First time cruisers needing help deciding on Alaskan cruise

Welcome to Cruise Critic! If you'd like to participate on our forums by joining in the conversation, please Register Now! Be sure to visit our FAMOUS Roll Call forums, where you can meet other cruisers sailing with you and share a tour or shore excursion and SAVE MONEY!

Ask a Cruise Question
Post your general cruise questions here.
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts
BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
All times are GMT -4.
The time now is 02:56 PM.
#1
MO
2 Posts
Joined Jul 2017
Hi everyone...
My wife and I have never been on a cruise - I'm 59, she's - well, let's just say 9 years younger. We live in Missouri, and we've traveled a bit via air and auto, but want to try out the cruise thing.

Our choices would be the Carribbean or Alaska, with Alaska having won out due to our having married in Jamaica and vacationed in a couple of Carribbean destinations. (We WILL go back, though...)

Knowing very little about cruises, I wanted to get some advice, tips, tricks, etc. for planning our trip. There are a few "conditions" we have, but are pretty much open to any advice on all of the following:

1. When is the best time to cruise Alaska?
2. What cruise line and maybe a particular ship recommendation?
3. Best port of call - rememeber, we're flying from Missouri from a small airport. Seattle is my "choice" right now, but I could be persuaded otherwise.
4. What shore excursions? We're active, but getting to the age where long, strenuous hikes are out of the question. I'm a hunter, fisherman, and photographer, if those things help.
5. We want a balcony room with a good view. Best way to get a good one?
6. When should we book?
7. Any other tips, tricks, etc. you might think of...

Thanks in advance.
#2
Georgia
7,546 Posts
Joined Jun 2004
We recently went through the process and the deciding factors were:

Including Glacier Bay or not. Glacier Bay is the most reliable location for the best views of glaciers from large cruise ships. Only certain cruise lines are allowed into Glacier Bay.

Round-trip or one way. For us round-trip won out but one way will give you a bit more of a view of the Northeast part of South East Alaska and will give you the option of adding a land based trip into the interior of Alaska.

From Seattle or from Vancouver. Vancouver won out for us because they cruise up the east side of Vancouver island which is much more picturesque and much more shielded from the open ocean. From Seattle they generally cruise out over the open ocean to the West of Vancouver island.

I hope this helps.

This message may have been entered using voice recognition. Please excuse any typos.
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
Upcoming:
11/11/2017 Carnival Magic (W. Caribbean) [Roll Call]
6/30/2018 ms Nieuw Amsterdam (Alaska) [Roll Call]
"Sour people suffer sour lives."
#3
89 Posts
Joined Feb 2017
Welcome to Cruise Critic, ArkieFlyGuy!

I'll try to answer some of these for you, but be sure to go to the Alaskan forum for more information. You'll find a wealth of information all over this site.

When it comes to cruising, there are some things only you will be able to answer which will dictate the cruise line you choose and the time of year you go. Here are some questions you should answer:

1. Are you and your wife party people who like night life and crowds or do you like a quieter pace and not so much high energy?
2. Do lots of kids bother you or do you like being around large, boisterous families?
3. On a similar note, how do you feel about crowds? Do you not mind them or would you rather travel when it is a little quieter in the season?
4. What is your budget like? You say you want a balcony for Alaska (good call--this is the one cruise I recommend paying for the balcony). Can you only afford to go the mass-market ships (Carnival, RCL, Norweigen) or can you afford more?
5. How long of a cruise are you looking for? Since this is your first, I would recommend only a 7 day. Luckily, Alaska is a port-intensive cruise, and there is generally only 1 day at sea, so if, for some reason, you are finding the cruising experience not to your liking, you'll be spending most of your time in a port somewhere. Of course, you could end up with the cruising addiction that so many of us have and decide this is the very best way to travel. This cruise will give you a good feel overall.

Once you know the answers to these questions, you can start planning. Here are my thoughts on some of your questions:

1. Best time to cruise - As with most things, it depends on what is important to you. If crowds don't bother you, then July and August generally have the best weather. Of course, it is also the busiest time of the season, so the ports will be crowded. First week of September can be a good trade-off as school has started so the crowds have lessened. However, the weather is cooler and there could be more rain in the forecast. Early June is also a good choice (from what I've heard).

