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Old 11-08-2007, 07:51 PM   #1
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Lightbulb Alaska Cruising: What are your experiences?

Loonbeam requested us to describe some of our Alaska cruise experiences, so here's mine.

I've been fortunate enough to have cruised to Alaska twice. Both were on Celebrity, my favorite big ship (more than a 1,000 passengers) cruise line. The first cruise didn't include a land tour, but the second one did.

With regard to the cruise itself, I found by examining the cruise itineraries, that cruising one way only gave more time in the ports, and enabled you to stop at one extra port, for most cruise lines, than doing a round trip (start/finish at the same port) cruise of the same length of time. I further found that for Celebrity anyway, south bound cruises, from Seward, south, had more time in each port, for land excursions, than north bound cruises.

Most of the cruises stop at the same ports with some offering one or two different stops. Forgetting differences in the cruise lines themselves, my research showed considerably different opportunities offered for shore excursions by the cruise lines. Fortunately, in Alaska, it's not too hard for most potential excursions, to book them yourself, instead of through the cruise line. The problem with that is that many of the really good excursions are very time consuming and will take you right to the departure time of the ship, and personally, I'm booking them only with the cruise line, so if they run late, the ship will still be there. I have been on more than one cruise where passengers didn't make it to the ship on time and had to meet the ship, on their own cash, at the next port.

If anyone wants a critique of my cruise line opinions, I can do that in a separate post. I can also make shore excursion suggestions.

On our second Alaska cruise we took a land tour with the cruise line prior to the cruise and wow was that great. I'm sorry we didn't do it on our first cruise. Does a land tour ever add to the experience! We decided that we probably wouldn't take another Alaska cruise for a long time and decided to do this one well. Our land tour started in Fairbanks and went to Denali, Talkeetna, and Anchorage.

Out of Fairbanks, we took a plane trip over the Arctic Circle up to Arctic Gateway National Park. This was a fabulous trip. We also took the river boat there which everyone takes. From Fairbanks we took the famous Alaska Railway down to Denali in those fabulous double decker observation cars. They served a great breakfast in the lower level of the car. Each cruise line has there own cars. Celebrity's and Princesses were among the best of the cars, but they all seemed very good. Denali was spectacular. We took a ski-plane ride to a glacier on Denali itself. It was an incredible flight. In Talkeetna we went white water rafting down the Nenana River. What a great ride! We went to the wonderful Anchorage Art Museum while there. Al along the way we saw many incredible sights. One of the perks of having taken the land tour was that our luggage was taken ahead of us from Anchorage and was in our stateroom by the time we boarded the ship. Everyone on the tour was able to get priority boarding too, as all the paper work for the cruise was completed while on the land tour.

If anyone wants more land tour info, I would be happy to supply that in another post.
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Old 11-08-2007, 08:12 PM   #2
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My one comment is that Loonbeam said he rarely dresses up. Of the lines that do cruise/land tour options in Alaska, I would say that RCCL or Carnival would be the least formal of the cruiselines (NCL is actually the most casual but they aren't doing any one way cruises in 2008 and it is unlikely they will have one in 2009). I think Princess may not be the best option for him if he dislikes dressing up and Celebrity and HAL would definitely not be good options for him.
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Old 11-08-2007, 08:59 PM   #3
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I think your comments are asute WRP.

One of the reasons I like Celebrity is exactly what Loonbeam doesn't like, it's formal nights and more formal atmosphere than some of the other cruise lines. Princess would be my second choice for the trip, so I agree it's probably not for Loonbeam.

On the other hand, one of the reasons I personally wouldn't take RCCL or Carnival on this trip is their adult/child ratio. I'm guessing it would be very much a lower ratio (many more children) than Celebrity or Princess. I'm at a stage in life where unless I'm traveling with the whole family, if it's just my wife and I, we'd rather be on a ship not catering to, and overflowing with kids.

I do strongly suggest one way Alaska cruises, north or south, are preferred over round trip. I also suggest doing the land tour first, so as to finish the trip on the more relaxing cruise portion, as opposed to the more hectic bus/train portion.

Of course, once one chooses the cruise line, two factors really come into play in choosing the best cruise/land trip. I would look for the best land tour possible from the cruise line chosen, which couples with the cruise which maximizes the number of ports visited, and maximizes the length of time at each one. There are clearly other factors, but I think those are the most important ones.

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Originally Posted by wrp96 View Post
My one comment is that Loonbeam said he rarely dresses up. Of the lines that do cruise/land tour options in Alaska, I would say that RCCL or Carnival would be the least formal of the cruiselines (NCL is actually the most casual but they aren't doing any one way cruises in 2008 and it is unlikely they will have one in 2009). I think Princess may not be the best option for him if he dislikes dressing up and Celebrity and HAL would definitely not be good options for him.
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Old 11-08-2007, 09:10 PM   #4
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Ned, I've heard that there are much fewer children even on the Carnival cruises to Alaska. I believe it's related to the higher costs of cruising to Alaska.
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Old 11-08-2007, 09:22 PM   #5
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We've done the Alaska Cruise twice too - both times on the Carnival Spirit. We originally chose that ship in July 2004 because the number of balcony cabins available and the more reasonable charge for them was a prime consideration. We had a large group of family members and all had different financial circumstances.

