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Alaska Cruise and Land tour

Gold Coast...
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Alaska Cruise and Land tour

I am trying to decide between two cruise/land tour options and am hoping someone might have some opinion/recommendation as to which of these two offers the most value. I am not necessarily talking about monetary value but cost, opportunities, experiences all pay a part. I have been reading extensively on this forum and am aware that the greater majority of posts recommend doing the land component of an Alaskan holiday independently to get the most flexibility and value for money but that is not something I am interested in doing on this occasion.

So a bit about us. My husband and I are in our early 60's and want to have a holiday where everything is taken care of for us (not everyone's cup of tea I know). We will be traveling from Australia in June 2014 and hope to achieve several things - have a relaxing cruise, take pretty pictures and view some wildlife all with the minimum of fuss.

To fit in with the time we have available (my husband is only semi-retired) there are two cruise tours which fit in.

One is the 11 day Holland America Classic Denali where you fly to Fairbanks, travel by domed railcar to Denali for 2 nights to do Tundra Wilderness tour and have own time, then railcar to Anchorage for overnight, then Alaska Railroad on Coastal Classic route to Seward, then 7 day Glacier discovery tour. Obviously with this option you don't go to as many places but it costs less and I wondered whether day trips added to the cruise would give us as much of an Alaskan overview and we could hope to achieve in the time available to us (and if this is the case any recommendations of particular day trips).

The second tour visits more places but we would be there at the very beginning of June so more may not mean better. The Insight vacations Jewels of Alaska tour does 2 nights in Anchorage seeing Native Heritage centre and float plane base, Alaskan railroad to Denali for 2 nights to do theatre dinner, one hour guided walk to learn about tundra and wildlife and free time, motor coach on George Parks highway stopping to see dog musher then Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm to arrive at Girdwood for two nights where we can ride the aerial gondola and have free time and then the following day do a 26 glacier cruise through Prince William sound, the final day is a visit to SeaLife Centre and transfer to Holland American 7 days cruise.

Any and all input would be appreciated.

Greater Sydney...
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1. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

G'day VM94, and welcome to TA and the forums.

First let me advise that I have no experience in touring central or south central Alaska so cannot assist much there, but it would be of assistance to others if a link could be posted for both the tours you have under consideration. I have never heard of Insight Tours but have had a look at their website, and while they do advise their office opening hours, nowhere do they show where they are located. That is a bit of a turnoff for me.

Is this the land 'Jewels of Alaska' tour that your refer to?

insightvacations.com/au/jewels-of-alaska-wit…

If so I only see 14 days all up including the 7 day cruise. Am I missing something as I don't seem to be able to see any longer trips, yet your description of the land portion describes more than seven days?

I can advise in regard to the cruise component however. I have previously cruised with HAL on two occasions, once being Alaska, and I love their ships and on-board standards. Statendam and Oosterdam are on a quite good itinerary with Glacier Bay National Park, Haines, Juneau and Ketchikan, however, for a south bound cruise I am of the opinion that Princess (Island, Coral or Crown) are on a slightly better itinerary including as well Hubbard Glacier, and then Skagway instead of Haines, but that latter point is neither here nor there as Haines has its own unique attractions and is unspoilt by the commercialisation existing in the other ports by the cruise ship hangers-on flogging souvenirs. Haines is also only a 40 min fast ferry ride from Skagway anyway.

There are many things to do in each of the ports of SE Alaska which would be of interest to you, and these can be as expensive or budget conscious as you like, anything from a helicopter flight to land on a glacier for a dog sled ride, on snow/ice unlike the wheeled rides you could take in south central Alaska, to visits by public bus to a totem pole park.

I am in the same age group as yourselves, and am in the self plan brigade which dominates on nearly all TA forums, not just Alaska. After all, this is where people come to for information on destinations, while most others who want their trip planned for them would just go to a travel agent for good, bad or indifferent advice.

I will now throw it over to others who could comment further on the land portion of your trip, as well as the cruise perhaps, but please post back with links to the tours as there are so many companies offering such packages most posters would not be familiar with the offerings.

Gold Coast...
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2. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

Thanks Frommy for your input. The Insight tour link which you have posted is the correct one. Two nights Anchorage, two nights Denali and two nights Mount Alyeska (oops previous post said Girdwood), then the final day is the 26 Glacier cruise and transfer to the Holland America ship for the 7 night cruise - all up 14 days.

