Hi all - know Rick Steves is known for Europe but this is such an amazing crowd thought I'd venture into asking an Alaska question. My husband and I have taken an Alaskan cruise before, without kids, on Princess. Land and sea. Too long ago know to remember too much more except took great active off ship excursions. Now want to take our 16 and 13 year old in mid-late August. Looking for recommendations on: cruise ship and itinerary - one way vs. round trip and specific ports to see or skip. Would like to again do active off ship activities with kids in ports and see great glaciers of course! Thanks, Tamara
If you are cruising out of Seattle, get your pre and post cruise hotel reservations ASAP! Cruise season makes hotel rooms spike to incredible prices.
I use to sell Alaska cruises. The only two cruise ships I would cruise with are Disney and Celebrity to Alaska. Hate Princess, Holland America and all the other mass market ships. Better hurry, glaciers are melting fast!
Thanks. Seems cheaper to go to and from Seattle but reading that you have to, by some ancient law, stop in BC for a few hours and that seems like a waste. Any advice on ports and itinerary (where to go in and out of and RT or one way)? Any advice on a current travel agent expert to use? Thanks!
We did a Seattle to Seattle trip on the Celebrity Solstice last summer. We loved this cruise and the ship is tops. We used a great agent who got us the maximum perks. PM me if you want further details.
If you want a real Alaska cruise do not go on a mega ship but book a small (44 passenger or less) ship cruise. My wife and I went on an Alaskan Dream Cruise. There are many others to choose from and I am sure they are very good also. You are down on the water and can really see the whales, seals, icebergs etc. You are not looking down on them from 10 stories above. Also you are a person, not a number. The captain knew you by name and you were welcome on the bridge anytime expect when entering or leaving port. If there were whales in the area he would turn the ship around and go take a look.
Thanks Bob. How are the small ships for teenagers?
Alaska cruises are (all) great....but you have not really seen Alaska until you travel into the interior (Denali National Park). So a one way cruise with added time into the interior would be my suggestion.
If you're open to an alternative to a cruise ship consider the Alaska Marine Highway. The ferry departs from Bellingham and makes its way up the inside passage to Skagway - takes about 3 days.
There are comfortable staterooms on board, reasonably good food in the restaurants, and the scenerey is unmatched. from Skagway you can rent a car and explore Alaska to your heart's content. The route winds its way north thru Whitehorse and Dawson City in the Yukon territory before turning west towards Fairbanks. You could also go as far as Juneau, take a direct flight to Anchorage, collect a rental car and start your explorations from there.
Denali NP is the big draw but try to go as early in August as you can manage - Autumn comes early that far north.
OK, I live in the Puget Sound and I travel to Alaska yearly. I've also done the cruise thing with both my 70 year old mother (bucket list) and a pack of kids 8-16. The small ships are great for folks old enough to entertain themselves, but kids are more trouble, especially if you want to get away from them for a while. August is high season, but if you don't want rain most of the time it's probably your best bet. Also, the sun is up 16+ hours a day, so your kids will run themselves down trying to stay up.
Hotels in Seattle...Really the prices are not that bad. Just don't stay right down on the dock. I put my mom up at the W and she had a blast. (At the time I was renting a studio.) I've stayed in half a dozen hotels in town when i didn't want to drive home. I can easily recommend the Arctic Club, Loews, the Sheraton, the W, or the Inn at El Gaucho. All are as good, and considerably cheaper, than the Four Seasons, although that's a good choice too if you want to spend the coin. With kids I'd say the Arctic Club; the locations is great.
Second, unless you're going to drive all over, don't. Use Uber or Lyft. They can get you to the pier in minutes from any of these hotels. And if you stay in town a few days, everything is close enough to walk to or catch a ride.
As to the cruise, yes, you have to stop in B.C. It's the Jones Act. It's damn near 200 years old and it will never get repealed. If you travel thru international waters (in this case Canada) you have to stop, and you have to have a passport to disembark. Plan accordingly. (You'd have to do this if you left from Vancouver too.)
The normal stops for big cruises are Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. All of these towns are built around tourists. More tourists get off the boats any given day than actually live in the towns. They exist because they take your money. Ketchikan and Juneau are actually nice once you get a mile or so away from the docks. The further the better. Prices go down accordingly. A decent little leaguer could hit a ball over all of Skagway. Every ship carries more people than the native population and there's not much to the town. But one of the best things you can do is take the train ride out and up the pass from Skagway. As for other "activities" just be warned they get expensive.
