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Would appreciate advice/insights on my Alaska itinerary

Would appreciate advice/insights on my Alaska itinerary

Old May 1, 12, 7:15 pm
  #1  
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Would appreciate advice/insights on my Alaska itinerary

Hello Alaska board regulars, I hope you can humor me with yet another "what do you think of my itinerary?" question. I have actually done a lot of reading on Flyertalk as well as other sites and still continue to learn a lot, but I would appreciate thoughts on this skeleton itinerary before I start booking and confirming some of the details.
  • July 21-28: cruise traveling Vancouver BC to Whittier AK with stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway and cruising through Glacier Bay and College Fjord.
  • July 28 - early morning transfer from Whittier to Anchorage via shuttle bus, arriving approx. 10:30 AM, pickup rental vehicle for the balance of the trip.
  • July 28 and all day July 29 - in Anchorage, two nights at the Sheraton Anchorage (on Starpoints)
  • July 30 - drive to Talkeetna for mid-morning flight-seeing and glacier landing. Then continue drive to Denali National Park where we will overnight at a local bed-and-breakfast for two nights.
  • July 31 - early morning departure for Tundra Wilderness bus tour, finishing early afternoon about 1:30. Rest of day on own.
  • August 1 - early morning departure for Denali Natural History bus tour, finishing about 11 AM. Drive back to Anchorage. One night at Sheraton Anchorage (on SPs again)
  • August 2 - morning on own; 3 PM flight back home.

The Tundra Wilderness and Denali Natural History bus tours are the ones offered by the National Park through a joint venture partner. I have not yet selected a vendor for the Talkeetna flight-seeing/glacier walk.

Any advice or insights greatly appreciated. Specifically, I'd value advice on how to spend our time in Anchorage, and also how to spend our "own time" in Denali NP. Keeping in mind that we will have also been on "shore excursions" at the stops during our cruise.

Thanks in advance!

Last edited by catgirl; May 1, 12 at 7:18 pm Reason: Fix typos
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Old May 1, 12, 11:14 pm
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Check your car rental prices for both on- and off-airport pick up. Also keep checking back for price reductions. They happen a LOT. I got an on-airport intermediate car with Avis for $75/week plus taxes and fees in late March for late May pick up when until then the price had been much more, even for off-airport pick up.

What are your plans for Anchorage? I know you asked for suggestions, but I generally plan what I want to do in each place then I decide how long it will take me to do/see those things. One of the tendencies for those with points is to spend time in Anchorage because "it is free with points." But if you don't have specific activities to fill your time, find some or move on to other areas. "Anchorage is just a half hour drive from Alaska" is a common expression. What are your interests? Museums? Native history? Hiking? Nature? Scenery? Wildlife?

The Tundra Wilderness and Natural History Tours are pretty much designed for cruise passengers and cost about 2-3 times the price of the shuttle buses. Also, did you know that the Natural History Tour can be replicated totally for free? The free Savage River shuttle goes within 1 mile of the turnaround point for the NHT, the Savage Cabin is available for anyone to view, the film at the WAC is also free. Why spend all that money on the NHT?!? I would book the shuttle bus for July 31 to Wonder Lake. If the Mountain is visible, consider going all the way to Wonder Lake. The view of Mt. McKinley from there is incredible. It is the closest point on the park road to the mountain. If the Mountain is not visible, get off at Eielson and catch a different bus back to the entrance.

Also, besides the shuttle going further and being cheaper, you can hop off the shuttle at will to go hiking or to "shuttle surf." If you see a bear or other wildlife but your bus driver doesn't stop as long as you would like, hop off his bus 1/2 mile up the road and catch another bus back in the opposite direction for more viewing. Also, that time of year, the area between where the TWT turns around and Eielson is prime bear viewing area.

Then Aug 1 consider another trip into the park. Every day is different and if July 31st is a bad weather day you can go further on the shuttle this day instead. You can still get back to the entrance by 3-4pm and be back in Anchorage by 10pm. Or consider staying in Denali this night and leaving early on Aug 2 for Anchorage. The latter is not ideal since you really should be at the airport by 1pm or so. That means leaving Denali by 7am to allow enough time for construction delays, etc.

