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Alaska cruise - need suggestions on cruise line/departure port

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Hi - I am considering an Alaska cruise with my family in the Summer of '19. I have done some initial research and see there are a lot of choices of both cruise lines as well as departure cities. I am a lifetime Carnival cruiser but am in no way impressed with the one and only ship they have running next Summer, the Carnival Legend. I have sailed on that ship before about 10 years ago.

 

What I am really looking for is a great Alaskan vacation to take in all of the different cities, cultures and things to do, as well as maybe take in some of BC/Vancouver during our journey. I am ultimately trying to figure out if a cruise is the best way to see the most over a 7-10 day period (with 1-2 days on each end to explore after a 7 day cruise), or if I would be better off just flying somewhere and doing my own thing. I want to see Alaska but not sure with the stops Carnival has in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan will be true Alaska or if those are just the touristy, cruise ship stops.

 

Caveat: I live in FL and know next to nothing about the NW US and BC, so anything you can share would be more than I already know!

 

Thanks in advance!

 

TF

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You're going to have to choose between a round-trip and a one-way cruise. The round trips from Seattle or Vancouver are all for seven nights and they'll only go as far as the southeast Alaska "panhandle" via the Inside Passage for all or part of the trip. The ports you mention - typically Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, and, depending on the cruise line, sometimes other ports like Icy Strait Point (near the village of Hoonah) or occasionally Haines or Sitka - will usually have several ships in port the same day you are. These towns are small, but there are plenty of options to get away from the "cruise tourist" shops and typical dockside crud you see. They are definitely "true" Alaska - Ketchikan is a major fishing port, Juneau is the state capital full of bureaucrats, and Skagway is a historic village with a very small population that is basically dependent on tourism. But even in Skagway you can rent a vehicle and drive up into the Yukon and be by yourselves in a tiny subarctic desert or a gold rush-era ghost town, in a matter of an hour or two.

 

The one-way cruises, Vancouver to Seward or Whittier (or vice-versa) are also for a week and stop at the same ports. Instead of turning around after Skagway, however, they continue across the Gulf of Alaska to their ports in southcentral Alaska - Whittier for Princess, Seward for the others.

 

With 10 days or so, the problem you'd face with a one-way cruise is that 3 days isn't enough to see much once you're in Southcentral Alaska. Some of the main tourist destinations, such as Denali, require at least three days to visit, owing to their distance from the cruise ports (one to get there, one to visit, and one to get back.) If you can extend your trip to 14 days, then you'd have enough time on land to visit, say, Denali, and also to visit, say, Kenai Fjords National Park, on a day cruise from Seward. Obviously a cruise + land trip is going to cost a lot more than a round trip cruise, as you'll have to arrange lodging, food and transportation on your own.

 

With limited time, say under 14 days, I'd recommend either a fly-drive trip to and from Anchorage, or a round trip cruise from Vancouver coupled with some time in the Vancouver (or Seattle) area before or after the cruise. (I'd recommend the round trip cruises from Vancouver rather than Seattle as the Vancouver boats stay to the east of Vancouver Island on sheltered water while the Seattle boats travel on open ocean to the west of Vancouver Island, with a greater chance of rough seas and limited scenery.)

 

Both Vancouver and Seattle (three hours apart by rental car, bus or train) have amazing scenery and activities very close by. You could drive up the amazing Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics, where in the summer there are numerous activities in some of the best mountain scenery you're going to find anywhere. Or in Seattle you can visit Mount Rainier National Park, or explore some of the islands in Puget Sound... many options for independent touring.

 

So the first task is to decide how long you have and whether you're up for managing your own itinerary on a land-tour plan, or whether you'd rather limit yourselves to an easy week on a round trip cruise, preceded or followed by some independent touring.

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Wow! Thanks a lot. That's a lot of information. I will have to think about what all we want to do, and like you said, how much we want to take it easy and let the cruise line do vs doing it ourselves. I'll talk it over with the missus :)

All of those sound great, especially getting away from the touristy Alaska.

