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Hi everyone!  I posted in a general new cruiser section, and got suggestions to post over here.  My husband, myself and our 2 school age kids are all taking our first cruise later this summer.  We are going to Alaska (out of Seattle) on Royal Caribbean and I am completely overwhelmed.  I have no idea where to start.  I thought cruising was to be easy, but there are so many decisions to be made.  Where do I even start?

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You've already chosen the destination...that's 1/2 the battle!  Next step...research your ports and decide what you want to do/see in each!  A guidebook from the library is faster than googling things, but either way...find out something about each place you'll visit.  If there are things that are easy to DIY, go that route...it can save a family a bundle!  You don't have to book things thru the ship!

 

Look at the deck plans for your ship...RCI shows the sq. footage of each category of cabin.  With 2 kids, you'll want the largest cabin you can afford, or maybe 2 connecting cabins.

 

Really, there aren't that many decisions that must be made in advance.  Your cruise is all about Alaska....unlike Caribbean cruises that are more about the ship.

 

I know cruise lines offer all of these "packages"....totally not necessary, unless you WANT them.  Any drink or food can be had without a package...you simply are charged for it when you want it, instead of in advance.   Big drinkers may save a bit with a drink package, but remember, in Alaska, you'll likely be OFF the ship almost every day.   Ice water, coffee, tea (iced or hot), lemonade, milk and juice during breakfast is included in your fare.  If you're good with that, no worries!

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9 minutes ago, CruiseBliss04 said:

We are going to Alaska (out of Seattle) on Royal Caribbean and I am completely overwhelmed.

 

Welcome to Cruise Critic! :classic_smile:

From above sounds like you have already booked the cruise.  Is that correct?

If so you already know which ship you'll be on and which cabin you'll be in.  

What sort of other questions do you have?  

 

 

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We are booked an have our cabin.  It is just when I log into my account and see all of the planning options . . . not just the tour options, that I am starting to worry.  I will be getting a guidebook from the library soon - I have been relying on Google, and I think your idea is great!

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7 minutes ago, CruiseBliss04 said:

We are booked an have our cabin.  It is just when I log into my account and see all of the planning options . . . not just the tour options, that I am starting to worry.  I will be getting a guidebook from the library soon - I have been relying on Google, and I think your idea is great!

A library guidebook maybe outdated (things change fast in cruise world).

Google very much can be your friend - but frankly, your best bet is to hang out around here for a while, read all you can (including reviews) and you will find more than you need to know.  What you cannot find -pose a question - someone with an answer will be along quickly!

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25 minutes ago, CruiseBliss04 said:

Hi everyone!  I posted in a general new cruiser section, and got suggestions to post over here.  My husband, myself and our 2 school age kids are all taking our first cruise later this summer.  We are going to Alaska (out of Seattle) on Royal Caribbean and I am completely overwhelmed.  I have no idea where to start.  I thought cruising was to be easy, but there are so many decisions to be made.  Where do I even start?

 

There is a nice blog by Matt about everything a new cruiser on Royal caribbean should know. This forum is also very helpful for specific questions.

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There's really not much to choose. 

If you and your husband are heavy drinkers, you may want to get the alcohol package but keep in mind that Alaska is a port intensive cruise where you spend a decent amount of time off the ship and you both need to get it. Travelling with 2 small kids, how much are you really going to drink? Might be better to simply pay as you go. Keep in mind that coffee, tea, juices and milk are available all day for no charge. Soda is an additional charge. 

Dinner- Decide if you would rather have early or late dinner. You can also choose My Time Dining and just show up anytime and wait for a table. Depends on your personal preference. Regardless of which option you choose, you can always decide to eat at the buffet any night. You can also feed your kids at the buffet earlier and then send them to "kiddie camp" and enjoy an adult only dinner. Your choice

Excursions- you certainly want to take advantage of seeing Alaska. RC excursions will be more expensive but no legwork needed on your end. If you book privately, it may be cheaper but you will need to do research as to what company, prices, where to meet, and there's always the risk of getting back too late to the ship. Again, it's what works best for you. 

Other than that, there's really not much else to do other than pack and enjoy!!! 

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2 minutes ago, mhafod said:

This forum is also very helpful for specific questions.

 I agree I get most of my information and decisions made by reading this great forum. You can go to the  Port of Calls section and read all about things you can do. Most of your cruise planner options are discussed at great length here as far as specialty restaurants, drink packages, shows and even debate what to wear on formal night. I also might recommend looking up some you tube videos on your particular ship. There are plenty of videos that offer tours of the ship layout and things you can do. Don't stress, part of the fun of a cruise is that you get to decide exactly what you would like to do.

