See my post on the Alaska packing list query from Dixie--don't know how Princess does their excursions because we were on HAL, but as first-timers, we were pleased with what we did without booking in advance (other than the floatplane), but we were also there in late September when the excursions were winding down because the customer base was getting smaller. I found the excursions on shore were pretty much the same prices as the ship's, but don't take my word for it because again, we are first-timers and it was late in the season. Have a great time--I'll be interested to see what responses you get.
ALWAYS have plans and reservations in place before you leave. With the explosion of Alaska visitors- I NEVER recommend just getting off your ship then deciding- time is too short. IF you are CERTAIN you can book ahead- BUT my experience has shown a great deal of change of ideas for first timers the more they read. If you start booking next year- you will have plenty of availablity. Be certain of all the cancelation policies.
One of the nice things on Princess is that they let you book excursions online, quite a bit ahead, but don't charge you anything until the end of your cruise.
For those who book excursions independently, it provides some safety: You can book excursions with Princess just to ensure that you get a particular excursion before you then finally decide on the independent booking. (Just don't forget to cancel with Princess later or "ouch.")
We booked thru Princess. 120 days in advance, online! No lines, no fuss, no muss. And, no chance we would be left behind. Prices were comparable! We saw a couple "left behind" at one port. Read the particulars, find a shore excursion that suits you and book it! Don't over-analize or fret! You'll love your cruise!!! Marty
I agree with everyone,,book well in advance. I booked a couple of excursions through HAL and one on my own and it seems to me the prices are all pretty much the same (but I too was a first-timer so could be wrong). The thing I liked about booking through HAL's website and way ahead of the tours, as anyone here will tell you the excursions are one of the things that make the trip fun and they are usually pricey. By booking ahead I had them already paid for by the time the cruise came up (I am pretty anal-retentive when it comes to making sure everything is paid for), I knew I had a seat, and I knew that if something happened like the helcopter blew a tire or the floatplane threw a fanbelt, the ship woudn't leave without me because that was their guarantee for booking through them. Also, and I don't know if this is standard, but I think normally paid for excursions are non-refundable but I did get a refund on one when when it's time was changed and it overlapped another on I had booked.
i do know from booking with capt. larry already for my may 2005 cruise that he is taking bookings into 2006 already. he is becoming very popular and his seats are being booked very early. i would not wait too book anything if you know what you want to do and have picked out a independent tour group. alaska is becoming more popular and tour seats seem to be going very quickly.
Being a newcomer to this cruise thing I wanted to do what in my mind were the things I would never probably do again. You see,,although this is totally irrelevant, I was on this tour because I was diagnosed last Feb. with kidney cancer and at the time thought I would be dead in less then a year so had to see Alaska before it was too late. Turns out,,I will probably be one of the few survivors but didn't know that when I booked these, so for me,,a glacier walk and the Misty Fjords were a must. Another that would have been a must was the White Pass train out of Scagway, but since I was on a cruisetour and that was part of my tour, booking that wasn't necessary.
But here is my take. Alaska is hugh and there is a lot to see. If you are just on a cruise, then an excrusion that would take out out of the port towns to see what some of the country looks like would be a must. Many people do whale watch tours,,well I live in California so I can take those at home, plus we saw hump backs and orcas from the cruiseship. So had I not been on a cruisetour,,for me the best was the Misty Fjords. You get a real sense of what Alaska looks like. I wanted to walk on a glacier, but that was out of Scagway , there is only one company there that does the tour, and I felt as though we were being herded into the helecopters on a time schedule. Yes, I enjoyed it, they did a great job, but I felt we went real fast. An with no competition in the area, we were at their mercy.
I booked the Misty Fjords independetly. I went to a webpage for Ketchican and looked over all the floatplane companys that did the tour. I ended up with Seawind Aviation. Since this was a new company (the pilot used to work for one of the larger companys there) and a "mom and pop" run operation, it felt like we were flying with a friend, rather then a group. It was just my wife, me and the pilot. So to answer this short question with my long answer,,,Misty Fjords was my favorite on the trip.
Ron, just wanted to wish you the best with your recovery. Hopefully the cancer goes away but the carpe diem spirit remains.
