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Planning an Alaska cruise - advice?
Old 03-14-2009, 07:22 PM   #1
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Planning an Alaska cruise - advice?

Hi all,

We might be able to swing an Alaska cruise this summer. There appear to be great deals going on, so I'm looking into it. Thought I would ask for advice from those who have done this before.
  1. Best time to go? Why?
  2. Is a balcony a must, or will we be happy with ocean view? (definitely not doing inside room this time)
  3. Recommendations on best itineraries/"must sees or do's"?
  4. Any money saving tips?
  5. Anything else you think is important to know?
Thanks!
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Old 03-14-2009, 08:18 PM   #2
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1. We went during the should season because the rates were cheaper (May). Of course, this was a few years ago and you could be getting great discounts.
2. We got the balcony since our ship was cruising Glacier Bay
3. See Cruise critic Alaska and figure out what is your style. We did the bicycle rides and a helicopter tour.
4. Shop around, you can find different prices for the same trip. Also, ask for ship credits.
5. We like Norwegian because of the Free Style service. Not set dining time.
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Old 03-14-2009, 08:48 PM   #3
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Add on a land tour (either through the cruise line or by yourself) if you can afford the extra time. Get to Denali and be sure to do the Tundra Wilderness Tour or the "green buses" to Wonder Lake. The cruise portion is nice, but we actually enjoyed the land tour even more.

Ketchikan - Misty Fjords is a great excursion.
Skagway - we rented a car and drove to Yukon Territory. Landscape was amazing. Many people prefer taking the train trip.

If you go to the forum on cruisecritics.com and look under Alaska, you will find information about every port you can imagine and the people there are very helpful.
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Old 03-14-2009, 08:54 PM   #4
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Oh my...you are going to love it.
I was given an Alaska cruise for my 40th birthday by my LH. We went in mid June 99 with Holland America. More expensive but worth every penny. We did the air/sea package with the cruise line so we didn't have to think. All we did was show up at the airport and they handled everything flawlessly. Not a single snag.
Weather: As a baseline, I live in a serious snowbelt. The cruise - It was cool enough to need a sweatshirt and windbreaker and long pants on deck while sailing the Inner Passage. Once we got to Alaska, we needed a fleece underneath the windbreaker while out on deck while underway. However, one day it was warm enough to wear shirts and a sweatshirt on deck. At Glacier National Park, we needed a heavier coat and medium cotton gloves to keep warm out on deck while underway. Layers is the way to go. Sunglasses are a must.
Bring a really good pair of binoculars (each) for whale watching and eagle sighting and everything else you're going to see. For this trip, yes, I would go with a balcony so you can watch the water for wildlife while "at sea" with some wind protection from your balcony privacy walls.
The ports of call were very touristy, but in a pleasant rustic way. We rented bicycles at one of the stops and went off on our own. Very safe. We got to see the outskirts of town vs just the touristy downtown.
Some of the Alaska cruises involve a drop off and several day interior stay, then you are picked back up by the same ship, or by another ship? Not sure...We did not do this option - we stayed entirely on the ship. In retrospect, I would have done this, but the extra cost was beyond our budget at the time.
Hope this helped.
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Old 03-14-2009, 09:14 PM   #5
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In July 2000, we combined a week inland (Anchorage to Denali to Fairbanks), with a second week cruising the Inside Passage, starting and ending in Juneau. For the cruise portion, we knew that we did not want the typical cruise ship experience, with the casino, the nightclub shows, the dress-up dinners, etc, so we chose Clipper Cruise Line and sailed on the Yorktown Clipper (I believe this has been purchased by Cruise West, but I don't know for certain).

Our ship was quite small, with a capacity of 130 passengers total. There was no casino, no shopping and no fancy shows, but there were staff naturalists and a library/ lounge. Our fellow passengers seemed to be more interested in seeing the natural beauty of Alaska than in dressing for dinner, and that was fine with us. The advantage of a small ship is that you can go where the big ships don't -- such as right up to the face of the glacier in Glacier Bay and to out of the way spots like Elfin Cove. At one point, the captain turned the boat around and followed a pod of orcas, so we could all get a good look. I suspect Princess would not do the same with their ship.

We had an outside cabin with a big window, but no balcony. That was fine with us, as we spent minimal time in the cabin, and it would have been too cold to sit on a balcony.

Our favorite things on the cruise portion of the trip, besides watching the incredible natural beauty around us, were the narrow gauge train in Skagway, the Alaska Raptor Center and Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, and the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau.
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Old 03-14-2009, 09:20 PM   #6
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In Sitka, we liked the Alaska Raptor Rehab Center.

There was an early morning motorized boat tour at one stop that we "wish" we had taken - heard they saw tons of wildlife.

