Sunday, February 12, 2017

Cruising to Alaska: Part 1


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For a quick introduction to a region, country or state, a great alternative to doing it yourself is an organized tour or cruise. It allows you to literally sit back and enjoy the view while someone else arranges, organizes and worries about the details. You can get information that will make a later trip a whole lot easier to plan (don't forget to take business cards or pamphlets). 

Ruby Princess

How: We decided to take cruise and it was a good decision. Flying is an option to see Alaska but it can be expensive if you want to see more than one city or region. A road trip would be complicated, if not impossible (for example, Juneau is initially accessible only by ship or ferry).  For the extreme adventurer, there are other ways to explore Alaska because a cruise will only get you to certain areas. Popular cities such as Anchorage may be part of a combo package (cruise and land tour). 

With which cruise line: We traveled with a group and they decided on Princess. Other options for the average or budget minded are Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Other lines that sail (this list is not complete) are Disney, Holland America, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea (some cruise lines are owned by the same parent companies). Sites such as Cruise Critic function as a search engine so that you can see all of your options.

How much: As usual, do a little research or speak to a travel agent before committing to a cruise line. If you have sailed before, you may want to stick with a familiar line. Make sure you know everything that is included in the price. Alaskan excursions can be expensive, especially to experience the major attractions. Let's face it, for an Alaskan cruise, the destination is the main reason for traveling there. You could just tour the downtown areas of each port, but that will not give you the best experience. Saving on the cruise price will enable you to put your funds into the excursions so that you can truly see Alaska.

Excursions will vary in price and quality. Reading reviews on such forums such as Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor will give you some insight into the value and quality of activities. Always read them from the perspective of the reviewer, however. Some have an axe to grind and will rate a likable tour with a low score for minor issues such as the quality of the snack. A good travel agent will be very helpful in this area, also.

Where: Our itinerary included Seattle, Ketchikan, the Inside Passage (which is not a true port, but a main reason for seeing Alaska for it's natural beauty), Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. We returned back to Seattle. 

Alaska is the largest state in the USA with less than one million people. According to the US Bureau of Land Management, the federal government owns about 65% of the land, creating millions of acres of national parks, forests and regions. The remoteness of the bulk of the state limits a lot of the touring. 

The state is very proud of its Native American heritage as evidenced by the totem poles, decor and souvenirs at each port. Approximately 15% of the population identifies itself as Native American. Tourism is a growing part of the economy, but many of those working in the tourist industry spoke of their jobs being seasonal. This makes sense since the cruising season is April to September (more or less).

When: Finally, part of the reason to visit Alaska is to see its natural beauty. I traveled in late July. If I did not think global warming was real before, I became a bonafide believer after this trip. Not only did we experience almost 80 degree weather in Skagway, we practically had to go up to the glacier's nose to see it. Any precipitation we experienced was rain. If I sailed again, I would choose May or June. Apparently, southern Alaska most definitely has a summer season.

Clothing: On board, choose regular cruise wear that's appropriate to the weather (it can range from the high of mid-70 degrees to a low of mid 40's Fahrenheit): jeans, layered clothing, outfits for formal night, etc. However, we never experienced anything lower than 55 degrees. For excursions you will need waterproof shoes or boots; warm socks (perhaps thermal), a rain jacket; perhaps a hoodie, a vest; gloves; hat. I had my old lightweight rain suit, the type that pulls over clothing. Eskimo gear was not needed (!).