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Alaska - Land and Sea or just Sea????

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On 8/9/2019 at 10:39 AM, Naismith said:

Another vote for independent touring.  We wanted the land tour but couldn't it afford it, so we did a DIY land tour before our cruise.  We flew into Fairbanks and rented a car for the day, and drove around to all the sights on our own schedule.  No crowds, no waiting, and enjoyed the Museum of the North at our own leisure.  The next morning we took the train to Denali; this is very relaxing but also quite interesting as we also had a narrator who pointed out various things we saw along the way (one-way car rentals were prohibitively expensive but one leg of our train fare was off-season).  


We spent a few nights at the Denali Salmon Bake, which is relatively inexpensive lodging attached to a great little restaurant, with a free shuttle to/from the park and train station. We stayed in a cabin/tent with a foot of foam insulation and restroom a few buildings away.  It's right across from the Princess Lodge.  The first afternoon we enjoyed a hike in the mountains, and then walked to the nearby Subway to order box lunches for our bus tour the next day. The lunches were ready for pickup by 7 a.m.for our day tour up in the mountains (had booked the bus tickets online in advance).  We did see the top of Denali above the clouds, and bears washing in the stream, and got in a great hike that day.  The last day after another hike we took the train to Anchorage and stayed in a hotel one night, doing laundry before the cruise.  The hotel was near the Saturday market and we did some other Anchorage sightseeing before catching our ride to the ship.  


Because of our commitments at home, we couldn't be gone more than 12 days, so this was a great way to get a lot in.  This meant flying into Fairbanks, then out of Vancouver, but those "open-jaw" flights are not as expensive as they used to be.


This exactly what and how we want to do our land portion, except the part of the restroom portion. 😳😳😳


Can you share a bit about how you researched your land based trip?

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16 hours ago, CM1984 said:


This exactly what and how we want to do our land portion, except the part of the restroom portion. 😳😳😳


Can you share a bit about how you researched your land based trip?

Well, of course start here at Cruise Critic, over at Ports of Call > Alaska.

Others have mentioned Trip Advisor.  I also like the Lonely Planet Thorntree Community  I also used books from my public library.  

I splurged and ordered a great little book from Alaska Geographic called "Denali Walks."  I could have also bought it once we arrived in Alaska, but I wanted to study it in advance, and had a colleague who had worked college summers in Denali and recommended some of the hikes we actually did.  

We flew into Fairbanks and rented a car from the airport.  I'm sure I forgot some of this, but the next day we visited...

- the Museum of the North at UA Fairbanks campus--excellent collection. They also have botanical gardens nearby.

- drove out to the pipeline.

Great Alaska wooden bowl factory.  Watched them being made--fascinating!

- Downtown visitor's center had movies, info, bookstore.  We left our car in their parking lot and walked along the river.

- Late afternoon stop at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge.  Saw massive groups of birds getting ready for their pre-winter flight. (Since we live in Florida, it was neat to see them at the other end of the journey.)

- stopped at a grocery store in town.  I bought an apple for every day of our land tour and some other supplies.  

- Some good meals--lunch at a Thai restaurant, loaded with veggies.

- our budget hotel had a free shuttle to/from the airport and train, so we used that after dropping off the car and then to the train station in the morning.

- like every hotel, ours offered an aurora alert, to wake us up if there are Northern Lights, but it wasn't really the season.


One thing is that even if you get the cheaper lower train seating, there is a dome car available, supposedly for 20 minutes at a time.  But it wasn't very crowded on the trip Fairbanks-Denali and some people stayed there the entire time.  


The place in Denali that we stayed, the Denali Salmon Bake does have cabins with their own bathroom.  We thought the location was wonderful.  Our train got in at noon, they picked us up, and we walked the mile to the park for our first hike.  We were tired after the hike, so accepted a shuttle ride back.  The second day was a park bus ride (schoolbus type not the deluxe cushy) as far as the Eielson Visitor's Center (66 miles), and we did a hike near there (the bus reservation was made months in advance online).  The third day we checked our luggage at the railway office (not sure if this is still offered) and got in another hike before the train to Anchorage.  

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Below I put my trip report for the land portion we did after our Alaskan Cruise on the Noordam. We are so happy we did our own land portion. It is easy to rent a car in Anchorage-one way rentals from Seward are very expensive. Recommend the Parks connection bus. The rental car company will pick you up from where they drop you off or the bus can drop you off at the Anchorage airport where you can rent a car. Driving in Alaska is easy peasy-no crowds. Few highways. Even stopping for occasional construction was no longer than 10 minutes. If you rent a car ahead you will get much better deals than waiting last minute. If you go to Denali and have a budget-the White Moose Lodge was very reasonable-Strongly recommend renting a car so you can go where you want when you want.


