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RemPuck

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We are strongly considering an Alaska trip in summer 2020, likely the Seward to Vancouver sailing on 2 August.  The Denali pre-cruise, departing on 29 July from Anchorage, is also tempting as we’d really like to do some time inland.  However, this is not an inexpensive addition ($2900, no matter the suite category) and appears to be heavy on bus time.

 

Questions: Has anyone taken the Windstar Cruise Tour?  Any comments/feedback to share?  Has anyone done something similar independently? 

 

Also, when looking at doing this on our own, travel from Anchorage to Seward seems to be either the train (leaving before 7:00 AM, arriving late morning) or buses offering “mid-afternoon” arrivals.  How have others travelled to Seward (especially on the day of sailing)?  I assume boarding starts at 13:00 as on other Windstar sailings.  Per the itinerary, sailing is at 18:00.

 

Thanks for any guidance you may have about Alaska with Windstar.  We’re looking forward to getting back on Star Breeze.

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1 hour ago, RemPuck said:

We are strongly considering an Alaska trip in summer 2020, likely the Seward to Vancouver sailing on 2 August.  The Denali pre-cruise, departing on 29 July from Anchorage, is also tempting as we’d really like to do some time inland.  However, this is not an inexpensive addition ($2900, no matter the suite category) and appears to be heavy on bus time.

 

Questions: Has anyone taken the Windstar Cruise Tour?  Any comments/feedback to share?  Has anyone done something similar independently? 

 

Also, when looking at doing this on our own, travel from Anchorage to Seward seems to be either the train (leaving before 7:00 AM, arriving late morning) or buses offering “mid-afternoon” arrivals.  How have others travelled to Seward (especially on the day of sailing)?  I assume boarding starts at 13:00 as on other Windstar sailings.  Per the itinerary, sailing is at 18:00.

 

Thanks for any guidance you may have about Alaska with Windstar.  We’re looking forward to getting back on Star Breeze.

My husband and I sailed with the Star Legend in Alaska in both 2018 and 2019, and we are booked on the Star Breeze for next June 19th.  Needless to say, we never seem to tire of the unending beauty Alaska has to offer.  This will be our 10th Windstar cruise.  We would never sail another cruise line. Each of the three itineraries is slightly different so we always catch some new ports, new glaciers, and new fjords.  Those who did the pre-cruise tour of Denali absolutely raved about it.  Their only complaint was that the lodge did not have air conditioning, and Alaska was in the midst of a record heat wave at the time. I am certain a similar tour can be done more economically.  We took the Windstar bus transportation from Anchorage to Seward.  It leaves at 11:00 am from the Hilton and was only $79 per person. Due to the wildfires, the views were hazy and at times smoky.  We will do the same next June and hope that the wildfires have been resolved by then. You will find this cruise most amazing, with awe-inspiring beauty forever surrounding the ship.  Be sure to get a balcony suite.  We took some of our best photos from the open balcony doors.

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Many years ago we cruised Alaska on a different line. We ended our cruise in Seward. I hired a "limo" to pick up the 6 of us at the port and then drove us to Anchorage where we rented a van. We proceeded to tour on our own. From Anchorage we drove to Wasilla where my husband had friends and we spent the night. From there we drove to Denali and rented rooms at a lodge/hotel on the river. The next day we took the bus into the park. At lunch, a man came through and offered airplane rides out of the park and my husband, who wasn't crazy about the 3-4 hour bus ride out hopped at the chance. It was incredible flying by all the glaciers and we had a perfect view of Mt Denali. It was 8 pm when we got back to our lodging and still light out so we took the kids and did a white water rafting tour that night! Our last stop was Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle. We found a tour van going up to the Circle which was good since there were fires burning and lots of smoke. We found an Bed and Breakfast in train cars that was fun, especially for the our kids. We flew home from Fairbanks.

 

Alaska on your own is totally doable.

