Are cruises the most budget friendly vacation?

Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas cruise ship

I’m not shy to admit that cruises are by far one of my favorite ways to travel. From the small luxury ships to the great floating cities, I love to cruise. You can see just about the entire world from a cruise ship. Alaska. The Caribbean. Asia. Europe. Even Antarctica has a number of cruise opportunities. Unfortunately, many people have the idea that cruises are prohibitively expensive and end up shying away from what could be their new favorite way to travel. Far from being too expensive, I’d argue that cruises are a very budget friendly vacation idea.

It is definitely true that you can find some very expensive cruises out there. One example is the 127 day Viking World Treasures cruise which can run as much as $50,000 per person. Antarctica cruises can cost up to $12,000 per person. There are even a few suites on the “budget” cruise lines that can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. But with over 20 million people taking a cruise each year, these pricey options are the exception, not the rule.

So why exactly do people think cruises are so expensive? How much will a typical cruise actually cost? And how does that compare to other vacation options? Put on your captain’s hat, because we’re about to go on a journey to see the value of a cruise vacation.

Why people think cruises might not be a budget friendly vacation?

I touched a bit on this above; there are some very pricey cruises out there and the media loves to talk about them. But even if you’re just looking at a budget cruise line like Royal Caribbean or Carnival, there can be a bit of sticker shock. Partially, this is because of the way cruise lines advertise their prices.

Advertising Gimmicks

Most cruise lines will advertise their price per person per day. So you will see an advertisement that says something like “3 Day Cruises from $99!” When you then break down the price, however, it comes out to $750. Quite a bit more than the $99 that got you excited. The problem is that the $99 price point was the cost per person, per day and didn’t include taxes and fees. Cruise cabins are designed with two passengers in mind, so the room itself is $198 per day. For a 3 day cruise that’s close to $600, and then taxes and port fees can add another $100-$200.

Thankfully, this kind of deceptive marketing is going away, although the per person rates are still advertised, despite the fact that you can’t just book that rate for one person. Most cruise lines will add a “single supplement” for anybody cruising alone. This single supplement typically brings the total cost to just a touch under the price for two people.

What’s Included

More than just a place to sleep. Cruises include food and entertainment as well.

Another reason why cruises appear to be so expensive, is because most expenses are included in the quote. When you are booking a standard land vacation you will see separate prices for the hotel, food, activities, and transportation. So with a cruise you might see the grand total of $2,000 and think it’s expensive. But add together everything from a land trip – food, hotel, rental car, etc. – and you’ll quickly see that you’re actually spending more than you anticipated.

Of course, not everything is included in the cruise fare. Excursions, alcohol, the casino, etc. will all cost extra. However, these same things will also cost extra when you are planning a non-cruise vacation. Even better, many activities on board are included that you would have to pay for otherwise. Cruises offer pools and water slides, miniature golf and rock climbing, movies and plays, comedy shows and concerts. Each of these activities could cost you $5-$50 per person on land, but are included with the cost of a cruise.

How much does a cruise actually cost?

This is a really difficult question to answer, and the best option would be to reach out for a detailed price quote. That being said, there are some general pricing rules we can follow, depending on some of the details of the cruise.

What all impacts cruise price?

There are a few different aspects of your cruise that can change what you should expect to pay:

  • Cruise Company – Different companies have different price structures, but typically your mass market cruise lines will be cheaper. Generally speaking, Carnival is often the cheapest, followed by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Holland America. Celebrity and Princess can be a little more expensive, and then Disney and the luxury lines like Oceania, Silversea, Azamara, and Seabourn even more so.
  • The Ship – Even within a single cruise line, prices can vary wildly from ship to ship. Newer and larger ships will often fetch a premium while the older and smaller ships often have lower prices to entice more cruisers.
  • Room Type – There are four main types of rooms – Interior (no window, no balcony. Cheapest) Ocean View (A window that doesn’t open.) Balcony or Veranda, and finally, the different levels of suites.
  • Length of Cruise – Most cruises are 7 nights, but they can range from 3 to 21 or even longer. On a per night basis, longer cruises are actually typically cheaper. This is due to a decrease in demand as well as an anticipation of higher on board spending.
  • Destination – Destination can make a huge difference in cruise price. The Caribbean, which has dozens of ships in competition with year round cruises will often be cheaper than Alaska or Australia cruises. Speaking of Alaska cruises, the one way Anchorage to Canada cruises are often significantly cheaper than the round trip Seattle cruises.

Bottom line? At a base price expect a 7 night cruise to cost between $1,000 and $2,000 for two people. If you want a more exotic itinerary, a nicer room, or a newer ship that price can rise, but under $2,000 a week is typical and is a very budget friendly vacation.

Budget Friendly Vacation Comparisons

Prices can vary based on your personal taste, but I’ve set up a few different comparisons to see how cruising compares to other vacation options. We will take a look at a week in Europe, a week in Alaska, and a week in the Caribbean.

Cruise vs Land – Europe Edition

Cruise ship in Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor, Montenegro

For this comparison I chose a week in prime summer travel season – mid June, 2020. The cruise I chose is Royal Caribbean’s 7 night Eastern Mediterranean cruise out of Venice leaving on June 13th. This cruise visits Venice, Kotor, Corfu, Athens, Mykonos, Argostoli, and returns to Venice.