We had such a great time that another group of cousins went back this past September. The biggest difference was that this time it left from and returned to Vancouver. We also visited Glacier Bay this time - and saw College Fjord the first time. My personal feeling is that College Fjord was much more dramatic and that we got closer to the glacier at that time.
My perception may have been influenced by the weather. It was foggy and misty the day we were in Glacier Bay and sunny and clear the day at College Fjord.

There were more kids on the July 2004 cruise than on the Sept 2007 one, but certainly not anywhere near the number you'd find on the Carnival cruises to warmer spots.

The Alaska cruise is not as formal as some of the others. There were two nights on the Carnival line that were considered formal, but tuxedos and evening gowns were certainly few and far between. Most people dressed up some for dinner each night in the dining room, but not excessively so.

The first trip went from Vancouver to Seward. When we got there, we made our own land tour with rented cars. It didn't make sense to not see more of the State once we were there. We rented cars and explored Anchorage and Seward and Exit glacier first, then drove up to Fairbanks. It's a shock to see how tiny that city is. From Fairbanks we stopped to see the Alaska Pipeline and tried our hand at panning for gold.

Denali is a destination in itself. Some of us did do the whitewater rafting and Ned is right about that! It's an experience. The water is one day away from the glacier. At a calm spot, everyone had the opportunity to get into the water. Even though you are wearing wetsuits, you can still almost feel how cold the water is.
Getting back into the raft wasn't a very graceful operation though...

The roads are good, scenery is great and there is no traffic to speak of once you get out of the city, but the distances are pretty long.
You have to enjoy the long drives in order to appreciate doing it on your own.

The highlight of our travel around was a visit to Matanuska Glacier. It's actually not that far from Anchorage and could be a day trip from there.
It's the one glacier that you can drive right up to, then get out and walk as far as you want.

Hotels outside of Anchorage were modest and reasonable. We actually rented apartments at Denali that were great. The only place I woulnd't recommend is the Gold Miner Hotel in Palmer. We'd chosen that because it was one of the closest to Matanuska Glacier, but it was VERY STRANGE.

I think the only ship sponsored outing we took was the train at Skagway. For the other ports, we read about them ahead of time and found our way to different points of interest.
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Old 11-08-2007, 09:58 PM   #6
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Relatively speaking compared to other destinations, you're probably correct. Based on personal observation alone, looking at who came off the ships in Alaska, I can tell you that between cruise lines, there were many fewer kids on Celebrity and Princess in Alaska, than RCCL and Carnival. I can also tell you, that on our land tour for that cruise, Celebrity had 3 buses (for the most part each bus traveled independently) and not a single kid on any.

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Ned, I've heard that there are much fewer children even on the Carnival cruises to Alaska. I believe it's related to the higher costs of cruising to Alaska.
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Old 11-09-2007, 05:20 AM   #7
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I've never cruised to Alaska, but I have friends that used to live in the Wasilla area (now in Anchorage). I flew up there a couple of times to visit them. On my first trip, we drove out to the Matanuska glacier. We didn't go out to it, but from the stop on the road where we had lunch, we got a great picture. I still use it to this day as my desktop wallpaper.
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Old 11-09-2007, 05:59 AM   #8
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Aaron, I don't know what time of year you've been to the Anchorage area, but we were there in early August and found the city charming. The city was extremely clean and we loved how they had so many beautiful gardens there and all those hanging flower pots throughout the city just added so much to the landscape. I'd go back to Alaska in a second, but there are so many wonderful places on my list that I haven't visited, that it will probably be a long time until I get there.

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I've never cruised to Alaska, but I have friends that used to live in the Wasilla area (now in Anchorage). I flew up there a couple of times to visit them. On my first trip, we drove out to the Matanuska glacier. We didn't go out to it, but from the stop on the road where we had lunch, we got a great picture. I still use it to this day as my desktop wallpaper.
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Old 11-09-2007, 06:27 AM   #9
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My first trip to the Wasilla area was Labor Day weekend back in 2002. My last trip was last year to Anchorage during the solstice. I was very happy to be back in Seattle (where I overnighted on the way home). I didn't realize how much I missed "dark".
Whereas, my dad and stepmom did a cruise/landtour this summer. They said the cruise part was great, but the landtour was a waste of time. They didn't get to see too much due to the bus scheduling. They also said that it appeared that the hotels weren't prepared for the buses of people being offloaded at the same time.
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Old 11-09-2007, 06:41 AM   #10
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Quote:
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Relatively speaking compared to other destinations, you're probably correct. Based on personal observation alone, looking at who came off the ships in Alaska, I can tell you that between cruise lines, there were many fewer kids on Celebrity and Princess in Alaska, than RCCL and Carnival. I can also tell you, that on our land tour for that cruise, Celebrity had 3 buses (for the most part each bus traveled independently) and not a single kid on any.
It also depends on the time of year that you travel. When we went on Carnival in September, I don't think there were even 10 kids total. Most of the passsengers seemed to be in their 50s, 60s and many much more than that.
If you elect to travel at a time when the kids have just gone back to school, you'll probably have few of them along, but will also have a much older crowd in general.
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