Ketchikan – Snorkeling… in Alaska?!?

June 1, 2016

Today was the first day of summer! (Well, meteorological summer at least). What better way to celebrate than by going for a swim? Yes, even though we’re on an Alaska cruise. Not only did we decide to go swimming (and not in one of the ship’s heated pools), we went snorkeling. You heard that right, you can snorkel in Alaska. How’s that for a bucket list item?

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

Snorkel Alaska, as the name implies, is a company that specializes in snorkeling in Alaska. I have to say, it’s a whole different experience compared to snorkeling in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Florida, or anywhere else warm and tropical. The average water surface temperature fluctuates from 45-65 degrees from spring to summer. On the day that we went snorkeling in Alaska, the water was a brisk 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The first thing we needed to do when we arrived was to get suited up. Snorkel Alaska provides 7mm neoprene wet suits which serve to keep you fairly warm while in the water. After getting our wet suits on we took a bus to the snorkeling area and hopped right in the water.

Just your friendly neighborhood sea urchin.

The tour itself was a guided, hour long tour. The guide would occasionally free dive and bring up starfish and other animals for the rest of the group to get a good look at. We wound up seeing a large number of different starfish, crustaceans, shellfish, and jellyfish. We also had a number of bald eagles perch overhead and were even able to watch a few swoop to the water for a meal. 

After we finished the snorkeling portion of the tour, we were given hot drinks and access to hot showers which made getting out of the wet suits much easier. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Ketchikan proper and do a bit of exploring before heading back to the ship.

There is so much to see in Ketchikan, but we always enjoy walking along Creek Street, the historic red light district. There are also a large number of fisheries and salmon ladders that can make for some really good photo opportunities. 

Tomorrow, the ship will be sailing through the inside passage. I don’t have much to add to what I talked about the last time, so I’ll just let you read about it there.

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suggested Excursions in Ketchikan from our partners

Skagway – Alaskan Hikes

May 30, 2016

Today was our second port day in Alaska as we docked in Skagway. Skagway is famous for the role that the port city played in the Alaska gold rush. The city is filled with free museums and old shops and it really is like taking a step back in time. Probably the most famous activity in Skagway is the White Pass railway, although it is rather pricey.

We were traveling on a bit of a budget, and Skagway also has a lot of great activities that are completely free. One of our favorite things to do here is to hike along any number of the great nature trails. On our first Alaskan cruise we did the Lower Dewey Lake trail, so this time we wanted to do something different. First, we did the hike to Yakutania Point with a slight detour to Smuggler’s Cove. Once we finished that hike we had plenty of time left in port so we decided to do the Lower Reid Falls and Gold Rush Cemetery as well.

Yakutania Point and Smuggler’s Cove

Rock Outcroppings at Yakutania Point

Our first hike was to Yakutania Point which offers some excellent views of the water and the docked cruise ships. The hike itself was relatively easy, although it did have some narrow paths and uneven rock steps. The trail head starts just behind the Skagway airport with a footbridge across the Skagway River. We were feeling a little adventurous, so we also climbed on the rock outcroppings at the end of the trail. These gave us an excellent vantage point to see the Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Mountains.

Just past the halfway mark for the Yakutania Point trail is the turnoff for the Smugglers Cove trail. While we were on our way back we decided to take the turn off and hike out to Smugglers Cove. This added an additional 2-3 miles round trip, but the trail itself was easy with almost no elevation gain. The Smuggler’s Cove trail winds through mixed coastal forests before opening up to a sheltered tidal inlet. This appeared to be a bit less well known than Yakutania point, but the views were absolutely breathtaking.

Gold Rush Cemetery and Lower Reid Falls

At the base of Lower Reid Falls

After we hiked back to the airport we walked through the city to see some of the shops and then continued along the main road until we reached the railroad tracks. Here was the start of the trail to Lower Reid Falls which also goes through the Gold Rush Cemetery. The cemetery itself is just past the parking lot, so much of the walking to reach it is paved and smooth. This is the oldest cemetery in Skagway and is the final resting place for a number of the most famous gold prospectors to come to Skagway in search of their fortune.

From the cemetery it’s just a short forest hike to Reid Falls. The falls are about 300 feet in total and cascade down the mountain in an absolutely picturesque scene. These hikes are amazing because they provide a great contrast to each other. You can see the ocean and the forests, waterfalls and gravestones, history and nature. And best of all? We did it all for free.

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selected excursions in skagway from our partners

Sea Life Center and Boarding the Radiance of the Seas

May 27, 2016

No trip to Seward is complete without a visit to the Alaska Sea Life Center. Much like the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the Alaska Sea Life Center focuses on rehabilitation and release of local wildlife. There are a wide variety of seabirds, sea mammals, and fish housed here and it’s a great place to spend a few hours. It’s a popular place, especially on cruise days, but it was well worth the visit.

As locals we had visited the Alaska Sea Life Center a few times before, but it’s still always worth another visit. By their nature, the animals are often changing as some are released and some more are rescued. Aside from the self-guided tour, there are also options for a number of experiences and animal encounters. These experiences are very limited and often sell out well in advance, so if it’s something you are interested in I recommend booking early, or on a non-cruise day if you are spending extra time in Seward.

I suggest giving yourself at least a couple hours to explore the Sea Life Center, and when it is time to leave there is a free city shuttle that runs directly to the cruise port. We took this shuttle as soon as it was time to start boarding and arrived at the port right around 11AM. Even though the ship wasn’t scheduled to depart until 8PM, I love boarding as soon as possible.

Once on board it was time for lunch, and this is one of my main secrets about cruising. The buffet is by far the most popular place for lunch on embarkation day, and it can be chaotic. We instead opted to eat lunch at Park Cafe which is much less well known. Even better, Royal Caribbean lists Park Cafe as a “Snack” eatery, rather than an actual lunch place. This makes it a perfect place to avoid the crowds on embarkation day, and you have 6 more days to enjoy the buffet. Chops Grille is also open for embarkation day lunch, but it does cost extra. 

Once we were fed there was still plenty of time to explore the ship before we needed to report for the muster drill. Radiance is a smaller ship, well designed for the Alaska market. She has more glass windows than any other ship class in Royal’s fleet, so you can get a great view from just about anywhere. 

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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.

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Selected Excursions in Whittier from our Partners

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.

Universal Orlando Vacation Packages

At the Escape from Gringotts ride at Universal Orlando Resort, a dragon breaths fire over the heads of guests.
Watch your step in Diagon Alley! Things could get a little hot if you upset the dragon guarding Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

If you are looking for the perfect family vacation, look no further than Universal Orlando Resort. Experience the magic at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, enjoy the amazing food at Universal City Walk, and check out the newest water park in Orlando, Volcano Bay.

Don’t forget to check out the all new roller coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure; opening June 13th!

Active Deals at Universal Orlando Resort

  • Travel by June 30th and get 2 days FREE with purchase of a 2 day ticket.
  • Stay at the Loews Portofino Bay, Hard Rock Hotel, or Loews Royal Pacific and get a FREE unlimited Express Pass.
  • Up to $100 off any 3 day or longer vacation package when you stay at an on-site resort.

Looking for a different kind of adventure? Just let us know and we’d be happy to help!

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.

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?