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(Another) new cruising question(s) from an older couple who have never cruised


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Hello all.  And thanks in advance for any insights or opinions you may offer.

The wife and I will be first time cruisers.  We do not know if cruising is for us but given that an Alaska trip is surely bucket list worthy, the current plan is to take an Alaska cruise in order to see those once (or more) in a lifetime sights of the north and to concurrently see if cruising appeals to us.  I have been reading a good bit on the Cruise Critic boards and have come to the following conclusions:

    ▪    As noted above, Alaska will be our first destination.
    ▪    We are considering a cruise on Holland American as their Alaska Itinerary includes Glacier Bay.
    ▪    We really do not want to be around large crowds, but understand that a trip like this is going to have some element of large crowds.
    ▪    To avoid the crowds (at least somewhat), I am thinking it would be wise to reserve a Balcony cabin so we can have some (somewhat) private time when needed).  
    ▪    It appears we need to be ready for some sticker shock even after making our reservations - especially with respect to excursions.  I have read / heard about some excursions in Alaska costing $600 per person to ride a helicopter that takes you to dog sledding for example.  Wow.  I don’t mind spending the money for something that is fairly priced and this unique, but since we will be on very unfamiliar ground, I just don’t know if these prices are reasonable.  
    ▪    We will likely pick and choose from what the ship offers in terms of activities, but for us the most compelling allure of Alaska is the outdoors (and what is off the ship).  I say this because I have also been looking at smaller ships in Alaska for the closer to nature experience they can offer (simply by getting closer to things in nature due to the smaller craft they use).  I also cannot shake the feeling that a properly chosen smaller cruise line might be a better fit for us than one of the big lines.  

 

I’ll pause there for now - please feel free to point out any flaws / holes with this line of thinking.  As noted above, we are new to this experience and still learning.  I will do my best to update developments in this thread as our plans firm up. 

 

Thanks in advance!

 

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32 minutes ago, bbodb1 said:

Hello all.  And thanks in advance for any insights or opinions you may offer.

The wife and I will be first time cruisers.  We do not know if cruising is for us but given that an Alaska trip is surely bucket list worthy, the current plan is to take an Alaska cruise in order to see those once (or more) in a lifetime sights of the north and to concurrently see if cruising appeals to us.  I have been reading a good bit on the Cruise Critic boards and have come to the following conclusions:

    ▪    As noted above, Alaska will be our first destination.
    ▪    We are considering a cruise on Holland American as their Alaska Itinerary includes Glacier Bay.
    ▪    We really do not want to be around large crowds, but understand that a trip like this is going to have some element of large crowds.
    ▪    To avoid the crowds (at least somewhat), I am thinking it would be wise to reserve a Balcony cabin so we can have some (somewhat) private time when needed).  
    ▪    It appears we need to be ready for some sticker shock even after making our reservations - especially with respect to excursions.  I have read / heard about some excursions in Alaska costing $600 per person to ride a helicopter that takes you to dog sledding for example.  Wow.  I don’t mind spending the money for something that is fairly priced and this unique, but since we will be on very unfamiliar ground, I just don’t know if these prices are reasonable.  
    ▪    We will likely pick and choose from what the ship offers in terms of activities, but for us the most compelling allure of Alaska is the outdoors (and what is off the ship).  I say this because I have also been looking at smaller ships in Alaska for the closer to nature experience they can offer (simply by getting closer to things in nature due to the smaller craft they use).  I also cannot shake the feeling that a properly chosen smaller cruise line might be a better fit for us than one of the big lines.  

 

I’ll pause there for now - please feel free to point out any flaws / holes with this line of thinking.  As noted above, we are new to this experience and still learning.  I will do my best to update developments in this thread as our plans firm up. 

 

Thanks in advance!

 

Oceania- Regatta 670 passengers does the Hubbard Glacier. Food is excellent.

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You do not say anything about your age range.  But, you are probably aware that most of the passengers on a HAL ship might be in the upper age (retired) bracket - pending the time of year you go.  When we went on HAL to Alaska some years back the majority of the passengers were in the retired category but there were still a number of younger couples also.

As far as a balcony goes they are nice to have when you want some time to yourself.  However, you also need to understand that when on the balcony you will only see what is on one side of the ship.  A large majority of passengers will be on one of the front decks (inside or out) where you can see both sides of the ship.

i can't give you  much direction on the smaller ships since I have not been on one but when I looked at them I seem to remember they had a lot of the more "active" excursions.

