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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Choosing an Alaska Cruisetour

Choosing an Alaska Cruisetour

For the Alaska cruise season, Princess Cruises offers 32 cruisetours, Holland America Line 29, and Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, more than 20 each. Whether you’re planning for 2007 or beyond, how do you find the Alaska cruisetour that’s just right for you?

Q. Why should someone do a cruisetour in Alaska in the first place?A. The two places that get mentioned the most by our guests are Glacier Bay National Park and Denali National Park. You can view Glacier Bay or sail the inside passage on a cruise ship, but if you want to visit Denali National Park, you have to do a cruisetour.

Q. How does the cruisetour work? The cruise ends and what happens next?A. You can do a cruisetour in one of two ways. You can travel on land and end up on a cruise,or you can travel on a cruise and end up on land. Some of the cruisetours visit more places and offer more things to do than others. Some cruisetours are combined with seven-day cruises; others are combined with three- or four-day cruises.

Q. With so many cruisetours, isn’t the task of choosing the right one a challenge?A. With more than 100 cruisetours, grouped under various types, staged in different regions of Alaska, Its a challenge. However, it’s our task to educate people about the distinctions and identify what’s important to them. There are mountains, scenery, glaciers and wildlife. These are the most important choices for most people. There are many opportunities to see these things all across the state.

Q. How do you begin to choose a cruisetour from the 100+ offered?A. It really depends on what you want. Some cruisers may want to go with the seven-day cruise combined with four to six days on land where they either go to Denali National Park, Fairbanks and Anchorage, or get all the way up to the Arctic Ocean. Prudhoe Bay and Coldfoot. Or maybe they want to go to the Kenai Peninsula, or Cooper River. All of these are possibilities that can be combined with the seven day cruise.

On the other hand, if you really want to get that comprehensive Alaskan/Canadian experience, fly to Anchorage, go up to Denali,spend a couple of days there, travel to Fairbanks, and then from Fairbanks, go into the Yukon. Then travel down the Yukon 100 miles on our Yukon Queen II to Dawson, which is a great little town. From Dawson, visit Tombstone Park, which is just beautiful subarctic tundra. This is a chance for a very personal wilderness experience. You could be standing in Tombstone National Park with a dozen people in a backwoods wilderness trail where you’re going to have that ‘I’m surrounded by spectacular scenery and beautiful wilderness experience.’ You don’t always find a way to get that on other itineraries. Cruisetours go to Tombstone, near Dawson, and also to Kluane National Park, near Whitehorse. You then continue to Skagway, where you board the ship and get a beautiful cruise into Glacier Bay, cruise back down the Inside Passage and get off the ship in Vancouver. You’ve hit Denali, Tombstone, the Yukon River, Kluane, Glacier Bay, the Inside Passage— that’s a lot of Alaska.

Q. Why is it important to double the number of days in Denali?A. You need two days. Sometimes even three. These are natural wonders you are coming to see. To see grizzly bears and spectacular mountain scenery, however, you need to give yourself more time in the right places to maximize your chances of a great view. Time in the right places becomes the most important aspect of your tour. That’s why you need more time in Denali. That’s also why you go to other great wilderness locations where you can spend a lot of time. You then have the chance to see more wildlife and more great scenery.

Q. The luxury dome railcars seem appealing. How many of the tours use motorcoach versus the railcar?A. Most tours that go to Denali National Park travel on the railcars. Tours that go into the Yukon will include motorcoach travel, and they’re also the only way that you’re going to get to that kind of remote wilderness and to get to a place like Dawson or Whitehorse. Also, if you’d like to go to Kluane National Park, home to five of the seven tallest mountains in North America, glaciers and spectacular wildlife, the only way you’re going to get there is in a luxury motorcoach.

Q. When's the best time to go to Alaska?

A. In May and in September. Though the weather can be unpredictable during the months that mark the bookends of the Alaska cruise season, shoulder season is a good time to visit for a variety of reasons, according Tania Hancock, tourism sales manager with the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I particularly enjoy the shoulder seasons,” Hancock says. “May and September are my favorite months, and of the two, September in particular, because I love the fall foliage. It’s a short season, but it’s an absolutely beautiful season. The tundra is red and orange and gold in Denali, and that backdrop to the wildlife is pretty spectacular. We also see a lot more wildlife in our shoulder seasons than in the middle of high season. The wildlife tends to come out more on cloudy days, when it’s a little bit cooler, maybe a little bit misty. We see a lot more of the bears, and alot more of our moose and caribou. And certainly the same thing rings true in spring. Of course, the foliage is very different. It’s that beautiful bright spring green, and once again, it’s an amazing backdrop to all of the wildlife that you see in Anchorage and South Central Alaska and in the interior as well.” The shorter daylight hours during May and September (as opposed to the nearly 16 to 18 hours of daylight in mid-summer) also means that you’re more likely to see animals. Midsummer, moose bed down underneath trees, out of sight of visitors. But in cooler weather, “we see them at 5 o’clock in the evening,” Hancock says, “as opposed to having to wait until 10 o’clock at night in the middle of June.”

Q. What's up with Anchorage?

Don’t think you have to run off to Denali to see moose and other wildlife. “The biggest misconception about Anchorage,” Hancock says, “is that it’s just like any other city in the lower 48, like a mini-Seattle, for example. What a lot of visitors don’t realize until they get to Alaska, is that Anchorage actually has a lot of wilderness and wildlife right in the city, and it is uniquely Alaskan. Without realizing how uniquely Alaskan the city, a lot of visitors will just breeze right through. They think they need to continue on to get to the real Alaska, but Anchorage is the real Alaska.”

Anchorage boasts a few thousand moose. And they can be just as spectacular as bear, Hancock says, plus moose are vegetarians, meaning that, unlike bear, they don’t consider cruise passengers part of the food chain. “When it comes to watchable wildlife,” Hancock says, “moose are definitely at the top of my list.” Anchorage is situated more than 200 milessouth of Denali National Park. On the clear days during shoulder season, you can see Mt. McKinley from Alaska’s largest city. “Riding a bicycle or just walking along our Coastal Trail, which starts on 2nd avenue in downtown Anchorage, is a wonderful way to spend a few hours in my city,” Hancock says. “Once again, you’ve got views of gorgeous mountain ranges like Mt. McKinley, you’ve got a lot of wildlife opportunities and you’re right on the edge of the water.”

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