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To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

Baton Rouge...
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To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

Hi TAers,

I've been stalking all you destination experts, trying to get information and put together an itinerary for a trip to Alaska in the summer of 2011. I'm heeding your advice and starting early.

Some background, I'm the trip planner for what I think will be about 10, mostly like minded friends in the 50's age group. We're active, love an adventure, want to go salmon and halibut fishing, kayaking, 1/2 day hikes, climb up on a glacier, love natural beauty and wildlife, want to be in a warm, clean bed at night, nothing fancy. Some people tell me that you can't fully appreciate Alaska unless you take a cruise???? So I'm thinking a cruise and then about 10 days on land, but when I start looking at costs it starts to get pretty pricey. I'm sure a cruise would be enjoyable, we've been on several Carribbean cruises, however, I have no burning desire to cruise again unless "we're going to miss so much....".

So, your thoughts please - cruise and 8 days on land or 15 days on land (and maybe some shorter boat trips)???? Thanks so much for your advice.

Manitoba, Canada
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1. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

"Some people tell me that you can't fully appreciate Alaska unless you take a cruise????"

That's just silly. A cruise is generally the easiest way to see SE Alaska (inside passage), but you can have a blast chugging around up in South Central & Interior. I've done both, and enjoyed both.

I suggest you poll your group to see what everyone wants (and in fact, if some people do want to do the cruise and some don't, you could work out an itinerary where you meet up in Seward or Whittier for the second half of the trip).

For a group of 10 you'd need a large van or else 2 smaller vehicles (which would give you more flexibility if some members wanted to do different things). Book those 11 months in advance to get good prices. For example, booking now for mid-July, you could get a minivan for only $246 per week (includes taxes but not insurance), an intermediate car for $145. By comparison, costs for vehicles booked today for next week are $1026 for the same mini-van, and $584 for the intermediate.

Baton Rouge...
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2. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

Hi Manotoba Maple, thanks for responding. I've read and enjoyed many of your posts. Thanks for the advice regarding the van rentals, I'll take care of that soon. I'm happy to hear your take on cruising, that's what I was thinking after reading posts on TA. I think we'll hold off on the cruise until a time when we are no longer willing or able to do the physical activities we enjoy and are still able to do right now. Thanks for helping me make this important decision, I'll be posting again for advice on a good 15 day itinerary and I hope you'll help me out.

Thanks again.

Manitoba, Canada
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3. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

"I think we'll hold off on the cruise until a time when we are no longer willing or able to do the physical activities we enjoy and are still able to do right now."

Well, you can also do a lot of activities in ports during a cruise--hiking, kayaking, etc. One that I should point out is whale-watching: if anyone has seeing humpbacks on their must-do list, Juneau and Icy Strait Pt. are the only places where boat tours have 100% success in finding humpbacks.

Also, there might be people in your group who have their hearts set on seeing Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier. Personally, the best calving I've seen has been out of Whittier on afternoon glacier cruises, but Hubbard is so HUGE it just boggles the mind. I wasn't taken with Glacier Bay, but many people love it.

Or if someone is interested in Totems, then Ketchikan is a must for them. On one of the tours you even get to watch the craftsmen as they carve. When I went on that tour a number of years ago, I even filmed for a couple of minutes. (Of course, I asked permission first, and the craftsman graciously said yes.)

Bottom line: if there are people in your group who would like to do the cruise for whatever reason, don't discourage them. It will be more of a challenge to coordinate, but we'll find a way for them to meet up with the rest of you (though of course they'll have to miss out on what the rest of you do that week).

Anyway, I suggest you read through a few trip reports to get an idea of what is available. There is a thread in the Top Questions, top right of the page, that has gathered some from this year, and of course you can always do a search for "trip report" from previous years. (Be sure to use the quote marks.)

Edited: 19 August 2010, 04:22
Missouri
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4. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

We just returned from Alaska in early July of this year. Both of us are in our early 50s and are active as well. We planned our own trip on land and had a FABULOUS time! Actually, we wish we would have had more time (15 days was our trip length.) It was truly better than anything we had thought it would be...my 50th State-finally! We did to plan ahead as well. Look for deals online later this year or January. Due to the economy (??), many of the hotels and vacation rentals run specials for the "shoulder season" and early June. The Princess Lodges throughout the Interior are available even if you are not on the cruises-they fill up quickly but are terrific for those who like easy access and amenities. Backcountry hiking in Denali is a must. Crackerjack fishing in Seward, Ak was a great find and affordable for both halibut and salmon-100 lbs of fish sent home. We travelled throughout the Interior in a car and hiked some amazing trails and parks. Exit Glacier is outside of Seward and within an hour's hike from the road to the Glacier. The Glacier fields and braided rivers make for beautiful driving and stopping at your leisure. We will definitely planning another trip in a couple of years. Not ready for the herding of people we saw at times getting on and off busses from cruise lines...it seems that they dictated times people were able to enjoy the sites. So, we will save the cruise for later in our lives when we can't get out and enjoy everything Alaska has to offer!:)

