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.
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
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.
I visited Alaska in February and needed to know what to pack for my winter vacation. I kept a list of the things I brought and actually used, as well as the items that I wished I brought along. The weather will undoubtedly be cold and there will probably be precipitation during any winter visit to Alaska. Obviously, a lot of time will be spent outdoors to make the trip worthwhile.
My list is below:
Bathing Suit (there’s nothing more relaxing than a Jacuzzi soak after spending a cold day outdoors.
Warm winter boots and woolen socks. (I can’t say enough about the qualities of woolen socks, especially if you plan to stand on ice or snow for an extended period.) My boots happen to be Bogs brand and they are great for water as well as for cold to -40 degrees.
Warm outerwear including a hat, scarf, winter coat, snow pants or skirt. (Most of the ladies in Alaska have snow skirts. They look just like snow pants, but are shaped like a skirt instead. They come in all different lengths, but if you are going to wear a sleeping bag around your body to stay warm, why not get it long enough to cover your legs completely.) Read More
Each March, on the first Saturday, the Iditarod dog sled race ceremonial start is held in Anchorage, Alaska. This is a major event for Alaskans, who consider dog sled racing their state sport. They don’t have a football or basketball team to cheer for, but they know the mushers and even the dogs by name, discussing and analyzing their stats and strategies at dinner and at bars. There are local favorites, of course, and even some family traditions. The Seavey family has four different sleds/mushers entered in this year’s race.
The ceremonial starts is much like a parade in that each musher, in their actual race order claimed at the musher’s banquet, will cross the starting line on 4th Street in Anchorage with their sled and up to 12 members of the dog team. Each team will have the musher, wearing his or her numbered pinny, as well as an honored guest riding along. Read More
Another great thing about visiting Alaska in the winter time is the lure of Alyeska Ski Resort just a few hours south of Anchorage. This ski area has nine lifts with a capacity to more 12, 196 riders per hour. The summit is 3990 feet with the base at just 250 feet above sea level. With the capacity and terrain to accommodate all levels of skiers, this family friendly resort will keep everyone happy on and off the slopes.
In addition to down hill skiing, there is Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice skating on the pond, glacier flights and a spa. The hotel has restaurants, an indoor pool and a gym. Entertainment, including free movies during the week and live music on the weekends will surely please guest who’d like to stay on site. Many will choose to venture into nearby Girdwood for shopping, restaurants and entertainment while visiting the area.
While I’m an experienced skier, I don’t consider myself a good skier. I found the expert slopes exciting to watch from the lifts and the beginner slopes easiest enough even for a first time skier. The bulk of my time was spent on the moderate trails, with enough variety that I managed to ski for most of the day without repeating any runs. This allowed me to view the magnificent scenery, the main reason I was on the slopes in the first place. The photo opportunities were just endless with mountains in almost every direction and the water below. Several non-skier guests of the resort even opted to ride the tram just to see the views. Alyeska is a beautiful location to experience the scenery that Alaska is famous for, while pampering yourself with true Alaskan hospitality.
Most people consider visiting Alaska during the summer. Coming from New England, I decided to visit in the winter time. The weather in Anchorage and the Seward area is pretty similar to my home state of New Hampshire during the winter months and the scenery can’t be found anywhere else on earth.
My favorite part of traveling is getting to know the locals and seeing their scenic land and how they live. While July guests to Alaska have the benefit of warmer weather and more cruise and train travel options, the bustling city looks nothing like the home the locals love during the other ten months of the year.
We arrived in Anchorage for the last week in February to participate in the festivities leading up to the Iditarod dog sled races. While in town, we took the beautiful Turnagain Arm scenic road to Seward then on to Alyeska Resort and Ski Area for a few days on the slopes.
While in Alyeska, we went dog sledding at night. The snow is so white and pure that it looks like there are diamonds sparkling through it. Even late at night, a field of snow has sparkles that light the way. The dogs, naturally nocturnal animals, train best at the lower temperatures during the night and while their energy is highest. It was about 10 degrees farenheit during our mush, which was chilly, although we came dressed properly and were able to enjoy the clear skies, the sound of the snow under the skis and the beautiful snow cover. I’m sure this authentic experience could only be found in the winter months.