Planning an Alaskan Cruise

Summer isn’t even over yet and I’m planning for next summer’s big trip: an Alaskan cruise. It’s one of those bucket list travel items and something that several of us in the family want to do.

But oh the decisions! There’s so much to think about. Everyone should start by reading some of the posts on Cruise Critic, particularly the site’s Alaska forum for ideas and advice.

One-way or Round Trip?
Many Alaskan cruises are one-way: northbound (mostly from Vancouver or Seattle) or southbound (from Seward or Whittier). Others are roundtrip (usually 7 days if from Vancouver or Seattle).

We are leaning toward one-way so we can arrive and depart from the same airport, which generally equates to cheaper air fare.

Cruise, or Cruise + Land Tour
The next big decision is if you want to go cruise-only, or add a land tour such as Denali National Park. This all boils down to time. If you’ve got the time and the money…go for it. However, we are leaning against a land tour for two reasons:

1) Time. The cruise itself is 7 days and you should add a day before and day after to allow for traveling or touring at the embarkation or debarkation ports.

2) The weather. Mother Nature is fickle. I would love to see Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park. However it’s often shrouded in clouds – viewable only 30 percent of the time. As an amateur photographer, I would hate to tack on a short 2 night land tour only to NOT see it. I’d rather take a separate trip back to Alaska and spend more time at Denali instead. Again, you might think it’s worth it…so go for it if you want!

Seattle or Vancouver?
Most Alaskan cruises begin or end in either Seattle or Vancouver. Both are great cities with lots to see. Many commenters prefer Vancouver because the cruise goes through the Inside Passage, which is beautiful and also features calmer waters. Cruise ships departing from Seattle go over more open waters, which may feature rougher seas.

In terms of price, it’s probably easier for U.S. residents to fly into Seattle as opposed to Vancouver. There are plenty of options to get you to/from Seattle and Vancouver: Amtrak’s Cascades train, and bus service through several lines including BoltBus, Quick Shuttle, and Greyhound. Also, you don’t have to go it alone: ask your travel agent or cruise line about transfers.

Cruise Line?
Speaking of cruise lines…there’s a whole slate to choose from. I’m a first time cruiser, so after reading through online forums and advice columns, I want a cruise line that offers scenic cruising though Glacier Bay National Park–often listed as the highlight of an Alaskan cruise.

Only 5 cruise lines are permitted to cruise through Glacier Bay: Princess, Holland America, Norwegian, Carnival, and Crystal.

So based off of this list, I’ve narrowed down my cruise line choices to: Holland America, Princess, and Norwegian, because each one is known for offering a slew of Alaskan cruises that visit Glacier Bay. Each line has its own vibe, so I’m still continuing my research.

Ports of Call?
The ports of call are fairly standardized across the cruise lines. Most stop in Juneau and Ketchikan, many stop in Skagway and Victoria BC, some in Sitka and Icy Strait Point.

Shore Excursions?
In terms of shore excursions, I’m deeming these a must-do: In Juneau, I want to see Mendenhall Glacier and the Mt. Roberts Tramway. For Ketchikan, I want to stroll down Creek Street and do a Misty Fjords flight seeing tourIn Skagway, I want to cross into Canada to see the Yukon Territory, either by rental car, or via the White Pass and Yukon Route train.

When to Go?
Prices are definitely better in the shoulder season (early May and September), but expect cooler temps. If you go too early, some attractions may not be open too. I’m opting for June because that’s typically the sunniest month–and specifically around the first week of June before family vacations hit peak times.

Got Advice or Tips?
Let me know! I’d love to hear it.

2 Comments on “Planning an Alaskan Cruise

  1. In 2006 we took a Princess cruise through the Inside Passage with Glacier Bay. We went Northbound from Vancouver to Whittier (then took a bus to Anchorage). Our trip was in mid-August, which gave us some great weather, only 1 day of rain. The ports included Ketchikan, Juaneu, Skagway, Glacier Bay (obviously not, but spent the day in the bay), and then ended at Whittier. We took shore excursions at each port. Time and money didn’t allow us to do Denali, but as it turned out that was good. Those people scheduled for Denali couldn’t go because the roads were washed out. Instead we spent a day in the Anchorage area. We rented a car and drove down to Portage.

    I wouldn’t change a thing about our trip. We had a balcony room, which was worth the extra money. It made the room feel bigger and it gave us our own private area for when we were in Glacier Bay. I have only been on one cruise, but I would certainly go with Princess again. Originally we wanted to go Southbound, but it was sold out. I am so glad we were forced into Northbound because I think it is so much better. Everyday things got more beautiful and breathtaking. If we had gone Southbound then it would have been beautiful, but slightly disappointing as you got closer to Vancouver.

    If you need more information or have any questions let me know. I am happy to share what I know. I think you will love it as it is such a beautiful part of the world.


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