Planning Your Alaska Cruise Made Easy

Planning a first Alaska cruise can be a scary task, not unlike a first trip to Europe. Come to think of it, for travelers that very closely associate “cruise” with “Caribbean“, a trip to Alaska may very well be the next logical step. Today, we begin a quick new series of tips for how to book an Alaskan cruise vacation, squarely aimed at those who have never been there before.

Alaska is a destination all Americans should see at least once in their lifetime.  Once there, the reason will be clear.  But we have to get you there first and this is our way to do it.

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Personal Favorite
My top suggestion for the best Alaska cruise experience is an Escorted CruiseTour with Princess Cruises.  This sort of sailing, done my way, has you fly up to Northern Alaska several days in advance of sailing.  Once there you will meet a Princess escort for transfer to one of their unique, self-contained lodges in the wilderness, a base for included tours and excursions.  The escort is with your small group of travelers all the way, making sure all are in the right place at the right time; ensuring a top quality Alaska experience. More on that later.  There are other options as well.

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Defining CruiseTour
You’ll hear the word “CruiseTour” thrown around a lot in the arena of booking Alaska.  The definition is exactly what it sound line, the combination of a cruise with a land tour.  They are available all over the planet as an add-on either before or after the scheduled cruise itinerary.  Alaska is commonly the first place cruise travelers experience a Cruisetour because it makes so much sense.  Alaska is a huge state and while cruise ships visit amazing places on whatever their itinerary might be, there is a limited amount of time that they can stay in port and make it from place to place.  While in port, passengers have a limited amount of time to get to places and back before the ship leaves.

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Inclusive Has It’s Price
The Escorted Cruisetour I like has meals included in the price as are some unique experiences like flight-seeing via float plane and/or helicopter, landing on a glacier, visiting a sled dog camp and/or riding a dog-driven sled…all of which can be customized for any activity level.

The land part of the experience might start in Fairbanks Alaska, going to Denali State Park via small group motor coach and the Alaska Railroad which winds through the mountains and features a high-domed observation car and dining car.  On all of this, Princess passengers get top treatment as Princess has built and owns the best lodges and has the best car placement on railroads.  The railroad will take you though majestic Alaskan scenery to where the ship is and you will board for a seven-day southbound sailing ending in either Vancouver BC or Seattle, both of which are great places for an optional post-cruise hotel stay.

On the ship, passengers get up close and personal with giant glaciers as a US Forest Service Park Ranger narrates the scene and the ship very gently rotates around in circles so all can see everything.  Stopping in ports, some are fun to simply walking off the ship for a do it yourself day of self directed exploring, others would feature tours that might take you to see a flock of American Bald Eagles soaring overhead in the sky, moose on the run along a river or bear, elk and other wildlife in their native habitat.

That Escorted Cruisetour is one way to do it.    There are several. All are different and cost more or less than the others.

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Here are the choices:

  • Escorted Land Tour (described above) is the most complete but also the most expensive.  Those can go from the North to the South or from the South to the North with the land package varying from three to five days either before or after.  This is the one we did with Princess.
  • Round Trip Seattle or Vancouver is less expensive- I have done this too and also liked it very much.  These are 7-day sailings that would not have a rail option or get very far inland but offer a good overview of Alaska.  This one I did with Holland America Line.
  • One Way Cruises- North to South, no land tour is the most economical way to go- You can fly to Fairbanks and get on a 7-day cruise that goes south, ending in Vancouver or Seattle.  Personally, I prefer Seattle because you don’t end in a foreign port which makes getting back into the country a bit easier.
  • One Way Cruises– South to North, no land tour is also economical- This is the reverse of the above, plain and simple.

On any of them there will be the opportunity to see wildlife, view glaciers and so on.  On the Cruisetour options, escorted or not, there are more of these things included in the price.

A good place to start is on the cruise line websites themselves.  I talk a lot about Princess but Holland America Line is also a top Alaska choice, often partnering with Princess in a number of good ways. To many, the lines are interchangeable when it comes to Alaska, each with a very strong presence in the area.

But What About MY Favorite Cruise Line?
Most cruise lines do send a ship or two to Alaska for the season, making it entirely possible to sail with a friend you know and love.

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So there you have it, a place to start looking into your Alaska vacation.  Up next we will talk about when and how to book, flights for any option chosen and budgeting.  If the idea of an Alaska cruise sounds good, there is still time to book one this year.  It is not too early to begin planning one for 2016 or beyond either.

On the other hand, sticking to the Caribbean, you won’t be alone.  The year-round warm weather Caribbean is still the number one cruise destination in the world…and there are no Polar Bears that we know of.

Flickr Photo by Wonderlane