Travel Thoughts by Kim
Let’s go on an adventure together….to Alaska!
I know you don’t really want to think about the cold, right now…neither do I! But, I’m still going to take you on an adventure to Alaska via a wonderful cruise I took with a friend in June 2016.
I always dreamed of going on an Alaskan cruise – in fact, when I got married in 1985, we talked about going on an Alaskan cruise for our honeymoon. Since that didn’t happen, this particular adventure was still on my Bucket List. So, when a friend from church asked if I’d go with her, I jumped at the chance!
There are a few different cruise lines that go through Alaska and a few different ways to experience the cruise. We heard that Holland America was the best when it came to Alaska, so that is the line we chose.
As far as ways to experience the cruise, here are the basic ones (there are some other variations, but these are the usual ways): 1) you can do just the “sea” part – a week long cruise with stops at various ports where you can get off the ship and explore.
2) “Land and Sea” – usually two weeks where you tour via land, first – typically parts of the Yukon and Denali and then you do the sea part as described in # 1.
3) “Sea and Land” – same as # 2, but the parts are switched so you do the cruise part first and the land part second. There are several other variables, depending on which cruise line and which cruise within the cruise line you choose – I suggest you get books from all the cruise lines and review / compare each of the cruises each line offers.
I can say, though, that based on what I hear from others who have gone and from my own experience, that Holland America is likely the best cruise line when going to Alaska. Of course, that is personal opinion, but many I’ve talked to agree.
Another tip I picked up from talking to others who did the whole shebang is to pick a cruise that does the Land portion first – you do a lot of moving luggage and different hotels and modes of transportation, so it tends to be more tiring and then you get on the cruise ship for a week and it is a more relaxing way to end the trip. Something to think about, anyway.
After giving all the different ways to see Alaska, we decided to do just the Sea version. We gave it a lot of thought and, at the time, we liked only being gone for one week, instead of two or more, and we were happy with the areas of Alaska the trip covered. So, that was our choice, at that time, and it was wonderful. However, I do sometimes feel sad I didn’t get further into the Yukon and Denali, so I would love to go, again, and do the whole experience.
When you go is a big factor, too. If you pick peak season – mid to late summer – it can be more pricey. But, if you go too early or late in the season, you could run into bad weather and some places you might hope to see/do may be closed or inaccessible. We decided to go the end of June and that year it ended up being perfect. No matter when you go, pack for anything! We ran into rain, snow, super cold, and amazing sunny 80 degree days – all in the same week! We were so glad we packed everything from short sleeves to a winter coat!
But – the most important advice I can give you is that this may be one cruise where you consider paying a bit more for a balcony/veranda room. We did and were so glad we did. I’ll get into the specific times it was so well worth the price as this article goes on, but, for now, suffice it to say – I recommend you give it serious consideration and if your budget will allow – DO IT!
Our cruise sailed out of Vancouver and was a round trip that also ended in Vancouver. And the first day was all at sea cruising through the Inside Passage. This was our first hint that we were glad to have chosen a balcony room. For most of this day, we cruised close enough to land to get stunning views from the comfort of our private balcony. We also spent a great deal of time exploring the ship and taking in some of the wonderful activities.
Our first port stop was Juneau – the capital and third largest city in Alaska. We chose an excursion that included whale watching tour and a hike through a rain forest to see Mendenhall Glacier. We saw LOTS of very active whales and even some playful sea lions – it was amazing!
It was my first whale watching experience – I have since gone whale watching in Hawaii and off the coast of Portugal, but the best one is still the one I did in Alaska. Mendenhall Glacier was awesome and the hike through the rain forest gave us sightings of several bald eagles, cute little mouse-like creatures we never did find out what exactly they were, and a huge porcupine sitting in the tree right above our heads just watching us walk by and posing for photos.
The next day was my second favorite day of the entire trip – Skagway. We fell in love with Skagway – a lovely, picture perfect little mining town. It was also my favorite shore excursion. We chose a train ride that took us through the Skagway area country side and two miles into the Yukon (so, we did get to see some of it, even though we didn’t choose the Land and Sea option) and back. If you go and have this train ride as an option, I highly recommend it. I also recommend you pay the extra money to get to ride in the luxury car – so worth it! Instead of the bench seats with two per seat, everyone had a comfortable high back leather swivel seat with unobstructed views of the scenery….and free mimosas – just sayin’! The views were spectacular as the train snaked through the country side along the edge of mountains with valleys, rivers, and waterfalls galore.
The next day was THE BEST day and the one day that absolutely makes getting a balcony room so well worth the extra cost, if you can manage it – Glacier Bay. I hear that not all cruises go through Glacier Bay – some of the bigger ships can’t go in. So, if there is one decision that takes your trip over the top, it is to choose one that includes going through Glacier Bay – seriously!
This is a bay that is full of glaciers and views that will literally take your breath away – I stood there and cried, it was so awe-inspiring. It is a National Park and state law prohibits ships to play loud music or make any loud noises, so everyone was encouraged to make as little noise as possible. It was perfectly silent as we cruised through the glaciers – even the seagulls weren’t making noise. The only noise was an occasional sound like a gunshot and crack and splash as a piece of a glacier broke off and fell into the water (called “calving”) to make small icebergs.
It was eerie, peaceful, reverent, and amazing. And, we got to experience it from the deck chairs on our balcony – not standing on deck with several hundred other people – and we could pop in the room every once in a while to warm up without losing our spot. And, we thought we might miss part of the views because we were only on one side of the ship, but the tour goes around one way and then goes back around, so both sides of the ship gets to see every inch of the bay.
Our last port was Ketchikan – Alaska’s First City and claims to be the Salmon Capital of the World. Ketchikan was an interesting and fun little town, but more commercialized and touristy than the other places we visited. We didn’t take a formal shore excursion in this port – we just explored on our own and took a trolley to a Totem Pole Park that was really nice.
Our last day was cruising through the Inside Passage back to Vancouver – a great way to wind down the trip.
Alaska is amazing! I really do want to go back and do the whole experience – Land and Sea. However you choose to do your visit, I’m sure you’ll find it to be magical.
Visit my blog post for more photos and info from my amazing Alaskan Cruise: https://thoughtsbykim.com/2016/07/05/2016-alaskan-cruise-adventure/