Trip Report...Cruise & 2 wk. Land Car Trip...LONG!
As requested by others on this forum:
Travel Itinerary of Alaska: Hopefully this will help others in the planning stages of their Alaska trip.
Alaska trip itinerary: Week 1...CRUISE
Princess Sapphire cruise 8-26-06, Vancouver to Whittier. No excursions were booked through Princess as we were on a tight budget, and wanted to see what the weather was like before spending lots of money on various sightseeing tours. We (the 3 of us are 50ish ) are independent and adventurous type people yet without limitless pocketbooks. Alaska sightseeing is EXPENSIVE so we tried to save money when possible!
We did "anytime dining" on our ship which was wonderful & flexible...highly recommended. The group ballroom dance lessons on the ship were a cruise highlight for us, 2 free and 4 paid. The evening entertainment was acceptable. The educational talk on Bears was the best! This is our third cruise (2 in Caribbean) and the ship was fabulous and food wonderful. We got off of the ship shortly after it hit port each morning. Our weather for the week was overcast around 60 degrees with a few days of drizzle.
Ketchikan: Leisure walking tour with visitor center's map including Creek st. & totem poles
http://www.visit-ketchikan.com/ leisure day for our brief visit in port...walk able town
Skagway: White Pass Rail Trip $95..Beautiful scenery...very enjoyable http://www.wpyr.com/
Rented bikes for 1-1 1/2 hr. ($12) http://www.cyclealaska.com/ going to the cemetery (no
public transport to there) & adjacent waterfalls (wonderful hidden treasure), then cycling
around town and shopping.
Juneau: Zip line tour over rainforest $115...thrilling experience with gorgeous scenery http://www.alaskazip.com/ purchased through travel booth near cruise port, Not the one done through cruise line.
Mendenhall glacier/Mt Roberts tram combo...bought at booth near ship & saved about $10 on combo. The 1/2 hike from the top of the tram was great. http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel...neau-BR-1.html
Glacier Bay all day ship sailing: Rainy day with limited views so very disappointing. The glaciers viewed were wonderful though and the narration aboard ship about the glaciers was good.
College Fjord evening sailing: Fabulous views of glacier's calving & a highlight of our cruise.
Departed off ship at 8 am with transport to Anchorage $39/person http://www.limousineofalaska.com/AlaskaTransfers.htm to pick up our car for 2 weeks. Car rental from U-Save (cheapest found) http://www.usave.com/fran_detail.aspx?fid=2092 Renting from Whittier is convenient but has a large drop off fee in Anchorage but worth it if you have limited time. Very limited car rentals from Whittier so BOOK ahead. http://whittierforum.yukontel.com/
NEXT....Here's our land based independent travel trip itinerary:
Day 1: 8:30am Shuttle transport from cruise port in Whittier to Anchorage to pick up car rental.http://www.usave.com/fran_detail.aspx?fid=2092 $193 total for 1 wk. on September 2nd, 2006. All other rental companies were at least $100 higher for a midsize car (Taurus) and double that price before Labor Day.
We drove from Anchorage to Seward stopping along the way along the beautiful scenic highway. http://www.alaska.org/driving/turnagain-arm-drive.html . The 45 min. stop at the Wildlife Refuge Center ($7) enabled us to view bear, owl, fox, & moose up close in a natural environment and was almost the only true wildlife land animals that we saw during our Alaska trip besides Denali. Don't miss this 1 hr. long stop!
We stay just 10 minutes past Seward for two nights in a rustic hut ($65) at Miller's Landing campground along the shore. Lots of people do fishing , hiking, kayaking, etc. from the area which is lovely. On Saturday nights the fishermen bring in the catch of the day, provide free barbecued halibut, and campers bring side dishes to share in the potluck. It was wonderful. We did not actually fish but Seward or Homer are the main "big fish" fishing areas. http://www.millerslandingak.com If you're RV'ing, this is definitely a picturesque place to camp along the water's edge and minutes from town. The small town of Seward isn't anything special, just a jump off point for mostly water adventures, cruise ships and a few tourist shops.