Cruise Costs

InteriorOcean ViewBalconySuite
Cost for 2$1,941.68$2,460.68$4,402.68$5,547.68

For the land portion, we have two options. We can just do a full week in Venice, or we can actually try to duplicate the exact itinerary. When considering each, I will come up with numbers for three different types of budgets. For low budget I will assume a cafe for breakfast, and fast food for lunch and dinner with a three star hotel. Mid budget assumes a 4 star hotel with a casual restaurant for dinner. High budget will be a 5 star hotel, casual lunch, and nice dinner.

Single City Costs

Low BudgetMid-BudgetHigh Budget
Hotel (7 nights)$690$1,275$2,950
Meals (7 days)$560$700$1,000
Public Transit (7 days)$135$135$135
One Attraction Per Day$250$250$250
Total$1,635$2,260$4,335

As you can see, the total price is just barely lower than the cost of the cruise. However, this limits you to seeing just one city while the cruise will let you see 6 cities. What happens if we were to try and visit the same 6 cities not using a cruise ship? Each leg of the trip (6 in total) would cost between $150 (bus or train) to $400 (regional flights). At the lowest budget that would make the cruise $600 cheaper to see the same cities.

Cruise vs Land – Alaska Edition

A pair of wood bison in Portage, Alaska

For Alaska, there’s no good way to travel to many of the port cities so for the land portion we will just assume a full week spent in Anchorage. The selected cruise is on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas leaving Seward, Alaska on May 22, 2020.

InteriorOcean ViewBalconySuite
Cost for 2$1,780.68$2,180.68$2,803.68$5,905.68

Aside from the suites, this cruise is even cheaper than the Mediterranean option. The attractive pricing, the unique itineraries, and the absolutely stunning natural beauty are all reasons that Alaska cruises are my personal favorite.

Low BudgetMid-BudgetHigh Budget
Hotel (7 nights)$670$1,435$2,415
Meals (7 days)$650$800$1,200
Rental Car (7 days)$200$200$200
One Attraction Per Day$250$250$250
Total$1,790$2,685$4,065

Here we can see the cruise not only visits much more of the state, but it is also cheaper.

Cruise vs land – Caribbean All-Inclusive

The Caribbean offers amazing snorkeling opportunities

For the Caribbean we’ll try to get a bit more apples to apples. We’ll stick with just one location, but compare an all-inclusive resort to a cruise. There are a lot more cruise options, so we’ll price out three. First, the newest and biggest, Symphony of the Seas out of Miami. Next, Freedom of the Seas out of Puerto Rico, and finally Liberty of the Seas out of Galveston.

InteriorOcean ViewBalconySuite
Symphony$2,073.20$2,214.20$2,456.20$4,875.20
Freedom$1,225.78$1,503.78$1,828.78$2,713.78
Liberty $1,286.16 $1,654.16$1,787.16$3,298.16

With Caribbean options, we are now getting a much more budget friendly vacation. For the all-inclusive resorts, we will also consider three different islands, and three levels of resort as well.

Royalton Bavaro All-Inclusive in Punta Cana
3 Star4 Star5 Star
Punta Cana$1,154$1,610$2,168
Cancun$1,552$1,840$2,182
Jamaica $1,290$1,902$2,652

Here we can see that all-inclusive resorts are very comparatively priced with cruises. Indeed, AI Resorts and cruises offer many of the same amenities; it ultimately comes down to if you prefer multiple destinations and time at sea, or a single destination with a more traditional hotel experience.

Final Thoughts

Cruises are a vacation that offer a very strong “bang for your buck.” There is a cruise available for nearly any budget, and the total price of a cruise vacation is in line with more traditional types of vacations. When you consider what type of vacation to take, you have to consider all the variables, and cruises have many different pieces to them. While the total price may appear high at first, remember that you are paying for your hotel, meals, transportation, and entertainment.

If you are ready to find a cruise, all-inclusive resort, tour group, or individual travel plan, contact us today. We’ll be happy to help you plan the perfect budget friendly vacation.

Alaska Cruise Tours

Cruise Tours can be a great way to see the sights in Banff National Park

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the cruise tour options available on Alaska cruises.

What is a cruise tour?

Simply put, a cruise tour is a land portion added on either the front- or back-end of a cruise. Cruise tours are only available on the one-way Alaska cruises that either start or end in Alaska. If you’re on a cruise that starts in Alaska, your cruise tour will be in the days before the cruise departs. If you’re cruise starts in Vancouver and ends in Alaska then your cruise tour will start when the cruise ends.

These tours are fully guided and you will have a choice of a dew different itineraries, just like with your cruise.

How long are cruise tours?

Most cruise tours add an additional 2 to 5 nights on land, but there are some cruise tours that last much longer. For example, Royal Caribbean has a 19 Night Ultimate Alaska and Canada cruise tour. This option includes a 7 night cruise, 7 night land tour in Alaska, and 5 night land tour in Canada.

Some sample 3 night Alaska cruise tours from Royal Caribbean

Where do cruise tours visit?

Denali National Park is a popular cruise tour option with amazing hikes and views

Most Alaska cruise tours, even the shortest two day options, will visit Denali National Park and Fairbanks in the Alaska interior. They also typically include tours around Seward, where the ship docks, and occasionally downtown Anchorage as well.