Try to adjust your sleeping pattern somewhat before you go - that's a BIG time change and I could never stay awake to even see the midnight buffet once.
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Old 03-14-2009, 09:24 PM   #7
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Make sure you have warm clothes!
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Old 03-15-2009, 08:53 AM   #8
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I've never done the cruise thing but I've been far north a few times. I prefer June for the long days and warmer temperatures. Last June I got 8 days of midnight sun with temperatures in the 60's, just south of the Arctic Ocean.
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Old 03-15-2009, 09:09 AM   #9
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I cruised the inside passage about 15 years ago. At that time there was a small ship that was a concessionaire to the national park service that offered a very personal experience. The small ship was able to take us places larger ships couldn't go and also had zodiacs for shore trips and sea kayaks available. Given my keen interest in nature and disinterest in most cruise ship luxuries, this worked out perfectly. That said, the food and service were excellent on the ship.

The others are correct about warm clothes. I still recall shivering in 40 degree weather in July. Since it is virtually always light in the summer, expect very long days of whale and glacier watching.
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Old 03-15-2009, 09:20 AM   #10
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Never did the cruise, although an Aunt and Uncle did it for their 50th Wedding Anniversary and loved it. We (DW, 3 kids, one dog) lived in Alaska for about 4 years. Personally, if I was going back to see it again, I would fly up there, rent an appropriate vehicle (RV or Jeep type), and just drive all over. Roads are a lot better than when we lived there (70-74). I just don't think you get to see the real Alaska on a boat cruise.
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Old 03-15-2009, 09:28 AM   #11
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We've cruised Alaska three times, and I'd say: layer. Inside the ship it will be quite warm, but even on a nice, sunny day (not all that common in Alaska even in the summer), outside you will be in the 50s most of the time -- and that's in "peak season". If you go in the cheaper "shoulder season" (May and September), it will often be 10 degrees cooler than that. Thick sweaters and sweatshirts may feel great out on the deck or walking around the towns, but you will overheat on the ship after a few minutes if you don't have something underneath it that allows you to remove the sweater.

Also, it rains there -- a LOT -- so umbrellas and water-repellent coats are a must. For me, a windbreaker was usually sufficient. For people who get cold more easily than me, you'll want something more when you're outside.
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Old 03-15-2009, 10:07 AM   #12
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We cruised to Alaska last year on the NCL Pearl. Beautiful ship, wonderful cruise staff that made it a fun voyage. We went in July and it was really cold and rainy. Take lots of warm clothing and a rain coat. I would suggest the balcony cabin. The prices on all cruise lines are really down for Alaska this year.

I would not go Holland America unless you are at least 70 years old and want a really sedate experience. They are lovely ships but the quality has really gone down in the past few years.

Princess seems to have a lock on Alaska. I would suggest you look into deals with them. They are a class act.

My favorite cruise line is Royal Caribbean. You can't go wrong with them.

My husband and I have been on over 50 cruises in the last 20 years. Do check Cruise Critic. Read the reviews and look for those praising the things you value. Picking the right time and ship is very important.
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Old 03-15-2009, 10:53 AM   #13
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We did an Alaskan cruise last May and loved it - layer your clothing; we only ate in the restaurant once, did the buffet the rest of the time; we only paid for one land excursion and instead did our own at the other dockpoints - mainly hiking - the excursions are expensive, but if you like kayaking and all that other stuff, then that's probably the best way to go; stay away from the diamond pushing stuff and try to stay away from the dock stores as much as possible - way over-priced; we had an inside cabin - it was awesome, dark and quiet - had some of the best sleep in a long time; if you like staying on the ship there is usually tons of stuff to do- my husband got involved in the little sports contests and we won a sweatshirt with our 'dam dollars' - there are shows and they were cute - we liked the magician show - one cool thing they had was a 'barbecue on deck' for when we went to the Hubbard Glacier - seafood and steak - it was awesome.

All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves - we saw lots of whales, fish, great scenery, Alaska-especially Sitka, was great - we bought canned smoked salmon in Ketchikan for gifts.

I checked out a book on cruises and what to do/not do so used that as a guide beforehand. Forgot the name, but you can do a search.

Oh, we used Holland America - was a beautiful old ship with amazing artwork - it was a bit more staid than some of the other lines, but we liked it. We weren't interested in getting all dressed up all the time, so this was perfect.

Our next cruise this May is eastern Mediterranean: Croatia, Greece and Turkey - really looking forward to this!

Oh, we paid approximately $1500 for both of us for our cruise last year - amazing deals are to be had right now - that's about what we are paying for our cruise this year, too - both were for 7 days.
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Old 03-15-2009, 11:44 AM   #14
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Took the inside passage tour a few years ago. In the responses I have not seen mention of the situation I encountered. I scheduled a helicopter tour in the afternoon. It was canceled because cloud overcast reached house roof tops, but they did not notify us until 5 minutes before we were to depart for the helicopter pad. Way too late to try again while we were in that port and way too late to take another tour. Because of a cancellation I was able to make a reservation in another port on another day in the morning. So bottom line schedule a flight in the morning, not in the afternoon. Oh yes beware of the weight limitations after all the cruise ship food. They weighed us with all our clothing including the special boots they provided.
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Old 03-15-2009, 12:35 PM   #15
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Went on Alaska cruise/land tour in July 2008. It was the best. If you do a land tour (1 week) I suggest that you do that part first and the ocean cruise second. More time to relax. We took HAL and had no complaints and did not notice too many older folks there, just folks.

