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Alaska Cruises - Myth or Fact?

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I'm planning an Alaskan Cruise July 2013 for a multi-generational group of 8-10, ages 11, 16, 18, 40's and 70's. In my hodge podge research I've heard of some pointers and tips. Before I start narrowing down choices based on these, I wanted to get a sense from you what is true and what is not.
Myth or Fact?
1) Do not travel with Holland America if you have teens.
2) A balcony room is really a must for at least some in the party
3)It's critical to make sure Glacier National Park is on your itinerary
4) Ideally you would do a one way cruise even though air will be higher.
5) Second best is round trip from Vancouver (versus Seattle)
6) You will spend thousands of dollars on excursions.
7) Unless you travel out of Seattle, sailing will be quite smooth and you won't get sea sick.

What do you think? I know that because our budget is not limitless not all of these will work out. None of us have ever been to Alaska, though most have enjoyed cruises in the past. The group ranges from the uber active to those who would happily spend days looking at the scenery and playing bingo. Would love to know the opinions of trusted Fodorites.

Many thanks,

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    I was trying to answer some of your questions and "sent" prematurely. I'll try again.
    1. Never used Holland America. We found that Carnival has the best prices. 2. If you're footing the bill, then book the catagory of cabin you can afford. If others are paying their own way, then they should do the same. We've cruised a lot and have never booked a balcony, and have been very happy cruisers. 3.The only Glacier Ntl. Park I know about is in Montana/Canada, and not part of any cruise I've ever heard about. Could be I just never heard about the one to which you're referring. 4.We've done the Inside Passage twice and did it one way both times. 6.On our 1st we spent over $1000 due to me wanting to helicopter over a glacier and into a mushing camp and get to mush. That was expensive. The 2nd cruise we spent $0 on excursions. 7. We sailed out of Vancouver both times.Ended in Seattle on the 2nd cruise.Did not get seasick. Whatever you choose, You're gonna' have a wonderful time. Alaska is fantastic.

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    One more thing-You've cruised before so probably know to ask about/look for various discounts. You have a diverse group, so someone may qualify for discounts as a senior,past passenger,resident of a particular state, etc. Many cruiselines offer a whole host of discounts. Carnival has some pretty good early saver fares. We usually do that.

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    HAL is fine. There are people of all ages on board and usually there are teen programs.It is not true that most passengers are 90 to 100.
    We cruised several times before booking a balconey. I really can't imagine cruising without one.
    There are plenty of glaciers on the various trips.
    Most trips are one way. We took the cruisetour. We went from Anchorage to Fairbanks on the train and flew back from Fairbanks. We loved it.
    Seattle is a great city if you plan to spend a few days extra. Vancouver is a fantastic city to spend some time.
    You can spend 0 to many dollars on excursions. Evaluate carefully and see if you can have a good experience on your own. You usually can.
    Thye only place any of our group of five had any motion problems was on the Gulf of Alaska where the wave were big and slow - undulating is the word.

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    1. Hal has the reputation for older, more mature passengers. Personally for me, I would book with them since when we cruise we try to avoid children as much as possible. It seems to get the least (from research). Carnival's reputation is being the least expensive cruise line and filled with families and partiers. We have done Carnival twice in the Caribbean and it's a line I would never, ever get on again even for free. Princess has the reputation for being the best line for Alaska. We did the Seattle round trip with Princess in Sept. 2011 and loved it. Since school had already started, they were only a handful of children on board.

    2.It really depends on you. It's controversial subject. I personally will not book a cruise anywhere without a balcony. We do has caustrophobia issues. I also hate having to go up and down to get to the outside areas.

    3. I was told this also when we were researching and did pick an iteniary with Glacier Bay. When we got there, I thought "What is really all the hype"? I just didn't see it. It was very nice, but I just I expected so much more based on the thousands of recommendations. Again, I think it's a personal decision.

    4. Again, it depends on you and what you are looking to get out of the cruise. We choose the Seattle round trip based on price. This was one of the most expensive vacations we have ever taken (we travel to Mexico and the Caribbean at least once or twice a year. We had Rewards with Southwest to get to Seattle. My brother and his wife did the Vancouver one way 2 months before us on Princess and they ended up paying more due to airfare.

    We also spent 4 1/2 days in Seattle. I would have loved to have added on the Denali cruise tour also, but there just came a point we had to stop spending. We also cut our ship's cost down tremendously. No specialty restaurants, watched our bar bill like a hawk, just a select few pictures and none of the other cost features that cruise lines offer.