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I did way more research on my Alaska cruise than any other cruise I have taken. For us our Alaska cruise was a once in a lifetime experience as we are older, newly retired and I knew we would not be taking another Alaskan cruise. Alaskan cruises are very port intensive so research each port and decide what you want to do in that port for the best experience. The suggestion of glaciers, bears and whales is a great start as those are things you may not find on other cruises. Also the suggestion to book your excursions early is spot on. The popular excursions do book up and you don't want to be disappointed. Alaska is beautiful!

Edited by blueridgemama
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There are lots of sites online that have cruise tips, and dos and don'ts about what to pack, etc. There are also a lot of YouTube videos with that information that are fun to watch.  Best tip I ever got about cruising...When You Are Ready To Walk Out The Door, STOP, Take Half Of The Clothes You Packed Out and Grab Twice As Much Money...then you ready to go.  Enjoy your cruise!

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You can also go to your roll call for your ship and week.  People there can help and you may end up running into them onboard. 

 

Anything you reserve or pay or pay for now can be cancelled or changed if the price drops later, so don’t be afraid to book things you are interested in, to reserve a spot. You can change your mind later. I don’t know which ship you are on but many excursions have been marked down recently and I believe the deluxe drink package was still at a relatively low price, if you are interested.  A good buy on the Voom internet is if you add it to a drink package, then it’s usually only $10 a day extra for the internet.  That’s less than buying the internet separately.  

 

Just take your time looking through the cruise planner options.  The main thing you really have to think about in advance is dining.  If you have a set time on your booking, either early or late seating, then you will have a table reserved each night and you are set.  If you have My Time Dining, then you can make reservations now, but the choices may be limited.  You can always check once on board to move things around.

 

Check the activities section and Entertainment to see if anything is available yet.  Some things for August have not shown up yet.

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I start with an excel spreadsheet.  The first column is the day of the week.  The second column is the actual date.  The third column is for cash needed. The fourth is the for the activity.  The fifth column is for notes.   For example if we have to fly and we always fly in at least a day early I put in the flight information and hotel information etc.  I include any cash we will need for food, cab fair etc. In the note column I will put the address of the hotel, confirmation numbers etc.  This will also help with packing lists since you will have an idea of what you are doing each day.  I also have an excel sheet that I keep of items I pack for any travel.  Then I will adjust this list depending on where we are going.  My husband is in charge of his own clothes so I have a different list of clothes for myself that includes day clothes and night clothes with shoes, jewelry and any accessories. 

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My dd did months of research ahead of our cruise.  Got tour guides from the library and used Tripadvisor (cruise critic's parent) to research ports.  Sit down with dh and agree on a budget for tours and onboard extras.  Many excursions Royal offers are very expensive.  There are plenty of cheaper private options.  In a couple of ports we took FREE tours offered by US Park service that were really good.  Remember that most ports are in the US so you will be able to use your cell phones to communicate.  Might therefore not need to purchase Royal's internet package.

 

If you post your ship and itinerary people can provide specific tips.

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Welcome to Cruise Critic!

 

Cruising IS an easy vacation...don't let the port decisions overwhelm you. Though I will say, Alaska does seem to require more planning than some other cruising destinations...and the choices can be overwhelming, partly because there are so many good choices and also the excursions can be so expensive. You can easily spend more on excursions in Alaska than on the cruise itself. It all depends on the choices you make.

 

Someone mentioned the ports of call board...specifically the Alaska board in that section of the forum:

 

https://boards.cruisecritic.com/forum/33-alaska/

 

At the top of the forum are sticky threads that are trip reports. Those stickies have self reported links to the trip reports that people have written. Regardless of which cruise line people have sailed, most cruises stop in many of the same ports, so it is worth your while to read through the reports and see what others have done in the different ports that you will also be visiting.

 

In your cruise planner, you could take a look at the different excursions that are offered through Royal, just to see what types of things may be available in each port. You can get a clue as to what might be interesting to you...then read through the trip reports to see if it really is that interesting.

 

There's just a lot of general information on that Alaska board and there are several local posters and other frequent Alaska travelers that are really helpful if you get to a point of having some more specific questions. General questions are really hard to get a response on because people's interest can be so individual, so you would have more feedback with some more specific questions once you have learned a little bit about options and have started to narrow down your interest.

 

You haven't shared what ports you are doing, but assuming you are on Ovation of the Seas, doing the RT from Seattle, your first port in Juneau? Mendenhall Glacier and whale watching are popular. It is also popular to rent a car to see various sites, including the glacier. A draw back to a combo whale watching and glacier tour can be the length of time that you are able to stay at the glacier.