Dixie, just about all of the excursions overlap (same tour & same provider) between the major lines. So, help here is plentiful. You're going to want excursions that are special and that capture your vision of Alaska. Like Ron, I stayed away from whale watching because I've done it before and can do it again elsewhere, thus freeing me up for other opportunities. The choice really depends on your interests/activity level. Look over a list of excursions and people here can give you advice and maybe suggest independent companies (which often provide you with smaller groups, more knowledgable local guides, etc.) For my part, my favorites were kayaking (independent co) in Ketchikan and the Glacier Trek in Juneau (and I have to recommend some helicopter glacier landing of some type as a must do).
Ron, double thumbs up to you, I have alot of faith that your recovery will go well. I was diagnosed with melanoma in May and hence booked our trip as well. My doctors say it was at such an early stage that I too will do very well.
GrannyMouse, we are on the Diamond 8/13 out of Seattle. We are doing a roundtrip I have two children 10 and 5 and thought that would be enough for them. Can't wait to go!!
just to throw a suggestion out-my husband did the snorkeling in ketchikan and LOVED it-a definate high point for him. the whole family enjoyed the helicopter to the glacier in juneau (heard no complaints from anyone who did a helicopter tour on our cruise), if you want to do the dog sled camp book well in advance (when they say it's limited on the numbers they mean it-our cruise had this trip booked solid well in advance of sailing), did hear some grumbles about the train out of skagway (many commented that the ride was far too long and they would have enjoyed a shorter version).
we did a Princess Cruise and Landtour a year ago in august. it was awesome! The crusie itself was wonderful but i would advise anyone who has the time to do one of the land tours. We found we had little to see when we cruised down to Vancouver and were able to enjoy the ship. we did get off in Ketchikan and grabbed a tour right from the dock--no problem (and cheaper)
We are going on cruise #2 the end of May 2005 on the Island Princess and are in the process of choosing excursions. We will be booking through Princess for the convience of booking on-line in advance, not a lot of time for web searching. We are thinking about the following excursions. I would really like to know if anyone has any experience with any of these.
Skagway - White Pass Scenic Railway - already read about on this site. Pretty safe choice.
Juneau - Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake Combo; Rain Forest Garden Adventure (will the flowers be in bloom at the end of May?); Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest.
Ketchikan - Adventure Kart Expedition; Back Country Jeep & Canoe Safari
I know we can't take all of these, but if I could get some feed back on some I would appreciate it.
Also, when and where do you find the excursions that are available on the land portion, such as in Denali and Copper River?
Theres a big divide between Princess' "shore excursions" and the "cruisetour excursions" because they are handled by 2 departments that don't seem to interact much. Unlike shore excursions, the "cruisetour excursions" cannot be booked online. The rules are quite strange. You can book cruisetour excursions by telephoning the Cruisetour Department. But even then, you can only prereserve for a couple of the locations (Denali, and I don't remember the other). For the rest of the locations, you will have to wait until your cruisetour begins (ie. the land component of your trip) ... and can then book things while on Princess' train or while at the lodge itself.
Princess also hides this tour descriptions a little bit. First, they are not directly linkable from your itinerary as are shore excursions. Cruisetour Excursions are referred to as "Alaska Optional Excursions" (and I always thought all excursions were "optional) and can be found in downloadable brochure format at:
This is still 2004 info, but good enough for now b/c they don't tend to change much.
Note: You can also download the "Alaska Shore Excursion" brochure (which covers the excursions in each port) from this same site. I found it easiest to debate excursions by printing the ones I was interested in ... sharing those pages with the group. When times became available, I wrote them on the page and could see what conflicted with what.
I'm not sure if "cruise #2" means your second cruise or Princess' label for Cruisetour 2N or 2S. Assuming the latter, please note that the most worthwhile excursion you'll have at Denali is your tour into the park itself. Your tour will either include the Natural History Tour or the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Check to see which one is on your itinerary. Both go along the same road (in and then out) and the difference is distance & time. The Natural History tour is the shorter and actually goes only as far as a free shuttle goes. The Tundra tour takes you to the amazing topography and increases your chance at wildlife tenfold. During the part covered by NH tour, we saw the back of a moose so far away that I could barely tell what it was. As we continued on our Tundra tour beyond this point, we saw caribou and grizzly walking around our bus and a herd of Dall Sheep walked next to us at a rest stop. Lots of people are disappointed with the Natural History experience because they didn't know the difference until it was too late.