There are also cruise tour options on the Canada side of an Alaska cruise. These often include visits to Banff and the Jasper Ice Fields. We got to see both of these sights on our Alaska road trip, and they are definitely worth a visit at least once.

Longer cruise tours will of course visit more cities. Other potential stops on cruise tours include Alyeska, Talkeetna, and Whittier in Alaska or Lake Louise, Calgary, and Vancouver in Canada.

This is the last of our scheduled posts for Alaska Week, but there is still a lot of information available about Alaska cruises. If you are ready to book an Alaska adventure or have questions, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us.

Popular Excursions on Alaska Cruises

Alaska has a lot of great sights and experiences to enjoy

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the excursions available when cruising Alaska. Read on for some of the best experiences you can look forward to in Alaska.

Seward

Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier is a popular hiking destination in Seward. Know what to do if you run into a bear!

Exit Glacier is a very popular glacial hike in Seward. It is considered a “drive-up” glacier and has several miles of hiking trails, ultimately leading to the Harding Icefield. The Icefield itself is a bit of a strenuous hike, but there are several paths along Exit Glacier that are viable for hiker’s of any skill.

Alaska SeaLife Center

The Alaska SeaLife Center has a wide variety of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.

The SeaLife Center in Seward is a combination marine sanctuary and aquarium. It is Alaska’s only permanent marine mammal rehabilitation facility and the entrance fee goes to help their rehabilitation efforts. Admission rates for adults are $25 a person, and you should plan on spending 2-3 hours at the center.

Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls is a popular and easy hike at Mendenhall Glacier.

By far the most popular attraction in Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is a drive-up glacier with a number of great hikes. There are several shuttle buses that run between the cruise port and Mendenhall. You can also get a taxi or a private shuttle if you would prefer. At Mendenhall, you can see Nugget Falls on a very short and paved hike, or take the slightly rougher East and West Glacier Trails. You can also take a tour to the Ice Caves if you want something a bit more unique. To get to the ice caves you have to kayak and then climb to the entrance, but if you have the time and the ability, it is well worth it.

Whale Watching

Juneau is one of the top ports in Alaska for whale watching. You can expect to see a number of humpback whales; in fact, in Alaska most whale watching tours offer a money back guarantee. If you do not see any whales you will get your money back.

Skagway

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway

The White Pass Railway is probably the most popular excursion in Skagway.

By far the most popular excursion in Skagway is the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway. The railway makes a 40 mile trip to the White Pass summit, lasting 3 to 3 and a half hours. If you book the excursion directly through the cruise company, you can be picked up by the train right at the port.

Hiking

Yakutania Point is a simple hike that offers some of the best views in Skagway

Skagway has a large number of hikes available very close to the downtown area. There are a large number of shorter hikes available for hikers of all skill levels. Yakutania Point and Lower Reid Falls are two of the top hikes available.

Icy Strait Point/Hoonah

Whale Watching

Whale watching is very popular in Hoonah

If Juneau is the most well known whale watching spot, Icy Strait Point is arguably the best. Point Adolphus is commonly called the best whale watching area in all of North America, and sightings are guaranteed by most, if not all, companies.

Zipline

The zipline in Icy Strait Point is the world’s longest and highest. The ZipRider has a total length of 5,330 feet with a total drop of 1,300 feet and a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour.

Ketchikan

Creek Street

Historic Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

Creek Street is Ketchikan’s historic red light district, and has a number of shops. It’s well worth a walk, either for the modern shopping, the views, or the history. The slogan of the area is “Where men and salmon come upstream to spawn.”

Snorkeling

The water is cold, but this excursion is HOT! Brag to all your friends you got to snorkel in Alaska.

Snorkeling in Alaska? That’s right. Ketchikan has a great snorkeling excursion complete with thick, cold-water wet suits. It’s cold, but once you’re in the water it’s not super noticeable.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for our next entry in Alaska Cruise Week. And if you’re already ready to book your next Alaska adventure, reach out and let us help you plan your new favorite cruise.

Closed Loop or One Way Alaska Cruises

Seward has some amazing views, but they aren’t available on most Seattle based cruises

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the differences between round-trip and one way Alaska cruises. Read on to learn which cruise is right for you.

Why the different types of cruises?

Simply put, cruise lines have to abide by the Passenger Vessel Service Act, sometimes erroneously called the Jones Act. We touched briefly on the PVSA in our post on Hawaii cruises, but essentially the PVSA means that cruise lines have to visit a “distant foreign port” if doing a closed loop cruise. Closed loop is just a fancy term for a round trip cruise; the cruise starts and ends at the same port making a full loop.

Seattle is much closer to Canada than Anchorage is, so ships can easily leave Seattle, visit a port in Canada (often Victoria, British Columbia), and return to Seattle on a 7 night cruise. Cruises departing from Seward (or Whittier) Alaska, on the other hand, cannot. Therefore, these cruises have to either be 14 nights, or a one way cruise that does not start and end in a US port.

What are the differences?

The main difference right off the bat is of course the departure and arrival ports. One way Alaska cruises also often visit more ports than their closed loop counterparts, in part because they don’t have to budget time for the return trip. The two cruises also share many ports of call, but also have a few different stops, and the prices can be quite different on the two cruises as well.