 

One of the most popular things to do in Skagway is to go into the interior land area of Alaska. Skagway is the one of the only port city on the SE Alaskan coast that is accessible by road from inland. People do the train, a bus, a combo of the two...again they rent a car, there are private tours...there is a combo with biking?...all sorts of ways that people manage to go inland a bit in order to see more of Alaska...and also go into the Yukon Territory which is supposed to be stunning. Skagway is also an easy port to do on your own. It is an old west town that is largely intact and almost Disney-esque in how well preserved it is. Lots of hiking around. The NPS office is an informative visit and there are free ranger led walks in the town. Some scouts do something there...(IDK anything about that really).

 

IN Victoria, visiting the Gardens is very popular.

 

Do some research with the Endicott arm day...some ships have a small boat excursion that allow you to get closer to the glaciers. IDK if Ovation is one of them though...but just know that there can be something extra to do on that scenic cruise day.

 

I would recommend that you get on the port excursions rather quickly. Alaska tends to be a cruise that many plan for a long time because people think it's a once in a lifetime thing to do. So some excursions that are smaller group ones can be booked well in advance.

 

Some that are booked in advance include the small boat whale watching excursions. There are boats that can be as small as 6 passengers...booked independently, that is, NOT through the cruise line. Flight seeing can also be popular (and expensive) and booked well in advance. Flight seeing can be one of the most canceled excursions due to weather, especially ones that go to see sled dogs, etc. Some land on glaciers so you can walk on them or visit the sled dogs. If you do that, it's good to have a Plan B in the event that weather prevents the flight seeing.

 

Anyway...I hope that helps you get started. Our first (and only so far) Alaska cruise was last summer. The one thing I can say is that Alaska is beautiful and just watching the scenery go by from the ship can be time well spent on an Alaskan cruise. I hope you have a great cruise!

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I might add that since you are a new cruiser, you will most likely have the best experience you can ever have. The first cruise is special, with all the sounds, sights and everything in between. 

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If you want a nice, complete, list of all of the excursion options for each of your ports,

log in to your cruise planner, choose excursions and near the bottom of the page there is a link for "shore excursion brochure".  this will give a concise list separated by ports. 

 

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First, congratulations. My wife and I did an Alaskan Cruise last year and it is was simply amazing. My wife who likes to sleep in on vacation woke me up one morning at 4am telling me I was missing everything.  Lol. As others have suggested my go to is the web site Trip Advisor. I use it to find the best rated tours at each port of call and it has never steered me wrong.  

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3 hours ago, CruiseBliss04 said:

Hi everyone!  I posted in a general new cruiser section, and got suggestions to post over here.  My husband, myself and our 2 school age kids are all taking our first cruise later this summer.  We are going to Alaska (out of Seattle) on Royal Caribbean and I am completely overwhelmed.  I have no idea where to start.  I thought cruising was to be easy, but there are so many decisions to be made.  Where do I even start?

 

CruiseBliss....How did you decide on which cruise line and itinerary you wanted when considering a trip to Alaska? Obviously you had something in mind as to which ports you wanted to go to - possible land tour either before or after the cruise, etc. If you're going during the summer, as we did, the days are long in Alaska and so it's possible to do more than one excursion a day. For that reason, I can see where you might be overwhelmed with the extensive list of shore availabilities. Don't get too bogged down in them. You can research things to death and still possibly wind up not being as thrilled with your choices as you had hoped. Or, conversely, you can pick an excursion that maybe doesn't seem like the most exciting thing out there and absolutely wind up loving it. No matter which way you do the inside passage, the scenery speaks for itself especially if this is your first time exploring this type of landscape. Don't get too hung up on the choices. I'd visit the port sections here on CC for many good ideas and reviews, etc., and - as has been suggested - trip advisor is great also- but most importantly - go and ENJOY!!  Hope you get to see some glaciers calve (before they are all gone someday due to global warming!)  

Edited by gretschwhtfalcon
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You only get one first cruise so take a deep breath and enjoy the moment. Sit done with your family and form some questions to ask and bring them to this forum. There are many, extremely and helpful, people on these boards who love to help. Prepare to be a little nervous, excited, and curious. The night before you leave, you will not sleep much. :classic_tongue:

 

Unless you are really compelled, keep your excursions to one a port stop. We did 2 each port and were exhausted before our first cruise was complete. Give yourselves some time to explore the ports and the surrounding areas. Also, you may want to allow your kids some ship time because they will find so many things to do. They have age appropriate youth and teen activities so your kids can meet others their ages. Give yourselves some time for a couples massage or other special treat for yourselves.

