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BopRN

Alaska....Anchorage or Fairbanks?

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We are researching our choices for a southbound Alaska cruise tour. What are the pros and cons of starting in Anchorage (Whittier) or Fairbanks?

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Anchorage is the larger city by far and closest to the ship embarkation point.  Fairbanks is a smaller city and greater distance to the port.   Fairbanks is 357 miles north of Anchorage.  Anchorage to the port is 60 miles which includes going through a one way tunnel shared by the railroad. 

 

Fairbanks has an interesting ride on a paddle wheeler that stops at a reconstructed traders camp and has a display about the pipeline just north of the city.  North Pole, AK is just outside Fairbanks and an excellent tourist trap.  

 

Anchorage with all the chain hotels and restaurants is an interesting city where you can see the damage done by the 1959 earthquake.  South of the city is a viewing area of a glacier if it is still there!  My advice is to take the train to the port.  Incidentally the train also goes from Fairbanks to Anchorage passing by Denali NP (home of Denali Peak - once called Mt McKinley) which is well worth seeing.  You can get off the train at Denali, walk to a nearby hotel and then re-board the train the next day.  Warning however is that the train travels at about 30 mph so it is a long train ride.

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Be sure you know exactly what you are purchasing if you take a Princess Cruisetour. Most people do not realize McKinley princess Lodge is in the middle of nowhere. Most people also do not realize that the Princess tour into Denali National Park is a tour that focuses on history and culture and not on scenery and Wildlife. Is that what you really want to spend your time and money on? So many negatives of Princess Cruise tours but if you know exactly what you are buying then you have full responsibility for anything you do or see (or anything you miss).

Edited by frugaltravel

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39 minutes ago, frugaltravel said:

Be sure you know exactly what you are purchasing if you take a Princess Cruisetour. Most people do not realize McKinley princess Lodge is in the middle of nowhere. Most people also do not realize that the Princess tour into Denali National Park is a tour that focuses on history and culture and not on scenery and Wildlife. Is that what you really want to spend your time and money on? So many negatives of Princess Cruise tours but if you know exactly what you are buying then you have full responsibility for anything you do or see (or anything you miss).

 

We have been to all 4 Princess lodges. We liked them all - although Kenai was our favorite. The tour into Denali isn't necessarily the Natural History Tour as you imply. We did the Tundra Wilderness Tour twice. Each time we saw wildlife that isn't the norm to see. The first time we had a wolf run right along beside the road and then come up onto the road and we slowly rolled back down the road for some exceptional views. The park is about 6 million acres and there are fewer than 60 wolves. The second time a Lynx ran across the road right in front of us and then huddled in the bushes. Everybody got excellent views. The driver was excited because Lynx sightings aren't common at all.

 

I understand that the Princess cruise tours aren't the same as doing it yourself. We did a 7 week camping trip that went up to Fairbanks and we were camping in Alaska for maybe 2 of those 7 weeks. Not everyone has that chance and a Princess tour - even though it's not "the best there is" - can be pretty dang cool. We had a fantastic Kenai Fjords cruise tour while we were at Kenai Wilderness Lodge.

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3 hours ago, frugaltravel said:

Be sure you know exactly what you are purchasing if you take a Princess Cruisetour. Most people do not realize McKinley princess Lodge is in the middle of nowhere. Most people also do not realize that the Princess tour into Denali National Park is a tour that focuses on history and culture and not on scenery and Wildlife. Is that what you really want to spend your time and money on? So many negatives of Princess Cruise tours but if you know exactly what you are buying then you have full responsibility for anything you do or see (or anything you miss).

 

Not sure where to start with your post as my experience was the opposite.

We stopped at McKinley lodge for one night only and arrived fairly late in the afternoon. There was time to see a few things and then dinner. My experience with the Denali National Park Tundra tour was all about wildlife and I cannot recall any comments about culture. I'm not sure where you got this information but not our experience at all.

Like most, we found the Princess cruise tour outstanding in every aspect.

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3 hours ago, leck57 said:

 

Not sure where to start with your post as my experience was the opposite.

We stopped at McKinley lodge for one night only and arrived fairly late in the afternoon. There was time to see a few things and then dinner. My experience with the Denali National Park Tundra tour was all about wildlife and I cannot recall any comments about culture. I'm not sure where you got this information but not our experience at all.

Like most, we found the Princess cruise tour outstanding in every aspect.

You were one of the fortunate few Princess guests on the TWT in Denali. Most Princess cruisetour passengers get the Natural History Tour.

