Snowy Range Pass

Snowy Range Pass

Monday, July 08, 2013

The best way to visit Alaska

The best way to see Alaska is what works for you.  I wanted to try and answer the questions that were posed after my last post.  When we were full timing, we always assumed that we would visit Alaska just like everywhere else-with the motorhome.  In our case, the decision to go via a land and sea package with Princess Cruises was not about money, but time.  

The way we travel in the RV involves mostly short driving days and lots of stops along the way to visit interesting places. Our best guesstimate was that we needed five or six months to make this trip the way we would like to do it.  We have friends that have talked about doing a cruise to Alaska with us for a number of years, which we knew would also be fun.  Our limited time this summer, since we want to be here for our third grandchild's birth at the end of July, joined with our desire to make this trip with our friends, made the decision easy for us.

Having said that, I  also looked at money and logistic issues for an Alaska visit.  What I found was that the cost of the cruise and land tour was actually cheaper than taking the RV and was a unique experience.  We live approximately 4500 miles from Anchorage.  So even if you drive direct and assume you drive only half of the 4000 paved miles of Alaska roads, you are still looking at a minimum of 11000 miles.  If you drive 300 miles a day for the 9K round trip, that is 30 days of driving.  I would probably not make that trip in an RV unless I spend at least 30 days in Alaska.  After all, we spent 14 days on our trip with the cruise line.


Fuel for 11K miles at 8MPG @3.80a gal is : $5225  (does not account for higher costs in Canada)

60 nights camping at average of $40=          : $2400

Many of the "big" sights in Alaska can  only be seen via a tour or are certainly better with a tour.  You can figure at least a thousand dollars for that.

Food costs are variable based on personal preference.  But I can say that food in Alaska is expensive.

Camping- We did not do any real checking on this, but did observe a number of campgrounds along the way.  They are adequate for most RV's, but the advice we received at an Alaska RV seminar seems to be true:  the smaller the RV, the more you will enjoy Alaska. Certainly many of the campgrounds we sighted could be called rustic.  We noted that the vast majority of RVs we saw traveling the highways were class C rentals.

I have heard varied stories on RV support and repair in Alaska.  Since I have no personal experience, I cannot really comment on support if you have damage or other issues while there.

Our cruise and land tour cost was just at 7K, which included all accommodations, food, transportation, tours and airfares and balcony room on the ship.  All booked through the cruise line agent.  That cost is less than I would project for just fuel and camping costs alone.  (Granted I get better mileage on our coach, but I based the fuel costs for a more average size RV setup.)

To provide another perspective, A Winnebago sponsored 50 day tour of Alaska costs 6,600 dollars for two people in one coach.  Fuel cost are still extra along with some meals, incidentals and camping costs before the meeting point. 

So for us, it was a perfect solution.  The cruise/land tour was fun, easy, less expensive and met our time needs.

There is, of course, that intangible factor.  Over our years of full timing, we were asked many times if we had been to Alaska yet with the RV.  There was often this implied smugness from those who had been there, that this was somehow a challenge of great magnitude that needed to be accomplished. I never quite got that attitude.  When I would ask some questions, I nearly always got a response that it was an adventure of a lifetime, we had no problems, it was a piece of cake for those who really knew what they were doing.  Then, often, the more soft spoken member of the team would make some funny faces and then more details emerged. It went something like- Well ok, maybe there was some minor issues.  Things like two broken windshields, multiple blown tires, and one guy actually said: Oh well, we did bend the frame some (it was a 40 foot pusher) and we are still trying to resolve that.

We traveled the major loop highway of Alaska -Anchorage-Denali-Fairbanks-Copper Center-Anchorage and the roads were all pretty good.  However, there was still lots of permafrost humps that can catch you unaware.  Our bus drivers were all pretty careful, but once one of them missed a pretty big hump and threw nearly everyone around as we went up then bottomed out  around 50 MPH.  It would not have been pretty in a big RV.

So we are happy with our decision but would definitely consider going back in an RV.  Now that I have been there, I would seriously consider flying up and renting a small RV to explore in.  Taking into account the wear and tear on your personal coach, time saved and having more time on the ground in Alaska makes it seem like a very viable option.


Carol K said...

Love that new header picture! Excellent summary about options for visiting Alaska. We haven't been there yet.

Judy and Emma said...

Thanks for your very good analysis of your trip to Alaska. You answered many of the questions I had in mind.

Paul and Marti Dahl said...

Thank you, Chuck for your analysis of an Alaska visit. I'd love to do it in an RV, but with all you did and saw, your way is very attractive.

Gives me more information to mull over.

Gypsy said...

Very good explanation. I had always wanted to drive to Alaska, but now I think I would prefer to fly in. One of my daughters-in-law has family in Wasilla, so I'm waiting for her & my son to make their next trip so I can tage along with them.

Sweet Meanderings said...

Thanks for the comparison of camping and cruising. Cruising does sound like a sensible option all right.

Jim and Sandie said...

Thank you. You answered everything I could think of to ask. Not sure if or when we'll go up but I think the cruise might be the best way for us.

Wanderin' said...

We've done a lot of cruises too in many different places. We loved them. I think everything you do gives you a different experience for what it is. You might as well enjoy everything. We only walk through this life but once. Do it all ....

Paul Tempesta said...

We went to Alaska in 2010, driving all the way from central Florida. It was a LONG way, but it wasn't just an Alaska trip. We spent a week in St. Louis, a week around Glacier National Park, Calgary, Banff NP, Jasper NP and saw a lot on the way. Although our path crossed the "Tourist Route" frequently, we got to spend a lot more time in the areas where we found something particularly interesting. However, we could never have done it with time constraints. I would LOVE to do it again. WE didn't find campgrounds to be so expensive and actually spent many nights parked at the roadside rest area with a number of other campers.


Rick Doyle said...

Great post, Chuck! I agree with you completely and it's the same reasons I give when I'm asked why we've never RV'ed to Alaska. If we ever travel to Alaska, it'll be on a cruise ship.

Donna K said...

Great post. I have no desire to drive to Alaska. have been on two cruises there and loved every minute. One thing about a cruise is no matter how much you want to, you CANNOT WORK!! No meals to prepare, no dishes to wash, no tanks to empty, no grocery get the idea!! Man, I think I want to go on another cruise!

Erin Erkun said...

Good analysis. We've done the cruisetour to Alaska, and in our case, the tour portion took us up to Denali, Fairbanks, and up the Dalton to Prudhoe Bay. We loved it, and it's what got us hooked on Alaska. We hope/plan to drive up in the MH to spend the summer there one year .... we mostly want to explore the places en route.

Nancy said...

Great comparison of RVing and cruising to Alaska. I've wanted to go there, but have no desire to make the long drive. Didn't really consider a cruise until I started reading about your trip. That might be my best option. Thanks for this!