Jump to content
Cruise Critic Community
only1armband

Alaska help for a Brit please

Recommended Posts

Hi all, 

 

I normally cruise with RCI or Celebrity as I enjoy the atmosphere and relaxed environment on board, The USA ships find the balance with families, formal and casual attire, dining experience and ports. 

 

Having covered all of Europe, we are now looking at Alaska for our next cruise in August 2020. The thought of seeing Whales and other sea life, brown bears and Glaciers excites me to the core. So I thought I'd book a cruise....Simple!

 

Blimey....which cruise do I book? Northbound, Southbound, Hubbard Glacier, Inside passage and so on...

 

I looked at a cruise that takes me from the UK to Vancouver, hotel overnight then 7 days on the Eclipse visiting the Inside passage, Hubbard Glacier, icy straight point (Hoonah), Juneau and Ketchikan, and inside passage again.

 

What could I see on Sea days? Would I need to book excursions to see the sea and land wildlife or would there be a possibility I may be lucky. I'm not sure how close we would sail to the coastline or the Glacier. Could I be lucky and see Whales on this route or is this exclusive for excursions only?

 

Have I chosen the right cruise course? sadly I only have 10 days so I am unable to extend my stay in Alaska, hence I want to cram as much in as possible.

 

Any advice, good or bad news is welcome. thank you

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, only1armband said:

Hi all, 

 

I normally cruise with RCI or Celebrity as I enjoy the atmosphere and relaxed environment on board, The USA ships find the balance with families, formal and casual attire, dining experience and ports. 

 

Having covered all of Europe, we are now looking at Alaska for our next cruise in August 2020. The thought of seeing Whales and other sea life, brown bears and Glaciers excites me to the core. So I thought I'd book a cruise....Simple!

 

Blimey....which cruise do I book? Northbound, Southbound, Hubbard Glacier, Inside passage and so on...

 

I looked at a cruise that takes me from the UK to Vancouver, hotel overnight then 7 days on the Eclipse visiting the Inside passage, Hubbard Glacier, icy straight point (Hoonah), Juneau and Ketchikan, and inside passage again.

 

What could I see on Sea days? Would I need to book excursions to see the sea and land wildlife or would there be a possibility I may be lucky. I'm not sure how close we would sail to the coastline or the Glacier. Could I be lucky and see Whales on this route or is this exclusive for excursions only?

 

Have I chosen the right cruise course? sadly I only have 10 days so I am unable to extend my stay in Alaska, hence I want to cram as much in as possible.

 

Any advice, good or bad news is welcome. thank you

On sea days you will see beautiful scenery. The best way to see wildlife and whales is by excursion. We took a whale watch and bear combo excursion out of Icy Strait Point, it was one of my top excursions. You might see whales and bears while cruising, but they will be in the distdance. We got lucky last year and had a group of Orcas swimming about a hundred yards from the ship. There will be sightings, but you have to be in the right spot at the right time to see them. Bring a lightweight pair of binoculars along. Getting close to the glacier can’t be predicted, all depends on the amount of ice that’s present. Sailing from Vancouver keeps you in the Inside Passage, from Seattle, you go out in the Pacific Ocean and you could get rough seas before you enter the passage. Enjoy Vancouver for the day, it’s a wonderful city and one of my favorites. Look into Holland America or Princess they both go to Glacier Bay. You will get up close to Majorie and the Grand Pacific glaciers guaranteed, and sail past a couple of more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am going to give you a response that is a bit different from most of the advice given here on Cruise Critic.

 

Don't overthink it.

 

Alaska has tremendous natural beauty--regardless of the itinerary.  Any port or sight that you may miss on any itinerary is compensated by the ports and sights that are on another itinerary.  

 

I will say that the descriptor "Inside Passage" is not a reliable one to look for.  The Alaska Inside Passage is huge.  You cannot visit most ports without hitting the Inside Passage  Almost any Alaska cruise can be advertised as "Inside Passage.".  Many cruisers think the Inside Passage is the narrow strait at the northeast end of Vancouver Island.  That is, in fact, a part of the Inside Passage, but, certainly, not the entirety.  When that strait is not included in the cruise, many people feel disappointed.  Personally, I don't get it.

