Here's our own suggestions, based on our having " done Alaska " 3 times.
1/ If it is to be a " one time " event, do it right and do not shortchange yourselves.
2/ Cruise tours book real early; your finding that the better tours are already
booked for this summer is not surprising. Postponing till 2006 will not save
you $$$ ( costs are pegged to go up approx 8-9 % ) but will expand your
choice, give you access to Early booking discount and spare you with the
dissapointment of not doing what you really want, because " it's already gone".
3/ Seattle departure will only give you 7 days inside passage,not the whole of
the Gulf. Vancouver departures (on Princess,which seems to be your choice)
have 2 weekly sailings going all the way to Anchorage (Whittier),7 days,
with a corresponding 7 day southbound voyage. Much better "Alaska " on those
4/Cruise tours are always linked with the Gulf Of Alaska ( Whittier) sailings,never
with the inside passage ones.
5/Yes, cruise tour, land portion, are by defenition a bit hectic. Alaska is a WIDE
area, and typical passengers want to " do it all "; cruise operators have long ago
figured out that " squeezing a lot into a little " works best....BUT; there are huge
advantages: -the operators do all the driving-your bags are handled by them,with
your own "effort"limited to placing them behind the door at checkout--the rail
portions are superb,so are their own cars--the lodges are great--the organizing
is all tought out for you--groups are no more than 40-ish in number ( a bus load)--
DO LAND FIRST....you'll enjoy the relaxing cruise even better at the tail-end.--your
bags,on last land day//1st cruise day, are taken from hotel stop,right to your cabin
door !!! This is NOT your typical " 14 day coach tour thru Europe ", not at all; less
hectic and more comfortable.
You will have loads of fun even planning the whole thing. Good luck