In this interview, I saw Wes’ passion shine through. I think you will, too. Get to know Cruise Expert Wes as he offers up some fantastic tips and insight on how best to spend your limited time on your cruise vacation in Alaska.
What experience got you hooked on cruising?
My first cruise introduced me to cruise travel (obviously; haha), but wasn’t the one that got me hooked. It was a four day experience from San Diego to Vancouver (home). We didn’t stop anywhere, but it was great to have four consecutive sea days to experience everything of interest that the ship had to offer.
It wasn’t until I’d done a longer cruise featuring ports of call (where the ship stops to visit for the day) that I was hooked; my first of which was to Alaska. It goes something like this: embark, unpack, cruise (eat, drink, get a massage, eat some more, go to a live theatre production show, have a snack, relax in the pool, head to the night club, hit the casino, then go to sleep – there are even more things to do than that!) then wake up somewhere new to explore/tour (best enhanced via a guided shore excursion)… then repeat again and again throughout the cruise.
It doesn’t get repetitive though. You’re visiting new destinations plus the entertainment changes daily, as does the menu amongst other activities and things to do on the ship. Ultimately, I still find it most fascinating when an itinerary features a number of different countries (for instance, in Europe) as each time I wake up I’m often not just in a different port but completely immersed in a different culture with different foods, language, and ambiance than the day before. Seven years and 15 cruises later I’m just getting started!
What are your favourite ports in Alaska? Why?
Overall I’d pick Juneau as my favourite Alaskan port to visit, not just because it’s the capital city, but because there’s the greatest variety of shore excursion options when compared to the other ports. So there’s something for everyone, and always something new to do the next time I go.
I’ve visited Juneau three times so far and there’s still lots of tours (of interest to me) that I’ve yet to do (glacier trek, whale watching, kayaking and more).
Another of my preferred Alaskan ports to visit is Skagway. I’ve also been there a few times.
For me, the people make the difference. Most everyone in Alaska is very welcoming and genuine, but I found the Skagway locals to be the most. During my most recent visit to Skagway, an employee in an art store remembered me by name (and what I bought) from nearly three years prior. If that isn’t awesome I don’t know what is! And yes, partly because of that I made another purchase.
What are your favourite excursions that you’ve done in Alaska?
My favourite excursion in Alaska so far was a flightseeing tour in a small plane around Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park (cruisetour required… it’s hundreds of miles from the coast, so can’t be visited on a cruise only vacation).
Being in a small plane flying around the largest mountain in the world by shear mass and tallest in North America is really amazing! It feels like you can reach out and touch the side of the mountains even though realistically the rock faces are hundreds of yards away. And when you look down (maybe not recommended for everyone) there are bright sapphire blue patches in the glaciers (actually from holes). The darker the blue the deeper the hole.
Another excursion I’ve enjoyed more than once is the White Pass Summit Rail tour in Skagway. It’s a scenic rail tour through the mountain pass that traces the route traveled by miners during the gold rush days.
It can be done train up train down, but as there’s just one set of tracks you see the same thing both ways; the best way I’ve done it was by starting with a shuttle tour of the town, then traveling up the mountain roads (with photo stops along the way – which isn’t possible to accommodate if on the train on the way up) to Fraser, BC where I then boarded the train for the rail tour back down into Skagway.
Another fantastic one that’s fun for the whole family is the Sled Dog Rodeo show in Anchorage.
And although there are numerous excursions I’d do again, one last one that stands out is zip lining in the Ketchikan rainforest. The cable lines are 140+ feet above the ground, and as much as 800 feet long!
It’s a leisurely activity requiring no previous experience (guides are there to help you do it right) and minimal strength. It’s a fun way to see the forest sights from a very different angle for a few hours. Some of the cables go over creeks, and we were lucky enough to see black bears feeding down below.
What’s your most memorable moment in Alaska?
It would have to be watching the Hubbard Glacier calve into the ocean. It was phenomenal! (Below is a YouTube video of Hubbard Glacier calving, not Wes’ but worth a watch. Make sure you watch it to the end.)
It’s one of those things you really can’t experience in too many other places in the whole world. Definitely worth heading north to see, and hear, for yourself! (This also occurs at the other glaciers, too).
What was your most interesting experience in Alaska?
My most interesting experience in Alaska was seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) during a trip late in August one year.
Definitely a visual spectacle unlike anything else anywhere else.
What’s the most interesting Alaska cruise you’ve booked for your clients?
For a cruise only itinerary, definitely the 14 night Seattle roundtrip cruise with Holland America Line as it visits a number of ports that no other ships do. The ports of call include: Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Sitka and Victoria as well as the Tracy Arm to the Sawyer Glaciers and the Hubbard Glacier.
What do you always tell your clients before they go on their Alaska cruise?
I tell my clients a lot of helpful things before they travel to Alaska, but a few stand out as being said frequently:
- Complete your pre-cruise registration online in advance at least two weeks prior to the cruise (most commonly given advice) to facilitate a more streamlined embarkation process
- This might be your first cruise to Alaska, but it isn’t the first time for the crew and staff aboard the ship you’ll be on (or guides during the land segment of a cruisetour), so you can be confident everything will go smoothly
- Pack to dress in layers including a water-resistant windbreaker of some sort (just in case there’s a bit of rain, but also so that you can be outside on the deck and not have the cold air near the glaciers cutting through a regular sweater; even if it’s not windy, there is a breeze while the ship is moving), but always keep your Passport and a Credit Card on you; if you lose or forget something, you can replace it – but without a Passport or ability to pay for something needed at the moment… well, it might not be a fun experience (same goes for travel to any destination).
Wes can be reached at 1-800-565-2784 or Wes@CruiseExpertsTravel.com.