Planning a trip to Alaska next year. The only thing I know for sure is that I want to go on HAL. I have never cruised before. Which of HAL's ships would you recommend. I am treating myself and plan to have a suite. Thanks so much. Z
Any HAL ship will be fine. All are excellent. You'll be more interested in considering your other choices: One ship is based in Seattle, the rest in Vancouver. There are significant itinerary options. From Vancouver, some ships do a 7-day round trip while others shuttle 7days northward, 7days south, with Seward as the northern terminus. Do you want an Alaska land tour add-on? Do you want to add Pacific Northwest time? Spend some time on the HAL website, and go to other sources as well. I have done 4 Alaska cruises, 3 with HAL and would offer only two strong opinions: first, all the choices are good ones; second, missing Glacier Bay would be like going to Arizona and skipping the Grand Canyon. You don't need to cram everything into one cruise - about the only thing better than your first Alaska trip is your second one! Enjoy.
Thanks for the reply. I have been surfing and believe this trip I would like to train to Denali and spend some days in Homer and do some bear viewing...away from the crowds. I've been hoping for this trip for three years, so this next year + will go by fast.\
It sounds like a great plan! After 4 Alaska cruises, we still have not spent any time on the Kenai penisinsula or traveled to Denali. There's at least one more Alaska trip in us, so we'll get there sooner or later. You are now warned that you will more than likely expereince Alaska as a "first time" rather than a "once in a lifetime" event. The place does grow on you!
If you are particularly interested in wildlife, here are some thoughts on the cruise portion: At Sitka and at Juneau there are ship-organized trips that are worthwhile and good value - in Sitka, a boat trip to a sea otter colony [with lots of outher stuff en route, including whales] - and a visit to the Raptor Centre on return to town; and at Juneau, a great boat trip onto the Lynn Canal to watch whales [humpbacks are summer residents, orcas pass through regularly, lots of sea lions, seals, eagles]. I gather there is also a trip from Juneau to look for bears - this involves flying and is expensive, so you may well do better out of Homer. There are eagles everywhere. If you are into fishing, there should be good salmon options at several spots.
The cruise route passes through several good areas to look for whales - in BC waters at the north end of Vancouver Island, on the first morning; Frederick Sound en route to Juneau; Icy Strait at the entrance to Glacier Bay and in Glacier Bay itself; and en route into Sitka. Mostly humpbacks, some orcas, also minke's. The ship will have an on-board naturalist, usually local or at least northwest folks who do know their stuff, and love to have people that want to hang around looking for wildlife. [The standing joke is that the whales were sighted 20 minutes ago on the other side of the ship - but with a little effort at the right places, we've spotted upwards of 20 humpbacks before breakfast]
...and one could go on and on. We have found that there is so much to see you really have to make choices - but having lots of lead time for planning just adds to the enjoyment. Enjoy!
Read with interest about your side trips in Sitka and Juneau. Particularly about the one to the Lynn Canal. Did you have to reserve these trips in advance of your cruise?Don't want to get closed out. We are planning an inside passage cruise for late June. Our first time on a cruise ship as well.
Any other tips you have are appreciated. Would like to make the most of the port stops as we will not get to really see the Alaskan interior this trip. Thanks.
Our habit has been to choose whatever ship-organized excursions we want before boarding [you can see HAL's offerings from its website, and a booklet is incuded with your tickets], and fill out the forms as soon as we get to our cabin - then one of us delivers the shore excursion forms while the other ensures that our dining room table arrangements are ok. If you can pre-book, that also makes sense - many trips sell out quickly.
Advice risks being gratuitous, but here goes anyway: Most important, there are so many options available, pick those things that really interest you. If you have a group - let people pick different things - 6 of us did that a few years ago, and our dinner conversations were enhanced by sharing each other's adventures - and swapping photos afterwards kept us going half the winter. Indulge yourself, if you wish to: on our first Alaska cruise, we blew a lot of cash on a helicopter ride to the top of Mendenhall Glacier. I do not feel a need to do it again, but am very glad I did it once. Not being on a ship that is going to Glacier Bay is like going to Arizona and skipping the Grand Canyon. I prefer trips that are wildlife oriented, with whales at the top of the list, and sea otters and bears tied for second place. I opt against back-to-back shore trips on a single day because Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Skagway, etc. are worth a few hours of wanderingon your own - they are small enough that you can get a feel for the towns, and they are interesting places. The Tlingit native people are fascinating as much for their contemporary economic and social development as for their traditional culture - very much worth learning about. But it all comes back to what your own interests are.
This board will light up over whether to buy shore excursions from the ship or do your own. For first time Alaska cruisers, my 2 cents worth is: People tend to fall in love with Alaska so the odds of taking a second Alaska cruise are high; you don't have to cram in everything in one week. Holland America's shore excursion descriptions, including degrees of strenuous activity, are accurate - read carefully and if it does not hit the target for you, look for alternatives. You may be able to save a few dollars by buying locally from the pier - but for a first cruise, I would prefer to either buy from the ship or have something arranged well in advance, to avoid the risk of disappointment. Obviously, this applies more to wilderness/wildlife trips, trips involving flights, trips involving boats, etc. rather than escorted bus tours. I have enjoyed HAL' s excursions several times: at Sitka for the sea otter quest (twice), at Juneau for whale watching (3 times), at Skagway for the White Pass rail trip (twice) and Ketchikan for Saxman Village (twice) - they have all been very satisfying, good value and compare favourably with similar stuff I've done in other places. I would rather not waste a bunch of time on the dock looking to save a buck, nor would I want to miss an experience I had my heart set on because I arrived after the last seat had been sold...Finally, forget about worrying about the weather - it will be variable every day. Trips involving aircraft are affected by weather, but most other things aren't. Take lightweight raingear, a headband and gloves - and if you don't need them, blame me!
...after writing this, I have a growing desire to be getting on an Alaska-bound ship again, but this year I'm heading to the Sea of Cortez.