2. Cruise Line - This will be dictated by your budget and vacationing style. Carnival, RCL, Norweigen cater to families and are also (generally) the least expensive. (Disney also caters to families, but they are considered a higher level of cruising and are priced as such.) Despite the many arguments you'll read on the board by the fans of each line, they are all pretty comparable. Holland America is known for being a little quieter and tends to cater to a older clientele, but their Alaskan cruises are considered some of the best. Princess and Celebrity are kind of in-between Carnival and HAL. Princess is also known for their Alaskan cruises. If you and your wife are interested in doing not only a cruise but a land tour, HAL and Princess are also both known for their cruisetours.

3. Best embarkation port - Do you want to do round-trip or are you planning on embarking in one city and disembarking in another city? Cruises that disembark from a different city than they started can be less expensive, but the flights can be an issues, particularly from Anchorage. Really research out all of your flight options before deciding on which port to embark on.

4. With regard to shore excursions, there are multitudes to try that appeal to every activity level. Again, your budget will dictate what to choose. If you like fishing, then you probably want to check out some of the salmon fishing tours being offered at different ports. Check both what the cruise line offers as well as price the independent operators. Most times, the independent operators will be less expensive, but sometimes the cruise line will be as good or better. The Alaskan forum is a great place to get more information on excursions.

5. I'll let someone else tell you best way to get a balcony. I've just always chosen my own. One thing to think about is if you or your wife are prone to sea sickness. If so, be sure to get a balcony towards the center of the ship so you don't feel the movement so much.

6. When to book - when do you want to go? If you have the flexibility to leave at the last minute (or in the next month or so), you can get some good deals that way. Otherwise, you can watch for sales or contact a TA to help you out.

I hope you find this helpful and have some fun with this process. Both you and your wife will love Alaska. There is nothing quite like it.
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
#4
MO
2 Posts
Joined Jul 2017
Thanks for the replies so far... Great info!

I'll answer some of the questions, so maybe that will help.

1. Are you and your wife party people who like night life and crowds or do you like a quieter pace and not so much high energy?

We prefer a quieter pace - we don't do crowds very well.

2. Do lots of kids bother you or do you like being around large, boisterous families?


As empty nesters, we've become quite accustom to the quiet life. Some kids are OK, but we would not enjoy the "large, boisterous families..."


3. On a similar note, how do you feel about crowds? Do you not mind them or would you rather travel when it is a little quieter in the season?

Again, we are better when the crowds are light.

4. What is your budget like? You say you want a balcony for Alaska (good call--this is the one cruise I recommend paying for the balcony). Can you only afford to go the mass-market ships (Carnival, RCL, Norweigen) or can you afford more?

I've got a pretty nice budget from the standpoint of travelling every week for work, I have status and points with airlines and hotels. So, I plan on the airfare and hotel before and after the cruise to be $0. More money to go with the amenities on the cruise itself. I'm thinking right now Holland America, but I'm not opposed to a non-mass-market ship... Just don't know what that is exactly.

5. How long of a cruise are you looking for? Since this is your first, I would recommend only a 7 day.


You hit the nail on the head with this one. I'm thinking a 7 day would be perfect.


Oh... bUU... MOST DEFINITELY Glacier Bay is a MUST...


I'll be checking out the Alaska forum for sure!
#5
89 Posts
Joined Feb 2017
HAL might be a very good fit for you. Celebrity could be, too.

You might also want to look at some of the small ship cruises. I've never been on one, but I've heard they are wonderful. Because of their size, they can go places the big cruise ships can't.

Alaska is always a challenge for those of us who want to see it without being crowded out. I'm actually doing a 14 day cruisetour with my sister in September in order to avoid crowds. If you don't mind rainy weather, a repositioning cruise can be wonderful (I did this on my last trip to Alaska--it was wonderful!). It is generally the last week of September or the first week of October. The great part is that, because it is the end of the cruise season, everything they sell for souvenirs is drastically discounted so they don't have to ship it back to the mainland. Tee-shirts that were selling for $20-30 in July will sell for $3-5 at the end of the season.

