Alaska Cruise Take Two


An adventure lasting 12 days from May 22nd, 2016 to June 3rd, 2016.
Total Cost: $6211.17

Typically we try to spread around our vacations a bit and go somewhere new before repeating a vacation, but Alaska is a notable exception. First and foremost, Alaska cruises are absolutely stunning. Secondly, as we were living in Alaska at this time it was a very budget friendly option. Finally, for this trip we had some family members visiting us in Alaska, and we wanted to show them some more of the state.

Alaska is a very remote state, and there aren’t roads between many of the cities. In order to traverse most of Alaska, you are limited to dog sled, bush plane, or cruise ship. When my two brother-in-laws came up to visit us in Anchorage, we knew we wanted to show them around via cruise. Primarily because we love cruises so much, but also because it is much more economical. One way cruises between Canada and Alaska tend to be much cheaper than their round-trip Seattle counterparts. 

In order to keep the price down even more, we opted to do a single cabin for all four of us. All four of us were fully grown adults; ages 27, 27, 21, and 19. If you have ever taken a cruise before, you likely know that the cabins are not super spacious. It can occasionally feel cramped with just two adults, let alone four, but we wanted to see if we could make it work. Ultimately it did work out just fine, but we are also a very close family, and three of the four of us are on the smaller side.

When booking a cruise cabin for more than two people, there are generally two options. The first is to have a room with a pullout sofa bed. If the room is designed to sleep three, the sofa bed will pull out to a twin mattress. If the room sleeps four, the mattress will be a slightly larger double. The other option, and what we went with on this trip, is a pullman bed. These beds are sort of like bunk beds in appearance and pull out from the wall. During the day the room steward folded the bed back into the wall, and remade it while we were at dinner each night.

Example of a Pullman Bed – Courtesy of CruiseCritic user ChristienJ

Pullman beds do have a weight limit and generally are better suited for younger or smaller passengers. We did not have any complaints or issues, but it is definitely not something that every family would handle well. Whether it is better to get two cabins or share one is a decision unique to every family and every trip, and we’d be happy to help you make the best decision when planning your own adventure.

Below you can see our full itinerary along with links to more detailed reviews and pictures of each day. If you are ready to book your own Alaska cruise, contact us today.

DateItinerary
May 25th, 2016Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Whittier
May 26th, 2016Train to Seward and Exit Glacier
May 27th, 2016Sea Life Center and Boarding the Radiance of the Seas
May 28th, 2016Hubbard Glacier
May 29th, 2016Juneau - Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls
May 30th, 2016Skagway - Alaskan Hikes
May 31st, 2016Icy Strait Point - Hoonah Whale Watching
June 1st, 2016Ketchikan - Snorkeling... in Alaska?!?
June 2nd, 2016Cruising the Inside Passage
June 3rd, 2016Arrival in Vancouver

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Whittier

May 25, 2016

Alaska wildlife Conservation Center

Aside from the lower price, another reason we love the one way Alaska cruises is to add on a land tour. Cruise lines offer a number of guided tours, but even if you just have a couple days there’s a lot you can do. For the first day of our vacation we opted to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. The AWCC lies just off the Seward Highway about an hour’s drive south of Anchorage. 

The Seward Highway itself is a great and beautiful drive. It meanders along the Chugach mountains and Turnagain Arm, giving excellent nature views. As residents we had our own car, but if visiting it would be best to have a rental car. There is very limited public transit in Alaska and the cost for a taxi would likely be higher than just renting a car. There are a number of pullouts and vistas that make for excellent stops along the way as well.

As the name implies, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is home to a wide variety of native Alaskan wildlife. The intent of the center is primarily on rehabilitation and release, and they have been very successful. A year before this visit the center was able to release a herd of Wood Bison into the wilds of the Alaska interior. The Wood Bison is critically endangered, and the work of the AWCC was crucial in their recovery efforts.

Aside from the Wood Bison, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center also had caribou, moose, bears, musk ox, and a wide variety of other animals. The center is much smaller and simpler than a typical zoo, but it’s still a great place to visit for any animal lovers. 

whittier

After we finished at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, we decided to go a little further down the road to Whittier. Whittier is a small town with a permanent population of only 200 people and the town was a crucial port during World War 2. Even more interesting is the fact that nearly everybody in the town lives in a single building. Begich Towers was a Cold War Army barracks built in 1971 and also houses the town’s police station, grocery store, clinic, church, and school.

As a port city, Whittier offers a number of excellent day cruises and sightseeing trips, but we just came down to see the town itself. The only road in and out of Whittier is a single lane, multi-purpose tunnel called the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This tunnel serves car as well as train traffic in both directions. The tunnel only opens up for 15 minutes at a time and alternates between traffic in either direction and the trains when they are scheduled. Because traffic can be backed up, it’s generally recommended that you arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled opening time to make sure you can get through.

For those interested in roads and maps, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America, as well as the second longest highway tunnel. It’s definitely a unique experience to transit the tunnel and visit the town that lives under a single roof.

Return to ItineraryNext Day

Selected Excursions in Whittier from our Partners

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.

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.