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Trip Report: ALASKA. Northbound Hubbard Glacier. Millennium. June 22, 2018.


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Welcome to my trip report. We’re going to talk about ALASKA.

 

*the clouds part…(happy, white, fluffy clouds ala Bob Ross!)...radiant beams burst forth…a great multitude sings HALLELUIA in eight part harmony!*

 

Unlike many “reviews”…this “trip report” will begin NOW…many days before we actually leave for our vacation.

 

We will board the Millennium on June 22, 2018. In Vancouver. Sailing northbound to Seward, visiting Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Skagway. And Hubbard Glacier. Over the course of 7 nights.

 

I am beside myself with excitement for our up and coming vacation! My mind is single tracked. All conversations lead to Alaska.

 

I’m starting this report now…if only for the sake of my own sanity.

 

You see, I want to share more than just what we did and how it went. I’d like to share a bit about the planning…because it can be quite overwhelming. Planning Alaska. I was overwhelmed. A LOT. I think many are when they think about Alaska. At least, that’s the impression I have based on WAY too many hours spent on this forum.

 

I’m not sure why.

 

It requires planning. Like most vacations.

 

But something about Alaska.

 

Perhaps it is the idea that going to Alaska is such a bucket list item. It FEELS like a once in a lifetime trip. And maybe it is? Vacation decisions carry weight that other, more easily repeatable vacations, do not.

 

And let’s face it. Many excursions are ridiculously expensive. In EVERY port.

 

And there are so many choices. Too many! How to decide?

 

I hope that when I share all about our trip…beginning now…it will help those planning their own Alaska vacation.

 

And I hope that beginning this trip report will entertain those like myself…who have planned all the planning there is to plan. Who are caught up in typical last minute details. But also wanting an outlet for all that anticipatory energy!

 

Hopefully, this will be a good enough read…an interesting enough story to pass the time with a coffee…or LATTE…(or wine!).

 

Because this forum lacks editing capabilities past 15 minutes?...if you are reading this post prior to June 20…you are engaging in the pre-cruise conversation…if you are reading this post after July 3…you will definitely be able to eventually read what ACTUALLY happened. The actual review part of this trip report.

 

I will simply start writing this trip report as I would after returning…just starting earlier than that. So I’ll get to the nitty gritty of the actual trip immediately following the trip. This is my style…I like to write. And I would like to share my full story. It may be too much background for some readers…but I think it will be helpful for some.

 

I’ve appreciated the use of color for the reporting aspect of a trip report in other reviewers. I will copy that idea. My posts will be in this blue color.

 

I promise that there will pictures in the review portion of this report. But not too many. I tend to use words to create a visual. I do love to write.

 

Sometimes, I feel that too many pictures prior to travel lends an unwelcome sense of Déjà vu during my own vacation. I’ll strive for that balance between helping everyone relive their own vacation…and taking you on mine without too many spoilers for your own.

I welcome conversation. My roll call is small. No one has really been talking.

 

Without further ado…I bring you…a discussion regarding all things Alaska…as it relates to our vacation.

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It all began with DS. More precisely, it began with DS’ studio professor.

 

Back in September 2017, DS’ studio professor gave him information about Composing in the Wilderness:

 

“A once in a lifetime experience for adventurous composers! Draw inspiration from Alaska’s wilderness, write original music about it, and hear it performed – all within two weeks!

 

Composing in the Wilderness field course will take you to two spectacular regions of Northern Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve…eight days exploring the stunning beauty of Denali’s wilderness and the mighty Yukon River, learning how the life of the region is reflected in the sounds you hear, interacting with scientists and interpretive rangers, and translating these ideas into original chamber music.

 

Following your wilderness experiences you’ll return by bush plane to Fairbanks where your new works will be rehearsed and performed by top performers from the faculty of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival…”

 

OMG!!

 

There is NO WAY that my SON is going to Alaska before I do. NO. WAY.

 

The spark was lit again.

 

Think Homer Simpson…Alaaaaaaaaaaaaaskaaaaaaaa.

 

I’ve been wanting to go to Alaska since my own high school days. Our then next door neighbor was from Alaska. A good friend of mine went to spend a summer in Alaska on his uncle’s fishing boat. He told us the story of all the fish that came into the bay…then the seals came into the bay…then the orcas came into the bay. Lunchtime!

 

But amazing.

 

And I wanted to see it! Experience it. BE there.

 

The camp information states that you are responsible for getting yourself to Fairbanks. Fair enough. The cost of the camp itself is actually quite reasonable. I began to think of ways that we could all get up to Fairbanks. And see some Alaska on the way…

 

What about a cruise? Could we CRUISE to Fairbanks? How close could we get?

 

Yes folks…I began this process knowing SO MUCH about Alaska’s geography…even as I was so eager my WHOLE life to go there…

 

Now I have looked at Alaska cruises off and on for years. YEARS.

 

In the early days of our marriage…when DH and I lived in Colorado…we did all things outdoors. We especially loved to go backpacking.

 

I find something quite freeing in the thought that everything I need for several days is contained in the relatively small storage capacity of my backpack and DH’s backpack. I can live a simplified life for several days. There’s work. But the work results in immediate, tangible results. And it’s satisfying in a way that normal 9-5 work often isn’t.

 

The beauty of nature is something that I can sit in and admire for hours.

 

DH and I had thought that our first venture to Alaska would definitely include Denali. We would backpack in Denali. Probably set up a basecamp in one of the camp grounds…and then we’d really get into the wilderness there. We weren’t so interested in a cruise in the early days.