    5. I don't know this to be true or not without researching it more.

    6. Again, it depends on you and what excursions you are wanting to do. Alaska excursions are going to more expensive than excursions in the Caribbean. If you pick the dog sledding, helicopter landing, float plane excursions, then yes these are quite pricey. But, there are other things to see and do that don't cost that much. One myth to me is that going with an independant operator is better than the cruise line. In the Caribbean I would say that is a truer statement. In Alaska, not so much. I found the price difference to be about $50. The independant operators book up faster and the excursion must be paid immeidatly on booking. We booked Junea and Skagway with Princess and it was charged to our ship account. We paid for them on the last day of the cruise. We booked Chilkhoot Charters for the train/bus excursion in Skagway. We did not have any issues with the Princess shore excursions.

    Whatever line you book with go to their excursions and see what they offer and their prices. Then go to CruiseCritic.com and check the independant operators. You won't find much of a difference. At least I didn't. We booked our excursion in January, 2011 for September, 2011 and most of the Independants were booked up anyway. So, not like we had a choice. I also noticed that closer to the cruise departure date, Princess kept hiking up their shore excursion prices. Up to $100 difference in what I booked in Janaury.

    7. I don't know. We didn't have too much of a issue with the Seattle return trip. I remember one night, we felt a bunch of jerking, but we didn't get sick. I took Dramamine every morning no matter what. DH didn't take anything and was fine. We had much worse on our last Caribbean cruise, but we had a very forward cabin. I made sure this cruise we had a cabin directly in the middle of the ship.

    I researched our Alaska cruise for about 5 years on and off before we ever booked. We booked in November 2010 and I think I spent most everyday reading cruisecritic until our departure. We loved our cruise and I would happily do it again.

    If you are interested I have all our vacation pics on-line at:

    http://kvrlvnphotogallery.shutterfly.com/pictures/5

    The ship and ports are all organized into different books. I have our trip report posted here also.

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    Oh, one other thing, if the iteniary you pick has Victoria, Canada, try to NOT get the one that arrives at 7pm and leaves at midnight. We felt it was a wasted port as it was too dark to see or do anthing. I so wanted to go to the Bontanical Gardens there, but it was closed before we ever arrived.

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    You have a lot of good suggestions and answers already but here is my 2 cents worth ...

    Myth or Fact?

    1) Do not travel with Holland America if you have teens: HALF TRUTH. They do have teens and children on board for Alaskan cruises. There maybe less suitable (or choices) of activites/entertainment for that age group when compared to other cruise line.

    2) A balcony room is really a must for at least some in the party: FALSE. TRUE if you can afford it. If you sail northbound, take a balcony on the starboard side (right). If you travel southbound or round trip, take a balcony on the port side (left). This is has nothing to do with viewing the Glaciers up close as the captain will turn the ship around so both sides will have equal time. This has everything to do with viewing the distant glacier on the continent side. You can always go to the front of the ship or on the promenade deck, or any other open deck for viewing. It is just not as private as your own balcony.

    3)It's critical to make sure Glacier National Park is on your itinerary. TRUE. Glacier Bay National Park is probably "the" stop. It is an ecological protected area and the National Park Services only allow a few ships per day to travel into Glacier Bay and the ships must meet certain standards. They have a quota systems and the cruise line bid on them. (That also explains the cruises that has Glacier Bay is slightly more expensive). The Park Rangers also board the ship and set up an information center on the ship. They sell books etc. and will have a few Park Rangers roaming around and answering questions. This is in addition to the naturalist on board.

    4) Ideally you would do a one way cruise even though air will be higher: HALF TRUTH. Round trip, north bound, south bound all have tehir advanatges. One way cruises are cheaper (and maybe discounted) where you won't see much discounting on the round trip. If you want to see Alaska, then you want a pre-cruise or post-cruise trip (tour) so the one way cruise makes a lot of sense. If you just want to be on the cruise, and have no time (or budget) for a land portion, what you save on the one waay cruise won't make up for the extra airfare.

    5) Second best is round trip from Vancouver (versus Seattle)HALF TRUTH (see above) If you live in the US, airfare is definitely cheaper to Seattle. Vancouver is a very nice place to vist but more expensive comparing to Seattle. Hotels by the cruise terminal are not cheap. Sales Tax is also higher.

    6) You will spend thousands of dollars on excursions: FALSE. I have spent thousands on excursions and have also spend nothing or very little. It is true that excursion is more expensive for Alaska compare to Caribbean or Mexico as the operators and staff are all American (or Canadian) making decent wages and typically have higher standards. A typical excursion is about $100 to $150 per person.

    Here is an example: Ketchikan: Misty Fjord float plane (IMHO best excursion at this port) is around $500+ per person for less than 3 hours. You can also walk around the old town, take in local sights like the historic Creek Street and so on for $0. There are also hiking trail that can take you up to scenic view point or pay $2 to take the "tram/elevator" to the Cape Fox Lodge, located on a hill overlooking the bay. You can spend hours in Ketchikan without spending money on excursion. This is also your best shopping port for cheap t-shirts and jackets.

