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Old Dec 24, 07, 3:03 pm   #1
 
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Which Alaskan cruise is best?

My retired parents want to take an Alaskan cruise for about 7 days. I have no idea what is available. Is Anchorage the city to fly them into? While I plan on doing tons of research I am interested in the input of anyone here and what you liked. They are on somewhat of a cruise budget ($1,500 pp). They want to go anytime in June-August next year.
Thanks
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Old Dec 24, 07, 8:50 pm   #2
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Don't know much about cruises (not a cruise kind of guy, and working in the travel industry, people who spend thousands on cruises only to immediately fly home at the end of their cruise and therefore don't contribute to the local economy sort of bug me...), but Anchorage is the [only] place to fly into, unless they plan on adding on a land excursion via train or something, in which case they can fly into Fairbanks, take the train to Anchorage, and then depart on the cruise out of either Seward or Whittier (both a short bus or train ride south of Anchorage). Beyond that, I'm not sure what kind of information I can provide that would be helpful to what your parents are looking for. (Now if they wanted to stay in Alaska for three weeks and explore our glorious state, that I can help you with...)

While I'm sure there are several FTers who will provide you with helpful information here, you might have some good luck finding information out on cruisecritic.com's forums.
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Old Dec 25, 07, 3:55 am   #3
 
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Originally Posted by Clincher View Post
My retired parents want to take an Alaskan cruise for about 7 days. I have no idea what is available. Is Anchorage the city to fly them into? While I plan on doing tons of research I am interested in the input of anyone here and what you liked. They are on somewhat of a cruise budget ($1,500 pp). They want to go anytime in June-August next year.
Thanks

My info is a little dated, and I've only taken the one Alaskan cruise, so take this in that context.

Commencing (very) late May 2000 I did a 7 night cruise Vancouver - Juneau (stop) - Skagway (stop) - Yakutat Bay (no stop, turnaround point) - Sitka (stop) - Vancouver and it was sensational. Scenery unmatched...(we did have excellent weather) - it made travelling through the Canadian Rockies a few days later something a of a letdown. All stops were for significant periods of time (half a day or more) allowing for a variety of onshore activities. Did this on the Princess/P&O ship Regal Princess.

There was a train trip from Skagway up on the White Pass & Yukon Route which featured spectacular landscapes (maybe 3 hours return?), but other than that, I mostly ignored the 'organised' activities and had a good self-propelled look around each place.

As I say the info is a little dated, but the scenery isn't going to change

From memory it cost (the cheapest cabins!) AUD1700 for the seven nights - at that time it probably equalled around USD900. If I had my time over I would stump up more and get at least an outside cabin if I could, not to say there was anything wrong with the inside ones, they were identical, just without the view.

I don't know if your parents are first-time cruisers or just first-time to Alaska, but need to allow for tipping a bunch of people on the boat (ship?), and they gave us a 'cruise card' which you bought everything with while on board. Very convenient, but of course, when you settle up at the end of the trip, it's a case of OMG did I spend (drink! ) that much?

There are other cruise lines and itineraries available all of which are probably fine, but that's just the one I did.
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Old Dec 25, 07, 5:01 am   #4
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Gah...typed a whole bunch of info and then Firefox just ate it. (I wish FT was like Gmail and automatically periodically saved drafts!)

Let me see if I can contribute at least a little bit of helpful information.

An "Alaskan cruise" can mean several things:
  • A one-way trip from Seattle or Vancouver to Anchorage (or actually, the ports nearest Anchorage, which are Seward and Whittier)
  • The reverse--a one-way trip from Seward or Whittier (the port depends on the cruise line) to Seattle, Vancouver, or perhaps other west coast ports of call
  • A round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver to somewhere like (in tuapekastar's case) Yakutat (which is near Glacier Bay National Park and most of the way to Anchorage)
The round trip works because most of the "cruiseable" scenery is located in the Inside Passage, a channel of water between the mainland and the coastal islands of Southeast Alaska (the panhandle of the state that sticks down to the southeast--check out any map of Alaska for details). The ones that continue into Anchorage do so primarily to allow people to either fly home (faster than returning by ship) or to continue on with a land tour.

Which brings me to my main point: Alaska is so vast and so grand that it seems like it doesn't really do the state justice to see such a small portion of the state and then go home. If your parents have the time--and you can fit it into the budget--I think they will have a much more memorable time if they were to experience some of inland Alaska either before or after the cruise, either booked as part of the cruise package (most cruise companies offer land package add-ons, including great trips by train on private excursion cars) or booked independently.

Denali is a must-see. The mountain itself is one of the most majestic things on planet Earth. But there are plenty of activities to do in the surrounding area, from backcountry hikes and camping to flightseeing trips around the mountain and river rafting.

