When you pay for a cruise, the cost covers the ship, but not the extra trips you might want to do on land. For Caribbean cruises, that might be OK--you can shop, see the sights, and lay on the beach. But in order to have a great Alaska experience, you must go on excursions to get yourself deeper into the wild.
Save your money. Go there. Do it.
At Talkeetna (the base town where mountain climbers gather), my husband and I booked a flight and glacier landing with Talkeetna Air Taxi. A fellow flew us around the mountains (hoping for a glimpse of Denali) and landed us on the snow part of a glacier.
To get there, we flew over dead rivers full of glacial silt. Fish and plants don't live in them, and animals don't drink from them. The silt is almost like cement mix.
Sometimes I thought the airplane's wing was going to clip a mountain.*
*scary words in this post are underlined
Landing on the glacier really spooked me because we came over a 5-mile valley of dangerous crevasses before we landed. We went lower and lower so I thought we weren't going to make it.
Another plane landed at our spot while we were there. He asked for help in getting his plane turned around for take-off, because he wanted to be ready to go right away if he needed to. The plane was so light it only took 2 guys to do it.
Here it is coming in, just landing after flying over the valley of crevasses.
Leaving our cliff really spooked me because the pilot drove right to the edge of the cliff before we began to fly. He said he wanted to make a good driving path for the other plane, since it was smaller and the weather was getting bad.
We had to wear special snow boots so our feet wouldn't get wet. The snow was slippery, as evidenced by how hard it was to walk around, and by how the plane slipped back and forth as it tried to take off when we left.
The beautiful blue lakes can be very very deep....
We followed Ruth Glacier out on the way back. The brown stripes are all the silt the glacier is carrying with it. The satellite version of Google Maps gives a great view of Ruth Glacier and many others, like curling fingers all over Alaska.
We were fortunate; some of the cousins took a flight 30 minutes after ours, but the weather turned bad and they weren't able to land on a glacier at all.
A fun side story: We met Donna and Bob from South Carolina! As a reader-and-planner-before-I-take-a-trip, I spent a lot of time on the forums at CruiseCritic. While there, I had some correspondence with a lady named donnaandbobfromSC, who said they were going on the same cruise and the same land tour as ourselves. When the pilot began to call out our names to board the airplane, he asked for a Bob and Donna.
Could it be?
When they replied "South Carolina" to his queries of where we all were from, I asked my husband "How many Bob and Donnas do you think there are from South Carolina"? So I asked them, and indeed they were the same people. We saw them many times on our trip and had good conversations.