As to the Holland America tour this is it. http://www.hollandamerica.com/DoubleDenali

To look at the two aren't comparable, but I was wondering whether I could take the basic Holland America offering and enhance it with optional tours or whether there is better value in the Insight offering.

Your comment "After all, this is where people come to for information on destinations, while most others who want their trip planned for them would just go to a travel agent for good, bad or indifferent advice." is not disputed but I would suggest that anyone traveling should be as informed as possible about their destination in order to make the best choice.

Thanks again, but perhaps someone else has more to add.

Edited: 14 October 2013, 11:34
Greater Sydney...
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3. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

"I would suggest that anyone traveling should be as informed as possible"

I absolutely agree, and I am no way denigrating your desire to go with a package. The clause you quoted was to advise that you would be very lucky for someone who had taken one of those offerings to provide advice, and that most posting on this forum in particular would be only to willing to assist you for a self-planned tour. The main problem I see mentioned by those experienced in south central is the way that the cruise tours treat Denali.

"but perhaps someone else has more to add"

Ha ha. I would absolutely think that they would, and that is why I qualified my post in the opening sentence.

Lake Tahoe...
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4. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

As you have decided not to do a land tour on your own and settled on a land tour (with eveerything taken care of for you) have you considered an escourted tour, such as offered by Princess? Includes all on land, including meals, but not gratuities for your tour director. I have never done this so can't rate. In 2009 we did such a tour in China prior to our cruise to Whittier, and was very good. But we were in China - not Alaska.

We did a Princess Diner Show last August when we were there with our granddaughter. Thought it a big waste of money and performers were more interested in requesting tips for their college expenses than entertaining.

We also did prior to our cruise out of Whittier the 26 Glacier Cruise (Phillips Cruises). Unfortunately, too big a ship with about 300 people, and some had center tables away from the window. You will not be able to do this one anyway if you have a Princess escourted tour, as their train arrives in Whittier about the same time the 26 tour ends.

fti
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5. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

Though I like Princess for cruising, most of their cruisetours are severely lacking. They often spend only 1 night at Denali Princess and 2 nights at McKinley Princess, which is in the middle of nowhere. Even with two nights at Denali Princess they only offer the Natural History Tour, which is a very poor way to see the park.

So I like the OP's idea of HAL, which seems to have a better cruisetour package. But the Insight Tour doesn't offer any bus into Denali NP, which is a huge drawback for the price you pay. If you do the HAL cruisetour, you can fly into Fairbanks a day early and see some of Fairbanks on your own.

Lake Tahoe...
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6. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

I believe the Princess escourted tours do include the Tundra Wilderness Tour instead of that worthless Natural History Tour. They have several escourted tours to choose from. Referred to as Connoisseur - Deluxe Escourted. Some included Copper River and Kenai lodges if you like spending the days riding in busses (but not for me). Note: I'm not endorsing these tours, we prefer to use our CR-V.

Gold Coast...
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7. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

Thank you all for your replies. K2kis, whilst riding in buses isn't my most favorite thing to do I feel that it is the lesser of two evils on this occasion. I won't drive in the US and I don't think it's fair to make my husband drive as that means he doesn't get to relax and take in the surroundings. Don't forget you guys drive on the wrong (I mean other) side of the road.

Healy, Alaska
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8. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

However, remember that Alaska has lots of wide open space, simple/straightforward driving and great views even for the driver! Now I probably would avoid driving in the big cities in your country, I wouldn't mind driving in the country. :)

Edited: 15 October 2013, 00:00
Lake Tahoe...
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9. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

I can understand your concerns regarding driving to the left on our roads, having done so ourselves. First was in Penzance in 1999 and the second was January 2011 in Tasmania. The first was difficult as had stick shift, but in our Aussie car I made sure we had an automatic transmission. Had two encounters where pulled out from side of the road and forgot to drive to the left and then almost getting whiped out by a garbage truck in a roundabout (had looked left instead of right). You do things like that when almost 78. I compared driving in Tasmania to that of Alaska and both more or less were the same conditions, except no big RVs.

Gold Coast...
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10. Re: Alaska Cruise and Land tour

Thanks k2iks. Comparing to driving in Tasmania was great for giving me a visual. We were in Tassie in August this year so I am familiar with their roads and ease of driving. Perhaps it would be possible for us to do our own tripping around in Alaska. You have given me an understanding that I didn't have before which is what research is about. Thanks again I'll have a look at some of the independent itineraries and trip reports posted on TA. Thank you all.