July 28th-We got off the ship at Seward and at first felt a bit sad as I’d enjoyed the ship experience so much and so unexpectedly. We’d pre-booked a 6 hour Kenai Fjord’s tour with Major Marine and they picked us up right at the dock and stored our luggage. After the trip they took us to our hotel. Perfect. We picked up sandwiches to take on board but you can buy a lunch on board. My husband is a vegetarian and we felt this was easier. Cannot say enough good things about the  boat trip. It was spectacular. It started out as a clear day so we had great glacier views and saw lots of wildlife, whales (humpback and orcas), sea lions, seals, otters, bald eagles, lots of puffins and other birds. On the way back it clouded completely over and it was interesting to see the difference. We were happy but tired after we got back to the hotel and decided not to take a cab to hike exit glacier. Instead we walked around the small town and harbour, took pictures, looked at murals and had dinner. If I was planning my trip again I would have added a second  day in Seward to hike exit glacier and/or kayak. 


July 29th-Our hotel had a free shuttle to the Park Bus connection, so we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. The bus left at 10:30 and our driver made everyone feel welcome and gave a great commentary on the drive up to Anchorage. We were dropped off at the Alaska Museum and had lunch a block away at a cafe. As asked for I was given a wonderful strong cup of coffee. For the rest of our trip we bought groceries and made our own meals for breakfast (unless it was included at our lodging) and lunch. Our rental car company-Thrifty-picked us up at the cafe and took us to the rental service. I was talked into windshield protection-which we ended up not needing but was probably a good thing to have-and we picked up the car. Our phone GPS did not work throughout our trip-we have sprint but had brought our Tom Tom with us due to the good thinking of my husband. Drove to Girdwood, picked up groceries and fell in love with the town. It is surrounded by mountains, small and lovely. We stayed at the Ski Inn which I recommend. It was spotlessly clean, inexpensive and the woman who also ran their hostel couldn’t have been nicer. She gave us great hiking recommendations and provided  a wonderful continental breakfast the next morning. It was my favorite breakfast of the trip-small homemade muffins, delicious greek yogurt, granola, nuts, seeds, bread, bagels, cheese, fruit, juice, milk and coffee. Nothing was overly sweet and it was all fresh. The coffee was perfect. We hiked Winners creek trail. It was a warm day and we loved being in the woods and the trail was well marked. 


We had dinner at Jack Sprats and it was one of  the best meals I had on our trip-including the cruise. There were several great vegetarian options for my husband and I ended up getting one myself (korean). There was a wait for dinner so we enjoyed a beer in the outdoor seating area. I cannot remember which poster recommended this restaurant but I am really glad they did. After we got back to the Inn we met other hikers who were staying there and had a great conversation about hikes, their adventures and other common interests. 


July 30th-We had a delicious breakfast, made lunch and hiked a portion of the Crow Pass trail. This was my favorite activity of the trip. We hiked about six hours or more and only stopped because our clear, beautiful day turned into a rainy one! We saw amazing views, a creek, a small glacial lake and were just a tiny bit shy of the glacier when we turned around due to rain. One of our fellow hikers shared a picture he’d taken of the glacier. It was beautiful but I knew we were scheduled to hike on another glacier the next day so we turned around. There were some areas of the trail that were covered completely with small stones which I was concerned would be slippery in the rain. If we’d been in better shape the hike would have been shorter-we are slow but steady :). We made it back safely and given the warmth of the day the rain felt great.  My husband, who is less fond of hiking in the rain, had his rain gear and a terrific broad hat which kept him dry. 


We had the best ice cream we had on the trip at the Ice Cream shop then drove to Glacier View. We luckily had reception when we drove through Anchorage and let the Sheep Mountain Inn know we would be arriving late. Good thing we did as we didn’t get there until 9:30pm. Their kitchen at the restaurant typically closes at 9 but they were incredibly sweet and held it open for us. We had the other great meal of our trip there and enjoyed a local brew. After we got back to our cabin it was still light at 11pm so I went out with binoculars looking for sheep on the mountains behind the Inn on the trails around the inn-not too far as I didn’t want to encounter bears. Once in Packwood I went wandering around the town and encountered a large pack of No luck but I did spot them with help the next day.


July 31st-We went on our pre-booked a MICA glacier hike at 9am. They had the most comfortable hiking boots I have ever worn there-scarpa boots-they were warm, waterproof and felt like walking on clouds. We got out to walk at 9:30 and my husband and I had our own guide as a large family group went with the other guide. This turned out well as I am slow hiking and was concerned about holding younger and more fit people up. It was a cinch to walk on the attachable ice cleats and our guide was patient, informative and loved what she did. We learned a lot about glaciers, geography and the local area. I would def. Recommend MICA guides. 


