Alaska has many beautiful glaciers, mountains and bays teeming with wildlife. It is one of the most popular places in the world for cruising as there is so much to see.
Where is Alaska?
Imagine the continent of North America. Alaska – the 49th and largest state of the United States – is in the northwest corner of North America. It has Canada to the east and the Arctic Ocean to the north. To the west and south of Alaska, lies the Pacific Ocean. Russia is across the Bering Strait, further to the west.
Although Alaska is the largest of the States of America, it is the least populated. In 2009 it had 698,473 residents and around half of those people live in Anchorage. So Alaska really is a beautiful, natural wilderness. There aren’t many places like that left in the World which is why it is such a popular destination for cruisers who want to ‘get away from it all’.
Why cruise Alaska…?
In Alaska, many places are not reachable by road, so a cruise whip allows passengers to see many natural features that they would never be able to see from the land – even if they could access it!
The cruise season is short, lasting only 5 months but Alaska is such a popular destination that during that time, more than 750,000 people will travel through the its’ waters. By comparison, only around 40,000 people will cruise through areas of Antarctica during the same, short season.
When is Alaska cruise season?
It starts in May and runs through until September.
Why are Alaskan cruises so expensive?
Many people are shocked to find that an Alaska cruise can be more expensive than a Caribbean one. This is because getting to the port where the cruise ships embark from can be a costly process and so some cruise ships now sail from California. This can save you money in airfares but it does mean a longer cruise – which can be a good thing, or a bad thing if it means having to take more time off work.
Also, because the cruise season is relatively short, the companies have to charge more to tide them over the months when they are not able to cruise. The short season also pushes up demand which helps to inflate the prices.
Although it is a pricey option, people who cruise Alaska say it is the vacation of a lifetime and an unforgettable experience – so it’s well worth the money.
What are the cruise ships like?
They can vary greatly so it pays to shop around to get what you want. There are around 15 main Alaska Cruise companies, who, between them, have around 40 cruise ships so spend a lot of time comparing prices and what you get for your money.
The ships vary in size so if you prefer a quieter, more intimate experience, you may like the cruise ships that only carry 12 passengers. If that’s too small for you, they can carry up to 2,600 people…and all sizes in between. Obviously, the larger the ship, the more ameneties it will offer, so you need to balance that against the more personal touch that you would get on a smaller ship. It really does depend what you would prefer.
On board comforts
The middle sized and larger cruise ships often have cabins with private verandas, so you can sit on your own private balcony to enjoy the stunning scenery. The larger ships offer enormous observation lounges, so if you prefer company, they may suit you better. These larger ships often have heated swimming pools too – both indoor and outdoor. Just imagine floating in a heated pool while the glaciers glide past…what an experience!
What are ‘Cruisetours’?
These are add-on packages are offered by many of the cruise companies. They include a cruise as well as a land visit. These extended vacations are often longer than just a cruise but they can be good value for money and mean that you see a lot more of Alaska or Western Canada. For example, you could add in a visit to Denali National Park, home of Mt. McKinley. If you’ve spent a fair bit getting to the region, you may as well see as much of it as time and money allows – so check them out.
The Three Basic Alaska Itineraries
When you start researching your Alaska cruise, you will see that there are three main itineraries offered by the cruise companies. Let’s take a look at them.
1. Inside Passage.
Cruise ships leave from Vancouver or Seattle and sail to the southeast of Alaska. These cruises usually take in the amazing Glacier Bay National Park, where you can see sixteen stunning glaciers as well as an abundance of wildlife. This is a good option if money is tight because the cruise is a round trip which means that you begin (embark) and finish (disembark) at the same port. This can make your airfare a lot less expensive.
The cruise ships on this route tend to be smaller because the waters are calmer in this area and the cruise distances are not so great.
2. Gulf of Alaska.
Cruise ships sail one way between Vancouver and Seward, which is the nearest port to Anchorage. This is a more costly trip because the embarkation and disembarkation points are different. However, it does give you the chance to see a lot more breathtaking scenenery. This includes the Gulf of Alaska and the Hubbard Glacier – the longest river of ice in North America.
This itinerary usually features middle sized and larger ships, due to the more inclement weather and the greater distances involved.
3. Bering Sea Cruises.
If you’d like the chance of seeing humpbacked whales and gray whales then this is the itinerary for you. This sea lies between North America and Asia. Many of the ‘mainstream’ cruise companies don’t sail this far north but if you’re interested, put ‘Bering Sea Cruises’ into Google and you’ll find ones that do.
Whichever Alaskan cruise you choose, you can be sure of the trip of a lifetime so make sure you have a digital camera for the many photographs that you will want to take. And enjoy!