 

But time passes.

 

DS enters our life and our priorities changed. Our recreation changed. Now we are years beyond the days when we would regularly go backpacking.

 

Cruising Alaska was looking much more do-able than the backpacking Alaska idea.

 

I had thought that an Alaskan cruise would make for a memorable and appropriate for us 20th wedding anniversary celebration.

 

We celebrated that anniversary last summer…July 5, 2017…moving from Georgia to North Carolina.

 

DS had been accepted to the high school program at UNCSA.

 

You may have deduced that DS is a composer. He is a musician…a singer…a songwriter…AND a composer. He has that brain…music is actually very mathematical…and DS’ brain works like that. He hears the conversation of the different instruments telling his story.

 

Composition is writing. Musical notes are the dialogue. Instruments are the characters. I’ve come to understand this because of how DS sees his composing.

 

He would love to compose for film. An opera. A ballet. He sees his writing as telling stories. And he would love for there to be a visual representation of the story he tells.

 

So we moved last summer.

 

Because we’re cool parents like that. Doing everything within our power to support our DS’ career endeavors. If it’s one thing we’ve learned navigating the waters of DH’s career…it’s that who you know matters. It can bear the greatest influence in your working life.

 

We don’t know anything about musical careers. Or anyone with a musical career. DH’s new virtual position at his job had opened the possibility for us to live anywhere. This meant that DS could go to a high school where he could study composition. Anywhere there was one. And begin making the connections and gathering the information that would hopefully serve him well. Not happening at his then current school. And so…

 

Our big milestone anniversary celebration wasn’t anything that we could have anticipated it to be. Having very little in the way of actual celebration…and much work and effort to transport a typical oversized suburban home’s amount of stuff into a typical undersized downtown loft conversion.

 

Downsize anyone?

 

Here I sit in September/October 2017, suddenly checking out northbound cruises to Fairbanks…Uh…ALASKA.

 

Geography was quickly realized. As was the fact that there were no cruises that were ideal in the timing for transportation purposes to get to this Wilderness Camp.

 

DS wasn’t truly interested in this camp though. It seemed more appropriate for the summer AFTER senior year. If at all. When the college acceptance is in hand. The BEFORE senior year summer, this summer 2018, should be more oriented toward what was interesting, but also helpful toward college application preparation…and even college preparation itself.

 

(Did you catch that? DS is a rising senior in high school.)

 

Regardless. I was looking at Alaska cruises now!

 

The two cruise lines I’ve sailed the most are Celebrity and Royal.

 

So I looked at Royal and Celebrity for Alaska.

 

I honed in on the cabin first.

 

It can be difficult to travel as a family of 3. Expenses necessitate ONE stateroom. But one stateroom can be awkwardly tight quarters with a teenager and an opposite sex parent during the primping and wardrobe changing parts of the day.

 

The BEST cabin our family of 3 has ever sailed in was on the Enchantment, which also happens to be our most recent cruise.

 

Fall Break 2015. We were in what was then called a Panoramic Ocean View room, created when Enchantment was cut in half and extended with additional interior spaces added to the middle of the now longer ship. Including these special OV cabins mid-ship.

 

First, the interior space of the cabin is increased by having what would be a balcony be interior, instead of exterior, space. It isn’t precisely as big as the sum of a typical veranda room plus balcony square footage because the hallway to these cabins subtracts from that total. Still. It’s a larger than average OV.

 

Secondly, the sofa was such that it could be made up as a single…and not opened like a typical sofa bed. Therefore, the made up sofa bed required only the same floor space as the regular sofa.

 

Thirdly, the configuration of the window created a sort of window seat…allowing for seating in the room even when the sofa bed was made.

 

We lived very well in that stateroom.

 

And I found its cousin on Millennium. And it was available for the June 22 sailing!

 

Stateroom 9000.

 

Book now. How much is it?

 

Really?

 

No way!

 

OMG.

 

THAT was affordable.

 

24-hour hold was immediately placed.

 

Thus began a flurry of activity to see if this cruise was indeed possible.

 

First, would this conflict with any summer camps that DS would honestly be interested in attending? Nope. Check.

 

Second, would this time frame make sense for DH’s work? Could he reasonably be expected to be able to take that time off? Yep. Check.

 

Third, could we actually afford it?

 

Before DH’s position became officially virtual, he was working in New Jersey while our home base was still Georgia. Can you say Miles? Can you say Marriot points?

 

Willing to do what it took to make this happen…100,000 miles to get three people to Vancouver and then home from Anchorage really isn’t a big budget. We scoured the available combinations of flights on the likely days for travel pre and post cruise. We found a schedule costing just over $200 OOP for fees and a miles/cash price for one leg. For all THREE of us.

 

Now. Given the two nights we might be spending in Vancouver…did we have points to cover that hotel? No. But we were close. And with DH’s planned travel…we anticipated earning those points before the cruise. We considered that taken care of.

 

And those were the big expenses in our mind. Cruise. Flight. Vancouver Hotel.

 

Done.

 

And then we were booked on Millennium. June 22 northbound. Stateroom 9000.

 

Just like that.

 

We decided that this cruise would be in honor of our 21st anniversary on July 5, 2018…even though we will be home again before that exact date.

 

We’re also making jokes about how some people celebrate milestones like big decade numbers…but the fact of the matter is that everyone knows the 21st birthday is where the big party is…and thus, the 21st anniversary is where OUR big party is as well.

