Alaska Cruise Tips
We put together a few tips for Alaska Cruises in order to help you decide when to go, and who to cruise with. if you still have questions about Alaska Cruises ( and you should ) contact us and see if we can answer all your questions!
One of the questions I am frequently asked is why use a travel agent when it’s so easy to book it online?
Is it though? I mean, you can click a few buttons and get a cheap cruise, but is it REALLY the cruise you want? Knowing when and where to go in Alaska to capture the experience you really want – That takes time and research!
Here are a few things to consider when booking your cruise!
Who is looking out for your interest when booking a cruise?
- Is the website looking out for you?
- When you call the cruise line directly and speak with an agent, is that agent working for you, or the cruise line?
Will you pay more by using a Travel Agent?
- There are scenarios where a service charge is added to booking travel, typically revolving around flight only purchases or wedding packages. Cruises, Tours and Vacation packages don’t normally incur any additional fees.
- Typically there are not prices online that I can not match and often I have additional perks we can add that online sites or the cruise line cannot match!
What happens when things go wrong?
- Sometimes all the planning in the world won’t stop thing from going sideways. When that happens, it pays to have a travel agent in your pocket. As part of the Travel Leaders network, we have a lot of leverage to put towards your situation when you book through T.O.T.O. Vacation.
Won’t a Travel Agent try to sell you a vacation?
- We really believe travel sells itself, and frankly if you don’t want to go to Alaska (or wherever) we don’t want to send you there! We want you to come home with terrific travel stories you share with friends! Our job is to help you find a cruise, tour or hotel that matches your budget and travel personality!
- All that being said, one thing we do ‘Sell’ is Travel Protection on every trip. We believe that every vacation is an investment that should be protected. We won’t trick you into buying it and we won’t refuse your business if you just don’t see the need, but it will be offered, on every trip, every time.
Alaska has three cruise seasons, Spring, Summer and Fall and each of them present different opportunities for specific experiences!
Spring – As the weather warms Alaska is filled with warmer sunny days! This is the perfect time to capture spectacular photos of mountain vista, see the flora as the flowers bloom and occasional you will be able to spot a bear or other wildlife in the distant wilderness.
Summer – As the salmon start to swim upstream, the predators head to the shore for the salmon buffet! This is the perfect time to watch bears, eagles and other wildlife as they come in closer. Expect rain and fog, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the Alaska Summer!Order form Frog Togs for light weight, comfortable rain gear that will keep you and your camera dry when the rain starts to fall!
Fall – As the cold starts to creep back into the everyday life of Alaska, the mountain view once again open back up, and there are still a few fish in the stream, so the predators linger as well. You can have the best of both the spring and summer, but the cost is you get the worst of those 2 seasons as well.
The season won’t affect being able to see whales, or viewing glaciers!
There are basically two big cruise line options in Alaska. Small ship itineraries are as varied as the number of ships that host them.
Inside Passage – The inside passage cruise starts and ends usually in Seattle or Vancouver, The cruise will stay east of the chain of islands separating Alaska from the Pacific ocean, stopping at ports like Ketchikan, Juneau and then a third port. One or two days will be spent cruising glaciers before heading into the Pacific for a quick return to the starting port.
One Way Cruise – Similar to one way cruises in that nearly all of them will sail the inside passage, one way cruises do not return to the original port, but rather they end (or start) around Anchorage. Typically they will sail north one week, then south the following week. Hubbard Glacier is a common glacier day, with Whittier or Seward would be the ports furthest north. many travel Agents tout this as the best type of Alaska cruise, mostly due to the ease of adding a pre or post Alaska land tour involving Denali. ( Another must see site in Alaska!) You will find that with One way tours, you often get much more time in Alaska, than you do with a Inside Passage cruise when comparing port hours across the two trips.
