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Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Manahawkin, New...
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Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

After scanning 100 pages on trip advisor, I think that we should spring for Cruise West. This will be our first and most likely only trip to Alaska. Now, how long a trip is enough? Which one of the ships? Round trip or one way with time for land ? I would think the latter. Did anyone have a really bad experience with this line? We are elderly (71 &78). Will I be able to get in and out of the zodiac?

All advice will be very welcome. Thank you.

North Bend, Oregon
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1. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

I recommend Cruise West to my F&F every chance I get. They're pricey, but with the smaller ships they get into some of my favorite places in the world - places the larger ships don't or can't bother to go.

Don't worry about getting in and out of the zodiacs and tenders. They're built for easy access, and the folks that work for the cruise line always have a few tricks up their sleeves to make things easier. If you can walk around the block each morning and up/down a few small steps, the majority of the cruise shouldn't be any trouble at all. There are a few excursions that are labeled as higher stress or highly active, but you'll have to ask if you're interested and evaluate your own abilities then.

If this is likely to be your only trip to Alaska, the time allowance question is a very easy one.... take the LONGEST time you can possibly afford. Alaska is so huge, with so many diverse regions and things to see that I've not seen it all on my one trip... so far it's lasted well over 30 years!

The cruise portion will cover South East Alaska fairly well, but I would absolutely recommend leaving time for a "land tour" covering areas all the way from Kodiak and Homer in South-Central all the way to Prudhoe Bay and Barrow up North. I haven't checked Cruise West's offerings lately, but if they have any tours that get you out to the Aleutians or to the far West coast of the State, go for it!

-Case

Santa Cruz...
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2. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Last May we went on a 7 day Cruise West trip from Juneau to Ketchikan.

I recommend this highly. It was well organized, the ship is small enough to get into places where cruise ships cannot, and flexible enough to linger and circle if a pod of whales are sighted or there are some brown bears with cubs on the shore, etc. It is also small enough that you will be "family" with the other passengers by the end of the trip. Our staff was wonderful. They went out of their way to make sure everybody had a good time.

Don't worry about the zodiacs. (we are 72 and 74, but not "elderly"...neither are you. "Elderly" is 89 <grin>)

I don't think it matters which ship. We were on the Spirit of '98, which is duded out to look like a gold rush era ship. (and was actually used in a movie). Some of the others look more modern but the facilities are the same.

I recommend one way, with time for land on either end. But realize that you aren't going to go far from the two end points because of the lack of roads. (If I am wrong, please, Alaskans, correct me.) We flew to Juneau two days early. I wish we had allowed time at Ketchikan on the way back.

The food is good and there are several choices at each meal. There are educational presentations in the lounge. One evening a Tlinkit woman came on board and talked to us about her culture. We had a chance to sit and chat with her for the rest of the evening. Occasionally we had rangers aboard who talked about the wildlife and helped us spot it.

We had a DVD (or was it a VCR?) player in our cabin and there were CD's (or were they tapes?) to borrow from the library. There were also books and periodicals pertaining to Alaska. Each cabin has binoculars and there are more spread around the lounge so that everyone can get in on the action when a sighting is made.

We sat one afternoon in Endicott Arm, watching Dawes Glacier calve and spotting seals floating on ice floes and bears on shore. Then got out in zodiacs for a closer look. No big cruise ships here! We were completely alone.

There are shore excursions, some of which you sign up for and pay for separately, and some which are included.

We took the White Pass and Yukon narrow gauge railway from Skagway up to Fraser, BC and then a mini van back. This is a spectacular trip. You wonder how they managed to build the railroad up these steep mountains.

(But, if you make this trip,DO visit the ranger station in Skagway, view the excellent video, and ask for dbigfoot. He gave us great TA advice for the trip, but was off doing "rangering" or something when we were there, so we missed him.)

The visit to the Raptor Center in Sitka is interesting and inspiring. They take injured birds (bald eagles, etc.) repair them, train them to fly again, and hopefully put them back where they came from. One of the unfortunates has been trained to sit on the hand of one of the trainers, and makes trips to schools for educational purposes. He is absolutely regal.

In Fredericksburg we visited the local Norweigan Hall and were treated to folk dances by absolutely beautiful children. In another port we had a presentation of native dances. (These were included)

There are expensive shore excursions....like flyovers with a landing on a glacier. We chose not to do this. (Several years ago in SE Alaska we took a flight trip over Mt. McKinley).

There are things you can do on your own if you have time. We spent our two extra days in Juneau thoroughly exploring it...it is a very walkable city. Instead of a "tour" of Mendenhall Glacier we just walked to one of the kiosks by the library and took a $6/person public shuttle out to the glacier, a short distance. (Look for the MGT- Mendenhall Glacier Transit). There is a very good interpretive visitor center out here and telescopes aimed at various sights. There is no need to take a tour or pay a guide. You may even be able to walk out on the glacier, I am not sure. When we were ready to leave there was a shuttle to take us back.

The State Museum of Alaska and the Juneau/Douglas City Museum are both very interesting and well done. The library is large and modern and way above a parking garage, so it has nice views up there, and little children doing more on a computer than I could when I was 40.

There is a tram ride up Mt. Roberts with a lovely view, a theatre showing a film on Tlinget culture, a large restaurant and a nice gift shop. ( of course.)

