By Seth Woodward, The Cruise Web, Inc.
This July, I had the chance to take a 7-night Alaska cruise from Vancouver to Whittier aboard Coral Princess. The trip immediately became one of my favorites, and my wife and I are already talking about when we should return!
Of course, working at The Cruise Web, I had a good idea of what to expect both onboard and onshore, but you can’t beat experiencing Alaska in person. Throughout my cruise, I could also hear and witness other guests’ expectations versus reality, all of which gave new insight into what travelers need to know about cruising to Alaska.
With that, and a healthy desire to procrastinate on catching up on emails, here are my top ten tips and takeaways for cruising to Alaska:
#10 – Don’t Fear the Mosquitoes: As Alaska’s bugs are typically the worst in early summer, I went into our mid-July cruise expecting swarms, but only saw a couple slow moving—now not moving—mosquitoes the entire time. The mosquitoes, it seems, might have a bigger, badder reputation than they deserve, so just be prepared, not scared.
#9 – Meet the Locals: Alaska is full of characters—some homegrown, and many others from far and wide. They all have interesting stories about Alaskan life and what brought them to the Last Frontier, so don’t be shy.
#8 – Find Beauty in the Grey: Given the choice, I’d probably pick full sun and clear blue skies, but in Alaska, I discovered an appreciation for the different kind of beauty found in the moody clouds and mist that surrounded much of the landscape.
#7 – It’s Changing: Fortunately, much of Alaska’s natural beauty is protected and preserved, but we can’t undo the dramatic glacial retreat that continues to change the landscape. During my cruise, I came across multiple glacier viewing platforms that, due to glacial retreat, no longer provide a proper vantage point. In some cases, new viewing areas have been built closer to the glaciers, but I was still struck by how much this landscape has changed in the last century.
#6 – Binoculars Are Essential: There will be so much to see all around you, but it won’t always be right in front of you. Consider something with 7x-10x magnification (I personally used a pair of 8×42 binoculars which offer a nice balance of magnification, field of view, size and weight).
#5 – Eat Local: If you followed #9 above, you’ve met the locals. Now, ask them where they like to eat, and when possible, eat there! Also, most cruise ships in Alaska add special Alaskan courses to their menus, so even on board you can experience local cuisine.
#4 – Scale and Perspective Are Key: Everything in Alaska is so big, but without scale and perspective, it’s easy to lose sense of this. Try to learn the size of the glacier you’re viewing (think miles, not meters), or look for other people, animals or objects in near enough proximity that you get a true sense of Alaska’s scale.
#3 – Photographs Don’t Do It Justice: Maybe this is just something that bad photographers say, but for me it quickly became clear that none of my photos would adequately capture the grandeur of Alaska. Realizing this, I made sure I spent enough time with my camera down and phone put away because the best view is often the one you have in the moment.
#2 – Extend Your Stay: Whether it’s pre- or post-cruise, add as many land days as you can! While I wasn’t able to include a Denali land tour on this trip, I did spend two nights in beautiful Seward, AK—and if I hadn’t done this then I wouldn’t have seen puffins, a moose or a calving glacier.
#1 – Every Trip Is Different: One of my favorite things about cruising in Alaska is that you could travel the same itinerary and have completely different experiences depending on the season, weather and wildlife—not to mention your specific vacation goals. For instance, I was so occupied with exploring the natural wonders and taking in the scenery that I barely scratched the surface when it came to learning about the native cultures.
As they say, your mileage may vary, but don’t let that stop you—just go! If you’ve already cruised Alaska, go again at a different time of year. And if you’ve never been, what are you waiting for?
To plan your first (or next) Alaska cruise, call The Cruise Web’s experts at 1-800-377-9383 or visit us online.
NOTE: The author sailed with Princess Cruises at a reduced travel agent rate. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Cruise Web or Princess Cruises.
The Cruise Web, Inc.
By Seth Woodward, The Cruise Web, Inc.