WE ARE STARTING TO SAVE UP FOR A TRIP OF A LIFETIME (FOR US ANYWAY!) TO ALASKA.
WE HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS -
WHAT CRUISELINE - IF THERE IS ONE - IS BETTER TO GO ON? WE ARE FORTY SOMETHINGS - NOT YET PAST IT BUT TOO OLD FOR DRUNKEN EXPLOITS BUT WE DO LIKE TO HAVE FUN!!
DOES ANY ONE LINE SNEAK INTO PORTS WHERE OTHERS CANT? ARE SOME BACLONY CABINS BIGGER ON SOME SHIPS THAN ON OTHERS?
WHAT ARE THE LIKELYHOOD OF SEEING BEARS IN SEPTEMBER? OR DO THEY START GETTING INTO HIBERNATION MODE THEN (SORRY FOR IGNORANCE)
wHATS THE BEST PLACE TO DO A HELICOPTER TRIP OVER THE GLACIERS? HOW COLD DOES IT GET AT NIGHT? (WE'VE BEEN TO CANADA IN WINTER, SO WE CAN COPE NOW AND ARE PREPARED!)
IT SEEMS TO BE AN EXPENSIVE HOL, SO IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE EXPENSIVE EXCURSION, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Dear Kim, We were in a similar positon to you last year, and have recently returned from
our first cruise (in August). We chose NCL Norwegian Spirit, mainly for Freestyle Cruising and the departure port of Seattle. We had a really good time and the ship, crew, service, food etc exceeded our expectations. Our party, us in our fifties and son and daughter in law , in their thirties, really liked the Freestyle cruising as it is less formal and more flexible. The inclusive restaurant, Windows served us well each day for dinner, and we enjoyed the option of dressing up on the two formal nights. We went on some good shore trips, the Whale Watching ones at Juneau and Prince Rupert were superb. We too wanted to see bears, an option in P R but they were away in the mountains due to the hot weather. (NCL offered us other trips instead.) In order to save a little, we had inside cabins, which we found fine, as we spent a lot of time on the upper deck, watching the splendid scenery. We found the evenings fine in August, but we did have superb weather for the most part. We were able to stroll around the decks in light jackets after dinner. (10pm.) Our ship was large, so did not visit the small ports, but we did get close in to the Sawyer Glacier, which was a fantastic sight. One NCL shore trip from Juneau offered an even closer view, which looked fun. In all it was certainly the "Holiday of a Lifetime" for us, but of course, this is just in our opinion! Good luck in finding the right cruise for you.
I would recommend focusing on the itinerary rather than the ship. Even if this isn't the trip-of-a-lifetime, you're undoubtedly going to experience Alaska and you have a certain vision of that in your head. Pick your trip by what you want to see rather than on which line has better food and social events.
First issue: 1-way cruise or roundtrip? The 1-way will typically leave from Vancouver and get you to either Seward or Whittier (both outside of Anchorage). Its more expensive to go that way, but I highly recommend it if you can add on at least 5+ days (excluding travel days), which will let you explore the interior of Alaska. It has a very different feel, topography, and different wildlife than S.E. Alaska. A highlight is typically Denali Nat. Park (massive wilderness area with 1 road that is closed to public vehicles...you take a morning shuttle out there to see grizzly, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, etc....amazing). During the cruise portion, the wildlife is bald eagle; whales; seals; otters; and bears if you specifically go on an excursion to see them or get insanely lucky. But the topography differences are really amazing too. If this is the trip-of-a-lifetime, you really want to spend that extra time and money.
The round-trip is probably a better idea if you don't want to add on this extra time - leaving either out of Vancouver or Seattle, with Vancouver departures spending more of their time in Alaskan waters.
Second: Grab some different brochures and look at (1) what ports they visit; (2) amount of time in each port; (3) starting/ending point. You'll find that there are some minor differences in what are offered by mainline cruises - most commonly a trade-off between Sitka (russian history, etc) and Skagway (gold rush history). And what glacier cruising you will have: the clear preference is a combo with Glacier Bay and College Fjord.
