Thinking about an Alasks Cruisetour - and timing?

Discussion in 'Travel' started by craig_gillette, Feb 22, 2010.

  1. Not this year, most likely next so it's not an immediate need to book anything. Having searched the site and a variety of other websites, I'm coming across reasons to consider pretty much any time frame in the general "season" May to September. My impression is that May is driest, getting progressively wetter through September (in a general sense), that the mid season may be most predictable for bear viewing side excursions, but the fall images and colors I've seen are spectacular. My wife is not a fan of small planes or helicopters so I'm not sure any of the flight-seeing or out and back bear "tours" are necessarily going to be something we'd do together, so I'm really looking at recommendations for a general time frame, if one were to be doing a typical cruise/tour.
    Then from there, we may consider extending the time at some point(s) along the line during the ground sections of the trip, especially to get around the need to adhere to the general "tour" scheduled nature of the bus and train legs, etc. I doubt our budget would stretch to the point that the more specialized small ship tours or dedicated small group photo "tours" would fit but would likely look to opportunities outside the more typical canned/planned shore excursions, etc.
    So, if you were going to do a cruise tour, what time frame would folks recommend, and what side tours or extensions would you recommend. Since most of the cruise and tour operations are consistently enthusiastic about their offerings, it's a little hard to be sure just what to be reasonably sure of.
     
  2. I would recommend the first week in June. At that time the weather is usually good. The water falls are full.
    The rates are a little less. The cruise line will have multiple excursions to choose from. I would recommend a whale excursion for sure.
    Great photo ops everywhere 20 hours a day. No need to take a specialized photo cruise.
    Best Wishes
     
  3. Autumn colors in Alaska may last all of two weeks, and some Tundra colors are better than some of the trees (trees need enough moisture and frost to get vivid colors,) and in the interior of Alaska, that combination is touch-and-go. The State of Alaska is so large, you would have a tough time seeing it all in 30 days. The drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks will yield a couple of very decent views of Mt. McKinley -- if the skies are clear -- without having to hire a tour guide. You just need a lucky break in the weather.
     
  4. SCL

    SCL

    Early June is usually "ice out", that is harbors and lakes have generally lost their ice coat, so more areas are usually accessible after the first week or so of June. Occasionally there are weather surprises....a number of years ago I went up there in mid June to ensure I was there over June 21, that week it hit 86 degrees F in Fairbanks, I had to buy summer clothes.
     
  5. Took a cruise (Princess) in May 2004 - still lots of snow on the mountains, melting means lots (LOTS!) of seasonal waterfalls along the coast. It can be cold, but that's Alaska.
    We took a second trip in August, 2008, this time a land trip - flew to Anchorage, rented a car, and spent one week on the Kenai Peninsula and one week in the Denali area. The second half of August and start of September is very late summer on the Kenai, and it's fall in Denali. Most of Denali Nat'l Park is above the tree line, so the fall color consists of shrubbery that turns the most amazing colors.
    I saw a web news piece (Fox, I think) that Princess has started a new excursion out of Juneau that includes whale watching in the channels near Juneau (best place we've seen), bear viewing on an island in that same area, and then a helicopter trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. It must be quite a trip, and it ain't cheap - IIRC, the article said 399 per.
    There are day cruises out of Seward into the Kenai Fjords that run a bit over 100 per person that are well worth it. Just don't take the short ones, the 4-hour types - they never get out of Resurrection Bay and will be disappointing. Try to go on a catamaran rather than a single hull boat - much smoother, better if motion sickness may be an issue. The day trips will include lunch.
    A flightseeing trip out of Ketchikan into the Misty Fjords is a great trip, but only if flying is an option of course. They use the single and dual engine DeHavillands, and the screnery is spectacular (Lord of the Rings stuff). We landed on a mountain top lake, approaching over the waterfall that drains the lake and taking off later over that same waterfall.
    An excursion from Skagway to the eagle preserve over by Haines was disappointing in May - almost no eagles, but great scenery.
    Friends of ours took the same cruise, same ship as our May 04 trip, but they went in July. They have photos of the same places we saw, and it all looks very different without snow. It's a personal preference thing - I like Alaska with snow on it. Something to consider.
    The best bear viewing is on the Katmai Pensinsula. The salmon runs in later June and July bring lots of bears to the Brooks River - google it - there's an overlook built at river's edge for safe viewing. You can fly in on a day trip, or you can fly in and stay at the lodge. It has been crowded at times, but that may be impacted by the economy. In August the bears are found around Lake Clark (also Katmai) and the coast, and typically this viewing involves a meaningful amount of hiking - not that the distances at huge, but it's spongy coastal sod and walking in the boots the tour will provide is tiring. Probably cheaper than the Brooks option.
    Do your homework - there's a wealth of info on the web, and if you plan to do any driving on your own, get a copy of the Milepost - extraordinary detail about everything in Alaska. I got mine at a local Borders in the travel section.
    One other thing - we decided that we weren't going on the cruise see to the room on the ship - we were going to see Alaska. So we chose to go cheap on the room (interior, no windows) and spend our money on excursions. And it turned out we spent almost no time in the room, and had great excursions. On a warm weather cruise last year, we got a balcony and used it quite a lot. Something else to consider, especially once you decide what time of year you will be going.
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  6. We're still at the stages of trying to decide if we can even consider this. My older daughter is a senior in HS and we are working through the admissions process to college. She's been wait listed at her first choice, a commuter close school hasn't decided yet, and any decisions will likely hang on how that all works out anyways.
    I tend to agree on the room location, not sure my wife would. Of course, with 4 years in the Navy, I've watched a lot of water go by. Not sure I need to pay extra to see more. She went on a short cruise with her mom and they liked having a small balcony but that was a cruise from L.A. to Mexico and a lot of open sea time. I figure there's plenty of open rail space and the flexibility to move around on deck. It seems that any time frame has some advantages so we're just kicking around the possibilities now.
     
