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First Time To Alaska

Atlanta, Georgia
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First Time To Alaska

I've been reading up on the Alaska forum for a couple of weeks now trying to research our first Alaska trip. There will be a total of 10 adults (18-50 yrs old) and 2 children (7 & 9) taking a North Bound Cruise with HAL next June. My husband, daughter, and myself will be staying back to spend a few extra days in Alaska. The others will only stay about 3 days after the cruise. My sisters would like to see Denali National Park since they heard great things from their clients. So I'm task to come up with an itinerary and plan this whole trip. Our overall interest is the view and nature. For me, I'd like as many photo opportunities I can get. Not into kayaking or long hikes.

Here is our tentative itinerary and would appreciate your recommendations & feedback.

Day 1 - 3 Vancover - enjoy Vancouver and wait for siblings to meet up on cruise date

Day 4 - 11 Northbound Alaska Cruise

Fly into Vancover, BC 3 days before going on cruise ship (6/22 date may change to 6/9). My husband and I are very hesitant with cruise. We only been on another cruise (NCL 7 days south Caribbean) and did not enjoy as much. We experienced motion sickness but the sea band did help a lot. I didn't care for the Dramamine since it makes me drowsy despite it advertises as non drowsy. However, everyone we talked to said that we need to take a cruise if we go to Alaska. We are reluctant but will give it another try. Our 9 years old daughter has motion sickness too so we'll ask for patches to place behind the ears for the trip just in case.

Day 11 (Sunday 6/29): Disembark at Seward and find transport to Anchorage Airport to pick up car rentals.

We will be disembarking in Seward at 6am Sunday morning (6/29), find some sort of transport to Anchorage airport to pick up car rental before heading to Denali National Park. However, we do want to stop along the Seward Hwy for photo opportunity. The only car rental place in Seward is Hertz but they do not open on Saturday and Sunday. I sent a few emails to places like PJS Taxi and Anchorage Tours and Transfers a few days ago to get quote for group transfer but no one replied yet. The cost from HAL transfer to Anchorage is $75 per person. The other transport places charges about $65 will stop at Wildlife Center which we can't afford to stop since we're trying to get to Anchorage airport to pick up our cars and head to Denali National Park. I do plan to do that after the Denali National Park trip.

I'm hoping that we can leave for Anchorage around 8am and plan for a 3 hours drive? Not sure how long the disembark will take. Pick up car rentals in Anchorage and head to Denali NP. At this point I'm thinking if the day is beautiful to swing by Talkeetna town, perhaps take Mt. McKinley flight seeing tour and/or have lunch then head to Denali NP and check in hotel close to entrance. I'm still researching hotel.

Day 12 (Monday 6/30): We will try to get on the 8am or 9am bus to Wonder Lake and will be reserving tickets in advance once they are available for 2014. If the day is gloomy, we may just stop at Eielson. With the two kids, hopefully this is not too long for them. Do you know how long the bus stop each time for break? Since were a group of 12, we would like to follow the bus schedule so we don't loose our seats and may have to split up if stay back and catch other buses.

Day 13 (Tuesday 7/1): Have breakfast and leave around 9am back to Anchorage to catch 8pm flight for most of us (9 people). What would you recommend us to do in Anchorage before heading out, assuming that we'll take about 6 hours to get there.

Here is where I need most of the help. While 9 people head back to the main states, my family (3 of us) will continue our journey and won't fly out till evening of 7/5. I'm thinking about heading to Girdwood and stay a night or two. Should we stay at Hotel Alyeska? Is it very scenic there? We are willing to splurge a bit if the hotel has very nice view (perhaps around $400 a night). I love to take pictures and wished we could stay at some secluded lodges but the cost is prohibited. Also, I'm interested in taking the tram to Alyeska mountain. I bet it's very picturesque from above?

What should we do on this evening?

Day 14: Another day in Girdwood with side trip to Prince Williams Sound?

Day 15: Head to Seward

I see there are tours to Kenai Fjord National Park and Glaciers tours with overnight option on Fox Islands. Is it really nice in Fox Islands? Is there a nice place to stay that's not going to break the bank, looking out to a lake? Our Northbound cruise would have covered Glacier Bay already. Any recommendations?

Day 16: Stay another day in Seward? What to do?

I thought about doing a flight seeing and dog sled tour but we'll being doing that part of a shore excursion in Juneau.

Day 17 (Saturday 7/5) Drive back to Anchorage: What should we do in the morning? We have an 8pm flight to catch at Anchorage International Airport. What time should we start heading back to Anchorage?

Thank you in advance for your input.

fti
MN
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for Alaska
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1. Re: First Time To Alaska

Honestly I think your Day 11 is very unrealistic. It is hard enough getting from Seward to Denali in one day when not coming off a cruise. Say you start at 8am (which means you all carry your own luggage off the ship as walk-offs). So, that also means you pack very light and someone carries the kids' luggage. More realistic is that you get off the ship at 9am or later. Figure at least 3 hours to Anchorage plus stops. So in an ideal world you get to Anchorage at noon, but realistically probably later. You get the car by 1pm. You have lunch and it is already 2pm. You need to do some shopping for the day in Denali NP so figure it is already 3pm by now. It is a good 5 hour drive to Denali, so with no stops you are already looking at arriving in Denali at 8-9pm. I would absolutely forget any stop in Talkeetna - just driving there and back adds 1 hour round trip to the trip. Then if you eat there, add another hour. And if you do flightseeing, add 2-3 hours. Just totally unrealistic.