Michigan
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5. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

There is no one "best" way to do Alaska. I originally did not want to do a cruise, but my DH did. We combined cruise with 9 days independently on land. It ended up being a perfect choice for us, especially since we do not know if we will be able to get back to Alaska or not.

I do not agree with whoever told you that you must go on a cruise to appreciate Alaska. There is plenty on land to appreciate too. However, it does depend a lot on you and your interests. That said I will also say that I do feel I would have missed a lot by not going on the cruise. Cruising Glacier Bay I felt like I was in paradise. I was in Juneau long enough to take the all day tour into Tracy Arm on a small boat. This was another absolute highlight of our tour and like nothing we saw on our land tour.

As you make this decision I do agree with MM that you need to poll your group. Ultimately they should make the decision. I would think that if you have any in your group who believe this trip will be their one and only trip to Alaska, they might want to consider a combo trip of cruise and land. It would be very easy to plan a trip where those who wanted to cruise did that before or after your planned land tour. For the land tour you would all meet up and travel together.

What I liked about the cruise was that it was a relatively inexpensive way to see a part of Alaska that is difficult and/or costly to see otherwise. For example, you can do Glacier Bay via a small boat tour, but you have to fly into Gustavus and that gets costly. With a cruise, Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier can be part of your itinerary.

As for your activities, you can do kayaking in Ketchikan, hikes in many ports. There are several hikes you can take around Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. Skagway has numerous hiking opportunities.

If you do decide to cruise, you need to select carefully. They are not all equal. You need to decide which ports and glaciers you would be most interested in. Then you need to look at time in ports.

Whatever you do I am sure you will absolutely love Alaska. I am really hoping we can go back, but only time will tell. However, if I don't get back, I know I got a very good introduction to Alaska with the way we planned it.

Best of luck in your planning

Fairbanks, Alaska
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6. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

I was curious reference the salmon fishing part. There are basically two kinds of salmon fishing; you can catch them at sea or in the rivers. Another thing is do you have preference for what type of salmon you wish to catch? I only bring this up as you might want to plan your time around expected salmon runs. Taking in account that expected means that is when they should show up but the salmon don’t read the Alaska Fish and Game web site.

If you are going to fish for salmon in land with an outfitter do some research first. You see Fishing Charters on the Upper Kenai will have pictures and list salmon on their web sites. The problem is the Upper Kenai is not full of salmon but full of trout. Most advertise that they are for trout fishing but give you just enough about salmon for you to believe you can catch them. Now don’t get me wrong a float trip down the Upper Kenai fly fishing for trout is great, if you want to fly fish for trout.

If you are intending to fish for salmon in the rivers you normally do not need a charter. You can do like the rest of us and walk down to the river and combat fish. There are many road accessible fishing locations. I will caution you that when the salmon are running in the Russian River (Kenai Peninsula) that finding parking is a feat. Don’t park illegally even if there are other cars there, the State Troopers have no problem with writing mega amounts of parking tickets. There are plenty of books and web sites with salmon runs listed and road side locations. You can check the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADFG) web site for sonar counts of salmon runs. Also you will want to check the Web Site the day you are going fishing for Emergency Orders. Meaning that yesterday you might have been able to keep one King Salmon but at mid-night ADFG has changed it to catch and release. They also may restrict type of baits and lures you can use.

Word of caution ADFG does not play friendly they will ticket you for any fishing violations without mercy. They can show up anywhere at any time so be ready for them. You can purchase your fishing license prior to arriving on the web site and print a temporary license. ADFG will then mail you a permanent license. LOL you can also buy a gift license.

Current prices for nonresident are listed below:

Nonresident 1 Day Sport Fishing License** $20.00

Nonresident 3 Day Sport Fishing License** $35.00

Nonresident 7 Day Sport Fishing License** $55.00

Nonresident 14 Day Sport Fishing License** $80.00

If you are going to fish for Kings you will also have to purchase a Salmon Stamp.