The next day (day 2 of land trip) we went on a 6hr. Kenai Fjords boat trip from Seward with Renown tours http://www.renowntours.com/kenai-fjords-park-cruise.htm We used a 2 for 1 coupon in the Alaska Toursaver book which saved us $129. http://www.toursaver.com It was a fabulous day on the water viewing eagles, puffins, sea lions, orcas, gorgeous scenery and glaciers. It was one of the highlights of our trip and far different than anything viewed from our cruise ship.
In the evening we took the easy walk to Exit Glacier to view the glacier up close. The "blue" ice is fascinating. http://www.alaskaoutdoorjournal.com/...itglacier.html
Day 3 we headed up towards Cooper Landing stopping along the way to do a few 1-2 hr. long easy hikes through gorgeous rainforest type scenery...wonderful. Using our toursaver 2 for 1 coupon, we stayed 2 nights in a beautiful cabin along the Kenai River for $75/night (reg. $150), the Riverside Lodge http://www.alaskawildland.com/kenairiversidelodge.htm ....wonderful. From the lodge we did a 3 hr. river float trip ($28 each using toursaver coupon) along beautiful river scenery watching the fishermen along the river and sighted a few black bears. We had a lazy day, sat on the patio alongside the river to read a bit, then sat in the lodge's wood fired sauna. The price included a wonderful breakfast.
Day 4 was a mostly driving day heading up to Denali. We stopped in Talkeetna where many take flightseeing tours of Denali. Many use the Toursaver 2 for 1 coupon but it expired Labor day so we couldn't use it. Talkeetna is a quaint little two street village with shops about 15 minutes off of the main highway, a nice brief side trip. About 6pm we met our privately arranged (by the hostel)flightseeing pilot for our hour long flight along side Mt. McKinley. We were blessed with sunny weather which is unusual for the area. It was a trip highlight for us viewing such a majestic mountain covered in glaciers.
That night we arrived at Denali Morning Hostel http://www.hostelalaska.com/ for the next 2 nights, about 10 miles south of the Denali Park entrance. We had a "rustic" private room without bath for $70/night with central kitchen facilities to cook in the main lodge. Staying in a hostel is always a wonderful exchange of conversation in the evening with worldwide travellers. It takes a flexible, no frills type person to appreciate the special jewel of camaraderie that a hostel atmosphere offers, besides being a cheap place to stay.
Day 5 we took the 8 am shuttle into Denali Park $28/person. Make reservations far in advance for this. http://www.nps.gov/archive/dena/home.../bus/home.html We did the 8 hr. round trip bus ride through the park to mile 63. Unfortunately, most of the animals that we saw were very far away (wolf, grizzly, dall sheep), although we met many people who saw animals up close. We were very disappointed by the lack of animal views in the 8 hr. day on a bus. Oh well, you can't control nature. Luckily, the tundra colors were brilliant oranges, reds and gold since we were there on Sept. 6th. (Autumn in Alaska). My two fellow travellers got bored on the bus so turned around about 3 hrs. into the trip and headed back on another shuttle bus so that they could catch the Ididarod 2pm racing dog demonstration which they enjoyed. Next time I would plan to stay another night in the area.
Day 6 we left early in the a.m. for an all day trip back to Anchorage by 5pm. On the way south, we stopped at the Ididarod Headquarters to see the museum & racing dogs (fun & free). Then we took the turn off to Hatcher Pass, an incredibly beautiful mountain area which reminded me of the Swiss Alps. It was a blaze in Autumn color. Some day I'd like to stay in the lodge (near the mine which had closed for the season) high in the mountains. http://www.hatcherpasslodge.com/ What a gorgeous setting!
After a snack "with a view" at the lodge, we headed back down the mountain to Palmer. The visitor center there has examples of the monstrous sized vegetables grown there (we saw cabbage)...WOW! Afterwards, we headed to Anchorage to check in to a hostel for the night ($25/person in a bunk room shared with 3 travellers) http://www.hostelz.com/hostel/36423-...ational-Hostel .
The hostel (large home) is run by a couple with a baby, and is sparkling clean & homey. There is free internet, a TV room, kitchen for cooking if desired, laundry, and a wonderful living room for visiting with international travellers. They even allowed my sister & brother-in-law to stay for the evening until I took them to the airport for their 1 am flight back to San Diego. I was staying in Alaska for another week.
