Just returned from two week trip/cruise to Alaska (July 20-August 9). I will post my cruise report on the Island Princess separately. Since I used this board to plan our trip I thought I owed everyone my “two cents” worth on the trip. We had nine people in the group including two teens, two twelve year olds, four adults and one senior. We did the land portion of the trip ourselves. It was a great tip to book the land tour ourselves vice with Princess which was much higher in cost. As this board points out it is not hard to do!
We flew to Fairbanks and we stayed at the Rivers Edge Resort while in Fairbanks for two nights. The hotel was nice and clean and very close to the airport. The only bad thing was the restaurant did not have a wide variety of food. To be fair the food was good, just not a wide selection and with the range in ages that was a big deal. As this board points out food is expensive in Alaska. I was born and raised in NYC and they are at that level as far as expense goes. On day two we went out on Airport Road and found several places to eat that had more choices. On day two we also did the Riverboat Discovery Cruise and the El Dorado Gold Mine Tour. Although they both sounded a bit corny we all had a great time on both trips. My kids really enjoyed both trips and panning for gold (El Dorado Gold Mine) was interesting. The people on the tour were very nice and answered all the questions from the tourist with a smile. In fact we found everyone in the entire state without exception to be very friendly and very helpful. Everyone on the bus was debating whether they “seeded” the dirt so everyone was able to get some gold. We took the Alaska train down to Denali on day three. It was a very scenic ride (we saw some moose just off the track!). The Alaska railroad train had an observation car (which was empty) that we could sit in the entire time without having to rotate seats. In fact hardly anyone was on the train and since we were in the front (all the cruise line trains were attached behind our car) we had more chances to see animals before they bolted.
We stayed at the Denali Princess Lodge for two nights following the train ride down from Fairbanks. As I read on this site it is indeed a very large hotel, but I felt it was well run. Our bags were taken right from the train to our hotel rooms so it was hassle free. There was a very nice Park Ranger at the train depot with a new born sled dog from the park. The kids enjoyed petting him and asking questions about how he was being trained already to be a sled dog. That afternoon we went on a 3 hour white water rafting trip (Denali Raft Adventures) on the Nenana River. Our Guide “Denali Dan” was excellent and pointed out the various sites on the river. We had a chance to see a train roll by the same place we had been early that day. We brought a waterproof camera and used it throughout the trip to get some nice shots.
The next day (4) we went on the Kantishna Wilderness tour which took us all the way into the park (end of the park road) to the Kantishna Roadhouse. This was a really long trip (13 hours total) since we stopped at the lodge for about two hours and had a lunch. We saw several Bears with Cubs, Caribou, and Dall sheep. Although everyone enjoyed the trip I would recommend taking the tour up to Eielson Visitor Center vice all the way to the end of the park road (8 hour vice the 13 hour trip). We did not see any wildlife from Eielson to the end of the road, and if Mt. McKinley is visible Eielson is where you will get a look at it. It was not visible when we visited, but we did see loads of wildlife. We were very happy to hit the hot tub after that long time on the bus!
The next day we went to Seward to the Seward Windsong Lodge via motor coach. This was an excellent hotel with shuttle service to town. In fact they picked us up off the scheduled time after we just missed the shuttle. The people here could not have been more helpful. We ate at an outstanding restaurant called Christo's Palace in Seward. The Salmon was the best we had in Alaska (including the cruise ship!). The trip from Anchorage was also a major surprise in that it was very scenic all the way down. We saw Whales, Dall sheep and Eagles right from the road. We also stopped by a stream that was loaded with Salmon. If you head down that way have your camera ready!
The next day we went to Kenai Fjords National park. We took the eight hour cruise of the park that included a light lunch and salmon bake. Once again we lucked out and had a chance to see loads of wildlife (Otters, Whales, Puffins). We even saw some Dall porpoises that rode the bow of the ship. The next day we went to Whittier to board the Island Princess.
In summary, every thing we read on this board was very helpful. We used Alaska Tour and Travel for some of the land tours and I was happy with all the stuff they recommended (the Kenai Fords tour was their suggestion). The weather was very good for us with only two days of real rain the whole trip. The weather went from low 50s to high 80s in what seems like two hours! Layers are indeed the way to go since we were constantly taking stuff off/on as the temperature changed. We all had back packs that we used to hold the sweatshirts and jackets. We also had no problems at all with mosquitoes or any bugs at all. Virginia is much worse this time of year! I’m sure that all depends on when you are going, so read these boards and do your research. Best of luck!