Cruising To Alaska

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I had decided to write this article a while ago, but then got a call about Alaska cruises, and decided some basic travel opportunity education was in order.

There are more ways to see Alaska than there are days in a year. You have your basic cruise to Southeast Alaska, also known as the Inside Passage. You have longer cruises that go to ports of call not on the Inside Passage itineraries. You have six mainstream cruise lines that sail to Alaska, in addition to small ship and expedition cruises and a few luxury cruise lines. You have “cruise tours” which are land tours to the interior of Alaska that can be added before or after the seven-day north/south cruise. You have escorted bus tours that cover the interior, to which a cruise can be added. And lastly, you have independent travel. How do you know which is the best for you? This is where the help of a certified travel agent can save you money, time, and frustration.

Take for example just one cruise line, Holland America. They offer five different seven-day cruises and one extended 14-day cruise. Some are round trip from either Seattle or Vancouver, and some are one-way north or south.

These one-way cruises are the ones to which a “cruisetour” can be added. Cruisetours can vary from four to 13 nights, depending on which areas of the interior you wish to see and how long you want to stay at places like Denali National Park. Holland America cruises offer 31 different cruisetours. Now multiply that by the five other mainstream cruise lines, and you get an idea of the variety of cruises and cruisetours that are available.

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Photo courtesy of Carol Watts

Alaska Railroad line runs for quite a distance along the Turnigan Arm near Anchorage, Alaska.

Let’s look at some of the options available for cruises with Holland America. The seven-day Inside Passage sails round trip from Vancouver and passes through the Inside Passage at the beginning and end of the trip in addition to scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm Fjord. Ports of call are Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway.

There are two different seven-day round trip Seattle itineraries, depending on whether you want to see Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay National Park. Neither of these cruises passes through the Inside Passage, but sail to the west of Vancouver Island both coming and going from Seattle. Ports of call are Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria. The seven-day one-way north or south cruises both sail through the Inside Passage either coming or going to Vancouver and both spend a day cruising Glacier Bay National Park. The northbound cruise stops at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, while the southbound cruise substitutes Haines for Skagway.

The 14-day round trip Seattle cruise visits the major southeast ports of call in addition to Kodiak, Anchorage and Homer. So if you know, for example, that you really want to see Victoria or Sitka, or the Inside Passage, or Hubbard Glacier, some of the above itineraries can be eliminated. Of course, itineraries with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, NCL or Carnival can be completely different. You can spend hours on the Internet cruise sites researching this information yourself, or you can visit a certified travel agent at no additional cost. (Booking with a local agent keeps part of the commission in Payson, whereas booking directly with the cruise line gives them 100 percent of the commission.)

Cruisetours are even more differentiated, depending on which cities they visit, and how long they stay. The shortest cruisetours usually start at either Fairbanks or Anchorage. That means after flying all day to get to Alaska, you spend the night in either of these cities before starting your tour. If you actually want to see something in Anchorage or Fairbanks, you need to schedule a tour that spends at least a day there. Most all go to Denali National Park and Mt. McKinley. Additions to the basic cruisetour include additional days at Denali or Fairbanks, Alyeska, Dawson City, Cooper Landing, Whitehorse, Coldfoot and even Prudhoe Bay. Keep in mind that cruisetours that transport you to Denali via the Alaska Railroad are limited to approximately 160 passengers, because that is the maximum that two-dome observation railroad cars can carry. For this reason the various cruisetours sell out quickly. There are no cruisetours available for this summer as of this date. There are still a few cabins available for seven-day cruises, however.

All the major escorted land tour companies, Mayflower, Trafalger, Globus, Collette, etc. have at least one tour in Alaska. You can add a cruise to some of these tours to extend your vacation experience. We represent several companies like the Alaska Railroad, Gray Line of Alaska, Knightly Tours and Alaska Denali Tours that offer tours that are not escorted, and even some self-drive tours. Or we can construct a completely independent tour to suit your particular needs. Keep in mind, that if you travel independently, you will not be able to take advantage of the reduced hotel group rates that an escorted tour offers.

Many people think they want to sail to Alaska using the state ferry system, then either rent a motor home or bring their own to drive around the state. One of the most common misconceptions about Alaska is its size. People are often surprised to learn how long it takes to drive from one city or area to another. Also, the state ferry is not cheap. The ferry timetable, like a train timetable, often has you arriving or departing a city in the middle of the night. Cabins to sleep in are at an additional charge on the ferry. Some enterprising travelers have been known to pitch a tent on deck to save some money. A cafeteria is available for food service. Remember that it is not possible to drive to Ketchikan, Juneau or Sitka, Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier. A cruise is the best way to visit these areas.

Remember that anything is possible in the travel business. It all depends on how much you are willing to spend. And as I mentioned, it does not cost you any more to book with an agent than to book with the cruise line directly online. We may even be able to get you a better price and extra amenities by booking you into an existing promotional group.

Cruise Port Travel is locally owned and a chamber member. Visit our Web site, www.cruiseporttravel.com for older Rim Review articles on Alaska, in the blog spot. Visit us on Facebook to see some neat Alaska photos. To discuss an Alaska cruise or tour, or any other travel plans, please call (928) 472-7878 for an appointment.

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