On Day 7, I returned my rental car and left most of my luggage at the hostel. I flew 300 miles west of Anchorage to King Salmon in the afternoon on Penair (http://www.penair.com/) for $340 RT. Then I flew 25 minutes on a float plane $160 RT http://www.katmailand.com/ landing in a remote area of Katmai National Park at Brooks lodge to see the huge Brown bears. http://www.alaskatours.com/wildlife/...ooks_falls.htm
This was to be the definite highlight & financial splurge of my Alaska trip$500 just to get there but worth every penny! I spent 2 nights sleeping in the lovely campground (enclosed with an electric fence to keep the bears out). I ate my meals in the lodge and hung out there when I wasn't bear watching. I had perfect weather there. The lodge cabins are "no frills" and VERY expensive. There are two huge viewing platforms to view the bears from, one next to the river and one by the lagoon. It's fun watching the bears catch & eat the salmon. At one point I could see 8 bears in the water including a few cubs with their Mom's. Many of the people there were professional photographers. As a serious amateur photographer, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven talking "photography" all day with others. The "bear" season there is July (crowded) and the first 2 wks. of September (uncrowded...perfect with FAT bears). My time observing the bears was one of the highlights of my lifetime....incredible to say the least. Next time I will plan to spend 3-4 nights there.
On Day 9 of my land trip I flew back to Anchorage arriving by 1pm and picked up my rental car. I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the hostel and doing a little shopping. Day 10, I drove to Whittier for the 6 hr. Prince William Sound boat trip $129/person http://www.princewilliamsound.com/579.cfm, stopping at Potter's marsh along the way to view birds and saw trumpeter swans and other birds http://photos.Alaska.org/alaska-phot...Potters-Marsh/
I spent the next 2 nights at the Girdwood mountain hostel which was very small, with crowded sleeping quarters. It was cheap $15/person, not the cleanest, but met my basic needs since I can easily rough it, and it beats having to pitch a tent in the cold rain. On Day 11, I hiked in the forest along the Winner Creek trail starting at the Crow mine http://www.crowcreekgoldmine.com for a few hours with someone that I met at the hostel. Then we took the tram ($8 with toursaver coupon) at the Aleska resort to the top of the mountain and watched the paragliders take off landing in the valley floor. http://www.alaska.org/girdwood/ride-...eskas-tram.jsp The view from the top is outstanding.
On Day 12 I drove back to Anchorage to stay at the hostel, and spent the next two days exploring local hiking trails. Flattop mountain had lovely views http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/Flattop_0380.asp and I hiked city trails also http://www.localhikes.com/HikeData.a...teID=1&ID=4485
Late that night on my 13th day I headed for the airport, turned in my rental car, and flew out at 1:30 a.m. That time seems to be when most economical flights leave Anchorage back to the lower 48 states...YICKS!
Our three week Alaska trip was incredible. If you're going to go on a cruise that begins or ends near Anchorage, be sure to allow at least 4-7 more days to rent a car and explore the Kenai Peninsula, Hatcher Pass or Denali. If you aren't going to explore more of Alaska, then just do a round trip cruise from Vancouver or Seattle and save a few bucks on airfare. Most of the cruise passengers on land extension tours that we met wished that they had rented a car and explored on their own. Anchorage is just a typical city, with areas worth seeing to be done via a car or tour outside of the city. Ironically, the only time that we saw a moose in the wild, though, was in an Anchorage residential area...go figure!
Weather wise, out of 3 wks. travelling, most of our days in Alaska were around 50-55 degrees. Two weeks were overcast with about a third of it with having an hour or two of daytime drizzle (cruise ports especially). The last week (Sept. 9-15th) was beautiful sunshine. We saved for a long time to afford this trip. We spent wisely and saved a lot of money by using the Toursaver coupon book, staying in hostels, and booking an "inside" cabin on the cruise ship. Alaska is a nature lover's and photographer's paradise. I had so much fun with my camera. Here's a link to some of my photography from my trip... http://photog4fun.smugmug.com/gallery/1993058 ENJOY!
Best regards, Suzanne from San Diego, California firstname.lastname@example.org