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Our First ALASKA Cruise! Advice? - CHICAGOPAUL

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We cruised Alaska in September and were blessed with clear skies and sunny weather. In the sun you felt quite warm but in the shade it was cold! The difference in temperature from one side of the street to the other was significant.

 

We did have layers of warm clothes and blankets but even so we didn’t get the best out of our balcony.....Skip to our next colder climate cruise in Norway and I took a hot water bottle with me! The butler found me a kettle and I was soon very comfortable on my sunbed in the North Sea! The kettle was great for afternoon tea too....

 

Our favourite Alaskan trip was a seaplane glacier tour....quite magical.

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Note that the Butchart Gardens close at 5pm in May. Check your itinerary for your time arriving Victoria. It is not an option for us as our ship (Solstice) arrive there around 5pm.

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Hi Paul, I’ve enjoyed your trip reports in the past so I thought that I would share some tips from our first Alaska cruise out of Vancouver last May, albeit on Holland America. We spent three nights prior at the Sylvia Hotel on English Harbor. While an older hotel, it abutts Stanley Park which we spent much time visiting. We walked most everywhere and being from Boston we’re used to it, YMMV, we loved the city. We would go back in a heartbeat, I second the recommendation to go a couple days early. 

 

Our weather was pretty good but definitely pack in layers, don’t forget hat and gloves and shorts!

 

 In Ketchikan we visited Dolly’s House and did an excursion to Totem Bight which was very interesting. In Juneau we rented a car and drove to Mendenhall Glacier and the Shrine of St. Therese Lisieux where we saw whales breaching. 

 

The remaining ports I can’t help you with as we didn’t visit them. All I can add is that Alaska is breathtaking and I hope that you enjoy. We can’t wait to return!

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Here are my suggestions:

 

1.  Butchart Gardens were just amazing.

2.  Juneau whale watching  was over-rated.  Weather can be very rainy in Juneau.

3.  We had a great time on Island Wings Seaplane Tours in Ketchikan.  We landed on a beautiful, quiet lake before returning..

4.  Consider a trip so you can walk  on a glacier.  We will do so next time.

5.  We saw little wildlife on our cruise.  I guess the sign  "Bear Left" was true...😀

 

Have a great trip!

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Posted (edited)

The Pan Pacific as a pre-cruise hotel is a must, as someone else mentioned. Allow at least 2-3 days pre-cruise.  The float plane is a must do also.

 

I'm already looking forward to your blog! 

Edited by ecslady

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Shoot, when you mentioned a last minute cruise to Alaska, I thought you might have booked the one I'm on, but I'm on one out of Seattle.  This will be my fourth cruise to Alaska.  Two of the previous ones have been in May and we had fabulous weather, so be sure to bring some clothes for warm weather.  I think it was 80 when we were in Juneau the last time.  Can't help you much with ship excursions, I've only ever taken one--the bus trip up to the Yukon which parallels the train trip but allows you to stop occasionally.  We were in a small van-type bus.  Flight seeing with Michelle at Island Wings is an absolute must, in my view.  That was definitely the highlight.  You can catch a local bus out to Mendenhall Glacier right from the dock, no need to book a tour.  Have a ball!

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I also highly recommend the Pan Pacific - so easy to get to the terminal downstairs and the hotel can deliver your luggage to the ship. May can be cold and rainy (actually anytime in Alaska can be rainy). May is pretty early for whale watching - you won’t see many whales as they are just migrating back at that time of years. Two of the best Celebrity excursions we have been on are the helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier and the float plane to the Misty Fjords. It’s a good idea to check how many ships will be docked at Canada Place - a three ship day can lead to very long wait times. 

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Wow! Thank you everyone for all the responses. I've been skimming them throughout the day but will take time this weekend to carefully read them all. All of you did mention how much you enjoyed Vancouver so we did finalize our plans there. We've decided to fly in two days before the cruise and stay one day after. We ended up using points to book the Shangri La (only 25k points per night including tax) for the two days before the cruise and the Hyatt for only 12k points for the day after the cruise. We would have booked Hyatt for all given the crazy point redemption but they're fully booked that first weekend. Thank you for all the tips and pointers regarding Vancouver, we definitely look forward to the visit.

 

For airfare we went through Celebrity and booked Air Canada non-stop from Chicago to Vancouver. It's on their CRJ 900 but it will have to do! Tried booking my seats this evening. Air Canada charged by credit card but said there was an error. So it looks like I'll have to call them and deal with it tomorrow, fun fun!