Much of this will require you to look into excursions in the various ports to decide where you want to be and how much time you would prefer to have in each port to get those things done.
The start/end issue on a 1-way comes down to Seward v. Whittier. Seward is better if you plan to spend time there exploring (some great things to do there). Otherwise, Whittier is a bit closer to Anchorage and Denali.
Third: If exploring pre or post-cruise, you can look at what packages each line offers. However, the recommendation is to rent a car and explore on your own. You see a lot more for a lot less money and you don't get herded around to activities that you're not interested in.
Fourth: Then look into any particular issues having to do with the ship: price, balconies, etc. Balconies certainly cost more, but are a really nice addition for a first Alaska cruise. MAKE SURE ITS A FULLY COVERED BALCONY, which will give you privacy and block much of the wind. We went with Princess because we liked there itinerary. Our ship had a huge number of balconies.
Excursions: They really make or break this trip and they are quite expensive. Without them you won't get that wildlife/wilderness feel that you're probably looking for. Instead, its lots of crowds and souvenire shops broken up by some quality museums. So, factor this in. Glacier helicopters will be your expensive must-do excursion and are basically out of Juneau and Skagway - you at least want to land on one and walk around. Even better is hiking around where you get to see the really amazing stuff. In addition to this, we did kayaking in Ketchikan (private company) and guided hiking in the temperate rain forest in Juneau (amazing to learn how the forest developed in the wake of the glaciers). Again, you really want to build your budget around being able to do the excursions of most interest to you. [Many save money in Skagway by renting a car for the day and taking a beautiful ride that mirrors a train route that 75% of the other tourists take.]
Weather in Alaska is variable. This summer was very hot (75-85 degrees in August). We found that we needed jackets in the morning...T-shirts by 9 am. While on deck or on the balcony, something more was needed particularly because of the wind. The coldest that I had was early mornings (aka sunrise) on the balcony, which required a sweatshirt, fleese, and windbreaker. But you always need a range of clothing and rain gear. September weather (depending on when in September) can get pretty cold, so be aware.
We had a lovely Alaska cruise on Celebrity's Infinity 2 years ago, thats one I would check into. We did the inside passage round trip from Vancouver, worked well for us. I would recommend doing some whale watching in Juneau either with a ship excursion or booking it on your own. You will notice that the Alaska excursions are very expensive,and that one is worth doing. I'd also make sure you get a good glacier stop during the cruise, we saw Hubbards glacier and I was in awe, truly amazing.
Here is a link to the 2004 guide for Alaska, hopefully it will help narrow down your choices, because there are many:
When we planned our first Alaskan cruise we had a couple of "musts".
We knew that we were going to do a round trip inside passage so that narrowed down options.
We decided that the major number one "must" was Glacier Bay. This again, narrowed down our options greatly. As it turned out, on the morning we left we read in the paper that the Gvt had reduced the number of ships allowed in Glacier bay by about 9 or so. When we got to the ship we found that we were still scheduled for Glacier bay. Phew!
Our second "must" was a balcony. And I agree with the above comment about the balcony being covered. You will most likely get some rain during the week and it's nice to still be able to sit on the balcony.
Our "once in a lifetime" trip was so great we went two times more (and will go again). We felt that the Vancouver round trip is more scenic than the Seattle round trip. That said, Seattle is much more convenient and still is super scenic.
On one trip we went to Hubbard Glacier which is spectacular.......however.....We still think Glacier Bay was better.
We sailed the old Norwegian Sky, HAL's Zaandam, Celebrity Mercury and loved all 3 ships. Hal and Celebrity are a small notch better than NCL but NCL was the best deal for the budget. Also Celebrity doesn't go to Glacier bay.
None of our trips/ships had any of the wild party atmosphere that you might get in the Carribbean cruises or Mexican Riviera cruises. From what I hear, even Carnival passengers are more subdued.
No matter what you choose you will love Alaska. We can't wait to go again.
