Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for an Alaskan Cruise

Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for your Alaskan Cruise

Orca in Glacier Bay
Orca in Glacier Bay

Ugh, that sticky subject when planning a vacation; it comes up eventually every time you travel.  Maybe you are one to plan a budget in advance and try to stick close to those numbers.  You might be one to pull a number out of a hat, book the cruise right at your limit and not plan for excursions and ship board expenses.  Another personality will just put it all on the card and figure it out later.

Knowing in advance what your expenses might be will help to plan your trip and enjoy it to the fullest.  Factors to consider are broken out below, plan out your wish list as you go down the list. When budgeting, though, work in order of your personal priorities.  This will help to determine the cruise line and sailing that is right for you.

The reason there are at least a dozen cruise companies sailing the Alaska coast successfully is the differences and markets they tend to attract.  Let a travel agent help you explore which one is the best fit for your next vacation.

Ship Size:

More so than in any other market, there are varied ship options for your sailing to Alaska.  From 12 person yachts that can visit uncharted nooks and crannies to large floating cities with every imaginable amenity and offering.  While budget will play a role in this decision, your personal interests need to be considered to find the best fit.

Cruise Line:

Several companies sail the icy Pacific Ocean to the Bering Sea and beyond from May through October.  Choosing the best fit for you might be as easy as listing your top dream activities on board. For instance, do you want the giant outdoor movie screen to looking at the best children’s programs? This thought may lead you to or away from a particular kid friendly line.  You may enjoy privileged status with one company or you may want to gain that status for your dream future trip around the world.  Quite often, clients know if they want formal nights and country club casual attire or if they’d prefer the casual anything goes climate, how do you like to travel?  Do you prefer a set dinner time or do you prefer my style dining?  Are you looking for an inclusive drink package?  These are important differences between the cruise companies.

You could always call the cruise line directly and ask questions; they will certainly tell you all about their ships.  Will they tell you about a competitor that might be a better fit for you?  Not likely, but a travel agent will tell you.

Travel Dates Affect Budget:

If you are traveling with children, the school calendar may dictate your options for travel dates.  If you don’t mind the colder weather, like a true New Englander, May or September can offer the same experience but with fewer crowds.  Floridians might prefer July, Alaska’s warmest month.  The calving glaciers are best seen with the warmer weather beginning in late May and newborn cubs and wildlife will be more abundant then too.  Highest season in July is also highest priced but because of the warmer temperatures and longer days.

Trip Itineraries:

Alaskan cruises are generally 7 days or longer. The most common southern Alaska 7 day itineraries follow the Inside Passage from Seattle or Vancouver with glacier viewing in either Glacier Bay or Tracy Arm and port calls in Juneau, Ketchikan and varied other towns along the Panhandle.  Next in popularity are the Glacier routes which run one way between the southern ports and Anchorage with stops in Prince William Sound and Hubbard Glacier.  For those returning cruise guests, a longer itinerary including ports of call north of Anchorage may bring a whole new experience with longer sailings, more ports and varied unique experiences.  If a particular port of call or glacier viewing is important to you, it is imperative that you consider itineraries prior to booking your cruise.  Note that GlacierNational Park issues a limited number of entries into Glacier Bay daily.  Princess and HollandAmerica receive most of those entry passes.

Departure Ports and Flights:

The most common departure points for Alaskan cruises are Seattle, Vancouver and Anchorage.  Since many cruises are “open jaw”, meaning they depart from one port and end in another, open jaw flights may be necessary also.  Fully researching flight options and costs to and from different ports can result in significant cost savings, especially during the high cruise season when several ships will be leaving port on the same day.  It may be more cost effective to arrive in Seattle or your departure point a day early and explore and enjoy the city prior to boarding ship.

Choosing a cabin category:

Cabin category pricing can drastically affect your budget.  If you hope to have a veranda or balcony stateroom, the cost is often double the price of an inside cabin.  Depending on your travel style, this may be a good value.  If you plan to socialize and participate in several ship activities and excursions, an inside stateroom will satisfy your need to have a place to sleep, shower and keep your belongings.  If, on the other hand, you want to have some privacy, or sit on your balcony at night with a glass or wine, then an upgrade will be money well spent.  If you expect to get some work done in your cabin, a balcony might be just the indulgence to insure you don’t miss out on the scenery and wildlife viewings.  Another consideration is how many people will be sharing your stateroom.  While many categories will accommodate a third or even fourth person in the cabin, there are also a few categories that will hold as many as eight family members.  After the first two guests in a room, the cost will often be much lower for additional guests.

Budget for Excursions:

Group canoe trip
Solos on a group canoe trip

On some ships, excursions such as kayaking and whale watching are included. On others, this would be an added expense.  Excursion costs will play a big role in budgeting and also in finding the best match for your travel plans.  If you have your heart set on dog sledding, the earlier spring sailing may offer better snow conditions.  Fishing may be more pleasurable in the summer when the temperatures will be warmer and sunshine is more likely.  The Panhandle, south of Anchorage, will receive the most rain year round, with some cities averaging 200 inches per year.  For hikers and nature lovers who are comfortable exploring independently, nearly every Alaska port call is in the center of town where it’s very manageable to set off on your own to hike or explore.  While there are unlimited excursion opportunities at every port of call, there are also many cruisers who are very happy to stay in town and not partake in excursions.  For those who do want to be a part of a formal excursion each day, the more inclusive ships will be a better match.

Nightlife and Entertainment:

Some cruise lines are known for exceptional nightly shows and entertainment. While a Broadway show or Las Vegas performance might be what you are looking for, others may prefer less formal entertainment such as a piano bar, nightly movies, or even Dancing with the Stars at sea. How will you spend your evenings? Most medium and larger ships also have casinos, while the smaller vessels will more likely have naturalist speakers and cultural exchanges.

If you would like to enjoy several drinks over the course of your stay, some cruise lines offer drink packages to allow for a true all inclusive experience.  These packages generally cost about $50 per night, although some cruise line sales include free unlimited drink packages and others build the package right into their cabin pricing.

If you enjoy fine wines with dinner, a wine package will give you 3 or more bottles of your choice wine to enjoy during dinners.   After selecting the bottle you want, the wine is served to your table.  Wine that is left after dinner may be corked for your stateroom or saved in the dining room for your enjoyment at the next meal.  An example of cost might be $90 for three bottles of wine.

Planning well ahead is almost always the best policy for cruising. While prices normally rise during the year preceding the cruise, if the costs do go down, your travel agent can often re-price or upgrade to a better cabin. If, on the other hand, you would like to travel last minute and are flexible on your needs, a great match may be found in a moments notice.  The more thought put into how you will spend your vacation time, the better match and value you will find for your vacation memories and within your budget.

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