 

I have been on five Alaska cruises and am taking my sixth, next week  Yes, there is a very good chance that you will see whales from the ship.  This can be on sea days and it can be on port days--typically, not while you are docked or anchored but as you enter or leave.  I have not been on an Alaska cruise when I did not see whales from the ship.  I see that you are considering a cruise in August.  You will see whales in August.  Many of the whales have a long migration in the spring from distant breeding areas such as Mexico and Hawaii, and, so, there are not as many in late April or early May.  Other wildlife I have see from the ship include dolphins (again, every cruise). seals (usually, near ports). otters and eagles.  I have never seen a bear from the ship.  However, I have read Cruise Critic posts where people have reported seeing bears from the ship.  Don't count on it.

 

I can also report that I have seen glaciers on every cruise I have taken.  Glaciers are just awesome.

 

Since you mentioned Icy Strait Point, I will report that we had an excellent Whale Watching/Bear Search excursion there.  In the morning we did the Whale Watching cruise, and saw multiple humpbacks--including one particular frisky one who provided a magnificent photo opportunity as he fully breached.  In the afternoon we took a bus about 40 minutes into the woods, and then walked along a river where bears commonly visited for feeding.  It was very cool.  The local bears are Coastal Brown Bears, and the docent on the tour said they are the largest bears in the world.  I did some subsequent research and learned that the Coastal Brown Bear has DNA from both Grizzlies and Polar Bears.

 

If you are comfortable with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, I see no reason why you shouldn't look at their offerings first.  Your primary deciding factors should be dates and price.  I am guessing that your 10-day window would limit you to 7-day cruises.  So, that would be 7-day southbound cruises from Whittier/Seward (fly to Anchorage) to Vancouver, BC, 7-day northbound cruises from Vancouver to Whittier/Seward, 7-day round trip cruises out of Seattle, WA, or 7-day round trip cruises out of Vancouver.  I see no reason to recommend one itinerary over any other.  In your case, air fare has to be considered.  So, you will have to research that part of the puzzle also.  If you can't find an acceptable combination of dates and prices with those two, then, certainly, look at other lines.  Carnival, Holland America and Princess all have offerings.

 

I truly hope that my essay, here, has not made your decision more complicated.  My intent was just the opposite.  Any Alaska cruise on any ship will be amazing.

 

Bon voyage.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, after reading hours of nothing that helps, I have received magnificent replies. What a review based on actual experiences. Orcas, frisky whales, eagles and so on. I was tingling with excitement just reading the feedback to my questions.

 

Great tips, great advice and I can't wait to book to visit an amazing place.

 

Sincere thanks

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Go late August and you will also witness incredible salmon run in Ketchikan. Quite a sight to see.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We did the Inside Passage last year on our way across the Pacific to Japan on HAL.  To be honest with you I wasn't that excited about - we get more than our fair share of snow in the winter and the wilderness is no more than an hour out of the city any where you go - but we did go on the last Whale Watching excursion out of Juno.  Our guide was a wonderful young man from the University in Juno who had a huge passion for whales.  It was late afternoon and we were standing on the deck of the boat, hoping to see a whale "breach"  (That's when they jump high in the air, dive down deep and slap their tails hard on the water).  He didn't think they would, because they were preserving their strength for the long trip to Hawaii breeding grounds when, suddenly, without any warning two huge whales leaped high into the air, in perfect tandem,  diving down deep and smacking their tails hard on the surface of the water.  They were so close that they splashed us!  He had never seen anything like it before and there were literally tears in his eyes.  We told him that they were saying "good-bye" for the season and that they would see him again in Spring.  Soon we all had tears. Sadly, it happened so fast that I didn't get a picture, but it'll remain in my mind's eye forever. So I guess what I am saying is press on with your plans.  Do it.  I guarantee you will have such an amazing adventure and you never know what amazing sights nature has in store for you. 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We literally returned from a Celebrity 7 day Alaskan cruise from Vancouver on Saturday.  It was amazing!

We didn't cruise as far north as the glaciers, but took in Sitka, Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), Juneau and Ketchikan.

We had mixed weather on out first day at sea but still caught a glimpse of wildlife along the way.  Over the course of the cruise we had dolphins, seals and whales along side us.  I got some great shots - even on my compact camera.

