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Need help in planing my first vacation to Alaska during July 4th weekend

Need help in planing my first vacation to Alaska during July 4th weekend

Old Feb 1, 11, 1:28 am
  #1  
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Need help in planing my first vacation to Alaska during July 4th weekend

Our first time in Alaska this summer and very much looking forward to it. I would like to know what are best places that I can see around Alaska?
I am using award travel, Should I book one way ticket to Anchorage and then return from Fairbanks so that I have enough time to travel around Alaska?
I need suggestions for places to visit for 6 days. I am very much into Nature photography and I don't like to hike or bike but just drive.

I have seen the beauty of Alaska in pictures and now I can't wait to exPlore.
Thanks in advance.
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Old Feb 1, 11, 12:59 pm
  #2  
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Are you traveling alone? You keep saying "I" but you also said "our" first time. Who is "our"? Makes a big difference with kids (ages?) or elderly, etc. And when are you planning the visit (which month, and if May, June or September, which dates)?

When you say six days, do mean 5 nights/6 days or 6 nights/7 days? What time of day do you arrive and depart?

Normally one-way car rentals between Anchorage and Fairbanks are outrageously expensive. So unless you want to pay a small fortune for the car, try to arrive into and return from the same airport. But before booking your airline tickets, check car rental prices in Anchorage, Fairbanks and between the two. www.carrentals.com and www.autoslash.com are two sites to help you check car rental prices, but neither is all-encompassing with every possible deal so it helps to sniff around on your own too.

I would recommend a fairly standard itinerary. Probably something like this:

Day 1 arrive in Anchorage

Day 2 drive to Seward. Extremely photographic drive, afternoon Sealife Center and/or Exit Glacier (short walk to the face of the glacier, 4pm ranger-led walk). On the way, stops along Turnagain Arm, Girdwood, Wildlife Conservation Center, and Portage Glacier Visitor Center. Can also take the easy 1 mile walk to Byron Glacier.

Day 3 Six hour or longer Kenai Fjords boat tour. Anything less than 6 hours won't get out of the bay. Great for marine wildlife photography, also has a stop for about 1/2 hour at a glacier.

Day 4 drive north in the morning back toward Anchorage. Leave early enough for an 11.30am tunnel to Whittier (only open once an hour). Take an afternoon Prince William Sound cruise, drive to Anchorage, Eagle River or Wasilla for overnight. If you skip the PWS cruise, you can make it to Talkeetna. You need to do some shopping in Anchorage or Wasilla for Denali. No food is sold in the park.

Day 5 continue drive to Denali, pick up your shuttle bus tickets, explore the entrance area (visitor center exhibits and film, sleddog demo, drive the first 15 miles of the road looking for wildlife and enjoying the scenery)

Day 6 Eight to eleven hour shuttle bus to Wonder Lake (my preference) or Eielson. Great chances to see wildlife, great scenery, great hiking though I know you said you are not a hiker. I would still suggest you get off the bus once just to do a short hike on the open tundra. A great experience. You can hop off and on the shuttle buses at will, especially if you see some wildlife that you want to photograph more (the buses will drop you off 1/2 mile down the road, then either hop another bus back or walk back, unless it is a bear - don't walk back toward a bear that you saw, use the shuttle bus!).

Day 7 drive back to Anchorage, usually a red eye flight home

If you only have 6 days/5 nights, hopefully you can arrive into Anchorage early enough to drive to Seward that same day (a 2-3 hour drive). Then Day 2 the Kenai Fjords tour and pick up Day 3 driving north.

I strongly discourage you from trying to drive from Seward to Denali the same day. It is theoretically possible and some Alaskans do it, but they are not there for the first time enjoying the scenery, taking photos of Mt. McKinley if it is "out", etc. Plus there is always road construction between Anchorage and Denali, slow RV's, etc. And if you are stuck behind an accident, it could delay you by hours (two lane roads almost the entire way from Seward to Denali). Two years ago I left Seward at 9am, stopped in Anchorage for lunch and shopping for Denali and got to Talkeetna at 5.30pm. It would have been another 3 hours to Denali. It just takes time.

I would really try to nail down your flights then immediately check on car rental rates. They have increased significantly from rates last fall (for this coming summer). My guess is that they will continue to increase. Check on-airport and off-airport. Often (but not always) off-airport companies are cheaper since they have so much less in taxes and fees.

Check into toursaver or Northern Lights coupon books (many 2-for-1 coupons) but don't buy the books until you know you will save more money than the cost of the books and until you check with the various vendors to see if they are still accepting coupons for the tours you want.

The only hitch to my plan is this: July 4th in Seward can be a zoo. They celebrate the 4th in a huge way. You would probably find it difficult to get lodging there at this late date. So you could flip flop my itinerary and head north first if need be.

