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early Alaska cruise planning....

Discussion in 'Alaska & Pacific Northwest Ports' started by jimlinalf, Sep 19, 2004.

  1. jimlinalf

    jimlinalf Guest

    Mid 50's couple living in North Florida starting to read up on and gather information about Alaska cruising. Couple of cruises under our belt and want any info you can send on your experiences about your directions of travel, which did you prefer. Where you would recommend to stay before and after your cruise. Any info appreciated as we are totally flexible at this point. I know we will want to fly in the day before and have a nice hotel rest before the cruise. Possibly stay overnight after the cruise too. Airlines and flight plans also flexible. Not really into long shore excursions or physically demanding excursions but nearby shops would be okay. Thanks for any help you might be and don't worry about any negative info you send, we take the good and the bad.

    Jim and Linda
  2. GloBug

    GloBug Guest

    Hey J&L, go to your bookstore and grab the book I mentioned below, ALASKA BY CRUISE SHIP by Anne Vipond. It covers lots of info you will want to know about different stops, and you can determine which ports you want to visit. That will be ahuge help to you as you figure out what lines you want.

    But book now! From what I understand, 2005 Alaska is booking fast! And a balcony is a must for Alaska! (Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about? HA!)

    And if you select a ship that sails out of SF, you can play tourist in your old home town! I'm on the Infinity to Alaska out of SF June 9th. It disembarks in Vancouver, and we will be spending at least one day there. I can't wait!
  3. BSeabob

    BSeabob Guest

    I guess the first thing you need todo is figure out where you wish to leave from..based on time you have one way/return etc. ships that do a return from Seattle send a great deal more time "Outside" One ways from SF are longer in days. Seattle vs YVR is really a toss up if you take away the mountains and harbour of YVR. Seattle likely is easier/less expensive to fly into, for you guys coming from Florida unless your cruise leaves from Vancouver and you need to get up there anyway. Of course I am bias towards YVR so do come here if you can.
  4. lbeck

    lbeck Guest

    Hi J&L et al.

    I was going to start a similar thread but decided to post here instead. My thread title would be almost the same. Specifics that I'm interested in are:

    1) How do you find the least expensive cost.? I'm aware of course that there are many significant variables, such as length of cruise (We're thinking 7-11 days), which cruise line, etc. But i found the choices to be mind-boggling if you just use a Google search and start hopping on websites. Plus you have to click on several screens to finally get a cost. We're not necessarily looking at cheapest, but the best value.

    2) are there general rules to finding your best price? I know that waiting until the last minute may get a good price if the ship isn't full, but that's too risky. I'm doing the research but there will be a group of 3-4 couples going and I don't want to wait too late to get things tied down.

    3) Is there a best time to go to AK? We're locked into summer-2005 but somewhat flexible within that time frame. Are there considerations with weather, insects, natural beauty, etc.?

    4) We're thinking a one-way trip, and I've heard that going south is best. True? What are the advantages?

    Any advice that I'm not asking for, but should??

    Thanks :)
  5. Howie

    Howie Guest

    I have cruised Alaska many times. There are oneway cruises that are generally 7 days long and go between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier depending on the cruise line or they will go the reverse between Whittier or Seward and Vancouver. The itinerary says it goes to Ankorage but the ships do NOT go to Ankorage that is where you would fly in or out of. There are land packages that can be added to these trips. If you add a land package to these trips I would do the land package first than cruise southbound. The land portion can get hectic and tiring than you could rest on the cruise afterwards. If you are just doing the one way cruise and not the land package go Vancouver to Seward or Whittier. The views get more spectacular as you go northbound.

    There are also roundtrip cruises. These go from several ports such as Vancouver, Seattle or San Fransisco. These do NOT go all the way to Seward or Whittier and IMHO miss some of the best scenery that you can see from the ship on an Alaskan cruise. All the scenery is great but these will miss the best scenery. On these you may also go to Sitka which generally the 7 day one way cruises do not usually hit.

    As far as finding the best price or best cruise line you should find the cruise line that caters to the style of cruising you like, however keep in mind cruising Alaska attracts a different crowd than cruising the Caribbean. Most any cruiseline can do a good job in Alaska. Princess and Holland America have been there the longest of the major cruise lines and they will have naturalists aboard providing lectures on the area and the wildlife. Prices are like anything else if the ship is filling up the price will go higher and Alaska is becoming popular.

    Each month provides something different when cruising Alaska. May will be cooler but you will see spectacular waterfalls due to the snow melt. May is also considered one of the dryer months for an Alaskan cruise.

    June is still considered one of the dryer months and more animals will have come out of hybernation and the salmon will start running towards the end of May.

