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Cruise in Alaska - Seeking your advice.....

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Oct 30th, 2018, 07:16 AM
  #1
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Cruise in Alaska - Seeking your advice.....

Hi everyone,

While I got great advices around my family's trip to the west coast (summer of 2017), this time I am looking to surprise my wife, for our 20th anniversary, with a cruise in Alaska. I plan "no kids policy" for this so prefer something to fit this......
I prefer to find one of the smaller ships rather than the huge ones I have seen online. It will be great if you could recommend me which cruise company is good to look at, any specific ship you can recommend, and, also important, which month/week of the year will be best in your opinion (I plan doing it in 2019 and flexible in terms of time).

Thanks a lot.

eylon
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Oct 30th, 2018, 07:24 PM
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We've been to Alaska twice in May. The first time the weather was overcast and fairly cool every day, the second time we had brilliant sunshine and warm weather most of the trip, so I guess you just to have to take the weather as it comes. Both cruises were before school holidays so mainly adults aboard, one cruise out of Vancouver and one out of Seattle. In both cases we went on mid-size Princess ships. One of the highlights was cruising Glacier Bay - I understand that only two cruise ships are allowed into the bay each day, so if is something that you want to do, you would need to make sure it is on your itinerary. If time allows, you could check out the cruise/tour options and travel further north through Denali and onto to Fairbanks.
Hope this helps with your decision making.
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Oct 31st, 2018, 05:27 AM
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If you plan on including a trip to the interior to visit Denali, I would not go in May as the park probably would not be open yet.

If you look here for small ship TRs in Alaska you will find several that will answer many questions for you. You could also go to the US forum and use the pull down box and click on Alaska. Or repost the question in the US forum.
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Oct 31st, 2018, 11:11 AM
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Being on the west coast, I prefer to do the one-way cruises between Anchorage and Vancouver since the flights are not too bad that way.

HAL is a good major cruise line with some medium sized ships (such as Maasdam). Although not a 'small' ship I liked the Noordam (which is also not a MEGA ship). HAL has some nice library spaces and good walking decks on many of their ships. A very small ship may not have much in the way of on board activities. Personally I would look at what's important to have onboard vs size of ship. I went in early June. Much earlier would have been bad weather, but the people on board who did a pre-cruise Denali excursion got to actually see Denali! I also specifically prioritized a cruise which stopped at Glacier Bay and also Haines. Ketchikan is just too too crowded now, no matter how small your ship is, there will be several megaships in port at the same time. So I got out of town to Totem Bight, but you may want to plan to do your big excursion there.

Trip report
Alaska Seward to Vancouver June 2018 Noordam
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Nov 2nd, 2018, 05:24 AM
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thank you all for the great advices......
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Nov 3rd, 2018, 07:43 AM
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There are some basic choices you're going to have to make as first steps.

One-way vs. round trip. There are numerous one-way cruises to/from Alaska, using the ports of Whittier or Seward in southcentral Alaska (accessible to Anchorage and the interior by road or rail) and Vancouver BC. There are also numerous round-trip cruises that start and end in Seattle or in Vancouver BC. (There are also some outliers - round trips out of San Francisco, etc.) More cruise lines, including the higher-end "adults only" premium lines, offer the round trip itineraries; only a few offer the one-way itineraries, and those tend to be the mass-market lines. The vast majority of cruises in either category are for seven nights; the one-way cruises obviously can form one part of a longer Alaska experience, if one does some non-cruise touring before or after the one-way cruise.

So the first question is, how much time do you have? If you only have a week or maybe ten days, you might find it more rewarding to think about a round trip cruise, because having no or only a short time available for non-cruise activities might be frustrating and will definitely be more expensive, potentially much more. IF YOU HAVE MORE TIME, say at least two weeks, then you can take a week to explore more of Alaska - maybe Denali, maybe the Kenai Peninsula, maybe even fly to a bush village above the arctic circle for some real midnight sun. Obviously this will increase the price and logistical challenges, but trust me, the results will be worth it.

