Alaska Cruise Advice

Looking for Alaska cruise advice? There are lots of things to think about when booking a cruise to Alaska. I’ll help compare some of the pros and cons here and give you the advice I always give my friends and family when they are talking about booking an Alaska cruise.

Why Should I go to Alaska?

Where do I even start with this response? Growing up in Kansas, I spent some time in my childhood and in my adulthood visiting the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado. To put it in perspective, if you’re in Denver (the “Mile-High City”), you’re sitting at approximately 5,300 feet above sea level (give or take a few hundred feet in either direction, depending on where you are in the city). In Denver, you’re not even into the Rockies yet (see topography map below). When you head west, out of Denver and start getting into the Rockies, the views and peaks of 14,000 feet are incredible, right?

Denver topography
Denver topography
Source: Google Maps (2019)

Now, let’s talk about the topography in Alaska. . . when you’re driving along a coastal highway or sailing alongside land on a cruise ship, you’re hanging out at sea level. When you look up, you’re staring at those same 14,000 peaks, but they’re actually 14,000 feet above you. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life and I have difficulty finding the right words to describe it. Photos don’t do it justice, but I’ll share a couple here that might try (note, these photos were taken in 2014, from my cell phone camera, so they’re not my best work).

Need more reasons?

Alaska cruises depart during a perfect time of year in Alaska. While many of us in the lower 48 are baking in the sun with temperatures hovering around the century mark, Alaska is a lovely escape, with temperatures ranging from “perfect” to “ideal” when you hit that sweet spot right in the middle of the summer.

Alaska has activities you just can’t do anywhere else. When we first traveled there, we did a rafting trip down a glacial river, rode on a zodiac, past icebergs, and landed on the banks of an island where we hiked through a rainforest, saw bears, looked almost straight down on top of our cruise ship from 4,000 feet above, watched salmon swimming upstream, panned for gold, crossed the US border, into the Yukon Territory, and took photos in front of more than one glacier. Alaska is like no other place in the world.

Are Alaska Cruises just for Retirees?

Nope. Josh and I took our first Alaska cruise when he was 35 and I was 32. We were definitely not the youngest on the ship and didn’t even feel exceptionally young. We’re used to cruising and that sailing happened to be on Holland America, so it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for us to be sailing with mainly retirees. Yes, our fellow passengers skewed slightly older than they probably would have if we’d been sailing Carnival or Royal Caribbean, but the general population wasn’t noticeably older than it had been on any other line we’d sailed on.

When is the right time time to sail to Alaska?

An Alaska cruise will not be cheap. . . but it will be worth every penny! When you’re looking at Alaska sailings, you’re probably going to notice that some of the available sailings are significantly less expensive than others. There’s a good reason for this. The less expensive sailings typically happen very early in the season (May) or very late in the season (September). You probably don’t want to be on these sailings. It will be cold, the landscape won’t be green, and you’re more likely to encounter rough seas.

The sweet spot I recommend for an Alaska cruise is any time between the first week of July and the last week of August. Temperatures will average in the 60s during those months, whether you’re in Juneau or in Anchorage and it will be a fantastic respite from the 100s you’d likely be experiencing back at home.

Which cruise line should I choose for my Alaska cruise?

When reading advice on cruise lines in Alaska, you’re going to see a lot of strong opinions. Based on those opinions, when my parents first sailed to Alaska, they did so on Princess. They also left on the first sailing of the season and encountered seas they compared to those shown on the “Deadliest Catch” reality series on TV.

Our first cruise to Alaska was on Holland America, a line that we have a very high opinion of. Holland America skews older than some other American cruise lines. You’re not going to find water slides and dance clubs that are open till the wee hours of the morning, but you will find a Culinary Arts Center, sponsored by America’s Test Kitchen, where you get to do cooking classes with the ship’s culinary staff. You’ll also find a jazz club inspired by BB King, and smaller ships, where you can truly relax and enjoy the scenery.

Honestly, with all the ships, including brand new ships, sailing to Alaska right now, I don’t know that I would recommend one line over any other. You could choose the Norwegian Bliss or the Norwegian Joy, two brand new ships with incredible amenities and lounges built specifically for viewing the Alaska scenery. Or, how about the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas sailing with nearly 5,000 other people, on the 11th largest cruise ship in the world. You can even sail to Alaska on a Carnival ship, if you’re looking for more of a party.

Princess tends to be known for their Alaska cruises, and we would highly recommend Holland America. That being said, we’ll be sailing back to Alaska again, in July of 2020, on the Norwegian Jewel.