Small Ship Cruises – Smaller ships often stop at ports or small towns without a true port simply because they can! As such you get a very wide array of itineraries on small ships that are difficult to describe. The smaller ships get seeper inland, closer to the glaciers and really bring Alaska up close and personal. Much more than a larger ship could do, simple because they cater to fewer people. Examples I like to use as small ship cruises would be Azamara with a little under 700 passengers per ship, Ponant with around 120 passengers or UnCruise with 22. pricing for these smaller ships, as you would expect tend to be higher, but the experience is much more intense as well.
Each stop brings something wild and wonderful in Alaska! Knowing what to see where can help decide the which one is best for you!
One thing to watch for as you shop cruises will be the length of time you are in post. Then match Alaska Wish list with a cruise that maximizes the time in ports that will be the most beneficial .
Ketchikan – The southern most Alaskan port the bigger ships will visit, Ketchikann is a small port that can host up to 6 ships per day. The population of the city is just over 8000 people, so a full dock will triple or more the cities population for the day. The city is notable for it’s Native Alaskan Culture, the idyllic scenery and the salmon.
The city is surrounding the with waterways that are flooded with Salmon staring early summer and lasts throughout the season. The fish bring the bears, eagles and others predators down to the water to feats, giving tourist a show to remember.
Juneau The capital city of Alaska, Juneau is the home of a handful of Alaska wonders. Auke Bay and the Mendenhall glacier are the two big tourists spots, but the Alaska Brewery is also mixed into a handful of tours due to it’s popularity. ( The Whale Tails and Ales is a favorite excursion of mine!).
Juneau is listed as the 2nd largest city in the US ( by area ), is the only capital in the us not accessible by road, and the only city in the U.S. with a Glacier within the city limits (the Mendenhall Glacier) .
Auke Bay is the whale watching spot in Juneau! Tour sizes range from larger boats, seating 100 or so, to small inflatable skiffs seating a small handful. Humpbacks enter Auke bay by May, and stay the summer. Many tours guarantee you will see the whales. All the tours talk on the radio and once the whales are spotted, everyone rushes the spot, so it’s rare when they have to fall back on the guarantee. Seals, Eagles and perhaps bears (on shore) can also be viewed while cruising the bay.
Mendenhall Glacier – As noted above the Mendenhall Glaciers is actually withing the Juneau city limits. The tours to the glacier include helicopter, plane rides and dog sledding. Tours range in activity level giving everyone something to do.
Skagway – A compact city in southeast Alaska, set along the popular cruise route the Inside Passage. It’s home to gold-rush-era buildings, now preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad runs vintage locomotives past the famously steep Chilkoot trail and offers sweeping mountain views during its climb toward Canada.
Icy Strait Point – Icy Strait Point is a privately owned tourist destination just outside the small village of Hoonah, Alaska. It is located on Chichagof Island and is named after the nearby Icy Strait. Owned by Huna Totem Corporation, it is the only privately owned cruise destination in Alaska, as most stops are owned by the cities in which they are located. Huna Totem. Corporation is owned by approximately 1,350 Alaskan Natives with aboriginal ties to Hoonah and the Glacier Bay area. Many of them are of the Tlingit people. Royal Caribbean and is sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises invested heavily in the creation and operations of this port, and only recently has other cruise lines started to make this a stop. Favored activities include viewing whales and wildlife, fishing, zip lines and shopping. There is a brewery tours available here as well at the Icy Straight Brewery.
Haines – The Kroschel Films Wildlife Center is a wildlife rescue center and offers visitors the ability to see Alaskan wildlife up close. Grizzly bears, wolves, lynxes, reindeer, and porcupines can frequently be viewed here. The river offers rafting and wildlife viewing opportunities and Haines also has a distillery for those with a taste for Alaskan spirits.
Whittier – One of two ports outside of Anchorage with the ability to hosts larger cruise ships. Whittier connects with to anchorage via rail. While many excursions run out of Whittier, the town itself is tiny (in 2016 the population was 216, and nearly everyone lived in a single building) .