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Thanks Ski Mom.  Did you do a one-way rental on your van (Anchorage to Fairbanks)?  I'm seeing that the drop off charges can be really steep.  Doing a round-trip drive from Anchorage up to Denali and back will eat a lot of time in the short window we're looking at.  (We'd love to do longer, but we still work and the cruise itself is 11 days; 4-5 days will be the limit.)  I've seen some flight-seeing options at Denali and it's definitely on the "must" list.  Did you only have the half-day inside the park itself?  Was it enough?

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Thanks ridethetide.  It's good to hear that people who did the cruise tour found it enjoyable.  There's definitely the benefit of having everything taken care of and not needing to worry about the bits and pieces of making connections work.  And thanks, too, for the comment about the Windstar arranged bus from Anchorage to Seward.  An 11AM departure is definitely better than the 6:45 AM departure on the train if we do that from Anchorage (on our own).  And yes, I do hope that next year is both cooler and less fire-prone.

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Thanks sb44!  It's great to get the first hand feedback about the cruise tour.  When you were in the park, did you have a chance to do any hiking on your own, either as part of the big group or during some "free time"?  We're not looking to "climb Denali," but would like an opportunity to at least get on a trail for an hour or two.  I've also seen some flight-seeing tours, from both Denali and Talkeetna that look really enticing.  Was there any "free time" to do something like that (90 minutes to 2 hours)?

 

I agree that the plus of getting a great over view of what we're seeing, and experiencing, is not to be discounted.  And if I were driving, I know I'd miss everything that's "just over there..." as my husband keeps pointing things out.

 

Much to think about!  Thanks.

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The tour didn't really have any free time which was the one thing that we all would have liked. I looked at the current description for next year and it really doesn't give any more details than those we had.  To go hiking in Denali I think, not sure, that you need a permit. It's pretty rugged and weather is unpredictable.  It was snowed in the day after we were there in June. The park busses go pretty far in from the entrance and we did see hikers but you already have to be deep in the park to do this. It's quite different than the other national parks in the lower 48. As for flightseeing, there was no opportunity but we did visit the flight company that services base camp for climbers  talked to one of their pilots and the woman who runs the place who was also a climber so we really learned so much. We did lots of flight seeing of glaciers etc. when we got on the ship and loved it all. Expensive but so worth it. Our plan is to go back and do our own land tour from Fairbanks north but that takes planning as it's sparsely populated and we are working with someone who specializes in making sure we don't get lost! LOL.  Denali didn't show herself when we were in the park but did the night and morning that we stayed at the Talkeenta Inn. Anyhow, it was the trip of a lifetime. Enjoy!

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Thanks again sb44! We aren’t looking to go true back country hiking but a chance to get out of the bus and do some walking.   Did the bus make stops for photos (views, wildlife, etc)? 

 

I know now the mountain can hide a lot and it’s great she came out for you during your Talkeetna stop! I had a great view many years ago on a flight to Tokyo...I opened my window shade at just the right minute!

 

Lots of thinking to come. Thanks again. 

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Yes, we had lots of opportunities for photos. Best ones were outside our hotel room in Denali.  We had a mother moose and 2 babies outside our windows for a couple of hours. Marvelous videos and photos. And on the cruise we had eagles flying all around the ship. Really, we were part of the outdoors continuously.  Just an awesome trip. 

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On 8/26/2019 at 3:29 PM, RemPuck said:

Thanks Ski Mom.  Did you do a one-way rental on your van (Anchorage to Fairbanks)?  I'm seeing that the drop off charges can be really steep.  Doing a round-trip drive from Anchorage up to Denali and back will eat a lot of time in the short window we're looking at.  (We'd love to do longer, but we still work and the cruise itself is 11 days; 4-5 days will be the limit.)  I've seen some flight-seeing options at Denali and it's definitely on the "must" list.  Did you only have the half-day inside the park itself?  Was it enough?

Well I thought we did a one way rental but my sister and her husband might have actually driven the car and returned it to Anchorage now that you mention it. To be honest I just don’t remember. 

