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Alaskan cruises.......tell me what you know


Ottakee
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Last night our "Good Mom's" club got together.....4 families that have all adopted kids with extra challenges through the foster care system.  We have been together as a group over 20 years now.   It is me and then 3 other couples.

Last night we started throwing around the idea of an Alaskan Cruise.  We are pretty adventurous, more than sit at the beach people (plus we live by the beach) .

What cruises are good, bad, worth the extra costs?   I would either be going as a single (which I hear is almost as pricey as a couple) or inviting another single friend along.

This just sounds like a lot of fun . 

 

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27 minutes ago, Ottakee said:

None of us in this group have ever cruised.

Oh, okay.  Alaskan cruises in general are more geared for people who have interests outside the ship, versus those who just want to get drunk and sit on the deck.  Part of that is that it isn't very warm usually so sunning makes you cold. ANd that is if the sun is out. 

One thing I know about Alaskan cruises is that many of them have an option or everyone does this that you spend some time before or after the cruise touring Denali and other land based places.  Now about Denali--no one can guarantee that you would see it.  It is covered up by clouds much of the time.

 

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My advice depends on if someone is a planner or not. Our family of four did an Alaskan cruise awhile ago, and since I'm a planner and kind of a frugal traveler, here's my tips based on that. 

First, just know Alaska is an expensive place. Everything from food to excursions is expensive, so plan accordingly.

People will tell you it's important to get a balcony because there is so much beautiful landscape you see from the ship. The latter is true, the former is not necessary. We got an inside cabin and parked ourselves on some comfy lounge chairs under a covered deck during the sailing days. A balcony is wonderful (we've gotten those before, too) but if all you can afford is inside, it's no big deal.

The before or after land part that the cruise ships add on make it very easy but you can do your own planning for less than half the cost. It might be worth it with a group to go with the cruise one, but yeah, super expensive. We rented our own motorhome and drove to what we wanted to see, including Denali, and it was great. I was glad that we did some land part, too, along with the cruise, but if all one can afford is the cruise, then still worth it for sure. 

We went in late May, and while it was cheaper, the bears weren't out yet. If I had to do it again, I'd wait until the salmon start running and the bears are out to see some of those. Worth the extra money, imo.

Final frugal cruising tip. Alaskan excursions with the ship are expensive and some are super cheesy. It's easy, particularly as a novice cruiser, to think that's just what people do on a cruise, but you certainly don't have to. We usually plan our own, but there are risks since if you aren't back in time, the ship will leave you (they won't if you are on one of their excursions). If you are someone who would enjoy panning for gold or whatever, then by all means, have at it. But know yourself and what is worth spending money on to you, and if nothing grabs you at a particular port, don't feel like you have to spend a lot. 

Edited by livetoread
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We went when the kids were little so 25 years ago. These are my impressions from that trip, and I'm certain much has changed. We've cruised to other locations since then, and we've learned a few lessons about the world of cruising.  

 - Holland America is geared toward an older clientele. The food was superb but continental in taste.  We've been disappointed with Caribbean and Norwegian in comparison.  (We're not foodies, but even to us the food was definitely better on Holland America.) 

 - We went in early May and the discounts for our state were fantastic. (Check non-peak rates.) That said, the weather our year was wonderful; other people I've spoken with have had very cold weather in early May.  

 - The most memorable excursions were helicopter over a glacier (we got to walk on the glacier and see the blue ice) and a charter-it-ourselves fishing trip. The older kids caught salmon; dad caught a starfish the size of a garbage-can lid. They still laugh about it. The raptor rescue and rehab center in Sitka was phenomenal. You can book a lot of things yourself. 

 - People taking excursions booked through the cruise ship generally get priority tendering (small boats ferrying people to shore.) You might prefer book-it-yourself excursions in ports where you are docked and there is a longer stay, so you don't run the risk of being short on time. 

I hope you have a wonderful time with your friends!