 

Thanks again

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I can't really offer you much advice about a do it yourself Alaska trip, but I have done a do it yourself Yukon trip (right next door to Alaska, but in Canada), and also a 7-day round trip Alaska cruise from Vancouver. My vote is for the do it yourself land trip. While we did enjoy the 3 ports and also Glacier Bay on our cruise, I felt that we only really grazed what this beautiful region has to offer. Yet, when we travelled through the Yukon with a truck and an 18-foot RV for 10 days, we really SAW a lot more. We were able to stop where we wanted, for as long as we wanted, without worrying about missing a ship. We could linger or hurry at will. While being on a cruise ship is very convenient (unpack once and let them take you places and feed you), we only got off the ship 3 times and were limited by time according to the ship itinerary. There were many sea days and the weather (early May) was too cool to sit outside. Not being big drinkers or gamblers, we found the sea days kind of boring, to be honest. And, some of the best scenery (inside strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC) was cruised through at night when we were sleeping! So disappointing.

 

Don't get me wrong--the coast is beautiful and the ports are lovely (albeit touristy). But, if you really want a sense of the north, nothing can beat a do it yourself trip.

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You’ve been given great advice so far. One thing I would add is to do some research on excursions available in each port. Look at those offered by both the cruise lines and private vendors. Find things that are of interest to you all and then find an itinerary that spends the most time in those ports. The itinerary and port times are more important in Alaska than the specific ship or cruise line for most people.

 

One other thing - if you have primarily cruised the Caribbean, be prepared for “sticker shock” on the prices of the excursions and, to some extent, the cost of the cruise itself. Airfare from FL will also add to the cost. It is definitely not an inexpensive trip, but well worth it.

 

 

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When we went to add the pre cruise land tour to our 7 day southbound from Seward on Radiance of the Seas, it added ~$4k to the cost. I'm not a great organizer but I am a great "boy scout" (always be prepared). Thankfully my Joy is! After looking over the things that would happen in the RCI pre cruise land tour, we started exploring what we could do for the $4k. Turns out, we could do higher quality excursions, much nicer accommodations, and have our own rent car. Remember that all have to have added to them air fare and meals (big $$$ in Alaska). We dropped the RCI pre cruise and now have a super DIY planned instead.

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We just returned from a 7 day Northbound on Radiance of the Sea with Royal Caribbean. I loved this ship, this itinerary and the whole vacation. We started in Vancouver, and I do wish we had planned for an extra day here. Vancouver is a very cool city, super clean, very safe, and 1 day was not enough. Our ports were Ketchikan, Icy Strait, Juneau and Skagway, which I think is pretty standard on the one way Alaska itineraries. The only thing I would've changed about the whole trip was an extra day in Vancouver and just buying a house in alaska and not coming home...just kidding. Kind of :P

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I’ve only taken one cruise to Alaska (a roundtrip from Seattle in Holland America). It was amazing.

 

I grew up in the Caribbean and only lived in east coast states. Our Alaska itinerary may have not been the most comprehensive or in-depth but it was beyond amazing for this Alaska newbie. All the sights were new to me and I don’t regret my decision to take an easy roundtrip from Seattle for our first cruise in that region.

 

I did a year’s worth of research before taking this cruise and did most activities on our own without shore excursions. It was great to steer clear of the crowds and discover things at my pace.

 

I do look forward to going back to Alaska some day and going more in-depth. But I do feel that no matter what you choose for your first Alaska cruise, it will be a wonderful experience.

 

 

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My family of three took a cruise to Alaska in 2012. We choose a round trip from Seattle on Princess. At the time, I wanted to make sure my itinerary included Glacier Bay. The other stops were Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC.

 

I felt like we got a pretty good experience of Alaska, especially during an excursion in Skagway. We took the White Pass Scenic Railway up (sit on the left side for scenery) and the bus down, which they called the Yukon Expedition. The other excursions were not as expensive, but were very enjoyable.