You may also, like we did, consider a cruise tour. That way you get onto land and see a lot of Alaska, albiet from the windows of a bus, a train or a boat, ,,,it really wears you out (long days) but its a decent way to see Alaska then jump on the ship for a pampered relaxing cruise.
I agree, though, if you only do a ship you have to save money for excrusions. There are many to choose from, and yes walking on a glacier is cool (we did it in Scagway). the person that said if you don't do excursions, you'll see mostly stores, jewelry stores, more stores, some nice museums, and a lot of jewelry stores is right on the money, especially in Ketchican.
So if money is a factor,,take a room with an oceanview, and do excrusions. We had cabin with a balcony, and it was fantastic to use it when not on deck, but I'll tell you what,,it seems that whenever someone came on the speaker system and said there was a whale on the starboard side we had to run out on deck because our cabin was on the port side. We used the balcony for winding down but for viewing, you find yourself on the deck running back and forth from port to starboard. We made friends with a Canadien couple that had a cabin right next to the door to the deck. They just turned on their radio and when someone shouted there was an Orca on the starboard side, they just walked out there door and onto the deck. But again, for first time out, which this was for us, a balcony was a must (for us).
BTW, we saw 6 grizzley bears, 3 moose, wolves (in Denali), and caribou doing the land portion. From a floatplane in Ketchican we saw black bear and of course sheep.
We went in mid august,,,cool in the morning,,tshirt by the afternoons. A little drizzle one morning on ship (in Glacier bay) and nice rest of time. Coldest was standing on the bow in Glacier bay,,needed a coat with a hood.
Thank you so much for replying - there are some great tips but I shall have to print them all off and start some investigations!
I think we would like to do a 14/15 day round trip cruise and so, from the UK, Celebrity seems to be the only cruiseline I have found so far, that does this lenght of time. Otherwise it will mean back to back trips for which we will have to take out a second mortgage! The prices are coming down slightly for us here now. It would probabaly be a lot cheaper for us if we could book the trip in the states and fly out there to pick the ship up!
The glaciers sound and look (from what I have seen on discovery channel and suchlike) absolutely amazing - in fact, the whole country looks stunning scenery wise. Plus I am looking forward to seeing the variety of wildlife, bears if we are lucky, wolves (glimsed them in Canada) eagles, moose and of course, the whales. and last, but not least, meeting the people who live there.
Back to the ships - how can I tell if the balconies are covered? It doesnt really give that much of a description in the brochures? I definately need a balcony as I sometimes get a bit claustrophibic, and knowing I can just pop outside whenever I like helps!
Think our wardrobe is covered - we have winter clothes we wore for Canada (we did the train across canada with various stop offs, a winter wonderland holiday - and another holiday of a lifetime - excellent!) so we are prepared for up to minus 50 degrees!
The Alaskan cruise image has really changed over the last couple of years - I was told it used to be known as the twilight cruise, due to the age of the (rich) passengers and being in bed by 10! Im not expecting, nor do I want, wild parties but I am partial to a brandy or two (medicianl purposes and to keep warm - ha ha ) and a bit of a sing a long or even a boogie, before bedtime!
We shall start saving our pennies so we an do as many of the trips as we can (oh to win the lottery!) - I have seen a trip to the Mushers camp with husky puppies (I LOVE husky dogs!) so thats a must as well and will now drive my nearest and dearest mad by planning and comparing the various cruise lines
You are potentially talking about 3 different things with the dogs: (1) you can visit a kennel; (2) they have dogsledding on wheels over a dirt path; and (3) helicopter over the glaciers that lands on the snow for some real dogsledding. Just make sure you know what you are getting in each.
Note, the dogsledding on snow has 2 issues. It cancels more than other excursions, because it has all of the normal issues of a helicopter, plus it needs to go to a particular spot, so its easier for weather to mess with things. Apparently, it cancels more in Juneau that Skagway. Second, it is dependent on sufficient snow. As the weather gets warmer, they have to relocate further and further back until they just end their season. I heard this year they canceled in mid-August. There were lots of heartbroken people who were scrambling to find a replacement excursion.