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Ottakee said:

We are pretty adventurous

Well you can't knock a cruise, but what about renting an RV and boondocking around Alaska? We did it for two weeks, and it's WAY more adventurous than what you're going to do on a cruise. The cruise excursions will be fine, but you're in the lower parts, the more canned places. It's just a totally different experience to actually drive the state and boondock, sleep under a glacier, pick berries, see moose, avoid bear, etc. And since you like adventure, it seems like that could be on the table. Cruising would be the way to taste Alaska for people who don't want to be rugged. 

We even met people who were primitive camping their way around Alaska. You can do that too. 

2 hours ago, Ottakee said:

None of us in this group have ever cruised.

So cruising itself is wonderful, really enjoy it, find it very relaxing. If I had money lying around, I'd do an Alaska cruise for the fun of it. The interior passage would be beautiful. I'm just saying doing the interior of Alaska on your own would be *different*. Go pull up google maps and see all the places you're NOT going if you cruise and where the roads are (there aren't many, haha) and where you'd go if you did your own thing. Would you fish? Go up to the North Pole? Do things in Fairbanks? It's a pretty amazing thing just to drive the roads. Grab a Frommer's guide.

https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/  I think this was the company we used. Reputable, organized, great experience. Looks like they now have camper *vans*. Might be just the thing for you and a friend.

Alaska was a place where I felt the *freest* I've ever felt in my life. It's a really unique thing to be able to pull off the side of the road and just boondock anywhere. You wake up to the view of The Mountain or a glacier. Walking riverbeds, looking at nature. And you have no timetable. You want three days to see the mountain, do it. You want to go to the state fair (fun!) or hit a mining town, do it. 

Honestly, Alaska isn't that much of a looker. We got there and were totally taken aback. It's nothing like we thought it was, because it's so much tundra. The vegetation is different, and I think we saw its entire fall season during the two weeks we were there. It took a while to make peace with it and realize what we were looking at. You can hit the same sled dog tours and whatnot that the cruise people hit (in Whittier, etc.) but you can also do the rugged exploring things. Do you want civilized dinner and a specified number of hours out each day, or do you want to sleep beside a glacier? Both will be nice, just different.

The other thing they trick you on is that the amount of time they say you'll get is NOT what you get. Like if they say you'll be in a port from 8am to 5pm, you need to be back early. And people disembark or might tender. So that might turn into 9am to 4pm. And you might end up padding it so it's like 9 am to 3:30. So you'll have a nice time, but the days will be long and you'll be back on the ship, not walking creeks and seeing The Mountain. The Mountain is a big deal there. You drive for hours in any direction and you're looking at it. It's astonishingly beautiful, captivating. 

They have killer pizza too. And crazy fun fishing. And there are some quirky museums in Fairbanks if you drive that far north. 

You're going to have a good time either way, but if you want to embrace your rugged side then put on the table doing it yourself.

Edited by PeterPan
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1 hour ago, livetoread said:

wait until the salmon start running

If op looks at the Frommer's guides, they show the locations for salmon. In the fall when we went (September?), they were doing their return. The DNR or whoever there starts them in locations, so it's known where they'll return to. We also took some hikes where we would come across a natural spot, which was amazing. I think that was in one of the parks where we were camping. 

https://www.amazon.com/Travelers-Guide-Alaskan-Camping-Yukon-dp-0982310161/dp/0982310161/ref=dp_ob_title_bk  Ok, I keep saying Frommer's guide, but looks like an older version of this is what I used. Also there was a Milepost book and a nature guide to the Kenai that we found handy.

It's easy to stock up on groceries and it's not like there are so many restaurants once you hit the road, lol. We found we liked eating breakfast in the quirky restaurants and then eating our own food from the RV. So that's one way to save money. They have a chain (Fred Meyer?) that is connected to Kroger, so it's very familiar when you walk in the store.

Some pull over spots have a small fee ($10-15) but you can also just boondock. So that's another way your costs stay down.

Op likes to kayak, yes? People were taking kayaks and doing overnight trips. You might find a tour that really suited you or do it with a little group. The fishing boats would drop people off. You could probably also do something really different like rent a yurt. Just depends on what kind of experience you want to have. My dh isn't THAT rugged and ds was 2 at the time, lol. 

https://www.alaska.org/destination/seward/sea-kayaking-tours  Something to get you started.