    July will start the rainy season as well as the bugs coming out. July will also come into the peak whale watching season.

    August is still one of the wetter months and still good for whales.

    Sept will start to cool off and the whales will start heading south. Of course sales are better in Sept to clear shelves for the winter months.

    Keep in mind Ketchikan is one of the major rain forests so regardless of when you cruise you will probably run into rain here.

    My personal favorite time to cruise Alaska is the end of May and first part of June. I have had the best luck with weather and still seen plenty of wildlife.

    Must do's in Alaska. If you can afford it a helicopter flight and landing on a glacier. A whale watch. A trip into the Yukon.

    Everytime I go to Alaska I find something new and different to do.
  6. lbeck

    lbeck Guest

    Thanks again, Howie. You’re becoming my prime consultant on this trip. I just responded to you on another thread on this forum. I’ll try to stay here on my Alaska-specific questions.

    Interesting. I was lead to believe that the closer to departure the lower the price. The rationale is that ships are trying to fill empty berths and will do whatever is needed to fill them. Booking sooner rather than later would satisfy my “mental†needs. I’d rather not worry about this thing from now until June or whatever.

    I also heard that some travel agencies offer what is not really a "low price guarantee." but will lower your price if the cruise company lowers theirs. Any truth to that? That may offer an incentive to booking through an agency. Mu current plans are to book the trip myself with the help of seasoned cruisers like yourself.

    I especially appreciate the advice on timing of the trip. A few years ago, my wife and I went to SFO and saw some marvelous scenery at Yosemite. It was June and a little cool. I asked a cab driver about weather there, and he said October is pleasant. We invited some close friends to return with us a couple of years later and traveled in October. They were impressed by the pictures of beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite (from the June trip). It was warmer all right, but the falls were dry in October. As you said, it pays to do a little research and to ask the right questions.

    The dilemma that I now have is whether I want to go in June, which appears to be the best month weather-wise, or Aug-Sept when prices may be better and the ships less crowded (esp. With kids. We love them, but ours are raised and gone so we don’t have the school year to deal with).
  7. PEB

    PEB Guest

    There will be opportunities for cheap deals closer to the Alaska cruise, however you will not be sure of what ship, cruise line or dates those deals will be for. If you find a TA that is willing to go to bat for you and try to get you a price reduction if the price does drop booking earlier is better than waiting for a last minute deal. Many specials for Alaska, if there are any, will start coming out around January or February for the months of May and June. If you want a specific room on a ship you are best off booking early.

    As for kids on an Alaskan cruise, there will be some kids but Alaska usually draws people that are more interested in wildlife or the view of mountains and glaciers. An Alaska cruise will not have as many kids as would be on a Caribbean cruise. An Alaskan cruise is not a high activity cruise it will have people standing by the rails or near the windows watching the scenery. Alaska tends to have a few more older people onboard than you would find on a Caribbean cruise.

    One of the greatest things about cruising Alaska is that you never know what you will see or where you will see it. You may be lucky while near the glaciers and see a huge calve and in that case the site and sound will keep you in awe. You may be fortunate to see some humback whales just rolling along, breaching or bubblenet feeding and again you will be kept in awe. You may see a pod of Orca skimming along the water with their high dorcel fins cutting through the water or see them leap out of the water and again you will be in awe. You may be fortunate to see the dahls porpiose as they play off the wake of the ship. You may see bears or moose and possibly mountain goats.

    You will see eagles without a doubt as well as many other species of birds. Chances are good you will see sea otters along your cruise.

    While near the glaciers pray for some clouds because the glaciers will look a little bluer if there is some cloud cover. You can have great flight tours or raft down rivers. You can have fun kayaking or fishing. You can see trees that are hundreds of years old yet only a few feet tall due to harsh winters back in the Yukon. You can see some beautiful totem poles and native artwork.

    Alaska has many wonderful things to do and see and even if it does not turn out to be your favorite place to cruise I am more than willing to bet it is a place you will not forget.
  8. Howie

    Howie Guest

    I made a mistake in my last post I meant to say the salmon run starts the end of June not May. There goes my quota of mistakes for the year. I guess I will have to be quiet now so I don't use up next years quota's of mistakes LOL.
  9. lbeck

    lbeck Guest

    No problem, Howie. I probably would have figured that out (read it) prior to the trip anyway. Those details are kind-of “tier two.†You and PEB have accurately gleaned from my lame attempt to get information that natural beauty is my primary objective. Also, I’d like to touch/feel/smell the environment rather than viewing from the ship’s deck (except for calving glaciers ;) ). I doubt that the salmon will hold still long enough for me to pet. Plus, my son-in-law went to Alaska a couple of years ago and did the salmon fishing thing. Great experience for him, but I don’t plan to be at any one spot long enough to do much fishing.