Last edited by fti; Feb 1, 11 at 1:04 pm
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Old Feb 3, 11, 1:59 am
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I don't disagree with any of the preceding comments. I would also think about taking the train to Denali, spend some time there, and then on to Fairbanks, and fly home from there.
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Old Feb 3, 11, 9:46 pm
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Originally Posted by PIONEER View Post
I don't disagree with any of the preceding comments. I would also think about taking the train to Denali, spend some time there, and then on to Fairbanks, and fly home from there.
I just think that not having a car at Denali is a huge disadvantage:

-limits your lodging options to those near the entrance that have shuttles to the park

-generally can't get early shuttle buses into the park and can't stay out too late hiking, depending on the lodging's shuttle schedule

-meal options without a car are severely limited

-no chance to drive the first 15 miles of the park road, especially at dusk/evening. I often see wildlife, especially moose, along this portion of the road at this time
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Old Feb 4, 11, 12:38 am
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
I just think that not having a car at Denali is a huge disadvantage:
Guess it depends on how mobile you are and your budget, but the visitor center to the lodging at the entrance is an easy walk. About a mile or so on nice trails if you don't want to take the shuttles. There are places to eat within walking distance of those hotels as well. I'm sure the eateries in the hotels and right next to them are more expensive compared to other nearby places. But they aren't terribly more expensive then, say, Anchorage restaurants. Depends on what you do, but I don't think a car is necessary when you are at the park.

Fti's suggested itinerary is almost exactly what I recommend to people who have a similar time frame. Alaska is a big state, and there are a lot of options (flying to Katmai, Lake Clark, small villages, etc.) but they tend to require more money.
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Old Feb 4, 11, 5:45 am
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Originally Posted by alphaeagle View Post
Guess it depends on how mobile you are and your budget, but the visitor center to the lodging at the entrance is an easy walk. About a mile or so on nice trails if you don't want to take the shuttles. There are places to eat within walking distance of those hotels as well. I'm sure the eateries in the hotels and right next to them are more expensive compared to other nearby places. But they aren't terribly more expensive then, say, Anchorage restaurants.
No I guess it depends on how much one wants to play "tourist."

Personally I avoid "Glitter Gulch" as it is called where all those hotels and restaurants are congregated. In fact, I usually stay about 14 miles south in "Carlo Creek" and don't even go near the Glitter Gulch area. But a couple of times I have stayed in Healy. I just find it much more laid back, less expensive, and much more conducive to being in such a beautiful area vs. staying in the midst of almost endless T Shirt & souvenir shops as well as a 24 hour Subway sandwich shop.

Originally Posted by alphaeagle View Post
Depends on what you do, but I don't think a car is necessary when you are at the park.
Necessary? Of course not, and I didn't say that. Extremely helpful to take advantage of things like the drive along the first 15 miles of the park road and the ability to avoid the tourist haven that you mentioned above? Yes. And with a car, one can make stops along the way between Anchorage and Denali that you can't make without a car. Denali viewpoints, the Veterans Memorial, Talkeetna, etc. All are pretty much skipped if one takes the train.

On more than one occasion I have used a car when my sole purpose is to drive to Denali, park the car for several nights while camping inside the park. Not only was it more convenient, but it was cheaper.

I rarely recommend the train to people to Denali. Now if they want to take a train, the Anchorage to Seward trip is much more logical for that. Extremely scenic route on the train to Seward (different than the road for quite a while, unlike to Denali where the train basically parallels the road).
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Old Feb 4, 11, 6:08 am
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I'm not a fan of touristy area's either, especially in Alaska. The main hotel area is definitely one of them outside of Denali. It's still in a scenic area and you can walk into the park if you so choose. And there isn't anything wrong with being a tourist (except driving too slow and stopping in the middle of the road to look at moose .) A lot of people don't realize they can take a train to/from Denali and Fairbanks (and Talkeetna for that matter) and Kay_Jay was looking for suggestions. Just offering my help, obviously the OP can choose what they want to do and what suits them best
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Old Feb 13, 11, 4:46 pm
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We did a much longer and greater distant tour (see our trip report by searching "ranles"). We were on a long tour BUT anyone can take advantage of looking up tour excurisions to get hightlites of where to go, routing and timing then do what they want on there time. Our report includes pictures.
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Old Feb 13, 11, 8:12 pm
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My wife and I (both 60 and in good health) are trying to plan an itenerary as the 1st post of this thread. We have from 12 - 16 nights. We like vistas, hiking, glaciers, Whale, bears, eagles, moose watching. Must vist Dinali; also fly and land on the mountain. It can be this year June - Sept. or next year. I understand you need to plan ahead.

Suggested places to stay near where we visit; cabins with plumbing, lodge, motel. We have never stayed at a B&B.

We are not into history and seeing towns, gold mines etc.

One item my wife would like to do is take a 1 way cruise, but for less then 7 nights. This can be either way, was hoping to go out of Seattle, we have no passport for Vancover. Are there any cruises 3-4 nights?

We are flexable on how we travel to various areas, but we like to be able to make stops as we see something of interest.

My days in Alaska could be more due to the cruise. Do you think I need more days?

Any suggestions of where to go, how to get there, who to use?

I want to be able to see snow at least in the higher elevations. Is there any place to use (rent/tours) snow snowmobiles from June - Aug?