We even had the northern lights put on a show for us one evening, it was completely unexpected and had most of the ship on deck in awe.

We explored Sitka on our own taking in a bear rescue centre which was great ($25 dollar round trip)

Hoonah we took a whale watching excursion via Viatorfor around £120 - well worth the money and cheaper than the ship.

We saw a pod of humpbacks feeding with tails a plenty, bubble feeding and even a breach.

Juneau we canoed to the Mendenhall Glacier - another one through Viator.   This was the best trip we took - quite hard work but worth it to get so close.

Ketchikan we explored on our own the Salmon were everywhere.  We had unseasonable warm weather so spent a lot of this day on deck enjoying the pool.  I actually picked up a sunburn which i would never have expected.

 

If you sail from Vancouver give yourself a few days there to explore  - Its a wonderful place with such amazing scenery and friendly locals - If i were 10 years younger I'd move there.

We took a sunset dinner cruise one evening it was magical

We have already said we will be going again, we'd like to go further north - even tempted by the re-positioning cruise that Celebrity Millennium is taking now from Vancouver to the far east.

 

The revamped ship was gorgeous too!... blew me away in some parts

 

If you do go on this sort of cruise my best tip is to keep your eyes to the sea because there will always be something popping up to say hello.

 

 

 

DSC00995.JPG

DSC00973.JPG

DSC00957.JPG

DSC00935.JPG

DSC01006.JPG

DSC01048.JPG

20190904_174437.jpg

20190903_135418.jpg

20190901_134938.jpg

20190829_195636.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

OK, so far, Sheffben is the winner.  I can't believe the those bear pics.  And he saw the Northern Lights.  It's going to be tough for anybody to beat that.

 

👍👍👍

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Personally I'd be inclined to book airfare and cruise separately, unless there's a heckuva deal on for cruiseline air. Depending where you are in the UK you may have viable options out of regional airports - GLA and MAN have nonstop flights to YVR in season so can be more convenient than London airports for folks who don't live near the capitol, and Icelandair have a very slick transfer process at Keflavik airport that makes them usually the shortest one-stop total time in the air between UK regional airports and the North American ones that they serve (much of my family is in SW Scotland/NW England, and we've found MAN and the train or GLA via KEF and someone picking us up are by far the most efficient options for us). Of course if you're a Londoner or thereabouts, you have a few non-stop options close by!

 

As to the cruise portion, are you definitely wanting to do Celebrity? Not that any cruise into Alaska won't have gorgeous scenery of course, but if you're open to Princess or HAL you'll find more options - especially options with Glacier Bay. Hubbard and Tracy both suffer from 'not getting close enough due to things outside cruiseline control' way more often than GB, which is almost 100% visited - and has multiple glaciers, so the odds of getting a really good photo are increased.

 

FWIW I think doing a 7 day RT out of Vancouver is far superior than Seattle - scenery every day, including the true inside passage all the way up & down (NB: except of Royal Princess, which is to be avoided if you are there for the scenery not the ship - it's too big and unwieldy to be allowed in the BC Inside Passage so spends even more time out in the middle of nowhere than ships doing RT Seattle do!)

 

With 10 days total, definitely take a couple of days precruise to give you the best chance to be fully adjusted before you get on the ship. Ballpark most folks adjust by 2-3 hours a day when going West, so if you have 2 nights here then after your first night on the ship you should be awake at regular brekky time locally. We have pretty long evenings in Vancouver so even if you're still sleeping in a couple of hours late here, you can do things like Capilano/Grouse Mountain/parks that stay open late in the evenings and still have enough time to see the more '9-5'ish ticketed places in late morning & afternoons.

 

EDIT - oh, and since this comes up a fair bit, if you are flying into Canada you will need an eTA in advance (assuming you are a UK citizen; if not check your citizenship against the list of requirements on this page) and of course unless you already visited the USA recently enough an ESTA too.

Edited by martincath

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes flightwise we booked a direct round trip flew out of Manchester but back in to Gatwick as i had to be home on a certain day.  We flew air transat, decent no frills airline for £550 each including luggage through Canadian Affair website.

It was much cheaper than the fly cruise option.  We flew in on the Monday and then cruised on the Friday.  Our flight home was the same day of disembarkation... around 15:00.