 

In addition to taking into account all of your recommendations above for the cruise I'll also visit the Alaska boards like many of you mentioned and take some notes from there as well. Also thank you for the packing tips. We have plenty of winter clothes but not too much "outdoorsy" type stuff, so I think a trip to REI will be in order at least for some good hiking shoes and a proper rain coat with hood too. If it does get really cold at least I'll be able to wear my Canada Goose jacket in Canada!

 

Seriously thank you all for your advice but even more so for your enthusiastic replies. It has us even more excited for the trip and reinforces the decision we made to book this cruise.

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We love the Alaska cruises, with practically non-stop scenery from beginning to end.

As others have mentioned, Vancouver is a great city and worth at least a few days.

There are lots of good hotels and all sorts of restaurants in the downtown area within a few blocks of the cruise port, in various price ranges. 

Even those on a tight budget can easily check out the views from the Pan Pacific hotel and the cruise port area without spending the big bucks to book a room there.

 

I would suggest checking with your ship's naturalist each day to find out when the ship will be cruising through the best areas for whale watching.  Then make it a point to be out on deck, up at the front of the ship, with your binoculars at those times.  The naturalist will almost always be out there at those times as well.

 

We found it worthwhile to rent a car in Juneau so we could drive around at our own pace, spending as much time as we wanted at each location, without being restricted to bus or tour schedules.   Also, you can plan out your route for the day and make the most efficient use of your time in getting from one point to the next without needing to backtrack.

 

I also strongly second the recommendation to look through the Alaska forum at

    Alaska Cruises Q&A:

 

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Paul, I’m excited for you both. I have sailed  to Alaska at least  10times. Sad the ship is nog  stopping in Skagway, the White Pass Railroad is a great excursion.Also a stop at the Red Onion saloon would be a must.

Shangri La is a very Nice hotel, but I am partial  to the Pan Pacific because of its Location. Ingetrokken the points thing. A couple of places to see in Vancouver are the Capalano suspension bridge And Gross Mountain. Both pretty Munch on the same Road in North Vancouver. Best to go earlier in the day. More crowded in the afternoon.

English Bay, Stanley Park and Davie street are noto to be missed either.

one last thing if you love King Crab you MUST go to Tracy’s Crab shack in Juneau, food is great.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g31020-d665301-Reviews-Tracy_s_King_Crab_Shack-Juneau_Alaska.html

Looking forward to your review.

Norma

9A766217-1A77-4E74-B283-572581D8A74E.jpeg

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16 hours ago, JoePDX said:

As others have noted, clothing plans should account for layers.   And a good rain coat.   Fleece vests or jackets too.   They are nice and lightweight and easy to stuff into a napsack when it's gets warmer.   Good pair of all terrain shoes, like the Merrell  Moab 2.

 

 

 

Agree on all of the above.  We've done several Alaska cruises.  Occasionally we've had days in port when we are down to shirt sleeves, but we've also had cold, wet weather even in June/July.  If you do excursions up to a glacier or a boat (whale watching for instance) or spend time on deck while the ship is moving you'll want to dress even warmer than you think you'll need to.  Likely you'll be glad you did and if not, you can remove layers as needed.  An all-weather or rain jacket is key, as are shoes or boots that can get wet.  Fleece layers are great and don't forget gloves/mittens and a hat.

 

16 hours ago, downsmead said:

We did the helicopter ride and dog sledding which was amazing and well worth the cost.

 

Just be advised that if you book this, there is often fog up on the glaciers and if so the helicopters cannot fly.  We've had it booked twice and it was canceled both times.  Just bad luck that it was canceled on us twice but it happens so just be aware that it's a possibility.

 

15 hours ago, deultgen said:

I suggest each of you bring a good pair of Binoculars

 

Definitely!  Scan the tree line with binoculars and you'll likely see tons of bald eagles that you can't see with the naked eye.

 

13 hours ago, vacation1996 said:

NO Uber in Vancouver..... Taxi is flat rate from airport on a grid system or Skytrain.

 

 

We used Uber in Vancouver last June.  ???

 

OP:  as far as excursions whale watching is popular, but can be hit or miss.   I'd spend an extra day in Vancouver and go to Butchart Gardens in Victoria.   It is stunning!   In Juneau we did the helicopter ride up to Mendenhall Glacier and it was great.  Very interesting info from our guide, and those who wanted to (I did!) were able to get down on the ice and drink from a glacial stream. Very fun experience overall!