I truly believe that, for an Alaska sailing, the most important part is the itinerary. So. . .

Which itinerary should I choose in Alaska?

This is probably your most important choice when booking an Alaska cruise. Alaska isn’t cheap, so you want to make sure you’re seeing all the best things when you book your cruise. Not all Alaska itineraries are created equally, so here are some of my best recommendations:

Inside Passage

If you start or end your cruise in Vancouver, you will likely have the opportunity to sail through the Inside Passage, which is truly incredible. At points, it feels like you’re sailing 20 feet from the shore, on either side of the ship. It gives you the opportunity to see wildlife and waterfalls from an angle you’ll never be able to recreate.

Glacier Bay National Park

Another itinerary element I would look at is whether or not the ship goes to Glacier Bay. Only a couple of ships are allowed into the Bay each day and it’s spectacular to experience. Most people never have the opportunity to visit Glacier Bay National Park. Most of those who do, arrive on a cruise ship.

Note that Glacier Bay isn’t going to be a place you stop and get off the ship, but a day of sailing through the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on the planet is completely worth being on the ship the whole day.

We were lucky enough to sail in the morning after a fairly significant (no damage though) earthquake, so we got to see lots of mini icebergs that had calved from the glaciers in the park overnight.

Northbound or Southbound, Not Round Trip

I also recommend doing either a northbound or southbound sailing. The Kenai Peninsula, near Anchorage is breathtaking and most round trip itineraries in and out of Seattle and Vancouver don’t go this far north. If you sail into or out of Seward, I would recommend doing some kind of tour between Seward and Anchorage. It takes a couple of hours to drive there, if you’re not making any stops, but there are tons of things to stop and see along the way, so taking some extra time and seeing all you can is one of my top recommendations. Exit Glacier is right on the way from Seward to Anchorage and you can take a short, very easy hike, and find yourself standing right next to the glacier.

When you do a one-way sailing, you have the opportunity to see much more because you’re not turning around half-way up the coast.

What kind of cabin should I choose for my Alaska cruise?

Alaska is one of the places I recommend going big or going home. Yes, you’ll be able to see everything you need to from an upper deck, but there’s nothing like waking up in the morning, pulling back your shades, and watching the Alaskan wilderness float by, while still in your jammies. I recommend a balcony for Alaska. If you’re sailing with friends or family members, get a balcony on one side of the ship while your travel companions get one on the other side of the ship. This way, you’ll always have the opportunity to see what’s happening on both sides, from the comfort of a private balcony, without having to fight for prime viewing on the upper decks.

If you can’t afford a balcony, don’t worry. Inside cabins are fine for any cruise, even Alaska. You’ll be able to leave your cabin and hang out in the public areas and you’ll be able to see everything everyone else will. You’ll just have to put on clothes first.

Should I extend my Alaska cruise with a land tour?

We didn’t extend our first Alaska cruise, back in 2014. Ever since, we’ve wished we had. While driving to Anchorage, from Seward, we were able to catch a couple of glimpses of Denali. Those views left us longing to see it up close. If you have the means, definitely add on the land tour. In order to book a land tour, you’ll have to book a one-way cruise. You can typically do the land tour before the cruise, if you’re starting in Seward, or after the cruise, if you’re ending in Seward. We’ve always regretted not doing it the first time.

Should I book an Alaska cruise?

Yes, of course! You’re going to love Alaska. It was the first cruise we ever did where we knew right away it was one we would do again. It’s like nothing you will ever experience in the lower 48. Bon Voyage!

P.S. If you’re interested in booking your first cruise or you’d just like to learn more about cruising, in general, check out my other cruising blog post, “So, You’re Interested in Booking Your First Cruise“.

2017 Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, I always like to take a few moments to reflect on all my experiences over the past 12 months. As with most years, 2017 will be remembered as a year of curve balls and unexpected surprises, but what would life be without occasional surprises and detours? Here’s my 2017 Year in Review. . . 

Amanda & Josh overlooking Honolulu
Overlooking Honolulu

Work

I just passed the two-year mark at the University of Kansas at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research, managing the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals project. The Institute officially launched our free, online learning platform on November 1st and things are going well. As the project continues through 2018, a career map feature will be added to the platform that will help guide users to trainings that will help them become proficient in a national set of core competencies that were developed by the project. The project involves a team of stakeholders from many different organizations, spread across four different states and most of the work is done virtually via video conferencing. You can learn more about the Institute and even sign up to take some of the courses yourself at www.InstituteFSP.org.  

