We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Need help for first visit to Alaska

Carolina
Level Contributor
394 posts
13 reviews
Save Topic
Need help for first visit to Alaska

My wife and I (both late 50's), are thinking of making our first trip to see Alaska as a vacation. I was thinking of a combo cruise and land package. I am also uncertain about when to go. I heard that there are months when it rains a great deal, so avoid those. I would appreciate any advise on:

1) A great cruise to consider

2) Land tours or mini vacations that I can work with the cruise

3) Things that I should not miss.

4) Best month to go and what weather conditions would be like.

Manitoba, Canada
Level Contributor
6,894 posts
Save Reply
1. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

Hi jafpitt, welcome to the forum.

"was thinking of a combo cruise and land package"

Most people here prefer to arrange our own land packages. Then you can do what you want, when you want. Very easy to get around in Alaska, and lots of help here on the forum to assist you in making an itinerary. You can either rent car/RV or use public transport (train, bus). RV's give you the most flexibility of all, since you can overnight just about anywhere. But those of us who prefer cars (or public transport) have great trips too.

1. You didn't list a price range. Cruise West is expensive but highly rated. My favorite is Holland America with their mid-sized ships and great service. But if you want "party the night away" then consider another line, because HAL rolls up the sidewalks by midnight.

2. Holland America and Princess both offer cruisetours, if you decide that's the way you want to go. I was on one with HAL in 2006, and more than had my fill of waiting around for the rest of the group to assemble, board bus/train, unboard, etc. A couple of hours wasted every day. I prefer to be out doing things. Plus, you can't spend more time somewhere if you are enjoying it, nor less time if you're not enjoying it. But if you don't have time to arrange your own trip, that would be the way to go.

How many days do you have for the landtour? If 7, I'd suggest Seward and Denali, maybe Fairbanks. If more than 7, that opens more possibilities. What are your interests? (Fishing, hiking, scenery, wildlife, marine life, glaciers, sled dog tour/ride, walking on a glacier, museums, flightseeing, goldpanning, etc?)

3. Things you should not miss--that is a personal decision. I'd suggest reading through a couple of trip reports here (just type "trip report" in the search box above, use the quote marks) to give you an idea of what is available and what other people enjoyed.

Most people enjoy a 6 hr. (or longer) Kenai Fjords day cruise out of Seward to see marine wildlife and spend some time near a calving glacier (much closer than the cruiseships can get, much nicer experience). Another popular place to visit is Denali. We usually recommend at least an 8 hour shuttle into the park to Eielson, or an 11 hr. shuttle to Wonder Lake. With shuttles you can get off anywhere to hike or take pictures, then catch another shuttle later to resume your trip or go back to the entrance. OTOH, if you have no plans to get off the bus except during potty breaks (about every 1.5 hrs), some people prefer the Tundra Wilderness Tour. That is 6 to 8 hrs in length (the one I took in 2006 lasted 9 hrs). If Mt. McKinley isn't "out", you go only the shorter distance; if it is, you travel several miles further into the park to a great viewpoint for the mountain. It's awesome if you get to see it. The TWT is much more expensive, doesn't travel into the park as far as the shuttle, but it does offer viewscreens which flip down to allow the driver to project the view from his high-power camera. That can be especially helpful if someone has mobility problems (more specifically, neck or back problems) and has difficulty twisting to view out the side windows with binoculars.

BTW, HAL usually offers the TWT if you decide on a cruisetour; Princess usually offers a shorter tour which is absolutely useless. So if you decide on a cruisetour, be sure have enough time at Denali to cancel the tour offered if you want to, and do either the TWT or shuttle on your own.

Keep in mind that the longer you are in the park, the more chances you have to see wildlife. But it's not a zoo (though some cruisetours portray it that way). Most wildlife is seen only at a distance, so you need binoculars. On my 9 hour tour, we saw ONE bear, ONE moose, several Dall sheep and a few birds. That was it. And except for the birds, everything else was just a dot in the distance. Most tours do see more than that, and some see animals right up on the road, but it's luck of the draw. Denali is, however, still the best place for a chance to see a variety of wildlife. And beautiful scenery. The day I was there, McKinley was out in all its glory, and that alone made the trip worthwhile. Even the bus driver was enjoying it. She said she'd seen the whole mountain only 3 other times that year--usually at least part of it was shrouded in clouds.

4. Best month: individual preference. Doesn't matter much regarding the actual cruise--don't forget you'll be visiting a temperate rainforest! Ketchikan averages 160 inches of rain a year....be sure to take rain gear and rain-proof your walking shoes.