 

The bus ride into the park was long enough to see what we wanted to see. The bus stopped many times for photo opps. The midway point is the lunch stop where you can visit the dog sled team as well. The flight out was so worth it I would do it again in a heartbeat. Plus it was quicker than the bus and gave us more time to add on the river rafting. 

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On 8/26/2019 at 2:10 PM, ridethetide said:

My husband and I sailed with the Star Legend in Alaska in both 2018 and 2019, and we are booked on the Star Breeze for next June 19th.  Needless to say, we never seem to tire of the unending beauty Alaska has to offer.  This will be our 10th Windstar cruise.  We would never sail another cruise line. Each of the three itineraries is slightly different so we always catch some new ports, new glaciers, and new fjords.  Those who did the pre-cruise tour of Denali absolutely raved about it.  Their only complaint was that the lodge did not have air conditioning, and Alaska was in the midst of a record heat wave at the time. I am certain a similar tour can be done more economically.  We took the Windstar bus transportation from Anchorage to Seward.  It leaves at 11:00 am from the Hilton and was only $79 per person. Due to the wildfires, the views were hazy and at times smoky.  We will do the same next June and hope that the wildfires have been resolved by then. You will find this cruise most amazing, with awe-inspiring beauty forever surrounding the ship.  Be sure to get a balcony suite.  We took some of our best photos from the open balcony doors.

 

We'll be on this same itin next June. Drop me a line if you want to compare notes windstarpig@gmail.com.  We've booked the three zodiac tours, but nothing else yet.

 

I looked at the 3-day pre-cruise tour and passed. We're renting a car in Anchorage and driving up to Talkeetna. We have an AirB2B for three nights and will do a couple tours, including the Denali 8 hour Tundra tour, then one night at the Anchorage Hilton and then we're taking a local Anchorage/Seward bus that includes a bit of a tour, also being picked up at the Hilton but in the morning. I think I can do the whole thing, excluding meals for around $1,300 or less all in for both or us, and we don't need to be on anyone else's schedule.

 

The only things left on my list are - land tours during the WS portion of the trip, Denali tickets that won't be available until December, something to do in Vancouver during our one day there, and pack.

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33 minutes ago, milepig said:

 

We'll be on this same itin next June. Drop me a line if you want to compare notes windstarpig@gmail.com.  We've booked the three zodiac tours, but nothing else yet.

 

I looked at the 3-day pre-cruise tour and passed. We're renting a car in Anchorage and driving up to Talkeetna. We have an AirB2B for three nights and will do a couple tours, including the Denali 8 hour Tundra tour, then one night at the Anchorage Hilton and then we're taking a local Anchorage/Seward bus that includes a bit of a tour, also being picked up at the Hilton but in the morning. I think I can do the whole thing, excluding meals for around $1,300 or less all in for both or us, and we don't need to be on anyone else's schedule.

 

The only things left on my list are - land tours during the WS portion of the trip, Denali tickets that won't be available until December, something to do in Vancouver during our one day there, and pack.

I have booked the two kayaking excursions and the Hubbard Glacier zodiac tour with Windstar.  We also privately booked a whale watching trip out of Hoonah in Icy Strait Point with Glacier Wind Charters.  The boat only holds 6 passengers compared to many of the others that hold 20 or more passengers.  You should check them out. The last two years, the whale watching in Icy Strait Point was phenomenal.  We saw bubble net feeding both years.  I'll email you sometime soon and look forward to meeting you onboard.

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8 minutes ago, ridethetide said:

I have booked the two kayaking excursions and the Hubbard Glacier zodiac tour with Windstar.  We also privately booked a whale watching trip out of Hoonah in Icy Strait Point with Glacier Wind Charters.  The boat only holds 6 passengers compared to many of the others that hold 20 or more passengers.  You should check them out. The last two years, the whale watching in Icy Strait Point was phenomenal.  We saw bubble net feeding both years.  I'll email you sometime soon and look forward to meeting you onboard.

 

Thanks for the Whale Watch tip.  I just booked us for the 3:15, which seems to be the only time that fits the WS schedule, so I guess we'll see you on board there if not before!.

