Frequently Asked Alaska Cruise Questions
Answers to some of the most commonly asked Alaska cruise questions...
Why take an Alaska cruise?
Alaska boasts one of the most stunning waterways in the world.
Fantastic scenery: On a cruise you get close to Alaska’s immense glaciers often witnessing a calving where large blocks of ice break off in thunderous sound and crash in the icy waters below.
Abundant wildlife: Seeing whales and eagles is common.
Historic ports of call: Many towns were built on the waterways and coastlines and are only accessible by sea or air.
A comfortable vacation: Most of southeastern Alaska is protected when cruising the Inside Passage, you’ll experience a calm, relaxing and enjoyable voyage.
Convenience: Ships tender to or are docked near the center of town; it’s an easy walk to either the heart of things or out of town for a nature hike.
The sun shines at midnight and nature reigns. Most of us lack a true appreciation for Alaska’s size, with more than 1,400 miles north to south, 2,400 miles east to west and over 6,000 miles of coast line, it’s truly a land of epic proportions. Life in this northern frontier is different and a visit here is an adventure of a lifetime.
What’s the best Alaska cruise?
The answer, as with all things in life, depends. It depends on your priorities and what is important to you. Alaskan cruises range from mainstream voyages, to premium sailings to luxury vacations. Within these categories are everything from small cruise vessels and private yachts available for charter, to the largest ships offering an incredible range of onboard amenities, dining options, entertainment, casinos, and other diversions. Each option has its pros and cons, and the best choices are those that satisfy the type of vacation you are looking for!
What’s the best Alaska cruise itinerary?
There are two types of itineraries for Alaska cruises: Inside Passage cruises that sail roundtrip from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco; and Gulf of Alaska cruises that sail one way between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier.
An Inside Passage cruise is a calm voyage with land on either side of the ship. You will typically visit three or four ports of call. Itineraries usually include some combination of Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Victoria, B.C. You’ll spend a day in Glacier Bay or another glacier area and a couple of days at sea.
- Potential disadvantage: It’s round trip, you will not cover as much ground.
- Beneficial if: You want to take advantage of roundtrip airfare from your home to the embarkation port and/or you want to sit back, relax and take in the scenery.
A Gulf of Alaska cruise travels further north, outside of the Inside Passage, and includes open-ocean. A typical itinerary includes many of the same ports as an Inside Passage cruise does plus opportunities to visit Valdez, Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord or other towns in the gulf.
- Potential disadvantage: Airfare may be more costly, since it’s one way, and you’ll be flying home from a different city.
- Beneficial if: You are planning to further explore some of Alaska’s interior on a pre or post cruise land tour.
Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all Alaska cruise passengers opt to extend their cruise with a tour of inland Alaska, the Yukon or the Canadian Rockies.
What is the best time to go on an Alaskan Cruise?
Alaska cruises are offered from early May to late September. The best time to go depends on your priorities and what is important to you. May and June tend to be the drier months, July and August are the warmest ones. Early and late season Alaska cruises (May and September) tend to be slightly cheaper and the ports of call are less crowded. For the maximum amount of daylight the longest Alaskan days will be in June and July (up to 18-21 hours). Spring is an excellent time to see wildflowers in bloom and the fall is known for its colorful fall foliage. Each month has its benefits. Plan your trip around what best meets your needs.
How long are Alaska cruise vacations?
The most popular cruise length is 7-days, either a roundtrip itinerary through the Inside Passage departing from Seattle or Vancouver; or a Gulf itinerary sailing one-way, northbound or southbound between Seward or Whittier and Vancouver. Besides these week-long cruises, there are longer and shorter sailings available.
Depending on how much you want to do and see the amount of time you have and what you want to spend you also have the option of extending your Alaska cruise by adding a land tour to it. Known as “cruisetours” these tours range from 3 to 16 days, can be added either before or after your cruise and allow you to explore Alaska’s interior and/or the Yukon Territory.
What are Alaska Cruise Tours?
