Dreaming of Alaska Cruises

Maybe it’s because I took my first-ever cruise to this region back in 1998 aboard Norwegian Cruise Line‘s long-departed Norwegian Wind, but I find myself thinking of Alaska a lot lately. The 2016 Alaska Cruise Season begins in April from Port Metro Vancouver‘s Canada Place Cruise Terminal, and on April 29 for departures from the Port of Seattle.

Over the nearly two decades inbetween, I’ve sailed North, to Alaska nearly a dozen times – and it’s highly likely I’ll set out once again on a journey to this most scenic of cruise destinations.

Cruising Tracy Arm Fjord aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Cruising Tracy Arm Fjord aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Frequently maligned for its recurring bouts of liquid sunshine, Alaska is often overlooked as a cruise destination. People want sun, sand, beaches, Mediterranean drinks with little umbrellas in them. And while you’ll find cocktails, it’s true you won’t find a lot of beaches worth swimming in. Palm trees don’t sway, and temperatures rarely peak above anything that would cause you to break a sweat (though they definitely can).

What Alaska has, though, is history. Scenery. Nature. You’ll see bears and whales and harbour seals and birds of all kinds. You’ll see towns that exist because of their Klondike Gold Rush past, and which still have a hard edge to them to this day. Cruise ships come here in droves, sure, but Ketchikan doesn’t exist to serve cruise passengers. Nor does Juneau, the isolated capital city of Alaska, where no roads connect it to other parts of mainland Alaska.

Skagway's White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Skagway’s White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today, I think it’s fitting to take a look – in pictures – at some of what makes an Alaska cruise so great. Each voyage is unique and different, but for those who sail here every year, Alaska has a funny way of wriggling its way into your soul and staying there – even if it does rain a bit.

Curious about taking your own voyage to Alaska? We can help. Have a look at our current Alaska Cruise Specials on our site, Alaska Cruise Experts, or give us a call if you prefer at 1-800-565-2784. We’d be happy to help!

Until then, enjoy Alaska!

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sun approaches the dock in Ketchikan. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun approaches the dock in Ketchikan. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The railroad was a critical lifeline for the Gold Rush town of Skagway, Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The railroad was a critical lifeline for the Gold Rush town of Skagway, Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Rain pelts Skagway, Alaska in September, 2006. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Rain pelts Skagway, Alaska in September, 2006. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

With Un-Cruise Adventures, how you spend your time in Alaska is up to you. My advice? Try everything at least once. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Kayaking off Baranof Island with Un-Cruise Adventures. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of the very best days of Inside Passage cruising I've ever seen. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Sailing British Columbia’s Inside Passage aboard Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Welcome! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Welcome to Ketchikan! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Skagway, Alaska was the site of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Skagway, Alaska was the site of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Alaska, 1998: Holland America Line's Maasdam, as seen from the deck of Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Wind. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Alaska, 1998: Holland America Line’s Maasdam, as seen from the deck of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Wind. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Disney Cruise Lines' Disney Wonder in Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Disney Cruise Lines’ Disney Wonder in Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sun called on Wrangell during her 2005 season. Today, only luxury lines and small-ship expedition cruises visit. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun called on Wrangell during her 2005 season. Today, only luxury lines and small-ship expedition cruises visit. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Beautiful Wrangell, Alaska is well known for its historic Petroglyph Beach.

Beautiful Wrangell, Alaska is well known for its historic Petroglyph Beach. Photo © Aaron Saunders

June 29, 2014: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Alaska cruises from Seattle all include a call on beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Near Juneau, July 1998: the classic Island Princess departs Juneau, bound for Ketchikan. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Near Juneau, July 1998: the classic Island Princess departs Juneau, bound for Ketchikan. Photo © Aaron Saunders

The State Capital of Juneau, Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The State Capital of Juneau, Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Holland America's Zuiderdam returns to Alaska and Skagway in 2011. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Holland America’s Zuiderdam at her berth in Skagway in September, 2006. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Ketchikan, July 1998: I've never seen it rain so hard in my life. Note the green "Norwegian Cruise Line" ponchos, which were provided free of charge at the time. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Ketchikan, July 1998: I’ve never seen it rain so hard in my life. Note the green “Norwegian Cruise Line” ponchos, which were provided free of charge at the time. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Ketchikan - the Salmon Capital of the World, and one of my personal favorite ports of call in Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Ketchikan – the Salmon Capital of the World, and one of my personal favorite ports of call in Alaska. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Exploring Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures. Fabulous! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Exploring Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures. Fabulous! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

There's nothing like scenic cruising through Alaska's Inside Passage. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

There’s nothing like scenic cruising through Alaska’s Inside Passage. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

 

Posted in Alaska Cruises, Alaska Cruisetour, Experiences by the Experts, Ports, Seattle, Vancouver | Leave a comment

The Good Life: Luxury Cruising Through Alaska

While there are numerous mainstream cruise lines that send their most tried and tested vessels to Alaska, those seeking an ultra-luxury cruise to the 49th State aren’t left out of the action, with Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, and Silversea Cruises offering up some fantastic itineraries next year.

