Posted on Wednesday, 7th July 2010 by

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I’ve been on several Alaska Cruises and always find them the best choice for relaxing and forgetting about all your day-to-day responsibilities. Traveling through the inside passage is peaceful while sitting in the lounge at the top of a ship. You glide slowly by mountains rising out of the ocean that sometimes seem close enough to touch. Eagles soar overhead in search of their dinner.  A light house will occasionally appear on a small island and even if you’re not tired, the gentle rocking of the ship, while traveling slowly through the inside passage, will lull you to sleep.  I’ve even found myself nodding off while reading a page turning novel.

Alaska is also a must for folks who love nature and wildlife.  Marine mammals can be hard to spot from 12 decks above sea level but you can see whales passing by, seals and sea lions popping up to see the ship, and occasionally a sea otter.  Traveling the Inside Passage provides lots of opportunities to spot wild life on shore as well.  With a good pair of binoculars and patience you can spot Mountain Goats high in the mountains in Glacier Bay and sometimes Grizzly bears on shore in the Misty Fjords.

If this sounds appealing to you, now is the time to go. You won’t find a better time to book a cruise than now.  Excellent deals are available for late August and early September departures out of Seattle, WA or Vancouver, BC.  But don’t limit yourself to a cruise only. Consider a cruise tour if you are interested in seeing Alaska’s interior or if you intend this to be a once of a lifetime trip. During late summer, you may even get to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska’s Interior.  Denali National Park is included on nearly all cruise tours and the beauty of the park is impossible to capture with words.  The variety of wildlife is abundant, with Grizzly Bears, Moose, Dall Sheep, Caribou, Wolves and Lynx among those visible to lucky visitors. It is a rare opportunity to see Mt McKinley because the high peak creates its own weather and it is often shrouded in clouds.  Consider yourself very lucky if you are able to view this spectacular natural wonder on your cruise.

Selecting a Cruise Line

Selecting a cruise line is a matter of personal preferences.  If you like traditional cruising then Royal Caribbean or Celebrity may be the best choice.  The cabins on Celebrity are also a step above other lines.  If you like the freedom of eating when and where you like then NCL may be the best choice.  Holland America and Princess Cruise Lines offer freedom and traditional cruising options.  Most cruise lines now have specialty restaurants that will provide an opportunity to eat exactly what you want on those rare occasions that the evening’s menu doesn’t have something that looks good to you at an additional charge ranging between $5 and $20.  Evening attire is less strict than in the past.  It may still be the suggested attire for the evening but resort casual is acceptable in the dinning room.  With the airlines now charging for checked luggage, cruise lines are more accepting of casual dress.  I always had two large suitcases for myself when cruising: one suitcase with my casual dress and active wear, the other with evening and resort wear.  My next cruise will be a one suitcase cruise.  I have traveled on each of the above cruise lines; however I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with any cruise line you choose as long as you find the itinerary you’re looking for at a price you can afford.

Cruise line web sites:

http://www.carnival.com
http://www.royalcaribbean.com
http://www.princess.com
http://www.hollandamerica.com
http:/www.celebritycruises.com
http://www2.ncl.com
http://www.disneycruise.com
(Disney begins Alaska cruising in 2011)

Cruising Basics

If you have not cruised before here’s some basics that will help avoid surprises.  The fare advertised doesn’t include port taxes which vary dependent on ports of call.  You may also be charged a fuel surcharge when the cost of a barrel of oil exceeds an amount usually posted somewhere on the invoice.  The fee is normally $10 a day, per person.  Gratuities for the cruise staff is now commonly added to your room charges at the rate of $10 a day, per person.  This is convenient and avoids standing in line to get cash or smaller bills to tip each staff member that serves you the last night of the cruise.  If service exceeds or is disappointing you can stop at the Pursers Desk and ask that the charges be adjusted accordingly.  Food is included in the fare, however specialty restaurants are additional.

Air Travel Arrangements

Air fares charged by the cruise lines often exceed the fares you may be able to find yourself, unless you are booking a last minute cruise.  I often arrive at the port city 2 or more days ahead of time by booking my own air travel arrangements and see the sights prior to boarding the ship on embarkation day.  However, if you don’t intend to arrive at least one day early at the port city, book your air travel through the cruise line.  That will guaranty you will make it to your ship in the event of travel delays at no additional cost to you.

Travel Insurance

Cruise lines offer travel insurance and encourage it in case of trip cancellation.  I recommend you obtain your own travel insurance through an independent company.  This will avoid a conflict of interest with the cruise line and usually saves you money.  You can also tailor the policy to the coverage you are most interested in.  I buy it in case I have an unexpected illness or injury that requires special travel to a hospital.

Alaskan and Canadian Ports

I have been to most of the ports of call you are likely to find on any of the itineraries for Alaska Inside Passage Cruises.  Victoria, BC is a beautiful city on the South East tip of Vancouver Island.  It is most famous for its Butchart Gardens located nearby.  They are worth seeing!  Vancouver BC, host of the 2010 Winter Olympics is a beautiful city.  The opportunities range from shopping in the city to eco tours outside the city.  You are very likely to be greeted by more eagles than you’ve ever seen before at the port of Prince Rupert BC.  Excursions are limited in Prince Rupert, so book in advance if you see something of interest.  Whale Watching is high on the list of activities there.  Ketchikan Alaska receives a high amount of rain fall, but it is a neat little town with wooden walks along the water, lots of shops and galleries and just a fun town to explore.  It is near the Misty Fjords.  You can take a sea plane ride to see them from the air. One of my favorite trips in August and September is to a bear sanctuary where you can watch black bear catch Salmon during the spawning season.  You travel by sea plane to reach the sanctuary.  Juneau is home to the Mendenhall Glacier and another great spot to go Whale Watching.  Humpback whales come to Alaska in the summer to eat before returning to Hawaii in the winter to mate or give birth.  I’ve never been disappointed on a Whale Watch trip here.  Haines is a very small town that is the starting place for a wilderness adventure.  The Chilkook is full of spawning salmon during the cruise season, always a draw for fishermen and fishing bears.  Haines offers many trips to watch wildlife or go kayaking.  Skagway is home of gold rush history.  The White Pass Railway is a must if you stop here.  It’s a beautiful ride up the mountain following the trail used during the gold rush. Visiting Glaciers can be exciting in May when ships can often get close to the face of the Glacier.  However a fall visit normally limits how close the ship can get due to ice bergs in the bay.  It’s still worth seeing in the fall, but don’t be disappointed if you’ll need binoculars on a late summer cruise.

Cruise Resources
http://cruisedirect.com
http://www.americasvacationcenter.com
http://www.cruisecritic.com

http://www.vacationstogo.com

http://www.cruisesonly.com

http://www.gillscruise.com
http://www.cruisemagic.com/cruise-lines

If you are a frequent flier, check for deals through your frequent flier programs.  Rewards programs from VISA and MasterCard may also have cruise deals available.

If and when you choose a cruise, have a Bon Voyage!

Nancy Holston

Learn more about your benefitsemployment, travel, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

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The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances. Travel policies and packages are subject to change without notice. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact travel providers and hotels at the time of your bookings to confirm pricing, itinerary, and all costs. The comments and observations are limited to the author’s personal experience and your results may vary significantly. This article and replies to comments are not intended to substitute for professional travel services. Our reply is time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change.

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