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Old June 23rd, 2008, 11:37 PM
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Default Excursion Review - 12-night RCI Cruisetour #14

Just got back from 12-night Royal Caribbean cruise tour #14, which included a 7-night northbound Alaskan cruise from Vancouver to Seward, and a 5-night land tour to Fairbanks. There were 3 young adults age 21 to 29, and our parents. We did a lot of excursions on this trip, so I thought my reviews would be helpful to those who are planning an Alaskan cruise for young and adventurous people. I have also provided links to the companies who offer these excursions in case you prefer to save some money and book independently of RCI. In most ports, you have a lot of time and should not need to worry about missing the boat should your excursion return late. In hindsight, I would have probably booked a lot of these on my own to save money because everywhere you go, you will be expected to tip – in addition to all the money you are dropping on the vacation.

Ketchikan

Adventure Kart Expedition - KE44
http://www.capefoxtours.com/karts.htm
These off-road go-karts are really fun and really fast!! You’ll take a scenic boat ride through a fjord to the karting area. Before getting in the karts, you’ll be outfit in waterproof pants and jacket. Bring gloves and waterproof shoes!!! You won’t necessarily get muddy but you’ll get some gravel on your shoes, your hands will absolutely freeze without gloves, and it will most likely be raining because in Ketchikan, it rains like 300 days out of the year! But this excursion was really awesome. The karts really haul ass, and you get a view of the fjord along the trail. They even serve a snack! You’ll take a bus ride back to town after the karting.

Juneau

Glacier Dogsled Adventure via Helicopter - JU08
http://www.erahelicopters.com
This is my favorite excursion because you see an amazing glacier, get a helicopter ride, and get to hang out with huskies! The bus ride to the helipad isn’t long. You’ll be outfit in snow boots that fit over your shoes. Just wear a jacket and sunglasses to block the glare once you land on the glacier. The flight is about 30 minutes each way over some really neat terrain. You will fly low over some deep crevasses and blue ice, really cool!! Landing on the snowy part of the glacier at the musher’s camp is just so awesome. The dogs go crazy when the helicopters land in anticipation of running – they love to run! The actual dogsled ride is short (about a mile and a half), but it’s really fun! Sitting up front is the best, and driving the sled in the back is also fun. You’ll have a few stops where you can take pictures and switch places in the sled. Two people ride and one person drives in the back. The musher drives behind the first person and gives the commands. After you arrive back at the camp from your ride, you will get to pet all the dogs on your sled team one by one. Then you get another great helicopter ride back with the opportunity to trade seats. Free coffee back at the helipad. Truly an unforgettable experience.

When in town, go on the Mount Roberts tramway. http://www.goldbelttours.com/travel/...oberts_Tramway. You don’t need to book this in advance. The ticket window is right next to where the cruise ship docks, and it won’t sell out. We didn’t do this because we had already gone on a helicopter ride, but I wish I had done it in retrospect. We heard that some people saw bears up there, and you can walk in the snow.

Skagway

Chilkoot Trail Hike & Float - SK03
This is a nice easy hike (more like a nature walk). My dad recently had knee surgery and joined me on this, and had no problem. There is a 45 minute bus ride along the coast to the trailhead, which is very historic. Your guide will tell you some interesting facts about the gold rush era, and about the vegetation you’ll see. The float back was very peaceful but somewhat boring, but at least there was free hot chocolate and home-made cookies when we were done. I think I would have rather done the White Pass railroad, or maybe a different hike that was more strenuous and scenic. Whitewater rafting in Denali is more scenic if you’re looking for a float (don’t be deterred by whitewater because the river in Denali is pretty tame). If you’re looking for some info about the history of Skagway, there is a FREE tour and film at the visitor’s center in town. The guide is really enthusiastic and captivating, and I learned a lot more about the history of Skagway on that tour than I did from my hike & float guide. If you’re looking for a nature walk, there is a FREE scenic trail in Icy Strait Point right where you get off the boat, near where the zipline lands.

Icy Strait Point

ZipRider Zip Line - IC18
This is really fun, and nowhere nearly as scary as it looks. You won’t get butterflies at all during the ride, you’ll just get a great view of the island and the cruiseship. There’s not a lot to do in Icy Strait Point, so this is a good place to be entertained with excursions. If you think the zipline is too daring and you’re on a budget, the cultural dance seems to be a good, affordable option. The natives dress up in very authentic tribal costumes. We didn’t have time to see the performance, but we saw the performers walking around and it looks like it would have been really neat to see.

Spasski River Valley Wildlife & Bear Search - IC21
We saw two huge brown bears within about 20-100 ft of the viewing platform. I also saw another one far in the distance. Mating season is in the summer, so the group before us saw bears mating. Another group earlier in the day saw a momma bear and cubs on the roadside. The bears we saw on this excursion were MUCH closer than the ones we saw at a distance during our land tour after the cruise. If you’re not doing a land tour, then this is your best chance at seeing a bear. You will be taken on a 30 minute bus ride to the viewing area. The (native) bus driver talks to you along the way, which makes the ride more interesting. One of the guides carries a shotgun within the viewing areas, so you don’t really have to worry about any dangerous encounters. If you’re more into whales and have a larger budget, the whale watching tour here is a guaranteed opportunity to see whales up close. You will see them from the cruise ship the evening you depart from Icy Strait, but you won’t be able to view up close. I talked to several people who did this, and really enjoyed it.