As for a one way cruise, or something different, that's harder. Myself, I'd put my truck on the ferry and go up the passage that way. But most cruises don't go to Anchorage, and if you want to get into the interior that's where you want to go. From Anchorage you can go to Denali (it's OK but touristy), Valdez (nice and remote, but unless you fish not much to do), or Fairbanks and beyond. If you want to do that I can give you more particulars.
You should also know that Alaska has four hotel prices. Dead season, spring and fall, high season, and special events. Hotels (and there are not a lot of them) double their prices for each (as in dead x2 for spring, x2 for high, and again x2 for special events). A hotel in Anchorage can easily cost $700/night and the entire town be sold out.
One last thing, if you choose a cruise that makes a call in Victoria on the way back, see if you can disembark there and stay a couple days. You can catch a ferry back right into downtown Seattle easy, and in August it's a nice town (better than the Alaska ones) with some cool stuff for kids (like the Bug Museum).
I've taken a one-way in June (Vancouver to Seward, fly home Anchorage) and RT in August (Seattle-Seattle), both on Holland America (my mom is like a four-star, platinum club member and gets hella perks). If I did it again, I would choose one-way in August and add Denali after (or before, the ships go both ways). Make sure you stop in Sitka, whatever you decide. The first one I took stopped in Valdez, which was a big nothing back in 1998.
I live in Bellingham and have never seriously considered the Marine Highway (maybe it's because my mom pays for the cruises? Yeah, that's probably it). Bellingham is 90 miles from Seattle, not "just north" as an earlier poster suggested. You can fly in there or Vancouver (or Everett now, I guess) and not have to go through SeaTac.
There are cruises that start (and end) in Vancouver, which is a great city with excellent tourist infrastructure. I agree that Victoria is a fun stop. Your kids are a little old for the bug zoo, I guess. And the Children's Farm in Beacon Hill Park (my son was probably only 6 when we spent an hour or so brushing the goats in the sun--we still talk about that day).
Have a great trip!
I recommend a one-way cruise from Vancouver. The round-trip cruises waste time just getting to the ports.
Also, you want to book a cruise that goes to Glacier Bay. It is awesome.
We did NCL that visited both Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier.
For Ketchikan check out the Ketchikan Taxi company for a tour.
For Juneau, we did a great tour from Viator that include whale watching and visiting a glacier.
For Skagway, make sure you do the railroad. We did a ship's excursion that included the railroad and a hike through the rain forest.
Better get on this before the glaciers are all gone. If you have the time and money, take a one-way cruise between Seattle and Seward (either direction) and add some time on land up there. If not, take a round trip from Seattle or Vancouver up the Inside Passage and back (usually a week). We've taken and enjoyed three NCL cruises on ships like the Sun and Pearl. Yes, it's mass tourism and towns like Ketchikan are overwhelmed when four or five 2000-passenger ships are in town (every day in summer), but it seems like it would meet your needs.
You have to make a stop in BC because of the Passenger Vessel Act (equivalent of the Jones Act) which requires that ships not stopping outside the US be built in the US and crewed by Americans. Effectively that means all cruise ships make an international stop. Vancouver and Victoria are both beautiful, interesting cities with lots to see and do, either one would improve the experience rather than detract.
Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka are all good places to visit, even under cruise-ship-overload conditions. For me, Skagway itself is worth about two hours in a lifetime, but the train ride up the valley is a great experience. If you can snag a cruise that gives you a day or part--day in Glacier Bay, go for it -- one of America's scenic wonders and it won't be like that forever.
"Thanks Bob. How are the small ships for teenagers?"
That depends on your kids. Are they they type that will want the big ship entertainment (pools, climbing walls, etc) or will they want to see and experience Alaska? Small ships will not have much in the way of entertainment and they do not have 24 hour food.
Thanks Bob. I guess it depends on how much time is at sea vs. being able to get off the boat and see Alaska. That said, I looked at the ship you mentioned. it does look amazing but out of our price range at this time. thanks.
If seeing great glaciers is one of your prime interests, you may wish to consider "itineraries" vs. specific ships (and your budget, of course).
