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ALASKA : never cruised before so when do I need to book?

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Sep 17th, 2009, 07:30 AM
  #1
tod
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ALASKA : never cruised before so when do I need to book?

We are looking to doing an Alaskan cruise next year in mid / late August.
I need some help and guidance!

When do I need to think about booking the cruise I think will suite us? Do most cruising folks book months and months in advance?
If we just showed up two or three days before the ships departure is there a chance we may get a cabin?

All advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
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Sep 17th, 2009, 09:44 AM
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2 or 3 days? Absolutely not! there are security rules that I don't remember, you must make reservations in advance.

Is it at least 60 days? Or 30 days? Somebody here should know.
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Sep 17th, 2009, 12:31 PM
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You can take your chances leaving it until closer to departure date but it depends on the type of cabin you want. The ships haven't been traveling at full capacity but the best cabins are usually occupied. As Dayenu says - there is a deadline for booking so the passenger information is cleared but I think a couple of days in advance is all they need. You know that you can book a cruise with a deposit that is totally refundable up to 90 days prior to cruising. Do you have a reason for not wanting to book ahead? You could check out vacations to go http://www.vacationstogo.com/ and go to the 90 day ticker section - that will give you an idea of the prices closer to departure date.
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Sep 17th, 2009, 03:46 PM
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I was wrong. On LastMinute website they have cruises for September 20 - only 3 days away!
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Sep 17th, 2009, 10:39 PM
  #5
tod
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You guys are great - just the info we needed.
Reason I asked about the time period is because we have another couple also wanting to be on the cruise with us but won't know financially if its possible until later in 2010.

About the cabins: We would only go if we could have a nice balcony room so by the looks of things that means paying top dollar and booking at least 6 months in advance.
I don't think our friends are fussy and may just take any cabin available especially if it's at a last minute discount rate!
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Sep 18th, 2009, 02:16 AM
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We booked our Alaska cruise (6/09) about 6 months in advance and found balcony cabins in short supply, even that far out.

cruisecompete.com website will send your itinerary out to bid, you will get emails from travel agents - usually on-line agents, but not always exclusively so. Some lines discount to agents, some do not. Some agents will offer you some perk for booking with them, even if line does not discount - something good like an on-board credit, or something silly like a fruit basket and a bottle of cheap wine.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 02:19 AM
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One other thought - make sure your potentially more frugal companions understand the inevitable add-ons while on a cruise (drinks, tips) plus the cost of excursions - on Alaska cruises there is very little to see within walking distance of pier. Excursions are quite expensive - and essential if you want to see anything. It is not as simple as hopping in a cab, like on warmer destination cruises - these involve trains, busses, planes - and consequently are quite pricey. Nothing much in most ports except t-shirt shops, jewelery stores, usually owned by cruiselines.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 06:18 AM
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Slightly off topic, but I just read this great piece recommending the best Alaska sure excursions. You might want to check these out before you book, as it may influence which ports you want to visit. It's on www.Allthingscruise.com at:
http://allthingscruise.com/here-are-...re-excursions/
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Sep 18th, 2009, 08:54 AM
  #9
 
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If you want a specific cabin, I would made reservation well in advance. For your friends, they can get a "guarantee" cabin, maybe with a possibility of "upgrade."
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Sep 18th, 2009, 09:41 AM
  #10
 
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August is peak period for Alaska cruises but September can still be a nice month. You stand a better chance of leaving it for a while before booking if you look at September. There are lots of offers out there now for this year for great prices on Balcony cabins so it will also depend on how the economy is doing. I can't believe some of the prices for cruises this year so who knows what next summer will bring. Keep us posted on your plans.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 09:49 AM
  #11
tod
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Thank you all so much! Another question seems to have arrisen and that is I note there are two distinct cruises.
An Inside Passage Cruise and a Glacier Cruise.
Which is best? We are going for photography shots so this is what we we want more than anything.
Thanks again for any replies.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 10:37 AM
  #12
 
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Tod - All of the itineraries are beautiful. I think you are seeing the cruises that list Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier so here is a website that you may find helpful http://susanmilne.com/glacier/glacier.htm

That might help you decide which itinerary suits you. I know HAL and Princess cruise to one or another. I know I have been to Glacier bay many times and it is spectacular sitting in the bay hearing the glaciers calving.
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Sep 18th, 2009, 03:17 PM
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Homeland security requires the passenger list and immigration information 72 hours prior to departure so booking 3 days prior is not the way to go. Last minute airfare also tends to be expensive. I have booked 7 days in advance and took what is available, which s not much of a choice. they have only ne cabin, outside with obstructed view. With Alaska being seasoanl and heavily promoted, last mninute is not the way to go. If you are looking for last minute deals, but still have some selections, try 45 days ahead.