Perhaps on your day of arrival into Denali you can catch the sleddog demo at the park headquarters and also see the exhibits and film in the visitor center.

>>I have not yet selected a vendor for the Talkeetna flight-seeing/glacier walk.

I tend to book my tours based on the discounts offered. For example, Groupon offered a 2-for-1 flightseeing from Talkeetna with Sheldon Air earlier this year so I booked that. Toursaver and Northern Lights coupon books also offer some flightseeing discounts. The four main air service companies in Talkeetna all have good reputations.

>>Keeping in mind that we will have also been on "shore excursions" at the stops during our cruise.

What shore excursions are you doing on the cruise? Knowing that will help to know what else to suggest.
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Old May 7, 12, 8:39 pm
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fti, thank you so much for your detailed response and particularly the advice about the Natural History Tour. The reason I was leaning towards an organized tour is because I thought it might be the best way to make use of our limited time. Would you recommend against the Tundra Wilderness tour as well?

So far I have been able to get a car for one week at approx $320 everything included with National. I will keep watching for a better deal but the summer rates are SO expensive in AK! And I've booked two nights at the McKinley Village Lodge using a two-for-one Northern Lights coupon.

For Anchorage we definitely plan to spend some time at the Anchorage Museum and the Native Heritage Centre. Perhaps even the museum of natural history if we can squeeze it in. Right now I am immersing myself in everything Alaska and trying to get my husband to give me a short list of his must-see/must-do's. I figure I'll then come back to FT for some more advice as to whether to do those as shore excursions from the cruise ship, or during our land time in Anchorage/Denali.

Thanks again, and I hope you'll be around to offer me more advice later
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Old May 8, 12, 10:40 am
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Originally Posted by catgirl View Post
fti, thank you so much for your detailed response and particularly the advice about the Natural History Tour. The reason I was leaning towards an organized tour is because I thought it might be the best way to make use of our limited time. Would you recommend against the Tundra Wilderness tour as well?

So far I have been able to get a car for one week at approx $320 everything included with National. I will keep watching for a better deal but the summer rates are SO expensive in AK! And I've booked two nights at the McKinley Village Lodge using a two-for-one Northern Lights coupon.

For Anchorage we definitely plan to spend some time at the Anchorage Museum and the Native Heritage Centre. Perhaps even the museum of natural history if we can squeeze it in. Right now I am immersing myself in everything Alaska and trying to get my husband to give me a short list of his must-see/must-do's. I figure I'll then come back to FT for some more advice as to whether to do those as shore excursions from the cruise ship, or during our land time in Anchorage/Denali.

Thanks again, and I hope you'll be around to offer me more advice later
Where are you finding a week rental car for $320? My 9 day rental is over $800 with a discount code through AVIS.
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Old May 8, 12, 6:41 pm
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Originally Posted by catgirl View Post
Would you recommend against the Tundra Wilderness tour as well?
I would. You can get the same trip for less than half the cost and a ton more flexibility by doing the shuttle. Although you won't get the detailed narration of the tour driver, most drivers are pretty talkative, and the scenery and wildlife really speak for themselves.

Originally Posted by catgirl View Post
For Anchorage we definitely plan to spend some time at the Anchorage Museum and the Native Heritage Centre. Perhaps even the museum of natural history if we can squeeze it in. Right now I am immersing myself in everything Alaska and trying to get my husband to give me a short list of his must-see/must-do's. I figure I'll then come back to FT for some more advice as to whether to do those as shore excursions from the cruise ship, or during our land time in Anchorage/Denali.
The Museum of Natural History is one and the same as the Anchorage Museum. The Native Heritage Center is a must-see; not only are the exhibits interesting both for locals and visitors alike, the continual performances on stage are an awesome look into Native culture and life. I could sit and listen spellbound to the storytellers all day, and I grew up in ANC and worked closely with Natives and am pretty familiar with their culture.

Originally Posted by Miss0033 View Post
Where are you finding a week rental car for $320? My 9 day rental is over $800 with a discount code through AVIS.
Rental rates in ANC are insane; if you happen to catch a price glitch just right, you can get some insanely good deals, but it's not the norm. ANC is one of those places that it works well to burn free day certificates of the rental car loyalty program of your choice earned by renting cars in other (cheaper) places.
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Old May 8, 12, 9:47 pm
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Originally Posted by Miss0033 View Post
Where are you finding a week rental car for $320? My 9 day rental is over $800 with a discount code through AVIS.
National -- it's a corporate rate for a large multinational. Our employer encourages us to use it even when traveling personally as it allows them to negotiate better rates year over year. But it does require us to show ID -- they don't always ask for it though.

