Posted July 17th, 2017, 12:16 PM
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.