First and foremost, we had a wonderful time. Each of you who is planning a cruise is in for an experience you will never forget. If I wrote about the cruise in detail, I would be just plagarizing those who have written before. But I will post a few things that stand out for me and the things I'd do differently.
I would book my own land portion. It sounds a little daunting at first, but with web and good input from fellow travelers on these forums and elsewhere, you can do it yourself. If you are going next year, I'll even hold your hand and guide you through it. I'm not a travel agent, but this is easy to do. Just write me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Juneau: We did a Coastal Helecopter glacier landing (yes, they DO weigh every single person right there in public at the desk, even my 60# granddaughter!) and it was the best of the best of trips.
Ketchikan: The Anan Creek trip was far and away my personal favorite, but only because it was salmon, and therefore, bear season. We saw 4 black bears up close and a Grizzly downriver, about 200'. It was my first time on a float plane and that is like the kind of flying I've always done in my dreams, quiet and close to the ground. If I had ridden one of these in my youth, I'd have learned to fly them! It was almost a spiritual experience for me.
Skagway: We chose to rent a car and PB served us well, though it is really hard to find them. You can keep asking around tho, because everyone knows them. If you write and ask me, I may have by then dug out the actual address...but insist that they give you the address. We loved the people there and it is such a small-town-charming experience. The border guard coming back said, "oh, you must have rented that car from Miles." Yep. The car had over 100k miles but felt safe and trustworthy. The thing about it for us, was that we enjoyed getting out from under the velvet confinement of Princess and being on our own, having autonomy for that short time. We actually followed and alternately led the Princess busses most of the time. BTW...take along plastic bags, order sandwiches for breakfast the night before from room service if you want to save $$$ and TIME on lunch. If you bring along one of those freezer thingies, your steward (I wanted to bring my room steward home!) will pop it in a freezer for you.
Actually, after seeing the shows, I'd have preferred to bring home that dark dancer and I'd have put a mint or two on HIS pillow!!!
From Steward, if we had it to do over, we'd book the train to Anchorage, then rent a car there. We used High Country/Rent Rite. I was quoted about $50/day (mileage included) by phone, but then explored some of the travel sites online and found a $31 quote on one of them for that same company. I called them back and asked if they wanted to meet it. They did. Then I found a 10% discount coupon in the Anchorage Visitors' Guide and they took that too. (Submit coupon before signing contract.) I ended up upgrading for $7 to a compact. The car was fine. Anchorage is worth a couple nights, then I'd drive up to the Denali area (you MUST buy Mileposts--THE travel guide) for a couple nights. Take some time going to Denali. The Iditarod Museum in Wasilla and Talkeetna are must-do's. There are several places to stay up by the Denali National Park (there is also a Denali State Park) and we even saw vacancy signs in mid-August. We just LOVED Denali and Budget Queen is soooooo right...you MUST take the shuttle at least to Eielson Visitors Center. The Denali tours are all too short and you don't see enough on them. The trip to Eielson takes 8 hours and you need reservations. You need a place to stay before and after.
The other thing I'd do differently is that I would cruise back. By the time you pay the premium on the air tickets for having basically 2 one-way flights, you almost pay for your return trip by ship.
Now here is the BIGGEST thing I'd do differently: I will never again cruise with Personal Choice Dining!!!! If you are stuck with it, a couple hints: (If Luigi is your headwaiter, just commit suicide now.) The day you board the ship, call down and make dinner reservations first thing. The line the first night was unreal. If you have reservations, you bypass the line and just go in and show them your cruise card. Make reservations each morning--as early as they will let you. If you have a waiter you like, ask for him when you make your reservations. We didn't like it because of the first-night pandemonium, the inflexibility of Luigi, the headwaiter; we would have enjoyed a waiter who knew us, and it is tiresome to ask the same thing of your dinner companions each night: "what did you do in _____" (the latest port). We'd have liked to get past that and gotten to know our dinner companions better. We asked countless Personal Choice diners what they would choose next time and all but one couple were passionately committed to traditional dining next time. We didn't know, until the third day that we could go to the traditional dining room for breakfast or lunch. That helped. Like I read over and over, the buffet in Horizon Court is not worth the calories.