Common Ports

Whale watching is very popular in Hoonah, but Seattle based cruises often miss this port

Both closed loop and one way Alaska cruises often stop at Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway and include a “glacier experience”. Cruises from Seattle often visit Glacier Bay, although some will visit Tracy Arm Fjord, Sawyer Glacier, or Hubbard Glacier. Seattle cruises also typically visit Victoria, British Columbia, often for a very short stop. This stop is pretty much just to meet the PVSA requirements, and it isn’t unheard of for a ship to only be in Victoria for a couple hours.

One way Alaska cruises can often visit Icy Strait Point, also called Hoonah. This native village has arguably the best whale watching of the typical Alaska ports, but is rarely visited by Seattle based cruises. The departure/arrival towns of Seward or Whittier are also not often visited by Seattle cruises.

Different Ships

Like we mentioned yesterday, both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have big ships coming to Alaska. Both of these new ships will be sailing round trip from Seattle. Seattle is just able to handle much larger ships, so this will likely be a trend we see continuing. This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. We absolutely love sailing Alaska on the Radiance of the Seas, a much smaller ship with a lot of viewing space.

Cruise Tours

We will discuss cruise tours in more detail on Friday, but only the one way Alaska cruises offer a land portion option. These cruise tours add a few extra days onto the Alaska end of your cruise for a guided land tour. The exact tours vary, but often they take time to visit Denali National Park and a few other areas around Alaska that can’t be reached by ship.

Cost

This is always a concern of cruisers, but is the hardest to really pin down. The one way cruises are often quite a bit cheaper than their closed loop cousins, but at the same time airfare is often cheaper for a round trip flight to Seattle. On the one way Alaska cruises, you have to purchase two one way plane tickets since your cruise does not start and end at the same place. Flights to Anchorage are often more expensive than flights to Seattle, and since the port is not actually in Anchorage, you also have to pay for transportation between Anchorage and Seward or Whittier. Our personal favorite method of transportation to the port is the Alaska Railroad, and in my opinion that is well worth any additional cost.

Mirror Lake is one of the highlights of the train ride between Anchorage and Seward

The exact costs of cruise and airfare can vary widely from cruise to cruise, so make sure you reach out to us to figure out what your best bet would be.

Big Changes Coming to Alaska

Norwegian Bliss – The hull of the ship is decorated by Wyland, an artist known for his marine life murals

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is all about the changes coming to Alaska. Read on for some of the new experiences, ships, and ports coming to Alaska for the 2018 and 2019 cruising season.

Two Big New Ships

Everything’s bigger in Texas Alaska

Both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean are sending some of their biggest and newest ships to Alaska. Norwegian Bliss is a brand new ship that was just delivered to Norwegian Cruise Line last month. At 168,000 tons the Bliss is Norwegian’s largest ship, and she is already in Alaska. The Bliss is a great ship for families as well as active travelers. The ship has a massive water park and a two deck high go-kart racing track. In another first for Norwegian, the Bliss has a modern Texas style BBQ restaurant that will feature live country music. That’s music from the second biggest state, playing on cruises in the biggest state, on board Norwegian’s biggest ship. That’s a lot of bigs! For 2018, the Bliss is the largest ship to have ever sailed Alaska cruises from any line, but not for long.

Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class ship, with the North Star Observation Pod extended

For the 2019 cruise season, Royal Caribbean will take the crown for largest ship in Alaska when Ovation of the Seas arrives in Seattle. Ovation of the Seas is part of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class, and is just slightly larger than the Norwegian Bliss. Ovation of the Seas also has some great attractions on board, including the iFly Indoor Skydiving and North Star. The North Star a large glass pod that extends 300 feet above the ship and offers stunning 360 degree views of your surroundings. This pod officially holds the record for “Highest Viewing Deck on a Cruise Ship” and will be a welcome addition to Alaska cruises.

Both Bliss and Ovation can carry over 4,000 passengers on average with almost 5,000 passengers at maximum capacity. This is nearly double the amount of passengers on other ships sailing Alaska, so there can be some crowds in port when these ships are docked.

New Port Stops

We have already discussed how Holland America is the only cruise company docking in Anchorage this season, but there are a few other port changes as well. Several ships will be adding Ketchikan to their list of stops, including the Carnival Splendor which will visit Ketchikan only once in 2018; the final stop on a 14 night round trip cruise from Long Beach, CA.

There are also some smaller ships that will be running Alaska cruises this year. If you are looking for something a little more intimate there is the Windstar Star Legend (208 passengers), Silver Seas Silver Explorer (132 passengers) or American Dream American Constellation (175 passengers)

Windstar’s Star Legend represents Windstar’s return to Alaska after being out of the region for the past 20 years. The all-suite ship is kicking off the all new Signature Expeditions Program. This program takes cruisers closer than ever to Alaska with zodiac and kayak tours of the coastline.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for our next entry in Alaska Cruise Week. And if you’re already ready to book your next Alaska adventure, reach out and let us help you plan your new favorite cruise.