As for the land portion, many of the locals prefer June. July and early August tend to be the rainy season. My personal preference is late August/early September. I've been to Alaska twice at that time, the only heavy rain I experienced both times was near Anchorage. There was a light rain in Skagway, a light rain one time in Ketchikan (the other time no rain at all), and no rain anywhere else. Of course, that doesn't guarantee what will happen in your particular trip.

Another reason I prefer late August/early Sept. (which is when I'm going again this year, no cruise though this time) is that the mosquitoes are virtually gone, Denali is heading into its fall splendor, and in Sept. there are lots of end-of-season sales in the stores! :))

So...if you want to arrange your own landtour, let us know your interests, how many days you'll have, and what transportation you'll want.

Hope this helps.

Carolina
Level Contributor
394 posts
13 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

Wow, thanks for all the info. I got a lot of research to do. I have never been to Alaska, so this is all new and appears to be so much to see. We would plan on 10-14 days....I enjoy getting out to see the Country and wildlife....cruising to see glaciers and other vistas would be nice to tack on, so we thought the sea/land combo is a good fit. From an earlier link, it looks like June would offer the best "less rain" month. What city would you suggest we fly into, then out. We would be coming from Wilmington, NC.

Iowa
Level Contributor
459 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

Hi, We just booked a 14 day "Glacier Discovery" cruise for June with Holland America and thought we got a pretty good deal. It was about $900 apiece plus all the extra fees which added up to about $1100 apiece all together.

It leaves from Vancouver, BC, stops in Ketchikan twice, Juneau twice, Sitka twice, Haines, Seward/Anchorage, Skagway, and cruises around the Hubbard Glacier two different times.

We booked what we think are 3 awesome(but expensive) excursions.....1. We will fly in a helicopter and land on the Mendenhall Glacier, and then go dogsledding. 2. We will ride on a narrow guage train on White Pass rail(or something like that) to view the scenery, see a huge gold dredge, and pan for gold. 3. We will fly in a floatplane through Misty Fjords and land in the Fjord.

There are tons of different excursions to take, so I am sure you would find lots to your liking. I would love to do a couple more, but the budget is being stretched enough as it is.

Don't know if this interests you, but thought I would mention what we found. Just go to www.HollandAmerica.com

Good Luck with planning your trip. We are REALLY excited about ours!

Manitoba, Canada
Level Contributor
6,894 posts
Save Reply
4. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

"What city would you suggest we fly into, then out. We would be coming from Wilmington, NC"

Does that mean you've decided against the cruise part? You'll see very different things there than you will further north. Certainly I don't want to discourage you from doing a cruise--I loved the ones I did. But there's lots to be said for a landtour as well.

As for the city, most people fly into Anchorage. You can fly up to Fairbanks if that is better for you. If you want to go all the way to Wonder Lake in Denali, keep in mind that the road isn't open that far until June 8. Be aware that at Wonder Lake in June the mosquitoes can be terrible (depends how much rain there's been). After mid-August, most are gone.

Bear-viewing: Late June through early September is best for that. You should see some in Denali, but for a close-up view (and much more expensive since it involves a flight), can be done on your cruise (Ketchikan, July is best for Anan Creek, August-September for Traitor's Cove), a day flight out of Homer or Soldotna or Anchorage, or if you're really keen, fly from Anchorage to Brooks Falls for a couple of nights (July, Sept).

Humpback whales: do a whale-watching boat tour out of Juneau or Icy Strait Point during your cruise. Virtually 100% success from May through September. You might see them on a Kenai Fjords day cruise, but much less success (maybe 70%?)

Moose: might appear anywhere, including on the road in front of you! But best chances are Anchorage (especially Tony Knowles Coastal Trail) or in and around Homer where 500 moose live.

Glaciers: do a glacier day cruise out of Whittier. Also there are some you can walk to the face of (like Exit Glacier near Seward) and even walk on (a popular one is Matanuska, 2 hrs. past Anchorage, to explore crevasses, etc. with guides MICA or Nova).

So....do some more homework, decide what looks interesting to you.

Englewood, Ohio
Level Contributor
1,747 posts
81 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

I'd pick a cruise northbout from either Vancouver to Seward or Whittier, or from Seward/Whittier south to Vancouver and in either direction, pick a cruise that makes the most stops of the various inside passage ports.

