PRIORITIES for first-time cruise to Alaska

Old Feb 2nd, 2014, 07:49 AM
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PRIORITIES for first-time cruise to Alaska

We are three couples in our 70's cruising to Alaska in August or September, 2014. All are retired and are flexible with the best time to travel. We have so many basic questions:
Which cruise line? Which port of departure? How to minimize bus travel and still see those attractions? How to avoid large crowds of tourists? How to get a "small cruise ship experience" on a cheaper large ship? Definite excursions to include? Should we use the excursions available on the ship or do our own?
Any other suggestions and advice would be most welcomed.
We're all in good health, but not as nimble as we once were!
Thank you.
kwingy is offline  
Old Feb 2nd, 2014, 08:13 AM
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Get one that goes into Glacier Bay

If you go to Skagway, take the train excursion
bigtyke is offline  
Old Feb 2nd, 2014, 09:20 AM
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We used Norwegian Cruise Lines out of Seattle because of its relaxed approach to cruising.

I agree that you should take the White Pass railroad excursion out of Skagway...we didn't, and have regretted it ever since. If you look behind the curtain you will realize that the folks selling excursions on the dock are the same companies that sell them on the ship...little or nothing to be gained by joining the scrum on the dock (same thing goes for jewelry are buying from the same companies in the towns that sell on the ships).

We took a small ship cruise to Seward Glacier out of Juneau.

You can't get a small ship experience on a big ship.
Bobmrg is offline  
Old Feb 2nd, 2014, 12:07 PM
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I took a late 7 day Inland Passage cruise out of Vancouver - we set sail Aug 31. You need to understand that Early September is NOT summer in Alaska. The cruise was wonderful -- but not one day was shirt sleeve weather and most were down jacket over cashmere sweater/rain gear/gloves/freezing - some rain. Only one days was a downpour - and that day was at sea in Glacier Bay so no shore excursions were impacted. But for most of the time we were in the Bay it was impossible to be out on deck since it was blowing rain/sleet sideways.

If I had to do it again -- I wouldn't choose the last sailing of the season (usually the first week in Sept.) due to the weather. There is a reason that sailing was discounted
janisj is online now  
Old Feb 2nd, 2014, 01:36 PM
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Go on a small ship! We never saw any crowns, we went where no huge ships went except for Glacier Bay NP where there was a one cruise ship. We saw whales daily,went out in zodiac rafts exploring, kayaked in small bays and never paid for any "excursions". A wonderful experience.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 05:03 AM
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Thank you! We're following up on all these suggestions. We're open to any others.
kwingy is offline  
Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 10:12 AM
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Have you thought about foregoing a cruise and doing only a land vacation. You could do day cruises out of the main ports. You could take the train to Seward or Denali. I haven't been to Alaska, but planning on a trip for August. We went back and forth about taking a cruise, but because of the crowds, opted to skip it and go with having greater flexibility.
Jackie is offline  
Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 11:21 AM
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I was on Celebrity Cruise lines- not a small ship experience but we enjoyed. We flew into Anchorage and did a few days on our own in Homer which we enjoyed. Took the train to Denali and toured that area , then cruised from Seward to Vancouver.
We booked our excursions though the cruise line because it was convenient and we were assured of getting the excursions we wanted. Did not want to have to start shopping around for an excursion after we got off the ship.

We did the train at Skagway, salmon bake and whale watch in Juneau, float plane sightseeing in Ketchican, in Denali we did a park tour, and we visited Huskie Homestead which we did on our own and enjoyed.
We visited Mendenhall Glacier on our own also- just took a bus there so was easy.
Loved Alaska - we really liked our time in Homer.
sunbum1944 is online now  
Old Feb 4th, 2014, 12:46 PM
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HappyTrvlr -- what small ship did you take?
jill_h is offline  
Old Feb 4th, 2014, 01:31 PM
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For the major cruise lines, you have three "basic" itinerary choices - Round trip from Seattle, round trip from Vancouver, or one-way, Vancouver to Whittier or Seward, or vice-versa. Within each of these general categories there are various alternatives regarding ports of call, glaciers or scenic areas visited, and of course cruise lines themselves. The vast majority are 7-night cruises, departing in the late afternoon on the first night, and arriving in the early morning on the last day.