Introduction to Alaska Cruises

Welcome to Alaska – The Last Frontier

The Alaska Cruising season is in full swing, and here at Adventures With Anthony we are celebrating Alaska Week. Come back everyday this week for a new article about Alaska Cruises, and find out why Alaska is not only our personal favorite cruise destination, but also the most popular cruise destination for our clients.

Today’s post is a basic introduction to Alaska cruises. Read on for a basic overview of the ships, ports, and experiences that make Alaska cruising so popular.

Types of Alaska Cruises

There are two main types of Alaska Cruises. The first is a closed-loop, or round trip cruise. These cruises depart from and return to Seattle, Washington. They are most often 7 night, although this year Holland America has a special 14 night version.

The second type of cruises are one-way, and travel between Alaska and Canada. The Southbound cruise runs from Alaska, typically Seward or Whittier, to Vancouver, British Columbia. These cruises are most often 7 nights, and have to end in a non-US port due to the Passenger Vessel Service Act. Because they don’t need to take the time for a return trip, these cruises often visit more ports in Alaska than the Seattle cruises.

The one-way cruises also have the benefit of being combinable with cruisetours. These are extended land portions around Alaska that allow you to see more areas of Alaska. Mount Denali, Fairbanks, and Talkeetna are common stops on cruisetours. Keep an eye out later this week; we will have posts dedicated to comparing the two types of Alaska cruises, as well as a post detailing cruisetour options.

The Cruise Lines

Radiance of the Seas in port at Skagway, Alaska

Most major cruiselines sail Alaska itineraries, but there are a few differences. Below are some of the most popular Alaska cruise lines, in alphabetic order.

  • Carnival – Only offers Seattle RT cruises and one Vancouver to Seattle cruise.
  • Celebrity
  • Disney – 5, 7, and 9 Night cruises from Vancouver
  • Holland America – Has the only ship with stops in Anchorage
  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Princess – Departs from Whittier, Alaska instead of Seward
  • Royal Caribbean – Will have the largest ship sailing Alaska in 2019
The Ports

Historic Creek Street in Ketchikan, Alaska

There are a wide variety of ports availaible on Alaska cruises, but we will list a few of the most common ports below. Later this week we will have a dedicated post detailing the best excursions available in each port.

  • Seward

    The most common start/end port for cruises in Alaska. About 2 hours south of Anchorage, Seward is a beautiful coastal town. Highlights of Seward include the Sealife Center and Exit Glacier.

  • Whittier

    Whittier is where Princess cruises start/end their Alaska cruises. Whittier is about an hour and a half from Anchorage, although there is a one-way tunnel that is only open at set times for traffic. This can add an extra hour to your drive if you have a cruise departing from Whittier. Located in Prince William Sound, there are a number of whale watching and coastal cruises offered in Whittier.

  • Juneau

    Juneau is Alaska’s capital. Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s most famous landmark, but Mount Roberts is also a very popular site. There is also the Red Dog Saloon, and excellent whale watching opportunities.

  • Skagway

    Skagway was a crucial town during the Alaska gold rush, and still has many museums showcasing the gold rush. The White Pass Railway is Skagway’s main claim to fame.

  • Ketchikan

    “Where men and salmon come upstream to spawn.” Ketchikan has a famous historic red light district and salmon fisheries. It is also located near the Tongass National Forest.

  • Icy Strait Point/Hoonah

    Technically two distinct entities, Hoonah is a local Native Alaskan village, and Icy Strait Point is the cruise industry’s port area. This island is prime for wildlife viewings, with a large bear population and some of the best whale watching opportunities in Alaska.

These are just a sampling of ports you may stop at on an Alaska cruise. Less common ports can include Homer, Sitka, Haines, and others. Cruises also often sail past either Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, or Tracy Arm Fjord.

Highlights of an Alaska Cruise

A pair of wood bison in Portage, Alaska

There are many things that you can experience on an Alaska cruise that you won’t find on other cruises. Some of the typical highlights of Alaska cruises include:

  • Wildlife – Bears, moose, bison, and whales are all common Alaska wildlife, but you can also see deer, otters, seals, and porpoises. Alaska is a haven for all sorts of land and marine wildlife.
  • Glaciers – Although they are shrinking, Alaska is still home to a number of very impressive glaciers. Go for a hike, a helicopter tour, or a dog sled ride to see these natural beauties before they are all gone.
  • Seafood and Fishing – Alaska has some excellent seafood that you can enjoy fresh while on an Alaska cruise. Alaskan King Crab is a local favorite, as is halibut. If you are a fisher, nothing says Alaska adventure like going out on a halibut fishing charter.
  • Culture and History – From the Native People, to the gold rush, to the modern last frontier, Alaska is filled with unique culture and history to explore.
  • Nature – Alaska has a wide variety of natural sights. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, and even a rainforest. If you are an avid outdoor explorer or hiker, Alaska has nearly every type of terrain available to explore.

Make sure you come back tomorrow for our next entry in Alaska Cruise Week. And if you’re already ready to book your next Alaska adventure, reach out and let us help you plan your new favorite cruise.

Holland America’s Zaandam Docks in Anchorage

Holland America’s ms Zaandam Cruise Ship

On Monday, May 14 Holland America’s Zaandam became the first ship to dock in Anchorage, Alaska for the 2018 cruise season. The MS Zaandam is currently on a 14 day “Great Alaskan Explorer Cruise” from Seattle, and will be returning to Seattle on May 21st. The other ports that Zaandam stops at on this cruise include Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait (Hoonah), Homer, Kodiak, Sitka, and Victoria, British Columbia.