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I always tell people at Alaska Ports is to push thru the first couple of blocks of the new builds and get to real Alaska.  With that being said when you dock in ISP skip the zipline and all of that.  Catch the shuttle into Hoonah.  Go to https://www.mistybaylodge.com/?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tripadvisor  we did a great private Bear Hunt thru them with just the two of us and a native Alaska in a van.  Hunt is that going out and locating the bears not just going to some lookout point and seeing them from a distance.

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Oh WOW! I'm so excited that there will be a ChicagoPaul ALASKA report!! My family went to Alaska for the first time last June/July...we loved it, as expected...I'm trying to figure out when we can go back in the midst of a lot of change. I'm so happy that you are going and I can virtually go along too!

 

I agree with so much of what has been said already...and will refrain from being repetitive...trying to add to the conversation...

 

I DON'T recommend that you get new hiking boots for your cruise unless you have time to break them in. Many have just gotten a waterproof treatment for their already broken in walking shoes...sneakers...gym shoes...street sneakers. The fact is that unless you are planning on going on a significant hiking trail...you will not need hiking boots. Alaska involves more walking than a Caribbean vacation but less than Europe...you want happy feet.

 

You can walk A LOT in Vancouver though. Especially if you decide to go to Stanley Park. Or even all around downtown, which is extremely walkable. 

 

The only outdoorsy type clothing that would be helpful are things like quick dry clothing...especially pants...for the possibility of rain. You will want to have a water PROOF outer layer. Most recommendations for the layering aspect of Alaska follow 1. Base layer. Close to the skin, depending on how cold it is, this can be a layer that you plan to never reveal (something with thermal qualities) or can simply be something like a tee shirt. 2. Warmth layer. Add something like fleece, Smartwool, or whatever your preference is to put over your base layer to help keep you warm. 3. Protective layer. The rain coat. Something that you may or may not want to wear all the time. Could be something that you can put in a stuff sack and/or a day pack.

 

Alaska weather is very changeable. You can have sunshine, rain, wind, fog, etc...all within a matter of hours. The idea is that, for instance, you may arrive in Juneau and the weather will be whatever it is at the docks. You go on a helicopter ride to the glacier and on the glacier the weather is completely different. Back at the docks, the weather has changed again. You walk around...take the tram maybe...the sun comes out and the walking makes you warm. So you are adding and subtracting layers throughout the day.

 

So a good daypack is essential.

 

I've never done a ship excursion, so I can't speak to any directly. I always have toured independently, but I've never had enough OBC to make doing a ship excursion in my best interest. That said, if you can get in the air...do that. We did a helicopter glacier landing and it was a never to be forgotten experience. If you haven't been in a helicopter, I hadn't before...I read a prop jet tour pilot's take on helicopter tours. He went with a friend pilot because he was trying to understand why helicopter tours were growing in popularity over plane tours. Basically, the advantage of the helicopter is the ability to hover. And the huge windows. The person riding shot gun can really get an amazing view in a helicopter. But getting up in the air, however you can, would be the priority for me with OBC.

 

I like your itinerary. Icy Strait Point, ISP, is a very underdeveloped port. The port itself has been built by a Tlingit cooperative corporation to take advantage of the growing tourism industry in Alaska to overcome the failing canning industry and other more traditional Alaska industries. They've been up a very clean, very Alaska themed port area...which is an isolated compound type, almost summer camp feeling area that is surrounded by nature and very little other signs of humanity. It's gorgeous. As someone mentioned, you can visit the town of Hoonah, which is small town Alaska. They typically have a graduating high school class of single digit numbers. I think ISP is gorgeous. With only one dock, there should only be your ship there. Maybe one of the smaller vessels (like a Seaborne) will be tendered, but you will not be among a cruise ship passenger stampede in ISP.

 

https://icystraitpoint.com

 

Juneau is more of a typical big city. Except that it is pretty small by the lower 48 standards. But for a tourist, you visit it like you visit a big city. The immediate port area is walkable. Downtown is right there, but you will need to figure out transportation to get to most of the sights. If you are interested in getting on a small boat excursion, and if you have the time in port, there is an excursion that goes to Tracy Arm. It will pretty much take all day, but the wildlife sightings are generally high and you will get to get much closer to a glacier than you can get on the ship. That might be worth it especially, if conditions don't allow the ship to get too close to Hubbard. Marine Allen does the excursion for Celebrity IIRC. 

 

https://allenmarinetours.com/juneau/tracy-arm-fjord-glacier-explorer/

 

Competing for your OBC in Juneau would be a helicopter tour to Mendenhall or possibly Herbert?

 

Ketchikan has Misty Fjord tours that get you up in the air. People rave about those.