The tour begins on Monday in The Bar, Silver Shadow's totally remade, Silver Spirit-esque watering hole. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Relax in The Bar aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow as she sails to Alaska. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Because luxury ships tend to be smaller than mainstream ships, luxury itineraries tend to be more involved, calling on remote or less-visited ports of call for a more in-depth Alaskan experience.

Regent's Seven Seas Navigator returns for another season of luxury cruising in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator has been a staple in the luxury market for years. In 2016, her larger fleetmate Seven Seas Mariner returns to Alaska after a multi-year absence. Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

For example, many itineraries aboard Seven Seas Mariner from Vancouver include all the expected port calls in Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, but also include a full-day visit to lesser-known Wrangell, Alaska.

Famous for its stunning Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell used to pop up on a handful of mainstream itineraries, with Norwegian Cruise Line calling frequently here during their 2004-2005 Alaska seasons. This year, however, only a few dozen will be made to this picturesque town – all of them by ultra-luxury or small ship cruise lines.

Click here for other Alaskan itineraries with Regent Seven Seas!

Beautiful Wrangell, Alaska is well known for its historic Petroglyph Beach.

Beautiful Wrangell, Alaska is well known for its historic Petroglyph Beach. Photo © Aaron Saunders

Ultra-luxury line Silversea has also whipped up some stunning itineraries for this season, including voyages to Alaska aboard Silver Shadow and their dedicated, Pacific-based expedition ship, Silver Discoverer.

Click here for Alaska itineraries aboard Silversea’s elegant ships

But unique itineraries are just part of the reason to consider a luxury cruise to Alaska.

Silver Shadow sails into Sydney harbour. Photo courtesy of Silversea.

Silver Shadow has been a popular favorite in Alaska for years. Photo courtesy of Silversea.

To start with, a luxury cruise ship carries far fewer guests. That translates into more available space to relax, unwind, and enjoy these scenic voyages. There’s no pushing or shoving, no battle to the death for the last deck chair in the sun by the pool.

Luxury cruises have more upfront costs, but less onboard costs, than other types of cruising. This makes them a great value, particularly if you want to know exactly how much you’re spending for your cruise. Gratuities, wine, beer, spirits, soft drinks, coffee – even bottled water – are all included with your cruise fare on nearly every luxury line.

There’s nothing quite as relaxing as the realization that you don’t need to hand your keycard over every time you’d like a latte or a glass of red wine with dinner.

Looking up through one of two central staircases aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Looking up through one of two central staircases aboard Silver Shadow. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

At Cruise Experts Travel’s Alaska Cruise Experts division, luxury lines frequently offer up incentives and promotions that arguably go further than they would on a mainstream ship. Onboard credit offers, for example, can be used to pay for premium shore excursions or expensive spa treatments.

For those who have never sailed with a luxury line, it’s also worth noting that there’s nothing “stuffy” about the experience. The generous crews onboard are second to none, and your fellow guests tend to be well-travelled, educated, interesting and engaging.

It's the little things: the unique water glasses compliment the entire dinner setting in Le Champagne. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Dining in Le Champagne aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve cruised to Alaska before and are looking to do something a little different this year, there’s never been a better time to invest in a luxury experience!

Posted in Alaska Cruises, Alaska Cruisetour, Cruise Tips & Advice, Experiences by the Experts, For New Cruisers | Leave a comment

Our Agent’s First Cruise to Alaska

We’re going to be featuring our own agent’s experiences in Alaska here on the Alaska Cruise Experts Blog. In the coming weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to hear firsthand impressions from Alaska, and what better way to start than with our own Jason Tonelete‘s first-ever voyage to Alaska, aboard Celebrity Infinity:

“My first cruise to Alaska was a fantastic experience. The first time I saw our ship, Celebrity Cruises’ 2170-guest Celebrity Infinity, I was awestruck by its size. Once on board, I was amazed at the modern decor of the ship, with its marble floors and ambient lighting. Both really highlighted the luxurious feel her designers were going after, and they create a wonderful atmosphere onboard.

