I am hoping to plan an alaskin cruise for late june 2005. But i am confused which port to sail out of seattle vs vancouver. Also is a balcony a must have on an alaskin cruise? Please help me get started.
We've done both and prefer Vancouver. It goes east of Vancouver island and winds through the islands of the inside passage more and is therefore more scenic.
IMHO....yes, get a balcony. The scenery is awsome and you want to see as much of it as you can. I personally prefer the solitude of the balcony over the public areas. Of course I do both. One advantage point worth visiting is forward where the view is much wider than one side of the ship on a balcony.
So if you can budget for the balcony....go for it.
We chose the Sun out of Vancouver due to the pricing and availability/size of a inside quad cabin, and then ended up upgrading (for $80 total) to a balcony. The Sun is a beautiful ship, and we thoroughly enjoyed the freestyle dining concept. You also need to take into account which ports/glaciers your ship will go to, and make sure that you are getting to where you want to be. The Sun went to Sawyer Glacier, which was great, but next time I want to go to Glacier Bay.
I personally don't know that a balcony is required, but I would want an outside cabin with a big enough window to look out of. Our experience is that it was too cold and windy to sit outside on the balcony much, at least while the ship was moving. This was the week of June 6, so maybe it gets more pleasant as the season goes on. It wasn't the cold as much as the wind and the noise that bothered me while trying to sit on the balcony.
We did see one whale and several porpoises (or dolphins, not sure which) from our balcony, along with beautiful sunsets. If the cost between the outside room with a picture window and the balcony was similar, I would go with the balcony, but if the balcony was substantially more I might just try the window next time.
We LOVED our trip on the Sun. It was the 2nd cruise for DH and I, and the first for my kids (18 & 20). With the kids, the freestyle just seemed like a much better way to go, as neither of them are really into dressing up, and the ability to choose dinner times worked well. We enjoyed the food (dining rooms better than the buffet), and thought the service and the crew were great. The ship is beautiful and well maintained.
Shore excursions: Ketchikan -- booked the combo Saxman Village/Totem Bight tour through Sourdough Tours. Much cheaper than the ship excursions, and got to see both sites. Our tour guide was a native of Ketchikan and full of information.
Juneau -- Planned on doing the tram at Mt. Roberts, but it was too cloudy. Caught a city tour/Mendenhall Glacier bus from the pier. Mendenhall Glacier was great, city tour boring. Just catch one of the cheap buses that goes only to the glacier. That afternoon, we did the Tracy Arm Fjord catamaran tour (through NCL) that leaves prior to the Sun and meets back up with the ship at the Glacier. This excursion was the highlight of our trip. Saw whales, tons of seals, got much closer to the face of the glaciers (both North and South Sawyer).
Skagway -- rented a car and drove to Emerald Lake. $70 for the car rental as opposed to $400 for the train ride. If there had only been 2 of us, I probably would have done the train. The scenery is spectacular.
Wrangell -- Jeep excursion through NCL. The scenery was pretty, but I thought it was overpriced (of course, what Alaskan excursion isn't?). It definitely wasn't a 4X4 journey. While you are on an old logging road, it was smoother than some asphalt roads here in SLC. Not a lot of choice here at the moment, but they may add more tours as time goes on. The www.wrangell.com website does list some private tours, but we weren't into helicopter/small plane rides (cost prohibitive for 4).
We loved sitting on balcony. If it was too cold, we bundled up. We also took a bungee cord to keep the door open while sitting in the room, or even going back and forth. On the carnival, most of the annoucements were made ONLY in the public areas and outside, not in the cabins, so you needed the open door to hear about wildlife spottings.
We had one day in early June that we could have gotten a tan. Wore shorts on the balcony.
I've heard others agree that route through the Gulf Islands is much calmer than the outside of Vancouver Island. We've done Alaska through the Inside Passage three times (in May), and it was dead calm. I remember only feeling a rough patch in the open waters before getting to the Queen Charlottes.
The Inside route is definitely more scenic! Sailing under the Lion's Gate Bridge and cruising all the Gulf Islands and lighthouses in the early evening is really spectacular!
For us, a big part of cruising means enjoying some privacy on our own terms. Experiencing the views coming into port or while cruising the Glaciers days on your own balcony is priceless! A blanket to bundle up with, picinic, bottle of win, thermos of coffee on the deck - nothing like it. However, if you enjoy the excitment of hanging with the masses, spend the money elsewhere.