A question that keeps coming up this time of year, when travelers are planning summer vacations, is “What about Alaska?” as a possible destination. Land tours are available but there is nothing quite like a cruise vacation and most major cruise lines sail in the land of the Midnight sun.
George from Overland Park, Kansas who has never sailed before, never been to Alaska, and does not travel all that much, wants to know some general information about Alaska. It seems George’s great-grandfather was an early settler of the state and stories passed down from generation to generation seem to get bigger, more beautiful and more grand as time passes. Now, George has decided he wants to see for himself. So here, George, is a primer on Alaska and Alaska Cruisetours, what I think is one of the very best ways to go.
We were in Alaska not long ago on an escorted Princess cruisetour as guests of Princess Cruises. Search this site for “Alaska” for all the details but here are the basics of Alaska, as we did it, and as we have shared with many since then.
First, it is easy to get overwhelmed with information about Alaska and all the choices. This is not like a quick trip to Vegas where we book air, hotel and some shows or a swing around the Caribbean on a standard cruise vacation. Everything about Alaska is different than anything you have ever seen or done and remembering that, just trusting us or your qualified travel agent is probably some of the best advice we can offer.
One really good way to make sense of it all is to present some options. One I thought I might start with is an experience quite like what we did which, to me, is the way to go.
So we’ll begin with Princess who offers Alaska four different ways:
- Denali Explorer- The most popular option includes up to four nights at Denali and sightseeing activities with most featuring exclusive Princess rail service
- On Your Own-Starting from just $299 more than a 7-day cruise, these options give you the flexibility to create your own adventures
- Off the Beaten Path-Visit Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, the Kenai Peninsula, plus dazzling Denali
- Connoisseur-Deluxe escorted options that include a tour director, most meals and multiple days at Denali and beyond
It’s that last one, the Connoisseur (or what we refer to as the “escorted” tour) that we did and I think it is the best option. On that one, you see more and a great guide is along with you every step of the way, making sure you are at the right place at the right time and explaining things as you go along. With the escorted option, we get priority everything from the rooms with the best view at the lodges to being with a small group where it is easy to hear what they are saying and getting up close and personal with the wonders of Alaska.
Before we went, a friend of mine who had been there before said “Just wait, you’ll see, every where you look there is a photo to be taken” because there is so much natural beauty and he was right. And no matter how many times we tell people that, they all come back saying how true that is. The escorted tour is really the way to go because it gives travelers distinct advantages over other options.
Yes, it does cost more and there are less expensive ways to go but with this or any travel option, value is the name of the game and your good travel agent will be sure you get the best value for your $ on this and, really, it is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience that is difficult to repeat.
That said, let’s move along.
There are basically three main ways to do Alaska, route wise. There are some odd exceptions but all lines that offer Alaska have some variation of one or more of these. The cruise part is usually 7 days with the land part being between two and five days.
- Round-trip Seattle or Vancouver with tour before or after
- Northbound cruise with tour before or after
- Southbound cruise with tour before or after
It’s the Southbound cruse that we did and the Basso’s did and I am very much sold on it.
On all Alaska tours there are some common elements, regardless of the cruise line, that we want to be sure is included as part of your experience
- Glacier viewing- this is where the ship creeps slowly into a bay and rotates around ever so slowly while a US Forest Service park ranger who has come aboard explains what you are seeing over the ships’s speaker system. This was one of the most profound moments of any vacation I have ever been on and something to be seen in person to truly appreciate.
- A train ride- The Alaska railroad will be part of most cruise tours. That’s important because by rail, forged out of barren wilderness, we are able to see areas of Alaska not accessible by road that are truly breathtaking. There’s also a great deal to be said for dining on a rail car, something I had not done since I was a little kid and they do a great job of it. On an escorted tour, you get the best seats and are served first in the dining car
- A wilderness lodge stay- Here again is where Princess excels. They have built their wilderness lodges out of nothing. They are self-sufficient facilities and have to be because they are so far removed from civilization. This is one area where I wish we had taken a bit more time on the front end. No matter where you fly from, getting to the beginning of an Alaska Cruisetour takes time and can be a grueling travel day. I suggest a day in advance if possible to be refreshed and ready to go when the tour starts for those coming from Florida. Flying in from Detroit, this is not as big of an issue.
So that is a good basic idea of how Alaska works. See the cruise line websites for colorful e-brochures, contact a qualified travel agent (Princess certifies theirs) and get going on it. There are still plenty of sailings that are open for this year and right now is a great time to book.
One last thought that may be a little difficult to wrap y0ur head around: The land part is every bit as good as the cruise part, some say better.
One last little plug for Princess-
Some other posts about Alaska you might find interesting-
- Cruise like an Alaskan with new escorted tours (chriscruises.net)
- Leap Year cruise sale brings Alaska dreams- discounted and easier (chriscruises.net)
- Travel pros vote Princess Cruises number one in Alaska (chriscruises.net)
- 10 reasons to cruise Alaska like a Norwegian (chriscruises.net)
- Princess places first in “Best Cruise Line in Alaska” (examiner.com)
- Small ship cruise line adds complementary shore tours to Alaska offerings (chriscruises.net)
- Un-cruise line adds ship, itineraries to Alaska 2012 season (chriscruises.net)
- Alaska: Why 2012 Is the Perfect Year to Visit (cruisesonlyblog.blogspot.com)