    Now that I’ve got some folks’ attention who actually know something about Alaskan cruises and my preferences, do you have any recommendations for cruise lines? Actual ships? I’m at the point of probably needing to zoom in on something a little more specific so that I can begin pricing individual tours. In my ignorance, I initially thought about a round-trip cruise from the Pacific NW was needed and that I would need 10-11 days or so. I’m now thinking that it may be better to cruise in one direction, and the general advice seems to be that south-to-north is better. I’m also wondering if, given the shorter boat trip (one-way) if maybe a 7-day cruise will work. I’d also like to stay away from the smaller ships where you may get a better look at nature but have to disembark daily and stay on-shore. I discussed this option with my wife and she nixed it immediately because of having to drag all her “stuff†around from boat-to-shore and back.

    I know that much of what I’m asking is for subjective information, but I do value your thoughts. I think I can evaluate in the end what is subject to the vagaries of personal taste. Another significant variable is that I’ll be traveling with another couple for sure, and there are a few other couples that are waiting for the outcome of my research before they commit. It’s likely that I’ll need to compromise my wants to some extent.
  10. PEB

    PEB Guest

    lbeck as far as ships to take while cruising Alaska that really is up to a persons individual taste. You should check deck plans and find a ship that has good viewing from several places because you will want to be looking outside as much as possible. My and my wifes preference so far has been the Sun Class ships of Princess in Alaska.

    One reason for this is there is a lot of upper deck space for viewing. Second there is a rap around Promenade deck with great viewing as well as comfortable lounge chairs plus you are under some cover if it is raining. Third there are many indoor public areas with views such as the card room, the library, several lounges and the Horizon Court. Our favorite ship for cruising Alaska no longer cruises Alaska but we have enjoyed ourselves multiple times on the Sun Class ships in Alaska. We have cruised on 5 different cruise lines and enjoyed many other ships but when we look at Alaska we always go back to the Sun Class ships, but that is our personal favorite and may not be yours. It still comes down to what cruise line would you feel most comfortable on.

    Another thing important to us is having Naturalists onboard the ship and I do know that Princess and Holland America hire Naturalists for the entire Alaskan cruise season. I am not sure about the other cruise lines.

    You say you want to get close to nature. If that is the case and you do decide to do a whale watch, I would suggest Capt. Larry with Orca Enterprises in Juneau. He uses a smaller boat than the cruise lines. A much faster boat than the cruise lines, to get you to the whales. He will NOT fill up his boat so that everyone has a chance to move around and view wildlife. Most importantly he knows his stuff and can provide very interesting and quite humorous commentary. He will provide as much viewing time as possible once whales are spotted as well as other wildlife.

    Vancouver to Seward or Whittier would be my prefered cruise for a seven day trip. If you had the time and could afford it a back to back north and southbound is always great. This would afford cheaper air fare. It would also provide the ability to not have to rush and see everything in the port on one stop. I have done this multiple times and found it very relaxing and enjoyable but than I do back to backs even in the Caribbean and I don't care for the Caribbean LOL.

    You have a lot of choices to make but you also have a lot of time to do research and make the right choice for you and those going with you.
  11. GloBug

    GloBug Guest

    Wow, our own private Alaska consultants! I love this site!

    We go to Alaska in June from SF, one way, disembark in Vancouver. We have the aft corner cabin, huge balcony, on the Infinity.

    Is an aft corner cabin good for sight seeing, or will we want to be up top for certain sights?

    Should we bring heavy duty rain gear, or are light rain panchos enough? Do we need boots?
  12. lbeck

    lbeck Guest

    Yep, This internet thing is great for matching up people with common interests, and this one specifically for cruise newbies to match up with cruise enthusiasts who have experience and are willing to advise.

    I appreciate your comments about timing. I was thinking that I might need to wait until the first of the year to book for summer '05. I'm now thinking that maybe we had better book as soon as I can nail down exactly what we want to do, which will likely dictate the length of the trip. And the cruise line of choice.

    What we want to do will be of course subjective, but I'm still wondering how to find the best value on a cruise line. I'm trying to avoid booking our cruise and then finding in February that I could have gotten the same cabin for half of what I paid.

