Please help me plan an almost-3-day trip to Alaska (Kenai Fjords & PWS)
Replies: 15 - Last Post: Jul 17, 2012 8:53 PM Last Post By: alapah
Jul 12, 2012 4:39 PM
Please help me plan an almost-3-day trip to Alaska (Kenai Fjords & PWS)Please forgive us for a very long post. We are having a trip to Alaska. Because of busy schedule, we have only about 3 days for the trip. So, we narrowed the places to visit as in the subject line. Here are some information of our trip:
Our flights will:
- arrive ANC around 1pm on Wed, Aug 1
- depart ANC around 9pm on Fri, Aug 3
Four members of the trip are:
- 3 male/female adults between late 30 and mid 40, healthy
- 1 female elder in early 70, healthy, no seasick, walkable, going to restroom often
Because we have an elder in the trip, we try to have only LIGHT ACTIVITIES in this trip. Most of the trip will be sight seeing on boat/cruise/ferry. Our budget is $2,000 (but flexible). Because this trip will be our first (and perhaps the only) time in Alaska, we will try to have VARIETIES of the sight seeing. Here is the plan we have so far:
Wed, Aug 1
- arrive ANC around 1pm by plane
- drive to Valdez while watching land wildlife along Glenn Highway and Richardson Highway
- stay overnight in Valdez
Thu, Aug 2
- take 7am ferry from Valdez to Whittier while watching glaciers in Prince William Sound
- arrive Whittier around 1pm
- drive through the tunnel around 2pm or 3pm to Exit Glacier
- walk to Exit Glacier
- stay overnight in Seward
Fri, Aug 3
- take 8am cruise in Kenai Fjords national park to watch marine wildlife
- return to Seward around 2pm
- drive to ANC for the 9pm flight
What do you think about the plan? Is it possible? The section that I am still questioning the most is the drive from ANC to Valdez and the ferry.
- Is the scenery and land wildlife along the way worth the drive?
- Is Columbia glacier worth taking the ferry over the cruise in Whittier instead?
If the answer to both questions is no, I may do the following instead:
- Wed, Aug 1: drive to Exit Glacier right after landing, stay overnight either in Seward or Whittier
- Thu, Aug 2: take Glacier cruise in Whittier, stay overnight in Seward
- Fri, Aug3: use the same plan
if you have a better idea for the plan, please let us know.
BTW, which cruises do you recommend for Glacier cruise in Whittier (if we do not take Valdez-Whittier ferry) and Kenai Fjords?
I am not sure whether this is the right subforum to post because the trip involves Anchorage, Seward, Kenai Fjords, Whittier, Valdez, etc. Moderators, if you find a more suitable subforum, please move this post there.
Thank you in advance!
Jul 12, 2012 6:20 PM
1Plan A sounds like an awful long time in transit. It's true the scenery is beautiful (I haven't taken the ferry though from Valdez to Whittier though), but it's still time just sitting in the car. I think you'd be happier with a straight shot down to Whittier and Seward. You can also consider the Portage Glacier cruise and the Alyeska Tram en route.
I was personally underwhelmed by the cruises from Whitter and overwhelmed by the cruises from Seward. In the interest of your desire for "variety," I do not think you need to do both. I would strongly suggest the Northwestern Fjord cruise with Kenai Fjords tours for your cruise in Seward.
Another suggestion for variety: stop in Cooper Landing for a VERY GENTLE three hour float trip down the Kenai River. It's beautiful. Your elder should have no trouble with it - it's basically just sitting on a bench and floating on slow moving water.
Jul 12, 2012 6:25 PM
2Since I'm procrastinating, here's my suggested itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive ANC, pick up car. Drive to Seward, take in amazing scenery en route (stop at lots of turnouts!). Visit Exit Glacier. Sleep in Seward.
Day 2: Northwestern Fjord cruise, drive to Cooper Landing. Sleep in Cooper Landing. (NOTE I put this on Day 2 because you wouldn't make it back for your flight if you took the cruise Day 3)
Day 3: Kenai River float trip, Alyeska Tram, Hike Winner Creek trail if fitness allows. Take Portgage Glacier cruise or visit Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center if time/desire. Return to ANC.
Jul 12, 2012 6:46 PM
3Despite the note about seasickness -- I highly recommend that you all take Dramamine (nondrowsy type) one hour before embarking out into the very rough Pacific Ocean on the Kenai Fjords cruise. I was only in Resurrection Bay and got seasick with 7-ft swells. I have been in the area when the winds were so strong that some cabin windows were blown out of several boats!
I agree with #2's Day 1 & 2. Depending on your budget, there is a beautiful Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge overlooking the Kenai River in Cooper Landing.
