Mid-season Alaska Cruises

| Monday, 18 Jun. 2012

We usually find the best prices in the great white north in May and June, but we thought it would be good to point out some of the mid-season bargains in Alaska because it is not too late to get a great deal this year. There are 21 different cruise lines with a total of 45 different vessels offering Alaska cruises in 2012. You may wonder why there are so many, so let us explain this…

While Alaska appears as a great solid block of contiguous land mass three times larger than Texas on the map - that is true only in a geographic context. But if you look where people actually live in Alaska you find the main cities like Juneau, Sitka, Seward and Ketchikan are located on coastal islands, not connected to the mainland by highways or railroads.

The means the best way to see the most interesting parts of Alaska is by sea. In fact, although Alaska is big, the vast part is unsettled with wild terrain and no highways or railroads. Few major cities are not located along the coast, mainly in the panhandle region that stretches down and hugs the western border of Canada. For this reason cruise ships bring over 90% of Alaska's visitors.

Will you be booking an Alaskan cruise this year? Talk about it in the Alaska forum.

What to See in Alaska

Along the coastline barrier islands of Alaska are a number of natural attractions, from glaciers feeding into the sea to pods of whales and dolphins. The water is very rich in plankton, which attracts feeding baleen whales under the best conditions for observation. There are also sea lions, bears, eagles and salmon swimming upstream from the ocean to their natural fresh water spawning grounds.

If you also want to see the great interior, such as Denali, that tallest mountain in North America, you can do that as well. There are land trips available as add-on attractions to cruises, which generally last three to five days as a roundtrip journey you take either before or after a cruise.

The Best Current Alaska Cruise Prices

First, let's explain the various Alaska cruise options. There are seven-day roundtrip cruises from either Vancouver (Canada) or Seattle. These cruises have the advantage of leaving from ports that are close to home, so you only have to fly roundtrip to the Northwest area of the U.S. (or Southwest for Canadians) to catch the ship. This year we found roundtrip airfare from Phoenix to Seattle for just over $200 per person – quite a bargain.

The next option is the one-way Alaska cruise, which either starts in Seattle or Vancouver and ends in Alaska, or does the opposite. These cruises alternate weekly, sailing to the north, for example, where many people then take an overland journey to Denali. Then the following week the next cruise starts in Alaska after a trip to Denali, to bring people back to the United States via cruise ship.

The third option is the "All Alaska, all the time" cruise where you fly to Juneau (most often) and take a roundtrip cruise just within the state of Alaska. These cruises are usually offered by smaller, more immersive and expensive cruise lines, often considered "expedition" cruises.

The best Alaska cruise I ever took was on such a vessel, American Safari Cruises, now called Innersea Discovery Cruises. The boat picked us up in Juneau, and we spent the next seven days on the water in the tranquil barrier islands of southern Alaska. We only stopped to visit a port of call twice during the entire seven days, and each time it was only for two or three hours. The rest of the time we spent watching humpback whales feeding, orca (killer whale) dolphins hunting sea lions, bears catching salmon in the streams near Mendenhall, and witnessing some of the best glacier calving action I have ever seen.

2012 Alaska Cruise Bargains

Carnival only has one ship, Carnival Spirit, in Alaska this year, one of the better Carnival ships at sea because it is newer but also smaller, making for a better cruise experience (less crowded) than the average Carnival cruise. However, you still have all of the usual "fun ship" features such as singing waiters. In 2013, the Carnival Alaska cruises will be taken over by Carnival Miracle.

Carnival Spirit is usually the best Alaska cruise bargain, but for the first time in my memory this is not true. A seven day cruise on Spirit starts at $829 for an inside cabin (!) and a balcony stateroom is $1369. This breaks a streak of at least five years where Spirit was always the best deal in Alaska.

The Cheapest Cruise: Surprisingly enough, the best bargains we see this year are on the older Celebrity ships; especially Millennium which was just recently refurbished. That ship has inside cabins starting as low as $429 per person on August 3rd and balcony cabins at $1049. However, this ship sails one-way, from Vancouver to Seward, so the airfare is going to be proportionately more expensive.

The Best Value: When it comes to the lowest prices, classy ships and the least expensive airfare possible you can't beat Holland America Oosterdam sailing from Seattle and stopping in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia. It also visits a glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, known as having some of the most active glaciers in the state in terms of calving (where large shards of ice break off and smash into the sea).

Just to show you how great a value the Oosterdam offers, Holland America is also sailing an identical ship, the Westerdam, on the identical itinerary with one exception, the ship goes to Glacier Bay instead of Tracy Arm, and that ship's cheapest cruises all summer start at $899 with balcony staterooms starting at $1499. If the only difference is Glacier Bay, the difference in price is not worth it. I have seen Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm, and there is very little difference. I personally had a better "glacier-watching experience" at Tracy Arm.

Princess Cruises – also well known for Alaska cruises – has the Coral Princess sailing one way between Vancouver and Whittier, Alaska. The inside cabins start at just $499 per person and balcony cabins are as low as $1099 per person (July 30th). The ship goes to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, College Fjord and ends in Whittier.

Golden Princess, however sails roundtrip Seattle, saving on airfare, but cruise prices start at $799 (inside) and $1399 for balcony cabins (June 30 or Aug. 25).

A Different Kind of Ship

If you are a fan of Royal Caribbean, the newly remodeled Radiance of the Seas offers several of the lines signature onboard experiences such as the Brazilian steakhouse Samba's Grill, Park Café, Rita's Cantina, The Dog House and Giovanni's Table Italian trattoria. Cruises start at $599 per person with balcony cabins at $1149. But this is also a one-way cruise with Vancouver and Seward as the end points.

Other Alaska Cruise Options

Some of the other Alaska cruise options this year include the Disney Wonder – where the focus is on the ship as much as the destination. Luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas has a few one-way cruises on Navigator sailing between Vancouver and Seward starting at $4849 per person. This is for an all-suite ship with everything; tips, liquor, shore excursions and pre-cruise hotel included. Silversea's Silver Shadow has six, seven, 10 and 11-night cruises offered all summer long.

Will you be booking an Alaskan cruise this year? Talk about it in the Alaska forum.

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