Afterwards we drove to Valdez, making many stops along the road including the Elias Wrangell Visitor Center in Copper Center.. The Richardson Highway was beautiful. Driving in Alaska is very easy, there are almost no cars on the road. Even the few stops we made for road repairs were fine. You stop for about 8 to 10 minutes, stretch, wait in beautiful scenery and then get escorted by a Pilot car that says “follow me” something I have seen no where else. Having four or five cars waiting to go was the most traffic I experienced our whole trip! We enjoyed walking around town and having dinner at the Fat Mermaid on Harbor Drive where they had live music.


August 1st-Valdez was having its annual Goldrush celebration and we took an interpretive walking tour of Old Valdez in the morning. The Interpreter was born and raised in Alaska and had family in Valdez at the time of the earthquake. She was a soft spoken, knowledgeable speaker and we enjoyed the tour and learning about her family as well who had moved to Alaska during the goldrush. Afterwards we took several walks in the Valdez area, saw a bald eagle, went to the fish hatchery and saw both gulls and seals, sea lions feasting on salmon and had a quick look at the Valdez museum and annex. Had dinner on Harbor Drive again and saw the gold rush “jail” as it tooled around town. 


August 2nd-Our tickets for the Valdez museum were still good so we finished our museum visit. This museum is a gem-one of the nicest local museums I have visited. It was larger than I expected and was housed in two buildings. It included paintings, covered extensive history, had recreated historical rooms, a beautiful art deco lighthouse light, original fire trucks and numerous artifacts. It included information and two great films, one on the earthquake and another on the oil spill. Afterwards we drove back to Copper Center and hiked the two hikes at the interpretive center-nice views. The views appeared different on our return trip along the highways. We finally saw sheep up on the mountain at one of our stops thanks to a very patient young man who step by step led me to where I could locate them with my binoculars. 


We stayed in Palmer to break up our trip to Denali the next day. Had the best spinach crepes I’ve ever had at the Red Turkey. After dinner we hiked Bodenburg Butte along with quite a few families and runners walking their dogs. The view at the top is worth the hike up.


August 3rd-Nice drive to Denali including Hatcher’s Pass where we took a short hike at Gold Cord Lake and made a few stops. While the mountain scenery was beautiful we were struck by how many dead spruce there were and learned later that the spruce bark beetle is making its way north-it has not hit Denali yet. Luckily we also stopped for a short hike along the Kesugi Ridge trail as it was raining when we reached Denali and we decided it was too wet to hike. Picked up our tickets for our 8am pre-booked trip to Eielson.  Stayed two nights at the White Moose Inn which we recommend as a low cost, clean motel with a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. The 3 bears is a local, well stocked grocery store.


August 4th-Denali-Despite the rain,heavy at times we were happy to be on the bus-the ride was more comfortable than we thought as we’d heard it was on an old school bus. Our driver Patty was quiet but terrific at spotting animals along the way. We saw grizzly bears numerous times, moose, caribou, including one striking caribou at the top of a cliff and dall sheep. The mountains were unseeable on the way up it was so overcast-but we had a better view on our return. There was a mudslide on the road which caused a 90 minute delay but luckily no one was hurt in it. The trip overall due to delays and stops was over ten hours and we decided on an early night when we returned


August 5th-It was still raining in Denali but we decided to hike anyway-the rain was light and lifted at times. We were glad we did! We took the Tiagaloop and Horseshoe Lake trail-an easy hike-didn’t need our poles and we had a close view of two owls perched above us on the lake trail! There is a large beaver pond on the lake. Afterwards we had a “picnic” and headed out to Talkeetna. We got lost trying to find our bnb there but a nice jogger helped us out by using his phone’s gps (we had no phone service) and got us there. The sun was shining there and it felt good to see it after a few days of rain. We strolled around the small town, had dinner and called it another early night.


August 6th-We looked for Denali-which was not to be seen and walked on the  lovely lake trail outside town-highly recommend it. You can hike it for a mile or 5 miles-flat-through beautiful woods and several lakes. There are several well marked trail heads from the road out of Talkeetna.  We arrived at the rental car agency early so they dropped us off at the Alaska Museum. Surprisingly we were able to put our large suitcases into the lockers there. Spent a few hours at the museum and then took a cab to the airport.    



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On 7/29/2019 at 12:17 PM, doone said:

I am planning a trip to Alaska, it was going to be land and then cruise, but looking at the pricing, I am finding it hard to justify the land and cruise and am honestly leaning towards just the cruise, perhaps heading upto Anchorage a day or two ahead and doing a bit of sightseeing on our own. 


For those of you who have done the land and cruise, what did you like and would you book a trip like that again.  


thanks, I appreciate you sharing your experiences.

We did land portion - 3 days and went to Denali. It’s a whole different side of Alaska from the cruise and so vast and beautiful. Highly recommend!!

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