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Tips To/From A First-Timer


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We returned last week from Celebrity's cruisetour #12 which culminated in a 7-night Southbound cruise on the Summit. I am working on a review. In the meantime, I wanted to post a few tips for those who are going to Alaska for the first time:


1) Read James Michener's Alaska before you go. Better start a few months before your trip because it is very long (unless you have lots of free time). I found the book fascinating, and my husband and I were both impressed by the amount of knowledge I picked up about Alaska and was able to impart. I was able to explain about the gold rush, panning for placer gold, salmon spawning, hunting animals, the Native corporations, etc. If you don't want to tackle Michner, I would definitely read or watch something to get a flavor of Alaska -- it's just so different from anything most of us are familiar with. And although you get a lot of info from tours, it's nice to have your own base of knowledge.


2) I recommend doing the Southbound cruise, which means doing any land tours first. Of course, take that recommendation with the caveat that I have never done Northbound. But we were very glad we did the land tour first for a few reasons. First, on the land part, we were always on the go, and it was nice to settle down on the cruise. I think it would have been counter-intuitive to do it the other way around. Second, the cruise was so much nicer than the land part, we really enjoyed the luxury after the more casual land trip. Third, we made friends with the people on our cruisetour and very much enjoyed running into them on the ship. It seemed like everywhere we went, we saw someone we knew and were able to sit down and chat. It made it very nice and familiar.


3) Do the excursions. Take Budget Queen's advice -- don't go out to dinner for a month before your trip if you have to, but do the excursions. We found that the excursions were key to getting out and seeing things. Although I enjoyed each of the ports and shopping, etc., they were all very small and could easily be seen in a couple of hours. But the excursions were where we truly saw things -- glaciers, dog-sledding, whales, etc. I also think you should do at least one plane or helicopter trip -- Michener says you haven't seen Alaska unless you've seen it from the air, and I think that's probably true. Even stuff that sounds cheesy can be fun -- we loved Cabin Nite Dinner Theater (in Denali) and were so glad we did it -- also met people who we ended up seeing on our cruise.


4) Take Budget Queen's advice (noticing a trend here??) and don't book everything through the ship. We did book some things through the ship and that worked out fine, but the tours we booked independently were wonderful. As an example, we did whale-watching in Juneau with Captain Larry and we did it in Icy Straight Point through the ship. Juneau was so much better -- it was a much smaller boat, so he had more freedom to maneuver. We were so much closer to the whales. In ISP we were in a huge boat, and unless you went up top, you were stuck inside. (Capt. Larry's had windows that opened all the way so even if you were inside sitting down, you had completely unobstructed views). We weren't able to get as close to the whales in ISP. (One note here -- I did enjoy ISP whale-watching immensely because Koo Hook was our naturalist. It was more of an opportunity to learn about Native Tlingit culture than it was to whale-watch).


5) Take more film/memory than you think you could ever possibly use. I thought I was a relatively conservative photographer, but I took almost 1300 pictures, which shocked me. There were just so many things to photograph. And when doing something like whale-watching, you just want to keep snapping hoping that you will get an amazing shot. Don't get in the situation like some people were in where you are missing pictures because you are busy trying to delete unwanted pictures you took earlier -- it's just not worth it. Also, I recommend learning how to use your camera before you go. Things like zoom are easy enough, but you also need to know how to use things like burst mode, etc.


6) Sit on the left side of the bus in Denali. Sit on the left side of the White Pass train. We thought these were pretty key. Not nearly as important, sit on the right side of the bus from Anchorage to Seward.


That's my two cents worth (and that is probably all it's worth). But I'm happy to answer any questions about my experience and our cruisetour. It was an amazing experience, and I am so glad we went. I am also so glad I got such great advice from this board before I went. I can't tell you how many times I ended up doing the "right" thing because I learned about it here. But obviously these are all only my opinion, and I'm sure others can disagree with almost every point I have made.


Have fun!


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We plan to go to Denali next year because we didn't have time and for other reasons on our roundtrip from Seattle May 29. We loved it but want to see more of Alaska. It is beyond beautiful. My review is on the Holland board here on CC.


We bought a new camera with a large memory card but we did not even fill half of it. We took sample pictures of the ports and ships (at least one of us or both are in every picture except for the whale pictures).


My take on picture taking--less time looking through a lense or screen and more time just taking everything in. There are excellent photos on the CC boards of all the scenery and the only thing missing in them is us. So, I put us in a few so we could look "at us" in and with the scenery. We got some fantastic pictures, too; enough for us to remember and share with friends and family before they get bored. I think they are tired of hearing about Alaska because we somehow bring that up everytime we talk about anything including the weather.:D

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