 

Stan

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Keep in mind that Alaska can enjoy a lot of rain, and can be quite chilly, especially when viewing glaciers.  Staying out on your balcony may mean bundling up, including hat and gloves.  As far as the cost of excursions...EVERYTHING costs more in Alaska because supplies are imported.  Venture over to the Alaska board here and do a bit of reading.  EM  

 

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

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On 7/20/2021 at 5:06 PM, bbodb1 said:

To avoid the crowds (at least somewhat), I am thinking it would be wise to reserve a Balcony cabin so we can have some (somewhat) private time when needed).  

 

Other than having "private time", a balcony is not needed.  One needs to be "out and about" on the open decks to truly experience the beauty of the scenic areas in which the ship is sailing.

 

On 7/20/2021 at 5:06 PM, bbodb1 said:

I don’t mind spending the money for something that is fairly priced and this unique,

 

I suspect that you will discover many shore excursions that are "unique" to Alaska and, may seem to be expensive, but are well worth the price.  May I suggest just one as an example?  In Juneau, the Five Glacier and Taku Lodge floatplane trip that includes a delicious Salmon meal at Taku Lodge with the frequent appearance of a bear that helps him/herself to the remains on the outdoor grill.  

 

10 hours ago, Essiesmom said:

As far as the cost of excursions...EVERYTHING costs more in Alaska because supplies are imported.  Venture over to the Alaska board here and do a bit of reading.

 

OP, good information and advice from Essiesmom.  

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Posted (edited)
On 7/20/2021 at 3:06 PM, bbodb1 said:

Hello all.  And thanks in advance for any insights or opinions you may offer.

The wife and I will be first time cruisers.  We do not know if cruising is for us but given that an Alaska trip is surely bucket list worthy, the current plan is to take an Alaska cruise in order to see those once (or more) in a lifetime sights of the north and to concurrently see if cruising appeals to us.  I have been reading a good bit on the Cruise Critic boards and have come to the following conclusions:

    ▪    As noted above, Alaska will be our first destination.
    ▪    We are considering a cruise on Holland American as their Alaska Itinerary includes Glacier Bay.
    ▪    We really do not want to be around large crowds, but understand that a trip like this is going to have some element of large crowds.
    ▪    To avoid the crowds (at least somewhat), I am thinking it would be wise to reserve a Balcony cabin so we can have some (somewhat) private time when needed).  
    ▪    It appears we need to be ready for some sticker shock even after making our reservations - especially with respect to excursions.  I have read / heard about some excursions in Alaska costing $600 per person to ride a helicopter that takes you to dog sledding for example.  Wow.  I don’t mind spending the money for something that is fairly priced and this unique, but since we will be on very unfamiliar ground, I just don’t know if these prices are reasonable.  
    ▪    We will likely pick and choose from what the ship offers in terms of activities, but for us the most compelling allure of Alaska is the outdoors (and what is off the ship).  I say this because I have also been looking at smaller ships in Alaska for the closer to nature experience they can offer (simply by getting closer to things in nature due to the smaller craft they use).  I also cannot shake the feeling that a properly chosen smaller cruise line might be a better fit for us than one of the big lines.  

 

I’ll pause there for now - please feel free to point out any flaws / holes with this line of thinking.  As noted above, we are new to this experience and still learning.  I will do my best to update developments in this thread as our plans firm up. 

 

Thanks in advance!

 

As a many time HAL Alaska cruiser, I will do my best to answer your questions.

 

Demographics - You will see lots of families with kids when schools are on vacation.  HAL has an amazing kids program and you will not see them except at dinner time.  You will see the parents.  So, when schools are in session, you will see an older demographic.  I go to Alaska every year in early May when the prices are cheaper, less crowded, least rainy month, lots of baby whales/eagles, and still a chill in the air at night.

 

Ship - For Alaska, I prefer a smaller ship in the HAL Vista-class (1800 pax) like Zuiderdam.  As a photographer, I want a balcony on the back of the ship where I can see both sides of the ship without getting dressed up for public approval.  Deck 5 aft of the Zuiderdam is fully covered and out of the wind which means I won't get wet in the rain and still take photos.  On the aft of the ship I can eat dinner on my balcony while the wind prohibits the rest of the passengers from doing so.  Bring binoculars and look for eagles and whales.from your balcony.  There are lots of places onboard for quiet time to just read, work on giant puzzles, swim, visit the spa, eat, or just watch movies. I have never been on a HAL ship of any size and felt crowded.