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The first order of business was to gather our traveling party. That would be ourselves. And my parents. Mom and Dad. AKA Pam (Member123 on CruiseCritic) and David.

 

My parents love to cruise. They don’t cruise quite as often as some. But they do cruise regularly. And when they cruise…they typically take longer cruises.

 

In fact, they were getting ready to take a cruise…or had just returned from a cruise…when I told them about Alaska. That cruise being a repositioning cruise sailing fall 2017 from Vancouver to Japan. On Millennium.

 

Funny thing was…they were ALSO booked on Millennium again for the repositioning cruise BACK to Vancouver from Japan the following Spring. As well as the Asian itinerary immediately prior to the TransPacific reposition.

 

And here I was telling her that we had booked the Millennium for Alaska!

 

Could they come?

 

Would they cruise Millennium THREE times in less than 9 months? Albeit, on three different itineraries?

 

Well…yes. Yes, they would.

 

Our little family is DH45, DS17, and myself, DW46. I am an only child. DS is our only child, the only grandchild. We all travel very well together. They live in Scottsdale, AZ. Meanwhile…during the years, we have lived in Colorado, two different metros in Kansas, two different metros in Texas, Georgia, and now North Carolina. Getting together for vacation is one way that we all get to see each other.

 

We have cruised with my parents three times.

 

Each of these prior cruises were a joint planning effort. This will be the first extended family cruise that our family has initiated.

 

Mom and Dad have cruised Alaska once before. After which, they both thought that we would love to go to Alaska…and were hopeful of sailing an Alaska itinerary with us someday.

 

Someday came rather unexpectedly.

 

Mom and Dad normally book 18+ months in advance. Generally booking when itineraries are released. Booking only 8 months in advance is almost unheard of with Mom and Dad.

 

The sweet spot for cabins…that is the best pricing…was in the Ocean View category. Mom and Dad normally sail with a balcony (often AquaClass)…so this was a very unusual booking for them. There didn’t seem to be any attractive OVs available.

 

But then, we learned about the OVs on Deck 3 that were added to the Millennium when she was Solsticized…the conference room area converted to staterooms…the oversized port hole window rooms. They were ALL available. If you check out the deck plan…they are the hall of staterooms that are only on the one side of the ship…midship.

 

She snagged one of those.

 

The crew was all booked.

 

Let the planning begin.

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Anita, we just completed a B2B on the Millennium to Alaska (May 10 & May 18th), hope you have a fabulous time. Looking forward to reading all about your journey. BTW, we had one of those OV cabins on deck 3 that you mentioned above and LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Thanks for your post. While it is awhile away look forward to hearing about your planning.

 

We will be doing a cruise similar to your parents but in reverse order in September - South Bound Alaska with Cruise Tour, Transpacific from Vancouver to Tokyo and Japan Emersion Cruise.

 

You will love Millennium. She was the first ship we ever sailed back in 2001 and I have a special place in my heart for her.

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Myself, my cousin, and a friend of hers will be taking this same cruise in late June 2019. We are also adding on the Alaska Wildlife Tour offered by Celebrity. We will be sharing a SS2 for extra space purposes. Plus, if we had booked our normal balcony cabin type, I would have ended up paying double in order to be in a separate cabin. We have not begun any serious research--I just began reading "Alaska by Cruise Ship" and it seems like it will cover a lot. But, I am really interested in reading about your planning, shore excursions planned (and reasons you chose them), and then to find out how it all ends up. I too plan on miles and Marriott points to make trip a tad more affordable. My husband and I, together with our daughter, sailed on Millie's inauguaral cruise in 2000 (At her request, it was her highschool graduation gift.). Then, over the years, my husband and I traveled the world with Celebrity and, in so doing spent over 90 days on Millie. Obviously, we loved her. Unfortunately, my husband passed away in March, so only I will get to do this trip which was in the discussion phase before his death.

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I am sailing on the Solstice on June 22 from Seattle and I am getting excited! This is our second trip to Alaska, this time with the whole family. I have lots of lists! All the non-clothing items packed and on the bed in a guest room. I am slowly adding clothes that we aren't wearing at home this time of year. Can't wait to share the experience with you.

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Great vacations are made in the planning stages. It's the difference maker.

 

We are on the Millennium northbound as well, for June 8, and fly out in less than three days to Vancouver. Looking back at that decision, it was driven by cost and how much we enjoyed the Constellation in the Adriatic last summer. That one was just the two of us. This one includes our 20 & 18 year olds. The negative aspect of our decision as first time Alaska cruisers, was not including Glacier Bay, which so many on Cruise Critic say is an "absolute must". Oh well. We were able to get a great price, two perks (both cabins have $300 OBC and one has Classic Drinks package and the other unlimited internet and photo. With OBC from booking on board, that's $900 total OBC and those other perks. It made sense to us. We also wanted an inside passage to spend some extra time in Alaska and also see Vancouver.

 

 

I agree with the OP. Alaska is a different animal.

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Will look forward to reading your posts. We're doing Alaska in September, on Solstice, our first (and probably only) trip but at least it is now off my bucket list!!

 

It is good to know I'm not the only one who loves to look at everything so much in advance. Never thought we would get the opportunity to do this trip but lady luck told us differently!

 

Have a wonderful trip and I'll be reading closely all you have to tell us.

