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  #1  
Old December 17th, 2013, 10:32 AM
thepoint thepoint is offline
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Default John Hall's Alaska Cruises and Tours

We are thinking of doing the John Hall's 7 Day Land/7 Day Cruise - Denali Explorer. Cruise ship can be the Celebrity Millennium or Royal Caribean's Radiance of the Seas.

Has anyone every used John Hall's? Any recommendations on other companies or experiences on land tours, ships, month, private tours, etc? We have lots of time to research, as I am thinking we would most likely go in 2015.

Thank you for your help.
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Old December 17th, 2013, 01:38 PM
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agabbymama agabbymama is offline
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All the cruiselines do cruisetours (HAL, Princess, RCI, Celebrity, etc). I wouldn't think a third party would be necessary, but that's just my opinion. Others must feel differently or there wouldn't be tour companies operating. I think if you compare the prices for what you get, you will find a better price with the cruiseline.

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Old December 18th, 2013, 01:19 AM
donaldsc donaldsc is offline
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We are thinking of doing the John Hall's 7 Day Land/7 Day Cruise - Denali Explorer. Cruise ship can be the Celebrity Millennium or Royal Caribean's Radiance of the Seas.

Has anyone every used John Hall's? Any recommendations on other companies or experiences on land tours, ships, month, private tours, etc? We have lots of time to research, as I am thinking we would most likely go in 2015.

Thank you for your help.
All I can say is that as with all other land tours, you must read the tour descriptions very very carefully and you must also assume that although the itinerary descriptions may not flat out lie, they certainly stretch the truth.

For example, this is one of the daily descriptions from John's tour -

"WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS NATIONAL PARK & VALDEZ
Today you’ll travel south on the Alaska Highway until it joins the Richardson, Alaska’s first highway. As you enter the Copper River Valley you’ll make a stop at the headquarters for Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the US park system. Fewer than 5% of Alaska visitors have a chance to experience this scenic part of Alaska."

What this implies is that you actually go into Wrangell-St. Elias which is a truly wonderful place. However, what you really do is to make a short stop at the park headquarters instead of actually going into the park. Park headquarters is not in the park but on the highway near the park.

Please note the difference between the tour above and another of John's tours where you actually go into the park -

"DAY 3 - WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS NATIONAL PARK
Travel the Glenn Highway and visit Matanuska Glacier before boarding small planes for a flightseeing trip over the Wrangell Mountains. Land in the old mining cities of Kennicott & McCarthy. Upon arrival, enjoy a walking tour of this historic mining district and a visit to the McCarthy Museum. You will spend the next two evenings at the world famous Ma Johnson’s Hotel, where the cuisine rivals five stars. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Included.

DAY 4 - MCCARTHY & THE KENNECOTT COPPER MINES
You are off on an exploration of the amazing Kennecott copper mines today! This National Historical Landmark extracted over $200 million worth of high grade copper and another $4 million in silver. Tour the outbuildings of the mine today including the historic leaching and power plant. Good physical condition is recommended. (Entrance to all areas of the mine is dependent upon the National Parks Service.) This afternoon you may catch up on a little R&R or consider taking an optional guided hike to Kennicott Glacier. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Included."

I am not saying that John's tours are bad although you can easily do them on a DIY trip probably cheaper. BTW - cruise tours run by the cruise companies are not any different except they flat out lie.

Just be careful and do your research.

DON

Last edited by donaldsc; December 18th, 2013 at 01:32 AM.
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Old December 18th, 2013, 09:46 AM
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Thank you both. What I am really looking for are tours that will get us the most bang for the buck. I don't mind paying extra if it is worth it. I would prefer to be in a small group of maybe 20 or less. We have been on a number of HAL tours in a big bus out for hours and seeing a fraction if what there is to see. Or, as you said Don, not getting what we expected. Depending on where we are going we usually do a combination of private and ship tours.

I am sure this will be our only trip to Alaska and I just want it to be the best it can be. I have lots of time to research and I am no stranger to that. We spent a month in Europe. I researched that for 2 years and it paid off.

