Cruising 101: Alaska
Did you know that Alaska is the world’s third most popular cruise destination, after the Caribbean and Europe? While Caribbean cruises are primarily fun-in-the-sun vacations, and European cruises tend towards cultural and historic sites, Alaskan cruises are all about scenery and wildlife: mountains, fjords, glaciers, whales, bears, moose, eagles, etc.
My wife and I just returned from our first visit to Alaska, an 11-night cruisetour that consisted of a 4-night land tour followed by a 7-night cruise aboard Celebrity Millennium. It was fantastic! Highlights were the spectacular views of Denali (Mt. McKinley), helicopter flightseeing with a glacier landing, and a whale-watching excursion where we watched a group of humpback whales “bubble net” feeding. You can see photos posted on our Facebook page.
Our land tour started in Anchorage, where we boarded the Alaska Railroad for a ride in a domed observation car north to Denali National Park. We then worked our way back south over the next few days via deluxe motor coach to Seward, where we boarded the ship for a cruise that ended in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This cruise itinerary—one way southbound from Seward (or Whittier) to Vancouver—is one of the most popular in Alaska. In addition to Celebrity, this itinerary is offered by Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America, and Norwegian cruise lines. Of course, this itinerary is also available in the reverse direction, northbound from Vancouver to Seward (or Whittier).
For southbound cruises, the cruise lines offer optional pre-cruise land tours ranging from 3- to 6-nights. All land tours include visits to Denali National Park; almost all include time aboard the Alaska Railroad. For northbound cruises, the land tours are available as post-cruise options. Combining a land tour with a southbound or northbound cruise—a “cruisetour”—is absolutely the best way to see Alaska. However, if you’re on a tight budget, a 7-night roundtrip cruise from Seattle or Vancouver can be a less expensive option. In addition to the cruise lines mentioned previously, both Carnival and Disney offer 7-night roundtrip cruises. If you want to splurge, Alaskan cruises are also available from some of the deluxe and luxury cruise lines.
The Alaska cruise season runs from May until September, which means it’s already over for 2012. But, it’s not too soon to start planning for 2013! While you may be able to book a Caribbean cruise relatively close to the sailing date, Alaskan cruises tend to sell out early, with most people booking at least six months in advance. If you want to cruise to Alaska in the summer of 2013, you should make your reservations before Christmas, or in early January at the latest; waiting until February or March will be too late. Happy cruising!
Vince Bonfanti is the owner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Alpharetta. Join him at a free Cruising 101 information session held every Tuesday at 7pm and Saturday at 10am. Contact Vince at email@example.com.