 

For your last minute cruise...some of these excursions may already be sold out. They are popular, so see what is available asap.

 

Ketchikan is really walkable. There are many self-guided walking tours out there.

 

There is a lot of info on the Alaska board. My caution to you when you start reading...get a really good vision of what this visit to Alaska means to you. What will you do there that will really say to your heart and mind that you went to Alaska? People get really caught up in what's the best thing to do...when "best" is too subjective. Get a thought on what you really want to see...like glaciers for instance...and then figure out the best way to see glaciers. Much easier to do than figure out the best thing in each port.

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I recommend staying at the Pan Pacific (ON the Port) or Fairmont Waterfront (across from the port) pre-cruise in a Harborview room, so you can see the ships! You can easily get a hired car service Towncar or limo from the airport without pre-reserving; it’s called Aerocar. Our favorite restaurant there is walking distance of the port, and it’s called Steamworks Brewing Company. We’ve returned time after time for its food. 

 

Ketchikan has the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour, which is a lot of fun. It takes place on a boat used in The Deadliest Catch.

 

Juneau is known for whales and Mendenhall Glacier. The Red Dog Saloon has lots of character; order a Glacier Margarita.

 

For Skagway, I recommend doing the White Pass Scenic Railway your to Canada. After, it’s fun to explore the tiny Gold Rush era town of Skagway. Tour the brothel, catch the Spirit of ‘98 show, and visit the little museum. 

 

Expect the weather to be anything from the 40s with pouring rain to the 70s and sunny and everything in-between. Bring layers to wear and a warm, waterproof jacket. 

 

Enjoy; Alaska is spectacular!

 

 

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We are booked on the same ship and  traveling on the itinerary in August 2019. We are so excited as we have never been to Alaska or to Vancouver. Following along to see what kind of useful information we can get as well from others who have been there already. We are traveling from Fort Meyers Florida and there is not any quick way to get to Vancouver so we will be spending a few days prior to boarding and one day after the cruise exploring that city. 

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Alaska is the best!! My DH would cruise there every year if I agreed. If you decide to take a non ship excursion whale watching, I have 2 recommendations. In Icy Straight Point, check out Glacier Wind Charters. We also went out with Harv and Marv in Juneau once with one of their daughters, Jayleen. She has since gone out on her own, Jayleen’s Alaska. As others have said, you will have a great time no matter what you decide to do. Enjoy your planning and can’t wait to read your Live from. 

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You will be boarding the day we disembark! As others have said, definitely plan a couple days in Vancouver pre-cruise if you can - it's such a pretty and walkable city. We stay at the Blue Horizon on Robson Street; it's right in the heart of the shopping district just a few blocks from the cruise pier (you could probably walk to the ship - it's 10-15 mins - but we always just grab a taxi). If you stay there, there's a great liquor store just around the corner on Bute St where you can pick up some wine to take on the ship. We have had fantastic luck whale watching out of Juneau, both on ship tours and booking on our own. Most  of the ship tours for whale watching seem to be booked with Allan Marine - can't recommend them highly enough. In Ketchikan our favourite excursion is zodiac boating with Ketchikan Outdoors - Celebrity calls this excursion Alaskan Coastal Expedition. We've done it twice now and will probably do it again in May! As someone else mentioned, you should both bring binoculars if you can. We've spotted so much wildlife right off our balcony with ours. I also strongly suggest hitting up the camping section at Walmart and buying some waterproofing spray for your shoes and backpack (definitely bring a backpack so you can shed layers throughout the day as needed). Bring a small bottle of sunscreen, too, especially if you do the zodiac excursion on a sunny day! We've gotten sun kissed in Alaska in May before.

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A second for the Blue Horizon in Vancouver.  Stayed there once before and will again this August.  Reasonable prices, but walkable to port area sites.  

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Posted (edited)

As already mentioned...Victoria for a full day is worthwhile...Aside from Butchart  Gardens, the historic Empress Hotel and surrounding area, there's a nice Chinatown,  wineries. 

 

 This was a highlight port in  our cruise around  the inner and outer passage.We had a  ship's tour with an excellent guide that covered most of it but  wish we had more time  for a meal or tea at the hotel..Note...if a ship is in port, traffic may be  VERY congested so booming a tour may be the best way to see the most.

 

If you like seafood....best salmon ever!

 

We did not go up to Alaska and are waiting to read your review! Have fun planning!