Don, if you have recommendations on any other company, I would love to hear it.

Thanks.
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Old December 18th, 2013, 10:57 AM
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BTW - cruise tours run by the cruise companies are not any different except they flat out lie.

Just be careful and do your research.

DON
Don,
I'm curious why you would say cruise companies flat out lie??? I took a HAL 11 day cruisetour, and found that everything stated in the itinerary is exactly what we did. The only fact that was left out were the exact times of arrival and departure. It only said AM departure or PM arrival.

If it said we were going to Denali and would do an afternoon TWT, when we arrived at the train depot (approx 12:30 PM) we were bussed to McKinley Chalets and given an envelope with our room key and another card with our TWT time of tour on it, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE DID.

If it said we would tour Eagle Alaska by bus with a local tour director, once we disembarked the Yukon Riverboat, we were bussed through town with a visit to the old fort, the old courthouse with a mock trial, and a stop at the old General Store, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE DID.

In addition to the General Itinerary that was sent to us just after we booked the cruisetour, we received a booklet that told of additional excursions that would be available at each stop if you chose to do any. Then each morning of the cruisetour when we boarded the coach, there was a daily itinerary on our seat. Everything was well written out and explained exactly what we would be doing each day.

Did you have a different experience?

I can understand the OP not wanting the large coach with 40 fellow travelers. In our case we traveled in tandem with another coach, so there was our 40 + another 40 from the other coach, BUT IT SURE MADE THOSE LONELY DESOLATE HIGHWAYS FEEL A LITTLE LESS DESERTED KNOWING YOU HAD A COMPANION COACH if anything were to happen. We actually did have a small problem with our coach in Tok Alaska. The driver had received word on his walkie talkie that there was a delay due to highway construction, so he wanted to leave at 7 am instead of 8 am, so we all proceeded to the coach (like sheep) at 7 am. The coach wouldn't start. It took our driver, the other coach driver and a fellow from Tok to finally get the coach started and pulled out at 8 am. I wouldn't have wanted to be by myself in a rental car and have that happen.

Cruisetours or even coach tours aren't for everyone. I love them, tell me where to be, what time to be there & I'll let the bus driver and tour guide worry about getting me to my destination, showing me the sights that are along the way and schlepping my luggage; I'll sit back and enjoy the ride!!! I've done coach tours here in the U.S., Australia, & Europe. For me, there is no better way to travel. JMHO!
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Old December 18th, 2013, 04:42 PM
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Hi Eleanor, Thank you for the information. Your right I just don't want to be with 40 or 80 people on the land portion. We have taken a number of HAL tours and some have been very good and some not. When we were in Greece we were on a HAL tour and I kept asking when we were going to be at the winery. Finally the guide told me there was no winery on the tour. I was positive there was, anyway when I got back to the ship I looked up my documentation. HAL had put us on a different tour without asking and without informing me. Plus the tour I had paid for was $20 per person more expensive. (You know how you go to the lounge, tell them your name and they give you a bus number to get on.) If, I had not checked on it they would not have refunded my $40.00. Other times we have ended up in shopping areas much longer than we would like. That being said, when we do the sea portion of the Alaska trip, (wether it be HAL, Royal Carribean or Celebrity) we will definitely take ship sponsored tours because I don't want to take the chance of missing the ship. We were told by a ship's officer on the Noordam that more people miss the ship in Alaska and Capri then in any other ports. He told us that Alaska and Capri are not a places to do private tours because of the weather and sea conditions. So, we are taking that to heart. The land portion can be separate from the sea portion. What I want to do is research the heck out of this trip. I will definitely look into HAL's options. I greatly appreciate your point of view. Thank you so much for responding. Angela
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Old December 18th, 2013, 05:13 PM
DragonOfTheSeas DragonOfTheSeas is offline
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That being said, when we do the sea portion of the Alaska trip, (wether it be HAL, Royal Carribean or Celebrity) we will definitely take ship sponsored tours because I don't want to take the chance of missing the ship. We were told by a ship's officer on the Noordam that more people miss the ship in Alaska and Capri then in any other ports. He told us that Alaska and Capri are not a places to do private tours because of the weather and sea conditions. So, we are taking that to heart. The land portion can be separate from the sea portion. What I want to do is research the heck out of this trip. I will definitely look into HAL's options. I greatly appreciate your point of view. Thank you so much for responding. Angela
That is interesting. I have never read about anyone missing the ship on the Alaska message board. [yes---I know not everyone is a CC member. However, I suspect we would hear about the company that caused the missed connection] For example, in Skagway the ship's passengers were on the same train as we were, they were just in a different car.
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Old December 18th, 2013, 06:34 PM
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olemissreb olemissreb is offline
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Since we were traveling with 2 teenagers, I didn't want to do a land tour through any company. I wanted a more laid back atmosphere that allowed us to do what we chose to do when we chose to do it. So, I researched for 2 years and came up with a land tour that suited us perfectly. The only glitch came about when my youngest son broke his foot 2 weeks prior to vacation and so we had to cancel his and my husbands glacier trek, but they got to go to the Iditarod HQ and take a dog sled ride instead. We did a lot of stuff, but we were also able to relax.