Celebrity Infinity in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

Celebrity Infinity in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

The food and service on the ship was really top rate; I enjoyed every aspect from the tasty variety and great quality of the buffet, the well-crafted daily menus in the main dining room and on to the outstanding specialty dining options on board. The service in the main dining hall was exceptional. The staff was friendly and attentive, and entertained us throughout our stay during the cruise.

Celebrity Inifinity's interiors are classy and welcoming. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

Celebrity Inifinity’s interiors are classy and welcoming. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

Our specialty dining experience, in the S.S. United States Restaurant, was an amazing fine dining experience. The room is modeled after a classic ocean liner, and actually features artifacts from the S.S. United States. I would highly recommend the lobster tail appetizer and rack of lamb main course.

Alaska is really breathtaking. From its mountain views to its beautiful cities by the sea, Alaska is a very unique place with many activities available to cruise goers. Everything from hiking wilderness excursions, fresh salmon bakes to visits to Mendenhall Glacier, there was so much to see and do and it felt like there was so little time.

This may have been my first experience, but there will definitely be another cruise to Alaska for me!”

Alaska Cruise Expert Jason Tonelete aboard Celebrity Infinity. Courtesy of Jason Tonelete

Alaska Cruise Expert Jason Tonelete aboard Celebrity Infinity. Courtesy of Jason Tonelete

Click here to see all Celebrity Cruises voyages to Alaska!

Posted in Alaska Cruises, Alaska Cruisetour, Experiences by the Experts, For New Cruisers, Guest Posts | Leave a comment

Tips For a Successful Alaska Cruise Tour

When I was escorting Cruise Experts Travel ‘s Ultimate Alaska CruiseTour a few summers ago, I received an excellent question from a reader that I thought was deserving of an entire article. Here’s the question:

Hi Aaron, we have a cruise planned in August. We have never been on a land/sea cruise before and never been to Alaska. Can you share the top 3 things we need to know or prepare for?

Don’t Overpack

Ketchikan, Alaska during the first week of June this year... Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Ketchikan, Alaska during the first week of June of 2013… Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Alaska is one of the hardest destinations to pack for. I’ve cruised there when it’s been as hot as the Caribbean and when it has rained harder than I’ve ever seen. That, in turn, can make packing a nightmare.

A week or so before your cruise, start looking at the weather forecasts. Extended long-range forecasts are notoriously unreliable, but once you get to the seven day mark, they do a decent job of predicting – with a fair degree of accuracy – what you can expect on your voyage.

Even then, I’d moderate my packing: if it looks like it’s going to rain, bring clothes suited to wet or chilly weather, but don’t neglect clothing for warmer weather.

....and Ketchikan basking in the sunshine last week. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

….and Ketchikan basking in the sunshine in the second week of July. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Because the weight of luggage is such a critical factor for air travellers these days, don’t go overboard on the heavy coats or fleece pullovers. If you need an extra coat or sweater, every single Alaskan shop has these in abundance, and some of them – particularly the coats – are so nice that you might just want to buy one anyway.

Do As the Locals Do

Alaska remains one of my absolute favorite destinations to cruise to, six voyages and counting. But the over-abundance of jewelry stores and shops hawking “precious gems” can really work against visitors who are looking for an authentic Alaskan experience.

Skagway, Alaska offers numerous tourist activities, but there's also plenty to see for history and nature buffs. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Skagway, Alaska offers numerous tourist activities, but there’s also plenty to see for history and nature buffs. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Cruise lines do nothing to help with this situation, handing out “maps” at the gangway that are created by the PPI Group, publishers of Porthole Magazine. These maps list “guaranteed” shops for your spending pleasure. There’s just one catch: they’re all diamond, watch, or gemstone shops that have paid a promotional fee to PPI, and none of them offer anything remotely authentic – unless Tissot suddenly opened up a factory in Ketchikan and told no one.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that; if you read the “map” closely, you’ll see that PPI is very up-front with everything. The problem for first-time cruisers and visitors is that this “map” and the accompanying “Port Lecture Talk” can be misleading. But this is nothing new; the same system has been in operation since well before I started cruising in 1998.

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Alaskans also seem to know this, which is why I’ve seen more shops this year than ever that are railing against the diamond epidemic by denoting their authenticity with signs, placards and even giant murals placed in storefront windows.

Don’t be afraid to ask the Alaskans where to go and what to eat, see or do: they’ll tell you, and your experience on-shore will be richer for it. Go find where the locals have coffee and grab a latte.