 

Glad you enjoyed McKinley Princess but I stand by my comment. It is in the middle od nowhere and exists to seclude passengers and have them spend more money with Princess. I would prefer spending another night in Denali or almost anywhere else. Talkeetna is about a 1 hour ride each way.

Edited by frugaltravel

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14 minutes ago, frugaltravel said:

You were one of the fortunate few Princess guests on the TWT in Denali. Most Princess cruisetour passengers get the Natural History Tour.

 

Glad you enjoyed McKinley Princess but I stand by my comment. It is in the middle od nowhere and exists to seclude passengers and have them spend more money with Princess. I would prefer spending another night in Denali or almost anywhere else. Talkeetna is about a 1 hour ride each way.

And we liked the McKinley Lodge BECAUSE it's "in the middle of nowhere!" But our favorite was Copper River, for the same reason. To each his/her own.

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11 minutes ago, WisCruiser2 said:

And we liked the McKinley Lodge BECAUSE it's "in the middle of nowhere!" But our favorite was Copper River, for the same reason. To each his/her own.

That's great but I can't tell you how many people who booked Princess Cruise tours who think that McKinley princess Lodge is near the entrance to Denali National Park. They haven't done their homework like you did. That's my main point.

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Yes, always do your research! We were lucky to see Denali when we first arrived at the McKinley Lodge. The next morning he was completely hidden.

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Personally, I'd do Fairbanks.  But only because it's surprisingly cheaper to fly there than to Anchorage from Chicago!  (Plus I've already been to Anchorage and I'd love to see Fairbanks.)

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1 hour ago, frugaltravel said:

You were one of the fortunate few Princess guests on the TWT in Denali. Most Princess cruisetour passengers get the Natural History Tour.

Your comment just highlights the need for people to do their homework and read the boards!  You can always cancel or change the included Denali tour with Princess.  Our tour included the TWT.  We canceled with Princess (was credited) and booked the Kantishna tour with a private vendor.

 

Would not have known about other tours if folks hadn’t pointed out the limitations on Princess tours.

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11 hours ago, BopRN said:

We are researching our choices for a southbound Alaska cruise tour. What are the pros and cons of starting in Anchorage (Whittier) or Fairbanks?

 

Look carefully.  I do not believe any of the southbound cruise tours start in Whittier.  They start in the city of Anchorage or the city of Fairbanks.  They all end in Whittier where you board the ship.

 

You are responsible for getting to the starting city.  Anchorage is where the main Alaska airport is.

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4 hours ago, disneyochem said:

Your comment just highlights the need for people to do their homework and read the boards!  You can always cancel or change the included Denali tour with Princess.  Our tour included the TWT.  We canceled with Princess (was credited) and booked the Kantishna tour with a private vendor.

 

Would not have known about other tours if folks hadn’t pointed out the limitations on Princess tours.

Agree that people need to do their homework to check what is included. Tours that include the history tour can be changed to the TWT or Kantishna tours for an extra cost.

We spent 12 days self driving from Anchorage to Seward, Homer, Summit Lake and return to Anchorage last year. We then joined a 5 night Princess Connoisseur tour(1 night Anchorage, 2 nights McKinley, 2 nights Denali and then train direct to ship) - time for someone else to do the driving etc! 

For us McKinley was great - we knew it was isolated but that is what we wanted. Spent time chilling on the deck, walked to the treehouse, watched and listened to a great talk about rescue owls, went into Talkeetna and did the Hurricane train excursion(fantastic). Best of all we saw the mountain in all its glory on our second day and very very lucky to see it again on the day we left to travel to Denali! The TWT tour was included for us but we did consider changing to the Kantishna tour. Happy with the TWT even though it started in rain and was a cooler day we still saw plenty of wildlife. Loved the direct train to the ship even though it took all day and being able to walk straight onto the ship at the end.

Would have liked to visit Fairbanks but for us this would have added more days to our 4 week trip and more flight options were available from Seattle to Anchorage.

So do your research, read the boards and choose what best suits you and what you would like to see and do!. Most importantly - enjoy! We loved our time in Alaksa and would love to return, but it is a long way from Sydney!

Edited by ikesyd

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3 hours ago, LB_NJ said:

 

Look carefully.  I do not believe any of the southbound cruise tours start in Whittier.  They start in the city of Anchorage or the city of Fairbanks.  They all end in Whittier where you board the ship.

 

You are responsible for getting to the starting city.  Anchorage is where the main Alaska airport is.