 

Margaret

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Anita, we just completed a B2B on the Millennium to Alaska (May 10 & May 18th), hope you have a fabulous time. Looking forward to reading all about your journey. BTW, we had one of those OV cabins on deck 3 that you mentioned above and LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Sounds like YOU had a fabulous time! Always good to hear! Thanks for reading along!

 

Thanks for your post. While it is awhile away look forward to hearing about your planning.

 

We will be doing a cruise similar to your parents but in reverse order in September - South Bound Alaska with Cruise Tour, Transpacific from Vancouver to Tokyo and Japan Emersion Cruise.

 

You will love Millennium. She was the first ship we ever sailed back in 2001 and I have a special place in my heart for her.

 

I love M-class. I haven't sailed S-class...but I haven't been too tempted yet because I really like M.

 

B2B2B cruises! So fun! Mom and Dad really enjoyed Japan! I think more than they expected to. They just got a taste on that first TP to Japan and only stayed a couple nights post cruise. That inspired them to go early for their reverse TP cruise though and they spent several nights in Japan prior to boarding. I hope you have a wonderful trip!

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Myself, my cousin, and a friend of hers will be taking this same cruise in late June 2019. We are also adding on the Alaska Wildlife Tour offered by Celebrity. We will be sharing a SS2 for extra space purposes. Plus, if we had booked our normal balcony cabin type, I would have ended up paying double in order to be in a separate cabin. We have not begun any serious research--I just began reading "Alaska by Cruise Ship" and it seems like it will cover a lot. But, I am really interested in reading about your planning, shore excursions planned (and reasons you chose them), and then to find out how it all ends up. I too plan on miles and Marriott points to make trip a tad more affordable. My husband and I, together with our daughter, sailed on Millie's inauguaral cruise in 2000 (At her request, it was her highschool graduation gift.). Then, over the years, my husband and I traveled the world with Celebrity and, in so doing spent over 90 days on Millie. Obviously, we loved her. Unfortunately, my husband passed away in March, so only I will get to do this trip which was in the discussion phase before his death.

 

You have plenty of time for your research! I didn't read that book. I'll obviously be sharing how I did my own research...but I can say that it helps to really know WHY you want to go to Alaska. What is it that you really want to see? What will be the experience that would be representative of Alaska for yourself? Let those thoughts drive your decisions and be your evaluative criteria for where you splurge and where you thrift and what you do.

 

I'm very sorry to read about your husband. My condolences. I hope that trip brings back happy memories of him.

 

Subscribing! Happy to join in the excitement with you

 

Wonderful! Thanks for joining!

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I am sailing on the Solstice on June 22 from Seattle and I am getting excited! This is our second trip to Alaska, this time with the whole family. I have lots of lists! All the non-clothing items packed and on the bed in a guest room. I am slowly adding clothes that we aren't wearing at home this time of year. Can't wait to share the experience with you.

 

If I had a guest room...my one living space would not be so crowded with all our non-clothing stuff!! OMG. There's just a few more items remaining to gather and then we will be doing a test pack of all the non-clothing items.

 

Same with the clothing! Our weather has been wacky though so I haven't been able to set aside too much.

 

So glad you are reading along! On the one hand...I can't wait for our vacation to begin...and yet, I don't want my summer to hurry by too quickly...and I still feel like I have a bit to do around the house to prep it for our extended vacancy!

 

Great vacations are made in the planning stages. It's the difference maker.

 

We are on the Millennium northbound as well, for June 8, and fly out in less than three days to Vancouver. Looking back at that decision, it was driven by cost and how much we enjoyed the Constellation in the Adriatic last summer. That one was just the two of us. This one includes our 20 & 18 year olds. The negative aspect of our decision as first time Alaska cruisers, was not including Glacier Bay, which so many on Cruise Critic say is an "absolute must". Oh well. We were able to get a great price, two perks (both cabins have $300 OBC and one has Classic Drinks package and the other unlimited internet and photo. With OBC from booking on board, that's $900 total OBC and those other perks. It made sense to us. We also wanted an inside passage to spend some extra time in Alaska and also see Vancouver.

 

 

I agree with the OP. Alaska is a different animal.

 

I hope you have a wonderful trip! You are so close!

 

You know...I read that about Glacier Bay. But I've also read that as much as Glacier Bay is considered a must see, cruisers like to repeat Hubbard more. And I've read the opposite. Oh well is right. I don't think either is a right or wrong choice. I think we make the best of the decisions we make and realize that money is a very honest driving force for our decisions...and not regret them because we have made them with the best of intentions...which is to have a wonderful vacation to see beautiful and stunning Alaska.

 

I love M-class. I've sailed Constellation and Summit. I'm looking forward to just feeling at home right away. Having my bearings from the get go. And enjoying all that the M-class offers...I especially love the Thalassotherapy Pool in the solarium. And Latte Land aka Cafe Al Bacio.

 

Again. Hope you have a wonderful vacation with your family!

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Will look forward to reading your posts. We're doing Alaska in September, on Solstice, our first (and probably only) trip but at least it is now off my bucket list!!

 

It is good to know I'm not the only one who loves to look at everything so much in advance. Never thought we would get the opportunity to do this trip but lady luck told us differently!

 

Have a wonderful trip and I'll be reading closely all you have to tell us.

 

Margaret

 

I've read about so many people who think they are planning their one and only trip to Alaska...and many end up returning. It's a bucket list item for sure though and doing something that you've always wanted to do feels fabulous. I hope you have a great trip!