Alaskan Beer Tasting up on the Lido Deck poolside. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Alaskan Beer Tasting aboard the Zuiderdam in 2012. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

If you enjoy beer, the Alaskan Brewing Company is based in Juneau, and their Alaskan Amber ale is to die for. For those with a sweet tooth, head on over to the Alaskan Fudge Company in Juneau for some of the best fudge you’ll ever eat, and pick up a book to go with it in Skagway at the Skaguay News Depot or in Ketchikan at Parnassus Books.

Have Realistic Hotel Expectations

The Grande Denali Lodge in Denali National Park may not have been much to look at, but it offered a fantastic night's rest. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Grande Denali Lodge in Denali National Park may not have been much to look at, but it offered a fantastic night’s rest. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

There’s no Ritz Carlton here: Alaskan hotels can be a mixed bag, and they can vary in quality depending on brand and city. Think ‘decent three-star hotel’ and you’ll be fine.

When it comes to Denali National Park, understand that these properties are run hard for five months out of the year, and sit largely vacant during the off-season. Thus, the incentive (even ability) for hoteliers to outfit their properties with the latest and greatest can be severely limited.

However, I will say this: the beds at all properties I have stayed at in the past have been phenomenal, and at the end of the day, isn’t that the most important thing?

Connectivity can be a Challenge

Looking for free Wi-Fi in Skagway? The Skagway Public Library may be able to help you out. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Looking for free Wi-Fi in Skagway? The Skagway Public Library may be able to help you out. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Need to keep in touch with home? Prepare for a bit of a struggle. If you’re a U.S. resident, your cellphone will work just fine. My Canadian cell phone, on the other hand, frequently lost reception in places like Denali National Park and on the journey from Denali to Anchorage.

Free Wi-Fi can also be a challenge, particularly in smaller towns like Skagway. If you’ve seen people clustered outside the Public Library, there’s good reason for that: it’s one of only two places in the entire town with free public Wi-Fi.

In Juneau, several small bars, pubs and coffee shops feature free wireless internet access.

In Ketchikan, Wi-Fi seekers would do well to visit Salmon Landing, directly adjacent from Berth 1. The signal strength here is quite good – until everyone discovers it.

Of course, if you can, our advice is to just leave the digital world behind for a week!

Bring Some Cash

Toasting a successful day of glacial viewing! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A little cash on-hand is always a good thing – and it can be applied to your onboard account! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I always like to bring some cash with me when I travel. ATM’s can be scarce (or sketchy!), and not every establishment may take credit cards, though more often than not they will. But more importantly, any excess cash can be applied to your onboard account on the cruise ship – and that’s always a good thing.

Properly planned for, an Alaska Cruise Tour can be one of the most rewarding vacations you can take – regardless of what the weather does!

Related Links

 

Posted in Alaska Cruises, Alaska Cruisetour, Cruise Tips & Advice, Experiences by the Experts, FAQ, For New Cruisers | Leave a comment

Five Great Reasons to Cruise to Alaska

As a Vancouverite, every year, I swear I’m not going to do it again. And every year, despite what I said the last year, I set sail for Alaska.

The fun and vibrant Norwegian Pearl docked at the AJ berth in Juneau, Alaska on June 4, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The fun and vibrant Norwegian Pearl docked at the AJ berth in Juneau, Alaska on June 4, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Coming from the Pacific Nothwest, Alaskan cruises are both convenient and economical. There’s no need for sky-high airfares, multiple connections, and lost luggage like when I get the itch to visit the Caribbean. But even if you need to take a flight or two, Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Sure, Alaska suffers from the same horrifying case of “trinket-itis” that inflicts the Caribbean. Diamond and jewelry stores are threatening to push out local shops run by local retailers, and there’s more than enough tacky crap in every gift shop to really give your gag reflex a workout.

But in many areas, a cruise to Alaska remains unparalleled, even if it pours rain for the entire week.

Here’s what I love most about cruising to the 49th State:

The Scenic Cruising

Holland America's Zaandam traveling back down the inlet. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Holland America’s Zaandam traveling back Glacier Bay National Park. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Except for the magnificent fjords of Norway, you’d be hard-pressed to find more scenic cruising experiences than the fjords and inlets of Alaska. Not to mention, of course, the fabulous Inside Passage that spans the distance between British Columbia in Canada and Alaska.

Clouds hang perilously low on mountains and at the start of the season, don’t be shocked if the odd growler or ice berg drifts by. In the summer, you could be rained out or work on your tan up on deck. I’ve seen both, and there’s no rhyme or reason to either.

But there’s nothing like seeing eagles and bears on the shoreline, or standing watch through the straits leading in to Ketchikan and Juneau as a small procession of stark-white cruise ships steam in, their superstructures gleaming against the navy-green and blue landscape that surrounds them.