 

In Juneau, you will probably have time to take a morning excursion and then take the Mount Roberts Tram for some nice views and exploration.

 

Skagway has a whole variety of excursions. When you sail out that evening, be sure to get up to the top decks for some spectacular scenery and a sunset you will never forget.

 

I hope you have a wonderful first cruise.

 

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Make sure you have whatever IDs RCL requires (look at their website) for your cruise for each individual (including children) for your particular cruise (eg, Passport, Driver license, birth certificate)

 

Step 0: Decide if you want to buy Travel Insurance, there is a limited amount of time to buy the insurance after making a first deposit if you want the pre-existing condition waiver.

 

Step 1: Get a current book out of the library by Moon and/or Lonely Planet that covers the cities you will be docking at.  You might also want to look at " https://www.travelalaska.com/"

 

Step 1A:  If you are doing My Time Dining (probably makes sense in Alaska since it is port heavy with varying return times) book those times NOW if possible.  The buffets are OK however I personally like the sit down dinners, but I don't travel with children.  The sit down dinners take some time and are multicourse events.  I would try it at least once early in the cruise. At the sit down dinners you CAN (unless something drastic has occurred) order an extra entrée for your family to share and multiple appetizers and/or deserts.  Just try to order what you will eat and not waste.

 

Step 1B:  Depending on the ship there may be free and/or reasonably priced entertainment options that you can book for at sea days available in cruise planner.  If there is something interesting book it NOW, you can always cancel within the time period provided in cruise planner.  If there is a price, check every few days to see if the price drops.

 

Step 2: Ship based excursions can be but are not always more expensive.  Decide if the ship based excursion is what you want vs doing it on your own.  FYI, you don't have to do an excursion if you don't want to.  You can just walk off the ship and explore on your own, Alaska is part of the US.  The benefit of the ship based excursion is that things are planned out for you and they usually guarantee that you won't miss the ship or if you do they will get you to the next port.  YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE THE PEOPLE RUNNING TO MEET THE SHIP, THE CRUISE SHIP WILL NOT WAIT FOR YOU IF YOU ARE LATE AND DID NOT BOOK THROUGH THEM.  The downside of a ship based excursion is that there a lot of people on them and they are not flexible.  If you find a ship provided excursion book it now and check the price every few days to see if it drops.  You can usually cancel up to a few days before the sail date without a problem.  Check the fine print.  FYI, usually but not always there is a line to leave the ship and those on excursions will sometimes get off the ship before those who have not booked a cruise line  excursion.

 

If a third party provides an excursion read the fine print.  The ships generally try to meet the posted itinerary HOWEVER, the cruise line does NOT guarantee the itinerary and a cruise ship will sometimes miss a port or adjust the time it enters or leaves a port.

 

Step 3:  Decide if you will be bringing any beverages on-board the ship.  The last time I looked you are allowed to bring 2 bottles of wine (750ml) and a dozen 17 ounce softdrink/water bottles onboard at embarkation in your carry-on luggage.  Look at RCL's website to see if this is still true.  If it is decide if you want to bother.  As was said above if you dink a lot you might want to think about a beverage package that includes alcohol (there are rules about both adults buying an alcohol package).  There are also soda only packages that can be bought for the soda-holic   There is also a refreshment package that can make sense. Also last time I looked a coffee card.  Lots of Cruisecritic info on these.  As was said above you don't have to buy any of these and just drink the free stuff and buy an occasional soda or cocktail.  Personally when the refreshment package is $20 or less per day (not including tip) it makes sense for me and my wife however that is a personal choice, not everyone in the group needs to buy it.  Prices do go up and down.

 

Step 4:  You don't have to purchase any extra costing specialty meals.  I have found the free food on RCCL adequate, do not expect 4 or 5 star dinning regardless of what the brochures say however I have always found something to eat that I was happy with.  That said, if there is a specialty dining option you want see if the price is right and book it in the planner.

 

Step 5:  Seattle is an interesting city and worth a day or 2 of sightseeing if you can swing it.  Try not to fly in on the day of the cruise if you are flying.  Best to be there a day or 2 before even if not sightseeing Seattle.

 

Step 6:  WIFI is not free on the ship.  Not sure purchasing it makes sense on an Alaska cruise however that is a personal decision.

 

Step 7: In your leisure look at the various articles about dos and don'ts and what to pack, etc.

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Part of what makes cruising so addictive is that you never quite get it right. You learn a little more and get a little better at it each time. Set your expectations low. Book an excursion here or there. Leave plenty of free time. 

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