Alaska is a great big wonderful place I think all Americans should visit at least once in their lifetime. Commonly chosen as a safe part of the world to travel, Alaska has unique travel opportunities not available in other parts of the world. Cruise lines know that and tell us all we need to know about sailing in Alaskan waters. Sort of. There are a few parts of the Alaska cruise experience that cruise lines touch on but don’t go into a lot of detail about. Here we have detail on those things to know about an Alaskan cruise.
Stateroom Location Matters, Somewhat
When scenic cruising to view glaciers and other iconic landmarks in Alaska, on deck is the place to be. As a U.S. Forest Service park ranger narrates the scene, you will want easy access to both sides of the ship when that ranger says “On the right we have a whale about to leap playfully into the air then hold right there suspended in movement so you can capture the moment to remember forever”. Actually, that won’t happen. Those on deck will indeed go from side to side as wildlife is pointed out either in the ocean or on the close-by land. Yes, you can hear that narration in your stateroom but that’s not the place to be, even with a balcony.
Cruise travelers often think Alaska and balcony go hand in hand. Not so much really for the viewing aspect of the experience. On the other hand, if your itinerary is round-trip Seattle and the first day or two is spent at sea, heading north, you do have a decision to make. On the right (starboard) side, you will see land almost the entire time. On the left (port) side it’s probably going to be a view of ocean as far as the eye can see. If that matters, this is your chance to fix something before it is broken and you are booked with the view you do not care for.
Salmon Is The Name Of The Game
There’s no getting around it, some of the best Salmon in the world comes from Alaskan waters. They know how to make it every way possible, many of which will be experienced on your ship. Cruise lines also like easy to work with Salmon on the menu and take every opportunity to share that joy with you. On the other hand, if seafood is not your thing, you’re not out of luck. Alternative dining options ranging from steaks to chicken, pork and other non-fishy options are available at every meal. They will not force-feed you Salmon, although it may seem like they are trying.
Wildlife Viewing: Know The Odds And Be Good With That
Let’s just get right down to business on this one. After four trips to Alaska, odds of capturing a good image of wildlife (brown bears, seals, whales, giraffes, etc) is about one in ten. Out of ten viewing options, an alert traveler will capture a good image of something. That’s not ten paid tours but ten viewing options. Viewing options can be as simple as a sighting on a bus that is taking you to a tour. I did that and it cost me $nothing.
Custom tours with wording that includes “wildlife viewing” have better odds but come with rules that need to be paid attention to or the odds go way down. On our bear viewing tour, we were told to use inside voices and walk slowly which is not threatening to bears. A good idea: leave your friend Chatty Kathy behind on this one. She will ruin the odds of seeing something.
It Rains A Lot In Alaska
The #1 item on any Alaska packing list should be a lightweight rain jacket, preferably with a hood. Rain comes and goes in Alaska so don’t let gloomy forecasts get in the way of excitement to be there. That forecast is much like forecasting rain in the Caribbean. It rains every day but often does not last all that long. For those who do not tolerate cold well, a sweater or heavy wool shirt is also a good item to have on the list. I would not have needed that extra protection on my Alaska cruise had I not chosen a 5 hour wildlife viewing tour. To see bear, the best bet is to stay in one place, use inside voices and move very slowly. That works great for capturing images of bears but does nothing for body circulation. At the end of the day, it is pretty easy to have a photo of wildlife (subject to odds quoted above) and a frozen body. That sweater can help with that. Twitter version of this topic: It’s all about layering in Alaska
Seriously Consider Pre- or Post Cruise Hotel Stays
Alaska cruises depart from and return to interesting places like Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco. If your travels have not taken you to those cities before, a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay to explore them is highly recommended. Also, if home is somewhere east of the Mississippi, you’ll no doubt have a long travel day getting to the ship and back. An extra day on the front or back end can help. Going there, you’ll adjust to the time difference easier with a day on the ground in the time zone in which you will board the ship. On the back end, flights too early to be advisable on the day the ship gets in are easily doable the next day if you spend the night. I did that on a recent Holland America Line sailing and was able to fly direct from Seattle to home in Orlando by being available for the early once-a-day flight.
Chris Owen shares frank, inside information about cruise vacations on ChrisCruises.com.