The following is a list of shore excursions we are intersted in finding more about. Since we won't be able to do all of them, which ones are "can't misses"? Also tell me any shore excursions I may have left out that are worth looking into. Oh yeah, and let me know which ports are better for which excursions.
Helicopter glacier landing
Flightseeing by float plane
White Pass and Yukon Rail
Also - Book independently or with cruise line? It seems there are some packages offered by the cruise lines so you could combo some of the things above. If yo go independent, I think you'd have to do each one separate.
I don't know of any ship tours that are "packages" ??? Myself, I never book via the ship and always direct with the vender (never use booking agents either). Extremely easy to book your own.
Glacier helicopter landings are the top tours in my opinion. Coastal out of Juneau is usually the cheapest and also offers glacier dog sledding, but is the most canceled of all Alaska tours. So if glaicer dog sledding is a must do, book with TEMSCO out of Skagway and as a backup- you may get on a tour with Goodwin's out of Seward. Floatplane- Misty Fjord- Ketchikan again book independent- superior tour , with one of several excellent venders Southeast Aviation, Carlin Air, Island Wings. But also a possible "must do" would be a flightseeing out of Talkeetna since you are not likely to view McKinley Mt without one. My clear preference is a summit flight (not summit view), with Talkeetna Aero. I give an edge to the latter but not a float plane - a great deal can depend on your flying experience as they also offer ski planes. I really like the kayaking out of Ketchikan- again independent with Southeast Kayaks. White Pass and Yukon rail- it's about $10 cheaper booking direct, BUT you can make better use of time if you want a couple tours from Skagway booking the first train via the ship- you would then board at the ship and be back about noon. If you book direct you board at the depot. Plan your time wisely. Frankly there are more than enough "must do" tours for 5 trips- so big compromises are unfortunately in order. BUT skimp elsewhere and do your priorities. There are plenty of regret repeater traveler's to Alaska.
By the way, here is one of the excursions from the Celebrity site that I was referring to as a "combo trip" package.
[i]Experience many of Skagway's highlights during one tour. First, climb aboard the White Pass and Yukon Railway and ascend into the scenic mountains, hearing stories of the miners who made this sojourn on foot more than a century ago. Arriving in Fraser, British Columbia board a motor coach to travel south through the pass where your driver/guide will point out sites including Tormented Valley and Pitchfork Falls. At the foot of the pass is Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. Here a cast of sourdoughs and madams will entertain you with a melodrama, recite a poem by the ďBard of the NorthĒ and teach you the art of finding Gold! You are guaranteed to hit pay dirt and you get to keep the gold you find.
Nothing like panning for gold to work up an appetite! At the Liarsville Cookhouse the grill is fired up for a meal of fresh Alaskan salmon, roasted potatoes, vegetables, coleslaw, sourdough rolls, coffee, tea, lemonade, and for dessert, Ma Pullenís apple pie. After your meal, explore the Trail camp or snuggle up to the Campís giant sled-dog.
Your tour culminates at the world-famous Red Onion Saloon. By special invitation only, the Red Onionís Madam will break out the champagne, Alaskan beer and root beer floats to throw you a private party in the prestigious upstairs brothel. Here you will be entertained with tales of the girls who used to work in these historic rooms. You will see the priceless nickel silver dress worn by Mattie Silks, the Red Onionís first madam and other artifacts left behind by the "soiled doves." Embrace the Spirit of '98 and have the experience of a lifetime!
Ok your description of combo is different from mine. For clairfication- The Red Onion does give independent tours. For another look at combo tours- Dolly Varden offers a package of a tours in each port at a good discount.
So after digesting all of this information over the last few days here is my conclusion:
Although the helicopter glacier landing looks extremely awesome, we are leaning towards getting more bang for our buck. In Skagway, we'll probably do the horseback riding. This means we won't do the WP&YR train ride everyone seems to love so much. I'm sure it's beautiful, but just sitting on a train for 3+ hours doesn't seem as exciting as getting to experience the scenery via horseback. We'll be doing the train ride from Anchorage to Seward, so that's probably enough choo choo for me anyways. We'll then be able to do the kayaking in Ketchikan too, so for the price of the helicopter and glacier landing, we'll be able to do both horseback riding and kayaking, which seems to fit our more active lifestyles anyways.
That means we'll be looking for something less expensive to do in Juneau.
I think you will regret not going on a glacier helicopter landing, in my opinion, (6 trips) it is the best of the best of Alaska excursions. Skimp elsewhere. If not- distant seconds to consider- Exit Glacier and MICA tours 2 hours from Anchorage (1 hour+ from Palmer) for great glacier trekking- $60+. Juneau has plenty to offer, request their visitor guide http://traveljuneau.com/
If you don't want to do the train but are curious - there are always tapes available that you can purchase and view. I took it one year and it is interesting and beautiful but you almost get the same view from the highway - except for the portion towards the top of the mountains. You get a repeat of the same view on the way down. The horseback riding is interesting - I took that one too and they do stop for photo ops and Emerald Lake is absolutely beautiful from the hills rather than from the roadside view. You get a beautiful view on horseback on the hills. The little western ranch is just past Emerald Lake about 1 mile or so towards Whitehorse, Yukon.
During the tour the bus driver was quite informative. Hope that helps.
For clairfication- the White Pass RR has only about 2-3 miles out of 20+ similar views compared to the Klondike Highway. Otherwise one is not viewable from the other. Scenery is superior via the rail at the summit as mentioned above. I have done both several times.
One Excursion no one mentioned was whale watching in Junuea. That was our favorite. We used Captain Larry and saw a lot of whales. For me this is a not to be missed excursion. We saw whales, eagles, and seals. It is well worth the money.The website is www.alaskawhalewatching.com
I agree with Karen16. The Mendenhall Glacier Heli Tour in Juneau was the Highlight of all our tours. Not cheap but very very well worth it. We didn't the train to White Pass in Skagway but took a van. We got to stop often and the driver was very knowledgeable and it was much cheaper.
A lot seems to depend on when you are going to be where. We (about 15 of us) thought the whale watch tour in Juneau was worth the cost of the entire trip. We were in Juneau in mid-August and there were +lots+ of humpbacks there. I did the kayak trip in Ketchikan (with southeast seas kayak - they were very good and offer two trips; one in town and the other out farther. If you go, take the latter.) On the day I went the water was as smooth as a lake and again, humpbacks were in the area. The guide said that the day before the ocean has six foot swells and that the week before nothing was in the area to see. Those in our group who took the Skagway train had mixed reviews of it. Personally, I think that you can have just as good a time on the Durango, CO small guage train at less cost. Finally, everyone who took one of the float plane trips, regardless of where they were going, thought it was fantastic.
Dozer - I had asked a question re what horseback you were taking. I was wondering b/c I have heard that Chilkoot horseback was not as interesting as the one with Southeast Tours. One lady's review horsebk excursion indicated she did not enjoy it. She said the horse was at least 4 ft wide(exaggerated I think) and that her saddle did not fit properly. She did not enjoy her ride. My opinion is that maybe she should have said something before they went on the horseback ride. She said they went on the Chilkoot bike ride before that and so was disappointed when they took the horseback ride because it covered the same area and it was in the tidal flats. Not a very happy camper. I have never been on that horseback ride myself but what I have read of previous and this one it doesn't sound like I would be interested in it. That lady's review I found in the Review section. Good place to look to because some of those people post their reviews there and don't post anywhere else. Too bad really because it would be good to know what their views and experiences are.