We looked at Air Canada but that was twice the price.

We took a club room at the Hyatt Regency Downtown... great central location, walking distance to cruiseport

The club room gives you access to a seperate lounge where they set up a little buffet breakfast each day and (substantial) nibbles and snacks early evening with an honour bar until 8pm.  It saved us a fortune and we will deffo stay there again.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm going to go a different route.

Alaska is bigger than many EU countries. In my opinion, cruising to Alaska and saying you've been to Alaska would be like me changing planes at LHR and telling people that I've been to the UK.

 

I tell people that I would recommend that they can cruise North or South, it doesn't matter, but also do a 4 -7 day trip inland to Denali National Park. Most cruiselines or tour companies offer this as a combined package.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, klfrodo said:

I'm going to go a different route.

Alaska is bigger than many EU countries. In my opinion, cruising to Alaska and saying you've been to Alaska would be like me changing planes at LHR and telling people that I've been to the UK.

 

I tell people that I would recommend that they can cruise North or South, it doesn't matter, but also do a 4 -7 day trip inland to Denali National Park. Most cruiselines or tour companies offer this as a combined package.

 

While I agree w your idea that they should spend some time on land, the OP only has 10 days total so your idea will not work.  Also, AK is not only bigger than some European countries but it is also about 20% of the size of all of Europe so spending even 4-7 days only land does not get you much of AK.  We spend 2 1/2 months in AK once and missed much of the state as you can't drive to it.  

 

DON

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Having worked a couple of full seasons in Alaska & numerous B2B's, I can provide some info to help with planning.

 

Flights - agree with martincath, as I would also book the cruise & flight separately. Personally, we normally book long-haul flights with points, so are restricted to EDI-LHR-YVR. However, my dad now uses Iceland Air, which with a 1 hr stop, the Glasgow flight is about the same length as direct flights from London/Continent.

 

With only 10 days, you are limited to 7-day cruises. For Vancouver v's Seattle, I agree that Vancouver is a superior option - both for scenic cruising, length of time in Alaska and more options. From Seattle, cruise lines can only offer R/T cruises, so you are restricted to seeing SE Alaska. Vancouver has both R/T & one-way cruises.

 

Since your preference is Vancouver, I suggest the next choice is a R/T or 1-way, both have pros/cons. The R/T's from Vancouver only visit SE Alaska & some go up to Hubbard Glacier. This area has the common, but very busy ports of Ketchikan, Juneau & Skagway + a few others. This option provides easier & cheaper flights. You also see part of the Canadian inside Passage in daylight - more on that later.

 

The 1-way cruises head out Icy Strait and up the Pacific Ocean to Prince William Sound, docking in Whittier (Princess) or Seward (others). The scenic cruising in PW Sound is amazing. Your can also take optional scenic cruises from both Whittier & Seward at the end of the cruise. Better scenery, but the flight down from Anchorage is additional time & cost.

 

Glaciers - Other than PW Sound, the most common glaciers seen from the ship are Tracy Arm, Glacier Bay & Hubbard Glacier. Tracy Arm is a narrow inlet, but it is frequently icebound, especially early season. Of all the times in Alaska, only made it to the glacier once. Glacier Bay is a full day of scenic cruising, with stops at 2 glaciers. The Park Rangers also board and provide excellent commentary. Wildlife can also be seen throughout the day. The Captains normally get fairly close to both glaciers & rotate the ship, so both sides get a view. Been into GB well over 20 times and have never failed to see the glaciers. Even today, I am one of the first out on deck. Hubbard is huge, but again at the end of a channel, which is wider than Tracy Arm. I have missed Hubbard a few times due to fog or ice.

 

Inside Passage - As a previous response noted, cruise lines take liberties with use of the term Inside Passage. The actual Inside Passage from Vancouver runs to the East of Vancouver Island to Queen Charlotte Sound, where it restarts and transits the coast up to Dixon Entrance at Prince Rupert. On crossing Dixon Entrance it starts again south of Ketchikan and goes up to Skagway & Icy Strait.