Also, a normal glacier landing is going to give you a different experience than the dogsledding. One being a blanket of snow and the other being an exploration of the ice. Everyone who does the dogsledding loves it, but I thought it couldn't get any better than exploring the glacier surface itself...seeing streams and waterfalls on the surface, seeing how blue it really is when you have a small hole filled with water, and that amazing electric blue color of a moulin (200+ foot hole on the surface). I didn't appreciate the difference until I started looking at pictures of the two excursions online. Then my choice was clear (even though I love dogs and was going to make sure I worked them into a trip elsewhere...for me, random encounters in port and then at the Denali kennel).
As for the fully covered balcony, just ask to make sure that the ship has them and to make sure that your particular balcony is not an exception. There has been some recent complaining from someone who didn't realize they purchased a suite with an uncovered balcony (although other balconies on the ship were covered). So, keep it in mind when you're planning because it makes a difference.
I could be wrong here so don't flame me but it appears that the new Princess ships have a lot of uncovered balconies. The Diamond and Saphire Princess ships had many that we could see this past summer. And When the Star Princess was berthed near us we noticed many uncovered as well. In fact it looked as if most were uncovered. These look like beautiful ships and I'd love to try them but I'd be checking closely to make sure we were covered.
I think I saw a small number of uncovered way up top on the Mercury. Below the sports decks and I don't recall seeing any uncovered on the NCL Sky (now the POA in Hawaii) nor the Zaandam.
Of course, even with covered balconies people can lean over and look down on you but we didn't see anybody do this. I believe most passengers are careful with others privacy.
When we were in Juneau on one trip and it was pouring rain, it was nice to sit on the covered balcony (facing town) and watch all the activities below.
Jrask- talks like me. AND only being on one trip???? But for clairfication- Celebrity doesn't do 14 day cruises- UNLESS you are looking at repos from LA?? If you have 14-15 days then consider a one way cruise- using open jaw (multi city option) flights. Consider going on your own interior Alaska, extremely simple to do and way better than bus/train group travel only going to the big tourist areas. Alaska is all the small "stuff". A necessary reference is the MILEPOST. I also give a big edge to a Seward sailing- don't just pass through this excellent port and the ship must sail College Fjord for me. HAL .
I look forward to receiving my Karen16-In-Training pin! You listen to the advice here. Some of it you take and some of it you leave as ramblings of a woman who really really really dislikes the Natural History Tour and seems to practically sleep on deck rather than have a balcony. It really only takes one trip before you learn:
(1) the ship is less important than the Alaskan experience (viewing, excursions and exploring). I mean, we were told to prefer Princess to HAL because of a younger crowd. Either HAL is a really old crowd or I was on a strange Princess cruise. We ate almost exclusively with senior citizens (who were a blast, by the way) and didn't go to any so-called "young" activities b/c we were so tired from the Alaska-fun! The food is going to be good...I can wait until I'm back home for great if it means getting the experience I want from the trip as a whole.
(2) without excursions, its not a trip at all (not even the half-trip as Karen puts it). Just endless jewlery stores broken up by t-shirts and ulus. Talked to plenty of people that had this kind of experience or had not-so-great excursions...had to work hard to peel the smile off of my face while talking to them b/c we were having a blast. [Oh, and by the way, the Natural History Tour was getting supremely suck-y reviews with only amazing reviews from our deeper touring...so Karen is just really passionate, not wacky]
(3) College Fjord rocks [liked it better than Glacier Bay, even]
(4) the best excursions show you what YOUwant to see in a small-group environment.
(5) balcony = good. [hope I don't lose my pin for this one]
Sorry you think some of my comments ramblings. BUT once you start getting daily emails from people requesting your information- you will see how little, people booking cruisetours know about what they have purchased. Most have NO IDEA of various options into the Park, no clue that there is more than one bus or distance. So- yes I do post the warnings about the useless Natural History tour frequently. As for the balcony- certainly be my guest. (in fact balcony cruisers pay for part of my trip so to each his own) As I again often state- cheapness is a priority for me, my prefered way to cruise, for me everything I sail Alaska for is outside the ship. Happy travels!!!!