Round trips from Seattle (there are no one-way cruises from Seattle due to US maritime law) travel to the west of Vancouver Island, so the first full day is at sea, with little to no scenery besides the ocean. Round trips from Vancouver stick to the east side of Vancouver Island, thereby giving more scenery and calmer water on the first and last days. The Seattle boats call at Victoria BC on the way south, to fulfill the US legal requirement that round trips from US ports call at a foreign port en route.

Both the Seattle and Vancouver round-trip cruises typically call at most of the same ports in Alaska, namely Ketchikan, Juneau, usually Hoonah (aka "Icy Strait") and Skagway. Some will call at Sitka, one or two at Haines. Some will visit Glacier Bay and others will do "drive-by" visits at other glacier areas.

All of the round trip cruises, from both ports, limit their travel to Southeast Alaska, the forested "panhandle" of the state. While this is a beautiful and impressive area, it is only one of many regions in Alaska, most of which are not accessible by cruise ship (or road, for that matter.)

The one way cruises to/from Vancouver also take 7 nights, but by extending to Southcentral Alaska allow passengers to extend their Alaska experience (before or after the cruise) to time to explore other regions. Many of these visitors will travel to Denali National Park, or visit the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage (where you fly to/from in conjunction with these one-way trips) or farther afield, either on car, bus, or train tours, or by air for the few who are interested in visiting the Alaska "bush."

Obviously the round-trip cruises are the simplest to plan; unpack once, enjoy the ports of call and/or excursions, let the ship do the logistical homework. The one-way cruisers generally need more time (to visit the other areas) and if they're self-directed, will need to make their own arrangements once they arrive in Southcentral Alaska.

So the big first question is, how much time do you have? If you only have a week or so, then the one-way cruises probably aren't the best for you. If you have two weeks (or maybe 12 days altogether, but more is better) then the one-way cruise coupled with some time in Southcentral or Interior Alaska might be the way to go. Obviously there are budget ramifications too.

It's also important to note that while Alaska possesses some amazing wilderness and wide open spaces, such is not the case on cruises. It's not uncommon for Skagway, an historic gold rush town with a population of around 800, to have five cruise ships in port on a given day, each carrying 2000-3000+ passengers and crew. You can do the math.

By the same token, while Denali National Park is enormous and rightly renowned for its scenery and wildlife, access to the interior of the park is by bus, so unless you want to hike off the road you're not exactly alone there either.

Or do you take a couple of the days when you might be sitting on a ship looking at the forest glide by and reallocate them to flying to an Eskimo village above the Arctic Circle and seeing the actual midnight sun, and maybe sticking a toe in the Arctic Ocean? Easily done, but no chocolate buffet or floor show that night. No night, actually.

So what I'm saying is that in my view visiting Alaska requires a fair amount of research and a little "inner dialogue" as to your priorities. You can't see all of it in one trip (indeed, one lifetime) but you still need to choose which bits are important to you. Still not that easy.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Feb 4th, 2014, 02:13 PM
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Gardyloo gave you some great information.

We had frequent flier miles so flew to Seattle. We spent a couple of days there and thoroughly enjoyed it, as well as getting used to the time zone change. We then took a Princess Cruise van to Vancouver for embarkation on the Ruby Princess.

We went mid August and had spectacular weather. I would recommend choosing a cruise that goes into Glacier Bay. It is something you will never forget.

For our excursions (all arranged privately), we did whale watching (saw orcas bubble feeding), helicopter ride/landing and walking on a glacier, the train ride, and bear watching (skyplane to Anan Creek, watched the bears salmon feeding).

These excursions were expensive, but well worth it, in our opinion.

I would suggest you go to and do some looking. People review different cruise lines, different ships, give recommendations about activities, etc.

