Tips to get the most out of your Alaska Vacation
2014 Alaska Cruises - Alaska Cruises and Land Tours - Inside Passage cruises - Gulf of Alaska cruises, Alaska Cruisetours Alaska cruises from Seattle, Alaska cruises from Vancouver
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The problem with Alaska vacations today is there are almost to many choices. The sheer number of cruises and cruisetours can be overwhelming, particularly for first timers. The following information may be helpful to you in selecting the vacation package that is right for you.
Useful Alaska Tidbits
The Alaska Season
You would be amazed at the number of calls we get from folks who would like to do an Alaska cruise over Thanksgiving or New Years. Sorry, the Alaska season is short and you probably wouldn't want to be going across the Gulf of Alaska in December.
First things first. Most important things you have to decide about your Alaska trip!
Choosing the right Alaska cruise and/or land tour for you. Your options:
Cruise Line and Ship
The type of cruise line and ship you select determines the price you pay and quality of experience you will have. Cruise lines are like hotel chains. They range in style from moderate through the 6 star luxury class. There aren't any Motel 6's in the fleet and all over a pretty good experience.
Ports of Call
This is where you can spend a lot of money. Purchasing your shore excursions in advance is a good idea and can save you a lot of time on the ship and also avoid disappointment if an excursion is sold out. Each of these port cities are small so you can actually not do any shore excursions and just walk the town and still have a great time. Private shore excursions can be a good value with smaller group size, more interesting stops and many times superior tour guides. You can prepurchase three port packages which can save you a bit of money.
The Glaciers from Sea
Many people are concerned they may not see Glacier Bay. Trust me, you won't be disappointed with any of the glaciers you see on your cruise. Each is different in its own way and all are spectacular. Hubbard Glacier is among the largest tidewater glaciers in the world at seven miles wide. Glacier Bay is incredible in its scenery but the Federal Courts have greatly restricted the number of permits issued allowing big ships to go in. Tracy Arm and the Misty Fjords have the bluest of the glacial ice and the sheer cliffs rising straight out of the water are amazing. Whichever one you go to, I think you will be thrilled particularly if you are lucky enough to witness calving. On a typical inside passage cruise you will only visit one of the three principle glaciers - either Tracy Arm, Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier but not all three. On a Gulf of Alaska cruise, you will visit one of the three plus, depending on the cruise line and itinerary perhaps Prince William Sound and College Fjord.
The most popular land tour packages added on a cruise tour are Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks. There are so many tours to choose from it is totally confusing to most people, myself included. My recommendation is to sail into Seward and go by train from Seward to Anchorage. You see additional glaciers you won't see from the roadway and it is much more fun than riding on a bus. Going to Alaska and not seeing Anchorage (as many of the Princess Direct to the Wilderness Tours do) is a bit of disappointment. It would be like going to New York City and not seeing the Statue of Liberty.
From Anchorage go to Talkeetna by scenic railcar. On a clear day, there is no better place to see the majesty of Mt McKinley at over 20,000 feet and its sister peaks rising over 18,000 feet than from your room or the deck at the Grand Talkeetna Lodge. A flightseeing tour around Mt McKinley will be one of the most breathtaking and exciting trips you will ever do. K2 Aviation does a great job with it.
From Talkeetna, go by train to Denali National Park and opt for the two day Double Denali Package. Unfortunately, there are so many cruisetours now, the cruise lines have created assembly line cookie cutter packages that I think are a waste of time and money. Many of them are doing a three hour Denali Natural History tour which goes fifteen miles into the park. It is very doubtful you will see much wildlife and it is a shame to go all the way to Denali for such a superficial view. The real tour to do is the seven hour Deep Tundra Wildlife Tour early in the morning that takes you fifty three miles into the park. That is where you will likely see the wildlife and get a real feel for what Denali is all about.
From Denali, once again board the train for Fairbanks. Probably the best thing to do in Fairbanks is the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena River with a stop at Chena Village which is a totally non commerical village that demonstrates how the indigenous people lived in the rugged country.
Other popular and interesting destinations for land travel in Alaska are:
Alaska Winter Vacation Season
If you mention a vacation to Alaska in the winter to most people, they look at you like you need your head examined. In reality, it can be a fun, interesting trip. You just have to go prepared. The best time is late February through Mid March and is centered around the start of the Iditarod dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome and is now combined with the Fur Rendezvous celebration. These are absolutely a hoot to go to. We start our trips in Fairbanks with a visit to the World Ice Sculpture Competition which is fascinating. The artwork with the ice is dazzeling and impressive for sure. We also include a two night trip to Chena Hot Springs sixty miles northwest of Fairbanks which is considered one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. It is an impressive display to be sure. There is also something to be said about the walk from the locker rooms to the hot springs in minus 30 degree temperatures. Unfortunately I can't say it here because it is less than suitable for family viewing.
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