 

My husband, Josh, spends his time working in content marketing and communications strategy for a Victoria, British Columbia-based marketing and consulting firm. He is the account lead for several Fortune 1000 clients and has spent some time this year writing about something he’s really interested in – blockchain and cryptocurrency.  You can find some of his writing at www.CoinCatalyst.com. The Bitcoin learning curve has been steep for me, but I feel much more educated in the world of cryptocurrency thanks to Josh’s devout research skills.  We even spent the drive back and forth to Central Kansas for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year listening to Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money on Audible.

 

Travel

We’ve continued traveling fairly extensively throughout 2017.

 

Hawaii

In May, we celebrated our 7th anniversary by flying to Honolulu, spending four days on the island of Oahu, followed by 12 days on a cruise ship visiting three additional islands for seven of those days and crossing the Pacific for the additional five. While in Hawaii, we stayed in an Airbnb on the North Shore of Oahu, visited Pearl Harbor, did a driving tour of Oahu, had coffee in Kona, visited our first active volcano in Hilo, went mountain tubing at Kauai Backcountry Adventures through the irrigation canals of an old sugarcane plantation in Kauai, marveled at the beauty of Waimea Canyon, took a 6-person cruise along the Na Pali Coast with Na Pali Experience (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity to do this, DO IT!!!), did the entire loop on the Road to Hana, and visited art galleries in Lahaina.

Vancouver

After spending five days at sea, we disembarked the cruise ship in Vancouver and walked 25,000 steps the first day off the ship. Vancouver is one of our favorite cities in the world and we always appreciate the opportunity to explore our favorite places when we’re there. We even made the drive along the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler.  They’re not kidding when they say the Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most beautiful drives in North America.  It’s truly spectacular, and was made even better because of an app I stumbled upon when we were planning our time on Oahu.  If you’re ever traveling in the Hawaiian Islands or in British Columbia (and a few other locations), and you’ll have a car, I HIGHLY recommend looking into the GyPSy Guide.  The company has several tours of varying lengths for each of the Islands, as well as many tour options in British Columbia, and several popular National Park destinations in the United States.  We probably downloaded 6 or 7 of their tours for our trip and they were worth every single penny.  You download the tour and pair your phone with the car’s Bluetooth, then play the audio of the tour through your car speakers while you drive.  The tour is triggered by GPS signal, and the guide gives fantastic directions.  We saw things during those driving tours that you would never find in a guidebook or by just using trial and error.  I wish every destination had something similar.

Brandywine Falls
Brandywine Falls Provincial Park

 

Family Health

When we returned from Vancouver, we found that my mom had become very ill while we were away. She’d lost a lot of weight and was very weak. Her liver specialist at the University of Kansas Hospital decided that it was time to talk about being placed on the liver transplant list and I spent three days working from the hospital while my mom went through the tests and evaluations that are required before being placed on the list. During this process, it was discovered that my mom was also in kidney failure and she was admitted to the hospital for about a week while the doctors worked on getting her healthy enough to be placed on the transplant list. The treatment she received while in the hospital helped her regain enough strength to officially receive approval to be placed on the liver transplant list on my 35th birthday. Her health continues to be stable and she will likely have to get much worse before she will be able to receive a transplant, but we’re fortunate that she’s on the list.

Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca
Amanda & Vickie outside of Palma de Mallorca

Through this process, I’ve learned more about the process of organ transplants than I ever knew existed and have started preaching the importance of registering to be an organ donor to anyone who will listen.  I even organized an organ donor drive for the Midwest Transplant Network at my office, in August.  If you’re not already registered to be an organ donor (not just with a sticker on your driver’s license, but through an actual registration process), please consider registering at www.OrganDonor.gov today.  Five minutes of your time could mean the difference between life and death for someone you know.

More Travel

Boston

In late September, Josh and I had the opportunity to visit Boston for 4 days for a marketing conference. Since both of us have a professional interest in marketing, it was a perfect opportunity to attend a conference together and get in a little sightseeing while there. Last year, we visited Boston on a cruise, but only had the chance to be in the city for a one day, so it was nice to get to spend more time there and actually get to explore a bit. We stayed in an Airbnb in Beacon Hill, right in the middle of everything. We even took Amtrak to New London, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island, so we could check off a couple of additional states. It was a great, albeit short, trip.