Anchorage is not a seaport. Southbound cruises start in Whittier.  It is up to you how you get there. Best is a b2b north and south. Have done this several times and still have never set foot on Anchorage 

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Sorry Anchorage does have a port but no cruise ships use it. They all either use Seward or Whittier 

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51 minutes ago, memoak said:

Anchorage is not a seaport. Southbound cruises start in Whittier.  It is up to you how you get there. Best is a b2b north and south. Have done this several times and still have never set foot on Anchorage 

 

The cruise aboard the Princess ship starts in Whittier.  However, the land based portion of the tour (the OP talked about a combined land and sea option) starts in either Anchorage or Fairbanks. 

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1 hour ago, ikesyd said:

walked to the treehouse,

how strenuous was that walk ? - decent walkway up to it ? - any other way to get there besides walking ? - 

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8 minutes ago, voljeep said:

how strenuous was that walk ? - decent walkway up to it ? - any other way to get there besides walking ? - 

 

About 10 minutes from the lodge entry. Pretty much uphill but a well graded path once you get to the bush that you walk through. I can't recall whether there was a carpark nearby but I don't think so.

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2 minutes ago, leck57 said:

 

About 10 minutes from the lodge entry. Pretty much uphill but a well graded path once you get to the bush that you walk through. I can't recall whether there was a carpark nearby but I don't think so.

thanks - I didn't know if the lodge itself had some kind of way to get guests up there … maybe some kind of 4-wheel vehicle to take you up and back , even if for a fee … there has to be a way to get supplies, etc up there without 'walking' the path, correct ?

 

and we watched a 'treehouse masters' show about the building of that "Treehouse"

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8 minutes ago, voljeep said:

thanks - I didn't know if the lodge itself had some kind of way to get guests up there … maybe some kind of 4-wheel vehicle to take you up and back , even if for a fee … there has to be a way to get supplies, etc up there without 'walking' the path, correct ?

 

and we watched a 'treehouse masters' show about the building of that "Treehouse"

 

I know that they have functions and regular happy hours there so yes, there must be a way other than walking. I just looked at my photos but I don't have any that show vehicles/carpark. There was certainly no vehicular way next to the walking path so if vehicles get there they must come in from the top. As we walked up I didn't enquire at the lodge about other ways to get there.

Sorry that I can't help you any better.

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28 minutes ago, leck57 said:

 

About 10 minutes from the lodge entry. Pretty much uphill but a well graded path once you get to the bush that you walk through. I can't recall whether there was a carpark nearby but I don't think so.

Yes up hill walk, though there is a 2nd walkway that is a bit less strenuous but is longer. Hubby doesn't like walking and he did not go and he would not have liked the uphill part. Walking back was great! Attended a presentation there on birch sap.

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We did the Natural History bus tour and were satisfied.  We were part of a group which flew to Fairbanks via Anchorage, stayed the first nite at Fairbanks, rode the (HAL) train to near Denali and stayed at a motel outside the park.  From there we were bused to the park and did the Nat Hist tour, then rode the (HAL) train to the ship.  The cruise was on Celebrity in 1996.  Flying from Anch to Fairb was wonderful since we were sitting on the left side of the plane and could see Denali <g>.

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2 hours ago, memoak said:

Sorry Anchorage does have a port but no cruise ships use it. They all either use Seward or Whittier 

Not exactly true. Holland America calls in the port of Anchorage every two weeks in the summer on their 14-night cruise. They also use Seward as a port stop on that cruise.

 

However the 7 night SB and NB cruises depart from or arrive into Seward or Whittier.

 

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Have done the Alaskan cruise but want to now do a land only Princess Escorted Tour for 9 days, 8 nights. Have you heard anything about this vacation? Thank you for any advice you may have. 

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14 hours ago, disneyochem said:

Your comment just highlights the need for people to do their homework and read the boards!  You can always cancel or change the included Denali tour with Princess.  Our tour included the TWT.  We canceled with Princess (was credited) and booked the Kantishna tour with a private vendor.

 

Would not have known about other tours if folks hadn’t pointed out the limitations on Princess tours.

 

I hope you realize that neither Princess nor anyone else other than the Park Service's concessionaire operate tours inside Denali Park. Whether you book the Kantishna Experience tour via Princess, some other outside vendor, or directly with the Park Service's concessionaire, you end on the same one or two buses that run that tour each day. The only difference would be any transportation the tour vendor provides between your lodging and tour bus terminal near the park Visitor's Center. When we did a cruisetour in 2018, we upgraded from the TWT to the Kantishna tour with Princess. I'm curious what benefit you feel you obtained by cancelling completely with Princess and booking the Kantishna tour with another vendor.

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