There are a LOT of cruise lines exploring Alaska, and all of them can give you an experience of a lifetime, and I can book any of them for you. However in this cruise tips sections I am showcasing a few of our preferred Cruise companies here. Something catch your eye? Let us know and we will be happy to get some more information!
UnCruise – small ships, BIG ADVENTURE. A crew member shows you to your cabin. After a short time getting situated, gain your bearings with a spin around the ship. Then head to the lounge for a glass of bubbly and to meet your shipmates. Once on board, transplanting yourself
and settling in is a snap. And you’re off! Headed to where the big ships can’t go—in more ways than one. Be sure to pack a go-with-the-flow attitude.
There are set itineraries, but nature and opportunity lead the way and in-the-moment changes will happen.
With warm-hearted people and wild places guiding your adventure, no two UnCruise departures are ever the same. No matter how you travel, adventure, place, and connection are at the heart of your exploration. Uncover hidden treasures, meet locals (the human, feathered, and wild-and woolly ones), and learn while having fun.
Change the way you see the world!
Ponant – The only French cruise line and world leader in Polar cruising, PONANT perpetuates the great French maritime tradition ; one that offers exceptional destinations on small capacity ships embodying a lifestyle “à la française” : a travel concept that combines intimacy and curiosity, luxury and authenticity.
Azamara – The three sister ships, AZAMARA JOURNEY, AZAMARA QUEST, and AZAMARA PURSUITS, are stunning, yet perfectly comfortable at the same time, with a mix of modern and contemporary design elements, several delicious dining options, a recently transformed spa and fitness center, a relaxing pool deck, Mosaic Café offering specialty coffees and treats, and daily entertainment. And with room to accommodate approximately 700 guests, they are the ideal size—big enough to offer all of your favorite club-like amenities and small enough to feel relaxed, laid back, and inviting.
Our guests have said that traveling onboard Azamara is like staying in the best possible vacation home, but one that transports you to a different destination each day. Your vacation home—all over the world. That has a nice ring to it.
Norwegian Cruise Line – Freestyle is NCL’s catch phrase. Although the ships have traditional dining venues, you do not have to set a specific time to dine, or sit with strangers. Even the specialty dining options will seat you without a reservation (if they have seating available). In addition the dress code is very casual on NCL. There is a dress up night, where you will find a large number of passengers in formal or semi-formal attire, you will see just as many in bluejeans and flip flops. Note that on the ‘formal’ night one of the dining venues may require slacks (IE no jeans) and a buttoned shirt. NCL is one of the few Cruise lines to have a permits for Glacier bay.
Princess – With over fifty years of experience sailing the region. A variety of cruises from 7 to 14 days long. A history of hosting more guests in the Great Land than any other cruise line. Plus a top-rated Voyage of the Glaciers cruise that sails 500 miles further north across the Gulf
of Alaska. This is why Travel Weekly has named Princess “#1 Cruise Line in Alaska” for the last eleven years.
While there are cruises where getting an inside stateroom, I don’t recommend doing it on an Alaska cruise. On the days where you are cruising glaciers, the public viewing areas will be crowded, and should the weather be cold, any window space will be at a premium.
Instead of fighting with the crowds, and dealing with the people bouncing for side to side, shoving their way to the rail in order to snap a photo. Sit on your balcony, or room, wrapped in a blanket and order room service. The ship will slowly rotate, giving everyone a chance to see the entire vista!
Glacier Bay makes this strategy even more effective as either the mountain or the glacier surrounds the bay the ship will circle in!.
Glaciers are one of the major focal point of an Alaska Cruise! Know what your looking at when viewing your itinerary.
Glacier Bay National Park – The motherload of Alaska Glaciers!
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a vast area of southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage, a coastal route plied by cruise ships and other vessels. Stretching north of the town of Gustavus, the bay is flanked by high peaks, including Mount Fairweather, and glaciers like the huge Grand Pacific Glacier. Bartlett Cove is the starting point for forest and riverside trails. Wildlife includes humpback whales and puffins.