Anchorage

Native Cultural Center visit is included in the bus trip to Anchorage. Really neat. You get to spend about an hour and a half here. Make sure you watch the high-school kids perform their native dances.
Stop in downtown Anchorage for lunch. I recommend the Glacier Brewery – very good food and worth the wait! The peanut butter pie for desert is amazing and large enough for 3-5 people to share.

Knik Glacier Jet Boat Safari - AB03
http://www.glacierjetalaska.com/
This is a cool excursion where you spend about an hour and a half to 2 hours on a jet boat, but there is a 45 minute bus ride to the boat launch. You can catch up on a nap on the ride there and back. The jet boats are really fun, but cold if the sun isn’t out or if it rains. It rained while we were there. You will be outfit in waterproof pants and jacket with hood, but wear warm clothing underneath anyway and some sunglasses to keep the rain out of your eyes, even if it isn’t sunny. Once you arrive at the glacier, you will be taken up close to a bunch of icebergs. We didn’t get up close to the actual glacier because of all the icebergs, but perhaps later in the year they break up more and you can get closer. The icebergs were really neat to see up close, in any case. Very unique way to experience the river. This day in Anchorage is very short, and as soon as we arrived in town we had to get right back on the bus for our excursion, so we didn’t get a chance to eat dinner until after we returned (10pm). It was raining, so we didn’t want to walk anywhere for a later dinner. And the hotel restaurant was very expensive, so we skipped dinner this night. I recommend having a large lunch when you stop in downtown Anchorage, and taking leftovers for dinner later in your room. Stock up on snacks to eat on your bus ride to the excursion. You may be too tired to venture back into town after your excursion for late night eats, and quality food isn’t served that late.

Talkeetna
Go to town and visit the artists co-op, the only gift shop in town selling only things hand-made by local artists. They had very nice, affordable gifts here (mostly jewelry and art). Eat at the Wildflower Café.

McKinley Flyer with Glacier Landing - TK08
http://www.flyk2.com/
You must do this, another favorite of mine. And pay extra for the glacier landing, it’s worth it. Our excursion got delayed to later in the day due to weather - the clouds were too thick to fly. But it cleared up later on, and we were able to go. The good part about this excursion is that the runway is in town, so you won’t need to waste time being bussed to a remote place. The bad thing is that the admin staff are really stupid and will separate your group if you don’t have the same last name. Our group of five had two people with different last names, and they tried to put us on separate flights with the excuse that they didn’t know we were a group (which is BS because we spoke on the phone to them earlier in the day to confirm the weather and our group reservation). I recommend having your tour director call and make sure they get everyone in your group on the same plane. After we made a stink about being separated, they eventually accommodated us after a half hour of waiting. But it was worth the wait. This is the flight of a lifetime. You will not get any closer to Mount McKinley. You will probably never have another opportunity to land in snow among the most majestic mountains, with a clear view of Mount McKinley. You may think you’ll be able to see the mountain from Denali National Park or along the train, but you most likely won’t because of cloud cover. The flight is really fun and scenic, and you will get up close and personal with some very dramatic mountains carved by glaciers. The landing area is very soft and snowy, and sunny from being above the cloud line. Bring sunglasses! You get to hang out in the snow for about 15-20 minutes after landing, perfect place for a snowball fight. You will be outfit in snow boots that fit over your shoes, so no need to pack anything special to wear on the glacier other than pants and a jacket.

Denali

Tundra Wilderness Tour is included. It’s a 7-9 hour bus tour into the National Park, time depending on how many animal sightings. We saw grizzly bears, moose, dall sheep, caribou, and a wolf, all from a distance. Most people were falling asleep on the bus and complained about the length, but if you’re interested in animals and nature, then you’ll stay away. The bus driver talks pretty much the entire time about the park and its animal inhabitants. Make sure you pick up snacks in town the night before to keep you satisfied during the long bus ride. You’ll be given a free snack box and water on the bus, but after eating non-stop on the cruise, it will take more to fill you up. You may be exhausted after this tour, so consider not booking an excursion during the second day of your stay in Denali.

ATV Four-Wheeling Adventure - DL02
http://www.blackdiamondgolf.com/ATV.html
KE44 was much more fun in my opinion. These are regular ATVs that you can rent virtually anywhere, whereas the adventure karts featured in KE44 are unique. In this ATV adventure, you will be bussed out to a remote location, forced to watch a Polaris infomercial about ATV safety, then taken out to some trails in a single-file line where you can only go as fast as the guide, which isn’t very fast. It rains a lot in the summer, so the trails will likely be muddy. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t feel like being too muddy on a trip where I couldn’t do laundry and it’s not practical to bring an extra pair of grubby shoes just for this one excursion. So expect your shoes and jeans to be soaked in mud. You will be outfit in a waterproof jacket, helmet, gloves, and eye protection, but for some reason they didn’t give us protective pants and boots to stay clean and dry (even though they were available). If you don’t mind getting dirty and don’t get the chance to ride ATVs very much, then you would probably have fun. In my opinion, I would rather relax and enjoy Denali without spending 3-4 hours being bussed out to a random remote location for some muddy trails. Denali National Park and the surrounding area is much prettier, and you can go on a hike for free out there.