 

Alaska - There is too much to see in Alaska.  Treat your visit as a sampler to find out what you want to see on your next visits.  Shipboard life in Alaska is very casual.  Lots of jeans and flannel shirts.  No need to dress to impress passengers you will never see again. Just be comfortable.  When the ship docks, the passengers will scatter to all of their excursions.  Alaska is early port intensive which means up at 6:00 AM for breakfast, lots of exercise while ashore, and early to bed. 

 

Here are typical daily activities for Alaska to give you an idea of what to expect onboard:

 

https://rogerjett-photography.com/specialty-2/on-locations-specific-cruises/westerdam-alaska-2019-when-where-northbound/

 

As you look at the available excursions, feel free to ask lots of questions.

Edited by Crew News
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Posted (edited)

Have you ever considered a truly small ship AK cruise - one that holds <100 passengers.  You will get a great AK experience and there will be no crowds to bother you.  Admittedly you will not get the big ship experience such as showrooms, trivia, casinos, choice of several dining rooms etc. 

 

What you will get is a great flexible AK cruising experience where if the ship is here and the captain is told that there is a great experience over there, he ups anchor and goes to there.  I have been to AK many times in many different ways and IMHO the small ships cruise is the best way to see AK if you want to do AK by ship.  . 

 

Also, the cruise will be all inclusive (all tours are free) and you will get to enjoy small group cultural experiences.  One other neat about all small ship cruises and I have done several is that you get to spend as much time as you wish up on the bridge w the captain.   You do have to fly up to AK to get on the ship but this also means that an 8 day cruise is a full 8 days in AK as opposed to a 7 day cruise out of Seattle where 2 of the 7 days are spent getting to AK and 2 of the 7 days are spent getting back from AK which means that only 3 or 4 of your 7 day cruise is actually in AK.  

 

We did cruises on the attached link - https://www.alaskandreamcruises.com/ - and specifically on this ship -  https://www.alaskandreamcruises.com/fleet/alaskan-dream/.  There are also other small ship cruises in AK but I have no personal experience with them.  Very highly recommended.  At least think about it.  If you have any specific questions, just ask me.

 

DON

Edited by donaldsc
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2 hours ago, donaldsc said:

Have you ever considered a truly small ship AK cruise - one that holds <100 passengers.  You will get a great AK experience and there will be no crowds to bother you.  Admittedly you will not get the big ship experience such as showrooms, trivia, casinos, choice of several dining rooms etc. 

 

What you will get is a great flexible AK cruising experience where if the ship is here and the captain is told that there is a great experience over there, he ups anchor and goes to there.  I have been to AK many times in many different ways and IMHO the small ships cruise is the best way to see AK if you want to do AK by ship.  . 

 

Also, the cruise will be all inclusive (all tours are free) and you will get to enjoy small group cultural experiences.  One other neat about all small ship cruises and I have done several is that you get to spend as much time as you wish up on the bridge w the captain.   You do have to fly up to AK to get on the ship but this also means that an 8 day cruise is a full 8 days in AK as opposed to a 7 day cruise out of Seattle where 2 of the 7 days are spent getting to AK and 2 of the 7 days are spent getting back from AK which means that only 3 or 4 of your 7 day cruise is actually in AK.  

 

We did cruises on the attached link - https://www.alaskandreamcruises.com/ - and specifically on this ship -  https://www.alaskandreamcruises.com/fleet/alaskan-dream/.  There are also other small ship cruises in AK but I have no personal experience with them.  Very highly recommended.  At least think about it.  If you have any specific questions, just ask me.

 

DON

You have sparked my interest after reviewing your links.

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32 minutes ago, Crew News said:

You have sparked my interest after reviewing your links.

 

As long as I have your interest, how about a cruise on a 100 year old 20 passenger pure sailboat aboard a Maine windjammer  - https://schoonerfrench.com/.  The Lewis R French is a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest commercial sailing vessel in the United States.  Again, a really great cruise and completely different.  The only possible problem w this ship is that the cabins are tiny but you don't spend any time in your cabin except to sleep.

 

I have never done a cruise on one of those Monstrosities of the Seas ships but I have come to a general conclusion that the smaller the ship, the better the experience.  We have done most of our real cruise ship trips on the R Class ships which hold about 650 passengers.  That is a big as I want to get.

 

Anyway, check out the Lewis R French web site.