Because you are a fisherman, though, you might think about early June when the salmon really starts to run. Here is a link to salmon run chart so you can get an idea of what is running:

http://www.alaska.org/advice/best-ti...fish-in-alaska


I suggest contacting some of the independent fishing tour operators to find out the best time to fish that is also less crowded. These tour operators have a good handle on crowd expectations depending on the time of year. You might even get a deal with someone who is looking for clients to take out while business is still slow.

Good idea planning on arriving a day or two ahead of the cruise. Both Seattle and Vancouver are great cities to spend a couple days touring.

Good luck and have fun planning your vacation!
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
#6
Diamond Bar, CA
758 Posts
Joined Sep 2015
AFG, here are some opinions. I'll bet that many will disagree.

The AK cruise season starts in late April and goes through September. Sailing earlier and later in the season will open the possibility of weather that many are trying to avoid--i.e., it can be rainy and chilly. On the plus side, in my view, the number of families traveling with children will be less because most U.S. schools are still in session.

My wife will not cruise in a cabin that doesn't have a balcony. Her preference is to get a cabin as far forward as possible. Many here on Cruise Critic will disagree with that strategy. Common wisdom is that the farther you are from the middle of the ship and the higher you are on the ship, the more you will feel the motion of the waves. So, generally, most here on Cruise Critic will recommend that you get a cabin amidship and closer to the waterline. If either of you are susceptible to motion sickness, you might want to keep that in mind.

You may also hear recommendations that if you are sensitive to the motion, the you should sail the Inside Passage. That may somewhat minimize your expposure to the seas, but it is no guarantee. You are on open water. Storms can happen any time of the year. (The biggest storm I've ever been in while on a cruise was in the Gulf of Alaska on an August southbound, Anchorage to Vancouver, itinerary. It was SO COOL.) Do not be concerned about your safety. We are not talking about storms that are going to cause any severe damage to the ship. However, again, if either of you are sensitive to the motion, you will feel it, regardless of your cabin location. Now, there are all kinds of recommendations on how to mitigate the effects of motion sickness, but my best recommendation is to consult with your doctor prior to your cruise.

Many will obssess about whether you want to get a cabin on the port side or the starboard side. It doesn't matter. You will not see everything, but, regardless of where you are, you will see amazing natural beauty. Many will also point out that on the Scenic Cruising days, you'll want to leave your cabin and go above deck in order to have a 360-degree view. There is, of course, merit to that recommendation, but I find that the side I want to be on is also the side that everybody else wants to be on. I can deal with the crowd for a little while, but it gets old.

I like longer cruises, and I like "Sea Days." My next two AK cruises are a 10-day in September and a 12-day next April. So, I am very agnostic about Alaska itineraries. To me most Alaska towns are, pretty much, the same. That being said I enjoy every one of them. It's just not a deal-breaker for me. I haven't been to Glacier Bay (we will be visiting there, next April), but, believe me, Tracy Arm Fjord is amazing. College Fjord is amazing.

The recommendations that you check out cruises on Holland America and Celebrity are good. I will also add Princess to that list. I think you would be comfortable with the passenger demographic there.

In most of the shore excursions offered by the cruise lines, there is usually an indication of the amount of physical exertion. So, you should get good guidance there. There are various fishing excursions and various wildlife viewing excursions. I think those will hit your sweet spot.

Definitely take your photography equipment. I guarantee you will fill up all your memory cards. If you're a film guy, take lots of film. Also, take binoculars.

Regarding when to book, I would suggest that as soon as you focus on a given cruise, you should go ahead and put down a deposit. The cruises that are farther in the future may come with promotions (e.g., drinks packages, additional on-board credit, specialty dining), but demand for AK cruises is consistently high. So, don't count on future price decreases.

Cruise Critic is an excellent resource for you to learn from the experiences of others, but, since this will be your first cruise, I would strongly suggest that you work with a travel agent. You can take all the knowledge that you gain from Crise Critic, and have him/her validate your conclusions. They can handle the booking procedure, and be there to answer future questions for you.

You will have a great cruise.
#7
New Mexico
4,389 Posts
Joined Jul 2009
Welcome to Cruise Critic.