Big ship/little ship. The small-ship cruises, which will cost up to twice or more per-person-per-day than the big cruise lines, will offer intimate and in some cases luxurious accommodations, services, and activities. The small ships can get into coves or traverse waterways that are too narrow or too shallow for the big ships to navigate. Many of them start and end their cruises in Juneau, Alaska's capital, although there are a couple of lines that sail to and from Seattle. As far as I know, all of them operate on round-trip itineraries; in general the Gulf of Alaska, which separates Southeast Alaska from Southcentral Alaska, is too rough for the small ships to navigate comfortably; the big ships can rock and roll a little, but generally scoot across the Gulf at night on the one-way sailings in order to minimize the risk of seasickness among passengers. However the small ships might also call at the likes of Ketchikan or Skagway at the same time as the big boys, so there are no guarantees that you won't be in the company of other cruisers when you're there.

What will you see? The highlight of any Alaska cruise is the beautiful "Inside Passage," the labyrinth of waterways in British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. This is a series of passages, straits, and inlets that separate the mainland from the many islands that parallel the coast all the way from Seattle to Haines, Alaska. On both sides of the ship, you'll see forests, snow-topped mountains, remote villages, and some glaciers. There will be whales nearby, eagles, and you may see some animals on shore as you pass by. Virtually all of the itineraries - round trip and one-way - will include some of the same towns for port calls in this region - Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway at least, plus one or two other places which will vary from ship to ship. All will get you close to some tidewater glaciers - in Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm, Yakutat Bay (Hubbard Glacier) - again, depending on the specific itinerary. On the round-trip cruises, the ship will turn around at some point and head back south, which can double the amount of sailing time in this area. In those towns you'll have access to many on-shore activities and excursions, which can include everything from whale watching to flightseeing, hikes and kayaking, visiting historic sites and learning about the rich Native American heritage of the region. You can rent a car in Skagway and drive up into the gold rush country of the Yukon, or go salmon fishing out of Ketchikan.

One important note is that ships sailing on round trip itineraries from Seattle travel to the west of Vancouver Island on open ocean, making for a rougher and scenery-free day or two. Vancouver sailings, both round trip and one-way (there are no one-way cruises from Seattle on the main lines due to US maritime law) will stay to the east of Vancouver Island on sheltered "Inside Passage" waters the whole way.

If you can extend your trip before or after the cruise with time in southcentral or inland (or northern) Alaska, then the sky's the limit. You can rent a vehicle and drive from one glorious place to the next, or go watch bears, stick a toe in the Bering Sea or the Arctic Ocean...

How crowded will it be? This can sometimes be an unpleasant surprise to first-time cruisers. Alaska cruising is mass-market tourism; there's no escape from that fact. On a given day, there might be up to four cruise ships, each carrying up to 4000 passengers and staff, in port in Skagway, population 900 counting dogs. Do the math. Now does that mean you'll be treated like sheep? ONLY IF YOU LET THEM. In every port, there are options available that will take you away from the crowds; even in Skagway, if you know where to go, you can have, for example, a gold rush-era ghost town in the Yukon - all to yourselves.

When to go. Well, Alaska is the size of western Europe, so the "when" question always has to be accompanied by the "where." In May you can have excellent weather in the Inside Passage, but the interior of Denali Park will be inaccessible due to snow. By September the rains might be starting in SE Alaska but the tundra in Denali Park will be glorious in autumn color. In June the bears will barely coming out for the year in the interior, but they might already be fishing for salmon in places in SE Alaska. In June in the interior of Denali Park you can be carried away by mosquitoes; by late August in Fairbanks there might be smoky skies from the wildfires that plague the region. So this further complicates your choice - getting the when/where puzzle solved depends on your priorities.

Kids/no kids. You'll find kids on virtually every cruise line, even the premium ones. It's really not a big deal - the ships are so big, and the facilities and activities for kids so comprehensive, that you can easily find kid-free (or very few about) most of the time, everywhere. The ships are not like floating Disney World, unless you choose to ride on a Disney cruise line ship. I'd presume that if you go before school is out in the spring or after it's re-started in August/September there will be fewer kids in evidence.