 

DON

 

 

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6 minutes ago, donaldsc said:

 

As long as I have your interest, how about a cruise on a 100 year old 20 passenger pure sailboat aboard a Maine windjammer  - https://schoonerfrench.com/.  The Lewis R French is a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest commercial sailing vessel in the United States.  Again, a really great cruise and completely different.  The only possible problem w this ship is that the cabins are tiny but you don't spend any time in your cabin except to sleep.

 

I have never done a cruise on one of those Monstrosities of the Seas ships but I have come to a general conclusion that the smaller the ship, the better the experience.  We have done most of our real cruise ship trips on the R Class ships which hold about 650 passengers.  That is a big as I want to get.

 

Anyway, check out the Lewis R French web site.

 

DON

As much as I enjoy sailing ships (rum runner ship in Cabo San Lucas}, the cabins are way to small for me and lack sufficient window views.  I have been looking at the Star Ships in the Caribbean for some time this year.

 

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We haven't got to Alaska yet - due to the recent debacle - but I researched it heavily. We are very new to cruising and ae not fans of crowds either. I think looking at smaller cruises is a good suggestion. We had also decided  to do one way Anchorage-Vancouver/Seattle or v.v so we could spend at least a week on land to  see Denali and other places - most of  Alaska is nowhere near a cruise ship port 

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Posted (edited)
On 7/20/2021 at 5:06 PM, bbodb1 said:

▪    We are considering a cruise on Holland American as their Alaska Itinerary includes Glacier Bay.


▪    It appears we need to be ready for some sticker shock even after making our reservations - especially with respect to excursions.  I have read / heard about some excursions in Alaska costing $600 per person to ride a helicopter that takes you to dog sledding for example.  Wow. 

 

- We chose Holland America for our first, multi-generational cruise to Alaska for the same reason to visit Glacier Bay and we were very satisfied with the decision. Since we had 14 family members flying in from different places and we wanted to keep travel logistics as easy as possible for all, we chose to sail from Seattle rather from Vancouver or Whittier. Itineraries were a bit more limited with less port time, but for our needs it was the right choice. 
 

- As far as excursions go, it’s true that there are some expensive ones out there. Some family members in out group did everything: helicopter rides, dog sledding on glaciers, kayaking down fjords, and seaplane excursions. They spent more on excursions than on the cruise fare but they said that all the excursions were worth every single penny. However, some family members (like us) were on a much stricter budget so we shied away from excursions. We visited Mendenhall Glacier on our own, hiked the Sitka National Forest and visited the Alaska Raptor Center where we saw rescued bald eagles up close, booked an amphibian vehicle tour in Ketchikan, and walked tor waterfront and had dinner in Victoria, all activities that were extremely budget friendly. 
 

Do I wish we would’ve done helicopter rides, dog sledding on a glacier, etc? Absolutely! But we still had an absolutely fantastic and memorable first cruise to Alaska. And not doing it all the first time gave me an incentive to return and do what I didn’t do the first time! 

 

Edited by Tapi
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On 7/20/2021 at 9:17 PM, travelingman said:

You do not say anything about your age range.  But, you are probably aware that most of the passengers on a HAL ship might be in the upper age (retired) bracket - pending the time of year you go.  When we went on HAL to Alaska some years back the majority of the passengers were in the retired category but there were still a number of younger couples also.

We were in our late 30’s / early 40’s when we sailed on Holland America to Alaska and we found the passenger mix to be well balanced on our sailing (June). Yes, there were many seniors, but there were also many families like us, younger couples, single cruisers etc. Demographics were similar to what we’ve found on more family friendly cruise lines. 
 

We returned to Holland America last year in the Caribbean (February 2020), and while the number of families with small children was considerably lower, my 9 and 11 year old kids had an absolutely blast and loved going to Club Hal and meeting other kids. The small number of kids was actually advantageous since the counselors could provide a much more personal experience. 
 

It is true that HAL has catered to an older, more traveled clientele, but during the last few years they’ve attempted to lure younger passengers in specially with their newest, and more modern ships. For our Caribbean sailing last year on Nieuw Statendam, we actually paid less to sail on HAL than to sail on family friendly cruise lines like Royal and Carnival because they were offering a kids sail free promotion. That provided substantial  savings. 

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14 hours ago, Tapi said:

HAL has catered to an older, more traveled clientele, but during the last few years they’ve attempted to lure younger passengers in specially with their newest, and more modern ships. 

 

The "belief" out there is that HAL is the "old folks" cruise line has never been accurate.  It's no more true than "all Carnival cruises are party-hardy, drunken cruises".  HAL's demographics are just as wide on most cruises as they are on Carnival.  On my world cruise on the Amsterdam, there was a young family with school age children who were being home (ship, in this case) schooled.  