On the cruise, we did nothing but private tours and let me tell you, it was soooooooooooooooo worth it! If we had taken a cruise sponsored whale watch in Icy Strait, we would have been disappointed. The cruise sponsored trip got to see some tail slaps, but didn't really get to see any breaches. Our private tour (just the 5 of us) stayed with the cruise tours (boats with 40 people or more) for a little while and then we went further out and got to see a baby whale playing - breaching, tail slaps, fin slaps - OMG it was sooooooooo amazing. In Ketchikan, we went flight seeing to the Misty Fjords National Monument with Michelle from Island Wings. OMG - the scenery, with the soundtrack she had playing was just breathtaking. In Skagway, we booked with Chilkoot Charters (train up/bus back) and had a train car to ourselves (just those booked with Chilkoot) and the buses had maybe 20 people on them and we were able to stop in more places than the big cruise buses. Each and every tour got us back with plenty of time to spare.

What I'm trying to say is don't rule out private tours in any port. They cost about the same as a cruise tour, but they are so much more personal and intimate that you get more of your money's worth.
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Old December 18th, 2013, 08:27 PM
donaldsc donaldsc is offline
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Thank you both. What I am really looking for are tours that will get us the most bang for the buck. I don't mind paying extra if it is worth it. I would prefer to be in a small group of maybe 20 or less. We have been on a number of HAL tours in a big bus out for hours and seeing a fraction if what there is to see. Or, as you said Don, not getting what we expected. Depending on where we are going we usually do a combination of private and ship tours.

I am sure this will be our only trip to Alaska and I just want it to be the best it can be. I have lots of time to research and I am no stranger to that. We spent a month in Europe. I researched that for 2 years and it paid off.

Don, if you have recommendations on any other company, I would love to hear it.

Thanks.
I do not ever do tours so I can't give you any specific suggestions. It is also very difficult to pick up on where the tour companies are lying. For example, how many people who have never been to Alaska before would realize that on the first John's tour example, you do not actually go into the park. I will bet nobody. Would you.

I only do DIY tours that I plan and execute myself. The DIY tours may be less efficient that tour company tours but I see what I want and my own pace. I only do ship tours when there is no alternative as I do not like to join a herd of 40 people on a bus. When I set up a private tour off a ship which I have done many times, my maximum group sie is no more than 6 people.

The only tour I ever took was one in Greece with OAT. It was so bad, they lied so much and the guide was so pedantic (he would have made a great university professor) that they gave us a $1000 credit on a future tour. I did not use the credit.

These things take a lot of work on your part but I get to see what is important for you instead of what is most profitable for the cruise company.

DON
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Old December 19th, 2013, 12:02 PM
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Don,

Did you have a different experience?