The Beer

Alaskan Beer Tasting up on the Lido Deck poolside. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Alaskan Beer Tasting up on the Lido Deck poolside aboard Holland America’s Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I like to joke I never enjoyed beer until I went to Alaska and tried the Alaskan Amber Ale that Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing Co. puts out. If your cruise line is any good, they’ll have the stuff onboard. If not, head ashore for a fresh draft pint. In fact, it took me years to finally eat and drink like the locals in Alaska, and I’d recommend anyone heading North, To Alaska should enjoy at least a beer or two on shore with the locals. Ask them about life up north; you’ll find they’re far more insightful than the folks working the diamond shops who simply migrate north after the Caribbean season ends.

The People

Lindy (left) and Cam (right). Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Lindy (left) and Cam (right); guides on the Cruise Experts Travel “Best of Alaska” tour I hosted during the summer of 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

As alluded to above, it’s the people I like most about Alaska. They’re nice, inquisitive, and self-sufficient. That being said, they’re nobody’s fool, and they love their State fiercely. Don’t come asking stupid questions, or you’re liable to get a stupid answer. My favorite, overheard in a bar in Skagway, was from a man who hailed from the Midwest: “Skagway is awful. I don’t know how you live here. I’ll bet you guys drink a lot up here, dontcha?” The fortysomething woman manning the bar replied, “Only when you folks are here.”

The Towns

How busy is it in Skagway? Busy enough that this was the best street scene I could catch. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Skagway, Alaska during a visit aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I like to complain about the trinket shops and stores hawking T-shirts with stupid sayings, of which there are plenty, but I do love Alaskan towns. No two are alike, and each has their own distinctive rhythm and way of life. I love Skagway for its remoteness, but my all-time-favorite town is still Ketchikan.

The Glaciers

This should say everything.

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The biggest misconception about Alaska, however, is the idea that all cruises to the Last Frontier are created equal. They’re not. There are big-ship cruises that offer more entertainment, dining and options for amenities than you can shake a stick at.

There are small-ship ultra-luxury cruises on lines like Regent and Silversea. Un-Cruise Adventures offers small-ship journeys dedicated to those who want to see the side of Alaska less explored; who eschew the tourist stores in favor of Alaska’s wide-open spaces.

There are Cruise Tours that combine overland journeys with a weeklong voyage from Alaska to Vancouver. There are cruises that sail roundtrip from Vancouver, and roundtrip from Seattle.

In fact, there’s so much diversity, we created a special website dedicated soeley to Alaska: Alaska Cruise Experts.

Night falls aboard the Coral Princess as we speed towards Ketchikan, Alaska. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

In the end, maybe that’s what we love most about Alaska: the variety. Both on-land, and at sea.

Posted in Alaska Cruises, Alaska Cruisetour, Cruise Tips & Advice, Experiences by the Experts | Leave a comment

Which Alaska Cruise Is Right For You?

Vancouver, Seattle, Or Northbound-Southbound?

With departures from Vancouver, Seattle, Seward, and Whittier, which Alaska cruise is best?

With departures from Vancouver, Seattle, Seward, and Whittier, which Alaska cruise is best?

Years ago, if you wanted to sail to Alaska there was but a single departure port: Vancouver. A few voyages might sail north and south between Alaska and British Columbia but by and large, the vast majority of sailings operated roundtrip from Vancouver.

That all changed in 1999, when Norwegian Cruise Line set up shop in Seattle with their petit Norwegian Dynasty. The ship may be long gone, but cruising to Alaska from Seattle certainly isn’t. This season, there are more options than ever for cruising to The Last Frontier – but sorting out which one is right for you can be a daunting task.

Having sailed all three varieties, we put them to the test here:

Roundtrip Vancouver

Princess Cruises' Sapphire Princess docked at Canada Place in Vancouver.

Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess docked at Canada Place in Vancouver.

The classic Alaska cruise if there ever was one, sailing roundtrip from the iconic sails of Port Metro Vancouver’s Canada Place cruise terminal has a lot going for it. Located at the foot of downtown Vancouver, Canada Place is bookended by vibrant and modern Coal Harbour to the west, and the historic buildings of Gastown to the east.

On a sunny day, nothing beats sailing away from Canada Place with a throng of well-wishers lining the public observation decks to see you off as your ship backs up into Burrard Inlet and begins its journey out into the Inside Passage by passing under the Lions Gate Bridge.

The Inside Passage is the greatest feature of these roundtrip departures, as guests get to spend a day of scenic cruising on their way to and from Alaska. It makes for a powerful introduction to the beauty of the natural landscape here for first-time visitors, and keeps repeat cruisers coming back.