Nonresident 1 Day King Salmon Stamp $10.00

Nonresident 3 Day King Salmon Stamp $20.00

Nonresident 7 Day King Salmon Stamp $30.00

Nonresident 14 Day King Salmon Stamp $50.00

Nonresident Annual King Salmon Stamp $100.00

Nonresident Duplicate King Salmon Stamp $5.00

Good luck with your fishing.

Edited: 19 August 2010, 15:49
Healy, Alaska
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for Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
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7. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

I think the limitation of the cruise to see Alaska is that you are only seeing one part - and that is the southeast, which is rainforest. When you get to the main part of Alaska, there is much more diversity. For example, when you leave Southcentral to head to the Interior, the scenery really changes. Now saying that, I love the southeast - the rainforest is gorgeous! I guess that is why when people combine land and cruise, they come away with a better idea of Alaska - it is amazingly different with many different places to explore. It just all depends on what you want to see and do as well as your budget. Good luck with your continued research. :)

Anchorage, Alaska
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8. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

This is why I love TA; good personal comments/experiences where people have OPINIONS that cover virtually the whole spectrum.

My wife & I did AK a different way. We moved there and worked for 4 years (2005-2009). Of course, now that we've moved on to a new adventure, we keep trying to compare everything to AK (we haven't found anything that "holds a candle" to it!!)

If/when I return to AK, I'm going to do the method that keeps my feet on AK soil as much as possible (ok, there is kayaking & flight seeing that are really cool too). I'm in a vehicle that I can pull off of to the side of the road & rest/sleep whenever I want. I want to wander when & where I want for as long as I want. I do not want the schedule the cruise ship puts me on.

AK has so much to do and so much to see. You are not going to get it all done in a 1,2 or 3 week vacation; thus I personally believe to maximize the experience(s), it is best to have a vehicle (AK is a very easy state to get around by car/van/etc.) and see AK by land (yes, this does rule out a bunch of SE AK). I really like the 2 van idea so people with varying desires could split up for a day.

You won't be disappointed with whatever you choose. By land or by sea AK is amazing.

Good luck & enjoy,

Scott

Baton Rouge...
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9. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

WOW, great information from all of you I enjoyed reading every word, it will be a tremendous help planning an itinerary.

MM - One thing that I will work out is planning the trip so that those of the group who want to cruise can meet up with those of us who would prefer not to. I agree, if it's something that someone has their heart set on doing, they should do it. For me and hubby I think we'll just do the land portion this time around and catch the cruise later.

KCCAC - Did you do a trip report or do you have an itinerary from your 15 days? Thanks so much for the excellent advice and tips. I'd love to send home a 100 pounds of fish!!!

Alaskarat - Excellent fishing advice, thanks so much for taking the time to explain and for giving me the prices as well. Maybe you can help me out a little more, we don't know much about salmon other than it tastes great at restaurants and we loved the smoked salmon we got last year in Seattle. That said, I'm not sure what type of salmon we would want to fish for - one that tastes real good I guess (lol) I've read that Coho is the best, your opinion please. We will probably be fishing at least 3 days - 2 days of salmon fishing, and a day of halibut fishing. If we can fish from the bank for salmon on our own all the better for us, maybe hire a guide for the halibut fishing????

happytraveler49 - your cruising advice is well taken, I'll pass it along to the cruisers in our group (and keep it in mind for when we take an AK cruise one day)

sdpryde - sounds like you're living the dream, I do envy you. We will definitely rent vehicles (at least 2). The idea of a motorhome is appealing, even for part of the trip but never having traveled in a motorhome we're a little apprehensive as to what to expect. Any comments or advice to first time motorhome renters?

coalminer - I know we would enjoy the rainforests in the SE. As to what we want to see and do, we'd like to see and do it all, but, unfortunately that's not possible. So, I think that flying into Anchorage and seeing that area is what we'll do.

I'm going to check out more trip reports and try to come up with an itinerary for 15 days and hopefully you wonderful people will help me out. My goal is to put something together that gives us at least 2 nights in each area. We've found that when you try to drive long distances every day it gets really tiring and you get home and can hardly remember where you've been. Our motto "you can't see it all, so relax and take the time to enjoy what you do see and do"

Thanks again to you all.

Greater Sydney...
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10. Re: To cruise or not to cruise - that is the question????

For the benefit of those in your group who may be interested in a cruise might I suggest that they read the information contained in the "Top questions" above right regarding cruising. A lot of information is to be found there.