If you are not familiar with typical Alaska cruise itineraries, this is a very special itinerary, and one that the Zaandam will be repeating 10 times throughout the 2018 cruise season. She is the only commercial cruise ship that will visit Anchorage at all in 2018. This surprises a lot of people; not only because Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, but because often other cruises are advertised as departing from, or ending at, Anchorage. In fact, all other cruises that have stops in the “Anchorage area”, actually dock at one of two other nearby cities. Most cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Azamara, and Holland America, leave from Seward. Princess Cruises, on the other hand, leave from Whittier.

Why Not Anchorage?

There are a few reasons why cruise ships have historically avoided the Port of Anchorage. A main part of the reason was that prior to 2017, the port facilities just weren’t designed with cruise ship passengers in mind. Most of the marine traffic consisted of tankers and cargo ships, and the facilities were designed around those clients. In 2017, however, the city of Anchorage finished upgrades to the port area, and accepted Holland America’s ms Amsterdam for 4 cruises in the 2017 season.

Another reason why Seward is more popular with cruise ships is due to location. While Anchorage is a major city with a lot of sights tourists want to see, it is located quite far up the Cook Inlet. Seward, on the other hand, is located right on the Gulf of Alaska, a much larger and deeper body of water. Whittier is located in Prince William Sound, but is much closer to the Gulf than Anchorage, so cruise ships are able to get on their way much quicker. It is about 200 nautical miles from the Port of Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska. At average speeds, this distance will take a cruise ship at least 10 hours, and often closer to 14, to transit. The ms Zaandam breaks this up a bit with their stop at Homer after Anchorage; another city in the Cook Inlet but much closer to the Gulf.

Which port is best?

When planning an Alaska cruise, many people want to see Anchorage, so it might seem like Holland America is the best bet. However, it is important to distinguish that while the ms Zaandam is visiting Anchorage, the cruises from Seward or Whittier will require you to fly into (or out of) Anchorage. This means that with the ms Zaandam, you have a full day to explore Anchorage, but with the shorter cruises you can customize exactly how many days you spend in the city between your cruise and your flight. We lived in Alaska for a number of years, and would be more than happy to help you plan your perfect Alaska cruise.

Alaska Week!

Now that the Alaska cruise season is in full swing, we are happy to announce that next week we will be celebrating Alaska Cruise Week. Check back each day next week for a new post about planning an Alaska Cruise.

How Chase Ultimate Rewards Saved Us over $50,000 on Plane Tickets

No, that title is not a typo. Recently Luis and I booked two flights using credit card rewards points. The first flight was a one way flight in business class on Iberia Airlines, non-stop from Boston to Madrid. The second was a round trip flight in first class on board All Nippon Airlines, non-stop from San Francisco to Tokyo Narita. If we had paid cash, those same redemptions would have cost us $53,495. Now, being completely honest, we would never pay that much for a flight. Truthfully, I don’t think many people ever actually pay the full ticket price for first class tickets. Still, it is an amazing feeling to see those numbers when you don’t have to pay them.

Earning the Points

There are several different points programs, and picking the right one for your situation can be difficult. If you always or nearly always fly on a single airline, then it usually makes the most sense to join that airline’s frequent flyer program. Luis and I, however, will fly whatever airline works with our destination, dates, and budget. On our trip to Shanghai, we flew with Asiana. Singapore, we flew United. Iceland we are flying on Delta. On other recent trips we have flown on Jetblue, Miami Air, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. We just aren’t loyal enough to justify investing in any airline specific credit cards.

Instead, we decided to invest in a travel rewards program that could be used for a multitude of airlines. The three main points programs that are available include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi Thank You Points. Each program has different strengths and weaknesses, and different partners, but in the end we decided to go with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

The Ultimate Rewards Cards

The three cards we used to get our free flights. Chase Freedom, Sapphire Preferred, and Ink Business Preferred

Ultimately, we have four cards that are able to earn us Ultimate Rewards. The first is the Chase Freedom, which does not earn Ultimate Rewards points on it’s own, but can transfer points to another card which does earn points. We then have a Chase Ink Business Preferred, and we each have our own Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Sign Up Bonuses

The bulk of our points came from initial bonuses just for getting the cards and reaching a minimum spend amount. These bonus points are not repeatable, but they do offer a very large head start towards reaching your first redemption. The Chase Ink Preferred business card came with an 80,000 point sign up bonus. The Chase Sapphire Reserve originally had a 100,000 bonus, which I was able to take advantage of, but it currently only has a 50,000 bonus, which is what Luis received. Still, for the three cards that was 230,000 points. Enough points for the first class ANA redemption, which runs 220,000 points.

Intelligent Spending

Aside from the sign up bonuses, the other way to quickly earn a lot of points is to maximize the bonus opportunities. The Chase Freedom has rotating categories; every quarter a few new categories will earn 5x points. The Sapphire Reserve, on the other hand, has a set of static bonus categories; 3x the points on all travel and dining purchases. By consistently using the right card for each purchase, you can rapidly earn the points needed for a redemption.