As a many-time cruiser to Alaska on Holland America, I prefer May because it is a drier month, prices are cheaper, very few kids, lots of baby animals (whales, eagles, deer, harbor seals), less crowded ports in early season, no mosquitoes, less competition to book the popular excursions (dog sledding, helicopter glacier landings, float plane rides), and there is still a bit of a chill in the air at night.

Here is a link to my photo review of the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam that stops at the popular ports and Glacier Bay:

http://www.rogerjett-photography.com...-board-images/

Here is a link to my photographs of Alaska ports:

http://www.rogerjett-photography.com/place/alaska-2/

Some Alaska wildlife photographs:

http://www.rogerjett-photography.com...ldlife/eagles/

http://www.rogerjett-photography.com...ildlife/orcas/

I strongly recommend aft staterooms where you can dine on your veranda out of the wind and have an amazing view.

Good luck in your cruise planning.
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature

Photo Reviews -OR--Menus, On Locations, and More

Oosterdam - Alaska - May 2008 (7 days)
Westerdam - Alaska - May 2009 (7 days)
Westerdam - Caribbean (Eastern & Southern) - Feb 2010 (14 days)
Nieuw Amsterdam - Caribbean (Western) - Nov 2010 (7 days)
Oosterdam - Mexican Riviera - April 2011 (7 days)
Zuiderdam - Alaska - Sep 2011 (B2B 14 days)
Noordam - Caribbean Seafarer - Mar 2012 (11 days)
Nieuw Amsterdam - Caribbean (Western) - Nov 2012 (7 days)
Westerdam - Caribbean (Southern) - Dec 2012 (7 days)
Zuiderdam - Alaska - May 2013 (B2B 14 days)
Zuiderdam - Panama Canal Sunfarer- Nov 2013 (10 days)
Westerdam - Alaska - Jul 2014 (B2B 4 days)
Nieuw Amsterdam - Dec 2014 Caribbean - (East-West 14 days)
Noordam - Pacific Coastal - May 2015 (5 days)
Noordam - Alaska - May 2015 (B2B 14 days)

Oosterdam - Southern Caribbean - Nov 2015
(11 days)
Nieuw Amsterdam - Pacific Coastal - Apr 2016 (5 days)
Nieuw Amsterdam - Alaska Inside Passage - April 2016 (B2B 14 days)
Zuiderdam - Panama Canal - Nov 2016 (10 days)
Noordam - Alaska - Jun 2017 (Northbound includes Denali) (12 days)
Veendam - Caribbean - Dec 2017 (14 days)
Zaandam - Alaska - May 2017 (14 days)

Nieuw Statendam - Caribbean - Jan 2019 (14 days)





#8
106,234 Posts
Joined Jul 2001
Welcome to Cruise Critic.


The weather for the most part is better between the end of June through the 3rd week of August.


Remember to dress in layers. Takes hats and gloves and waterproof shoes. We have jackets with zippered linings.


If you don't get an itinerary with Glacier Bay, then go for Hubbard Glacier. We like Hubbard Glacier better as we have seen more calving there and the ice is bluer.


You definitely want to go on a whale watching excursion. Many good ones out of Juneau.


You will want to book as soon as possible to get a balcony cabin. They are very popular.


Fly in a day early.
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
Cruising is a wonderful way to enjoy retirement!
Stopped counting a few years ago -- have done over 140 cruises.
#9
89 Posts
Joined Feb 2017
Originally posted by XBGuy
AFG, here are some opinions. I'll bet that many will disagree.
Probably so. That's the thing about opinions, like certain parts of our anatomy, everyone has one.

Originally posted by XBGuy
You may also hear recommendations that if you are sensitive to the motion, the you should sail the Inside Passage. That may somewhat minimize your expposure to the seas, but it is no guarantee. You are on open water. Storms can happen any time of the year. (The biggest storm I've ever been in while on a cruise was in the Gulf of Alaska on an August southbound, Anchorage to Vancouver, itinerary. It was SO COOL.) Do not be concerned about your safety. We are not talking about storms that are going to cause any severe damage to the ship. However, again, if either of you are sensitive to the motion, you will feel it, regardless of your cabin location. Now, there are all kinds of recommendations on how to mitigate the effects of motion sickness, but my best recommendation is to consult with your doctor prior to your cruise.
You've given some great advice here. It is really difficult to recommend cabin selections to folks who haven't cruised before because we don't know their motion tolerance and, unless they've been on a boat before, they have no idea what it is like. Personally, I LOVE the motion and am sooo grateful I don't get sea sick, so rough seas just make me sleep really good. However, I sympathize with anyone who suffers from seasickness.