 

I think many research and plan for Alaska for a long, long time. I would read trip reports that started with how they've been planning their trip for 18+ months...booked way in advance.

 

Thank you! I'm happy you're reading along!

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Our airfare was booked at the time we booked the cruise.

 

Because we were using miles, we looked at flights to/from both Charlotte and Raleigh. Generally, the Anchorage flights were much more expensive than the Vancouver flights.

 

Miles alone were used to book the homeward flights from Anchorage. We were able to do a miles/cash combination to Vancouver. We were booking early enough that we were able to select the exit row for every single flight we booked.

 

I have since learned that many people will fly into Seattle and then take the train into Vancouver. We do have a layover in Seattle, so perhaps this would have been worth researching. Would the train fare and any added transportation cost to get to the train station from the airport have been less than the OOP cash supplement for our airfare? I don’t know.

 

I only mention it here for to enlighten any readers to this alternative…which may be especially attractive if hotel fares are more reasonable in Seattle than Vancouver. But that thought implies that you might take the train on the morning of embarkation…and that idea can feel as risky as flying into port the day of embarkation for some.

 

For my part…if my cruise leaves from Vancouver, then I see that as the opportunity for me to tour and see Vancouver. Especially when I have never been to Vancouver. I never thought to do anything BUT get our family to Vancouver prior to embarkation.

 

Our travel dates were somewhat dictated by affordability. IIRC correctly we might have had a choice or two around the same expense.

 

We arrive Wednesday prior to Friday’s embarkation. So two nights in Vancouver!

 

We leave very, very early in the morning…on Tuesday following Friday’s debarkation.

 

So four nights in Alaska post cruise!

 

Our first thought was that we would go to Denali post cruise! We would include that dream of going to Denali on this, our first, trip to Alaska…just like we always hoped we would.

 

We thought we could simply rent a car…and go visit Denali. In the manner that we have visited every other National Park in our experience.

 

Like Glacier National Park in Montana. The Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Big Bend in Texas. Rocky Mountain in Colorado. Arches in Utah.

 

But Denali is not like all these other National Parks. You can’t just DRIVE into Denali National Park. Huh?

 

Private vehicles are limited past mile 15, where the pavement ends.

 

It like Shel Silverstein. The pavement ENDS.

 

Rental car companies generally prohibit driving down the Denali Highway. Because the pavement ENDS.

 

The majority of Denali visitors use a bus or shuttle service to see the park. (In addition to a flight seeing tour of some sort…can you say $$$$?)

 

Supposedly, there is a sort of HOHO bus/shuttle which allows you to explore on your own wherever you see fit to do so. It drives to a major visitor center at the end of the highway (Highway. HA!!) Simply get off anywhere that strikes your fancy along the way. Generally, the bus will stop when wildlife is sighted and at whatever spots along the way.

 

So get off the bus. Hike around. Explore. Get on the next bus available when you are done with your wander. Available. That’s the key word.

 

Most visitors seem to be afraid that there won’t be available seats. Seats on the buses feel limited. And if you have found a good seat…you don’t want to give it up. Especially is you have multiple people in your party. The odds feel stacked against your party being able to sit together on that supposedly available future bus.

 

Hmmm.

 

This. On top of the time it would require to actually get to Denali.

 

It doesn’t look that far on the map. But Alaska is HUGE. Your prior experience guesstimating time and distance looking at maps of whatever your home state or familiar states are doesn’t really translate well to looking at a map of Alaska.

 

362 miles from Seward to Denali. Under 7 hours.

 

This. Assuming you could manage to drive straight through. Which NO ONE recommends.

 

Enjoy the journey. Realize that there is beauty everywhere and you will want to stop and soak it in. What if you see wildlife? You will want to stop…if only because there will be an impromptu traffic jam anyway as cars are just pulled over on the side of the road…making driving past rather difficult.

 

Not too mention the RVs that can slow traffic down. We’re not talking about multi-lane highways here. This is not the lower 48. There are SIGNS telling vehicles that if there are 5 or more cars stuck behind them…they HAVE to pull over and let cars pass.

 

SIGNS! Many, many signs. This must happen A LOT. So you aren’t driving 65-70 MPH.

 

I was reading recommendations to allow for an entire day to just drive to Denali from Anchorage.

 

That meant that we wouldn’t even get to go into Denali until Sunday…

 

And we would have to allow Monday for driving back to Anchorage because of our super early flight on Tuesday…

 

All this effort in transportation for a single day in Denali?

 

A day on a bus?

 

A day on a bus sandwiched by two travel days in a car?

 

DS always falls asleep on road trips…would he even be awake to see all this beauty? All this beauty that we would mostly just observe from a vehicle?

 

When I learned that the mountain is generally visible only 30% of the time…it made the idea of trying to tack on Denali post cruise seem like a recipe for disappointment for my family. The whole Denali aspect of these post cruise days…it was feeling like a crap shoot with poor odds of us really enjoying this post cruise experience.

 

Meanwhile…I was seeing all these amazing things that we could do on the Kenai Peninsula.

 

After a heart to heart discussion, DH and I allowed that, as much as we wanted to see Denali, as much as we wanted to go there on this first trip to Alaska…there wasn’t enough time to see it the way we would want to. It deserved its own trip.

 

It was a destination. Not an add on.

 

We would skip going to Denali. For this trip.

 

Instead, I knew that I could plan for an amazing trip that would satisfy our desires to really experience some Alaska Wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula.

