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Old May 4, 09, 9:41 pm   #1
 
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Thoughts on Alaska itenerary and Fairbanks advice

My parents and aunt and uncle are all going to alaska on a cruise and then 6 days afterwards. All people are about 60 and not super active. So far I have:

July 6: depart cruise at whittier early AM. pick up at Avis for 900am. Drive to Seward making various stops along road. Spend a couple hours in seward. Try and do exit glacier. Drive to anchorage in the evening and make stops along the way. Overnight at Sheraton anchorage booked using cash and points. What stops shoudl they be sure to hit along the road? one day one way avis rental is $274 but I can't find any other better option.

July 7: Free in anchorage. Not sure what to do. I don't have a car planned. I guess see the downtown sites, but I really haven't done much research here. overnight again at sheraton.

July 8: depart 7 am from Egan center on princess motorcoach to princess denali lodge. Have all afternoon and evening at princess lodge. I have not really planned anything here. Any plan would need to be based from the princess denali.

Jul 9: Take shuttle bus into denali as early as possible. Do as much hiking as possible. It seems like the shuttle bus makes more sense then the tour bus because of flexibility and cost.

July 10: Have all morning and early afternoon to do whatever from pricness denali lodge. I have no specific plans. Take 4pm train to fairbanks. Arrive fairbanks at 815pm. I need a place to stay in fairbanks and a way to get there. car rental from train station would be ideal but that seems impossible. Taxi to airport seems like the best idea and then pick up a rental from there. Is there a hotel that has shuttle to train station and that I could also walk to rental car place in the morning?

July 11: 940pm flight. free all day. Not sure what they should do. I was thinking perhaps the riverboat cruise, u of alaska museum and pioneer park. Arrive FAI airport by 8 or so for 940 flight to MSP.
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Old May 5, 09, 3:28 pm   #2
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The one-way car rental price sounds about right. But I would never recommend going to Seward for just a couple of hours. Instead, I would book a Prince William Sound cruise out of Whittier. They will get much closer to glaciers on this trip than on their cruise ship. Cost +-$150/person but there are some 2-for-1 coupons with toursaver or northern lights coupon book. They can then take the train to Anchorage that evening.

On the day of arrival into Denali, they can see the visitor center exhibits and film, the sleddog demo, the film at the wilderness access center, do some light hiking near the entrance (with or without a ranger), or take the free shuttle bus to Savage River (15 miles into the park).

The shuttle bus in Denali is definitely the way to go. They go much further into the park than the tour buses and cost about 1/3 of the price. Also, with the shuttle buses they can get off and on at will. With the tour buses, they stay on the same bus all day. Be sure to book the shuttle bus in advance and you might want to call Denali Princess hotel to find out when their earliest shuttle runs into the park. They must bring all their own food and water for this trip - so probably buy something in Anchorage the day before the train or there are limited options in "Glitter Gulch" near the Denali Princess. Water bottles can be refilled at Eielson Visitor Center, which is the minimum distance they should book the shuttle to. If they book the shuttle to Wonder Lake, they must be prepared for mosquitoes - high concentration DEET and/or mosquito headnets. They are really bad through early to mid August but only near Wonder Lake.

Lots to do in Anchorage. Check out the recent thread in this forum about that. I would recommend the Native Heritage Center for one.

What they didn't see the day of arrival they can see on July 10th before the train. There is luggage storage near the visitor center so they can check out and take their luggage with them, thus avoiding backtracking later in the day.

In Fairbanks, Riverboat Discovery, Gold Mine or Gold Dredge tours, U of AK museum is excellent, maybe see the pipeline, maybe go to North Pole, about 15 miles max from Fairbanks (a public bus goes there if they are not renting a car).

I would get to the airport 2 hours in advance in Fairbanks in the summer - cruisetour passengers visit Alaska in droves and lines can be excruciatingly long.