Princess also lets you upgrade if your cruisetour provides enough time at Denali, but it has a limited number of upgrades available.
We are doing just a roundtrip cruise, do you know anything about the Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Bake tour. We are also interested in that tour. I am traveling with a 11 and 6 year old. Do you think the whale watching and wildlife would be better?
BMK, I have no personal info on these tours, but for what its worth:
I have heard from many that they really enjoyed attending the salmon bake (not sure re: your particular tour). Note, its possible to attend the salmon bake and visit the Mendenhal on your own for less $.
Whale watching in Juneau is quite good ... despite pictures, orcas (killer whales) out of Juneau are low odds. Instead, we're talking about humpbacks, with sightings being less dramatic the brochure photos...mainly tails and blows. You'll also probably get sea lions, etc. Many prefer to go with Captain Larry at Orca Enterprises rather than the cruise-booked excursion.
Better really depends on the interests of your family. If whales are of real interest, I would prioritize the whalewatching. Whale sighting by cruise ship is by luck, their also brief and usually quite far away (I'm guessing that the little ones would have less of an experience seeing them at that distance with binoculars). And most wildlife viewing on the cruise portion requires excursions. Its possible to combine the whale watching with a trip up to Mendenhall if you'd like. For us, our focus on the trip was nature and culture. In Juneau, the glacier was a must but we decided to view it by helicopter and from beneath our feet - the Glacier Trek allowed us to fly to and hike the glacier, which was just amazing for the ice formations and the color that you don't even appreciate from seeing the blue from a ship. Our second Juneau excursion was the Rain Forest Nature Walk for an excellent guided tour of the development of the temperate rain forest (built directly on bed rock left in the wake of the glaciers), the plants and their uses by wildlife and people, etc. We really wanted to do the whalewatch as well, but decided not to because we'd been whalewatching often and wanted something uniquely Alaskan.
Sherry, if you're doing Denali on your own, another option is to take a shuttle to Eilsen (even further than Tundra Wilderness goes for less money). They don't guarantee commentary or the same level of commentary as the tour, but everyone seems satisfied. My previous focus was on the tour only because I thought #2 meant you were taking a cruisetour and cruisetours to Denali almost always include either Natural History Tour or Tundra Wilderness.
... then again, May sees closures in much of Denali park, so you'll want to look into that.
jrask, thanks so much all the helpful info. I think we will lean toward the glacier tour and salmon bake and look into booking it on our own. I have visions of going whale watching and saying to the kids look there's a whale and them missing it and then a whole lot of crying going on! Thanks again!!!
For clairfication- some cruisetours can't be upgraded if only the Natural History is included at Denali Park- simply not enough time- so strongly RETHINK this if this is what is included. It is a worthless tour. The above whale watching facts in Juneau are correct- orcas only come in on average of every 5-10 days. humpbacks are seen 100% of the trips. Tours are NECESSARY for any wildlife viewing. The tours out of Denali Park will be flightseeing, rafting. there is also a free park service dog sled demo that usually is worthwhile. Verify what TOUR you are on and be certain it is the Tundra Wilderness. As for Copper River- very undeveloped area and a big disadvantage with no car. The best tour in my opinion in the area is a flight to Kennicott, just excellent.
My wife and I were in Alaska last May, on the Diamond Princess. It was our first cruise ever. The bus ride to Carcross was a definate highlight for us. We have friends going with us this May and they want to rided the train. Our advice was to take the bus/train combo. This provides the best of both worlds since the train does not stop for photo ops, The bus does. Go in on the bus and back on the train. Sit on the right side of the bus and the left side of the trian for the best views. Of course, if you take the bus both ways, it does not matter which side you choose.
Of course, it you do this, be advised that the temp hovered around 32 degrees F at the summit of the pass. Ear protection is a must.