Alaska is a destination all Americans should see at least once in their lifetime. A friend told me, before we had visited “Everywhere you look, in any direction, there is something beautiful to see and you’ll want to take a picture of it”. He sure was right about that. On the eve of the 2015 Alaska season, there is still some availability and will probably be some last-minute deals too. While Alaska is a destination I recommend planning a year in advance, going this year is a real possibility. Still, there are a number of ways to see Alaska that include a cruise. Today we have a quick primer on those often-confusing options along with some information about my favorite cruise lines to visit Alaska with.
Let’s start with this video from Princess Cruises, all about the upcoming 2015 Alaska Season-
Escorted Cruisetour- The Ultimate Alaska
I suggest, have done personally, and have received very positive feedback on an Escorted CruiseTour in Alaska on Princess Cruises. This sort of sailing typically has you fly up to Northern Alaska several days in advance of sailing. Once there travelers meet a Princess escort who will take them to one of their unique, self-contained lodges in the wilderness, a base from which they explore Alaska on included tours and excursions. The escort is with you and a small group of travelers all the way, making sure you are in the right place at the right time and insuring a top quality Alaska experience.
“Alaska is a timeless destination that has a great deal to offer — stunning scenery, interesting history and unique culture — which is why we continue to elevate the experience and enhance the itineraries each year,” – Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line.
Our takeaway from doing this: Make the land portion of the experience longer, at least 4 days. Tacked on to a 7-day sailing, that eats into two weeks of vacation time but believe me, it will be worth it. Land packages of fewer days are offered but I do not recommend them as you will feel rushed and I won’t put you in that situation. Odds are travelers will only do this one time and doing it right is worth the cost and time.Many meals are 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 you are comfortable with.
A Typical Alaska Cruisetour
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. 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, you get up close and personal with giant glaciers as a US Forest Service Park Ranger narrates what you are seeing and the ship very gently rotates around in circles so all can see everything. Stopping in ports, some I would have you simply walking off the ship for a do it yourself day of exploring on your own, 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.
A Variety Of Ways To See Alaska
An Escorted Cruisetour is one way to do it. There are several and all are different and cost more or less than the others. Here are the choices.
- Escorted CruiseTour (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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Where To Begin
A good place to start is by contacting a travel agent well-versed in booking Alaska. Ask them this simple question to qualify them as knowledgeable or not: “What are the different ways to see Alaska by cruise ship?” The answer should include the four ways listed above. They may mention land-only tours and that’s ok; they usually highlight the value of a cruise or cruisetour and will make you feel better about pricing.
That out of the way, the next logical step is for that agent to design a cruise that closely matches what you want to do. Your chosen option might cost out right within a tolerable budget amount. If not, look at other options that do fit in the budget. That might mean putting a visit to Alaska putting off for a year or so. That’s not a bad thing either; plenty of time planning is a good idea.
My Recommendation For You
Regardless how it is booked, I highly recommend Princess Cruises or Holland America Line as top contenders for your Alaska adventure. To give you an idea of just how committed these two lines are to Alaska, they recently joined to form a joint cooperative arrangement of sorts, pretty much locking up the lion’s share of Alaska travelers.
Holland America Line is making interesting changes to its 2015 Alaska cruise season, including moving ms Noordam to the region and positioning ms Statendam exclusively on 14-day itineraries roundtrip from Seattle. From May through September 2015 seven ships in the fleet will sail a total of 124 Alaska voyages that stretch from the Inside Passage to Glacier Bay and beyond.
Six Ships In Alaska
With ms Statendam shifting to longer voyages, Holland America Line is moving ms Zaandam to Gulf of Alaska itineraries. The other ships offering seven- and 14-day Alaska cruises are ms Amsterdam, ms Oosterdam, ms Volendam and ms Westerdam.
14-day Alaska Explorer Cruises Roundtrip from Seattle
Moving to 14-day roundtrip Seattle cruises in 2015 makes Statendam the only ship in Alaska to include highlights such as Icy Strait Point, Homer and Kodiak, Alaska; and scenic cruising in Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm — all in one itinerary. The ship will sail nine departures and also call at Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage and Sitka, Alaska, as well as Victoria, British Columbia, and scenic cruising around Vancouver Island.
