We are planning our honeymoon cruise to Alaska in June. Neither of us has been to Alaska before. We've decided that we MUST land on a glacier. Is it better to book with the cruise line or to book our own?
For your first trip, I would recommend that you book through the cruise line. This will eliminate any worry about where and when you meet the tours and if the times cooincide with the ship's activities. (Arrival, Departure. and Meals) We found that the whale watching tour in Juneau was better through the ship than the one that we booked locally. The prices were the same, but we were less crowded on the cruise lines tour, had a more stable boat (a catamaran), had better snacks, and we didn't have to miss dinner on the ship.
Whatever you choose, you can't go wrong. Alaska is beautiful, the people are nice and you will have a wonderful time. We have gone 5 times and would go again in a heartbeat.
WE'll be going to Alaska in May, my fifth cruise, my partner's second. In some ports we found the same outfitters doing the ships's excursions and generaly $20-$30 less than the cruise line provides. They mark up these tours to cover their expenses involved in marketing, organizing, etc. It's a personal decision. Are you the kind of person who will spend lots of time researching the area and potential providers of service? Also, the cruise line makes it a no-worry situation, where as booking yourself may be a little frustrating. With the ships's excursions, if the tour is running late, or a bus breaks down, the ship will wait for you. If you book on your own, you truly are on your own if transportation problems arise, and you miss the sailing time from the port. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the personal touch and smaller size group of booking direclty, versus the herd mentality of the ship's tours. First time cruisers may find it much easier, and just a few dollars more to go with the ship's excursions. As you cruise more, and gain experience, try one or two that you book yourself. It's a matter of personal preference, budget, and the amount of security (or insecurity) you're willing to deal with.
Most of all, relax and have fun! Don't make this too much work.
I have to totally disagree. I never book ship excursions and with only wanting a glacier helicopter landing I would definately book. Consider www.coastalhelicopters.com I have been on this excursion 6 times- 3 with Coastal. They give an excellent tour with personal attention. Alaska ports are tiny and if you miss the ship it is your own fault with poor planning, schedule your tours for early in your day.
That's my point, exactly. If you miss the ship, it's your fault!!! and yes, some people do plan poorly. Not everyone is as adventurous or willing to spend the time planning. For SOME people the ship's excursions are the way to go.
Thank you for your observations. I think you're absolutely right that it is a matter of personal choice--one's cruising experience, how much time one wants to spend planning excursions, and how much "risk" one is comfortable with. These are decisions that individuals need to make for themselves, and you pointed out a number of important factors to consider.
We'll be going to Alaska for the first time this summer (also our first cruise) and have decided to book everything through the cruiseline, including the air transportation. For us, it is well worth the extra money to have the cruisline handle everything so that we don't have to coordinate schedules, make reservations, etc. ourselves. As first-timers, we also like knowing that if a shore excursion booked through the ship is late, they'll hold the ship for us. As first-timers, that's important to us.
We are still several months from our cruise date and are enjoying the anticipation. If we were self-booking excursions, we'd need to spend much or our spare pre-cruise time researching excursion providers, coordinating schedules (and time zones!), and making reservations. Instead, we're exploring books and videos about Alaska wildlife, history, etc. We know that not everyone would make this choice, but it is the one that works for us.
We think it is so nice that cruising offers such a wide variety of options.
I am also a first time cruiser to Alaska this summer and after a bit of research I have come to the same conclusion as you, I am going to book all my shore trips through the cruiseline. It may cost a little bit more, but it is worth it for the security! Hope you have a great cruise.
Booking your own is doable and should be safe if you stick with the highly recommended operators that you see in this and other Alaska boards. The only precaution I would make is to schedule your tours as early as you can after the ship docks and don't try to cram so much into each port. Give yourself and hour or so to take care of any problems and still get back to the ship in time. Our only disappointment was in Sitka where we booked two bus tours, one through the ship and one on our own. We were late getting off the ship due to tendering priorities and them being disorganized, rushed to our bus which was late, rushed to each stop on the tour, never having enough time to see it all. The afternoon tour was almost the same rush and went to several of the same city sites but still had no more time. The smaller boat tours you can book on your own I feel are more personal and rewarding. AND you can save about 20-30% on many of them.
I do not feel all of that is true . Remember one thing, these ports rely on tourism dollars and the vendors go out of their way to make sure everything is fine.
In fact I know of a story where during a helicopter flight the weather changed rapidly and the copter was forced to land far from the regular landing site. The vendor in question went to extra ordinary lenghts to get those people back. They did have to walk thru some muck but they had all sorts of land transportation to get these people back to the ship and were even in contact with the ship to advise them of the situation.
We had never gone to Alaska and wanted to do a glacier visit, but in no way was going to spend the money the ship wanted for the helicopter tour ( I think it was $219pp). I saved over $50 per person by booking direct with Coastal. By the way, you can actually book with the same vendors that the ship uses. They picked us up at the dock. Also from reading info from an expert Alaskan cruiser on the cruise critic Akaska board, we booked an afternoon flight because the morning tends to be foggier. We made it back with enough time to shop in Juneau and were back on ship one hour before sailing.
I have only been on 2 cruises, and going on a third soon but know enough to give myself a buffer in time. And besides I have late seating so I do not have to rush.
I will only book a ship tour if I can not find any info on the destination or if they are the only ones to do that tour. In Skagway we did a morning tour of Ghosts that was thru the ship and in the afternoon did the Whitepass RR up and the bus tour back. And it was on the same bus/train the ship used.
As a resident of Southeast Alaska - and I don't own a tour business - I highly recommend going online and finding charters & tours. They are always cheaper than the cruiselines and many offer additional discounts for booking online.