I have enough points with Marriott to get a "free" cruise, and my wife and I, for our 25th anniversary, picked the Alaska cruise. We've never been on a cruise, so everything is new -- but we do know we like the off-the-beaten-path vacation more than the see-the-sights-along-with-20,000-other-people vacation. Marriott points go with Carnival (at least at my level) for a 7 day, one way, northward Vancover-to-Anchorage trip. I've picked August 13 as a departure date, and it looks like that's good with Carnival. Some things I need to close up before I do the whole thing-
1. We live in Bethlehem, Pa. We need to get to Vancouver. We also need to return, in some manner, from Anchorage. What's the most cost-effective way? I see from some posts that flying into Seattle is lots cheaper than flying into Vancouver, so that's an obvious choice. What about the open-jaw from Anchorage -- or would it be cheaper to go round trip to-from Seattle, and one way from Anchorage to Seattle when the trip's over?
2. Our cabin is a class 6 cabin. We can upgrade to one with a balcony for about $260. Is it worth the upgrade, or do you not spend that much time in the cabin anyway?
3. We stop in Sitka and Jeauneau -- what should we plan on doing at these stops? I don't know if, on any of them, there is enough time to go do something else. Observations? Recommendations?
4. We don't have any idea how much this "free" vacation is going to cost. Right now, I know we have port fees of about $500, trip insurance of about $120, plane/train costs of unknown amount -- what should we bring for spending money? Is $500 each too much? Is $1000 each not enough?
5. We are going to do a couple of days in Vancouver at the beginning, and a couple of days in Alaska at the end of the cruise. Any suggestions on you-absolutely-must-do-this activities?
Thanks in advance for everyone's help and advise. Hope, after the trip, to be able to give my own feedback.
Hi Alaska Novice,
Can help with a few questions..... In Junerau, try to plan a whale watching excursion, we went through Capt. Larry: http://www.alaskawhalewatching.com/ We had a great time on this tour, saw lots of whales.
As for the airline traveling, since you will be using an "open jaw" flight, you may want to check with the travel agent, sometimes with these kinds of flights they can get a better price, plus you will be doing a deviation for the extra days, which is a great idea. Vancouver is a lovely town, be sure to walk through Gastown, nice shops.
As for the upgraded cabin, I would definitely say yes get the balcony, especially in Alaska, you don't want to miss anything, its absolutely breathtaking. We recently did our first Alaska cruise and a balcony is almost a must if you can swing it, you will be suprised how much time you do spend there.
As for the weather while you are up there, expect anything and some rain, we were lucky, only had one afternoon of rain in Juneau for the entire week, but basically, you should love the cruise, have fun!
I agree that a balcony is a "must". You will spend a lot of time there whale watching and just enjoying the passing views. I disagree with using Capt. Larry for the whale watching in Juneau. We have used him and the cruise line's whale watching tour (on different trips). The cruise line tour is definately better in that they use bigger and more stable boats, they are less crowded, they serve better snacks, and if you don't see any whales, they will refund the cost of the tour.
Don't forget to budget for the tips on the ship!! I don't know what Carnival "recommends" but you need to plan on a "per person" rate of approx $3.50 a day each for the room steward and your table steward. $3.00 for your assistant waiter and tips to the bar tender, etc.
I also agree with the balcony. We've been on an Alaskan cruise 3 times and only once in a balcony (cost restraints). The balcony really made the trip special. We spent most of our "at sea" time out on it. We had an inside cabin on our last cruise, but were right next to the deck and could actually lean out from our cabin door and check out the weather.
We really enjoyed the whale watching tour with Orca Tours (Capt Larry) in Juneau. We also took the ship sponsored Sea Otter Tour out of Sitka. They were both really great and comparing them is like apples to oranges. Different experiences totally...
Juneau (being the state capital) has lots to see by walking around. Until you know the time in port, it's hard to say what your options are. If you only have a short time, you can take one of the ship sponsored tours or walk into town and check out the museums and other exhibits.
I'd highly recommend that you get a copy of Mitchner's "Alaska" to read. It gives you a better insight to the wildlife, state and towns and a REAL big appreciation for those currently living there.
Do a search and check out previous messages on things to do in the ports. You're definitely going to love Alaska!
Just to make things perfectly clear. We tok whale watching tours both with Capt. Larry and with the cruise line. Captain Larry offers a fine tour and his office staff is very nice. His boat was crowded with 23 people on board and being a single hull was very rocky in the choppy waters. (Quite a few people got sick.) The snack offered was smoked salmon pieces and ritz crackers. We saw 2 whales and followed them for about an hour. The only times available for his cruise caused us to miss dinner on the ship. No big deal, but a factor, nevertheless.
On the cruise line whale watching trip, we had a large catamaran with fewer passengers. (More stable and less crowded.) The snack included various salmon and other spreads, breads, cheeses and various soft drinks. We saw 9 whales and one of them actually came right up to the boat and "looked us over". (Pure luck) One baby was having fun broaching out of the water. (Again, luc at being at the right place.) Also, the cruise line tour promised to refund the cost if no whales were seen.
Whichever tour you take, it is a wonderful experience and not to be missed. Have a great trip.
If you can get to Newark, I just got a fantastic $510 round trip fare on Alaska Air (some of the flights are operated by others) through orbitz.com for Newark to Vancouver and returning Anchorage to Newark.
We sailed on the Celebrity Infinity last August/September (over Labor Day) and the weather was wonderful.
Our outside cabin was very, very nice and we were glad we did not opt to upgrade to one with a balcony. These ships have so many wonderful viewing areas and we were never sorry we went with a regular cabin.
But an outside cabin is GREAT. The windows are large and the Inside Passage will give you some wonderful views.
If you are going to be staying in Vancouver, give Priceline.com some consideration in booking your rooms. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency for $69....all taxes included.
We stayed in Whistler, at a resort, for $39 per night. These are all prices for the room-not per person- and included all taxes.
The only regret we had was not booking on the steam train trip. We also heard that the Whale Watching trip was a good one. However, we were just happy to go off on our own and discover the little towns and mingle with the locals. Had a ball....
We wish you a wonderful trip and great experiences!
I am a many time Alaska visitor, but I never recommend any one way cruise without at least 5 additional days touring. It is a long way in time and money not to take advantage of it. You will see very little allowing only a couple days. Distances are vast and a highpoint is of course Denali Park. As for tours- look over any ship shore excursion list and narrow down your interests. Budget for costly tours and consider at least 1 flight. Each area offers great "walking tours" easy to go on your own and far more enjoyable than some costly tours. I never book anything from the ship and always book direct from the operators. I agree that with a full boat from Orca it would be uncomfortable- but I wouldn't choose Allen Marine based on their snacks. As for sightings - the comparism is invalid as it isn't known what the other saw on the SAME day. For your air- keep looking and see what is around- this way you'll know when a good deal comes along. Don't forget if you fly to Seattle (where I always go) you have a transfer that will be around $100 for 2 people. Add also 3+ hours.