This year, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean, and Silversea Cruises all call Vancouver home. Note that ultra-luxury lines Regent and Silversea have both been staunch supporters of Vancouver for years. There’s a reason for that: their guests demand it.

If there’s a downside, American guests may find it is rather expensive to fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) compared to other destinations in the United States. Which brings us to…

Roundtrip Seattle

Celebrity Solstice makes her Alaskan homeport in Seattle, Washington.

Celebrity Solstice makes her Alaskan homeport in Seattle, Washington.

For Americans, sailings departing roundtrip from Seattle are attractive thanks to the lower cost of flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just south of the city. Those who don’t mind long hours on the road can even drive right up to the cruise terminal and park their cars in long-term parking.

Pier 66, primarily utilised by Norwegian Cruise Line, sits right in the heart of downtown, nearly at the foot of the Space Needle. Holland America Line and Princess Cruises use the newer Pier 90/91, just to the west of the city.

There may not be any bridge to sail under upon departure, but the beautiful views of Puget Sound beckon as ships make their way past the impossibly-small-looking ships of Washington State Ferries and out into the open Pacific Ocean.

Operating from Seattle this year are all of the “big ship” lines, including  Celebrity Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean.

Because of Seattle’s location further south, ships departing from Seattle don’t typically sail the Inside Passage, preferring instead to swing out into the open (and sometimes bumpy) expanse of the Pacific Ocean. That’s the downside. On the upside, these itineraries more frequently include ports of call like Sitka, Alaska – and nearly all include a brief evening call in Victoria, British Columbia to comply with U.S. Cabotage laws.

But there’s a third possibility that many cruisers prefer thanks to its flexibility:

Northbound/Southbound Voyages

Princess Cruises' Coral Princess at her berth in Whittier, Alaska.

Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess at her berth in Whittier, Alaska.

Northbound and Southbound Voyages (sometimes referred to as one-way cruises) typically sail between Vancouver and the Alaskan ports of Seward or Whittier, or reverse. This will be the de-facto option if you’re interested in an Alaska Cruisetour that includes an overland journey to places like Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Denali National Park.

These one-way journeys are also popular with another segment of cruisers: those who find seven days in Alaska to be all-too-short. North and Southbound voyages can be combined to create Back to Back voyages that depart roundtrip from either Anchorage or Vancouver. If you want to get really creative, you can even switch your ship or even cruise line for one segment of the journey to experience two entirely different styles of Alaskan cruising.

Leading the way on the cruisetour front are Holland America Line and Princess Cruises, though nearly every cruise line operating in the region offers their own unique cruisetour packages.

Of course, being based in Vancouver, we’re a little biased in thinking the Vancouver departures are the clear winners. But for those who have yet to sail to Alaska – or those who are looking for something different – it’s hard to go wrong with any sailing to this beautiful, remote, and often mysterious state.

Still have questions about sailing to Alaska? We’re here to help. Get in touch with us online, or give us a ring if you prefer a good ‘ol voice-to-voice chat.

Posted in Alaska Cruises, Alaska Cruisetour, Cruise Tips & Advice, FAQ, For New Cruisers, Ports, Seattle, Vancouver | Leave a comment

5 Attractions to look forward to when cruising through Alaska

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Alaska is a land full of mysteries, myths, beauty, and lots and lots of beautiful attractions. What better way to enjoy a cruise to Alaska than to see all it has to offer you? Alaska has something for everyone whether you are a child, teen, adult, or a senior.

1. Tracy Arm Fjord – Tracy Arm is a Fjord with tons of beautiful glaciers awaiting your presence. These glaciers are located towards the south of Juneau which is a very attractive and a very popular destination in and of itself. There is amazing scenery including a waterfall tumbling down on rocks and glaciers, making it look even more fascinating. You can see the Tongass National Forest touch the edges of the icy cold water. If you decide to go up, you will be able to lay eyes upon Sawyer Glaciers, where wildlife is impossible to miss out on.

2. Kenai Fjords National Park – The beautiful coastline has much beauty to offer all of our cruise members and visitors. This park is one of the best sightseeing destinations in Alaska; if you want to be up close to wild animals, this is the place for you. You can continue your journey to the Alaska Railroad to access Exit Glacier to lay eyes upon more amazing and fun attractions. Do not forget to capture the brown grizzly bears in action, playing, fighting, and hunting.