The Redemptions

Now, for the fun part! Once you’ve earned enough points it’s time to start planning some trips. Now, just because Chase is not affiliated with a single airline does not mean you can transfer to anybody; Chase currently partners with only 9 airlines. Still, with the proper planning and knowing about alliances, your options are nearly limitless. The 9 airlines Chase can transfer points to include: British Airways, Air France, Singapore Airlines, United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Korean Air, Iberia, and Aer Lingus.

Business Class on Iberia Airlines

Since Iberia is partnered with Chase, we were able to easily transfer points from our Ultimate Rewards account directly to Iberia. Iberia has an award chart that varies by route and time of year, but for BOS-MAD in October the normal fare would be 34,000 points per person from the east coast or 42,500 points from the west coast, each way. We were able to find a special deal, where our flight would only be 25,500 points each, but we had to fly from Boston.

Since we live in Nevada, Boston is quite a ways away for a flight, but a deal’s a deal. A quick check on Google Flights, and we were able to find a flight from Salt Lake City to Boston for only $100 per person on Delta in basic economy.

Business Class for 2 on Iberia would have cost us $13,000 had we paid cash

The cash price for a first class ticket from Boston to Madrid on our travel dates is currently $13,024.80 for two people. Instead, we booked it for 51,000 points, $180 in taxes, and $206 for a flight to Boston. Our total savings? $12,638.

First Class on ANA

Unlike Iberia, ANA is not a partner with Chase. However, three of Chase’s partners have the ability to book ANA flights: United, Singapore, and Virgin Atlantic. Each option has pros and cons; United has the lowest taxes, Singapore allows you to book one way awards, and Virgin Atlantic offers redemptions for the fewest points.

Ultimately, because of the amazing value, we went with Virgin Atlantic for our redemption. Virgin Atlantic can book first class on ANA for only 110,000 points round trip from the west coast, or 120,000 points from the east coast. Compare this to United which charges the same amount of miles for only one way. That puts Virgin Atlantic in a very sweet spot for Asia redemptions. There are a couple of downsides; you have to book a round trip ticket, it has to be non-stop (which means there are only a small handful of eligible US airports), and seats only become available 336 days out. There are only 2 seats on each plane available for these reduced rates, so it is possible that travelers booking directly with ANA or with another partner have already booked all the available award seats. Still, if your dates are somewhat flexible and you can book almost a year in advance, Virgin Atlantic offers an amazing redemption opportunity for ANA.

Round trip First Class tickets on ANA would have cost us over $40,000 if we had paid cash

The cash price for a first class ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo and back on our travel dates is currently $40,470.44 for two people. Instead, we booked it for 220,000 points, and $513 in taxes. Our total savings? $39,957.

That’s a grand total of $52,595 in savings over two trips.

Tips for Traveling Solo

Don’t let traveling solo slow you down

For those with an adventurous spirit, just the thought of traveling is exhilarating. Imagining what activities you will do, the foods you will eat, the sights you will see, and so on. However, when traveling with others, adjustments need to be made to those plans, and the result? Compromise. With this in mind, adjusting your perfectly imagined trip to suit the needs and desires of fellow travelers can literally take the wind out of your sails.

The alternative? Traveling alone. Envision, for a moment, what it would be like to have complete control over your trip. To be able to set your own schedule; sleep in if you choose to, eat when you want, control your own budget, and be as flexible with your time as you wish. This may seem to be selfish at first, and also a bit frightening if you’ve never considered solo travel, but spending time alone can actually be very healthy. It allows you time for self-reflection, discovering who you are and what goals want to fulfill. Also, by relying on yourself, you can discover your strengths and weaknesses, face your fears, and test your limits. You can choose to spend time alone, engage with others, or even make lifelong friends.

All decisions are yours to make when traveling alone. But that doesn’t mean you have to do all the planning on your own.

Our job as your personal travel agency is to alleviate concerns, answer questions, and help you plan the perfect getaway. While there are many ways to travel, three of our most popular travel options are cruises, all-inclusive resorts, and group vacations. Each of these trips can be customized for those who want to travel by themselves. We will work with you to ensure your preferences are accommodated.

Cruises

Cruise ships are filled with great activities – whether you want to relax alone or socialize

Cruises offer nearly endless options for single travelers, from simply enjoying a good book by the pool to joining in activities with fellow travelers. Most cruise lines assign dining room seating but, depending on your personal preference, we can request a specific table size. You can choose to sit at a larger table with many fellow travelers, or a smaller table with just a few people. If you prefer, you can even forego the main dining room; opting instead for specialty restaurants, room service, or the buffet.

On most sites the cost of cabins is advertised as “per person”, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean the price for a person traveling alone. Cruise companies charge a “single supplement”, which means that a person traveling alone pays the same room price as those traveling with two people. For example, a cruise that is advertised as $999 per person plus $125 per person in taxes would be $2,248 for 2 people. $1,124 per person, multiplied by two people. With the single supplement, that same cruise would still be be $2,123. $1,124 for the first person, plus a $999 single supplement fee.

However, there is one way to avoid this fee. Newer ships have studio cabins available for single travelers, which are smaller than a traditional room and can only sleep one person. These rooms do not charge the single supplement rate, but there are a limited number of them available. It may, in fact, actually be cheaper to book a two-person cabin. Regardless of room size, single travelers will never pay double for taxes, fees, or gratuities. We will research the difference in price and ensure you stay in the perfect cabin.