, BUT IT SURE MADE THOSE LONELY DESOLATE HIGHWAYS FEEL A LITTLE LESS DESERTED KNOWING YOU HAD A COMPANION COACH if anything were to happen.

l. JMHO!
LONELY DESOLATE HIGHWAYS!! DESERTED!! Where were you in Alaska - on a barely paved road off to nowhere? I drove every paved and many unpaved roads on my 2 1/2 month driving trip to and in AK and none of them were either lonely or desolate. Even when we drove the haul road to Prudoe Bay, there were cars or trucks or motorcycles or RVs or even bicycles coming at the rate of at least several per hour. Yes, they were lonely and desolate compared to the Long Island Expressway but I have driven many roads in western US that had fewer cars than the roads in Alaska.

Another thing, in general Alaskans are very friendly. One time I was stopped on the side of a road changing a flat tire. I had several people stop and ask me if I needed help.

Be serious.

DON
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Old December 19th, 2013, 04:46 PM
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LONELY DESOLATE HIGHWAYS!! DESERTED!! Where were you in Alaska - on a barely paved road off to nowhere? I drove every paved and many unpaved roads on my 2 1/2 month driving trip to and in AK and none of them were either lonely or desolate. Even when we drove the haul road to Prudoe Bay, there were cars or trucks or motorcycles or RVs or even bicycles coming at the rate of at least several per hour. Yes, they were lonely and desolate compared to the Long Island Expressway but I have driven many roads in western US that had fewer cars than the roads in Alaska.

Another thing, in general Alaskans are very friendly. One time I was stopped on the side of a road changing a flat tire. I had several people stop and ask me if I needed help.

Be serious.

DON
I know the road from Chicken to Eagle was somewhat scary but HAL doesn't offer that by bus anymore. We had two busses and a car leading us and a car behind. Possibly the road that goes over the Top of the World highway to Dawson City would be scary in bad weather. The pilot cars lead the way but they also scout for wildlife along the way and will circle back to tell the drivers about wildlife sightings. Next year HAL will fly from Fairbanks to Dawson City. I'm so glad I got to do the Eagle, Dawson City, Yukon River adventure with HAL. You can still drive this route so maybe more cars will be on the road to help stranded passengers should a car break down.

In Dawson City (Yukon) we met a lone tourist who had driven his car on the Dempster Highway all the way to Inuvik. He had a flat tire along the way which caused quite a delay. He had a story to tell. Some us us thrive on unexpected adventure. Some of us enjoy traveling with someone who can handle those little inconveniences for us.
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Old December 19th, 2013, 06:08 PM
Northern Aurora Northern Aurora is offline
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I was hoping that someone who had actually taken a John Hall's Alaska tour would respond. I see the motor coaches in Fairbanks, and they appear to me to be the same size as used by HAL, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.

I also took a quick look at the John Hall website, and they do offer, in my opinion, some more interesting stops than the standard HAL and Princess offerings. For example, at Denali the John Hall tours go all the way into Kantishna, but apparently go in and out in one day. If I chose to do that I would prefer to overnight at one of the Kantishna lodges.

But the OP also mentions that she is looking for tours which would give the most bang for the buck. In that case then just do a DIY land package, and see exactly what YOU want to see. Alaska is very easy to navigate. We are part of the US, we speak English and drive on the right side of the road! We don't have bandits and are very friendly! When I see those motor coaches, with folks herded on and off, I really wonder what type of experience they are having.
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Old December 19th, 2013, 06:58 PM
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Would you not consider a DIY trip? As northern aurora pointed out, Alaska is easy enough to do on your own. Many of us have done so and multiple times. And as Donald said, DIY allows you to go where you want to go and at your own pace.
If you go to the STICKY above, called '2013 Alaska cruise reports' or something similar you'll find many detailed trip reports for Alaska. There are cruises, cruises with cruisetours and cruises with DIY land travel (by car, train, bus). Go to reply #45 where the reports are sorted by cruiseline/ship.
Good luck with your plans.
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Old December 19th, 2013, 07:04 PM
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I have seen the John Hall's groups and they seem to be enjoying their trips. What I have seen is the big busses. I have been getting their brochure for the past few years and they always seem pretty expensive. I've been on several of the HAL tours and have enjoyed them all but HAL has really cut back on their tour options post and pre cruise.