Vancouver (again)

One day after returning from Boston, we flew back to Vancouver, BC for a few days ahead of another cruise. We woke up before dawn one morning and drove our rental car to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen to go to Victoria and visit Josh’s childhood friend, and his family for the day. We got to enjoy high tea in Butchart Gardens before walking around Downtown Victoria, and spending a few hours at their home before taking the ferry back to Vancouver that night. We also had the opportunity to take another GyPSy Guide tour and drive east out of Vancouver to Kamloops, BC. Someday, we want to take a trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Banff, etc.) and Kamloops is halfway between Vancouver and the Rockies. It was a beautiful drive and we’re eager to get back to the area.

West Coast

From Vancouver, we boarded the Ruby Princess and headed south. We stopped in Astoria, OR, to see Mount St. Helens, spent a day in San Francisco, where we visited Sausalito, sailed under, drove over, and walked over the Golden Gate Bridge, saw the Full House Painted Lady houses, and walked around Haight Ashbury. We spent the last day of our cruise in Santa Barbara on a food & drink walking tour (Eat This, Shoot That) of the “Funk Zone” which reminded us a lot of our own East Lawrence. The cruise ended in Los Angeles and we flew home that afternoon.

Staying Busy in the Community

After founding the Girlfriend’s Gala in 2014, I’m working with our planning committee to wrap up plans for our 4th annual event, on February 2nd. The Gala is an American Cancer Society fundraiser resembling a “prom” for ladies 21 and over and features a photo booth, snack bar, raffle, and bachelor auction. It’s an event that’s becoming really popular in Lawrence and I spend a lot of time each year preparing for it and soliciting donations.  It’s always a blast and it raises a lot of money for a good cause.

 

I also spend time as a member of the Board of Directors for Just Food, the food bank, here in Douglas County, Kansas.  I serve as a member of the fund development sub-committee and help with a lot of the plans for fundraising events throughout the year.  

 

This year, in my capacity as a Board member for the Social Media Club of Lawrence, I’ve helped to revamp the format for our 2018 meetings.  Since the club was founded, it has been meeting weekly, on Wednesday mornings at 7:30.  With many of the members starting families and having to drop kids off at school at exactly that time every morning, it was becoming difficult to get many members to attend meetings.  We’re excited to start hosting monthly lunch networking meetings and monthly evening meetings with presentations, starting in January.  For more information about attending or becoming involved with SMC Lawrence, visit our Facebook page.

 

Grad School

I’m so close to being done with grad school, I can smell it.  I’m officially half-way through my final year of a two-year Master’s program at the University of Kansas in Digital Content Strategy. I’ll walk down the hill at graduation on May 13th and finish my final class over the summer.  

 

Work Travel

I didn’t travel as much for work this year as I did in 2016, but still got out of Lawrence with colleagues a few times:

  • March – South By Southwest Education – Austin, TX
  • March – South By Southwest Interactive – Austin, TX
  • March – Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals Meeting – Harrisonburg, VA

 

2018 Plans

2018 will bring a trip to Texas and two trips to the Caribbean.

 

Texas

In January, we’re spending 4 days in Austin and San Antonio. Josh has never been to either city and I’m looking forward to getting back to Austin and visiting San Antonio for the first time. We’re staying in an Airbnb on Rainey Street, which is one of my favorite little pockets of Austin. We’re excited to get to see one of our friends and her family when we visit San Antonio.  We accidentally found out they would be there (visiting from southern Mississippi for a conference) the same weekend we would, so we’ll get to spend time with them both in January and in November.  

 

Eastern Caribbean

In May, we will be travelling back to the Eastern Caribbean on the same itinerary we sailed in 2016 (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, out of Miami).  We haven’t booked any tours yet, but if Josh has his way, we’ll be doing the same tours we did when we were in each location before.  Unfortunately, St. Thomas, St. John, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda all took pretty direct hits from two hurricanes this fall, and we’re not sure how many of the tour operators are back to functioning 100% at this point.  We really enjoyed touring St. John and visiting the Baths at Virgin Gorda when we were there in 2016 and would love to get back to both again.

 

Western Caribbean for Josh’s 40th Birthday

In November, we will be sailing to the Western Caribbean with at least 25 friends and family members for Josh’s 40th birthday. We sail from New Orleans, which will be a lot of fun! You can see our itinerary and learn more about the cruise HERE. If you’d like to go with us, we’d love to have more in our group, so please let me know. There’s plenty of room for more people in our group and you get quite a few perks by being a part of a group, so make sure you book through us. Deposits are always fully refundable through the final payment for cruises, so there’s not a lot of risk involved in booking early.  

 

Wrap Up

2017 has been quite a year.  We’ve been a few new places, made some new friends, been involved in our community, and learned a lot.  What were your favorite parts of 2017?