 

YES. We wanted to go CAMPING following our cruise.

 

And I began researching how we could.

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My focus was determining where we were sleeping pre and post cruise.

 

Pre-cruise was going to be simple. When I had the points, I was going to book at a Marriot. Not too much research needed there. Moving on.

 

So. Post cruise.

 

That sleeping situation was too much. Too many choices. Would we actually go camping? Hotel? Where? Enter overwhelming decisions.

 

Well. Whatever we did, we were going to be doing it DIY. So we needed a car.

 

There’s ONE car rental place in Seward. And they were charging a $500+ premium to rent in Seward and drop off in Anchorage…depending on the type of car.

 

I checked out one of our rewards cards…I could rent a car in Anchorage for points alone. For dinky cars. I could pay a little extra to get a full-sized vehicle. Done.

 

My points usage was limited to the airport rental locations. Of the three available to me, National had the best rates. I think there are a couple neighborhood car rentals that don’t have the extra airport taxes, but these were not an option for my points redemption.

 

How to get to Anchorage?

 

You can take a train. Pretty pricy.

 

You can take a bus. More affordable.

 

You can hire a private shuttle. Create your own schedule. The one we found seats 10. I think the bus might have been cheaper, but the shuttle was trumping the bus in Mom’s mind. I think we still have seats available…

 

Mom made this reservation. I don’t have all the details. I do know that it was the first reservation that required a non-refundable deposit. It was the first thing we did that was a concrete decision. I’m confident that this is the company:

 

http://www.sewardalaskabus.com

 

Now we have transportation to get our rental car.

 

Now I really needed to sort out where we were sleeping in Alaska.

 

Camping? Really?

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So…even if we went camping…we wouldn’t camp on the Monday night before flying out early Tuesday. We needed a plan for Monday night.

 

According to most sources…while Anchorage isn’t a busy airport in general…tour buses arriving at Anchorage can suddenly traffic security. Arriving 90 minutes to 2 hours before flight time may often be way too long an allowance for security. Buses arrive at all hours. Without notice. If a bus load of people suddenly flood the airport…90-120 minutes may be just enough.

 

That translated to a 3 am airport arrival.

 

OMG.

 

And the rental car company doesn’t allow for drop off when the office isn’t open.

 

It closes between 2:30 am and 5:30 am.

 

So. We decided to LITERALLY stay in the airport Monday night…or rather…Tuesday morning.

 

Let's maximize Monday…our last touring day…drop the rental car off by 2:30 am (technically Tuesday morning)…and then just wait it out for our 5 o’clock hour flight.

 

Nap anyone?

 

We could do it. We’re night owls. We could deal. It wouldn't be DARK. The sun won't set until 11:38 pm. The schedule says Civic Twilight is "rest of night".

 

https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/anchorage?month=7&year=2018

 

We would just sleep on that first long flight out of Anchorage.

 

There are guides for sleeping in airports.

 

https://www.sleepinginairports.net

 

Some airports have sleeping pods that you can rent! I found an article that said Anchorage was going to construct these in 2014!:

 

https://www.adn.com/alaska-travel/article/soothing-sleepy-soul-anchorage-airport-build-sleeping-pods/2014/05/10/

 

I was very excited and searching all over for how to rent a pod when I found the article about how IRS regulations caused the cancelation of the sleeping pod idea:

 

https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/article/tax-man-sandman-no-sleeping-pods-anchorage-airport/2014/09/15/

 

So disappointed!!

I hoped to find a lounge. Preferably with showers. We could check our bags… hang out in a lounge. Shower. Use this odd waiting time to get ready for the day. Excellent plan.

 

Unfortunately. Even if the airport lounges in Anchorage were open…which they weren’t overnight…they didn’t have showers.

 

Whatever.

 

It still felt like such a wasted expense for a hotel on Monday night.

 

Then the airline changed our outbound flight time. I found out about that, roughly, 4 days ago.

 

And…4 days ago…we changed our idea about how we were spending Monday night.

 

With a later flight, suddenly, the hotel didn’t feel like a waste.

 

I looked around at hotel options. I wanted airport shuttle service.

 

The new plan is to return the car on Monday evening. Perhaps drop the luggage off at the hotel first. Get checked in. Leave DS to use the shower and bathroom in peace. DH and I will use the shuttle service Monday evening to get back to the hotel after dropping off the car. And Tuesday morning, use the shuttle to go to the airport to catch our new later timed flight.

 

It’s a much nicer plan.

 

The hotel prices aren’t horrible. I recall now that when we first compared Vancouver to Anchorage, it was clear that we should be using points in Vancouver and paying OOP in Anchorage.

 

No specialty hotel site offered significant savings compared to the least expensive Marriot option. Being the loyal Marriot patron we are…and knowing what great service we get with DH’s loyalty status…I booked a Marriot brand for Monday night. My familiarity with the brand is comforting.

 

I have fast forwarded through the changes to that pre-flight night…that Monday night…but previously…I HAD sorted Monday night to my satisfaction.

 

Now about that camping idea.

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Following with great interest. We are thinking of a second trip to Alaska next year, the first one was 12 years ago on NCL, and we did Glacier Bay from Seattle. We are Celebrity newbies, having done our first on the Reflection. So, I am very interested in your observations on M class.

Glacier Bay is great, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing it again. But I hear Hubbard, Tracy Arm, and probably any others you can think of will be gorgeous, too.That's one reason why a northbound or southbound bruise is so exciting. Looking forward to more of your journey. Thanks!

