Even non-cruisers get excited about the possibility of an Alaskan cruise. There really is no better way to see coastal Alaska than from the balcony of your stateroom as you glide past glaciers and spot humpback whales off the bow of the ship. It's an amazing experience, but it does require a fair bit of planning and research to make sure you have the best possible time.Here are my top tips for planning and enjoying an Alaskan cruise:
Most Alaskan cruises depart from either Seattle or Vancouver, but a few are now leaving from San Francisco and Anchorage. As a general rule, the further away from Alaska you start, the more time your boat will spend at sea and the less time you'll have to explore Alaska. It may be worth it to fly further north for a more eventful cruise.Depending on your priorities and your budget, you will want to investigate the different itineraries available. There are several different popular routes along the coast of Alaska. Nearly all of them visit Juneau, Skagway, and some sort of glacier, be it Glacier Bay or Kerry Arm Fjord. Some cruises also offer an extra overland portion that visits Denali.
Each cruise ship is its own floating resort with unique amenities, dining options, and more. The key for making the most of your ship is to do research before you even step on board. Check out the cruise line's website for specifics about your boat. Sites like CruiseCritic are also really helpful for learning about and reading reviews of the rooms, restaurants, and activities available.
The quality of your land excursions can really make or break your Alaska experience. You will probably want to book some tours ahead of time, because killing 9 hours in downtown Juneau would be quite boring when you could be out whale watching, hiking, or visiting the Mendenhall Glacier. You can book excursions through your cruise line, but you aren't obligated to. There are many independent tour companies that offer similar port excursions, sometimes at a significantly cheaper rate. Just read some reviews before you book to check for both quality and safety.
The weather in Alaskan summer can be highly variable with damp and chilly mornings giving way to blazing hot afternoons. It can be chilly when the boat is moving, but hot when you pull into port. It's important to dress in layers that you can add and peel off as the day goes on. Also throw in your bag: sunscreen, sunglasses, and comfortable walking shoes.
Most important of all, bring your good camera so that you can capture all the amazing scenery. An iPhone or iPad simply won't do when it comes to glaciers, whales, and other wild animals.
What other tips would you add to this list?
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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