A drive or a ride on the Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks is a great option. There are several touristy things to do and see in Fairbanks, from digging for gold and riding a mining train into a real mine to sternwheeling down the Chena River to touching the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. For a truly memorable adventure, a drive up the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle (180 miles each way) or all the way to Prudhoe Bay (~400 miles each way) is something very few people can claim to have done, although that might be a bit too intense.

South of Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula has some awesome scenery (both along the eastern side down to Seward and the western side down to Homer) and some of the world's best fishing (especially salmon in the Kenai and Russian rivers and halibut out of Deep Creek and Homer), topped only perhaps by some of the more remote rivers of Alaska.

And with a set of wheels or a backcountry lodge package, the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is in some of the most rugged and stunningly beautiful country in the world. (A drive through Thompson Pass to Valdez, near there, is one of the most scenic in North America, too.)

And while it would blow the budget, there's another 75% of the state that's off the road system and only accessible by air. If you're willing to spend hundreds and even thousands on airfare, places like Kodiak, Katmai National Park, Lake Clark National Park, Nome, Kotzebue, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Barrow are some of the most exotic places you can get to without leaving the United States.

Of course, Southeast Alaska is a gorgeous place and the towns there are in nearly idyllic settings (and there are plenty of things to see and do, both in cruise line-organized excursions and independent sightseeing), but your folks will see those as part of the cruise.

Check out this post for a list I've compiled of some of the threads I've found to contain great information and suggestions for an Alaskan itinerary:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showt...79#post8165779

I know this wasn't exactly what you were looking for, but I hope it gave you some helpful information. (As far as your original question--which cruise line is the best--I'm afraid I can't really speak to that except to note that I've heard nothing but positive remarks from customers of every company.)

Happy travels (and merry Christmas!)
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Old Dec 25, 07, 6:32 am   #5
 
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jackal, you've managed to whet my appetite to revisit Alaska somewhat more extensively in the future.

So much planet to visit, so little time (and moolah)!
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Old Dec 25, 07, 7:03 am   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tuapekastar View Post
jackal, you've managed to whet my appetite to revisit Alaska somewhat more extensively in the future.

So much planet to visit, so little time (and moolah)!
Indeed! That's how I feel every time I go somewhere and have to make a conscious decision to skip something.

But I think there is something extra special about Alaska. I think vysean said it best:

Quote:
Originally Posted by vysean
Final piece of advice regarding Alaska - you'll never see it all no matter how much time you spend up there, so plan on coming back frequently and you'll never be disappointed with what you "missed" on a previous trip. It's a truly amazing, beautiful and rugged state.
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Old Dec 25, 07, 7:19 am   #7
 
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"I know this wasn't exactly what you were looking for, but I hope it gave you some helpful information"

Wow! No kidding this is exactly the type of information I was looking for. I believe I am leaning towards flying them to Juneau and take the cruise up to Seward. And besides the cruise, included in their trip will be a number of days at each location so as to see some of the rest of Alaska.
This trip will be for their 50th wedding anniversary. They are so excited, like little kids going to Disney world. Only once before on a cruise (Caribbean) and their first time to Alaska.
Thank you Jackal and the rest of you for the input.
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Old Dec 25, 07, 10:15 pm   #8
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Originally Posted by Clincher View Post
"I know this wasn't exactly what you were looking for, but I hope it gave you some helpful information"

Wow! No kidding this is exactly the type of information I was looking for. I believe I am leaning towards flying them to Juneau and take the cruise up to Seward. And besides the cruise, included in their trip will be a number of days at each location so as to see some of the rest of Alaska.
This trip will be for their 50th wedding anniversary. They are so excited, like little kids going to Disney world. Only once before on a cruise (Caribbean) and their first time to Alaska.
Thank you Jackal and the rest of you for the input.
Hang on -

The water between Juneau and Seward is big and rough - open ocean for much of the way rather than protected waters of the Inside Passage. The big cruise ships with stabilizers can handle it okay (and still bounce around a bit) but smaller craft, like the State ferry, can have rock 'n roll trips.

There are no one-way cruises between Southcentral Alaska and Seattle, owing to cabotage law - only round trips to Southeast Alaska start/end in Seattle. The one-ways to/from Seward or Whittier are to/from Vancouver BC. (And in fact a change to the CFRs now pending will possibly wipe out the Seattle round-trips, by requiring much longer port times in "foreign" ports - Victoria - which would make Seattle trips longer than 7 days, i.e., unmarketable.)

If they don't have enough time for several days' touring (up to a week) in Southcentral Alaska before or after the cruise, then the 7-day round trips - either from Seattle or Vancouver, offer excellent value and provide a good first exposure to Alaska.

The Alaska board on cruisecritic.com is a good place for them to hang out for a bit.
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Old Dec 25, 07, 11:45 pm   #9
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Holland and Princess are the two major lines in the Alaska market.