Inside passage might be smoother once you get into it, but you are still in open ocean until you reach it. Depending on the time of year, it can make it seem like you are on an episode of Deadliest Catch (well, maybe not that bad ). The last Alaskan cruise I was on was an end-of-season repositioning cruise. Because the jet stream had already switched, going into the passage was really rough--so much so that half of the crew was sick along with half of the passengers. The dining room was a ghost town for two nights and they couldn't keep the barf bags they placed on the staircase banners stocked.

AFG, I'm not saying all of this to scare you, just to make you aware so you can be prepared. The ships have huge stabilizers on them which really lessen the rolling of the ship, but there is only so much that technology can do. Honestly, you'll be fine as long as you are prepared. As XBGuy suggested, talk with your doctor, but also read some of the threads here that give suggestions on how to counteract seasickness. That way you know what to bring with you, just in case.
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
#10
Tampa, Florida area
11,952 Posts
Joined Nov 2005
If you'd prefer a cruise with fewer kids, I'd suggest going either at the beginning or end of the AK cruise season when most kids are in school.

I've gone twice .... once in early June and once in early September. Both times were Inside Passage round trip itineraries, out of Seattle. Both of them did scenic cruising in Tracy Arm fjord, which has gorgeous views all along the way to and from the glacier that is deep within the fjord. JMO, but the chances of getting far enough up to the fjord to get close to the glacier are probably better at the September end of the season because the water is a bit warmer and the fjord is less full of icebergs that might impede the ship getting deep into the fjord.

Both times the weather was kinda coolish, and jackets and clothes for layering were needed. The one in September had a fair amount of drizzly rain, but we didn't care because we had prepared with waterproof lightweight hooded jackets, and had pretreated our sneakers with a couple of coats of water repellant spray. We also had hats and gloves, both times.

I'm a Princess cruiser, and feel they offer a really good AK experience, with onboard naturalists to speak about AK and it's culture, and to provide narration about some sights during the cruise .... sort of like an Alaska immersion. They also help to watch for wildlife and make announcements when whales and other animals are in sight.

ps. Book as soon as you have decided on the date so you can have the best selection of cabins of your preferred type. (My family members and I have already booked one for September 2018 on the Emerald Princess! We made that booking a couple of months ago.)
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature
Flamomo

Completed cruises: (354 days on Princess ... so far!)
2004 Coral Princess (Panama Canal & W. Caribbean)
2005 Sun Princess (Eastern Caribbean)
2006 Island Princess (Hawai'i)
2007 Sea Princess (Southern Caribbean)
2007 Golden Princess (Mexican Riviera)
2008 Diamond Princess (Hawai'i)
2008 Tahitian Princess (Tahiti & FP)
2009 Star Princess (Alaska Inside Passage)
2010 Golden Princess (Hawai'i)
2011 Emerald Princess (Eastern Caribbean)
2011 Sapphire Princess (Alaska Inside Passage)
2011 Sapphire Princess (28 day r/t LA-HI-Samoa-French Polynesia-LA)
2011 Saphire Princess (Mexican Riviera), done as B2B with the 28 day above
2012 Star Princess (r/t SF-Hawaii)
2012 Ruby Princess (19 day T/A Venice to FLL)
2013 Emerald Princess (Southern Caribbean)
2013 Pacific Princess (12 day Venice to Athens)
2013 Crown Princess (26 day B2B Southampton to the Canaries, and T/A)
2014 Crown Princess Andes & So America (16 days Valpariso to LA)
2014 Carnival Paradise - First ever non-Princess cruise - just a quickie with family!
2014 Caribbean Princess (9 day B2B with friends)
2015 Ruby Princess So America (32 days FLL to Valpariso)
2015 Emerald Princess (T/A Barcelona to FLL)
2016 Caribbean Princess (30 day EB T/A including British Isles itinerary)
2016 Pacific Princess (17 day T/A Rome to FLL)