A note on dining. Because of Rachel's kid activities, early seating worked best for us. We were never ready for dessert at the end of those fabulous meals that early, so we took our dessert menu with us. You can order any dessert on the menu from room service UP TO 10 pm!!! We loved that.
The first time we ordered room service I told my adult daughter to get some cash to tip the waiter. She said, "but Mom, this is 'cashless cruising'". I said, "right, just hold out the money and see how 'cashless' this cruise is!!!" Of course, he happily took the tip.
The kids program was fabulous. There were over 150 kids aboard and you'd never have guessed it. They really kept those kids happy. The literature says the youngest group is 2-12, but they divide that group up. Rachel was in a 10-12 group and just had the most fabulous time. Having her own key and run of the ship was a new experience for her too and she loved it. She got lost once but it worked out. Lessons learned...
Write if you have questions. Griping aside, we loved the cruise and would cruise Princess again...but not exclusively. Anyone going the right way at the right time at the right price...I'm there!
I'm still looking for a cruise buddy to share cost of a cruise to China, transatlantic, or through the Panama Canal...but no Personal Choice!!!
We did the Inside Passage this summer and enjoyed it so much that we are planning the Southbound cruise next year.We were going to take the land package from Celebrity but it seems that everyone one these boards think that you should plan them yourself.It would be greatly appreciated if we could get suggestions on touring Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks etc.ie lodging, transpotation, excursions.
Should we take the train,bus or drive it ourselves? It seems that the choices are so very numberous. These boards are so infomative that I Figured that this is the place to go for help.SOOOOOO PLEASE HELP!
Well, Shelley, you sound just like I felt in the beginning. It is confusing and when you make your final choices, they will not be all exactly perfect, but that is even more true if someone else is making those choices for you--like a travel agent who doesn't really know you. The first thing you have to do is to buy Mileposts. It is a book that gives mile-by-mile information on every highway in Alaska, and some in Canada. It is absolutely the best. I'm sure you can get it from Amazon.com or your local travel store or Sierra Club store. Each section has fairly short descriptions that will help you make your decisions. But let me tell you again, you will make better and more thrifty choices than your travel agent will!
So I will try to answer your questions:
>>We did the Inside Passage this summer and enjoyed it so much that we are planning the Southbound cruise next year.
If you have the time, take the ship both ways. You should be making your own air arrangements to save you from the possibility of nightmare connections that the cruise lines are so famous for. You will find that buying two one-way tickets (your home to Vancouver, then Anchorage to your home) will cost a lot more than a round trip fare to Vancouver or Seattle. I'd do that and use the savings to pay for most of the trip back on the ship. You would sail up, stay however many days you can spare, then sail back. We met a lot of people who do just that.
>>suggestions on touring Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks etc.ie lodging, transpotation, excursions.
Should we take the train,bus or drive it ourselves? It seems that the choices are so very numberous.
We have heard that the train from Seward to Anchorage is a beautiful ride and that it is also lovely to make the drive, stopping along the way. Either would make me happy. If you are sailing back, you'd want a car from Seward, to return to Seward. You can check with the travel sites, like Travelocity or Expedia or Priceline for costs. If you are flying back, I'd recommend that you take the train to Anchorage, then rent a car from there, returning for your flight, or maybe a car one-way to Fairbanks and fly home out of Fairbanks instead of Anchorage. Sure the amount of choices are mind boggling, but how wonderful to have all those choices! If we had it to do over, we'd sail round-trip, but if we didn't have time for that, we'd fly out of Fairbanks, giving us another city to see.
I got an Alaska tour book from AAA and they had a lot of hotels/motels listed. Motel 6 is opening a new place in Anchorage, so you could check their website if that is a place you'd like to stay. Mileposts also list some, and each city's website and the http://www.alaskavisit.com/ site for the valley about 1/2-1 hour above Anchorage all had listings for B & B's, motels and cabins.
You might enjoy a day or two at Talkeetna. It is a charming little town and they have some good air and boat ride tours. You can find out about those from these boards,As for Denali. Here is some gospel truth for you. Ride the green shuttle bus at least as far as Eielson Visitor's center. It is an 8 hour trip, longer if you get off the bus and catch a later one...and you might want to. You bring your own lunch (your B & B or a local restaurant will fix one for you) snacks and beverages. (It is hungry and thirsty business to ride that bus.) Bring binoculars and rolls and rolls of film! It is a must-do. It costs $23 for adults this year. There are also tours that go a shorter distance, don't bother. The shuttle is the best and the cheapest. So since it is an all-day trip, you need a place to stay before and after.