If it were *me* I would skip Denali and spend your time in Seward and along Turnagain Arm with the group. Why waste your precious short time in Alaska backtracking and going back to Seward after you already came from there? That is totally a waste of your precious time. You could take Day 11 and take a Kenai Fjords tour when you get off the ship. Two companies have tours that start at 11.30am. You will see marine wildlife and a glacier much closer than you will ever see from your cruise ship. Excellent photo ops on these tours. Then Day 12 you can spend at Exit Glacier and the Sealife Center then later in the day go to Anchorage. Day 13 you can spend in Anchorage or along Turnagain Arm. That way you only need the rental car for one day when you are with the group. Plus, the group saves basically almost two full days in transit and actually gets to see a lot of what Alaska has to offer. I can't imagine hauling that many people from Seward to Denali (figure 9+ hours one way, actually more with your plan to switch from taxi/shuttle/etc to car rental in Anchorage) then back to Anchorage (5-6 hours). In reality your group has three days in Alaska (Days 11/12/13) but they are spending two of those three days in transit. That is very unfortunate and sad in my opinion. I beg you to reconsider your plans :-)

Atlanta, Georgia
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88 posts
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2. Re: First Time To Alaska

Thanks fti for your response. My initial thought was the same to skip Denali NP and spend time in Seward for those you are leaving early. However, I felt bad for my siblings since they really want to go to Denali NP. I may just need to convince my siblings to do that. For me, I still have a few days extra in Alaska and will want to head to Denali NP. If I can't convince them then for sure we'll skip Talkeetna all together.

How would you suggest day 13 or 14 for the 3 of us who still has Tuesday - Saturday before catching flight back in Anchorage Saturday night if we were to skip Denali NP on day 11?

Atlanta, Georgia
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88 posts
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3. Re: First Time To Alaska

Come to think of it, should I skip Denali NP altogether and just concentrate in the Peninsula area and make another trip back later for Denali area? If that's the case, which others areas around Seward should we concentrate on for day 13-17?

USA
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4. Re: First Time To Alaska

The best scenario would be to talk your sisters into dedicating a couple of extra days for Denali!

With yours & your child's history of sea sickness, you might want to look at the glacier cruise out of Whittier in calmer waters than out of Seward.

Just coming off a cruise & the sea sickness issue, Denali may be a better choice for you, Malena.

Atlanta, Georgia
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5. Re: First Time To Alaska

Thanks Dealicat. My sisters can't take that many days off from work and they recently bought plane tickets already. We haven't bought ours yet but will be doing so soon. Still trying to see how man extra days I need to extend so I can go to Denali or just leave that for next visit.

Pecatonica, Illinois
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6. Re: First Time To Alaska

You've got tofigure five hours (or so) of straight driving to get to Denali from Anchorage. (Yes, Talkeetna will add another hour). We just thoroughly enjoy Denali, and were there most recently from Sept. 13-16.

There is a lot to do in the area---hiking in Denali, the road trip back, visiting the sled dog kennels (happens two or three times a day in summer), ATV tours, independent dog sled tour, zip line at Talkeetna, train at Talkeetna, McKinley flight, etc. Only you can decide whether you'd rather have a couple days there to get a sample of what they offer. It's really hard to decide how to distribute those days, isn't it?

Lake Tahoe...
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7. Re: First Time To Alaska

I think you are brave. I could not imagine taking on the responsibility for planning a trip for 10 people. It is hard enough just for my wife and I. And, if you choose something someone doesn't care for, you will get complaints.

As for the suggestion of carrying your luggage off the ship for an early departure, according to Princess, you must be able to do this all by yourself, as there will be no assistance. That's fine if you pack light (hard to do when on a cruise). And, since you already mentioned you and your husband don't particularly want to cruise, I would suggest not. Perhaps I'm off the wall here. I'm 80 and cannot fathom the idea for others too lazy or busy to plan their own vacation.

fti
MN
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for Alaska
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8. Re: First Time To Alaska

k2iks, they are not sailing on Princess if they are arriving in Seward :-). Also, my comments were more tongue-in-cheek to help the poster realize their plans to head to Denali the same day they disembark from the cruise ship really is unreasonable.

If it were me, I would stay on the Kenai Peninsula until the others depart. Then head to Denali after they leave. That will be a good compromise, greatly reduce the "in transit" time and allow everyone to have good experiences. You can tell your sister of how the first day off the ship would work out per my description above, and how they would be spending two full days in transit for just a few hours in the park. That truly is a crazy waste of one's precious time in Alaska, but I have seen it all so it wouldn't surprise me in the least!

Seattle, Washington
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9. Re: First Time To Alaska

To join the chorus, Denali on the ground is unrealistic in your sisters' time frame.

On the ground. How adventurous are they?

Rather than expensive rental car days and expensive hotel nights, consider a flightseeing tour of Denali from Anchorage. No, they're not cheap, but - if the mountain's out - they're utterly spectacular. Depending on the operator, you can fly on floats (seaplane) from Lake Hood, adjacent to Anchorage airport, or on wheels from Merrill Field (just east of downtown Anchorage.) You'll see amazing wilderness and mountain scenery, maybe land on a glacier, maybe see wildlife, and the mountain itself - words fail.

Have a look, for example, at Rust's, probably the gold standard in floatplane operators on Lake Hood - http://www.flyrusts.com/ - to see what's on offer. It's a great way to see things you just can't see from the roads, and a very efficient use of limited time with a huge payoff.

USA
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10. Re: First Time To Alaska

Great idea, ibgardyloo, regarding flightseeing tour of Denali from Anchorage!