There are inside passage crusiues and north bound crusies or south bound cruises. Inside passages start and end in the same port, mostly from Vancouver or Seattle. With northbound crusie, you end up in Alaska and fly home, and with southbound crusies, you start in Alaska. All cruises, including inside passage crusie, will have scenic crusing a fjord (glacier) of some sort as part of the itenary.

Late August is sholder season which means good pricing but potentially crappy weather. June is July is better months but no guarantee on weather. Be preapred for lots of rain in late AUgust and early September. Our trip this year in mid August netted 6 out of 7 days of rain. There are sparodic sunshine through out. My DW and I brought rain gear (ponchos) and we used them on every shore excusrion. Umbrella sort of works but not when it is really windy. Be preapred is trhe motto.

Temperature in September would be cooler, especially after dark or whne the weather system is moving south. For our trp this year, we have encountered day time temperature of mid 50s to low 60's. Take a few more degrees off for September. You should see mostly mid 60's to low 70's if you are lucky.

There are plenty of photo ops but beaware of fog. I have not post any of the pictures from this trip yet but pictures from previous trips are on webshot. I should be posting the new pictures in about a couple of weeks. Becasue of the fog and rain, we didn't get too many good pictures but did get lucky a couple of times with the sun coming through at the right time. Feel free to comemnt on the pictures.
http://community.webshots.com/user/e_s_c_h_e_w
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Sep 19th, 2009, 11:13 AM
  #14
tod
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Traveller69 - Thank you very much for that great link! I was thinking about buying a guide on cruising ( like the one put out by Berlitz) but after just a short read through some of the information contained in there, I can see it has everything and more that I need to know!

Eschew - Great photos! thank you for all the tips. Unfortunately we have only 2 options: Take the cruise in early August (first week) or late August (last week maybe even going into Sept for a few days) The most of August we will be in the Jasper & Banff National Parks touring in a motorhome with friends who live in Lacombe, north of Edmonton.

Triathlete - Thanks for the wonderful link!
Dayenu - We are going to take your advice and book a cruise by Christmas this year. As Traveller69 pointed out - one can cancel with a full refund up to 90days which makes that a very good option when booking so far in advance.
Gail - It looks as if our fellow cruise companians won't make it after all.

From sunny hot South Africa, thanks again everybody - it's nice to know there is so much help on Fodors - one just has to ask.
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Sep 20th, 2009, 08:15 AM
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Also, keep in mind that some cruise lines will adjust your fare if it subsequently goes down after you book. This has happened to us a number of times with Regent, especially during these somewhat turbulent economic times.

Interestingly enough, our TA specializes in Regent cruises (though she books with other luxury and premium lines) and does some land trips--primarily (though not exclusively) to S. Africa. We took our second S. African Safari trip earlier this year, which included Hermanus and Franschhoeck.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 08:39 AM
  #16
 
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An excellent source of information for first time Alaska cruise visitors is Alaska By Cruiseship, try your library. For port information Fodor's Alaska and Frommer's Alaska are good.

For clarification, ALL cruises sail "Inside Passage", you can not get to Juneau or Skagway without doing so. But there can be big differences in routes. Round trip Seattle is the least scenic and has the roughest sailing potential.

I suggest you do your homework, first. Decide what route you are going to take, round trip or one way. This will cut down your potential search. With any one way, I always advocate adding several more days, to take advantage of being there. There is plenty to see and do in Interior Alaska. Denali Park and Kenai Fjords are top areas for wildlife viewing.

Once that is decided, then do your homework on ports. Find out what they offer you for touring and rank your priorities. Same with your glacier viewing. How important is that going to be for you??

With this list, it will greatly narrow down your choices to a workable list.

