Prince Wm. Sound). We then went to Denali for 3 nights. Saw tons of wildlife everywhere. I'm new to this forum (just this evening!)but I'll put my email address in case you'd want me to send you our itinerary, complete with motels, prices, etc. I'm not certain of the forum's protocol but if emails are allowed: [email protected]. Mike
alonzo is offline  
Mar 20th, 2011, 07:39 AM
  #20  
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I'm back on the Alaska bandwagon!!
I'm looking at 7 nights with Innersea Discoveries. It's a 49 passenger vessel that does coves from Juneau to Ketchikan. The particular departure is a family cruise. Then we would have to fly back to anchorage an send a few more days perhaps so seward and kenai or denali.
Any thoughts on this itinerary?
Any thoughts on the small cruise.
MiamiBeachMomma is offline  

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