If you are wondering if you should go on an Alaskan cruise, the answer is simple. Yes, you should. Just about anyone you talk to who has been on an Alaskan cruise will tell you it is a must for your bucket list, and to go as soon as you are able. You will find that many of the people you talk to who have indulged in an Alaskan cruise plan their next one soon after they get back.
What Makes an Alaskan Cruise So Special?
• Scenery- The scenery on your Alaskan adventure will be jaw-dropping spectacular. From the evergreens to the mountains, to the unbelievable beauty of the glaciers, there is always something breathtaking to see.
• Wildlife- Naturally, along with beautiful scenery, comes wildlife. You can see everything from bald eagles, to dolphins and sea lions. If you have never seen a humpback whale in the wild, you may very well get your opportunity on an Alaskan cruise.
• Variety of ports of call- Another wonderful thing about an Alaskan cruise is the charm and variety of the ports of call. The ports will vary slightly from cruise line to cruise line, but you can be assured a great mix of small town, big city, and rugged adventure. Most Alaskan cruises will stop in Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau, and either Prince Albert or Victoria, Canada.
There are excursion activities at the various ports of call for every budget and activity level. You may find yourself hiking a glacier one day and at High Tea in Victoria the next. That being said, you are not required to go on any of the excursions. You may opt just to explore the town or take in the local vibe over a local micro-brew. Some people even choose to stay onboard the ship the entire day.
Many people have the notion that cruising is only for the rich and glamorous, especially those of you who are old enough to have watched The Love Boat. However, cruising can be one of the most economical and relaxing ways to travel.
It is true, you can spend a fortune for a suite with a private balcony, but for most of us, an inside cabin works just fine. Unless you’re on your honeymoon and have the libido of a 21-year-old, most of your waking hours will be spent outside your cabin.
All the major cruise lines have a variety of activities and an array of entertainment options, many at no additional cost. Or, you can choose to do nothing but read a book in a deck chair or relax in a hot tub.
Below are a few suggestions unique to Alaskan cruising:
• When to go- Alaskan cruises are typically available from late April through mid-September. If you are looking for balmy weather, your best bet is mid-June to mid- August. If you are looking for value, you will want to book earlier in May or around Labor Day. Whenever you decide to book, your Alaskan cruise is not going to be the type of vacation where you lie around in a bikini. It can get a bit chilly in any of the available months.
• What to wear- You will want to bring a little of everything. There may be days where you can wear summer clothing, but make sure to bring a sweatshirt or jacket. You will want to bring nice clothing for some of the restaurants, and if you want to commemorate your vacation with an official photo, you may also want to bring formal wear. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes for walking around the deck or exploring ports of call, too.
• Motion sickness- Typically the ships are so large that for most, motion sickness isn’t an issue. The Inside Passage can get a little rocky though, so if you are prone to motion sickness be prepared. Most ships sell OTC medications onboard, but you may want to be ready with a prescription if motion sickness is a problem for you.
• Camera- Make sure you bring a camera or a cellphone with a decent camera.
• Internet- And speaking of cell phones, most cruise lines have internet cafes and internet packages for purchase. You will also be able to access the internet either through Wi-Fi or your data plan on most ports of call.
• Money- Most cruise lines deal on a cashless basis. You will need a valid credit or debit card. Be aware too, that most of them charge you a nominal service fee to cover gratuities for the staff. You can tip your favorite server extra if you wish. Your bill is settled at the end of your journey.
• Wining and dining- Most cruise lines have many food options which are included in the price. Often, for an upcharge, specialty restaurants are also available. Alcoholic beverages are added to your tab, but many have economical packages if you are expecting to do a lot of toasting.
Cruise Lines to Alaska
Listed below are some of the top cruise lines with Alaskan adventures.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian Cruise Lines, or NCL, is the pioneer in informal or “freestyle cruising.” They figured out there were many passengers who did not want to dress for dinner every night, eat at the same time every night, or even sit by the same people. NCL has a lot of flexibility in their dining and activity choices.
They offer two Inside Passage cruises that leave from Seattle. Each of these cruises is seven days. One cruise stops in Glacier Bay, and the other in Sawyer Glacier. There is also an eight-day cruise out of Vancouver, British Columbia which has an additional port of call in Icy Strait.
If you book an inside cabin at the beginning or tail end of the season your initial charge for the cabin and food could be under $600. This figure does not include port fees, taxes, or airfare. Norwegian has a loyalty program called Latitudes, which gives you many perks starting with your second cruise.
Princess Cruise Lines boasts the number one cruise line for Alaskan adventures ten years running. It is not surprising they hold this esteemed title. They offer several different options, including Inside Passage cruises, land and sea options, and accommodations at their luxurious privately owned lodges in places such as Denali and Glacier Bay Park. They are also partners with Animal Planet, making sure your wildlife experience is animal-friendly and ecologically sound. Their seven-day Inside Passage cruises start at about $650.00.
Similar to NCL, Holland Cruise Line uses smaller ships for their Alaskan cruises, with passenger capacities of 1400 to 2100 for Inside Passage cruises. They have many choices including just Inside Passage or land and sea options. Holland is known for its luxurious touches, even at the economy level. Their inside cabins are 25% larger, and you can expect fresh fruit in your room daily. Still, if you choose to cruise in April, early May or September, your base fare may be as low as $599.00
Royal Caribbean has many different options including seven, eight and nine-day voyages. Most of their round-trip cruises depart from Seattle and include place such as Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord. If you make it a nine-day adventure, you will be visiting Sitka and Icy Strait Point as well.
Royal Caribbean has taken a lesson from NCL and offers an option called “My Time Dining.” The fare, including a visit to Hubbard Glacier, starts at as little as $657 for the week.
There are also several websites which specialize in cruises that offer even better rates, as long as you are willing to book last minute. Sites such as Expedia and Orbitz also have Cruise Divisions. If you book through one of these sites, just make sure they are legitimate and that you receive any loyalty credits you are due.
Finally, make sure you have a valid passport that won’t expire within six months of your departure. Yes, Alaska is the 49th State, but most of the cruises will make a stop or even two in Canada as well.