Seven-day Alaska Explorer Cruises Roundtrip from Seattle
Starting in May, Westerdam (21 Saturday departures) and Amsterdam (17 Sunday departures) will offer seven-day Alaskan Explorer voyages sailing roundtrip from Seattle. The itinerary features calls at Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, and a scenic cruising experience at Tracy Arm/Twin Sawyer Glaciers or Glacier Bay National Park.
Seven-day Inside Passage Cruises Roundtrip from Vancouver
Three Holland America Line ships will sail roundtrip from Vancouver on a series of seven-day Inside Passage voyages. In addition to the two September departures offered by Oosterdam,Volendam (19 Wednesday departures) and Noordam (20 Saturday departures) sail May to September. During those voyages guests will visit Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, the Inside Passage, Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay.
Seven-Day Glacier Discovery Cruises Between Vancouver and Seward
In 2015, Oosterdam and Zaandam sail the Gulf of Alaska together on cruises between Vancouver and Seward (Anchorage). Departing Sundays from May through September, the itinerary features calls at Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway/Haines, a day at sea in the Gulf of Alaska and scenic cruising through the Inside Passage. Each ship will sail 18 voyages and include a visit to Glacier Bay National Park.
Alaska’s Unique Cuisine Comes to Life on Sip and Savor Cruises
On three Alaska voyages, guests can sail with special chefs and local vintners to savor local fare — from the freshest salmon to local vegetables and fruits — all paired with select wines from Northwest vintners and brews from Juneau’s Alaskan Brewing Co. During a “What’s in the Bag?” competition, the guest chefs will go head to head, preparing chowder from mystery ingredients. Exciting shore excursions with a special Sip and Savor focus will be available to complete the memorable experience.
- Westerdam’s May 2 seven-day departure will feature Jeff Maxfield, executive chef at the acclaimed SkyCity Restaurant, a revolving dining room atop the Space Needle in Seattle, and Drew Johnson, executive chef at Kincaid Grill in Anchorage, Alaska. Wendy Stuckey of Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, located outside of Seattle, will be onboard to impart her knowledge during several presentations.
- On Statendam’s July 13 cruise, Executive Chef Perry Mascitti of Tulalip Resort Casino near Seattle, and Al Levinsohn, chef and owner of Kincaid Grill in Anchorage, will be onboard the 14-day voyage, along with Bob Betz, founder and winemaker at Betz Family Winery.
- The Aug. 16 Alaska cruise on Amsterdam features Kirsten and Mandy Dixon, chefs at both Tutka Bay and Winterlake lodges in Alaska, along with Chef Roy Breiman, culinary director at Cedarbrook Lodge in Seattle. Along with the chefs, Matt Oakley, winemaker at Long Shadows Vintners, will present a special collection of premium wines during the seven-day cruise.
Park Rangers on All Glacier Bay Cruises
On all Glacier Bay sailings, a park ranger and native Huna interpreters board the ships to share information about the area’s natural history and the origins of their tribe and cultural traditions. During embarkation for the Seattle voyages, a ranger from the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park will be available to talk to guests about the Klondike parks and other national parks located throughout the Inside Passage.
Optional Shore Excursions
Holland America Line offers more than 250 optional shore excursions in conjunction with its Alaska cruises. While in port, guests can optimize their Alaskan experience with excursions that involve everything from adventure and wildlife watching to history, art and cuisine. Guests can enjoy active excursions such as sea kayaking, fly or sport fishing, dog sledding and viewing eagles, sea otters and whales. Other exciting excursions feature such attractions as the White Pass Summit Scenic Railway from Skagway, Russian heritage in Sitka, a Mendenhall Glacier by Helicopter & Guided Walk tour in Juneau and crab fishing on the Aleutian Ballad from Discovery Channel’s award-winning TV series “Deadliest Catch.”
Looking Ahead To 2016
Princess Cruises also has a variety of options for cruise travelers looking to visit Alaska. In 2016, even more options will be available as we see in this new video-