The Kenai River Float Trip is excellent. There are many grizzly bears in the area of the Kenai River because of the thousands of salmon -- you will see them on the float trip. You will see mammals along the cliffs of Resurrection Bay in Seward and alongside the Kenai River.
Cooper Landing is about 100 miles from Anchorage. Girdwood/Alyeska Ski Resort is 40 miles/one hour's drive from Anchorage along a winding one-lane mountain road. There is a 5-stars restaurant at the top of Mt. Alyeska -- 7 Glaciers Restaurant -- take the ski tram from the hotel. There is also a renowned Cajun restaurant on Crow Creek Road in Girdwood.
Jul 12, 2012 6:59 PM
4Winding one lane mountain road to Girdwood? Not last summer it wasn't. You take the (beautiful) main Anchorage-Seward highway most of the way before you turn off for a couple miles into town. I don't exactly recall that road but I sure wouldn't describe as a winding mountain road. I just don't want the OP to get put off by something that sounds scary.
Jul 12, 2012 7:40 PM
5Ditto on what 4 says: the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Girdwood is not mountainy in any way: it runs at sea level (along the inlet) and there are actually quite a few stretches in that portion that widen to two lanes in each direction. Lots of opportunities to stop at pull outs and to pass other vehicles, or to allow vehicles to pass you. It's a beautiful and easy drive.
Edited by: alapah
Jul 12, 2012 8:15 PM
6Personally, I think that your initial plan involves far too much driving, especially when your trip is so short. Note that the summer season here is a time for road construction and there is a bridge replacement and some other project going on on the Seward Highway near Moose Pass or so (I was just down there but I forget where the flaggers were). They are using pilot cars and you have to stop and wait for oncoming traffic as they alternate. It's slow. You can check the state's road conditions site at http://511.alaska.gov/alaska511/mappingcomponent (click the boxes next to construction at the right of the screen to display construction projects).
The drive from Anchorage to Valdez is about six hours, and that is not taking into account construction delays or any stops.There are long stretches with few facilities so the frequent restroom use could be an issue. There are some pull outs with outhouses along the highways but they are not at regular intervals.
I understand the desire to see a variety of areas but like others I think the general idea in your second plan will be more enjoyable. However, as others have mentioned, Whittier and Seward plans don't make a whole lot of sense. Why go down to Seward only to drive back up to Whittier? There are excellent glacier/coastal boat tours available in Seward. Seward is more scenic, with much more to do and more options for accommodations. I'd skip Whittier. (I go there myself, but to get out on a boat to fish - not to stay in town).
It's been more than a decade since I took the ferry across Prince William Sound - and we had five or six days to do a similar loop which was kind of fast paced as I recall. I think you'll have a great time just touring out of Seward. I don't think the chance to see Columbia Glacier is worth all of that time in the car.
Jul 12, 2012 11:15 PM
7Thank you, stopthebus, trekker502, and alapah, for your quick reply! The road condition website from alapah is also very helpful.
So, all of you agree that the drive from ANC to Valdez should be dropped/replaced. That is what I am thinking as well. I will rearrange it again as you suggested.
The reasons to go to Whittier are the glacier cruise in PWS and the drive through the tunnel. I do not know the glaciers in PWS or Seward are more scenic. Or, even if the ones in PWS are more scenic, do you think that the time would still be better spent by merging glacier cruise with marine wildlife cruise by taking Northwestern Fjord cruise as stopthebus suggested? (i.e., 3-star glaciers are already wow enough to a first-time visitor, save time from seeing 5-star ones to do something else. Note: star ranking is exaggerated.)
BTW, because the plan is still not conclusive, how early should I book these tours/cruises? Is about a week enough?
Jul 13, 2012 6:06 AM
8Turnagain Arm, which the Seward Highway skirts between Anchorage and Portage Valley, has the second highest tidal fluctuations in the world next to the Bay of Fundy off of Maine/New Brunswick. I drove the portion of the Seward Highway roundtrip from Girdwood to Anchorage to work for 7 years. There have been many accidents caused by speeders passing on the blind curves. Turnagain Arm is a fjord, and the highway was cut into the side of the mountain (Chugach Mountains) that otherwise dropped directly into the ocean water without any beach. Granted, it has been widened to seem like almost a freeway until it is completely blocked by an avalanche during the winter.
I only cruised on a converted fishing boat while doing ecological forest surveys on the islands in PWS. The glaciers that I saw are beautiful. I have not traveled outside of Resurrection Bay in Seward, so I have not seen those tidewater glaciers; however, everyone who has seen them has been impressed. I have seen the Portage Glacier and Matanuska Glacier up close. I have not seen Exit Glacier. I have seen the 7 hanging glaciers above the cliff walls of Girdwood/Glacier Valley. The glaciers seen from a distance while driving the Glenn Highway at about Milepost 115, just after Lookout Mountain, are beautiful. I have also flown over Glacier Bay and PWS in the daytime. There are many opportunities to see glaciers throughout Alaska.