  7. Craig,
    I am not a 'cruise person' by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I really don't like cruises at all. That said, my wife talked me into going on an Alaskan cruise with Linblad Expeditions. Relatively speaking, it was quite a bit more expensive than a regular cruise, but I would do it all over again! The ship we were on (Sea Bird) held 62 passengers, and there were Zodiac inflatables used to take us up close and personal to glaciers, bears, islands, etc. There were also naturalists on board who accompanied us on our hikes and Zodiac rides, and explained things in detail.
    Bottom line - if it is within your budget, consider booking a trip with Linblad, so you can get up close and personal with all there is to see. Best with whatever you decide.
     
  8. Oh yeah, I'l definitely look at the various "small ship" or similar trips. But they look to be substantially more expensive. My folks took two Alaska cruises and one was a repositioning trip for one of the small ships. They loved it and as you point out, they were able to get up close to many features the big ones can't as well as a number of small ports the big ones have to pass up.
     
  9. Craig - I understand about the college part of the decision - we didn't start traveling until both of ours were several years out of school and on their own. And I understand the balcony issue. We also did the LA-Mexico cruise and enjoyed the balcony very much, but that was a warm weather cruise. Sitting on that balcony in Alaskan waters in May will be nothing like the Mexico cruise. Whether a balcony would be a pleasant choice depends in part on what time of year you go.
    With respect to Fred's advice about Lindblad, you can find info at http://www.expeditions.com/Alaska/
    One other thing - there are 2 cruise itineraries for Alaska, a one way trip and an out-and-back round trip. The one way trips go from Seattle or Vancouver to Seward or Whittier and cover more coast and go much farther north than the out-and-back type. The disadvantage is that you start in one city and end in another - that drives up the airfare cost. The out-and-back type saves some money because you fly into and back out of the same airport, and if you are trying to get as warm an itinerary as you can, staying farther south certainly helps.
     
  10. We have taken 2 cruises to Alaska , both on Princess. We , too, booked in the cheapest rooms and do not regret it.
    One trip was taken in 1996 in early July and the other in 2000 in August. We saw snow on the mountains on both trips.
    I would highly recommend a whale watching tour. We also did a float trip out of Haines to see the eagles feeding on the salmon run.
    I'm sure that just about anything you do will be enjoyable as the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.
     
  11. I've been to Alaska twice. Once by cruise the other was a family trip where we spent 4 weeks there in the summer. The cruise is great. Waters through the inside passage are very smooth - never any rocking. I did lots of hand holding shots at 400ISO with longer lenses from the side of the ship. We cruised in Septmeber - it was cloudy nearly everyday, with a little shower here and there but it never got ion our way. Temps were essentially sweater weather.
    I spent the summer there with my family - way back - we camped via motor-home. That is a great way to do it as well. I was there in July through early August. Weather was great -very comfortable - some evenings you needed a light jacket. We didn't killed by mosquitoes either. IN the summer you'll experience much more of the "midnight sun" than you will in September. I remember running around the camp grounds at 11pm with the sun just getting low in the sky when we were up in Fairbanks. It's an entirely different vacation by land. If you can afford the money and time to do a land route for a few days, it should be well worth it. The sights, sounds and smells are so much different than a cruise.
     
  12. I have visited Alaska 10 times once by driving the AlCan, two Kayaking trips, two fly and drive, and 5 cruises. The only way my wife would visit Alaska is by cruising. I have visited Alaska from March to Sept. and I think you would like the time around labour day. Both times that I was in Alaska at that time I witness the end of summer, fall colors, and the first snow of the season in a matter of two weeks. To top it off I saw the Northern lights on both of my Labour day weekend trips.
    [​IMG]
    This was shot at Prince William Sound about a mile outside of whittier alaska. In fact as I sat on the beach watching the glow developing a Princess cruise ship sailed by. I would do the one way cruise and then instead of going home at the end of your 7 day cruise rent a car or take the train to Fairbanks where if it is clear there is a great chance to view the lights. forecast puts Solar Max at 2012 so there is a good chance of a strong display.
     
  13. One thing to remember, Alaska weather is unpredictable. I spent ten days at the end of July on the Kitsap Peninsula and it rained every day.

    I recommend bringing a raincover for your camera/lens. I used a Kata cover and that saved the day for me.
     
  14. How about the ferry service from Bellingham to Juneau? You can't beat the price!
     
  15. Not sure that's what my wife has in mind for a "cruise." But, hey, we're still looking at all the options.
     
  16. For a 25th anniversary sort of trip, vacation is not going to include doing our own cooking and clean-up or sleeping with a busload of our closest friends.
     

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