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14ersco

Our Alaska DIY - one week land tour August, 2017

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Since I have found many pointers and leads on Cruise Critic while planning our Alaska trip in August, 2017 I wanted to post what we did for our one week land tour. We flew into Anchorage on Jet Blue from Seattle and rented a car from Alamo to drive to Denali and then Alyeska. Having previously visited Alaska without a family this time we went to the major attractions for our teenager to hike and sightseeing. The main roads are the same standards as any other major highway in the US and as long as you are comfortable driving 6-8 hours per day then easy to navigate in summer.

We had brought along a collapsible cooler and prepared most of our own meals. The Fred Meyer stores are part of the Kroger companies and you can use your Kroger affiliated gift cards and fuel discount cards. There is an Anchorage Fred Meyer on the way to Denali at 7701 Debarr Rd and on the way to Alyeska at 1000 E Northern Lights Blvd. There is also a Fred Meyer in Wasilla which made for a great stop going to and from Denali.

The two meals we ate out were at the Talkeetna Roadhouse and the Double Musky Inn. The Talkeetna Roadhouse serves large breakfasts until mid-afternoon at shared tables. You just wait for a seat to open and join the table. The Talkeetna Roadhouse is downtown at Main and C, less than an hour off the highway to Denali. The Double Musky Inn is just outside Girdwood and serves New Orleans food made with Alaska seafood. They do not take reservations and we were in line at 4:30 PM to get a table when they opened at 5. Both places serve large portions of great food and are very popular with tourists and locals.

Talkeetna Roadhouse:
[FONT="][URL]http://www.talkeetnaroadhouse.com/[/URL][/FONT]
Double Musky Inn:
[FONT="][URL]http://www.doublemuskyinn.com/[/URL][/FONT]

Back with our lodging in the next post. Edited by 14ersco

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Lodging: Since our flight did not land until after 11 PM and we planned to leave Anchorage about 7 AM the next morning we just needed a quick place to sleep. The Bent Prop Inn has a private room for about $100 that provides a couple beds, nightstand and dresser; bath down the hall. There is cooking facilities available, but we just got snacks while grocery shopping at Fred Meyer. Our brunch was at Talkeetna Roadhouse. Bent Prop Inn is in downtown Anchorage at 700 H St: [FONT="][URL]http://bentpropinn.com/downtown[/URL][/FONT]

The next 3 nights we spent at Parks Edge Log Cabins in Healy for our visit to Denali National Park. By being located north of the Denali entrance and away from the cruise ship lodging the price was lower at about $170 per night. We had a Deluxe cabin which had full cooking facilities, cooking tools, and a BBQ grill outside. Our cabin was one large room for cooking, living, and sleeping; plus full bath. Nice and quiet with some trees between each of the cabins. Parks Edge: [FONT="][URL]http://www.parks-edge.com/[/URL][/FONT]

After visiting Denali we drove from Healy through Anchorage (groceries and fuel) and stayed in Alyeska for 3 nights. Alyeska is about a hour south of Anchorage, a hour west of Whittier, and a couple hours north of Seward. From here we visited Portage Glacier, hiked the Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield trails in Kenai Fjords National Park, and did the day cruise to Surprise Glacier in Prince William Sound with Major Marine. This also was when we went to the Double Musky Inn. Alyeska is a ski town and there are condos available for nightly rentals. We used Alyeska Accommodations for our condo rental. They have over 40 different condo options to rent in a wide price range; ours was under $200 per night. Since these lodging nights were our last before the cruise we had rented a 2-bedroom condo that had a full kitchen, laundry in the condo, and WiFi.
Alyeska Accommodations: [FONT="][URL="http://www.alyeskaaccommodations.com/snowbird-160a.html"]http://www.alyeskaaccommodations.com/[/URL][/FONT] Edited by 14ersco

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When we went to Alaska last year we spent a week on land then cruised southbound for a week. We felt our week on land was just waaay too short. We will go back in the future and the intent is to spend two weeks on land. There is just sooo much to see and do, one week is not enough.

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We used Alyeska Accommodations this last summer for an overnight trip and was really happy with the experience.

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Activities: In Denali we used the park shuttle bus and hiked. The differences between the shuttle buses and the tour buses are that the shuttle buses cost less, you need to bring your own food, narration is not guaranteed, and you have the flexibility to change buses and destinations. We had booked 8 months prior to arriving, but when we checked in the night before our ride there were a few seats still available. We chose a 6:30 AM shuttle bus going to Eielson Visitor Center, a four hour one-way ride, to get into the park early when it was cool and potentially had more animal activity (they were). At Eielson visitor center is the first good views of Denali if the mountain is visible. There are a couple hiking trails here, including one that goes on to the ridge above the center and another that goes towards the river below the center. A shuttle rider has the option to return to the front of the park on the same bus they took into the park after about half hour at the visitor center, spend more time around the visitor center and take a different bus back to the front of the park, or pay a few more dollars to continue on another bus to Wonder Lake. For the last two options you check-in with bus operations located at the back of the visitor center along the same wall as the restrooms. If Denali had been visible on our day we would have paid to continue to Wonder Lake, but instead we hiked for a few hours and then returned to the front of the park. Your trip experience can be greatly impacted by the driver and other passengers. On the way out we knew we had a good shuttle driver when first thing in the morning he did a complete loop of the roundabout while loudly signing out the 'Wheels on the Bus' and most of the other passengers were actively looking for animals to photograph. On the ride back our driver was sullen and the passengers at the windows just wanted to sleep. You do have the option to get off any shuttle bus at any location and get a ride on another bus, but the buses were packed this afternoon so we didn't switch rides. Reservations and more info: [URL]http://www.reservedenali.com/[/URL]