I did a land/cruise tour with Holland a couple of years ago with two older friends. Started in Anchorage, up through Denali, to Fairbanks, flight back to Anchorage, then Seward to Vancouver. Spent some serious $$$$ for a very large cabin, but the price ranges vary and can accomodate about any budget.

My impression is going in later August = less bugs/insects.
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Old Dec 29, 07, 9:25 pm   #10
 
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Hang on -

If they don't have enough time for several days' touring (up to a week) in Southcentral Alaska before or after the cruise, then the 7-day round trips - either from Seattle or Vancouver, offer excellent value and provide a good first exposure to Alaska.

The Alaska board on cruisecritic.com is a good place for them to hang out for a bit.

With all due respect -- taking a round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle or Vancouver really just shows you what the coast of BC looks like (The Inside Passage is literally a geographic extension of British Columbia). Saying you saw Alaska on one of those cruises is like going to DisneyWorld and saying you saw Florida. If they just have 7 days, it's definitely worth it to do the one-way between Anchorage and Vancouver to at least see Southcentral AK -- even if only from the train on the way from the airport to the ship (a spectacular trip by itself). And I recommend doing the southbound voyage since they have 3 hours less flying time at the end of the trip to get home.

Late August is also good because it starts getting dark enough at night to have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Also... have your parents talk to a good cruise travel agent who will ask the right questions to match them to the right ship based on their wants, needs and desires. It costs no more and will make a huge difference in their trip. There are lots of ships in Alaska -- they all see basically the same thing but not all are the best vacation for everyone.
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Old Dec 30, 07, 7:05 pm   #11
 
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I've been 5 times in last two years

From a budget standpoint, I'd try to get a round trip from Seattle - transport to and from typically less.

And Southeast Alaska is fantastic, especially if you get Glacier Bay.

That said, the drive/train from ANC to Seward is pretty awesome, but flying to ANC will add to costs considerably.
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Old Dec 31, 07, 4:53 am   #12
 
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My parents are also wanting to take a cruise around the Alaska area. I was thinking about them taking either instead of, or in addition to a normal cruise, one of the ferries around the Aleutians or elsewhere. They aren't meant to be a scenic tour but I thought it would still be pretty neat thing to do. Can anyone comment on taking a ferry, not really for transportation but for the ride itself?
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Old Dec 31, 07, 5:18 am   #13
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My parents are also wanting to take a cruise around the Alaska area. I was thinking about them taking either instead of, or in addition to a normal cruise, one of the ferries around the Aleutians or elsewhere. They aren't meant to be a scenic tour but I thought it would still be pretty neat thing to do. Can anyone comment on taking a ferry, not really for transportation but for the ride itself?
That is a really adventurous thing to do. Just be sure you understand the distances involved. Dutch Harbor is almost 800 miles (as the crow flies; longer by ship, of course) from Southcentral Alaska (as far as Ketchikan--just the other way). It's slow going and a long trip--64 hours from Homer, longer from Seward and Whittier and not including stops and/or layovers--and the seas are rough.

Having said that, it's something I've always wanted to do. If your parents are into that sort of thing, then by all means! Fares aren't cheap, though (cruises can almost be had for less). Summer fares haven't been posted yet, but winter fares are $351 one-way from Homer to Dutch--that's just the fare for a single passenger not including cabin accomodations. I'd imagine summer fares are even steeper. (R/T prices are about the same, I believe, on the airlines, so there appears to be no cheap way to get down there!)

Main ferry site: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/
Routes: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/Trav...tes/index.html
Running times: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/Trav...mes/index.html
Fares: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/Plan/Fares/index.html
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Old Dec 31, 07, 7:23 am   #14
 
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jackal thanks for the links to the ferries. Pretty cool they let people pitch tents on the decks of the ferries. I can't see my parents doing that, though I would.
I have narrowed their trip down to Northbound starting in Vancouver in July. 7 day cruise and then a land package for five days returning from Fairbanks. A fare is covered so all we need to purchase is the cruisetour.
The first agency I worked through advertised 1350 +taxes. I figured 1600 per person or so. Final price came to 2100 $800 more than initial advertised price? I don't get it. I don't mind paying for a good trip but I hate the pressure salesman, add ons we don't want and such a difference in price. I know that is there job to make money.
Who would you book a cruisetour with?
I am thinking it may be better to piece the trip together on my own instead of a package.
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Old Dec 31, 07, 7:45 am   #15
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How old are your parents? Are they fairly self-mobile? Independent? If so, they might enjoy managing the land portion of the trip on their own - it will be cheaper, more flexible and less of a cattle call.

Upon arrival in Seward, they can take the train to Denali, spend some time there, continue north to Fairbanks (optional), then return via train to Anchorage.

They can also rent a car in Seward and do the land portion totally on their own schedule.
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