John
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Old May 7, 09, 1:33 am   #3
 
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I live here and I can tell you that Whittier is a waste of time. Don't spend your money on a glacier tour--well unless that's the only one you can do. A better itinerary would be to go to Seward and take the Major Marine tour. They serve a delicous meal and you will tons of wildlife. If you take the 8 hr cruise you will go right up to Aialik Glacier. Spectacular. But you would need to stay overnight in Seward unless you can get there by 10:00am and are prepared to leave around 5:30 and not get to Anchorage until 8 or 9 depending on road delays. To go to Seward and not do a Major Marine tour is a sin. So close to Alaska and never to have truly seen it.

Fairbanks is tough. Nothing there. But the drive up is beautiful. The Westmark, Marriott, Pike Landing, are all very good hotels. The Marriott is the best located right on the river. But nothing there. The UAF museum is a definite must. If you had a car you could drive through Goldstream valley or or Murphy Dome. Alaska is tough to see on just a few days and with no plans to hike the back country you will miss a lot.

Try to swing a flight seeing tour in Anchorage. It's a must do if you really want to see the area. Book early.
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Old May 8, 09, 7:10 am   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fti View Post
The one-way car rental price sounds about right. But I would never recommend going to Seward for just a couple of hours. Instead, I would book a Prince William Sound cruise out of Whittier. They will get much closer to glaciers on this trip than on their cruise ship. Cost +-$150/person but there are some 2-for-1 coupons with toursaver or northern lights coupon book. They can then take the train to Anchorage that evening.
I agree--the one-way car rental price sounds about right. However, check the price of taking the train: it's not cheap, and the one-way car rental (yes, Avis is the only option) may very well be cheaper than four people taking the train.

Check http://www.alaska.org for listings for bus services between Whittier and Anchorage to see about shaving the price down. There may be two-for-one coupons for the train fare, too, or you may be able to schedule a transfer to Anchorage (via bus or train) with your cruise line for less than the rental car.

Once in Anchorage, return the expensive one-way rental car and pick up another car either with Avis or another company (if you return at the airport, there are lots of options and everyone's all in the same facility, but you may be able to get a cheaper price at one of the in-town locations of the various companies, since they'll avoid the 11.11%+4.81-per-day airport taxes). It is possible to see the major sites in Anchorage without a car, but it's not easy, and they'll miss the freedom to see things out of the downtown area such as Earthquake Park or even beautiful sunsets from Point Mackenzie, though they may not have time to dawdle driving around.

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Originally Posted by fti View Post
Lots to do in Anchorage. Check out the recent thread in this forum about that. I would recommend the Native Heritage Center for one.
I too second the recommendation for the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Just went to their dress rehearsal yesterday (locals: free admission for the second dress rehearsal Friday and their grand opening on Mothers' Day), and their exhibits and presentations are a must to familiarize visitors with local culture.

Check out http://www.alaska.org and http://wikitravel.org/en/Anchorage for some ideas.

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Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
I live here and I can tell you that Whittier is a waste of time. Don't spend your money on a glacier tour--well unless that's the only one you can do. A better itinerary would be to go to Seward and take the Major Marine tour. They serve a delicous meal and you will tons of wildlife. If you take the 8 hr cruise you will go right up to Aialik Glacier. Spectacular. But you would need to stay overnight in Seward unless you can get there by 10:00am and are prepared to leave around 5:30 and not get to Anchorage until 8 or 9 depending on road delays. To go to Seward and not do a Major Marine tour is a sin. So close to Alaska and never to have truly seen it.
Agree--sort of. Whittier and Seward are different. I think one person I met put it best: Whittier is better for glaciers, but Seward is better for wildlife. You'll see some of both out of either place, but each one focuses a bit on one aspect. If I had to pick one, though, I'd do one of the longer tours out of Seward where you'll see tons of wildlife and a few very impressive glaciers. If you don't have the time, I might still pick Seward for the wildlife, but know that the half-day tours don't see any tidewater glaciers.

The Sea Life Center in Seward is interesting if they like sea life and haven't seen too many of the larger, more impressive aquariums in larger cities.

