Arrival in Vancouver

June 3, 2016

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.

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Selected Excursions in Vancouver from our partners

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

Icy Strait Point – Hoonah Whale Watching

May 31, 2016

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.

Rather than booking an excursion through the cruise company, we opted to directly support a local business. As an added bonus, we were able to save a good bit of money by booking direct. On our first Alaskan cruise we booked with Misty Bay Lodge, and on this visit we opted for Icy Strait Whale Adventures.

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.

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Selection of excursions in Icy Strait Point 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

Juneau – Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls

May 29, 2016

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. 

Pamphlet showing the trails available at Mendenhall Glacier
The Trails at Mendenhall Glacier

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.

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selected excursions in juneau from our partners

Hubbard Glacier

May 28, 2016

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. 

Video showing some impressive calving at Hubbard Glacier

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.

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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

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!

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.