The crazy thing is that in other cities, I can sometimes get a better rate than our corporate rate, but in ANC it's a bargain!!
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Old May 11, 12, 10:29 am
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I know jackal talks about rate "glitches", but I have found incredible rates in Anchorage by starting to look early and continuing to look. Just in late March I found a rate with Avis on-airport for $75/week plus all the taxes for an intermediate car for late May. In December I found another Avis rate for on-airport pick up of $17/day plus all taxes for 2 days - $57 all-in for late June.

If these are "glitches" they happen a LOT and happen every year and are not just limited to one company. Even now, the rate for my dates in late May/early June is similar - under $15/day for economy or compact car plus taxes.

Last edited by fti; May 11, 12 at 12:42 pm
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Old May 11, 12, 4:11 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
I know jackal talks about rate "glitches", but I have found incredible rates in Anchorage by starting to look early and continuing to look. Just in late March I found a rate with Avis on-airport for $75/week plus all the taxes for an intermediate car for late May. In December I found another Avis rate for on-airport pick up of $17/day plus all taxes for 2 days - $57 all-in for late June.

If these are "glitches" they happen a LOT and happen every year and are not just limited to one company. Even now, the rate for my dates in late May/early June is similar - under $15/day for economy or compact car plus taxes.
I used to work in the rental industry in ANC and had friends at all of the other companies. Trust me, it was not intentional.

One of my friends who was a mid-level employee at Enterprise noticed it one year and tried to get it fixed for the next year, but apparently their bureaucracy is so huge and their computer systems are so difficult to program that the low default rate got left in play the following summer.

Having worked in the industry for many years, though, I can attest that not even the rate analysts themselves really know what they're doing when it comes to rates. Between that and the automated systems that run things now, glitches can and do happen all the time. That's why it pays to continually re-check your rates for potential drops.
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Old May 13, 12, 8:02 pm
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
I used to work in the rental industry in ANC and had friends at all of the other companies. Trust me, it was not intentional.

One of my friends who was a mid-level employee at Enterprise noticed it one year and tried to get it fixed for the next year, but apparently their bureaucracy is so huge and their computer systems are so difficult to program that the low default rate got left in play the following summer.

Having worked in the industry for many years, though, I can attest that not even the rate analysts themselves really know what they're doing when it comes to rates. Between that and the automated systems that run things now, glitches can and do happen all the time. That's why it pays to continually re-check your rates for potential drops.
Then there has been a "glitch" with Avis for weeks now since their ANC rates are incredibly cheap. Car rental companies apparently are totally inept.
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Old May 14, 12, 1:48 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
Car rental companies apparently are totally inept.
I am not sure I would disagree.

It's part of the arcane way in which rates are set and the complete lack of visibility a company has even into what its own rates are. The only way we found glitches was actually by stumbling upon them accidentally when checking prices on Travelocity to see where we were in comparison to the rest of the market.
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Old May 14, 12, 11:49 pm
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Originally Posted by jackal View Post
I am not sure I would disagree.

It's part of the arcane way in which rates are set and the complete lack of visibility a company has even into what its own rates are. The only way we found glitches was actually by stumbling upon them accidentally when checking prices on Travelocity to see where we were in comparison to the rest of the market.
So you and the car rental companies call it a "glitch." I call it offering good rates because they have no clue what they are doing and are inept. I can live with that
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Old May 22, 12, 2:23 am
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Just had a day and a half trip to KTN - its a nice town to visit, especially since it was sunny

Some interesting parts to walk- and easy public transportation with the bus. You can take the bus all-day for $2 Take the Blue route south and it goes right through a totem park on the way back. I didn't make it anywhere north of the airport ferry...also an interesting sight- as there is no bridge to KTN.

JNU also has a decent bus system that can take you to the Alaskan Brewing Company who has free tastings Its also near a micro-Costco... [nothing too exciting there though]
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