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Following up ... we did book the trip leaving Seward on August 2nd for 11 nights to Vancouver.  I have a "hold" on the pre-cruise tour but will cancel that as I've put together a trip on our own and much less $$.

 

Questions now are around excursions.  I will book the zodiac trips at the three glaciers (College Fjord, Hubbard and Tracy Arm) now to ensure space.  Many other excursions look interesting, but I'm still exploring options.  Per above, I looked at Glacier Wind for whale watching in Hoonah but there is only one option on the date we visit and it's too early for us.  It seems like the afternoon sailings are not consistent.

 

I've also got some significant OBC (promotion and TA gift) and I'm trying to balance pre-booking excursions to confirm space and the opportunity to use the OBC.  I know that OBC can't be used in advance, but have others booked in advance and then cancelled/rebooked on board to use OBC?  Is this a viable option?  And aside from the zodiac/kayak excursions, are there some which really are "book in advance" required?

 

On our Panama Canal trip, I only did one official ship excursion and we booked that in advance (and had a good time, too).  It looks like Alaska will require more ship's excursions.


Thanks for any additional insight from anyone's who's done Alaska.

 

RemPuck

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We have booked the Seward to Vancouver itinerary on 6/19/20.  It will be our third Alaskan cruise in 3 years with Windstar, all different itineraries.  We booked a boat tour of LeConte Glacier out of Petersburg with Alaska Passages and whale watching with Glacier Wind out of Hoonah.  You must do whale watching in Icy Strait.  The last two years have been phenomenal.  I have also booked the three glacier expeditions with Windstar.  The Expedition Team is fantastic and so are the glaciers.  You will love it.

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Denali is a long trip because it is remote. It is a treasured National Park because it is remote!

 

Since I haven't been there myself, it would be helpful to have the word "bus" clarified. From people I know who have been there, I would believe that if you take any bus, including WIndstar's (as opposed to, say, a train) to Denali, you have to get off your big bus and get onto a Parks Service yellow school bus (?) for INSIDE the park. Is that CORRECT? Thank you.

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You are correct that everyone takes the same old school busses into the park. How you get to the bus access point is either bus (tour bus if it's Windstar) or private car. 

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16 hours ago, RemPuck said:

Following up ... we did book the trip leaving Seward on August 2nd for 11 nights to Vancouver.  I have a "hold" on the pre-cruise tour but will cancel that as I've put together a trip on our own and much less $$.

 

Questions now are around excursions.  I will book the zodiac trips at the three glaciers (College Fjord, Hubbard and Tracy Arm) now to ensure space.  Many other excursions look interesting, but I'm still exploring options.  Per above, I looked at Glacier Wind for whale watching in Hoonah but there is only one option on the date we visit and it's too early for us.  It seems like the afternoon sailings are not consistent.

 

I've also got some significant OBC (promotion and TA gift) and I'm trying to balance pre-booking excursions to confirm space and the opportunity to use the OBC.  I know that OBC can't be used in advance, but have others booked in advance and then cancelled/rebooked on board to use OBC?  Is this a viable option?  And aside from the zodiac/kayak excursions, are there some which really are "book in advance" required?

 

On our Panama Canal trip, I only did one official ship excursion and we booked that in advance (and had a good time, too).  It looks like Alaska will require more ship's excursions.


Thanks for any additional insight from anyone's who's done Alaska.

 

RemPuck

Alaska does require more ship excursions simply because the guides get booked up by the cruise companies and they have a short season  to make their income for the year. We did mostly WS excursions and they were excellent. We went 1st season, 2nd sailing, and did the pre cruise tour. There are pluses and minuses for doing your own. Yes, you can do it cheaper but may not learn as much as you can from professional guide. I'm glad we did their land tour other than there were some annoying aspects. In either case, it's a great trip!

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If time and budget allows, spend a couple of nights all-the-way into the park.  We stayed at the Kantishna Lodge and were treated to, among other things, stunning sunrise views of the mountains (not just Denali).  The bus rides were a highlight; where else can you get stuck in a traffic jam behind a pack of wolves?

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