Kantishna is a trip you can arrange for yourself with fewer people but you need to spend at least one night out in Kantishna. The mosquitoes were awful in June. We arranged it separately through Gray Line Tours (which is part of the HAL/Princess group). We were given our itinerary and away we went, they made all the arrangements, we just had to show up. Denali Travel also offers Kantishna packages. If you like to hike two nights would be nice but I thought 1 night was plenty. Two nights would give you two opportunities for clear viewing of Denali. We got lucky and hiked to the top of a hill and before us was a totally clear view of the mountain. While we were out hiking a large group came in for lunch and then returned to the park entrance. That would make for a very long day for me.

If I were to do a John Hall tour it would have to be someplace other tours do not go.....such as a Klondike experience. You would, however, be traveling with a large group and have less independent time than you would with a cruise tour. The cruise lines give you free time so you can book excursions. I think the John Hall experience is for those who enjoy having someone provide the experience and you just enjoy it.
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Old December 19th, 2013, 07:54 PM
oaktreerb oaktreerb is offline
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Default Kantishna Roadhouse correction to #14

We were at Kantishna Roadhouse for two nights ,three days. You arrive late the first day, overnight, second day for activities, third day you leave very early for the park entrance. All meals are provided....good food, rustic accommodations.
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Old December 19th, 2013, 08:52 PM
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We have only been to Alaska once, so I am far from the voice of experience, but I am of the same thought as many of the others -- if you have so much time to research to make the most of this trip, why not do a DIY? We only had enough time to do a few days before our cruise last summer, but it was amazing, and so easy to do whatever we wanted to do.

We saw the John Hall participants in ports, and they seemed to be in relatively large groups. I prefer to plan what WE want to do, especially when it is in the US!

As for missing the boat in port, of course a cruise ship employee is going to tell you that! We used all private tours and had wonderful experiences.
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Old December 19th, 2013, 11:52 PM
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We were at Kantishna Roadhouse for two nights ,three days. You arrive late the first day, overnight, second day for activities, third day you leave very early for the park entrance. All meals are provided....good food, rustic accommodations.
We stayed at the Skyline Lodge in Denali near the end of the road -

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...ve_Alaska.html

Half the cost of the fancier places, really funky, and a great place to stay. The do have only a few rooms so you have to reserve early. We reserved in January and we got one of the last few rooms.

DON
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Old December 20th, 2013, 06:48 AM
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My mom and I cruised Alaska in 2009 and my mom has wanted to return, as have I, for a land trip and I did a lot of research regarding tours....including John Hall's.

We did NOT want to tour with a large group on a cattle call bus, we were willing to pay a little extra . It was not easy researching this in fact I postponed our trip a year because I was not satisfied with the results of my research until I discovered Alaska Wildland Adventures.

Maximum group size is 16 usually tops out at 12, all inclusive including transporation, meals, activities etc. You are responsible for tips and airfare and your pretrip/posttrip hotel. We are doing the 7-day 6 nite Denali journey in 2014 as my mom wants to stay deep inside Denali.

For us this works as we are 86 an 61 and we want to leave the driving to others and thoroughly take in our surroundings and enjoy ourselves.

THanks to research here on this site we are also saving on our cross country airfare thru Alaska Airlines companion fare they offer once a year!

Happy research!
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Old December 20th, 2013, 07:54 AM
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Thank you all so much. Yes, the point is to not be on a bus for extended periods with lots of people. I realize we will need to be transported from one place to another, but I don't want to spend an hour at a sight and lots of hours on the bus. I know DIY is an option, but I prefer to have a guide. However, it is definitely something to think about. I appreciate all the conversation, please keep it up. Our planned date for travel is late June early July 2015.
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Old December 20th, 2013, 09:00 AM
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If they only use Royal Caribbean or Celebrity you will not visit Glacier Bay on your one and only trip to Alaska. Those lines have no permits to enter the Bay.

This would kill it for me.
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