All-Inclusive Resorts

Make new friends on the Royalton Bavaro Lazy River

There are countless all-inclusive resorts you can select from worldwide. Just like with a cruise, you can choose between spending quality time alone, getting to know new people at the resort, or even a little of both. With your personal trip goals in mind, we will assist you in choosing the perfect resort at the location you want to visit. Our prices include airfare, which is charged per person, and never has a single supplement fee attached. The resorts themselves do charge a single supplement rate, just like the cruise lines. Unlike the cruise rates, however, it is more often less than double.

Group Travel

Join up with a group and take a guided tour of picturesque Iceland

One of the most popular options for single travelers are group led tours. While these tours are available worldwide, some of the most popular are; Australia/New Zealand, China/Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and recently, Iceland. The amount of people on these tours can range from quite small (less than ten people) to very large. When planning a tour for you we will always share the typical group size to ensure that you are happy with your choice.

Some of these tours do charge a single supplement, while others do not. The tours include lodging, and most of the tour companies will assign single travelers a roommate. However, we can help you book a single, private room for an additional fee if you would prefer. With all the above variables in play, we can research all of the options available to assist you in booking the perfect tour.

Cruises, all-inclusive resorts, and group tours all have much to offer those who wish to travel alone. Along with the perks of the trip itself, you may very well gain increased confidence in yourself and learn how to become more independent, all without the fear of being judged by a traveling companion. Also, opening yourself up to new experiences and people, expanding your thinking and views about other cultures and places, all at your own pace, are additional benefits that come from traveling alone. Just because you don’t have a travel partner doesn’t mean you can’t explore the world. Reach out today, and let us help you plan the perfect solo vacation today.

April 21st is Free Park Day at the National Parks

Did you know that April 21st is part of Free Entrance Days in the National Parks? That means that participating national parks that normally have an entrance fee will be free to enter. April 21st also kicks off National Park Week, which will last until April 29th. During this time the national parks will be hosting a number of different events and activities. Some of these activities will include National Junior Ranger Day and an Earth Day celebration. In addition, April 22nd is the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System and the Wild & Scenic Rivers System. With so much to do and explore, why not take a mini vacation to some of these national parks this spring?

No matter where in the United States you live, there are plenty of National Parks available for you to explore and enjoy. Here in Nevada we have a number of parks within driving distance, spread across Nevada, California, Idaho, Utah, and the entire western United States. Below are some of our favorite parks that are no more than a day’s drive away from most cities in Nevada.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, and the Grand Canyon

Lake Mead Ariel View

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is one of the parks included in the Free Entrance Days. Normally, the entrance fee for Lake Mead is $20 per vehicle. So April 21st would be a great time to save some money and enjoy everything that Lake Mead has to offer. Some of the available activities include canoeing, kayaking, hiking, camping and much more. Make sure you also check out Hoover Dam while you are in the area. Hoover Dam is actually what created Lake Mead back in 1935.

Aside from the National Park itself, Lake Mead puts you just 24 miles away from Las Vegas, which has plenty of things to see and do as well. Alternatively, you can reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in four hours, or the North Rim in 4 and a half. If you are planning on visiting both parks, the best bet would be to do the Grand Canyon on April 21st. The entrance fee for the Grand Canyon is $30 per vehicle, so you’d save an extra $10 per vehicle compared to Lake Mead.

Death Valley

Marble Canyon in Death Valley National Park

Also on the list is Death Valley. This famous park is 3 hours from Lake Mead or 6 hours from northern Nevada. The normal fee for Death Valley is $25 per vehicle, and the park is vast, at over 3 million acres of wilderness. Death Valley is filled with some amazing hiking trails and camping opportunities. The park has salt flats, canyon trails, sand dunes, and desert peaks; enough to thrill any hiker. Even if you aren’t much for hiking, Death Valley has hundreds of miles of roads with many of the most famous parts of the park visible by car. Whether you want to drive or hike, Death Valley is a great park to visit.

If you do go down to Death Valley, be sure to stop by Baker, California. This small town has only 735 residents, but is home to the World’s Tallest Thermometer. This thermometer was erected in 1991 to honor the highest recorded temperature in Death Valley, 134°. Make sure you bring plenty of water if you go hiking here!

Great Basin National Park

Bristlecone Pines at Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada has no entrance fee, so every day is Free Park Day. There are some activities, such as the Lehman Cave Tours, that cost extra, but they are worth it. Great Basin is particularly famous for the incredibly clear night skies, and their astronomy programs. The park also has some wonderful hiking trails, camping areas, and fishing spots.

Great Basin has something to do every season of the year. In the spring there are some wonderful opportunities for wildflower viewing. The summer opens up some excellent caving, camping, and hiking opportunities. Spend the fall gathering pinyon pine nuts, up to 25 pounds per household. And in the winter, go skiing or snowshoeing across the natural, ungroomed trails.

If you want to make a weekend trip out of it, there are many parks in neighboring states that will be participating in the free entrance day including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Crater Lake, and more. More info on which parks are included can be found on the National Park Service website here.

What national parks are on your list to visit?