    Another area of uncertainty is flights. I've gotten pretty savvy on using internet sites to get the lowest fares for common city pairs (we're thinking Raleigh <-> Seattle) but booking the one-way flight to the Alaskan point of departure for the cruise is a huge unknown. The reason that we're not planning to use the criuse to book the flights is cost and we're planning to take a few days in the Seattle/Portland area. On the cost angle, I can book round-trip tickets from RDU to the NW for about $200 today. The additional cost PP for having the cruise book our flights appears to be ~ $800, but includes the Alaskan one-way ticket. Surely, the flight e.g., from Fairbanks to Seattle won't be $600!

    Anyway, next important decision is what cruise we want. We're fairly open to 7-11 days and natural beauty (wilderness) is our objective, so we plan a couple of land excursions also. We don't plan on any dog-sleds to the interior, but would like maybe a 2-5 mile hike or two to see some good scenery. Maybe this is available in Denali?
  13. Howie

    Howie Guest

    GloBug having a balcony cabin is always good on an Alaskan cruise. Is it the best spot on the ship? No spot is the best spot on the ship because you never know when and where you will see things. Wildlife is one of the big things to see and that comes out where it feels like not where you want it. While in near the glaciers the ships usually turn so everyone gets to see the glaciers so at least for awhile your balcony will face the glaciers but than so will every part of the ship for awhile. While in the Inside Passage there will be islands on one side and the mainland on the other so there will be plenty to see there.

    As for raingear light raingear is fine you won't need heavy duty rain gear. If you plan on taking tours into the rainforests boots would be nice, or if you plan on nature walks. In town no you will not need boots.

    lbeck there are a lot of places to take walking tours throughout all of the ports that a cruise goes to and especially if you are doing a land portion along with the cruise. Just be aware of whats around you when you go on the walking tours or trails. You never know what animal you may find when walking. Good luck on the air that is always one that you never know when the sales are.

    As for finding the best deal you may always find someone that found a better deal than you the best you can hope for is finding a good agent that will search for the sales and also try to get you a price reduction if the price drops after you have booked. For myself I always deal with the same agent because I trust them and I go with the deal that I feel I can afford. If I think they are not matching others I will get other quotes and see if they will match them.
  14. lbeck

    lbeck Guest

    Got any recommendations for a good Alaskan Cruisetour agent??

    I was thinking that I could use the Internet to learn about the options and to find the best price. My learning is [getting] productive. However, the price thing has proved to be very frustrating. I had hoped to find a tabular presentation, however massive it might be, and to be able to at least get close to scoping out the variables of destinations/Tour lines/ships/# days/cost/etc. Then I could hone in on my preferences. I haven't found that, so I decided to start my own spreadsheet. So far, I have less than a half dozen entries and each has taken me a half-hour or so to get even a range. You know the drill. You have to select date, tour package, ship, cabin type, (all of which are still open for me), fill out a form, then you get a price. Each step requires your browser to reload.

    We'll be traveling with at least one other couple. He went to AAA and got some info on their Cruisetour 7S, which was $1674 - 2249 during May-Sept 2004 (sans airfare) for the 11-day trip. So that's my baseline at this point. I've seen various other CruiseTours on the Internet for competetive and lower prices, some with shorter cruises and some with different options (glaciers, different parks, paddleboat tours, train rides......It's all mind-boggling). Point is, it's all apples, oranges, and cumquats. No two packages are alike.

    At this point, I'm thinking maybe a travel agent may be a better way to go. It's just that I've generally gotten a better price on a used car from individual owners than from a used-car dealer. Maybe a bad analogy, but you get my point. I regard travel agents as honorable individuals, but it is a business with them and they have to take their cut.

    Still, the advantages of dealing with an expert, if they're honest, may outweigh the advantages of constructing my own package.

    Got any recommendations? Guess I can talk with an agent whether or not I decide to use him/her.
  15. Howie

    Howie Guest

    Lbeck I mean no disrespect but I believe you are looking at how to pick a cruise in the wrong way. You are looking at the number of days and the bottlom line price, however each cruise line caters to a different type person. You must pick a cruise line that fits with your lifestyle. An example is that Celebrity tries to be more formal. They are known for their dining experience and their concierge service. NCL has freestyle cruising with no formal dining times and an atmosphere that is far more casual. RCCL ships were built for the more active type people and that is why they have rock climbing walls as well as many other activities. HAL is known for being more for an older crowd and less activities, however with their newer ships they are trying to change that a little. Princess has some elegance and normally has very good friendly service. Carnival ships were designed for fun and a very friendly and outgoing atmosphere.

    My point is you must do some research on the particular cruise lines to find which one suits you and the people cruising with you. This is where a good TA can help or by reading more on the particular cruise line. Once you narrow down the cruise line than narrow down the price. If you want the best value the price must be within the cruise line that suits you the best.