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Following with great interest. We are thinking of a second trip to Alaska next year, the first one was 12 years ago on NCL, and we did Glacier Bay from Seattle. We are Celebrity newbies, having done our first on the Reflection. So, I am very interested in your observations on M class.

Glacier Bay is great, I certainly wouldn't mind seeing it again. But I hear Hubbard, Tracy Arm, and probably any others you can think of will be gorgeous, too.That's one reason why a northbound or southbound bruise is so exciting. Looking forward to more of your journey. Thanks!

 

Welcome!

 

I agree with your thinking that whatever you see in Alaska will be gorgeous. There was one trip report...the author escapes me...but she keeping saying, And we saw MORE gorgeous scenery...every port. Every day.

 

Thank you for reading along!

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Mom made this reservation. I don’t have all the details. I do know that it was the first reservation that required a non-refundable deposit. It was the first thing we did that was a concrete decision. I’m confident that this is the company:

 

http://www.sewardalaskabus.com

 

Now we have transportation to get our rental car.

 

Now I really needed to sort out where we were sleeping in Alaska.

 

Camping? Really?

 

In the interest of factual information, the transportation company that I used is:

 

https://www.akcruiseshuttle.com

 

Anchorage Tours and Transfers.

 

Here's the confirmation email information.

 

On the date of travel, you will be met at the cruise ship terminal in Seward at 9:15 am. You will be traveling in a 12 passenger van. Look for your driver holding a sign with your name near the exit of the terminal. You can call us at +(425) 296 6198 if there are any problems.

 

Your trip will be direct in include the following:

  • Canyon Creek Overlook or Summit Lake
  • Drop off at airport approximately 11:45 am

Total duration of driving time will be approximately 2.5 hours. In case of cancellation, payments are fully refundable up to 14 days before travel.

 

The maximum number of people that they will transport in their "12 passenger van" is 10. Too bad the Roll Call wasn't robust and talkative! But, if I remember correctly, the price for the company I chose is much more affordable because it doesn't include all the stops, sight-seeing points of interest of the other company.

 

FYI.

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Woo hoo! Mom found my trip report! Thanks Mom for adding the shuttle information!

 

Thank you for sharing. Even though I am going on a different cruise, your planning process is helping me out. Can't wait to read the rest?

 

This is EXACTLY why I am sharing. I'm so glad my process is helping you! Thanks for reading!

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When I originally booked the cruise…on October 8, 2017…I booked under a resident discount. After consulting with Mom…it became clear that I could get a better deal by losing the resident discount and taking advantage of the perks.

 

Now DH and I had the Classic Beverage Package and $300 OBC.

 

My mindset in looking at excursions is to first figure out the DIY port…aka the “free” port…no tour. Because…seriously…finances are limited.

 

And the splurge. What would be the high point of our trip? I was planning on that $300 OBC toward mitigating the splurge cost.

 

Time to read up a bit on the ports…time to get a clue.

 

Now let me explain my overall thoughts regarding my Alaska vacation.

 

First…you can’t do it all. State the obvious, but it’s true.

 

Second…Alaska was appearing to run the risk of having memory merge…without having a distinct and unique focus in each port…the trip could all blend together in hindsight. We could see MORE beautiful scenery…day after day. What would frame that beauty into a memory? A vivid impression that would stand the test of time?

 

Third…this is a multi-generation family vacation. Everyone is pretty fit…in fact, the grandparents are probably the MOST fit but there were still concerns. We needed to plan well for stamina…for energy…and remember that even though we wanted to see and do…we were on vacation. We didn’t need one of those vacations where we all came back exhausted and needing to recover from our vacation. Disney anyone?

 

So what is unique about each port?

 

Without writing a dissertation…can you even imagine what I would write?...this is the information that shaped my decisions:

 

Ketchikan…Totems. Other ports may have totems…but Ketchikan totems featured greatly in the available cruise ship excursions. Totem Heritage Center. Totem Bight State Historical Park. Saxman Native Village. Potlatch Totem Park.

Add in a self-guided walking tour.

Friendly public bus system.

Hiking Trails.

Ketchikan was in the running as a DIY port!

 

OR…we could check out Misty Fjords National Monument. Potential splurge alert!

 

Ok. Moving on.

 

Icy Strait Point…this is a private port. But not a cruise ship company run private port like one of those private Bahamas or Caribbean beaches. Struggling to continue to earn a living in the face of change…this port is owned and developed by Huna Totem Corporation, a First Natives for profit. The fishing industry has given way to tourism, as it has all along SE Alaska. The local residents, largely First Natives, of the nearby village Hoonah, AK, generally oversee the running of the port and excursions. This is the least commercial port on our itinerary.

Fun fact for you...the Brown Family of Alaskan Bush People fame live somewhere near here. The impression that they live far, far away from services of any sort and other people of any sort is not exactly an accurate portrayal.

Most reviewers say that it is in your best interest to have an excursion planned here. Otherwise, there isn’t much to do DIY with your 10 HOURS in port.

 

Whale Watching repeatedly comes to the forefront as this is considered to be one of the best locales for sighting whales.

 

I love whale watching.

 

The last time I went whale watching was in Monterey Bay during my senior year in High School. It was one of several Senior Class Trips. I was one of the few that didn’t get sea sick on our boat. Look at the horizon people! We sighted the first gray whales of the migration season!

 

Suddenly…I knew we would go whale watching in Alaska…and this was looking like a good possibility in ISP.