I'm asking for alot, hope someone can steer me in the right direction and provide some suggestions.

Thanks in advance.
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Old Feb 13, 11, 8:32 pm
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fti
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I think the magnitude of your trip is a bit out of the scope of a thread on FT but others can certainly give as detailed of a response as they want/can.

If you want to do a cruise, you will need a passport. No way around it. Absolutely necessary. Personally, I don't understand the aversion of Americans to getting passports. Citizens of every other country cherish having passports. And without mine, I would feel like I were in a prison. I travel a lot...and on the cheap.

I strongly suggest a one-way cruise from Vancouver to Whittier or Seward. Unfortunately there are very few cruises <7 nights. One is with HAL but then you have to take a fairly extensive land tour with them. OK if you want a "tour" but I prefer more independent travel.

If you plan for 2012, you should be able to get things like rental cars much cheaper than if you book for 2011.

I would suggest a one-way 7-night cruise from Vancouver (or southbound to Vancouver). That gives you 5-9 additional nights in Alaska. I would plan 3 nights in Denali - great for hiking, wildlife and scenery. Also a Prince William Sound tour (south of Anchorage, can be done en route to Seward - emphasis on glaciers). Then take the Kenai Fjords tour in Seward (marine wildlife and a relatively brief visit at a glacier).

During the cruise you can take a whale watching tour in Juneau. No place near Anchorage will have anywhere near the whale sighting success rate as Juneau.

If you do a soutbound cruise with Princess, you might be able to get to both Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, which is a huge plus in my opinion.
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Old Apr 3, 11, 5:03 pm
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One thing to keep in mind is that the Mt. Marathon Race in Seward takes place on July 4, during which time the town is abuzz with racers and spectators. The two times I ran the race I had a blast, but if you're not into crowds, you may want to avoid this area during this time.

Have fun on your trip, you'll love it! Hopefully you'll get to see Denali.
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Old Apr 9, 11, 7:51 pm
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Originally Posted by tothetrail View Post
The two times I ran the race I had a blast
You, sir or ma'am, are absolutely insane. The people who run that race are extraterrestrials or something. A friend and I tried to just hike--not run--up Mt. Marathon a few years ago, and we hiked for four hours and still didn't make it up to the top.

For someone to run up the almost-vertical 3,000 feet in 35 minutes and back down in 10 is beyond the physical limits of human possibility.

You have my utmost respect.
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Old Apr 10, 11, 6:40 pm
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
You, sir or ma'am, are absolutely insane. The people who run that race are extraterrestrials or something. A friend and I tried to just hike--not run--up Mt. Marathon a few years ago, and we hiked for four hours and still didn't make it up to the top.

For someone to run up the almost-vertical 3,000 feet in 35 minutes and back down in 10 is beyond the physical limits of human possibility.

You have my utmost respect.
Well, thanks!

Agreed, I don't know how those guys do it in 45 minutes. I was just trying to finish in the three hour limit before the parade starts. And I barely made it, the marching band on my heels, with everyone cheering.

I can't find the pic of me during the race, but here's one taken the day before the race. We were finishing a backpacking trip, practicing for the snow patch sections of the race.

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Old Apr 10, 11, 7:41 pm
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Originally Posted by tothetrail View Post
One thing to keep in mind is that the Mt. Marathon Race in Seward takes place on July 4, during which time the town is abuzz with racers and spectators. The two times I ran the race I had a blast, but if you're not into crowds, you may want to avoid this area during this time.
I might also add that if you are planning to visit Seward during the July 4th weekend, get your hotel reservations now. July 4th is a big deal in Seward.
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Old Apr 10, 11, 7:55 pm
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Originally Posted by wmrn43a View Post
My wife and I (both 60 and in good health) are trying to plan an itenerary as the 1st post of this thread. We have from 12 - 16 nights. We like vistas, hiking, glaciers, Whale, bears, eagles, moose watching. Must vist Dinali; also fly and land on the mountain. It can be this year June - Sept. or next year. I understand you need to plan ahead.

Suggested places to stay near where we visit; cabins with plumbing, lodge, motel. We have never stayed at a B&B.

We are not into history and seeing towns, gold mines etc.

One item my wife would like to do is take a 1 way cruise, but for less then 7 nights. This can be either way, was hoping to go out of Seattle, we have no passport for Vancover. Are there any cruises 3-4 nights?

We are flexable on how we travel to various areas, but we like to be able to make stops as we see something of interest.

My days in Alaska could be more due to the cruise. Do you think I need more days?

Any suggestions of where to go, how to get there, who to use?

I want to be able to see snow at least in the higher elevations. Is there any place to use (rent/tours) snow snowmobiles from June - Aug?

I'm asking for alot, hope someone can steer me in the right direction and provide some suggestions.

Thanks in advance.
Welcome to FT, wmrn43a.
I think you could get some good advice here, but I would suggest three things first.

1. Start a new thread - yours. That way you will have our undivided attention.
2. Try to just focus on just a few questions rather than a whole slew of them.
3. Give us some ideas of your budget.
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