Jul 13, 2012 8:50 AM
Jul 14, 2012 12:31 AM
10I just have 2 questions related to the elder popped up.
- The elder always wears skirt. Can she still take the cruise? For Kenai River Scenic Float (although tempting), I saw in their website that they recommend wearing pants or slack.
- The elder does not understand English. I saw in the website of Kenai Fjords Tours that they have accredited interpreters on their 9-hr Northwestern Fjord Tour. Does that mean the interpreter that translates languages? (I sent an e-mail to the company, but got no answer.)
Also, I found out about the coupon books (TourSaver and Northern Lights). Do we need 2 books for 4 of us? Or, we need only 1 book, and the company re-apply the coupon?
Jul 14, 2012 5:12 AM
11The reason for slacks in the small raft float trip is that if something happens that the rubber boat springs a leak or flips over, passengers must be able to swim to the river bank. Everyone will be wearing a lifevest.
I have been on bus tours in Argentina/Chile with foreign language interpreters who walked amongst the passengers to re-explain a sighting to someone in their own language. It also depends on how common the foreign language is, such as French, Spanish, German, Russian.
Jul 15, 2012 12:54 PM
12I think I will drop the cruise in Whittier now. I do not know exactly what my crews like/dislike. They may not like being on boat 2 days in a row. Besides, they will see glaciers up close for a while on the boat tour from Seward on Day 2 already. By dropping the cruise, we loosen up our schedule on Day 3, and can enjoy our time with additional short activities/attractions instead. Here is a revised plan:
- arrive ANC at 1pm, pick up the car
- have lunch somewhere, buy fruits, water, snack, etc. at a supermarket
- drive to Seward, stop at lots of turnouts, Potter Marsh, and Bird Point
- visit SeaLife center if arrive Seward by 5pm
- walk in downtown, have dinner in Seward
- sleep in Seward
- take 9am Northwestern Fjord tour (have breakfast + lunch on board)
- return to Seward at 6pm, visit Exit Glacier
- have dinner where? sleep where? (Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, else?)
- visit Wildlife Conservation Center
- have lunch where?
- may visit Portage/Byron glaciers (if the crews want to see more glaciers)
- visit Girdwood at 4pm, take aerial tram
- leave Girdwood at 5:30pm (or 6pm if have dinner here)
- arrive ANC at 7pm, check in (have dinner after security if have not had)
What do you think about this plan? The Wildlife Conservation Center and Girdwood are in the plan on Day 3 to add varieties to the trip. Kenai River float trip is out because it may put the elder out of her comfort zone. Hiking Winner Creek trail is out because a 4-mile walk is too long for her (and possibly for other crews). I am not sure about the Portage/Byron glaciers. Are there any other activities to consider? Thank you.
Jul 15, 2012 1:06 PM
13That plan looks much better. I highly recommend the Kenai Princess Lodge for Night #2 (in Cooper Landing) if budget allows. I recommend the Smoke Shack and the Salmon Bake for meals in Seward, and the Silvertip Grill for casual but excellent food in Girdwood (maybe good for lunch on Day 3).
You would need two toursaver/northern lights books for four people.
Don't rush for the sealife center if you're enjoying the drive down to Seward. It's nice but underwhelming if you've been to famous aquariums of the world, e.g., Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Given your physical fitness restrictions, I think those activities are your best choice. Everything else I can think of is likely too difficult. Let me just say, however: THERE IS NO FRIGGIN WAY your raft can flip over on the Kenai River. It's as placid as a lake. My 70 year old parents who refuse to fly economy class on an airplane, who have had back surgery, and who haven't walked over a mile in 20 years, had a great time on it. Something to consider...
You'll love the NW Fjord cruise. Have fun!!!
Jul 17, 2012 8:28 PM
14I don't think any of my trip members have been to any famous aquarium. Actually, we are flying from SFO to ANC. It's funny that the aquarium you mentioned is close to SFO. Because we have only 1 day in San Francisco (even tighter than Alaska), we can visit only area near Golden Gate. Anyway, we will enjoy the scene along the way, and not rush to the sealife center. We will visit it only if we arrive there, and have some time before it closes.
BTW, I am looking for a hotel in Seward for the 1st night and another one in Cooper Landing or Moose Pass for the 2nd night. I would like to get a room with 2 queen beds. Is it normal during this time that such room will cost almost $200/night (tax included)? I am not talking about the top ones like Hotel Seward, HI Express, Best Western, or Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge (those will go up to $250 easily).
What hotels would you recommend? I want just basic amenity, e.g., 2 beds and a bathroom in unit. Thank you.
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