For our day of hiking we started with the 4 mile Savage Alpine trail and continued on the 2 mile Savage Canyon trail. We left our car in the shuttle bus lot just east of the Savage River campground and used the free shuttle bus from Savage River back to our car. By taking the trail east to west you are looking towards Denali for most of the hike once above timberline. One can also catch the shuttle bus after just doing the alpine hike. Also near where we parked is the Savage Cabin Interpretative trail.

For Kenai Fjords National Park we went to the Exit Glacier visitor center north of Seward to hike the trail up beside the glacier to the Harding Icefield. The hike is just under 10 miles r/t with about 4,000 ft elevation gain. For our hike we were followed up by a group from Backroads. After we got back to the visitors center we joined the ranger tour to the face of the glacier. Exit Glacier has moved back over half-mile since our last visit 20 years ago.

In Whittier there are two boat operators offering tours into Prince Willaim Sound. The other operator has a boat of over 300 passengers and is used by the cruise lines for excursions. We went with Major Marine who we had done a very good tour of Kenaji Fjords 20 years ago. Major Marine has a 100 passenger boat and the captain has the option to alter their route if there is something interesting nearby. For our trip on the return to port our captain heard there were orcas cruising near the shorline of a nearby island and she took our boat over to investigate. We did get back into port about 15 minutes late, but were able to get photos of the pod of orcas. Edited by 14ersco

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Editing timed out...

Major Marine, Surprise Glacier tour with an option for a salmon and prime rib lunch buffet. There was also a volunteer ranger on-board who provided narration, answered questions, and helped children complete the Jr Ranger program. Major Marine: [URL]https://majormarine.com/tour/prince-william-sound-surprise-glacier-cruise/[/URL]

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Our last part of our DIY week for Alaska was to get to the ship in Whittier. The car rental agency that has an office at the port was prohibitively expensive; like 4 times more $ for a day one-way from Anchorage than our entire one week rental. So our rental needed to be returned to Alamo at the Anchorage airport. We chose to stay in Alyeska the night before our cruise, because for the price per night and the amenities offered at our condo, nothing could compare in Anchorage. So this required us to see Turnnigan Arm twice in one day, but it is a very scenic drive.

Major Marine does offer pick-up in Anchorage where you can do the Surprise Glacier cruise on the same day as prior to embarking on your cruise, but you would not check-in to your cruise ship until after 5 PM. The Alaska railroad does a morning run from Anchorage which would allow you to board your cruise ship near lunch time. We chose to use Alaska Cruise Transportation (aka: Whittier Shuttle). The price was less than the cruise ship direct shuttle, but included a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I booked the reservation for the Wildlife Tour shuttle option for our family and for our friends to get the group discount. ACT: [URL="http://www.alaskacruisetransfer.com/"]www.alaskacruisetransfer.com[/URL]

ACT uses full size tour buses where your luggage goes underneath and there is a bathroom at the back of the bus. Many of the other private operators mentioned on Cruise Critic were using the typical shore excursion vans, pulling a small trailer behind for the luggage. ACT cost a few dollars more than the other private operators, but we opted for the nicer ride for ourselves and our luggage. As we went down Turnnigan Arm it appeared like all of the private shuttle operators stopped at the same view points and at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Usually you get about a half hour to see the wildlife, but due to traffic issues and missing the allotted time to go through the tunnel all of the operators stayed at the wildlife center for just under an hour and we were a little late to the port at 4:30 PM. Wildlife Center: [URL]https://www.alaskawildlife.org/[/URL]

ACT offers pick-up at various Anchorage hotels and at the airport. We wanted to meet up with our friends before the transfer. So after driving from Alyeska I left the family and luggage at our friends hotel, Quality Suites Downtown. I then took the rental car out to the airport to drop off. The rental car area of the Anchorage airport is detached from the main terminal and is connected to the terminal by an underground walkway. So to return to downtown Anchorage I walked over to the terminal and went to the baggage claim area. Outside baggage claim where the taxis are along part the curb is also the bus stop for the Anchorage bus that goes downtown. For a few dollars I was able to get within 4-5 blocks of the Quality Inn. It took me just over an hour to do the loop from downtown to the airport and back downtown. So after a week of driving in Alaska we then spent the next week letting Captain Tuvo and the Star Princess "drive" us past Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, and the Inside Passage. Edited by 14ersco

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