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Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
Fairbanks is tough. Nothing there. But the drive up is beautiful. The Westmark, Marriott, Pike Landing, are all very good hotels. The Marriott is the best located right on the river. But nothing there. The UAF museum is a definite must. If you had a car you could drive through Goldstream valley or or Murphy Dome. Alaska is tough to see on just a few days and with no plans to hike the back country you will miss a lot.
Disagree wholeheartedly. Fairbanks has more to see and do, IMHO, than Anchorage. I'd rather spend a weekend in Fairbanks than in Anchorage. If you abhor kitschy touristy things, then yes, you're a bit more limited in things to see in Fairbanks, but most of the cruise crowd likes those sorts of things. All in all, Fairbanks does a better job of providing things for tourists to do than Anchorage does. Anchorage needs to learn from the Binkley family about how to attract and cater to tourists.

Check out http://www.alaska.org and http://wikitravel.org/en/Fairbanks.

Most of the airport rental agencies provide courtesy shuttles that will meet them at the railroad station when the train arrives. I do know that both Dollar and Avis will do this (at least in the winter season, and I'd assume in the summer as well!), and I would guess the others would, too.

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Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
Try to swing a flight seeing tour in Anchorage. It's a must do if you really want to see the area. Book early.
This I do agree with.
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Old May 8, 09, 10:15 am   #5
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Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
I live here and I can tell you that Whittier is a waste of time. Don't spend your money on a glacier tour--well unless that's the only one you can do.
Well I don't live in AK but my family thinks I should, with as many trips as I take there each year!

I disagree that Whittier is a waste of time. As was mentioned above, the Whittier tours emphasize glaciers, the Seward tours emphasize marine wildlife. Also, kayaking is a possibility from Whittier as is some hiking (Portage Pass trail).

Quote:
Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
A better itinerary would be to go to Seward and take the Major Marine tour. They serve a delicous meal and you will tons of wildlife. If you take the 8 hr cruise you will go right up to Aialik Glacier. Spectacular. But you would need to stay overnight in Seward unless you can get there by 10:00am and are prepared to leave around 5:30 and not get to Anchorage until 8 or 9 depending on road delays. To go to Seward and not do a Major Marine tour is a sin. So close to Alaska and never to have truly seen it.
Note that Major Marine, Alaska Heritage and Renown all offer very similar tours. If you take one of these, be sure to get one that is at least 6 hours on the water. Otherwise you don't get out of the bay. Alaska Heritage (Kenai Fjords company) has a 9 hour Northwestern Fjord tour which no other company offers. Note that the 8 hour Major Marine tour compares with the 6 hour tours offered by the other two companies in terms of distance traveled and sights seen.

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Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
Fairbanks is tough. Nothing there. But the drive up is beautiful. The Westmark, Marriott, Pike Landing, are all very good hotels. The Marriott is the best located right on the river. But nothing there. The UAF museum is a definite must. If you had a car you could drive through Goldstream valley or or Murphy Dome. Alaska is tough to see on just a few days and with no plans to hike the back country you will miss a lot.
I also disagree. Lots in Fairbanks to keep you busy for 2-3 days depending on your interests. Fairbanks is also a springboard for arctic circle tours if that is of interest.

Not sure of any Marriotts in Fairbanks unless you are referring to the SpringHill Suites, a downscaled Marriott-branded property (the SpringHill Suites I have stayed in have been very nice, just not comparable to a Marriott hotel).

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Originally Posted by ilee1990 View Post
Try to swing a flight seeing tour in Anchorage. It's a must do if you really want to see the area. Book early.
In my opinion, the best ways to see Alaska are by air and by boat. Flightseeing from Anchorage and from Talkeetna are highlights. Several options from Anchorage. The Talkeetna flights usually go over, around or near Mt. McKinley.