For the land portion, you can take a land tour with companies like Royal Caribbean, Princess, etc, or do a self tour where you rent a car and go on our own. There are pluses and minuses for each. As for me, I prefer the freedom of doing what I want when I want, but nothing wrong with land tours where most of the work in transportation if done for you. This is a personal choice based on your interest and needs. Fortunately, the land tours are great, and so is doing a self drive trip as it's very easy to do.

In terms of when to go, I can be more specific with my answer and I would choose June. Granted, it can rain any month, and some years may have better/worse weather than other years, but on average, per statistics, June is drier than other months. But, this does not mean you'll not encounter rain, it's simply that your odds will better, just no guarantee. However, another plus for June is that there are more daylight hours with June 21 having the longest day of the year.

Also, other factors can make an impact on when you want to go. For example, if you're into salmon fishing, a peak sockey run on the Kenai/Russian rivers is mid-June. But, if you wanted to view bears at Brooks falls, then July is better. Therefore, based on any activities that are a "must do" can affect when you need to go. But, in general, if it were me, I'd pick June, but others may differ, it's just a matter of personal preference.

fti
MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
15,557 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

Here are a couple of my own opinions, which as you can see this entire board is made up of.

If you decide on a cruise, you basically have the option of one extra port day or one extra glacier depending on the cruise line and itinerary. Only you can decide which is best for you. Often you must choose between Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, also another subjective choice (personally I like Glacier Bay better but others on this board like Hubbard Glacier better). Some cruise lines go to smaller ports like Sitka, Haines and Icy Strait Point which in my opinion are pluses vs. the more commercial typical ports where the cruise lines have jewelry and T shirt stores set up.

Some people definitely do the land tour through the cruise line, but if you do that, please make sure you understand exactly what you are getting before you buy. Many landtours move quickly from place to place so you spend a lot of time in transit and less time at each destination. Or "meet at 7am", you are there then you wait 1/2 hour or more for the last 2 people to come. Another very negative of many landtours is the time they spend at Denali National Park. If just one night, trust me it is not enough. And realize exactly what the Natural History Tour is, and how deficient it is in really seeing the park.

John

Wisconsin
1 post
1 review
Save Reply
7. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

I would suggest using a local travel agent to help you arrange the trip. We just worked with Talkeetna Travel and they were VERY helpful. They saved us alot of time and money. www.talkeetnatravel.com or 907 733 8728. Good Luck and have a wonderful trip! We sure did Alaska is amazing, even in the winter time.

8. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

-:- Message from TripAdvisor staff -:-

TripAdvisor staff removed this post because it did not meet TripAdvisor's forum guideline with regards to copyright infringement. By law, we must remove any messages that include content protected by copyright which has been reproduced without direct permission from the author/publisher -- this includes but is not limited to items copied and pasted from online news agencies, magazines and commercial/personal websites, trademarks, passwords, confidential information, or intellectual property of any other person.

To review the TripAdvisor Forums Posting Guidelines, please follow this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/pages/forums_posting_guidelines.html

We remove posts that do not follow our posting guidelines, and we reserve the right to remove any post for any reason.

Removed on: 26 February 2009, 14:07
Tennessee
Level Contributor
17 posts
Save Reply
9. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

I am planning a first time trip to Alaska as well,(around 12 days) for my family of 4...mom, dad, 2 sons ages 13 and 8 in July (only time we have to travel). I have read the recent posts and they have been very helpful. I am compiling a list of things that we want to do and then plan on booking our trip accordingly.

I want a family trip that "boys" will enjoy and make great memories! One that has a "variety" of activities, realizing that we cannot see and do everything.

The following are on my list please make any recommendations or suggestions:

1. Denali Park (2 nights) Tundra Wilderness Tour (I have heard that the earlier trips are better, do you agree?) Any other suggestions in Denali?

2. Floatplane: I have been told that this is a unique experience and worth the money. Do you agree and if so which would you recommend?

3. Hiking: We would like to take at least one hike to a nice vista or destination, keeping in mind the 8 year old.

4. I would like my husband and 13 year old son to take one excursion together like dog sledding, rafting, bear hike, etc. What would you suggest?

5. My husband and 8 yr old love fishing, however, I have not heard a lot of positive things about the fishing excursions for the price. I am not sure I want to spend "big bucks" on an 8 year old to go fishing. Any thoughts?

6. pan for gold

7. White Pass and Yukon Railroad

8. We were told the boys would enjoy a lumberjack show.

9. would love to see whales and other marine life...does that mean Kenai Fjords is a "do not miss"?

10. of course, the glaciers (I have been told that a 4 day cruise is plenty for the kids. I am afraid that we will miss some wonderful things if we do not take a 7 day cruise. What do you suggest? And what route do you think we should take if only 4 days of cruising?)

