One of the most popular destinations I book for my clients is Alaska. If you have not yet done an Alaskan cruise yet, I HIGHLY recommend you do it !!!
Alaska cruises usually call on at least two or three of the following cities: Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway or Sitka; as well as cruising by at least one glacier (again these are just rules of thumb and CAN vary with the cruise line), but as my eighth grade teacher taught us, “No rule’s a good rule unless it has an exception.”
Alaska cruises fall into three basic categories:
• Round Trip – These are ‘inside passage’ cruises that typically sail from and return to Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco or Los Angeles. These are typically the least expensive of the Alaska cruises because they start and end in the same city, which makes your flights to and from the most cost effective. They usually also includes at least two ‘at sea’ days (If you sail from San Francisco, you will have four sea days and five from Los Angeles).
• North/South Bound – These are cruises that sail either from Vancouver northbound to Whittier/Anchorage or the reverse, southbound from Whittier/Anchorage to Vancouver. These are the cruises that are the beginning or ending of the cruisetours, but you can also just book them without doing a land extension (but why not?).
• Cruisetours – This is the land portion of the cruise (either pre or post cruise) that takes you into Denali Park, as well as other cities. The land portion can vary from 3 to 15 days, and some include a train ride.
To get the most of your Alaska cruise, you will probably want to make sure that there will be a naturalist onboard. Throughout the cruise, the naturalist will give lectures about what you are seeing or the history of the city you are visiting. They are onboard the entire cruise and are available for questions just about any time. If your itinerary includes Glacier Bay, a Glacier Bay Park Ranger will board as you enter the park and through the ship’s TV channel and sound system onboard, point out items of interest as well as the areas where wildlife are known to congregate. Hopefully there will be some kind of wildlife activity while you are cruising by…
There will also be a WIDE variety of excursions available, from a simple city bus tour to sea planes and helicopter rides out to the glacier, dog sledding, whale watching, fishing for salmon and halibut and even river rafting, to name a few.
Before you actually book your cruise, you MAY want to compare the excursions offered by the cruise lines you are considering – occasionally there will be an excursion offered exclusively by one cruise line. You wouldn’t want to book your cruise and then find out the excursion you really wanted isn’t available.
NOTE: You can usually save quite a bit of money by booking your excursions from private companies rather than through the cruise line. Since Alaska is one of the United States and not a foreign country, it is QUITE safe and you don’t have to worry about people trying to take advantage of the passengers. That being said, however, booking through the cruise line is truly the easiest.
Everyone in the port cities are VERY aware of the cruise ship schedules. In fact, their store’s operating hours usually revolve around the cruise ship port times. Private tour companies are usually VERY accommodating in helping you get to and from the pier on time, so do not be afraid to book a private tour. They will do their best to get you back in time, but DO allow yourself PLENTY of time to get back as the ship will NOT wait for you! In most of the Alaska port cities, there are ships that arrive in the morning and depart early afternoon, then a second round that come in mid-afternoon and are there into the evening, so they truly can NOT wait. ALSO, since sunset in Alaska isn’t until about 10 pm, you still have quite a bit of daylight hours well into the evening.
The main advantage of booking excursions through the cruise company is that it DOES make it easier, although since the Alaska ports are pretty much in the center of town (not out in an industrial area where taxi’s are not permitted) it is pretty easy to meet up with a private tour dockside.
Alaska is truly amazing to I encourage you to get out and really ‘experience’ Alaska!