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Alaska -- Cruise and Road Trip

Author: Judy P. (More Trip Reviews by Judy P.)
Date of Trip: July 2003

ALASKA: ONE-WEEK CRUISE AND ONE-WEEK ROAD TRIP JULY 2003 Our anniversary vacation began with a dream-come-true, one-week cruise from Vancouver up through the Inside Passage on the Coral Princess. It was our first cruise, and we loved the entire experience.

We flew from Los Angeles to Vancouver and spent a night at a reasonably-priced, no-great-shakes, hotel near the airport (the Comfort Inn Airport (604) 278-5161, $60 per night, we called them upon arrival and they sent a van to pick us up at the airport. We walked across the street for dinner and had a good meal at a Mexican restaurant.) The next morning we took a bus tour of Vancouver (which the front desk arranged for us). It was a great four-hour tour that concluded with dropping us off at the cruise ship dock.

Our cruise stopped at the ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Seward, and cruised through Glacier Bay and College Fjords. We enjoyed many new experiences along the way. (Not to mention tons of shopping!)

Since this trip had been a long-time dream, I researched and planned for a year in advance in order to arrange every day to its fullest. We wanted to see the highlights, enjoy some incredible adventures, and get in a little bit of R&R. It turned out perfectly! We even had warm (up to 85 degrees), beautiful weather for sixteen of our seventeen days in Alaska.

I'm going to give the prices for most everything we did. It may not be politically correct, but I believe that inquiring minds want to know! We splurged on a mini-suite with a veranda. ($3,878 for both of us -- remember that includes all your meals and even all the room service you could want!) It was heavenly. The entire ship was beautiful and we absolutely loved our cruise!! (I'm sure that those fabulous scalp massages [$24 each for ½ hour] helped to sway my opinion!)

Upon landing at Seward, we rented a car (Hertz was the only rental car agency there at that time -- about $700 for the week) for our second week on land. We visited the town of Seward, then headed north to explore part of the Kenai Peninsula (Cooper Landing), Girdwood, Talkeetna, and Denali. It was very different from our life in the suburbs of Los Angeles! The scenery, wildlife, people, fishing, and adventures were amazing!

NOTE: If you're planning on traveling to Alaska -- not on a cruise -- you really should purchase a coupon book that's sold on line, available through www.toursaver.com. It costs $99, but it will save you hundreds! It seems too good to be true, but it IS true! It's amazing the deals that are offered in this book. There are lots of one-night-free-with-2-night-stays at many nice hotels. That right there can save you $249, so even though you spent $99 for the book, you've already saved $150! The list goes on and on. Really. Get this book! Watch out for some of the coupons, as there are some restrictions listed on the backs of each coupon. I used it to gauge where I wanted to be on what dates. And the coupons have phone numbers to call for reservations for each item. Not only will you save tons of money, but it's also great because it gives you more ideas of things to do in Alaska. The only drawback to this book is having to carry it with you everywhere! The coupons are not valid if they're torn out of the book. I kept it with me at all times in a fanny pack.

We arranged all of our cruise port excursions through Princess Cruises on their web site a couple of months prior to our cruise. Booking your arrangements through Princess may be a bit more expensive than buying tickets from someone as you get off the ship, but I chose to spend the extra money to guarantee that we could do what we wanted when we wanted, and also so that we had peace of mind that we were with reputable guides and that we wouldn't be left behind if we were delayed for some reason. If you're not on a cruise-related adventure, and you're late getting back to the ship, the ship WILL leave without you!

Ketchikan -- (Deep-sea fishing, lumberjack show, horse-drawn carriage ride, shopping)

Our first port was Ketchikan. When we first docked and looked out at the city from our balcony, we were disappointed -- old, industrial looking. But as I became familiar with the town, it took on a charm of its own. The shops beckoned me, "Please spend all your money!" I tried really hard. This is the place to spend the big bucks; touristy doo-dads, mega jewelry ... you name it! Dan enjoyed an ocean salmon-fishing trip ($167). He was lucky enough to catch a few 25-pound king salmons, while I took in an entertaining lumberjack show ($29) (great for kids, with lots of audience participation), a peaceful and informative horse-drawn trolley tour ($25), and shopping galore ($$$).

Juneau -- (Helicopter over glacier, dog sledding, shopping)
The better part of our day in Juneau was spent braving a helicopter ride over four different glaciers and landing on Norris Glacier to experience mushing our own dog sled. ($399 per person) I have to say that I've always been a big scaredy-cat, but the flight was smooth and beyond beautiful, and the dog sledding was a blast! Dogs can't really run too fast, so it was not a scary ride. Again, we arranged it through Princess when we booked the cruise. I have heard that it's a very popular thing to do, so it books up quickly. Don't wait till you're on the ship! Unfortunately, the cost was about $400 per person, but it was worth every penny! It was quite cold and windy on the glacier while riding the dog sled, and we were glad we took our snow boots, jackets, gloves, and hats. (They do supply boots if you need them.) After that incredible adventure, we went back to the ship, ordered room service (the best hot dogs and French fries), and changed out of our snow clothes to prepare for the 80-degree weather in town. Juneau was charming; freshly-painted shops, flower boxes adorned the window sills, ornate street lamps boasted brightly-colored flags, and clean, nicely-landscaped streets were ideal for strolling. I thought it was perfect!

