We recently returned from our trip. To be quick and to the point, I plan on being very brief.
Worst experience: Staying at the Fort Seward Bed and Breakfast at Haines. This place should be called a rooming house - it was downright inhospitable and unwelcoming. Stay at the Hotel Halsingland down the street. At least you'll have someone around to answer questions and it's cheaper and the rooms are larger. We honestly felt as if the bed and breakfast people were hiding from us. It was very uncomfortable there...
Best experience - working with Pam Coulter and Al Gilliam of Glacier Valley Adventures in Haines. Very well run family business and I can't say enough about the wonderful memories provided by them. We air boated in to gold pan at Al's Nugget Creek and then continued on to overnite at his cabin at the base of Deblondeau Glacier. Our guide, Jeff, was perfect as was the wonderful food provided by Pam. We canoed, hiked, sledded, had a bonfire. It was all perfect and concluded with a beautiful raft ride pack into the Eagle Preserve.
Hotels: Aside from the Fort Seward Bed and Breakfast which I wouldn't recommend to anyone, we stayed at the Hotel Halsingland in Haines and the Westmarks in Sitka and Juneau. The bathrooms vary considerably at the Hotel Halsingland so be sure to ask for one with a decent size.
Best National Park tour: Skagway Walking Tour. Would love to give a shout out to our guide but I've forgotten her name. She was absolutely the best park ranger I've ever met - incredibly engaging and obviously in love with Skagway.
Best Restaurants: Fireweed and Chilkat Bakery in Haines, The Hanger, Twisted Fish and Pizzeria Roma in Juneau. Costa's Diner had a lot of "atmosphere" in Juneau but my food was only OK. Loved the pizza place next to the grocery store in Skagway as well.
Best Museum: Sheldon Jackson in Sitka. Besides all the displays, they had a Native craftsman from Nome carving walrus tusks and allowed my kids to try it out as well.
Best movie: all the parks had a movie but we liked the one at the top of the tram in Juneau the best. It was very empowering and not to be missed. BTW - we hiked up the trail rather than taking the tram and saved ourselves many $$'s and honestly must have had a better time than those people packed into the tram. It only took 1 1/4 hours and we had a 7-year old with us. Granted she kicks butt but I recommend hiking up and taking the tram back down. (Going back down is basically free. They say you need to show a receipt that you spent $5 at the gift shop but no one seemed to be checking for that..)
Highlight: walking on Mendenhall Glacier with Northstar Trekking. Very well run business and this was just an amazing excursion. We had at least 60 minutes on the glacier (they offer longer tours but we had a 7 year old with us so 60 minutes was the longest we could do). Includes a helicopter tour over the ice fields. Very small business compared to the ones associated with the cruise ships. I highly recommend these folks.
Also enjoyed: the boat ride with Adventure Bound out to Tracy Arm. Their office was a little difficult to work with but floating through icebergs on a small boat and watching glaciers calf close up was an incredible experience. Captain Steve really took his time and we were able to savor the experience. He stopped and reversed direction so we could boat around with a pod of Orca as well. What a treat.
We had the time of our lives and are so HAPPY that we didn't take a cruise ship. The State Ferry was great and spending so much time in Alaska rather than on a ship was intoxicating. Thanks to everyone (especially to mombear who introduced me to Haines!) for all their input.