Let’s not forget how big the state of Alaska is. While an Alaska cruise is truly an amazing journey by itself, for many of you this is the “trip of a lifetime” and you’ll want to see more than what’s viewable from your ship. To see Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley, two of the top sights that are probably on your list, you must travel inland.
You create a “cruisetour” by combining an Alaska cruise with an Alaska land tour. Alaska land tours are available in varying lengths and offer you the opportunity to experience the coastal and interior areas of this great state.
With many different options available, a cruisetour will offer an in-depth look into this amazing destination. Land tour options include itineraries through Yukon Gold Rush Country, the Canadian Rockies and/or the heart of Alaska’s interior and Denali National Park. Travel typically includes deluxe motorcoach transportation, stays in wilderness lodges and on select itineraries domed rail service. Tour highlights may take in the Kenai Peninsula, Tombstone Park, Kluane National Park, the Arctic, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and more.
Alaska is enormous. It’s more than twice the size of Texas. Beyond Alaska’s stunning coastline lies a vast wilderness. A cruisetour can take you there.
Is a stateroom with a balcony really worth it?
With the longer, daylight hours the spectacular scenery on an Alaska cruise is in evidence and always changing. Being able to sit on your veranda and enjoy views of mountains, glaciers, picturesque waterfront communities and the possibility of seeing wildlife at almost any time of day is hard to beat.
Private balconies also provide a great respite from the crowds and make your cabin seem bigger too. So, the answer is yes – a balcony is highly recommended.
Short of a balcony stateroom, opt for an ocean-view cabin with a large picture-sized window view of the stunning scenery.
What’s the best side of the ship?
During an Alaska cruise neither side of the ship will have a “bad” view. When considering the Gulf of Alaska route there may be a slight advantage to booking the left (port) side on a southbound voyage and the right (starboard) side on northbound journeys. Why? During the portion of the cruise where you are at sea in the Gulf of Alaska these sides of the ship will have views of the mainland. This certainly isn’t a make or break proposition, but you may find a view of the shore more appealing than the open ocean. Roundtrip Inside Passage cruises spend the majority of their time in the protected waters between the Pacific coast and nearby islands. The view will be amazing regardless of your location on the ship. When viewing glaciers, ships tend to turn about so both sides get an excellent view. In general, it really doesn’t matter which side of the ship you choose, the view will be equally good.
What’s the best time for viewing wildlife?
That all depends on what you want to see! We've been to Alaska at different times of the year, and have always spotted wildlife.
It’s not uncommon to see whales and other marine wildlife right from the deck of your ship. You may see Humpback, Beluga, Orcas, Sea Otters, Seals, Dolphin and Harbour Porpoises. The months of June through September offer the best viewing opportunities for whales.
Your chance of seeing black or brown (grizzly) bears improves in late July and August during the salmon spawn. Bald eagles also feed on salmon, making this a great time for bird-watching.
The number of bald eagles you’ll see throughout the entire cruise route will surprise you. You can literally spot them in any port. They are truly a majestic sight you will never forget. Other commonly seen birds include Puffins, Loons, Trumpeter Swans and Hawks.
The chance of sighting wildlife improves in early June too. This is the time of year when young are born and animals are migrating to better feeding areas for summer.
If you are interested in seeing Moose, Caribou and Dall Sheep try to extend your vacation to include several nights in Anchorage or Denali National Park.
Please keep one thing in mind, it’s important to have realistic expectations, there are no guarantees.
Is it true it doesn't get dark in Alaska?
Alaska gets as much daylight and darkness as anywhere else on earth over the course of a year; it's just distributed differently. The further north you go, the more daylight you get. Above the Arctic Circle it doesn’t get dark at all for several months. Around June 21, the longest day of the year, most of the state enjoys at least a few hours of dusk or darkness. You’ll experience 19 hours of daylight in Anchorage, 22 in Fairbanks and 18 along the Southeast Panhandle. After the summer solstice, June 21, about 5 minutes of daylight a day is lost.