Edited by hcat

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A couple of tips from our trip:

 

BRING YOUR OWN BINOCULARS.  The ones in the rooms are really weak.  We did not bring ours and we regretted it

 

Also, don't miss the fish night -I believe in Juneau.  In the OceanView Buffet for dinner, they had fresh salmon, halibut and  cod.  Grilled.   Really good!

 

We usually don't order the "lobster" on board on our Caribbean cruises.  In Alaska,  they had Maine lobster.  REAL lobster and it was delicious..

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Posted (edited)

Hi CHICAGOPAUL!  Thank you so much for all of your amazing reviews and I can't wait to read about your Alaskan Adventure.  I've been a stealth reader but there are so many similarities between you and Edward and Troy and myself (I'm an agent in FL, love of cruising, great shoes, positive outlook on life etc...) that I had to jump in.  Like you guys, we had done only warm weather cruises.  Troy mentioned he'd like to do and Alaskan cruise and my first thought was.....well let's just say it wasn't YAY!  In the end we now consider it one of our favorite cruises.

 

For shore excursions the ones that stand out are the ziplining in Ketchikan and the helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier which I made our profile photo.  I don't like heights - it's not a fear - I just don't like them 😉 and was a little wary about ziplining from tree to tree but it was actually very cool and I'd do it again in a minute.  But with regards to the height thing please know that the "test" zip they do to see if you're ok with it is about 40 ft off the ground with the next one being about the same and what you don't see is that all the rest are about 200 ft off the ground.  The helicopter ride to Mendenhall also test my height thing but the views are amazing and walking on the glacier is extremely peaceful and almost surreal. The helicopter company provided hiking boots but we did need to wear a full set of thermal underwear under our clothing.

 

I'll be following along as you plan and can't wait for embarkation day!

 

 

Edited by T&T

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First off extra day (s) in Vancouver are a must. Second, get off the ship. We panned for gold in Juneau and canoed in Ketchikan, these don't sound like your thing. Friends did the dog sled and helicopter . Dress warm and have fun.

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56 minutes ago, T&T said:

Hi CHICAGOPAUL!  Thank you so much for all of your amazing reviews and I can't wait to read about your Alaskan Adventure.  I've been a stealth reader but there are so many similarities between you and Edward and Troy and myself (I'm an agent in FL, love of cruising, great shoes, positive outlook on life etc...) that I had to jump in.  Like you guys, we had done only warm weather cruises.  Troy mentioned he'd like to do and Alaskan cruise and my first thought was.....well let's just say it wasn't YAY!  In the end we now consider it one of our favorite cruises.

 

For shore excursions the ones that stand out are the ziplining in Ketchikan and the helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier which I made our profile photo.  I don't like heights - it's not a fear - I just don't like them 😉 and was a little wary about ziplining from tree to tree but it was actually very cool and I'd do it again in a minute.  But with regards to the height thing please know that the "test" zip they do to see if you're ok with it is about 40 ft off the ground with the next one being about the same and what you don't see is that all the rest are about 200 ft off the ground.  The helicopter ride to Mendenhall also test my height thing but the views are amazing and walking on the glacier is extremely peaceful and almost surreal. The helicopter company provided hiking boots but we did need to wear a full set of thermal underwear under our clothing.

 

I'll be following along as you plan and can't wait for embarkation day!

 

 

Nice to see the Mendenhall walk mentioned! We are sailing in May with my MIL (our 5th time to AK, her first) and she treated us to this excursion. I might need a drink before I get in the helicopter as I'm not a fan of heights or small spaces, lol, but it sounds like it will be quite the adventure! 

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Hi. I love Alaska cruises. Been on two, both with Celebrity. I live near Vancouver so I take it for granted. When I read how people all over the world rave about "my" city I see it in a new light. Keep in mind the entire west coast of Canada (and Alaska) is a rain forest so we tend to get wet here, a lot! I believe Ketchican only has a dozen or so days a year when it does not rain at all. My husband commented that the scenery looked just like home. Which is true, just a different perspective. You will see bald eagles everywhere. Hopefully whales. The inside passage is spectacular. Vancouver Island on one side and the mainland on the other. Stanley Park is 5000 acres of park land. Aquarium is not to be missed. I will be following along. Looking forward to your comments about the city and the cruise. Enjoy your trip and welcome to Vancouver

 

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Another option to flying to YVR is fly to Seattle and take Amtrak from the King Street Station to Vancouver. We're doing a Hawaii cruise out of Vancouver in September and we paid $68 for the two of us to take the train. 

Definitely spend some time in Vancouver, the Hop On Hop Off gets you almost anywhere you want to go. 

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