So, read the boards for a couple months, asking a lot of questions, get and read the travel guides from each city (this takes about 6 weeks so order those first, their phone numbers are in the AAA guide) read Mileposts, and figure out what you would like to do in the time you have. You have to do this with the cruisetours or your travel agent anyway. Start a tentative itinerary on your computer. Start checking prices and airline fares and round-trip (with a break in the middle) ship fares and make a decision about when, how and where you want to sail and fly. Make reservations that you can cancel without penalties first...because you will run into some conflicts and want to make some changes putting it all together.
There will be glitches, but there will be glitches with the travel agency too. Just take the glitches with a smile and post them up to the "adventure" of travel. It is all a learning experience.
You will love the freedom and feeling of accomplishment that doing it on your own and in your way gives you! If you want to write to me directly, email@example.com I will send you a copy of my itinerary with some phone numbers and some cut-and-paste (messy) notes I took when reading the boards and researching my trip. I think the above stuff will do you better, but my notes may help a little.
You'd did a beautiful job of explaining the options!!
We opted to drive from Anchorage to Denali on a three-day turn-around. We stayed 2 nights in Healy at the Denali Dome Home B&B and really had a great time! Check out the Moose Nuggets they serve for breakfast! (home made sausages). We took the 2nd shuttle to Eilson and were mesmerized by the beauty of the park. There was a cute little store in Healy where we bought lunch and snack supplies to fortify us for the long day on the bus. It stopped very often for photos and pit stops.
IMHO, I'd prefer the rental car over the train (Anchorage/Denali/Anchorage) just because there were so many opportunities to stop and shoot world class pictures.
The whole time we were there (early September) Mt. McKinley was cloudless.
This meant that we needed to shoot photos about every couple of miles, just to PROVE that we saw this fantastic mountain. We also saw the change of seasons. So in the course of two days, we actually saw the leaves turn to autumn colors. The view of Mt. McKinley from Eilson can't be beat (from the ground).
Please understand that there ARE many options. My only solution is to use different ones each time you go up there. If you can afford to, you WILL go again.
We've been away for 5 years and will be back to Alaska in TWO WEEKS!!!!!
I 100% concur that Healy is the place to stay! The night we spent 8 hours on that bus in Denali, we were awakened at 3 am to see a mother and 2 yearling Grizzlies who had overturned the dumpster and were feasting (and the kids had a couple arguments too.) What a fabulous 1/2 hour we spent watching them! The "ultra-dome" train had foggy windows and slowed to make a 2 hour trip take 4 hours so they could sell those mediocre dinners. The bartender/guide was fun...but any bar will yield one of those.
Don't miss Talkeetna. It is a little touristy, but we just fell in love with that little town and there are a lot of tour options there...boats and air.
Most stores have reindeer (not Santa's reindeer--actually carabou) sausage and it is a great take-home gift at about $4/package. Your steward will freeze it for you or if you are flying right away, the stewardess gave us a little packet of dry ice!
Gawd, I wish I was going back with you. I didn't know I'd fall in love with that state like I did. If my kids weren't here...
Independently is the ONLY way to go if you want to see as much as you can. I would rent a RT car out of Anchorage and stay in B & B's along the way, spend at least 2 nights in Denali- Healy or Cantwell are cheaper lodging options. Take the SHUTTLE to at least Eielson- none of the tours go far enough into the park in my opinion. Continue to Fairbanks or return to Anchorage with an overnight in Talkeetna and stops in Wassila, Eklutna and Eagle River on the way back. VERY VERY easy to arrange.
We are in the early planning stages for a late August 2002 cruise to Alaska and would like to rent a car and tour part of Alaska after the cruise. I've already learned so much from this board and plan to book the land part myself because I love the research anyway. When I checked the Denali Natl Park web site about the shuttles into Denali, it looked as though they ended as of 8/31/01. The Princess cruise I'm thinking of booking doesn't get to Seward until 9/2/02 so we would miss the opportunity to take the shuttle tour into Denali if they only run until the end of August. Does anyone going this year know the final dates for the Denali shuttles?