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New to cruising- want cruise & land tour -Alaska

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We, my DH,my 17 year old son and myself are looking to take a cruise to Alaska. We have never cruised before so I have many questions so here goes. Thanks in advance for your help
We live in southern CA. Where should we leave from? Can the three of us stay in one cabin? We want a balcony cabin. We do not want a fancy ship. What are the definite ports that we want to stop at? My DH wants to see Denali . How do we do that? I am somewhat disabled as I have had extensive back surgeries over the last several years. Are there better ships that are more equipped to offer more help in that area than other ships?
I am sure that I will have more questions as cruising is a totally new adventure for us.
Thanks so much
Melissa

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    There used to be cruises from Seattle ... not sure if they still have them. Lots of Alaska cruises leave out of Vancouver, BC - Canada. (However, you mention seeing Denali, so that means you won't be doing a R/T cruise (Inside Passage) in and out of the same port.) You'll either have to fly to Alaska and come south or vice versa.)

    Most of the ships will have balcony cabins that accommodate up to four; could be a bit of a crowd though. You need to make sure you're booking a cabin that will accommodate extra pax. There are also special cabins for those with disabilities.

    Denali can't be done as a day excursion from a port. You can do the land portion to see Denali on your own easily; alternatively, you can book a cruise-tour where you do a land package that goes to Denali with the cruiseline before or after the cruise (recommend before; which means flying to Alaska and then sailing back).

    It's been too many years since our cruise to Alaska, so I can't really speak to the specific ports anymore. New ports have been added since then. An important consideration would be your own interests ... for ex. if you want to go bear watching, you'll want to make sure the itinerary includes a port where you can do so.

    If you have not already done so, go to CruiseCritic.com and start reading the posts on the Alaska Board there. You can also post your questions on those boards. I would also suggest that you check out a couple of online cruise agencies to search for itinerary options so you can narrow down which ones really work for you. Answers to open-ended questions will be too broad to help you much.

    Since you're admittedly a cruising newbie; I'd also suggest that you work with an experienced cruise agent to book your cruise rather than doing it online on your own. A good cruise agent will help guide you based on your interests and requirements.

    You might also invest in a cruise guidebook (or check out from your local library). I bought two when I started researching our first cruise (which was to Alaska). One was a book with general information about cruising (I think it was Fodor's or Frommer's); the other was specific to Alaska and discussed the various ports and things to do. They really were invaluable in educating me to then be able to ask specific questions on boards to help refine my decision. Just based on that pre-work, I switched from wanting to do an Inside Passage cruise to doing the Gulf of Alaska cruise from Anchorage to Vancouver.

    Have fun with the planning.

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    P.S. I should mention that we did our Alaska cruise with Princess. One of the deciding factors for us in choosing Princess (aside from their experience in the area) was that we wanted to travel all the way to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean and we didn't want to drive the haul road on our own. At the time, Princess was the only company that offered a CruiseTour that included PB. Goes to the point that knowing your interests is an important factor in deciding which cruise to book.

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    I second the motion of going to the Cruise Critic Alaska board for great ideas. When we went a few years ago, after studying the CC board, I decided to arrange the land portion, which is easy for Alaska. We flew to Anchorage, picked up a car rental, stayed overnight in Anchorage, then headed for Denali early the next day. (Personally, I don't think Anchorage itself has much to offer.) Actually, it was so beautiful that day, we stopped in Talkeetna on the way to take a flight around McKinley--when the weather is cooperating, which is rare--you take advantage of it.

    After our flight, we continued on to Denali, where we stayed at a B&B before heading to the park early the next day. We spent most of that day in the park--I had ordered tickets online for the park bus. Days are long, so after the park, we headed back to Talkeetna, where we stayed a couple of nights at the Alaskan Lodge. I had purchased a Toursaver coupon book and we made use of it for a few of our stops and excursions.

    After our land tour, we dropped the car rental back at the Anchorage airport where we boarded a train (at the airport) to Seward for our cruise embarkation. (We didn't consider driving down to Seward because one-way car rentals tend to be very high in Alaska.) We cruised the Hubbard Glacier, and stopped at Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan before dissembarking in Vancouver, where we also stayed a few days.

    It's really nice to go at your own pace and easy to get around. The driving distances are long in Alaska, but not difficult. I think it is also much more economical than taking a cruise land tour.

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    There are departure ports for Alaska in San Franciso and Seattle. Princess really has the market for before and after land tours.

    We did the Seattle return trip last September on the Golden Princess and loved it. We spent 4 extra days in Seattle instead of doing a land tour.

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    I meant to include my blog link for Alaska. This is from our most recent trip, which was a private bear watching trip on the Katmai Peninsula. Afterwards, we spent time in Seward and the Anchorage area ... while the city itself (Anchorage) may not offer a lot, there's plenty in the vicinity that is of interest. You didn't say how many days total you're allocating for the land portion, but the posts on Seward and Anchorage environs might give you some additional thoughts on places to visit in addition to Denali.

    This is the link to the first post ... http://2totravel.blogspot.com/2010/08/two-to-travel-returns-to-alaska.html ... the entire archive is in August 2010.

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    I concur with everyone above re: cruise critic, knowing what you want to see, doing your own research be it books or the Internet. Do use a knowledgable travel agent to help with the best choices - ask for someone who works with Alaska all the time. I suggest, again to make things easier for first timers, book a land tour/cruise combination. Princess (and Holland America) have been doing Alaska forever and own hotels, trains, etc. there giving their passengers the best. I am sure you will have a wonderful time if you do the groundwork and know what you want.

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    I too concur with everyone...do your own research and then decide how you want to book. We decided to go with Princess and we are going the beginning of June. I can't speak of the experience, yet, however, I wanted to make a comment on your issue of some disability. I have a mobility problem due to RA and therefore, standing and walking are my biggest issues. We have secured a scooter from CareVacations (our travel agent arranged it). They deliver right to your room onboard ship. Since we are spending two days in Anchorage before we begin the land portion of our trip, we made arrangements for them to deliver it to our hotel there and then we will have it for our roaming while in Anchorage. Our travel agent confirmed with Princess that all modes of transportation from Anchorage to our embarkation in Whittier would be able to accommodate the scooter and we were told they would. I hope this, indeed, is the case!! I'll have the scooter while onboard the Sapphire Princess and then be able to disembark with it in Vancouver for use on the two days we will spend there before flying home.

    As for the Excursions, we decided that, since my excursions need to be fairly sedentary ones (because they do not accommodate scooters) we would book ours with the cruise line--quick, efficient, and no worries. We are doing the "Talkeetna River Float Trip in Talkeetna", the Denali Natural History Tour (part of the cruise package), the Denali Express Rail Trip (again, part of the cruise pkg) which is a 295mi express ride from Denali directly to the ship in Whittier, the "Mendenhall Glacier & Whale Quest" in Juneau, and the "Lighthouse, Totems and Eagles Excursion" in Ketchikan.

    Good luck and have fun with your planning!

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