    Another example: Juneau, the Tramway terminal to Mount Roberts is walking distance ($29 for a round trip on the tram) but there is a trail that you can hike up if you wish. The town is just a bit further down and defintely walking distance. Buses to Mendenhall Glacier is about $12 so you can just take the bus there and back.

    7) Unless you travel out of Seattle, sailing will be quite smooth and you won't get sea sick. FALSE. The inside passage is relatively calm. Once you get 0past Queen Charlotte Sound and Haida Gwaii, you are in open water and the sea may get rough. From Seattle to Vacouver, Puget Sound is not bad at all.

    The question I have for you is: do you intend to visit Alaska once (in your life time) or have intention to go back? If this is a once in a life time trip, by all means, take in the land tour pre or post cruise, which is the way to go. If you want a sample of Alaska and may return some day, or if you have a budget restraint, a round trip from Vancouver/Seattle would be just fine. Just be preapred to sleep very little during the trip and take in all the sights and sound. It starts to get bright around 5:30 am and won't get dark till past 10 p.m. Either way, it will be well worth it.

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    Have you also considered adding some land content to your cruise? We can recommend the five day coach trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks which we added to our seven day Princess cruise.

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    As first time Aussies travelling to awesome Alaska ,I think that it is wonderful to have so many fellow travellers providing advice. Our queries are a little different and if anyone has the time to answer them, it would be most helpful.

    We intend to cruise the Alaskan passage on around the last week of May2014 and would probably include the Denali/Fairbanks/Anchorage section. (Any recommendations) and feel that another 7-9 days cruising the passage may be too much snow ,ice, and water. Is it possible therefore to do the section from Ketchikan to Vancouver by rail or coach and if so ,do any of the Cruise lines cater for this option?If so, is it worth while seeing or should we just stay on the liner all the way.

    We are in our late sixties but both very active so any suggestions and alternatives anyone can offer would be a great help.

    We are then doing your Rocky Mountains/east Canada/Nth America. and does anybody know of a coach trip for 5-7 days from east Canada to Nova Scotia and return that we can book?

    Any helpful hints on excursions, discounts, Senior discounts or others is welcome.


    Any assistance we can provide on Australia we are happy to make available as we have travelled around and over most of AUS

    Cheerio

    \
    TF from Aus

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    I travelled on a Princess Cruise (Sapphire Princess - loved it) from Vancouver to Whittier (one way) and found the balcony was worth every cent. Glacier Bay is incredible if you get good weather. I spent the day watching the scenery pass me by on our balcony as we cruised Glacier Bay in order to avoid the crowds. It was beautiful, and one of the most memorable moments of all my travels put together - absolute bliss.

    If you EVER take a balcony on a cruise, then an Alaskan cruise is the time to do so as the scenery is almost non-stop.

    I can assure you that we did NOT spend thousands on excursions. It is up to you how much you want to spend. If you are willing to plan your own excursions it can cost as little as zero.

    There is so much to do in Juneau and Ketchikan without spending money. But if you want to take flights etc then the price jacks up (but again, still significantly cheaper if you book it yourself rather than through the cruise line).

    If I were to go back to Skagway though, I would take the train trip (around the hundred dollar mark) as the town itself was not as large or scenic as Juneau and Ketchikan. We paid very little (around $16)for the blue bus to Mendenhall Glacier from Juneau and spent the day hiking (no cost)and sightseeing (no cost) there. It was a wonderful scenic trip. No need to book the bus, just turn up in Juneau and ask where the bus stop is for the blue bus that goes to Mendenhall Glacier.

    I think you do see more on the one way cruise. We found the sailing to be very smooth indeed.

    I suggest researching the places the cruise stops at by looking at the cruise excursions and then researching how you can get to the relevant places by local transport or other tour providers. Choose the town with the least scenery/things to do or see and do an excursion (maybe spend some money to do so) in that town. Then spend zero or very little in the more scenic places where you can arrange your own sightseeing.

    Have a great trip whatever options you choose. It's hard to go wrong with such stunning scenery.