What will it cost? Cruise lines make their money not from the room rates, but from the extras - casino, alcohol, excursions. If you skip the expensive options, they can be excellent value. If you want "once in a lifetime" (oh I hope not) experiences, those are available too - at a price, sometimes a steep one. If you do some non-cruise touring before or after a one-way cruise, rental car costs can be very high (booking early is critical) and hotels will carry "tourist area" prices. Food is more expensive than in the "lower 48" but not extravagantly so. Cruise excursions (or their independent travel equivalents) can run the gamut from cheap to budget-busting but in general you'll find good value for money.

Hope all this is not too confusing. Happy 20th!
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Nov 3rd, 2018, 10:50 AM
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See my trip report for how to do the train/Major Marine Resurrection Bay the day of your Seward Departure (I had an 8 pm sail time). I've also done the Park Connection but like the train a bit better even though the narration was not as good.

In my experience the one way cruises cost less than the round trip ones, but airfare is less if you via Seattle. By the time you add in cost of airport transfers and pre-cruise hotels, the price may not be much different.

Different strokes for different folks.
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Nov 4th, 2018, 06:02 AM
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Wow, thanks a lot. I will probably come back to you with more questions....One quick one, though, regarding the "small ships", any recommendation on a company I should engage with? Also, we will probably have a week (still, with flight we probably look at a total of 2 weeks, not sure the kids will like it ;-) )....
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Nov 4th, 2018, 06:16 AM
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Originally Posted by ec1970 View Post
Wow, thanks a lot. I will probably come back to you with more questions....One quick one, though, regarding the "small ships", any recommendation on a company I should engage with? Also, we will probably have a week (still, with flight we probably look at a total of 2 weeks, not sure the kids will like it ;-) )....
Which is it, one week or two? Are you taking kids or leaving them home?

Start here: https://www.cruisecritic.com/articles.cfm?ID=1449 Cruise Critic can be a terrific resource for all things cruising, although the boards can quickly send one into the weeds, if you know what I mean.
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Nov 5th, 2018, 10:47 AM
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We had an incredible experience on Lindblad’s Sea Lion, now affiliated with National Geographic.
70 passengers, naturalists on board who accompany you off boat in kayaks or for hikes. We saw so many whales! No crowds, small towns as stops and the only time we saw one of the large cruise ships was in Glacier Bay. We sailed from Juneau to Sitka, all up in SE Alaska. Friends who are birders were on a Princess cruise at the same time. They were too bigh up to see the myriad of birds we saw daily. I cannot imagine seeing Alaska any other way.
We flew to Anchorage ahead of the cruise and drove up to Denali and down to Kenai, Seward and Homer before the cruise.Also flew over to Katmai NP to see the bears on a day flight from Homer.
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Nov 15th, 2018, 10:07 AM
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For small ships, you can a few choices. Silver Sea and Oceania both offer Alaska cruises but they are more expensive than the larger mass market ships such as Princess HAL etc. There are even smaller ships, such as Lindblad Expedition.

There are local operators who operates even smaller ships in Alaska. I have no experience with them so I cannot comment. Try search Alaska small ship cruise and see what comes up. They are NOT luxury cruises by any stretch of imagination.

June July August would be the best as May and September are shoulder season and the weather less predictable, not that you can predict Alaska weather on any given day. Be prepare to have rainy and cloudy days while you are there.

The best scenery on a scenic cruise in Alaska is the Glacier Bay National Park. Make sure it is on your itinerary.
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Nov 28th, 2018, 05:53 AM
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Thank you all for your comments.
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Dec 4th, 2018, 05:19 PM
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Oceania offers a reasonably small ship experience - not as small as some, but not a mega ship by any means - and although they allow children, they are few and far between, as there are no specific children's programs or areas set aside for them. The passengers are well-traveled mature adults, and the atmosphere is "country-club" casual - no formal events, and no need for a suit. Food is highly rated.
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