Edited by PeterPan
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What great ideas.  One of the guys did do a motorhome trip with his 5 boys years ago.   Do they rent motorhomes that sleep 7 adults?   I think that might be a concern as the 3 couples might like some privacy at times.   In areas where it was safe I could tent it....but bears....

The train sounds neat too.   Due to jobs we are more limited to June, July, and August....as a few of us work in the schools.

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We did an Alaska cruise a few years ago with family. We sailed on Norwegian out of Seattle. 

Standard recommendation for a first cruise to Alaska is to choose an itinerary that includes Glacier Bay. Glacier Bay is absolutely amazing and the only way to see it by sea. The park limits the number of ships allowed every day so not all itineraries include it. 

I thought cruising was a great way to see Alaska. We didn't need to fly all the way to Anchorage. No need to drive anywhere. We flew in and out of Seattle which was super easy. 

We did a few excursions but the real highlight of the cruise was Glacier Bay, IMHO. The little towns that you stop in are pretty boring and full to the brim with tourists coming on cruise ships. 

 

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I live here in Alaska. Feel free to PM me if you would like.

You first need to decide HOW you want to experience Alaska? If you go with the cruise, although you will see and do some neat things, you will miss alot of what makes this state unique and amazing. You will also be crammed with other tourists. 

You venture out on your own, you will have the freedom to explore and experience the state avoiding much of the tourists traps and really get to enjoy Alaska. 

Also narrow down what kind of activities you are interested in. What do you really want to see/ experience. The state is HUGE and so different depending on where you are within the state. There really are so many options. 

 

Edited by corbster98
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2 minutes ago, corbster98 said:

I live here in Alaska. Feel free to PM me if you would like.

You first need to decide HOW you want to experience Alaska? If you go with the cruise, although you will see and do some neat things, you will miss alot of what makes this state unique and amazing. You will also be crammed with other tourists. 

You venture out on your own, you will have the freedom to explore and experience the state avoiding much of the tourists traps and really get to enjoy Alaska. 

Also narrow down what kind of activities you are interested in. What do you really want to see/ experience. The state is HUGE and so different depending on where you are within the state. There really are so many options. 

 

Good points.  I have friends that spent 30+ years in Wainwright and Barrow....so I hear of life there.  

First we need to see if this is really possible.....getting 4 families of 7 working adults off to pull this off might be a lot....but a great goal.

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1 hour ago, Ottakee said:

Good points.  I have friends that spent 30+ years in Wainwright and Barrow....so I hear of life there.  

First we need to see if this is really possible.....getting 4 families of 7 working adults off to pull this off might be a lot....but a great goal.

Another thing, if you decide you want to rent RVs and camp or boondock, you all might come up with some form of caravaning so you can be together as a group but not all in one vehicle.  

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3 hours ago, Ottakee said:

Do they rent motorhomes that sleep 7 adults?

Yup. You just need someone comfortable driving it. I drove the one we had (which was pretty long, maybe 32'?) but only briefly. My dh did most of the driving, and it's work. The roads can get crazy up there with two lanes, people passing, etc. It had a queen bed in the back, bunks 2 or 3 high in the middle, a sofa that would convert, and I think maybe a bunk over the driver's cab. Massive amounts it could sleep, but ONE BATH baby. 

A motor home that big will have room to store fishing gear, a grill, etc. The RV place will rent you stuff.

1 hour ago, Ottakee said:

7 working adults

Hmm, that's pretty cozy in one RV. I could see it with 4 adults and some teens. I guess look at the drawings. Maybe two smaller RVs. 

We stayed in Whittier (I think?) for one of the days when we went fishing. You could ditch the RV idea and do sorta combo land and camping. Like take some rooms at a place where you want to be for a couple days as a base to explore then the rest of the days go out with your tents. Or take the RV to ride together (which will be fun!) but throw in tents too to give people more space.

If people are REALLY adventurous (like risk your life adventurous) there's a company that will outfit you with crampons, etc. and take you hiking a huge glacier. My dh did it and I did NOT. I'm honestly not that sturdy/stable, lol. Like if you slid in the cracks, you were t-o-a-s-t. But he was doing it as sort of a b-day, midlife adventure thing and LOVED it. I took the kids and went to a sea life aquarium/museum nearby. So something for everyone, lol. 