3. Alaska Highway – Have you heard of Dawson’s Creek? It is one of the known rivers which flows through British Columbia, Canada. This rivers runs through the Yukon into the center of Alaska, and so does the Highway route. This highway is one of the most beautiful ways to travel into Canada, using the Whitehorse passageway. You can rest in the motel for a while, grab a snack, shop, and enjoy the natural beauty of the highway which is surrounded by tall mountain peaks and flowers.

4. University of Alaska Museum of the North – Home to over 1 million artifacts, this museum is your ultimate guide into the history of Alaska itself. The collections at the museum are unique on their own, they are the basic starting of how the rich cultures started with the Natives, and include many beautiful and unusual specimens as well. This beautiful museum has an attractive design itself, and is quite alluring and mind blowing. Bring your grand children on a trip which can enlighten them on the history of the continent and vistas that can fire up their imagination!

5. The Northern Lights – Everyone has heard about the lights; shiny, colorful, and out of this world, shining high in the sky while the long wintery nights cover Alaska like a winter blanket. This majestic lightshow is the best if you come during the months of September through mid-April. Needless to say the sight will leave you mesmerized.

For more information on the attractions of Alaska, or which cruises are best for your particular areas of interest, give us a call at 1-800-565-2784!

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6 Usual (and Unusual) Activities to do in Alaska

Alaskan flightseeing

How about an Alaskan flightseeing tour?

If you are wondering what is in Alaska for you then you need to visit and do these 6 activities, which are for all. Make the most of your Alaska Cruise trip in where else, Alaska! So what are you waiting for? Book your tickets take a trip down to a land of fun and adventure.

1. Visit the Alaska Zoo – Have you ever wanted to see a bear covered in snow? How about sharks, whales, turtles, many amazing fishes, and many more? If so, Alaska Zoo is the destination which you must visit. Get a chance to see your favorite wild animals like bears, wolves, and even snow leopards up close like never before. Alaska is home to unique wild life as well as the natives, so do not think twice; you are quite welcomed to come and visit anytime!

2. Flightseeing – Do you love heights? Want to lift off the ground and travel into dream land? Why not do that while you are taking in the most breath taking view of Alaska from the highest point you could have ever imagined? Get your opportunity to see Alaska like never before, watch over the thick forests, see the most amazing waterfalls, and enjoy the view like never before.

3. Whale Watching – Whales are incredible sea creatures; they are playful, fun to watch, and leave everyone giggling with the huge splashes they make. Want the opportunity to see some of the coolest whales? Why not try your luck at spotting the Humpback? Or the Blue or Grey whale? Even the Sperm or Beluga whales too? Do not miss such an exciting opportunity as whales like the Sperm whale can only be seen in the sea of Alaska in their natural habitat! Other sea attractions are nothing compared to the natural ones you will see, that is our promise.

4. Northern Lights – Alaska has one phenomenon which has the entire world talking; you guessed it, the Northern Lights. These lights shine across the pitch black sky like a rainbow after rain, but more colorful and magnetic like never before. These majestic lights are the attractions which just simply cannot be missed; this is your ultimate opportunity on the Alaska Cruise to catch up on what makes Alaska different than the rest of the world.

5. Dog Sledding – You must have definitely seen in many movies, and must have also read in your text books about Eskimos and their favorite method of travelling. How about if you were given the opportunity to run your own sleds, not with Santa’s reindeers though, but the most adorable huskies? Now, you get the chance to make this wish come true, travel across the Tundra while being in control of your own dog sled. Go on adventures and feel the excitement which the Eskimos do while they journey across the continent. Now it is your time to live it big in Alaska!

6. Aviation Museum – Have you ever wondered how Alaska modernized in terms of travel? Those who traveled miles on foot or handmade boats now travel using more modern methods, but how did it actually happen? You can find all of the answers to all questions at the Aviation Museum. Learn how Alaska took flight, and get a chance to click a few amazing pictures, and do get them framed too!

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5 Authentic Desserts You Must Try in Alaska

Baked Alaska Dessert

Baked Alaska Dessert

What is a perfect cruise trip without the best delights to accompany you? This is why we are going to give you the names of the 5 must have desserts on your cruise to the one and only chilling destination, Alaska. Alaska is full of beauty, wild life, fun, and romantic sunsets, so it is time to grab your forks and spoons and dig in while you enjoy every moment!

1. Baked Alaska Cake

The best dessert known all over the world and of course, Alaska is the Baked Alaska Cake. This delight is an ice cream sponge cake which is stuffed in delicious, creamy, and fired up with meringue. This classic dessert has yums stuffed inside, including delicious frozen delights. You can even get yours covered in rum! It is time for you to dig into the most delicious treat which Alaska has to offer you.