NEXT UP!:


#11
14,875 Posts
Joined Aug 2013
We have sailed Alaska before on Golden Princess from Seattle roundtrip, We enjoyed the amenities and the services. Princes is more laid back than some ships.
We sailed in the month of May and had layers. We also had some rain in some port excursions so we had to buy a hooded jacket on the ship's boutiques.
We had a nice experience of the Glacier Bay and the onboard Park Ranger gave us important information while cruising the Bay. There was also a Naturalist on board. We also positioned ourselves at the topmost open deck to get a better 360 degree view of the Glacier Bay with our binoculars.
#12
Bellingham WA
547 Posts
Joined May 2013
I am 50 and my DH is 60. We are avid cruisers and from Northwest Washington. I would highly recommend a one way from Vancouver. The inside passage is awesome and the waters are usually calmer. Glacier Bay was awesome, but I thought College Fjord was fascinating. We went in late May and found the weather to be good. A little overcast and cold in Glacier Bay, but nothing that layers could not fix. I did not bring my winter clothing but more of my football watching clothes. A fleece jacket, gloves, hat, scarf. We normally hit the clubs on the ship at night, but found ourselves back in the cabin quite early as our days started very early. We got up early to meet with the naturalist to spot sealife. I would also recommend going north vs south. The landscape in Ketchikan and Juneau were not that different from where we live. In Skagway we took a tour into Yukon territory. On that drive we first saw the changing environments. We eventually made it by land all the way to the Arctic Circle (4 days land on our own). We also normally always have a balcony, but went with an ocean view on this trip and did not feel we missed a thing. The extra funds were spent on some excellent excursions. Whatever you choose (we chose the Star Princess)...enjoy!!
Expand Signature
Collapse Signature






3/12/17 - Regal Princess - Western Carib
12/1/2016 - Crown Princess - LA to Ensenada
9/18/2016 - Ruby Princess - SEA to VAN
9/14/2016 - Island Princess - Van to SF
5/20/2016 -Crown Princess - Coastal
5/7/2016 - Ruby Princess - Coastal
2/7/2016 - Regal Princess - Western Carib
12/15/2015 - Ruby Princess - Coastal
09/13/2015 - Ruby Princess - Coastal
05/13/2015 - Ruby Princess - Coastal
04/29/2015 Ruby Princess - Alaska
05/2014 - HAL - Coastal
05/15/2013 NCL Jewel - Coastal
2011 - Sapphire Princess - Coastal
2010 - Sapphire Princess - Coastal
2009 - Golden Princess - Coastal
2007 - Golden Princess(?) - Coastal
12/2002 - RCL Vision of the Seas - Mexico
1997 - Carnival Ecstacy - Mexico
2/1993 - Carnival - Mexico
4/1984 - Carnival - Mexico
6/1983 - NLC - East Carib
#13
11,203 Posts
Joined Apr 2009
We are just back from a two-week, round trip (from Seattle) cruise to Alaska on HAL. Even during the first week of July there were very few kids on this cruise, which kind of surprised me. There were a lot more 30- and 40- somethings than I've seen on other HAL cruises, which I attribute to the destination.

In contrast to the comments above, this was my first cruise without a balcony and I didn't miss it. During the nicest parts of the day we were off the ship in port, it was too cool between air temperature and wind to be on a balcony in the mornings and evenings. When we were scenic cruising at the glaciers I preferred to be either out on the bow, in the Crow's Nest, or on the uppermost outside decks for better views than I would have had from a personal balcony. I just don't think I would have used it, and the cost difference between a window cabin vs. a balcony one on this cruise was far greater than I've seen on any other cruise.

I'm glad we chose the longer option, it flew by and I'd repeat it again in a heartbeat.
#14
California, SF east bay
770 Posts
Joined Apr 2009
You might want to time your Alaska cruise to coincide with the salmon runs (in SE AK). If you like hunting, fishing, and photography, this should be right up your alley. You would be able to see the migration at some of the stops. I think they happen in August, but strongly suggest you do some research if interested.