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!
What a terrific writing, my dh & myself are starting to check into the Alaska Land/Cruise Tour now & your information was wonderful. I will take your reccomendations & check into a few places. We know this will be the ultimate cruise for us ever & we want to be sure to see the wildlife, scenery, mountains, etc. We have heard so many times that we will just have to spend the extra as it will be so worth it. I think we are now embracing that thought & planning our itinerary. Thanks so much!
HAL Zuiderdam -October 2003
Disney Wonder - May 2004
HAL Statendam - May 2005
Disney Wonder - Sept 2006
Carnival Fantasy - Dec 2006
Carribean Princess - Oct 2007
I agree that these message boards are wonderful. Karen16's advice is always right on. The train sounds like fun but it is also easy to rent a car and drive the highway from Anchorage to Denali. You will have more freedom as to what you visit and when. We stayed at the Denali River Cabins which were great. A cabin (spartan but clean) right on the Nenana River was wonderful. We didn't have enough time to get to Fairbanks. I was just as happy we had not planned on Fairbanks since the smoke was pretty bad when we were there the end of August. People we talked to on the bus in Denali had been to Fairbanks and they said the smoke was intense and several of their group had trouble breathing. I can't wait to go back. Alaska is great!!!
Ronbo - really enjoyed your lengthy writeup on your trip to Alaska. We are planning a similar trip for 2006. You mentioned that you used Alaska Tour and Travel to book some of your itineray. Would you recommend them for booking all of your land iternary? Looking at their website and the different iternaries they offer plus being able to customize looked to me to be the easiest route to take. We are first timers to Alaska as well as cruising. Any information regarding booking land tour would be greatful.
Be sure to do the Fairbanks "Discovery" boat tour. You will learn more about alaska on that journey than in many days elsewhere. It is well worth the money --very informative and the souvenirs are even reasonable.
We booked through Princess .
Denali was great--my husband went heli-hiking and we went flight seeing at Copper river
Sorry I've had my computer in the "shop" and have not had a chance to read the boards. I would recommend Alaska Tour and Travel anytime. All of the places we stayed were very nice and we had no problems. They also gave me some recommendations (like going to Seward) that I may not have done on my own. As you know from these boards you can also do your own thing and rent a car and go for it. The road system is excellent and you should have no problem driving on your own. I priced the trip myself and there was a slight mark up in the range of 30 a piece (120 total for four). I did not think that was outrageous, they have to make some profit. We did meet folks who were doing there own tour and they were having a good time as well. Best of luck, either way it is a fantastic trip!
What a great, informative write up about the land/tour. I was really excited to find your post here. I have been roaming these boards for several days now reading all I can find on the Land tours. In celebration of our 30th wedding anniversary this year, we have booked the Princess Winderness Explorer tour (7 nt land tour, - 2 nts Anchorage, 2 nts Denali Princess Lodge, 1 nt Fairbanks, 1 nt Coldfoot, 1 nt Prudhoe Bay... ) Then after trecking all the way up to the Artic, we'll fly back and board the Princess Island southbound (Whittier to Vancouver). This will be our first trip to Alaska, and first cruise on Princess. I'm keeping my fingers crossed they (Princess) do it right. But we'll make the most of it regardless. I'm going to be on information overload by the time we leave, but these boards are SO full of helpful information. Its like eating popcorn - I cant get enough of it ! Its wonderful ! Your "doing it on your own" sounds very interesting and while this time we're taking the easy way, I pretty confident, once we get there we'll be ready to return and do it again, so I'm saving your info for future reference. Sorry this is so long, I just want to thank you for sharing.
Also glad to hear the bugs there were nothing like Virginia. Down here in Chesapeake, VA the flies in the summertime can get totally out of hand. Did you find any good deals from Virginia for your airfare ?