There are so many Alaskan cruise options, it might be hard to choose the right fit for your trip to Alaska. While most vacationers visit Alaska aboard a cruise ship, there are unlimited options to consider how to make the most of your vacation.
There are ships that cater to families and lines that don’t allow children under certain ages. Sizes also range from a dozen people to several thousand onboard. Some itineraries include stops in Hubbard or Glacier Bay. While this may drive the cost up due to permits and entry fees, it also allows nature lovers to experience the Alaska they’ve dreamed of. There are cruises that spend more time in port and of course, endless itineraries with endless ports.
Some ships are really set up to entertain, while others are focusing on wildlife viewing and unique experiences. There are always themed cruises as well as multi cultural and multi generational tendencies to consider. Sometimes it may seem mind boggling figuring out how you will get the best value for your vacation dollar.
When considering family destinations, keep the flight time and ease of communication at the forefront. If this is a first international trip for children, this is especially true. While its important for them to experience cultures and people with a different way of life, it’s equally important for them to love the vacation and become truly interested in travel for the experience of tasting the world.
For east coast travelers, Amsterdam is a quick and easy option. With non-stop flights from Boston, New York and Dulles, to name a few, departures will likely be in the early evening resulting in a morning arrival. Plan fun and easy activities on Day One to allow for an early bed time that will get everyone on track with the time zones. The most common local transportation for families is by bike. Plan to ride as often as possible on the mostly flat, well marked and super safe bike routes along the country side.
For west coast travelers, Hawaii may be the perfect family getaway. Participate in a luau on the beach. Experience the dances and customs of island people at the Polynesian Culture Center. The PCC is at least a full day out event.
All US locations will have an easy flight to Tennessee to see Opryland Graceland and Dollyworld. Focus on music by seeing a concert by having a tour of Nashville. If you have extra time, take a paddle boat cruise up the Mississippi. Be sure to check dates that will accommodate families and children. Consider taking Grandma along for a multigenerational vacation.
The US National Park system truly has something for everyone. Choose which park to visit after considering each family members interests. For younger children, hiking should be short and easy, leading to animal viewing locations. A great choice is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, with lodging at nearby Custer State Park. Older kids will enjoy walking the Freedom Trail in Boston. Fourth of July visits will include fireworks and festivities that highlight our nations independence.
A weekend away, in a resort with a pool might be just right for the finicky eater and sleeper. This will allow them to see the fun and excitement of being away from home, without the stress of a flight. Be sure to pack all the favorites right into the car (blanket, pillow, favorite cup and snacks).
There are at least ten reasons to plan an Azores vacation.
1. Location. The Azores are a chain of nine islands located about 1800 miles east of Boston and non stop flights are available year round from Boston and Toronto . Seasonally, there are also direct flights from Montreal and Oakland California. The flight from Boston only takes four hours.
2. Long tourist season. For tourists who are looking for a temperate climate during the shoulder seasons, the Azores might be a perfect ft. Temperatures range from about 50 degrees in January, it’s coldest month, to the high 80s in August. Read More
Step out of the Box: Don’t just think Summer in Alaska
The climate across Alaska surprises most visitors. During the winter, while the far north sees
temperatures as low as 50 below zero (not a typo), Anchorage tends to see temps and precipitation similar to Maine. The weather in Ketchikan and south of Anchorage including the Inside Passage rarely goes much below freezing and is similar to that of sistering cities of Victoria, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington. With rain forests and mountains bordering the sea, the clouds somehow add to the beauty of the seaside towns like Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, even on a cold and rainy winter day. This is perfect weather for the outdoor enthusiast. We tried dog sledding, skiing and snow shoeing at Alyeska Resort in February.
With 12 hours of daylight by late February and March, the locals and tourists in Anchorage enjoy the Rhondy Festival with a full carnival, including rides and food vendors, as well as performances, tournaments and family activities. I was shocked to see both cotton candy and sausage trailers next to the ferris wheel in the middle of winter but it works. By the way, those sausages, you can choose between pork or reindeer sausages.
The ice sculptures are more magnificent than any First Night Celebration in the world and, like the sand castle contests of the Atlantic Ocean states, the variety and uniqueness made me want to stroll the streets of downtown Anchorage again and again.
The locals just love a good time. The Rhondy is wrapped up with a Trapper’s Banquet where the man with the longest beard is honored. Other guests often wear a beard that night too, just because they can.
On the final day of Rhondy, which happened to coincide with the Iditarod Ceremonial Start, about 3000 participants enter the Running of the Reindeer competition. This event is similar to the Running of the Bulls in Spain but much safer. Tourists, military, high school kids and men and women all have their own start. They run about five blocks through downtown Anchorage trying to stay ahead of the approaching antlered reindeer running behind them. This event lasts less than an hour, yet several hundred people come out to cheer on the runners who wear anything from fur speedos to super hero costumes. It reminded me a lot of the Bay to Breakers Race in San Francisco each May.
I barely mentioned the main event, The Iditarod Race and a week full of events leading up to the race. Read about it in my blog.
Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for your Alaskan Cruise
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.
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.
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.