11. Mom thinks she would enjoy an aerial tram but mainly wants happy boys and lovely accomodations. Any suggestions?

I have been told that there are some good museums, but the reality is that 12 and 8 yr old boys want to be doing something. However, if there is a "not to be missed" museum, please suggest.

One final note, I was wanting to add a day at the beginning of our trip or end of our trip in Victoria, BC. This would be something "for Mom" about this trip, I have always wanted to go there. Would you know of any reason to do it before as opposed to the end or vise versa.

Mom of boys!

fti
MN
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
15,557 posts
28 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Need help for first visit to Alaska

Welcome to TA.

How long of a trip are you planning? That is a key component that I don't see in your post. Also let us know about when you are planning on going. That affects a lot.

Also, most cruises of less than 7 nights are the higher-end cruises like Cruise West. So it kind of depends on your budget. The mass-market cruise lines generally have 7 night cruises and I would not think that is too long for your boys. Most cruise lines have excellent kids programs and during the day you are generally in the port off the ship.

>>1. Denali Park (2 nights) Tundra Wilderness Tour (I have heard that the earlier trips are better, do you agree?) Any other suggestions in Denali?

I would suggest the shuttle bus to Toklat vs. the TWT for several reasons - cheaper and you can get off the bus with the kids which is a key option to have. Same distance for both of them. But if you take the shuttle bus to Eielson, a much greater chance to see bears though it depends on when you go.

Supposedly earlier and later trips into the park might see more animals but that really has not been my experience in several trips there. I think the biggest factor might be heat - the animals don't seem to roam as freely when it is very hot.

>>2. Floatplane: I have been told that this is a unique experience and worth the money. Do you agree and if so which would you recommend?

If you are on a cruise, Misty Fjords is an excellent choice for this from Ketchikan. I used Southeast Aviation a couple of years ago and they were excellent.

>>3. Hiking: We would like to take at least one hike to a nice vista or destination, keeping in mind the 8 year old.

There are so many options. Probably once you decide on cruise + landtour or just landtour we can work on this. How long of a hike are you thinking?

>>4. I would like my husband and 13 year old son to take one excursion together like dog sledding, rafting, bear hike, etc. What would you suggest?

Bear hike? Let's hope they don't hike with the bears:-). I would perhaps suggest rafting near Denali. They have all sorts of rafting from beginner/easy/calm to more rapids. Denali Outdoor Center has a great reputation.

>>5. My husband and 8 yr old love fishing, however, I have not heard a lot of positive things about the fishing excursions for the price. I am not sure I want to spend "big bucks" on an 8 year old to go fishing. Any thoughts?

Unfortunately I don't fish and never looked into these options - I will let someone with more experience give info on this.

>>6. pan for gold

Several places to do that. I would suggest once we have more info on length of trip and where you are going we fill this in somewhere.

>>7. White Pass and Yukon Railroad

Obviously only in Skagway and there are several options for this depending on how long you want to go for and/or how much you want to spend.

>>8. We were told the boys would enjoy a lumberjack show.

Ketchikan is the place for this.

>>9. would love to see whales and other marine life...does that mean Kenai Fjords is a "do not miss"?

Kenai Fjords is great for marine wildlife and glaciers but not all tours see whales. I would suggest a whale watching tour in Juneau. I loved Harv and Marvs last year but there are others as well.

>>10. of course, the glaciers (I have been told that a 4 day cruise is plenty for the kids. I am afraid that we will miss some wonderful things if we do not take a 7 day cruise. What do you suggest? And what route do you think we should take if only 4 days of cruising?)

I would not be hesitant to book a 7 night cruise either north- or southbound. Some cruises have 1 glacier day and others have 2 glacier days. You will have to decide which is better for you. Perhaps with the younger child, more port days would be better? I would think if they kids see one glacier, they have seen them all?

>>11. Mom thinks she would enjoy an aerial tram but mainly wants happy boys and lovely accomodations. Any suggestions?

The tram in Juneau is nice but I would wait until you get there to buy your ticket. If you can't see the top from the ground, you won't be able to see the ground from the top and it won't be worth it.

>>One final note, I was wanting to add a day at the beginning of our trip or end of our trip in Victoria, BC. This would be something "for Mom" about this trip, I have always wanted to go there. Would you know of any reason to do it before as opposed to the end or vise versa.

That is easy to do with a night or two in Vancouver before or after the cruise (2 nights is best). Also, good orca whale watching from there.

John