Here's a good chat site. Holland America Line - Forum Powered by Eve For Enterprise

Have fun.
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Old 03-15-2009, 12:39 PM   #16
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Went on Alaska cruise/land tour in July 2008. It was the best. If you do a land tour (1 week) I suggest that you do that part first and the ocean cruise second. More time to relax. We took HAL and had no complaints and did not notice too many older folks there, just folks.
We did a Holland America Alaska/Yukon cruisetour in 2002 for our 10th anniversary.

The land tour portion was really neat as far as what we saw and did, but my biggest beef -- by far -- was that the bus left so early in the morning that we were waking up by around 6:00 AM or 6:30 AM almost every day. The bus left around 7:30 or 8:00 almost every day, so if we wanted to get dressed and have a halfway leisurely breakfast before hitting the road, we had to get up that early. I'm on a vacation. I don't WANT to have the alarm clock wake me every morning -- that's WAY too much like w*rk. That time of year, the sun is up until 11:00 PM if not later. You don't need to cram everything into the day before 5 PM.
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Old 03-15-2009, 02:02 PM   #17
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You might want to price the land tours if you book them independently (maybe even waiting until you get to port and off the ship) vs booking them thru the ship.
I've only been on one cruise but talking w/ other passengers seemed to confirm that booking thru the ship is more expensive. You do have some "insurance" that if you book via the ship and are late returning that the ship may wait or make some arrangement for you to catch up and would have to weigh whether you value that. In my one and only cruise, I saw ship-booked tours costing typically 3x the local rate.
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Old 03-15-2009, 02:13 PM   #18
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I've only been on one cruise but talking w/ other passengers seemed to confirm that booking thru the ship is more expensive. You do have some "insurance" that if you book via the ship and are late returning that the ship may wait or make some arrangement for you to catch up and would have to weigh whether you value that. In my one and only cruise, I saw ship-booked tours costing typically 3x the local rate.
This is true. Booking your own land tours is almost always going to be cheaper than through the cruise line. BUT if you roll your own tour and it's late getting back to the ship, too bad. The ship leaves without you and you have to catch up to it at its next port of call at your own expense. It's cheaper but not without some risk.
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"Hey, for every ten dollars, that's another hour that I have to be in the work place. That's an hour of my life. And my life is a very finite thing. I have only 'x' number of hours left before I'm dead. So how do I want to use these hours of my life? Do I want to use them just spending it on more crap and more stuff, or do I want to start getting a handle on it and using my life more intelligently?" -- Joe Dominguez (1938 - 1997)

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Old 03-15-2009, 02:32 PM   #19
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Thanks so much for all of the replies thus far. I will go to cruise critic soon and see what advice is there, too.

Here is what I am looking at so far:
  1. Thinking of going over either Memorial Day Holiday or July 4th to maximize vacation time (I know it might be a little more expensive)
  2. Decided to splurge for balcony. I don't like the cold, but I would brave it to get good pics of whales, etc. without elbowing for room up on deck. We usually don't splurge like this, but we've been working really, really hard lately and feel like we deserve it!
  3. I'm looking at one for $949 pp (not including taxes/port charges), balcony, Royal Caribbean. Departs Friday, May 22 from Vancouver. Itinerary is Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Stait Pt, Hubbard Glacier. It gets in around 3 a.m. Friday the 29th at Anchorage (Seward). Does the $949 seem like a good deal for a balcony?
  4. I also looked at land/cruise packages and found the identical cruise that adds on transportation to and tour of Denali Nat Park (Fri thru Mon). Also includes transpo from Denali to Fairbanks by train. I think transp to Fairbanks airport is also included. Lodging 3 nights is included. Price is around $1400 pp. That's $450 extra per person. I'm curious - has anyone scheduled their own land tour like this at the end of a cruise - and, if so, (1) was it cheaper and (2) how difficult was it to coordinate on your own? (note - we are fairly adventurous/love to plan, but at the same time it might be nice to not have to worry about anything - if the price is reasonable).
Thanks all!
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Old 03-15-2009, 02:57 PM   #20
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one more thing since you mentioned Seward.......once you leave Glacier Bay/Icy Strait you'll be in open ocean exposed to all the wonderful Pacific swells. You may be one of fortunate ones who don't get bothered, but, if you don't know you may want to be prepared w/ Dramamine or equivalent. Much easier to prevent the problem than cure it.

Not to scare you but on my one and only cruise recently, most of the people at our table were veteran cruisers. One of them commented that the worst seasickness he ever got was on an Alaskan cruise. In our area, Walmart carries Dramamine much much cheaper than anywhere else. You can get the newer "less drowsy" type which takes a little longer to be effective but then lasts much longer.
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