Edited by PeterPan
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Pre covid, I used to think about taking an Alaskan cruise.  I would still really like to go to Alaska, but I am not going to drive an RV.  But, somehow the allure of a cruise is rather dampened now....

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16 minutes ago, Terabith said:

Pre covid, I used to think about taking an Alaskan cruise.  I would still really like to go to Alaska, but I am not going to drive an RV.  But, somehow the allure of a cruise is rather dampened now....

Check, but I think cruises to Alaska right now will be fully vaccinated. Florida has pushback on the cruiselines asking (which is getting weird, where you "volunteer" your vaccination status), but for the Alaska cruises I think it's just straightforward. They may be limited capacity at first too, meaning they'd be especially fun. I wouldn't hesitate. The data right now on cruising successfully is good. 

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10 hours ago, Ottakee said:

What great ideas.  One of the guys did do a motorhome trip with his 5 boys years ago.   Do they rent motorhomes that sleep 7 adults?   I think that might be a concern as the 3 couples might like some privacy at times.   In areas where it was safe I could tent it....but bears....

The train sounds neat too.   Due to jobs we are more limited to June, July, and August....as a few of us work in the schools.

The train goes through some beautiful scenery, especially between Seward and Anchorage. I personally believe the coasts and some of the he mountain ranges are the prettiest parts of Alaska and a cruise will let you see that but it doesn't sound adventurous to me. 😉

 

Double check that you are allowed to take the RV's on the roads you want to. Some of the roads are off limits to rental cars and RV's and remember if you are driving to the interior that everything is far apart and can take longer than expected to travel so leave yourself enough time. 

Edited by frogger
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9 hours ago, frogger said:

Double check that you are allowed to take the RV's on the roads you want to. Some of the roads are off limits to rental cars and RV's and remember if you are driving to the interior that everything is far apart and can take longer than expected to travel so leave yourself enough time. 

We drove the rented RV up/down 3, up/down 4, and across the Denali Highway (8, not much of a highway). I think the Denali Highway, which she can see if she puts it in google maps, is the one where the RV company says upfront be careful, pay for the insurance ahead or don't be surprised when you get bills. It was, at that time, a dirty road. Could be paved now for all I know. And we did pay for the insurance upfront, something like maybe $250 for two weeks.

We didn't go much farther north than just above Fairbanks. There were some areas to the south we got into when we were getting off the beaten path where we either didn't go that way (two options, choose the wider/safer one) or we just got out and walked. But it was really obvious you were leaving the major roads, lol. I think the books I had usually said which way to go when you were leaving the main roads and exploring. We didn't have any problems with things that were normal touristy (dog tours, mining camps, parks to hike waterfalls, Wasilla, stopping at restaurants, etc.). 

https://www.alaska.org/advice/a-guide-to-anchorages-best-waterfalls  I can't remember the ones we went to. One was a good mile off the road but it was off a main highway, easy to park at. We had ds in a backpack carrier and he screamed the whole way. That was probably Thunderbird Falls. Some are a little more nuanced, like go to the museum with the painted buffalo and turn. Those took a while to find, lol. 

 

Edited by PeterPan
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I love tent camping, but gotta say I felt really smug in my rv at the campsites looking at the poor tenting souls out shivering in the drizzle trying to cook their food. Not to mention the mosquitos. Weather can be iffy, particularly at Denali, even leaving aside the whole bear factor. There was a mother moose with her calf wandering through the Denali campground too. So while I'm sure there are folks who had a great time tent camping in Alaska, I'd at least want a back up plan because 40 degrees and drizzling isn't my idea of fun.

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1 hour ago, livetoread said:

I love tent camping, but gotta say I felt really smug in my rv at the campsites looking at the poor tenting souls out shivering in the drizzle trying to cook their food. Not to mention the mosquitos. Weather can be iffy, particularly at Denali, even leaving aside the whole bear factor. There was a mother moose with her calf wandering through the Denali campground too. So while I'm sure there are folks who had a great time tent camping in Alaska, I'd at least want a back up plan because 40 degrees and drizzling isn't my idea of fun.

