Alaska Cruise Research
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.
I've cruised up there twice and looking to sometime go again. Its true, once is not enough....So far, your research is right on the money....You need one real good glacier stop and then decide what other ports you must see....I love them all....
I do, however also think, that the extra for a balcony is money well spent...Many times you are getting ready for something and may want to take a look outside, very easy with the balcony, you don't want to miss a thing...I think you get your money's worth with one in Alaska....
I was most impressed with Princess, they did have the anytime dining, which works out well if you have a busy port day. You can also dine in the Horizon Court, that was suprisingly good and a time saver if there was a show you wanted to see...I'd also suggest finding a ship that goes round trip from Vancouver, a much more scenic cruising expierence... Went from Seattle last time and I wouldn't do it again....You basically could be anywhere, never close enough to land to see the beauty of the shores...
Please, let us know what ship you decide on.
We've sailed both HAL and NCL to Alaska and yes, HAL's a bit nicer but we loved NCL and the freestyle freedom. I would not hesitate to sail NCL again in Alaska.
Glacier bay's a must IMHO. Hubbard's awsome....GB's more awsome.
I agree on the White Pass train. Also in Juneu do a whalewatch trip and also get yourself to the Mendenhall glacier.
Regarding a balcony or not....you'll get totally differing opinions on this so have to know yourselves and your budget. I feel a balcony's a must in Alaska for me. I'd rather spend the extra money on a balcony over say an expensive helicopter flight landing on a glacier. Glacier trip is great of course for an hour or 2. A balcony is all the time.
If you like solitude and kicking back a balcony's great. If you want to be out and about in clubs and casinos then inside will be ok. In other words....if you only will use the cabin for sleep and dressing no need for a balcony but if like me you love kicking back and nature watching....balcony's a must.
Thanks everybody for you suggestions and feedback.
We ended up booking an inside room on the Coral Princess. This is a one-way northbound cruise starting in Vancouver and ending in Whittier. It stops in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway and also cruises Glacier Bay and College Fjord. We'll be flying into Seattle the day before our departure and then flying home from Anchorage 2 days after the ship's arrival. My wife and I are super excited and can't wait!
I still need to fill in a couple of blanks before and after the cruise. I am hoping we can ride the Amtrak Cascades train from Seattle to Vancouver, but may end up taking the Quick Coach if I can't make the train work. Also need to figure out a hotel room for 1 night in Vancouver. On the other end in Whittier, I understand that there are a couple of day cruises out of Whittier like 26 Glaciers. I'm hoping that we can disembark from the Coral Princess and immediately climb aboard one of those day cruises. Then maybe ride the train or a shuttle through the tunnel into Anchorage for an overnight stay. Our flight does not leave until midnight the next day, so we'll have a full day for activities in Anchorage and I need to figure out what to do there.
There are quite a few little pieces that are left to put together, but I think we have the big choices (i.e. which ship) out of the way. I noticed that the Celebrity cruises were on sale for cheaper than Princess, but they do not visit Glacier Bay and it seems like they are more traditional with their dining and oriented toward luxury travelers. Nothing wrong with that, but I think that Princess is going to be a better fit for us.
Thanks again for all of your advice!
You should look at (depending on your budget)
1 - Pan Pacific Hotel (part of the cruise terminal)
2- Fairmont Hotels has two hotels right beside the pier
and one a couple of blocks away. There are others in the downtown
3 - Whittier doesn't have hotels in the town.
4 - you should take the Princess Shuttle to Anchorage .
You can book a glacier cruise and transfer thru Princess:razz:
We did a 2 week tour ,7 days by land and 7 by sea .We had a great time .We cruised on HAL
Thanks doopydozer. I have done exactly as you suggested and made reservations with the Quick Shuttle and the Pan Pacific. Although it seems to cost a little more than other hotels, I think it is worth it to stay right next to the dock so I'll be ready to go the next day.
Now I just need to figure out the Anchorage end of things...
For general information. Amtrak, is far superior to Quick Shuttle for a Seattle/Vancouver transfer, IF you have an extra day.
As for Whittier, there is inaccurate information above. They certainly do have lodging, and I would NOT recommend you "take the Princess transfer". A poor idea, with your listing of a Prince William Sound boat tour.
The better PWS boat tours leave at 11am and sail Esther Passage. The others leave at 1pm. With you going so late in the season, see if you can purchase a used, cheap Toursaver or Northern Lights coupon book for a 2 for 1 coupon. You do need to VERIFY, if space is available now. From either of these you would take the Alaska RR back to Anchorage. There is no reason, to do this "through Princess". Arrange this yourself.
I would then get a rental car, and decide what you want to do. Considerations- Hatcher Pass and Independence Mine/hiking, Talkeetna with McKinley flightseeing, Matanuska glacier trekking- look for the longest tour available- time flys by. Or, if of interest tour Anchorage.
Most important- FIND OUT, what may be available to you, then make your choices. Allow a 2 hour window at Anchorage airport, it's slow moving and can be congested.
Pictures are worth 1000 words so you'll want to see these: Our First Trip to Alaska
We have cruise fever again and I'm not certain where to go next, but I think Alaska would be a good repeat. The Suez Canal is out and the Panama Canal might be in. Maybe take one from Ft Lauderdale all the way through to the west coast? Air travel is not fun!
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