Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and today was the end of our second Alaska cruise. Since this was a one way cruise, we ended our trip in Vancouver, Canada. The first time we took this cruise, we opted to take the Amtrak to Seattle for cheaper flight options. This year, however, we were able to get a better deal out of Vancouver.
The turnaround time for a cruise ship is fairly quick; new passengers can embark as early as 11AM. Because of this, we had to be out of our room by 8AM and we were off the ship fairly soon after. Our flight wasn’t until 4PM, so we decided to visit the Vancouver Lookout for some cityscape views and then to take our brothers out for some yakiniku at one of our favorite restaurants.
From the Canada Place cruise ship dock the Vancouver Lookout is only 5 blocks away so it was a very short walk. Considering we had all our luggage with us this was definitely appreciated. As always, the views from the Lookout where amazing and it was a very enjoyable start to the day.
Once we had finished at the Lookout we grabbed a cab and went to Gyu Kaku. This is a chain yakiniku restaurant (Japanese style Korean BBQ) where you order various cuts of raw meat and grill them yourself. Each table has a gas grill in the middle and it’s a really fun experience to do in a group. Gyu Kaku is a major chain in Japan that has started to spread internationally, and we tend to visit whenever we are in a city that has one.
After enjoying our last lunch together this trip, it was time to catch a cab to the airport. Our second Alaska cruise was just as amazing as the first, and I’m certain it won’t be our last.
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?
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.
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.
The cruise lines call this port Icy Strait Point, but as soon as you leave the port you are technically in the native village called Hoonah. This is one of our favorite stops on an Alaska cruise and offers arguably the best whale watching opportunity of any Alaskan cruise port.
Icy Strait Point is the only privately owned cruise destination in Alaska, but unlike the “private islands” in the Bahamas which are owned by the cruise lines, Icy Strait Point is owned by the Huna Totem Corporation. This company is owned by a group of 1,350 Alaskan natives and Tlingit people. The intent of the privately owned port was to preserve the native character and culture of the village, while still allowing the economic growth that would accompany cruise ships.
We opted for a three hour morning tour with Captain Duane, a lifelong Hoonah resident and member of the Tlingit people. The sight seeing tour guarantees that you will see humpback whales, and we were definitely not disappointed. Aside from a wide number of whales, we were also able to see a couple otters, seals, sea lions, and even a brown bear.
Really, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the local tour companies. The local people know their waters and they know where the whales come to feed and how to make sure you have the best experience possible.
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
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
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.
Our first actual port stop on this cruise was the capital of Alaska, Juneau. Visitors can only reach Juneau by plane or ship, even though it is a capital city. There are no roads connecting Juneau with the rest of the state. For many people, ourselves included, the only way to visit Juneau is on an Alaska cruise. There are a number of popular excursions in Juneau, but we decided to visit Mendenhall Glacier.
Mendenhall Glacier is about a 20 minute drive outside the city and as soon as we got off the ship there were dozens of buses and taxis ready and waiting. The buses are the cheapest option, and we bought four tickets on the Big Blue Bus. We paid about $25 per person for a round trip ticket, so $100 for the four of us. Taxis were quoting $40-$50 each way. It is also worth noting that there is a $5 per person charge to enter the area; this is included with the bus fare but is an additional cost when taking a taxi.
From the Mendenhall Glacier visitor center there are 5 trails ranging from a quarter mile to three and a half miles. We opted to do all five hikes and spent a total of about 6 hours around the glacier. Our ship spent a total of 12 hours in the city, so there was plenty of additional time to explore the city itself.
The first trails we took were the Photo Point and Nugget Falls trails. These offer the best viewing and photo opportunities of any of the trails and are both pretty relaxed and easy hikes. Photo Point gets you front and center to the glacier, while Nugget Falls goes right up to a waterfall that is another very popular photo opportunity.
The next trail we took was the Trail of Time, which has some excellent placards showing the regression of the glacier over the centuries. You can view photos showing what the area looked like in various years of the past. The Trail of Time also leads directly to the trail head for the East Glacier Trail which is the longest and most arduous trail as it goes up a bit in elevation.
After we had finished all the hikes we took the bus back to the city and decided to find a place to eat before heading back to the ship. We stopped by the Red Dog Saloon which holds the distinction as the oldest man-made tourist attraction in Juneau. The Red Dog Saloon has a number of really interesting items all around the restaurant, and it’s well worth a visit just to see their collection.
Depending on the kind of traveler you are, sea days on a cruise can be very hit or miss. Generally speaking, we prefer port days, but there is so much to do on modern cruise ships that a few sea days are great. Even better, we were on an Alaska cruise where even the sea days have a destination.
Even though the ship never docked anywhere, today was a scheduled visit to Hubbard Glacier. Hubbard Glacier currently holds the record for the largest tidewater glacier in North America and is a very impressive sight. The night before we were told the time that the captain expected to arrive in Disenchantment Bay, and he also provided insight into the current ice conditions. Overall it was an excellent day to see the glacier and the captain expected to be able to get quite close.
While in the Bay the captain brought the ship as close as safely possible to the glacier to give everybody on board a great viewing opportunity. The ship did a small loop in front of the glacier to give passengers on both the port and starboard sides plenty of time to see the glacier.
Most impressive to me was the fact that Hubbard Glacier is nearly always calving, or breaking off chunks of ice into the bay. Sometimes it was just small pieces, but we also had a few times when there was a sound like the crack of thunder and a very impressive piece of the glacier broke off from the edge and fell into the water.
We opted to stand on the helicopter pad at the front of the ship while we were in the bay. This is another reason why I love doing Alaska cruises on the Radiance; on the bigger ships the helipad is closed to guests. It was fairly crowded, but not overly so and we were able to get several good photos and videos to really capture the experience. Royal Caribbean also had members of their photo staff stationed at the helipad to take pictures of us and other guests. These photos were then added to our portfolio and were available for purchase at the end of the cruise.
Royal Caribbean also stationed a mobile “bar” at the entrance to the helipad where you could buy cups of hot cocoa. The wind off the glacier was definitely cold (dress in layers!) and a steaming cup of hot chocolate was definitely welcome. They offered both alcoholic and regular versions of the hot chocolate, so we got one cup of each to enjoy.
There is quite a bit of debate between the cruising glacier options; Hubbard, Sawyer, and Glacier Bay, but I really enjoyed the experience we had at Hubbard Glacier. The size and calving are both extremely impressive and not something that you will reliably see from any other glaciers available on an Alaska cruise.
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.
An adventure lasting 12 days from May 22nd, 2016 to June 3rd, 2016. Total Cost: $6211.17
Flights for 2
7 Night Alaska Southbound - Interior Room for 4
Cruise Gratuities for 4 Adults
Alaska Railroad Tickets for 4 Adults
Hotel in Seward
Sea Life Center
Mendenhall Glacier - Juneau
Whale Watching Tour - Hoonah
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Cost for 2
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
Hotel (7 nights)
Meals (7 days)
Public Transit(7 days)
One Attraction Per Day
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
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.
Cost for 2
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.
Hotel (7 nights)
Meals (7 days)
Rental Car(7 days)
One Attraction Per Day
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Where do cruise tours visit?
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.