Nenana Whitewater Rafting - DL07
Offered by Alaska Raft. This was one of my least favorite excursions because I have done whitewater rafting before, and I found this river to be much tamer than I would have liked. There are a handful of class 3 rapids, but the rest of the river is basically a calm scenic float. You don’t even get to paddle, which is a good source for warmth. So expect to freeze your butts off just floating in a raft over glacial water. You get dry suits to wear, but it is still quite cold. The best part of this float is the scenery, which is very beautiful. So don’t expect anything more thrilling than that. I found out that this outfitter also offers rafting trips where you can paddle, but Royal Celebrity Tours does not allow their guests to go on paddle trips because of lack of coverage on their liability insurance (you’d have to book those trips independently but it’s probably not worth it). I guess you’re more likely to fall out of the boat if a bunch of amateurs are paddling. If you want thrilling whitewater, go to West Virginia. If you want a scenic float that is better than SK03 with a few fun rapids, then this is good. Just wear warm clothing. The dry suits are very baggy so you can wear many layers underneath. Gloves & booties are also provided.

I would suggest you not book more than one excursion in Denali and instead leave time to explore the National Park Visitors Center, where there is a FREE tour of their husky kennel (RCT charges for this), go on a nature hike, or explore the little town area. Denali is the one location where I wish I had more time to relax and enjoy. Because of the timing of my excursions and the length of the included Wilderness Tundra Tour (7-9 hours on a bus), I had no time to go to the visitors center or eat at a restaurant in town.

Fairbanks

Stop in downtown Fairbanks for lunch. Eat at the Fudge Pot sandwich shop. There will be a line, but they are fast! The food and fudge are really good, and there is a nice gift shop inside.

Riverboat Discovery included. This 3-hour riverboat tour is free, and it is better than you’ll expect. You will actually get off the boat for about an hour at a mock native village where there will be demonstrations on native culture and re-creations of the log homes that the native people occupied. You’ll even get to meet the mushing family of the late Susan Butcher, 5-time Iditarod dogsled champ, and her dogs.

Alaska Salmon Bake Dinner - FB03
Very good fresh fish. We didn’t eat much at restaurants in anticipation of the Salmon Bake Dinner, so I can’t really compare to other restaurants. But the fish here was definitely better than on the cruise. The deserts were unimpressive, and there isn’t much in the way of side dishes other than salad and beans. A steamed veggie or potato dish would have been nice. Overall, I found it to be overpriced, but in Alaska, everything is overpriced. The fish was good, and the location was pioneer-themed and fun.

I hope this info helps.[/code]
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Old June 25th, 2008, 01:24 AM
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Hi Sahara,

Thanks for the reviews.

We're going in September and are considering an excursion which includes a dogsled. Can you confirm that 2 people can ride with the musher or is it 3? I'm asking because there are 4 of us.

Thanks in advance

Andrio
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Old July 20th, 2008, 09:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrio
Hi Sahara,

Thanks for the reviews.

We're going in September and are considering an excursion which includes a dogsled. Can you confirm that 2 people can ride with the musher or is it 3? I'm asking because there are 4 of us.

Thanks in advance

Andrio
Yes- 3 people can ride together, BUT, most dog sled camps are over in Sept. So unless you are going the first few days, you likely will not have this available to you.

For clairfication, this is set up with 2 sleds hooked together, 2 riders, one in each basket, and the third riding the break. I suggest you book direct, and inquire of this season. BUT, some vendor's will book anyway, and then cancel, depending on the conditions. ALWAYS have back up plans with this excursion, it is the most canceled in Alaska.
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Old July 20th, 2008, 02:17 PM
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Hi Karen,

Thanks for the advice. Royal Caribbean had a few mushers camp excursions on offer and we have booked one. Better get the brochure out again to work out a Plan B if needed

Andrio
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Radiance of the Seas San Diego to Vancouver
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January 2010 Golden Princess Hawai
May 2009 - Brilliance of the Seas Egypt and Eastern Med
September 2008 - Serenade of the Seas Alaska
December 2007 - Freedom of the Seas Eastern Caribbean
June 2007 - Voyager of the Seas Mediterranean
December 2005 - Explorer of the Seas Western Caribbean
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Old July 21st, 2008, 11:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrio
Hi Karen,

Thanks for the advice. Royal Caribbean had a few mushers camp excursions on offer and we have booked one. Better get the brochure out again to work out a Plan B if needed

Andrio
IF your countdown clock is accurate, meaning you are going after mid Sept. Then make other plans, it's 99% a given the tours will not be running in that timeframe.
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