Alaska, our 49th state, is a popular summer destination that offers wildlife, scenery, and adventure. There are many ways to explore Alaska, with the most popular being by cruise ship. There are multiple lines to choose between and within those cruise lines, multiple itineraries. So how do you choose the one that will fulfill your interests? Here are a few pointers based on my 20+ years’ experience helping clients discover the destination.
- Deciding on the right cruise line is another topic; see my YouTube video on Cruising 101 for pointers on how to make this selection. I can tell you that Princess Cruise Line was the first line to sail Alaska, and is still consistently rated as best cruise by various awards.
- Some cruises go from Seattle or Vancouver to Anchorage, Alaska. Others cruise roundtrip from Seattle or Vancouver, and don’t travel as far north as Anchorage. Airfare can be a deciding factor, as flying roundtrip to/from the same destination is usually less expensive than returning from a different location. The other factor may be length of time for the trip. Most roundtrip Seattle or Vancouver itineraries are 7 days, but there are some that last 10 days. Obviously, the 10-day cruise will hit more ports, allowing you to enjoy more of the Alaskan cities.
- Cruises to/from Anchorage are considered northbound (towards Alaska) or southbound (coming from Anchorage). Northbound is typically a little less expensive so is, frankly, the one I have dealt with primarily. The itinerary is the same as far as the stops; the difference is just the order in which they are seen and the price.
- All Alaska cruises will have some scenic cruising, which means you are on the ship for the day, while cruising through glaciers, fjords or the inside passage. These are days spent enjoying all the shipboard activities, while also seeing the unique nature Alaska offers. Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier and Dawes Glacier are the most common spots that allow glacier viewing. Some do not have excursions available; a few offer smaller ship excursions to take you closer to the glacier. Another deciding factor on which cruise fits you is to ascertain how many days are spent with scenic cruising rather than port stops.
- Scenic cruising and “at sea” days are spent on board the ship. These are some of my favorite days, as it allows for relaxation and rest. All cruise ships have a wide diversity of onboard activities and events; your selection should be partially based on what they offer for those in your traveling group. Some of my clients, however, prefer to be on the go and active, and therefore prefer to hit more ports of call. Again, this should be a factor to consider as you decide which itinerary fits your travel preferences.
- Ship size is another aspect to consider. Again, most lines have a variety of ships of varying sizes. Bigger ships have more variety of restaurants, entertainment and activities; however, they also have more passengers. Smaller ships may have a little less diversity, but also have fewer passengers with which you must share the options. Larger ships also require more walking to traverse; those with physical limitations might want to select a medium or smaller ship for greater comfort.
- The Alaska season is limited to mid-May to mid-September, with the heaviest time for travel being June & July. The early and late dates are less expensive, as the weather is less predictable. Going as soon as school is out will allow for fewer people sharing the ports of call with you. If you don’t have youngsters to consider, mid-August is a good time as it is less crowded and usually less expensive while avoiding the uncertain weather.
- In addition to Alaska cruises, there are also cruisetours. These are land tours that are added before or after the cruise itinerary, taking you to the interior of the state. These start or end in Anchorage or Fairbanks, and range from three to ten days. Selecting the tour that fits your interests is a matter of whether wildlife, adventure or scenery are your priority. They all include some of each, but certain tours offer more of one or another. Working with your travel advisor will help you select the right match for you.
That’s a starting point on choosing an Alaska cruise or cruisetour. Download our “Guide to Picking the Right Alaskan Cruise” here:
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