2. Wild Berry Cobbler

Offering you the juiciest berries and in lots of varieties, this dessert will have you on the edges of your seat. You can choose from your favorite cobbler recipe and top it off with the freshest berries in the entire continent. These lip licking berries include blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries too. After all, the wild berries are the best one, right? Want to make your trip even more interesting? Why not add some more fruits to delight your taste buds? Go for the mossberries, lingonberries, or even the salmonberries as well, spice up your life!

3. Akutaq (Agutuk)

This dish is a challenge to those who dare to try a taste of Alaska for the first time. This beautiful dish was actually created by the natives who called it Eskimo ice cream, which is ice cream with a hint of seal oil, snow, berries, and reindeer fat. Yes this dish does seem like a challenge for those who have never tried some of those ingredients, but, it is rated as an all time favorite of Native Alaskans. All of these unique ingredients are whipped up and the texture of the delight becomes a bit foamy. Sugar is not a part of this dessert, but, you can get it added if you want to for more fluff in your dessert. Are you Alaskan enough to try it?

4. Tongass Cookies (Forest Cookies)

We are still not sure of how this one originated, but knowing that this one of a kind dessert includes ingredients like coconut, healthy oats, and textured Rice Krispies, we think that Santa’s elves came up with the idea for this. The cookie even has 2 different kinds of sugar to delight your taste buds; you can munch on these non-stop on the cruise you do not want to miss. You only need to keep your eyes on the stash though; it will not take long for these chewy delicious delights to come to an end.

5. Romanoff Bread Pudding

What could be more perfect than the combination of strawberries, whipped cream, and last but not the least, liqueur? Dig in to fresh strawberries deeply covered in thick, delicious, and fresh whipped cream topped with your favorite flavor. There is also the heavenly presence of fresh cheese and soft bread pudding too.

For more information on the delights of cruising to Alaska, or any other cruise around the world, give us a call toll-free at 1-800-565-2784!

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A Journey You Will Never Forget – Alaska & Yukon Cruise 2015

Katmai Crater National Park Alaska

Katmai Crater National Park, Alaska

You have done so much for all of your loved ones all throughout your life. Now, it is time for you to lay back, relax, and enjoy the beauty of life at its best. Hop on an Alaskan & Yukon cruise and enjoy every minute by making the most of what matters. Bring your spouse along, and make a trip to the land of natural beauty, highlighting the following sites of unforgettable adventure:

Glacier Bay National Park

We bring to all of our guests amazing attractions such as Glacier Bay National Park. A park which leaves you mesmerized as you lay eyes upon the most beautiful glaciers you have ever seen. Sparkling like diamonds bathing in a beautiful crystal blue color, these glaciers are stunners to say the least. That is not all, enter the bay during the summers and  see whales in their natural habitat.

Sawyer Glacier

Love animals? This is the place to be if you wish to cruise on an Aqua-Safari. Get the chance to see some of the most adorable animals in action. Watch them play, watch them in nature; no bars or sign posts keep them from your scrutiny! Killer whales, seals, otters, find them all at Sawyer Glacier. You can even spot wolves, bears, deer and even moose!

Denali National Park

Welcome to 6 million acres of pure beauty. Here, at Denali, you will find the most amazing forest and tundra, filled with wildlife at its best. While you wait for your next cruise destination, get a chance to click some amazing snaps with ‘The High One,’ the highest peak in all of North America! Zoom through the valleys and enjoy the floral beauty surrounding the entire park. You won’t miss spotting grizzlies going on their hunt; catch them live in action.

Inside Passage

Imagine the smile on your face when you spot the most beautiful sunset ever between spectacular glaciers. There can be no better venue to finally get away to with your spouse, right? There is something in Alaska and in Yukon for everyone, regardless of age; if you are as young as 4 or as young as 40, these views will steal your breath away!

Go Native!

Alaska is not just about the mountains, glaciers and wildlife; there is more to this beautiful continent than which the eye sees. Alaska is the home to many cultures, which it has accepted and embraced as its own. With natives who speak more than 90 languages, this continent will capture your heart. Learn about the stories each totem pole has to say, take a sneak peek inside how they live their lives on a daily basis, sit inside the comfy log house, dance around the camp fire, tell stories from your childhood, let your inner artist out, and pass on the tales of adventure to your grandchildren.

To book your cruise, visit us at www.AlaskaCruiseExperts.com or simply give us a call at the following numbers. Be young, wild, and free in Alaska.

Toll Free: 1-800-565-2784

Vancouver: 604-737-8100

International: +1-604-737-8100

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