Alaskan cruises are generally 7 days or longer. The most common southern Alaska 7 day itineraries follow Read More
I sailed in May with my daughter, who was a first time cruiser and saw the world through her eyes. Just arriving at the port in anticipation of boarding is exciting for a first time cruiser. We weren’t even out of the van when our bags were taken care of; the tags we printed out last week indicated which ship and stateroom the bags would be delivered to. After a quick ID check, we went through security, just like the one in the airport but with fewer restrictions. Our next stop was the twenty station check in desk where we each received a key card, a map of the ship and instructions on the meeting time for the emergency drill. If we hadn’t completed the online pre-cruise check in, this would have been a much longer and more complicated process. Online check in is a must!
What a great place to do some people watching. The experienced cruisers are easy to spot; they have their bottles of wine with them. Some are carrying a case of Mountain Dew or other favorite soda. A few people have huge beautiful bouquets of flowers, knowing the crew will supply the vase in their stateroom. They also arrive early for check in to make the most of their vacation time and also to avoid the rush during the last hour of boarding
We see the many baby carriages and loads of assistive devices to help the seniors navigate on board. I happen to be certified in Special Needs Travel and help arrange those rentals for people. It makes cruising possible for people right into their 90s. We met a solo traveler who was 95 and she was having a great time for herself.
The dress runs the gamut, as do the ages of guests as well as nationalities and personalities. Some people are in their finest clothes, while others are ready for the pool. Lots of groups, large and small, seem to be gathering around the boarding area. Again and again we learn that just two were planning to travel, then a sister decided to come along, her daughter and friend added a few weeks later and before they knew it, the cruise became a family reunion.
Since we boarded at 1 PM, we had a few hours to explore the ship. We went to the upper decks to enjoy the fabulous
Seattle weather for a few hours before setting sail. We knew Alaska would be cooler and wetter. Since the ship was still actively boarding, we had the chance to watch other guests as they arrived. Even from our balcony, on the starboard side of the ship, we had a view of the port. In the days when there was just a single ship in the harbor, the port side would be the one facing the port, but now, with sometimes six ships in port at any given time, the rules have all changed.
Food is always available onboard. Formal dining rooms, although they have set hours, are open for most of the day and night. Read More
I don’t worry about many belongings when traveling, since there are stores available onboard and at ports with almost anything you could need or want. The most common item that clients say they needed and didn’t have was an extra suitcase for all the stuff they purchased. See a winter vacation packing list for Alaska to compare.
Electronically speaking, I would be really disappointed to forget my gadgets. Be sure you have:
Camera, charger, memory cards
Cell phone and charger (most carriers include Alaska in their US plans, but check)
Headphones for your personal music as well as any bus tours you might take Read More
Whether traveling solo or with a group, you may want to meet new people while onboard your cruise ship. No matter what your interests, age group or heritage, there are endless opportunities to meet people on board a cruise ship.
If you feel shy, just take the first step and attend a seminar or training session. Almost everyone else in the room will have something in common with you, the session topic. Chat with your neighbor about their interest or experience in that field.
For those with a little more nerve, go to one of the meet ups on board during the first few days. Within the first twenty four hours on board, there were meetups for LGBT, swing dancers, bridge players, gamblers, young adults aged 18-25, singles and solo travelers and Friends of Bill. Get to one of the meetups and just commit to stay for 20 minutes. Again, you will have a common goal with other guests, if they joined it, it means they also want to meet people.
Choose a ship where all guests are assigned a table for dinner each night. Solo travelers will have the most opportunity to meet people if they choose the larger table option, say 8 or 10 people. Dinner conversations often lead to finding common interests and networking opportunities. You already have one major dinner topic in common – travel.
Shore excursions are also a great way to meet people from your ship as well as from other ships. Read More
It seems unfair that so many people who ask legitimate questions on websites about avoiding weight gain on cruises are told to “just enjoy the vacation” and “only count sugar”. I surfed to more than a dozen sites looking for sound advice on this subject before deciding to just be sensible during my cruise. Now that it’s over, I can give some advice of my own.
For those of us who sit at a desk most of the week, it’s easy to burn calories on board by just using the stairs. This could also be a fun reason to splurge for a higher deck cabin.
Exercise options are endless while at sea. If you work out at home, it’s very easy to keep your routine in place while cruising. While there are plenty of people using the treadmills and other equipment, I didn’t see anyone who needed to wait for their machine. Big groups of people walk on deck in the morning and after dinner, some do the three laps that equal a mile and others make it a stroll. Holland America even has a structured walk each day right after the morning stretch.
Try to keep you meal routine in place. If you generally eat breakfast at home, enjoy it onboard. If you normally have coffee only, try that for a few days and see what you think. Remember, you can always get food, so don’t worry about missing out.
While there are a frightening number of calories in the dinners and desserts, there are also huge amounts in beverages of all kinds. Try to alternate a glass of water with each beer, wine or cocktail drink. Drinking plenty of water will also help keep you healthy and germ free on the cruise.
Glacier Bay is one of the greatest of the United States National Parks. Unlike most parks, nearly all of the 500 thousand visitors each year arrive onboard cruise ships. While that sounds like a huge number of people, there is actually very limited access and only a small percentage of Alaska cruisers have the opportunity to actually enter and cruise inside Glacier Bay.
The National Park Service permits only two cruise ships per day entry into the park and the cruise ship company pays a large sum for their permit as well as approximately $50 per person entry fee. Prior to entering the park, one or more park rangers are delivered to the ship by skiff to escort and narrate to the guests.