September 4, 2015
For our 20th anniversary, my husband and I wanted to do something we’d never done – a new experience for both of us. It didn’t take long to land on an Alaskan cruise. We’d never taken a cruise, and we’d never gone to Alaska, even though we live in the Pacific Northwest.
Though we aren’t really the cruise types, from what we read, you don’t get the same vistas of the glaciers if you drive. We knew we wanted the big scenery, so I clicked the button and reserved a place on the Celebrity Solstice, one of the more romantic cruise lines.
Overall we had a fabulous experience on the boat. The crew on Celebrity was friendly, accommodating, and as attentive as any I’ve ever seen. The food was gourmet – not an easy task when feeding that many people, and we got to meet the chefs several times. The other pleasant surprise were the elaborate shows put on every evening. They were amazing. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but it’s how I imagine those shows to be – trapeze artists whirling around high in the air, and gymnasts performing great feats of strength and talent. This gave us something to do, since we were on the boat quite a bit.
Something to note – the cruise from Seattle to Alaska travels a great distance. You will be at sea the majority of your trip. If you want more time at the ports, consider leaving from a different city further north.
For us, we needed to stop the fast moving train of our lives and invest in our marriage by spending loads and loads of downtime together. Because of this, the boat time ended up being a gift.
Here are some tips I gathered that may help you as you prepare for your northern adventure.
Bring a good pair of binoculars. The cruise line may provide some, but they aren’t very good. It’s worth it to buy or borrow a quality pair so you can see the Orcas and Humpbacks that are sometimes a few hundred feet from the boat, or the bald eagles perched in trees.
Bring layers, including a good raincoat. Alaska is cold, even during their warm season. Throw in plenty of socks, a pair of light gloves, a warm hat, a baseball hat for rain, quick dry clothing, and a portable umbrella. A down coat is also nice to have for early morning deck viewing or evening whale watching (when many of them are active).
Plan your own excursions. The excursions the cruise offers are great, but very expensive, especially if you are going as a family. It’s worth it to order the Official State Vacation Planner from travelalaska.com and find ways to do your own excursions. Even if you simply wait to book a trip until after you are off the ship and into the town, it will be significantly less. As soon as you get off the boat there are multiple options in every direction.
For example, in Juneau you can pay the big bucks for someone to take you to the Mendenhal Glacier, then guide you on a hike, or you can catch the bus for $10.00 round trip from Juneau and then pick up a hiking map at the exploration center and do your own! We did a beautiful 6-mile hike through the Tongass rain forest. We were the only ones out there without a guide and those people were paying up to $150-$200 a person.
While flying in a float plane into the bush may be totally worth it to check off your bucket list, there are certainly ways to see the beauty of Alaska without the high price tag.
Visit fish hatcheries or rivers where the salmon are spawning to see bears. This tip came from an Alaskan kayak guide we met. She said a great place to view bears feeding on salmon is at the hatcheries. We never would have thought of that.
Bring a backpack . You need it to pack your layers, binoculars, and camera on your outings.
Consider 2 way radios, especially if you have kids. Cell phone coverage is spotty at best, and internet packages are costly. Two way radios allow you to communicate with one another while on the cruise boat, and also in town if you aren’t too far apart.
Two pairs of walking/hiking shoes are helpful. Because it is so wet, you may want to bring two pairs so that if one is soaking, you can wear the other pair. We found that drying out shoes on the deck is faster than inside the cabin because of the wind.
You are allowed to bring up to two bottles of your own wine (check with your cruise line to verify). We would grab a plate of cheese and grapes at lunch and enjoy our own happy hour on our deck.
Upgrading to a room with a deck is worth it on the Alaskan cruise. The vistas are amazing and viewing them in the privacy of your room with your bathrobe on is really livin’!
Download a couple of movies to your computer before you go. If you know you will want a movie night in, this will cost you much less. Also, the selection of movies on board is not that extensive.
Check if you will have a tendering at any port. This is where they have to take you to port in small vessels because there is not room for your cruise ship to dock. If that is the case, get in line early to get a ticket (don’t go when they say to go – get there earlier). We ended up having to spend much longer on the cruise boat at port because of this tedious process. We wished we had known to go earlier to get a better spot in line for the tendering. If you are choosing between two different comparable cruise lines, and one has tendering and one doesn’t, this would be a deal breaker.
Formal nights really are formal…even in Alaska. While you may not want to bring your prom dress, you may want to bring some fancy jewelry to dress up your outfit.
Many natives told me that June is often a dryer month to visit than August. Their weather system is different, and by August they are already headed into fall. Check out the average rainfall in each summer month and see what you think.
Pack warmer than you think. The temperature was, on average, between 55-60 degrees F. plus a wind chill. While not terribly cold, even on board I felt like putting on a sweater most of the time. Pack accordingly. I was a little jealous of the women sporting their cute riding boots. I’m still in flip-flop summer mode and it never even crossed my mind.
We absolutely loved Alaska. It is what everyone says, and what you imagine in your mind. Hundreds of miles of craggy peaks, rugged terrain, and water. It is breathtaking.
What else would you like to know about Alaska
or about the cruise?
Leave me comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
Have an amazing trip to one of the last
truly wild places in the world!!