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On 7/21/2021 at 4:40 PM, rkacruiser said:

I suspect that you will discover many shore excursions that are "unique" to Alaska and, may seem to be expensive, but are well worth the price.  May I suggest just one as an example?  In Juneau, the Five Glacier and Taku Lodge floatplane trip that includes a delicious Salmon meal at Taku Lodge with the frequent appearance of a bear that helps him/herself to the remains on the outdoor grill.  

 


Completely agree about this excursion, it was a highlight of our Alaska cruise.  Complete with bear scooping out salmon grease from the grill.

Another highlight was the crab boat excursion.

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16 minutes ago, Toofarfromthesea said:


Completely agree about this excursion, it was a highlight of our Alaska cruise.  Complete with bear scooping out salmon grease from the grill.

Another highlight was the crab boat excursion.

Hopefully that float plane was one of the few remaining Dehavilland Beavers.

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On 7/26/2021 at 3:27 PM, Toofarfromthesea said:


Completely agree about this excursion, it was a highlight of our Alaska cruise.  Complete with bear scooping out salmon grease from the grill.

Another highlight was the crab boat excursion.

 

YES!  The crab boat excursion was worth every penny spent as well.  Entertaining?  Yes.  Informative?  Yes.  Photo opportunities available?  Make sure your camera's battery is fully charged before you go!  

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  • 1 month later...

Alaska was our first land and sea cruise on Holland and we would do it again if I didn’t have other ports to sea. The most beautiful landscape and the weather was perfect. The only thing I would do differently was do Denali first so I could rest on the cruise. Way to many things to do. Also when booking pay attention to what side of the ship your room is on if you have a balcony. That way you can pick shoreline one ocean views. Breakfast on the balcony in august in Alaska was a perfect way to start a morning. We have been back but not for the land sea but as part of a transpacific cruise. Do it you won’t regret one minute.

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On 7/20/2021 at 5:06 PM, bbodb1 said:

It appears we need to be ready for some sticker shock even after making our reservations - especially with respect to excursions. 

I did some research (one of my favorite parts about traveling) between ship operated excursions and private excursions.  While you can save money at most Caribbean places by booking off ship, there wasn't really a difference in price for Alaska.  So, we booked all of ours through the ship.  This gave us the extra confidence in knowing that if something happened to delay us, the ship company would be responsible for getting us back on board.

 

It might be different for other people, depending on timing, company, and tour choices.  However, this is what I found for our September 2019 cruise to Alaska.

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I don't like crowds either.  I cruised AK with family a few years ago on Carnival Legend (2124 pax capacity).  It never felt crowded.  Mom had a handicap room with a bowling alley balcony, and I had an interior across from her.  We only used her balcony a couple times because  the view was limited to that side of the ship, and it was pretty darn cold out there. There was always plenty of room on the outdoor decks, or from one of the interior public areas with windows from which to view the scenery.  I was always able to find a quiet place on the ship to read or watch the scenery go by.  So even if you end up on a high capacity ship, you'll figure out how to avoid the crowds/lines that can occur at peak times for meals, shows, etc.

 

You are right about sticker shock.  Since we hadn't used Mom's balcony much, I decided if DH and I ever booked an Alaskan cruise, we would book an interior and put the savings towards excursions.  We booked a Princess southbound Whittier to Vancouver for next year.  For us it was a choice of itinerary - we wanted Glacier Bay, as well, so I shopped who offered the route/dates we wanted with a price/promo I was happy with.  

 

As someone posted above, the price between the cruise lines excursions and privately booked are not drastically different in AK like the differences you can find in the Caribbean, so if you look at some of the websites that have Alaskan excursions, you'll get a pretty good idea of what to expect.  Hope you find a sailing that looks like a good fit and you have a great time!

 

 

 

 

 

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20 hours ago, Sailin Gal said:

I cruised AK with family a few years ago on Carnival Legend (2124 pax capacity).  It never felt crowded.  

 

I have sailed on Carnival Pride and Carnival Miracle (but not Legend).  They are of the same Class as Legend and agree with what you said in your post about your experience on Legend.  That is a comfortable Class of vessels.

 

 

20 hours ago, Sailin Gal said:

We booked a Princess southbound Whittier to Vancouver for next year. 

 

Good choice.  Princess' Southbound itineraries are excellent.  Their Alaskan onboard entertainment is excellent as well.  

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