If I would tent it, it would be in tandem with the motorhome....meaning food and visiting there, sleeping in a tent.  But wildlife is an issue.

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40 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

We drove the rented RV up/down 3, up/down 4, and across the Denali Highway (8, not much of a highway). I think the Denali Highway, which she can see if she puts it in google maps, is the one where the RV company says upfront be careful, pay for the insurance ahead or don't be surprised when you get bills. It was, at that time, a dirty road. Could be paved now for all I know. And we did pay for the insurance upfront, something like maybe $250 for two weeks.

We didn't go much farther north than just above Fairbanks. There were some areas to the south we got into when we were getting off the beaten path where we either didn't go that way (two options, choose the wider/safer one) or we just got out and walked. But it was really obvious you were leaving the major roads, lol. I think the books I had usually said which way to go when you were leaving the main roads and exploring. We didn't have any problems with things that were normal touristy (dog tours, mining camps, parks to hike waterfalls, Wasilla, stopping at restaurants, etc.). 

https://www.alaska.org/advice/a-guide-to-anchorages-best-waterfalls  I can't remember the ones we went to. One was a good mile off the road but it was off a main highway, easy to park at. We had ds in a backpack carrier and he screamed the whole way. That was probably Thunderbird Falls. Some are a little more nuanced, like go to the museum with the painted buffalo and turn. Those took a while to find, lol. 

 

Denali isn't paved except a little bit on the end and it isn't a terrible road but when people pass you too fast they spit rocks at you. Wish they would slow down just for driving by. I don't care how fast they go otherwise. That is why the extra insurance/damages focus with the agreements.

Anyway, here is a list OP. https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/alaska-rv-rentals/important-rental-information/restrictions-on-operating-the-motorhome/

 I have driven or bike packed almost all these roads and some on a regular basis. My husband wanted to do the Dalton but it just sounds like a miserable mosquito infested long ride. I love the mountains especially those close to where I grew up Glacierview area, the Talkeetnas and further away the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains.  My Father owns a mine north of Chicken and my mother's side  fish out of Kenai area and started the first in-state owned cannery there. I didn't respond to the cruises because I've never taken a cruise and I don't know as many of the tourist type activities but if you want to know about roads I can tell you anything. I would obey the rental agreement and listen to what they say. They know their business. Being towed is enormously expensive when you are hundreds of miles from anything. Last visit to my Father's mine there was an RV stuck because you really can't use the soft edges of the road and it sloughed in and they were stuck on the edge of an embankment. It also annoys people passing if you want the center of the road. Since you are on the side of the mountain and blocking part of the road the tow truck may even have to come from the place that can access you not the nearest place. Remember these roads are also part of people's commuting and work travel. If cars are piling up behind you, please pull over and let them by. I have seen cars backed up for miles behind an inconsiderate tourists. There are more passing lanes every year but they were non-existent for years and there was no way around someone going 20 under to stare at a sheep or something. If you pull over people will be cheerful and wave, mostly. 😁

 

 

Honestly, you will get a ton of scenery with a loop from Anchorage to Valdez and take the ferry back to Whittier and then Anchorage although I suppose an RV might be really expensive on the ferry. I don't RV so I can't help you there. I guess it depends if you like mountains and waterfalls or you want to see wide open tundra or more of a rolling hills scenery, rainforest or desert. Alaska covers a variety of ecosystems of course. If you RV I do recommend Kenai Fjords tours or one of the other small boat glacier tours. Really, the coasts are amazing and I could see why an inside passage cruise would be popular. If the weather decreases visibility though you may have a long boat ride but weather is an issue where ever you go in the world. 

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Oh and the train might be better than an RV for viewing since no one will be stuck paying attention to the road. The observation cars allow for more of a view then an RV. For example, along the Turnigan arm there is often mountain goats high up on the cliffs. The train observation cars allow you to look up not just forward and no one is tempted to look while driving. 😁

Edited by frogger
Said sheep not goats. Ooops Alaska has both not not right there.
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