We walked into the state capitol building out of curiousity and were greeted by a young man who offered to give us a tour. They have restored the building to its 1930's appearance and it is nice. He had a lot of history at his command. When we got back home there was a postcard waiting for us, thanking us for visiting. The State Office Building (called the SOB by the locals) has, on the 8th floor an enormous stuffed brown bear in a glass case, a 100 year old totem pole, and a large terrce with good views of Juneau and the harbor.

South Franklin Street and its cross streets are full of souvenir shops and cruise passengers. We walked away from all that to North Franklin Street and found the Baranof Hotel and its Capitol Cafe. Not a tourist in sight. Locals eat here. Great breakfast. Good lunch.

Oh, everybody is supposed to go to the Red Dog Saloon. We looked in, and it looked like fun, but it was very crowded and obviously doing a "thing" for a cruise ship outing so we skipped it.

There are some interesting restaurants in the Merchants Wharf, a blue building which actually used to be the "airport" in Juneau when the only planes which could get in were float planes. This building is just up the street towards town from the Goldbelt Hotel, which Cruise West uses as its headquarters and to house its guests while in port.

The most interesting restaurant here is a breakfast place, called Costa's Kitchen. On the window, however, it says "Chillkat Cove Kitchen". Anyway, in this tiny space you write on a sticky what you want for breakfast and Costa, or whoever she is, proceeds to cook it for you, playing Patti Page records and singing along with them. Good voice, too. When you go to pay, she tells you how much you owe. No menu, no price list. We each had a poached egg on toast and orange juice and one coffee.....$8. Don;t tell anyone about this......it won't work if there are crowds. Oops...I just did.

I am going on too long. But...find the beautiful little Russian Orthodox Church and hope that the frocked priest is around to talk with you.

All I have to say about Ketchikan, unfortunately, is that we only had time before our plane to visit the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. There is somewhere in this town a gaggle of historic totem poles. That's all I know. Oh, yes, it rains here a lot. (And the only rain on our trip.)

If it helps, the hotel used here by Cruise West is the Westmark Cape Fox Lodge. Very nice and easy walk into town.

There. You can tell that I have become an advocate of Cruise West and the Inside Passage. Let me know if this was helpful

Santa Cruz...
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3. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Well, actually, reading the first responder's answer, you could take 12 days for the Cruise West trip, then get yourself over to Anchorage and do Southwest Alaska, as well. But do not miss the Cruise West Inside passage between Juneau and Ketchikan.

Manahawkin, New...
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4. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Thank you all so much. I am going to print out your advice to be sure I can put my hands on it again. Now I am going to try to make a reservation. Thanks again. I will report our experiences this summer when we get back.

Manahawkin, New...
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5. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Rereading the posts. Never got to go in 2007 but we are booked this year late May-early June. Inside passage only for 7 nights plus a couple extra days in Juneau. We are planning time in Seattle before this, and a week in Oregon afterward so we had to ration time and money. OR and WA were high on our things to do lists also.

I enjoyed the posts more this time around since I know we are actually going to get there (God Willing).

Santa Cruz...
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6. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Have a wonderful trip.

North Bend, Oregon
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7. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

What dates? Sounds like we'll cross paths either on land or on the water... What itinerary are you booked on?

-Case

Manahawkin, New...
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8. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

We fly from Seattle to Juneau on Saturday May 23rd. The Elderhostel program starts Monday afternoon, and the Cruise on the Discovery Tuesday morning, returning to Juneau the following Tuesday.

The EH changed the start date so we, having booked frequent flier fares have no choice but to go earlier than necessary or pay $150 each to change our flight. We think it will be better to enjoy whatever there is to do in Juneau. The Mendenhall is part of our EH deal, but are looking for suggestions about other things we might enjoy. We made 2 night reservation at the Baranoff, then one night in the Gold.... (forgot name)part of the package. On our return, I goofed our reservation so again we have an extra day in Juneau. I currently have reserved at Grandma's Featherbed but have been told that we will be unable to do anything much in that part of town. I have made another reservation at a B&B across a bridge. Have to decide.

I feel like a dope making these mistakes but I am working more carefully on the plans for Washington state and Oregon. Thanks for your input.

San Diego...
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9. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

I don't know which itinerary you're doing...Inside Passage, Whales & Wilderness or the Goldrush. As you may already know, they have changed things somewhat as far as the zodiacs. As of last year they eliminated the Zodiacs on all but the Whales and Wilderness sailings (it may have changed again this year). The reason given was the time constraints on the Inside Passage itinerary.

We sailed on the Inside Passage itinerary with Cruise last August and enjoyed it. You'll meet lots of very nice people in addition to experiencing Alaska up close and personal.

You've had a lot of good suggestions from previous posters...be sure to dress for the "occasion"...layers, waterproofing, gloves, headgear, etc. You'll be much happier campers if you're comfortable. Enjoy your trip!

Manahawkin, New...
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10. Re: Cruise West Trip Advice Needed!

Thank you for your advice. Inside passage is our itinerary, one night Juneau and then 7 night cruise back to Juneau.

Perhaps we will regret not taking a broader trip in Alaska, but we really wanted to see more of Washington state, and Oregon for the first time.