You will love Alaska.
rncheryl is online now  
Old Feb 5th, 2014, 05:39 AM
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Thanks, again. All 3 couples are reading the responses. You're giving us so many insider views to help us decide.
kwingy is offline  
Old Feb 5th, 2014, 06:48 AM
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I have cruised twice (2009 and 2012) to Alaska (both times roundtrip from Seattle). The first time we sailed on Holland America in late August. We flew into Seattle two days prior and enjoyed the city. We sailed in late August and had beautiful weather. We went to Ketchikan, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Juneau and Victoria B.C. Glacier Bay is spectacular and I would choose a cruise that includes it. In June 2012, I went again -- this time on the Golden Princess. We had rain and cold every day. We again went to Glacier Bay, but this time we stopped in Skagway instead of Sitka. In Skagway, we took a bus to the Yukon and returned on the White Pass Railroad -- we loved it! All of our excursions (both times) were booked through the cruise lines. I know many people book them independently, but we were more comfortable booking through the cruise line.

My experiences on Holland America and Princess were both excellent. I would give a nod to Holland America for service. The Holland America ship (the Zaandam) is smaller than the Golden Princess. HAL caters to an older crowd, but that wasn't a big deal for me. I was 58 at the time of the cruise and I felt young, but I was traveling with a good friend who was 74 and she fit right in. Princess had more going on in the evening, if that matters to you. Food was very good on both lines. Again, I would give a slight nod to HAL for food.

Whatever you decide, I hope you have a wonderful cruise with your friends. Alaska is AMAZING!
mikesmom is offline  
Old Feb 5th, 2014, 09:52 AM
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mikesmom, we also really enjoyed the Zaandam and the generally smaller size of HAL's ships. DH in particular didn't want to be part of a great crowd (really had to twist his arm to cruise at all), and he is still telling people how great it was.


We did the one-way southbound out of Seward in May a few years ago. While chilly (OK, down coats), the weather was mostly sunny (May vs. September). We're doing the same trip again this year on June 1, only on the Oosterdam.

Last time we flew directly to Anchorage (looooong flight from Orlando FL), got up early the next day and drove to Denali for a quick couple of nights. Then back to Anchorage, where we caught the train to Seward early the following morning. We were jet-lagged all week. Learning from that, on this vacation we'll fly to Seattle, overnight at the airport, then catch a morning flight to Anchorage and spend 2 nights there. No big dash to do anything very far from Anchorage. Then, the train to Seward again, because I think that is a definitely must-do, very scenic and relaxing.

We did the White Pass Railroad that trip; it's an all-day thing. Good to do once, but we wouldn't do it again. Uncomfortable wooden seats (antiques) and all day, got a little boring actually. Although the scenery is great. If you find an excursion that doesn't actually do the train the entire time (as in a bus return) and has something going on at the end of the train ride, that might be a different story.

Both times include a stopover in Vancouver, one of our favorite places. Then Amtrak back to Seattle. Two nights this time, a single night last time. In either case, it's most of 2 days - you get off the ship early morning. Last time we caught the evening train (around 6p), this time we are staying the night and catching the early morning train. I do recommend this train ride as well - in places it goes along the shore and you can see eagles fishing along with seagulls. By the way, both train rides (Anchorage and Vancouver) are about 4 hours.

The nice part about our upcoming schedule is that we will get into Seattle just before lunch and have the rest of the day to spend there, since our flight home is the next morning.

If you haven't already discovered it, check out Cruise Critic You'll find a lot of great information and advice there (although Gardyloo's post was terrific too).
sludick is offline  
Old Feb 9th, 2014, 05:46 AM
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We now feel like we're going for our 2nd voyage and are armed with all the things to do (or not do) the second time around! Thank you so much for your help. We'll make our decisions this week.
kwingy is offline  
Old Feb 26th, 2014, 05:23 PM
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 43
We did the one way cruise from Vancouver to Whittier on the Sapphire Princess and it was incredible, especially Glacier Bay.
The one thing I would say is make sure you have a balcony on an Alaskan Cruise as it is worth every cent.
Here are some pictures I took from my Alaskan cruise:

Cruising Alaska was like an impossibly beautiful dream.

Your stops will depend on the ship and cruise you choose. But my favourite stop was Juneau - so many fabulous things to do and see. Ketchikan was also fantastic with lots of character. I have posted about both those stops on my website complete with pics if you want to check them out.

I'll be interested to hear which route and ship you end up choosing. You'll have a great time no matter what.
Cheshirecatt is offline  
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