 

Glacier Winds seemed to be the overwhelming favorite for whale watching. Featuring a 6-person tour maximum…this could offer our party of 5 what would amount to a private tour.At $160 pp, this wasn’t quite as big of a splurge as I was imagining…but it wasn’t especially cheap.

 

The largest Zip Line is a major attraction in ISP but that has NO APPEAL to anyone in my family.

 

Whale watching was in the forefront if only because it was hands down the most appealing excursion available. (Please note…this is ALL IMO…there are many available excursions…and others may find something else more appealing…so when I say things like “most appealing”…I am absolutely talking about my opinion and my evaluation and decision making based on MY family. You find what is most appealing to you in this port that desperately cries out for a planned excursion, again, IMO.)

 

Next!

Juneau…Glaciers. Mendenhall was the big attraction here. But there were many other opportunities. Whale watching was also popular here…as was a kind of combined whale watching/Mendenhall tour.

 

Harv and Marv seemed to be the Juneau equivalent to ISP’s Glacier Winds. And I’ve recently read that a former Harv and Marv guide has struck out on his own…running a small boat whale watching tour business of their own.

 

Given the sheer number of attractive alternatives to whale watching in Juneau…not just glacier related…this was solidifying whale watching in ISP.

And last but not least...

Skagway…uniquely accessible by road! Ketchikan, ISP, and Juneau are NOT accessible by land based transportation. Skagway, however, IS. Most people are loving the railroad excursion in Skagway. It’s a wonderfully scenic excursion. Many like to combine the railroad with a bus or other form of transportation (I found someone that did bus and mountain biking!)…picking one mode of transportation for each direction. The idea is that the bus will make stops along the way so that you can get out and experience some of the sites…whereas the train doesn’t. Best of both worlds.

 

Not appealing to my family. I don’t want to sit and see…I want to get out and experience!

 

Many leave Skagway and check out nearby Haines.

 

I believe this is appealing to those that have previously been to Skagway. As a first timer, I thought sticking around Skagway seemed more logical.

 

I’ve read that Skagway feels like Disney took over Alaska. Largely because Skagway itself is largely unchanged on its main drag. Writing from memory…this is a gold rush town and many of the buildings on that one street were constructed within a 10-year time span in the late 1800s. And they haven’t been altered. This is the town that Disney tried to recreate in Frontierland….only this is the real deal. Most of us have just been to Disney first.

 

Skagway has a resident population of about 800. It swells in tourist season with hired tour operators who are brought in from all over to help the locally owned tour operations cash in on the tourists. Like many of these Alaska port towns…the original industries are faltering, and tourism has become the main source of income for the local residents.

 

When 800 residents host 10K cruise passengers…in ONE day…you will likely deal with non-local tour operators. Criticisms of tours often focus on the disappointment cruisers experience when they learn that their tour guide is from somewhere in the lower 48…and may or may not be well versed or rather, well MEMORIZED, in local information.

 

What could we do in Skagway?

 

Free ranger-led tours. Highly rated. Did I mention, FREE? In Alaska?

Hiking trails.

Skagway was the clear leader as a DIY port. I was picturing a chill day. Guided tour by a ranger. A hike up to Lower Dewey Lake and/or Yakutania Point…or Lower or Upper Reid Falls. The gold rush cemetery. And tasting the local spruce tip brewed ale at the Skagway Brewing Company.

 

Based on this initial information…I felt confident in saying that we would DIY Skagway. And we would be whale watching in ISP.

 

I reserved Glacier Winds on October 12, just 4 days after reserving the cruise. They have a very friendly cancelation policy. I was confident in my choice…AND confident in the consequences if I were to change my mind.

 

I do recommend calling Teresa to make the deposit. This is how you avoid a convenience fee that you would be charged online.

 

Now…about those glaciers…

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I hope you have a wonderful trip! You are so close!

 

You know...I read that about Glacier Bay. But I've also read that as much as Glacier Bay is considered a must see, cruisers like to repeat Hubbard more. And I've read the opposite. Oh well is right. I don't think either is a right or wrong choice. I think we make the best of the decisions we make and realize that money is a very honest driving force for our decisions...and not regret them because we have made them with the best of intentions...which is to have a wonderful vacation to see beautiful and stunning Alaska.

 

I love M-class. I've sailed Constellation and Summit. I'm looking forward to just feeling at home right away. Having my bearings from the get go. And enjoying all that the M-class offers...I especially love the Thalassotherapy Pool in the solarium. And Latte Land aka Cafe Al Bacio.

 

Again. Hope you have a wonderful vacation with your family!

 

Thank you. I'm sure we will Your thread sounds like you can't wait. I'm at the point of travel anxiety. Everything will be great when we land in Vancouver.

 

Al Bacio is a weakness. Sometimes I would skip dessert, knowing there's something better there than on the regular menu. My favorite thing about M class I suppose is that it has so many things that bigs ships have, but we never felt crowded. One of my favorite places is the bar at the AFT behind the Oceanview Grill. It's probably not great for Alaska (maybe okay for Vancouver) unless they heat it.

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We have gone whale watching with Glacier Wind 7 times now and have ALWAYS enjoyed our experience. When we were there for the two weeks in May we saw lots of bubble net feeding both times --- seeing whales (tails & blows) always happens, seeing bubble feeding is a gift that we gladly enjoyed watching. Hope you have a wonderful time with Glacier Wind.

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