My wife and I just had the idea last week that we would like to do an Alaskan cruise in September 2010. It is now July 2010 so we need to book soon. Neither of us has ever cruised before, so I've been researching the various options. This message board is the best resource I have found to help me understand all of the choices that are available. There is a lot to learn!
In order to make sure that I am comprehending all of this, I would like to attempt to summarize some of the ideas that I have picked up from this board and other sources, and maybe some of the more experienced folks on this board can offer some correction or clarification if I am mistaken or confused about something. So, here goes:
1. Cruise line. From what I can tell, Princess and Holland America are the two top choices as they have the most experience in Alaska. Norwegian is on a second or third tier beneath Princess and HAL. I come to this conclusion after I was initially drawn to NCL. The concept of freestyle cruising is very appealing as I really dislike the idea of having to dress up for a scheduled meal time. However, it sounds like the freestyle cruise concept is implemented poorly by NCL. They use it as an excuse to charge you extra for "specialty" dining, and you have to deal with scheduling issues (e.g. reservations, waiting for a table, etc). I see that Celebrity and Carnival are also offering some Alaskan cruises, but they don't seem to have as much of a track record in this area as Princess and HAL.
2. Cruise itinerary. I've gathered that Glacier Bay is almost a "must see" attraction, so a strong preference should be given to any itinerary that includes it. Also, as between Seattle and Vancouver, Vancouver is the preferable departure point as it is much more scenic. Looking at the route maps, I can see that the Seattle roundtrip itinerary covers a lot of distance in the open ocean (undesirable). This was another situation where my initial impulse was wrong. I was initially leaning toward the Seattle roundtrip due to the ease and low cost of flying through the Seattle airport. However, my thinking now is that I will take the 3-4 hour quick shuttle ride from the SeaTac Airport up to Vancouver for a departure there, and I'll probably do a one-way itinerary and fly back from Alaska even though it costs a few hundred bucks more in airfare.
3. Room type. Some folks make the point that the scenic nature of Alaska justifies the additional expense for a balcony room (for the cruises I am looking at, the balcony adds about another $1200 to the cost). However, others folks indicate an inside room is good enough because the best views are from the promenade anyway. In my case, I am experiencing some sticker shock after tallying up all the costs of the cruise, airfare, excursions, etc. I'm thinking that for our first cruise maybe we should just go with an inside room, and if we like the experience then maybe we'll spring for the balcony next time. We've never paid this much for a vacation before (I'm in my 30's and my wife is in her 20's), so it is with some reluctance that I am handing over such a large pile of my hard-earned cash. It is worth it, right?? :-)
4. Excursions. I haven't really researched the excursions much yet, but my general impression is that, when the boat stops, I want to get out of the tourist-trap cities as quickly as possible. My wife and I are interested in the scenic/nature oriented excursions (e.g. zip-lines, Misty Fjords, dog sledding, scenic railway, etc).
Anyway, if anybody would care to express an opinion or offer some guidance on these issues, please do so as I really appreciate the feedback. And thanks to all of you for making this board such a valuable resource for newbies like me who are trying to get up to speed.