- Currently only 14 ships per week are allowed to enter Glacier Bay National Park! Princess Cruise line and Norwegian cruise line are our 2 preferred cruise lines with access to the park.
Hubbard Glacier – 2nd place isn’t bad
- This tidewater glacier may be a bit of sleeping giant. Off the coast of Yakutat—200 miles NW of Juneau—Hubbard is certainly gigantic: it’s more than six miles wide and is often 400 ft or higher! It’s a very active glacier, having had two major surges in the past 30 years. Those surges were big enough to cross the bay, turning the fjord into a lake and threatening to flood the coastal town of Yakutat. While not currently surging, it does calf a lot with pieces the size of metropolitan building falling into the ocean. Much of that ice is below water, but the ice can be so thick that cruise ships can’t get too close. In the right conditions, however, your ship might be able to get within 1/2 mile of the face. Trust me, that’s VERY close!
- Hubbard falls in 2nd place not because it’s abad glacier, but rather because it’s one glacier vs Glacier Bay having several glaciers. Cold weather or bad ice can keep ships a healthy distance from the glacier as well.
- Note that this is not a stop on a “Inside Passage” Cruise
Tracy Arm Ford – Due to the nature of the water and land around this glacier, ice buildup could keep your ship far enough away from the glacier to prevent a good view of the ice. As such we do not recommend any cruise where Tracy Arm Ford is the only glacier stop on the trip.
College Fjord – a fjord located in the northern sector of Prince William Sound in the U.S. state of Alaska. The fjord contains five tidewater glaciers (glaciers that terminate in water), five large valley glaciers, and dozens of smaller glaciers, most named after renowned East Coast colleges (women’s colleges for the NW side, and men’s colleges for the SE side). College Fjord was discovered in 1899 during the Harriman Expedition, at which time the glaciers were named. The expedition included a Harvard and an Amherst professor, and they named many of the glaciers after elite colleges. According to Bruce Molina, author of Alaska’s Glaciers, “They took great delight in ignoring Princeton.”
- Outstanding Glaciers, This is not a stop on a “Inside Passage” Cruise
Train tours often match the interest of people that enjoy cruises as nearly half the people on trains tours around Anchorage or Vancouver are doing a pre or post cruise tour.
Out of Anchorage, train tours explore Denali and the wilderness up to Fairbanks and beyond. It is a terrific way to explore Alaska and see the wonders inland. Mount Denali and the Denali National Park area is a favored stop. However if a train tour is not on you bucket list, There are numerous number of Resorts north of Anchorage that showcase the wilderness and wildlife of Alaska.
In Vancouver (also accessible from Seattle) we recommend Rocky Mountaineer and one of their small handful of routes inland to explore the Canadian Rockies. As with Alaska, there are a large number of resorts that can be user to explore as well.
When looking for travel protection in Alaska (or any travel within the US), a key component is Travel Medical Evacuation Coverage.
Basically you want to make sure if you are put into the hospital for an extended period, the cost to get you home is covered. There are any number of sad stories where one party member gets hurt, and is stuck in an Alaska hospital alone for extended timelines.
Note that many default coverage option do NOT cover Medical Evacuation. Be sure to look for this specifically!
Cancel for Any Reason Coverage – A bit more expensive than normal coverage, this type of protection means right up to the last moment, you can cancel the trip and get reimbursed for any reason. Most coverages will protect you against sickness or injury, even work related coverage (Boss canceled the vacation athe last minute) is available on many standard coverages now. However Cancel for ANY reason is usually only available within a week or so of placing a deposit on the trip, and if you purchasing everything A La Carte, ( IR cruise, then Airline ticket, then excursions or Pre/port tours) coverage has to be upgraded to reflect the additions, or purchased on each item.