Will Alaska be too cold?
For many people the expectation is – Alaska is a cold place. It is our country’s northern most state. Glaciers, Icebergs and tours like dog-sledding and glacier trekking conjure up visions of wintry conditions. Actually, while it isn’t exactly hot, it is very pleasant. Temperatures along Alaska’s coastline average around 60 degrees. The Inside Passage is a temperate rainforest. The region receives over 180 inches of rainfall which varies greatly from port to port. Inland, the temperatures can get quite a bit warmer. Even though it is much further north Fairbanks enjoys temperatures up to 80 degrees or more due to the moderating effects of the chilly waters along the Inside Passage. Most days are very comfortable, but it’s important to be prepared for both cold and warm weather. No matter where you go or what you do on an Alaska cruise, the key to staying comfortable is dressing in layers.
Will I get to see Mt. McKinley?
Mt. McKinley, or Denali as it's called in Alaska, is the tallest mountain in North America. It is one of the most coveted sights in Alaska. The main trouble with accomplishing the goal of spotting it is the weather. Due to the mountains gigantic size it creates its own weather and cloud coverage can be rather unpredictable. Your odds breakdown this way… chance of a completely clear day 33 percent, partly cloudy day offering a partial view 40 percent, not seeing it at all due to overcast conditions roughly 25 percent. Viewing the mountain is never guaranteed, but since Alaska’s weather tends to get wetter and cloudier as summer progresses, your chance of seeing Mt. McKinley is probably better in May and early June.
North America’s largest mountain is located in Denali National Park in the interior of Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks. It can be seen from just about anywhere in the interior or south central regions of Alaska. To improve your chances you’ll need to book a one-way Gulf itinerary as opposed to the roundtrip Inside Passage route.
Should I bring my kids?
Alaska is a great choice for families. Kids will enjoy the adventurous activities and parents will love the “edutainment” aspect of the trip. This vacation is not your typical sun, surf and sand experience and offers unbelievable opportunities to introduce children to nature and science.
Most of the cruise lines cater to and provide services for families with children of all ages. This includes expansive kids programming, dedicated facilities, special entertainment and menus and even excursions onshore. There really is a tremendous amount to do both onboard the ship and at each of the ports.
Cruise ships feature staterooms that can accommodate three, four, five and sometimes more passengers in one cabin. This means families can save money. Children travel at a substantially reduced rate when they share a cabin with their parents, making it more affordable to take the whole family to this unforgettable destination. (Connecting staterooms are also available).
Do I need a passport to go to Alaska?
Cruise Lines strongly recommends that all guests travel with a valid passport during their cruise. This greatly assists guests who may need to fly out of the United States to meet their ship at the next available port should they miss their scheduled embarkation in a U.S. port; guests entering the U.S. at the end of their cruise; and guests needing to fly to the U.S. before their cruise ends, because of medical, family, personal or business emergencies, missing a ship's departure from a port of call, involuntary disembarkation from a ship due to misconduct, or other reasons.
US citizens cruising to Alaska on a ship that departs from or ends in Canada (e.g. Vancouver) will require a valid passport card or passport if they enter Canada by land or sea. US citizens cruising to Alaska that enter or depart Canada by air need a valid passport. Important Note: Canada has issued the following advisory for all U.S. citizens entering Canada. "Anyone with a criminal record (including a DWI charge) should contact the Canadian Embassy or nearest Consulate General before travel."
U.S. citizens on cruises that begin and end in the same U.S. port (e.g. Alaska cruises sailing roundtrip from Seattle, WA) and travel to Canada are able to re-enter the U.S. with proof of citizenship other than a passport or passport card. Acceptable proof of citizenship includes an original or certified copy of your birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license). Passports are required for cruises that begin in one U.S. port and end in another.
Please note that it is the passenger's responsibility to provide acceptable proof of citizenship. There are no refunds to passengers denied boarding due to the lack of proper documents.
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