 

When I worked Alaska cruises and latterly the BC Coast, we truly completed the entire Inside Passage. Sadly, mainstream cruise lines are seeing much less of the Coast, as they spend increasing time in open waters. Departing Vancouver, you enter the Inside Passage at Campbell River, usually from 2230 to 02:00, depending on tides at Seymour. You navigate the scenic stretch at night, reaching Queen Charlotte Strait by 07:00. Most mainstream lines drop the pilot and head up Hecate Strait, with only scenery being tops of mountains. The premium/luxury lines often continue up the BC Inside Passage.

 

You should also check the Alaska port rotation. The one you are considering, I suspect they will cruise East of Vancouver Island, then head directly to Hubbard via open waters. After Hubbard you would head in Icy Strait to Hoonah, then down the Alaska Inside Passage. If Hubbard was not accessible, you will not see other glaciers from the ship.

 

For this reason, for first timers in Alaska, I always recommend Glacier Bay. My first preference for an Alaska Cruise is always B2B from Vancouver, but since you only have 10 days, my suggestion is a S'bd from Whittier/Seward. Day of cruise take a scenic local cruise - Phillip's 26 glacier cruise/Kenai peninsula. For an itinerary I prefer multiple glaciers - Hubbard & Glacier Bay. For ports, I enjoy seeing at least 1 of the smaller ports, in addition to the big 3. Also note the cruise you mentioned doesn't visit Skagway, which is our favourite of the big 3 ports.

 

With respect to selecting a ship, I always consider the scenery as the star attraction and the ship is simply a means of transportation. Therefore, I would base my choice primarily on ports visited, length of time in port and the potential routing. 

 

Enjoy Alaska.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm so glad I didn't go into this with just looking at Travel agents pictures and recommendation. Your post is exceptional, thank you. Since my Alaska plea went out I have received unbiased, informative in formation that can only prepare me for selecting which route to take.  To give myself a chance to get a flavour of Alaska, I think I will take up your recommendation at look at Glacier Bay, southbound. hopefully I will also see some wildlife and sea life as well as glaciers. You must be well chilled (no pun intended) with your time in Alaska. I can only imagine a life of tranquility and beauty.

 

Thank you for taking the time to post.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just returned, last month, from our 2nd Alaskan Cruise (this one was 14 days).  So I will think out loud for our "Brit" friend.  I do think that if you can spare a few extra days you should turn it into a cruise/tour with a few days on land...probably best spent going to Denali.  This assumes you are mobile and have the ability to do a little hiking in the huge park.  When it comes to cruise and land, both Princess and HAL have a major presence in Alaska.  In fact, Princess has their own hotel/lodge located just outside Denali National Park and they also have their own railroad cars to get you to and from Anchorage.  

 

As to what itinerary in Alaska, if we had to make a choice Glacier Bay would be at the top of our list.  This is an area viewed from the ship, is part of a large National Park, and is restricted to only a single cruise ship at one time.  On most days the National Park Service allows one ship in the morning and one in the afternoon, and park rangers board the ship to act as the onboard lecturer (they will sometimes speak through the ship's PA system and also be walking around answering questions).  

 

As to the temperature, this summer Alaska broke every heat record.  A few days before we flew into Anchorage it was 90F (32C) in a city where there is practically no air conditioning.  When we visited Denali in was in the mid 70s which is very warm for this National Park.  During our 14 day cruise we did have some chilly weather (about 9C) but many days were quite warm.  And in Alaska you must always be prepared for rain (not a problem for most Brits).

 

Hank

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Firstly I take exception to Brits and rain, I remember that we had a dark, gloomy overcast day in August. Not a drop of rain! we celebrated by having a BBQ that day, not many countries can buy a bottle of BBQ gas and make it last for 4 years. 😀

 

I never knew about Princess' relationship with Alaska, the replies I've received are so informative, thank you. I have also decided to make sure Glacier Bay is on our itinerary.

 

Sincerely appreciate your post Hank.

 

Graham

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

201910.png

 

Decided to book the trip thanks to the wonderful reviews, replies and photo's from everyone. This will be my route and I want to book a Balcony. Does it matter which side of the ship is best to book?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Q&A: Cruise Insurance with Steve Dasseos of TripInsuranceStore.com
      • Forum Assistance
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Member Cruise Reviews
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
×
×
  • Create New...