John
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Old May 11, 09, 11:05 pm   #6
 
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Obviously we all have our opinions. I do love Fairbanks and even lived there for a few years. I find there's a lot more to do here in Anchorage. Starting with the tons of hiking trails, Hatcher Pass, etc. If one is inclined to do the tourist trap stuff then Fairbanks is definitely a good place-as is Anchorage.

Yes, Springhill Suites is the Marriott was referring to in my post. It is the low end of the Marriott family but a nice hotel nonetheless. I personally prefer Sophie's Station.

Whittier is ugly. We go there to scuba dive and there is nothing there. Sure you can go out on fishing boats and cruises but it's not a "destination".
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Old May 14, 09, 9:03 pm   #7
 
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Hate to go against a fellow Alaskan, but I sort of disagree with you on Whitter and completely, 100% disagree with you on Fairbanks.

You're right that Whittier the town isn't any kind of a destination, but the best glacier tours I've taken in my life originated in Whittier. And yes, I have done not only the Seward tours but also Glacier Bay, which is considered by many to be the epitome of the Alaska glacier viewing experience. Also, Whittier gives the Anchorage area easy access to the state ferry system, which is a big bonus in my book. The Anchorage-Valdez-Whittier-Anchorage loop is one of my most recommended tours for visitors only here for a few days who want to see a wide variety of scenery in a small distance.

On Fairbanks, having gone to college there and lived there, I can tell you that it probably is a better place to live than to visit (I'd say the opposite about Anchorage, I think Anchorage is much more visitor friendly than Fairbanks but not nearly as nice of a place to live). But for Fairbanks, off the top of my head:

1. U of A Museum of the North (as you already mentioned, and is the most-visited attraction in the state for good reason)
2. Riverboat Discovery
3. LARS (Large Animal Research Station) and the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University.
4. Pioneer Park
5. Chena Hot Springs (an hour out of town, but still a very worthy trip in its own right)
6. Some great hiking nearby, if you're into that (Angel Rocks, Granite Tors, White Mountains, not to mention all of the University trails)
7. Creamer's Field if you're a bird enthusiast; even if you're not a birder it's still a great place to walk on a warm summer night
8. Paddle the Chena River
9. Chena State Recreation Area
10. North Pole; I'll be the first to admit that the Santa Claus House is a tourist trap, but it's still fun to get your picture taken there and see the reindeer if you're a tourist.
11. I've not been there, but I believe the Morris Thompson Cultural Center is now open on Wendell Street, on the east end of the downtown area along the river.
12. If you're a bookworm, Gulliver's Books is the best local bookstore. If you want to take it a step further and really delve into some written Alaskana and research, you could easily spend an afternoon or more at the Rasmuson Library at the U.
13. For being such a small town so isolated from the rest of the country, there are some surprisingly good restaurants there. Let me know if you want recommendations.
14. Related to my point above, if you are a pie fan, take the drive out to Hilltop Truck Stop, mile 5 of the Elliott Highway, about 20 minutes or so north of downtown. You won't regret it. It's also a pretty drive.
15. Silver Gulch Brewery in Fox. Where the people are unusual and the beer is unusually good.
16. Gold Dredge #8, also in Fox.
17. As others have alluded to, Fairbanks is also the jumping-off point for basically all of northern Alaska. If you want to get to the Arctic Circle, this is the place to start.

I could go on, but I hope that is useful. You are definitely on the right track with getting a rental car. For being relatively small in population (~85,000 people), it is extremely spread out. It covers almost the same amount of ground as Anchorage but with much less population density.
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Old Jun 1, 09, 8:51 pm   #8
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Oh, well...our 15 day tour brings us into Fairbanks at 7PM and then we leave in the morning for Tok. Visiting Gold Dredge #8 on the way. Nice list for someone on their own.
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Old Jun 2, 09, 8:40 am   #9
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Oh, well...our 15 day tour brings us into Fairbanks at 7PM and then we leave in the morning for Tok. Visiting Gold Dredge #8 on the way. Nice list for someone on their own.
Thanks for reminding me why I don't like organized tours
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