    The things you can do on shore will be available regardless of the cruise line you go with. If you are on a cruise ship that does not suit you than you may not have a pleasant time on your cruise. DoctorB posted in another post that he did not think the service was good on Princess. He may have had a bad experience but than I had a great experience in Alaska on Princess including the service. His disappointment would have put a damper on some of his enjoyment. Find out what cruise line suits the needs of you and your fellow cruisers than start looking for the lowest price at the right time for you.
  16. lbeck

    lbeck Guest

    Thanks for your courtesy, Howie. But I didn't come here looking for respect, but for advice. You appear to be an experienced cruiser and I've learned a lot on this forum and elsewhere from "the experienced." I'm aware that there are a lot of variables and most are subjective. Of the ones you mention, we are an older crowd (50-65). But my wife and I are more active than some of the others in the group considering going. I suspect that we will do some hiking while others in the party will view the experience from the ship. None of us are "party animals." We're from the South, for the most part, and all go to the same church. This will probably tell you that there are some cultural amenities that go along with that. We wouldn’t enjoy highly risque humor or bodacious activity, and we do appreciate old-fashioned courtesy. We are casual for the most part. None of us goes around in flip-flops, but I don’t think any of wants a formal experience. None of us minds shirt and tie, though, and will even dress up for one night or so. However, none of the above would be a deal-breaker (except maybe vulgarity). None of us gamble, but again, we’re tolerant of what companions may see as fun. We’re all terribly straight (I understand there are some gay cruises).

    So, there you have it. That’s our profile. I understand that cost shouldn’t be the bottom-line, and it won’t. We’re just trying to learn at this point what we need to ask. I never purchase anything in the multi-thousands of dollars without making an educated decision. It will make the experience doubly pleasurable if we have a pleasant experience and believe that we got an excellent deal :)

    I’ll be on travel for the next few days, so don’t think that I’m going away mad.... I’ll check these boards whenever I return. Thanks again for all your help.
  17. RHees

    RHees Guest

    I prefer northbound, one way, probably from Vancouver.

    You build from the urban world of Vancouver to the wilds of the inside passage and the glaciers of one of several bays.

    Consider a cruise tour inland. Alaska is a very big place. We did flew to Fairbanks and took the train south with a stop at Denali.

    Holland has more outside space than Princess. Both have great land tours. I like Celebrity (and am doing a quick reposition cruise on the Mercury to Ketchikan this Spring). My Brother in law and family took a Carnival Cruise to Alaska last year and loved it.

    You need to match your expectations and interests. We missed Glacier Bay so we could visit Skagway (I like railroads, and the White Pass starts at Skagway). We got to visit Sitka, which many itineraries miss.

    Go with a TA. In the past we have used a local cruise specialist AAA agent, but now use Lori at Skyscraper Tours.
  18. Howie

    Howie Guest

    Lbeck according to the profile you provided I think Princess would be a good choice for you. It will have elegance but not be to formal. It will have people that fit your age range and people who are still active. Yes there will be a couple formal nights but the ties and such you mention will fit in on those nights. The other nights will be more casual and comfortable. The entertainment is generally very family oriented. Princess also has some very good lectures while onboard to talk about life in Alaska and the wildlife.

    Good luck in your choice. If you do decide to go with Princess let me know when and which ship you decide to take because I will more than likely be going back to Alaska on a cruise next year myself and perhaps we would be on the same sailing.
  19. cruisegary

    cruisegary Guest

    Interesting that many of the suggestions did NOT include Carnival. Maybe we did not experience the best on a recent trip, but we LOVED our Vancour to Whittier trip on the Spirit, and thinking about doing it again next year with our kids.

    I would suggest reading a number of trip reports on each of the different lines. If you want to build your own tabular comparison, go to expedia or travelocity and pick a bunch of trips with approx the same dates and see what you find. Remember, each week into the summer season the rates move up, so comaring one ship's late may trip with another in July will not be a reasonable comparison.

    Trip reports really help give you a feel as you will find some folks that have sailed on multiple ships.

    Somebody mentioned going to Alaska leaving from SF and disembarking in Vancouver. Unless you have a LONG trip that goes up into Alaska and then comes back down, how do you do this??
  20. GloBug

    GloBug Guest

    Cruisegary, I am going on the Infinity in June 05, sailing from SF and disembarking in Vancouver. From what I can tell, Celebrity has 2 sailings before mine, that go SF/SF, SF/SF, then SF/Vancouver. Then it stays up in Alaska and starts doing 7 night Van/Van sailings...

    We REALLY wanted one of the SF/SF sailings, but the teen was still in school, so we took what we could.

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