Cruising in Glacier Bay for a full day with National Park staff on board the ship providing commentary was one of the highlights of our Alaska inside passage cruise. Hubbard Glacier is also spectacular, but not always accessible early or late in the season.
According to the NP website, current cruise lines authorized to operate in Glacier Bay are:
Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Seabourn, and Carnival Cruise Lines.
As far as off-ship activities, the White Pass and Yukon Railway excursion from Skagway is one of those experiences that your teenagers would not soon forget.
Go one way to Anchorage/Seward. Sail on a ship that goes to Glacier Bay and Skagway. We went on the Sun Princess in 2002.
We went last summer on Celebrity R/T Seattle. We flew in the night before. I don’t think you can go wrong on any ship. We were 24 people and did some excursions together, some apart. My daughter and hubby did the dog sledding in Juneau and LOVED it. Said it was the best experience. Some did the deadliest catch excursion in Ketchikan. One family did a floatplane to a camp on a glacier. We did the white pass/Yukon train together, and a few did a bus tour up the other side of the mountain. In Skagway 2 couples took the Red Onion Saloon Goodtime girls walking tour at 8:00 in the am, they meet you at the pier. It was fun but poignant, learning about life for single women during the gold rush days. A don’t miss in my opinion. So many choices. We had our grandsons along, only 2 and 4. They had fun especially since it was warm enough to go in the pool. We are planning to take them again when they are older.
Victoria was a cute port and we enjoyed just walking around. Again, 3 couples went what watching there and had a blast. The only drawback is some excursions can be very expensive. You can book activities on your own, look at Toursbylocals.com. Also check out Harv and Marv’s whale watching in I believe Juneau, they are highly recommended. FYI, we went the first week of August and only had one day of rain.
Thanks to all of you for your thoughts. Your input in truly amazing. Based on it, we are holding a 7 night RT from Vancouver in late August on Celebrity Eclipse, including stops in Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchican. So we will miss the Skagway rail but thought it was ok since we get in Hubbard Glacier, which we o/w would not have and that seemed to be a must by the posts (or Glacier Bay but we didn't like the boats that went there).
So now, any other recommendations for excursions, and tour groups if we use ones outside the ship, are welcome. 10 years ago my husband and I did a zip line, a bike ride down a mountain, a helicopter to a mountain top for dog sledding, and a seaplane. But he won't do a helicopter or seaplane with the kids (16 and 13) as he's just a nervous nelly.
For Juneau, a bus to the Mendenhall Glacier a few miles north of the city, or a walk around the city including the state capitol and very good museum, or a ride up the Mount Roberts tramway for a great territorial view (if the weather's right).
For Ketchikan, a boat ride into the Misty Fjords or a bus or van ride to Totem Bight north of the town.
Sitka is a great destination, not as heavily visited. There's a wonderful park with totems easily reached on foot from the town center.
Vancouver is a great place to start and/or end a cruise. I hope you can fit in a few days before or after for this amazing city. Our favorite sights there include Stanley Park, the Sun Yat Sen garden in Chinatown, the art museum, Granville Island, and the anthropology museum at the University of BC (more totem poles). On our last visit there was a "virtual tour" of Canada at the cruise terminal, where you strap into seats and get "flown" all over Canadian scenery including simulated wind and spray. Sounds hokey but it was really fun.
Great choice! We took a flightseeing trip to Misty Fjords in Ketchikan many years ago with Michelle. It was a great trip and particularly memorable as we included my late mother, scared of flying, and she loved it! Landed on a lake, saw a bear! The park is magnificent and Michelle is a very skilled pilot who is also a fish spotter for the fleet. http://www.islandwings.com/index.html. A better deal than you’ll get through the ship. On board: if you drink the premium beverage package is worth it, but you really need to do the math as it’s not cheap. Make time for a spa treatment! Take in one of the specialty restaurants one night for a real treat. There is a behind the scenes tour of the ship, also not cheap. But you get deep into the bowels of the ship, see where your food is coming from, how they recycle, and, up to the bridge. Have fun! Edit: just saw your comment about hubby and the seaplane. Too bad. We had all our kids on board and they still talk about it!
Thanks. Our other option on that same boat was a stop in Icy Point instead of Sitka but a quick google search when someone else asked that question seemed to lean to Sitka.
Prefer active excursions, just not ones with flying unfortunately.