Skagway -- (White Pass & Yukon Railway, shopping)
The port at Skagway is a tall, rocky, side of a mountain covered in graffiti, which happens to have been done by captains of past cruise ships. It was not exactly what we were expecting to see. But the White Pass & Yukon Railway ride ($94 each) was gorgeous. I have since heard that there's a road that pretty much parallels the railway, and I would rather have rented a car when we got off the ship, and driven it ourselves, for several reasons: The train was nice, but there were noisy kids running all over, people were packed onto the viewing platforms in-between cars trying to take photos, it was a tad claustrophobic, the PA system was difficult to understand, and there was no food allowed. They did sell bottled water for $2. Taking photos from inside the railroad car was difficult for many reasons -- not being able to prepare for a photo because you couldn't see far enough ahead of you to know what was coming, the head of the person in front of you blocking your view, and the reflection of the window causing unwanted glare on your photos. I would take the car next time. The town itself is sort of a cross between the Old West and Russia. Interesting and charming, and filled with the usual touristy shops.

Glacier Bay -- (Sight-seeing on ship)
Glacier Bay was beautiful! We were lucky enough to see and hear the glaciers calving. It was like being in a thunder storm. I was expecting more glaciers -- was even a little leery of cruising through the area, but it's not solid ice as I had envisioned. It was a gorgeous day -- crisp and windy, but sunny with deep blue skies. My only disappointment was that many of the glaciers are very dirty. I thought they would all be white and blue, not muddy looking.

College Fjord -- (Sight-seeing on ship)
College Fjord was my favorite part of our cruise. I had never heard of it, but the scenery was spectacular! There were beautiful emerald-green mountains, pristine glaciers, turquoise water, and blue skies with white, puffy clouds. It took my breath away.

Seward -- (Sea Life Center and shopping)
The final stop of our cruise was Seward. We didn't want to leave the ship that had spoiled us so well, but at least we still had another week to explore. We enjoyed the small but quaint town of Seward, with its modern Sea Life Center at the bay, and lots of touristy stores and restaurants.

Exit Glacier -- (Sight-seeing on foot)
Exit Glacier is about a 15 minute drive from Seward. (No charge.) It was very interesting. Along the drive up there, as you approach the glacier, there are signs that show where the end of the glacier was in past years. It's sad to see how far it's receded over time. The area around the glacier is dirt and mud. Not what I was expecting. We parked in the parking lot, then took the ¼ mile walk up to the glacier (a slight incline, but not bad at all). The last part of the walk got a little tricky, with the dirt/mud/water from the runoff of the glacier. Everyone was helping the ladies and kids get across the difficult spots. Once we got as close as we could, it was spectacular. The blues were just too much to believe. Unfortunately for us, it had just calved about a half hour before we got there, but it made for spectacular photos. We had plenty of space left on our memory disc, but the batteries ran out after we took only three pictures! I can't stress enough to always have back-up batteries and film/cards with you at all times! On the way back down to the car, we took the other trail, the one to the right as you head back down to the parking lot. It was very pretty -- much nicer than the trail up there. It meandered along a small river that was enveloped in green foliage. There was even an occasional bench on which to sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery. And, by the way, I didn't see any mosquitoes there!

Cooper Landing -- (Fishing, Kenai Fjords Boat Tour, sight-seeing, relaxing)
We spent three nights at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge ($244 per night). I made the reservations myself about 8 months ahead of time. (Don't forget to use the coupon book for a big savings.) It was very nice. It was spread out over a hilly, green area, overlooking the Kenai River. It had a nice, overpriced restaurant, a bar, a patio with food service overlooking the river, and small indoor lunch area, a nice gift shop, and the front desk was very helpful and could help you book any type of activity. Our room was very nice, with a tub/shower, and a small kitchen/eating area. We even had a patio. The Kenai River makes for some great scenery, oh -- and fishing too! I arranged for a halibut ocean fishing trip ($200) for Dan through the lodge when I initially made the reservations. He was shuttled from the lodge into Seward (about a 45 minute drive) for his fishing adventure. (He even saw a couple of moose on the road at that early hour!) He caught four 25-pound halibut, among other things! While he went fishing, I drove around the area and explored many small lakes and beautiful scenery. Do beware of mosquitoes around the lakes and river.

I also arranged (through our coupon book) for a three-hour Kenai Fjords Boat Tour ($35 each). It was a lot of fun. (Quite cold and very windy on the boat!) We saw dolphins, dall porpoises, whales from afar, seals, sea lions, otters, puffins, eagles, and even some mountain goats on the hillsides. During the tour our boat stopped and we had a tasty salmon dinner at a secluded lodge on a small island (Fox Island). After the boat ride, we drove around for a while, just exploring. On the way back to the lodge that night we spotted a huge porcupine waddling alongside the road. We pulled over and hustled to take its picture, but he shimmied up a tree, lickity-split. It was just shy of midnight. Still light enough for us to see, but too dark for photos! Erghh!

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