I have also trained under Karen for almost 3 yrs and her tastes for excursions, wildlife, whalewatching, and nature is close to our passions. We have now done the Alaska scene twice, for two weeks each time, once on Statendam and just a week or two ago on Summit. Both times we took an open jaw flight to Anc and rented a car for a week on our own. Last trip, we flew back from Vanc, this time we rented car in Vanc and drove down to Seattle and flew out next day.
Denali is a must if you have two nights to spend there. Getting there and back to Anc plus the park requires minimum of 3 days. This time we included Homer and Seward in our other days. Our Katmai bear viewing day trip from Homer was fantastic, our Kenai Fjords tour was a bust (bad weather, broken engine, reduced wildlife viewing, no whales). We also did Misty Fjords Floatplane trip which is nice but would come in after our bear trip, Mt McKinley summit flt, or ISP whalewatching. Orca Enterprises whalewatching in Juneau is great, although our trip this time was impacted by rain, drearey skies, wet, wet wet. Thanks to Carol and all her staff, our 9:30 tour was resched to 4:30 for late Summit customers.
The Summit flt over denali is great, and definitely needs to be on your to do list. We have not done a helecoptor glacier landing, which is raved about on these boards but summit flt would be up there. In Skagway, the rental car trip to Emerald Lake and Carcross was excellent and perfect weather, great pictures.
There is a 14 night fly cruise on the Mercury and 2 x 16 night fly cruises on the Summit. These are for 2004 for I told my TA to get me a quote for 2005 and he said about £1779.00 each so I hope he hasnt given me duff information!
Typically, I cannot find the email he sent me now.
There is a choice of flying to either to LA or Vancouver, stay overnight (this is the 16 day one so I guess we loose 2 days travelling) then sail the next day, inside passage, then each cruise has a seperate itinary but looking at it, it does spend time in seattle and san francisco and catalina so strictly speaking I may have misled you because they are not Alaska - sorry for that.
Hope this helps a bit!
Princess do 14/15 night cruises but they include a couple of days on land - not sure if thats any good to you!
I appreciate the fact that planning this trip can be complicated. I was overwhelmed initially. But, not caring what I see when I travel (particularly when spending a considerable amount of money) is not my normal perspective. I wanted to go to Alaska to see the most spectacular glaciers I could and to have certain experiences (cultural, wildlife, wilderness, etc). This just inherently requires time and research because it is a personal choice based on personal interests. Of course this is a matter of degree. Most alaskan cruises give you time at one glacier or another and they almost all go to Ketchikan and Juneau with about an even divide on Skagway and Sitka. But, I wanted to squeeze the very best out of my first experience to Alaska because I didn't expect to go back for quite awhile. After going on the cruise, I really appreciated the advice that itinerary is the key planning factor and that everything else was almost irrelevant. As for complications, it gets even more involved when you start looking into excursions.
If your parents don't care what they see, I guess the question becomes what your parents do care about on their vacation. More expensive lines like Crystal and Celebrity will have better food if that is what they want. Some lines have dining options that let you pick your dinner time each night. Some lines have a lot more activities than others (whether its ballroom dancing or rollerblading) or different types of activities (a pottery class for instance). Some have covered pools if that is what your parents want. HAL has a reputation for a comparatively older crowd than some of the other lines. Different ships have different features (hence the discussion re: covered balconies). There are cruises of different lengths maybe they have a preference in that regard. If none of these are things your parents care about, you could just pick the cruise by price.
Please don't read me as trying to be insulting. I'm just honestly trying to understand what your parents are looking for so we might be of assistance.
I know my dad wants to see the Glaciers. That is important to him. He likes the beauty
of nature. He has been all over the world. They are not like me they both like the
finer things in life they are both in their late 50's. He will be 60 in April and this
is his birthday gift. So I believe service and food on the ship matter to him. As for
my mom She would need the pool and good food.