Overall, factors that may be good to consider- ports, time in ports, route, glacier, ship naturalist, price. Budget for costly touring, in my opinion, you only get half a trip without it.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 02:10 PM
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Well Tod, if that is the case, try frst week of August. Weather should be better. (A better chance to have better weather).

Since you are touring on the west coast, have you consider driving the Alaska hghway and visit Alaska by land? You can actually drive to Skagway from where you are in about 12 to 14 hours. The drive is scenic and I planned to drive that route in couple of years when I am visiitng the Canadian Rockies again.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 04:23 PM
  #18
 
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Few suggestions - I have been their 4 times - cruised and spend time inland - up to Prudhoe Bay - the Yukon - Denali etc. As far as booking - I would book in well in advance - get a room on the ship with a balcony -- even on an Alaskan cruise I think it is very worthwhile - you can view the glaciers from your balcony - the Captain will turn the ship around so both sides can see the glaciers. Book your shore excursions ahead of time - thru the ship - the popular ones will be gone before the cruise even starts - don't expect to see all the animals on your list - the animals have their own agendas and when they want to come out they do -- don't be disappointed - the beauty of Alaska is never ending. Hike on the glacier if you can. Fly on a two engine plane up to Mt. McKinley - salmon fish if you can(catch and release) to send them home is expensive. Enjoy your trip -- you like me if you can will go back often.

Ron
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Sep 21st, 2009, 07:29 PM
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I can see from these messages that we were lucky. Just came home from Alaska cruise on HAL's Amsterdam--Seattle to Seattle. No rain at all, no fog. Sunshine on Mendenhall and Hubbard Glaciers. A gorgeous tour. Wonderful narrators, informants on ship and excursions. The two nights on the Pacific were choppy--take dramamine just in case. Also sweaters (the ships are cool) & jackets, one with a hood. Book no later than 3-4 months out if needing airline tickets; planes were full getting there. If you go to Seattle, upon arrival, book your roundtrip shuttle (alongside baggage claim) from airport to pier--$53 for two--to save time and pay less. Book an airport hotel with shuttle so you can arrive back at the airport to get the shuttle to ship around 11:30 am. Easy! After the cruise we, ticket in hand, we picked up our luggage, got onto the shuttle all in 3 minutes! The Mendenhall Glacier with tour of Juneau ($44) was very nice, includes salmon hatchery tour. At the glacier you'll get in free to the National Parks Center if you have a National Parks pass with you; otherwise it's $4 (no one will tell you). Sun and blue sky with a few white clouds framed Hubbard Glacier superbly, and it didn't diminish the blue of the ice.I loved this part of the trip--a full day! There's much to see in Sitka, even if on your own. Also with your National Parks pass you can get a tour of the historical Bishop's House--Russian Orthodox. Here the ranger gives lots of info about the buying of Alaska and merging of cultures. Local merchants said this may be the last year ships come into Sitka because of port charge increases. (Lectures on board ship cover the plant and animal life.) Expect to get into Victoria, BC late if that's on your itinerary. It was dark and warm, no rain. A very pretty city to see for only $6.50 bus fare to and from the city's heart. We cancelled our tour of the city and castle because it was dark, but we loved the walk-around, tour of the hotel, viewing the huge government building sparkling from white lights. The ship experience was very nice. Lots of well mannered, friendly people, over 300 enthusiastic people from Oregon. Loved the new act Alaska Strings--talented family of 5. Some funny acts and great dancing. Only disappointment with the cruise that their dress code was not enforced. Not good for a 5 star ship. Finally, this was our second Sept. Alaska cruise--good price, no huge crowds in ports. Hope you have great memories too.
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Sep 22nd, 2009, 06:39 AM
  #20
 
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There are excellent independent vendors to consider in Alaska which are way superior to ship tours. Offering more personal tours, longer tours, smaller groups. Don't expect big savings.

Another option for an excellent Juneau city tour, with a Mendenhall stop is with MGT. Long running company with excellent tours in the $25 range.

Sitka is on schedules for next season.

For clarification- HAL is not a 5 star ship. AND dress codes include a wide range of attire. None of the major cruise lines, have any truely fixed dress codes any longer. If it is important for the dress code to be followed, then look at Crystal, Regent etc etc you aren't going to find it on the "regular" ships sailing Alaska.
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