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ESSENTIAL THINGS TO KNOW

ABOUT CRUISING IN ALASKA

BY JON FLETCHER

OF CRUISE HOLIDAYS UK

 

The beautiful wilderness of Alaska is fast becoming one of the most popular and sought after cruise destinations.  With a good choice of cruise lines now catering for the destination.  So it is important that if you are thinking of booking an Alaska Cruise you have the essential information about what to expect from your holiday.  In this article I hope I will provide you much of the essential information that you will need.

 

The first thing to know is that Alaska has a pretty well defined cruise season lasting from Early May through to Late September.  The most budget friendly times to sail are during May and during September.  But depending on your reasons for wanting to visit there are some key times you should consider going.  For example if you want to witness the Glaciers and the ice breaking away you might like to consider booking for a cruise at the early or late part of the season.  However the glacier activity is good throughout the season.  If you are wanting to see the wildlife and birdlife then June, July or August are your perfect times.  If you want to see the Northern Lights, you might be lucky to catch them at the end of September, but like most natural phenomena it cannot be guaranteed.  Many people go to Alaska to see and experience the Midnight Sun, the best time to see this is towards the end of June.

 

 

 

Most Alaska Cruises start from either Vancouver or Seattle though one or two do even start from as far south as San Francisco, because of the distance you will be flying I would recommend having a few nights pre-cruise stay to relax and recover from any jet lag so you can enjoy your time on your Alaska Cruise to its fullest.  It will also give you time to explore these fabulous cities too.

 

What should you pack / wear?  In addition to the usual things you would wear or pack for a normal warm weather cruise for wear around the ship, it is wise when out on deck to wear plenty of layers if it is cold.  For example it is worth investing in thermal under wear for wear under a tee shirt then a warm shirt and jumper.  It is well worth investing in a warm quilted jacket or coat with a hood.  It is also essential to have a hat and gloves and warm socks.  If you are likely to be going ashore on glacier or wilderness excursions I would also recommend thick socks and stout shoes or walking boots rather than trainers or normal shoes.  it is better to be comfortable and safe.  Some of the other things that are essential to pack are your camera, or tablet and a good pair of binoculars.

 

People often have the impression that Alaska Cruise are the sole domain of Adults, but an Alaska cruise can be great for families to with cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line offering a great option for families to travel together.  With more and more children and young people being interested in the environment and conservation there is certainly a lot to engage them.  Indeed many families view an Alaska cruise as a soft or easy introduction to adventure.  One of the great things about the family orientated cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise lines and Royal Caribbean is that they have lots of activities for young people and brilliant youth programmes that mean adults can do their own thing, knowing the younger members of the family are being looked after and catered for.

 

Cruise Lines offer two main Alaska Itineraries, these tend to be those who focus on the Inside Passage and those that focus on the Alaska Gulf route.  The Inside Passage will normally be a round trip cruise and focus on ports like Juneau, the Alaskan state capital.  Juneau is unusual as it is the only state capital in the USA to only be accessible by boat or plane.  It has a small town feel compared to other state capitals in the USA.  You will also be likely to visit Skagway which is the gateway to the Klondike, that was made famous during the Goldrush era and Ketchikan, known as the Salmon Capital of the World and very popular with fishermen.  On the other hand the Alaskan Gulf cruises tend to be one way voyages, and are usually Northbound or Southbound so entail flying into one port and out of another, so may be a little more expensive.  However these cruises tend to focus on Glacier Bay.  Which is well worth seeing.  To preserve the Glaciers and the wild life of the bay there is a 2 ships a day restriction on visiting this highlight. 

 

There is much debate as what are the best cabins to book.  The reality is it very much depends on what you want to experience.  Inside cabins are like on most cruises the cheapest option and if you intend to spend most of your time out of the cabin or on deck a great option.  Inside cabins are also a good option if you are going on a Midnight sun cruise in June, particularly as the light in ocean view and balcony cabins may disturb the sleep of some people.  However if you want the option of not missing out on the fabulous scenery whilst in your cabin, but not want to sit out or have the expense of a balcony cabin you might like to consider an ocean view cabin.  Finally if you want to watch the stunning scenery from the privacy of your own cabin and be with your own thoughts in the wilderness then a balcony cabin or suite is your best option.  There is a lot of debate as to whether starboard or portside cabins offer the best view.  However the consensus seems to be that on an Inside Passage Voyage there is not much difference between the Port and Starboard sides as there are great views of the islands on both sides and where you do visit a glacier your captain will try and spin the ship around so everyone will get a great view.  On a Alaska Gulf Voyage it is generally though that if you are Northbound that the starboard side offers the best views and on Southbound voyages that the Portside offers the best views.

 

 

One of the beauties of cruising in Alaska is that there is so much to do and see.  Whether you want to watch the world go by from the deck of your ship or go ashore and either enjoy some soft adventure activities or experience the Alaskan culture and meet the locals.  on all the cruises there are lots of great shore excursions to choose from.  Some of the most popular excursions and activities on shore can range from the really adventurous one like helicopter rides, dog sledding and zip wire experiences which can be quite expensive to cultural and experience based excursions like panning for gold or the ever popular lumber jack experience, believe it or not the guys doing the lumberjack experience really are lumberjacks demonstrating real skills they use everyday in a fun way.  If you are a wild life lover then there are also some fabulous opportunities to watch eagles, bears and even whales on organised trips.  But do remember you may not always be lucky to see what you expect to see as they are wild.  But they are a great way to see the landscape up close.  One thing is for sure the excursions are always popular and sell out quickly so I advise people to book them early before you sail.  as you cannot always guarantee they will still be available on board.

 

So who sails to Alaska?  Many of the major cruise lines have at least one ship in the Alaska region.  However some are more specialist than others.  For example Holland America Line are one of the most experience and regular visitors to Alaska's Glacier Bay.  Princess Cruises do a great selection of Alaska Cruises and are known for their Cruise Tours which combine an Alaskan Cruise with a land tour and have their own lodges in Denali.  For families I would recommend Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean or Carnival who all sail in Alaska and have great youth programmes.  If you are looking for a touch of luxury then I would recommend Celebrity, Azamara or Cunard.  But if you really want to push the boa out, excuse the pun then I would recommend the ultra luxury of the premium lines like Regent Seven Sea and Seabourn.  The advantage of the Premium Lines is that they tend to include some fabulous excursions and experiences.

 

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