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    The wife and I just returned form a Vancouver to Anchorage(Seward) cruise July 4 on Regent Seven Seas. Regent is all inclusive, including excursions(though some have a reasonable supplement), all beverages except very expensive ones, dining options, and is an all suite cruise line. We learned several things. DO NOT try to do it all. I tried to schedule as much as I could into each stop and we paid for it. We were constantly exhausted from getting up at 5:30-6:00 to get breakfast before leaving at 8:00-8:30 on the first excursion and got back to eat lunch and depart on the next. We ended up needing a vacation to recover from our vacation. Pick 1 thing you really want to do at each port and leave room for sight seeing.
    1. Haven't cruised Holland America but my brother did and loved it. Of course the kids did not go along and he was in his 50s. A bunch of my family went on Norwegian cruise line to Alaska, ages 10-85. 10 of them. They had a ball
    2. A balcony can be nice if the weather is nice, but you won't spend much time on it when moving as it is COLD out on the water. Used it only for people watching in port and cooling off the room as it was usually very warm in the cabin.
    3. You are probably talking about Hubbard Glacier. Went we went the cruise ship could not get within 6 miles of it due to ice and bad weather. Though the cruise line may advertise it goes there, it is ultimately the captains decision as to get there for safety reasons. Our visibility was about 300yards with quite a large amount of ice. I am not sorry he turned around. Now Tracey Arm is another thing entirely. We went on a supplement charged excursion right off the boat onto a catamaran run by Allen Cruises. It was fantastic. Of course it was a beautiful sunny day.
    4. A one way cruise just means you won't end up at the same port, and if it is over the same time period, a round trip cruise will skip some of the sights or ports you would see on the 1 way trip. If the cruise line arranges air transport there won't be much of a supplement. By the way, if you are not a seasoned traveler, I would suggest this option. Our cruise ship waited for 4 hours in Vancouver for a family whose air connections got messed up. I was told privately that that would NOT have happened if the family had booked independently. If you arrange your air travel DO NOT arrive the day of departure, period. You may miss the boat.
    5 and 7. What city you travel out of makes no difference unless you have a passport problem, then stick to Seattle. The cruising will not make a difference as the cities are not far apart. A lot of Vancouver people travel to Seattle to shop. Different cruise lines leave from different cities so just go with your chosen line.
    6. Excursions CAN be expensive. Regent is expensive because they include the excursions in their price. But they also screen the operators very carefully. An excursion arranged by Regent will always get you back on time. A lot of cruise lines will arrange your excursions for you, but unless they are all inclusive you will pay a premium. They don't give them away. If you stick with some of the better operators in Alaska(Allen Cruises out of Sitka, White Pass Railroad, etc.,) you won't get ripped off. Check the excursions offered by Regent and compare to the towns Chamber of Commerce listings you will find them easily identifiable. These operators live off the cruise ships and will not tick them off by getting clients back late. One person I spoke to went on a cruise to Mexico and their 85 year old mother booked an excursion independently to the Mayan ruins. Once there the operator charged her twice as much to get back to the ship. Unlikely to happen in Alaska but stick to COC listings. DON"T try to do it all. Leave time to explore on your own in town and along trails and such. Download maps and travel guides from the towns CoC website. They have a lot to offer besides expensive tours you can do just as well yourself, i.e. hiking, walking tours of the town, buses to trail heads and then hiking to places like the Mendenhal Glacier.
    Remember, you enjoy just so many "Oh look at that Eagle.(substitute whale, sea lion, otter as you will.) We went on an Evening Whale watching cruise in Juneau with Allen, and then an Allen Sea Otter cruise in Sitka. One or the other would have been fine. 2 were overkill.

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    to the Aussie folk
    a few years ago we did the Alaska cruise w/a land tour. We started in Fairbanks, then train down to Danali, the bus to Anchorage. we did it this way so to relax on the cruise. Luggage - in our case we had 2 pieces of luggage that held our cruise clothes and that was tagged and put somewhere so that we didn't have to deal with it during the land base portion; we each had one suitcase and a small carry on for the land. did do laundry at the hotel in Denali and in anchorage. along with others. in Skagway booked with a local tour operator and went up into the Yukon, then boarded the train in BC back to Skagway. One thing I liked about AK is that it is 'new' history ; only a little over a 100 years old - gold rush was in the 1890's; i'm from the boston area and we're talking 300+ year history; so you could still see the trail that the gold rushers had to use. It cost extra and takes longer but you see more stuff; is to take the train from Anchorage to Seward - maybe sea life, glaciers...
    Go to the white pass railway website they have some webcams that show a bit of the area. Enjoy!!

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    We did celebrity with muti generational....worked out great. Excursions are a fortune...we were advised that we could sign up off the boat for less ( for some). Worked out great...tour guides are waiting there when boat docks. Yes....a balcony room is a must for some.

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    This reply is probably way too late, but I should mention that I did my Alaskan Cruise in late May wand the weather was good. I wouldn't hesitate to do one at that time again (and for the savings it was great). But I guess the weather may be a bit of
    luck of the draw at that time to some degree..:-)

    Cheers,
    Tracey
    www.dreamhorsemedia.com/travel

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