 

We loved this trip so much the we are returning to Alaska next year. This time we choose Holland round-trip out of Seattle. The itinerary is very similar except Skagway is swapped for Sitka. I did consider round trip from Vancouver and one-way cruise north or south bound. Ultimately, the Seattle round trip was the one that fit into our air fare budget. Also, Holland charges one of the lowest rates for the third person in a cabin.

 

Have fun planning your trip. It will be great!

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As you probably already realize, a dozen days including a 7 day cruise isn't going to get you much more than an hors d'oeuvre taste of Alaska. But that is a good start. I'm trying to determine from your question what sort of traveler you might be and what type of adventure you are most interested in. I have a hunch you would prefer to not do just a "round robin" cruise relegated only to Southeast Alaska (65% of cruisers only see Southeast Alaska) but cross the Gulf of Alaska and take in a bit of South Central Alaska or even some more further north like Fairbanks in Central Alaska.

On one hand I get the impression you might prefer typical cruises which offer good port excursions and then a catered cruise-tour, post or pre-cruise. But then, I notice you shy away from ports where a lot of tourist activity and visitor curio shops abound. In that case you might be the do it on your own type, like renting a car. Vehicle driving is very easy in Alaska since our roads aren't crowded, with the possible exception of Anchorage during rush hours. If you go it alone, get a copy of "The Milepost". This publication might appear to be for vehicles only but that is not correct, it gives a lot of info for Alaska ports as well. Even if you don't do much highway stuff or other travel by yourself, The Milepost will be a lot of fun to peruse as you plan your Alaska visit.

I'm not certain how much cost is a factor here for you, but I would take a look at something like a Princess "Cruise Tour" with emphasis on the Connoisseur tours similar to the Princess "Connoisseur Escorted-Tour PA5" or "Connoisseur Escorted-Tour QB6". Or even the Princess non escorted "Off The Beaten Path - Tour MA6"-------------Welcome to Alaska.

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Hi - I am considering an Alaska cruise with my family in the Summer of '19. I have done some initial research and see there are a lot of choices of both cruise lines as well as departure cities. I am a lifetime Carnival cruiser but am in no way impressed with the one and only ship they have running next Summer, the Carnival Legend. I have sailed on that ship before about 10 years ago.

 

What I am really looking for is a great Alaskan vacation to take in all of the different cities, cultures and things to do, as well as maybe take in some of BC/Vancouver during our journey. I am ultimately trying to figure out if a cruise is the best way to see the most over a 7-10 day period (with 1-2 days on each end to explore after a 7 day cruise), or if I would be better off just flying somewhere and doing my own thing. I want to see Alaska but not sure with the stops Carnival has in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan will be true Alaska or if those are just the touristy, cruise ship stops.

 

Caveat: I live in FL and know next to nothing about the NW US and BC, so anything you can share would be more than I already know!

 

Thanks in advance!

 

TF

I suggest HAL out of Anchorage .

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Thanks everyone. ALL of the information is fantastic and very helpful. More info in these posts than I could ever gather on my own. So thanks for taking the time to help me out. I think whatever we do in Alaska will be fun and I will certainly make good use of your tips and suggestions! :)

 

Thanks,

TF

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I’m in the same boat...will be traveling from Philadelphia and probably only do this once since Europe is definitely after Alaska. Would love to see both Seattle and Vancouver. They both look like wonderful cities, everyone has provided valuable information.

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My favorite itinerary is a one-way from Seward to Vancouver. I start with an Alaska Railroad trip from Anchorage to Seward arriving in time for a 6-8 hour Resurrection Bay cruise before boarding the ship. I also like to make sure the itinerary includes Icy Strait Point (Hoonah). Best whale watching I've experienced in Alaska. Finally, I like the last morning coming into Vancouver under the Lion's Gate Bridge. I'm sort of indifferent to the other ports along the way.

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