Cruising in Alaska- A Must Do For Everyone!

by- Barb Strait

When deciding on an Alaskan Cruise, there are MANY things to consider.  Most people aren’t even sure of where to start.  This is one reason to use a travel professional.  As the owner of Straight Away Travel, I want you to have some basic knowledge before you even start working with one of our agents.   There are some basics up front that you need to consider a) the best place to board the ship b) which cruise line in best for Alaska? c) Which are the best stops/ports?

The Best Place to Board the Ship?

I wouldn’t pick this as your most important factor when looking at your best cruise options.  Most Alaska cruises start at either Vancouver, Canada or Seattle, Washington.  Although there are some that start in California or Alaska.  Even if leaving from Seattle, we suggest you have a passport for your Alaska cruise as some of the excursions pass through the Canadian border.  If you don’t have a passport and want to leave soon, we can work with that, but it’s not highly recommended!  

Vancouver is a stunning city with so much to see and do.  The airport is about a 20-30 minute drive from the port so I recommend a hotel close to the port.  There are a ton that I recommend.  The Westin and Pan Pacific Hotel are the closest but I have stayed at two Marriott properties close by and was able to walk to the port with luggage.  You will see lots of people walking to the port with luggage.  The cruise ships leave from Canada Place.  Canada Place is right next to Stanley Park.  Stanley Park has been rated the number one park in the world before.  The best thing to do is to bike around the seawall if you are an active couple or family.  There are bike rentals right at Canada Place by the terminal.  The loop will take you about an hour or two, depending on how many times you stop.  It is an easy ride but there are totem poles to see, some shops to look at, and some stunning views.  Another easy excursion to do, even if you have just a few hours in Vancouver, is the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Free shuttles leave from multiple downtown spots to the park, including from near the port itself, and it’s a fabulous way to spend a few hours on land, or rather, in the trees.

Seattle is the biggest city in the state of Washington. Hailed as the Emerald City, this Northwest USA metropolis is known for its lush surroundings and its cultural scene.  Not sure where to start your first 24 hours in Seattle? Pike Place Market is as good a place as any. The market has been open since 1907. It’s one of the oldest farmers markets in the United States and one of Seattle’s must-see destinations. Since its humble beginnings, Pike Place Market has grown into a large multi-level complex. Today, it’s home to over 500 stalls, shops, restaurants, and bars. You can then grab a cup of coffee to go and detour a couple blocks southwest of Pike Place Market. Within less than 10 minutes, you’ll land at Waterfront Park. On your visit to Waterfront Park, be sure to roam around the recently opened Pier 62. The area features eye-popping street art installations and a few places to grab a bite to eat. On your walk along the pier, you’ll enjoy spectacular views over Elliott Bay. If you’re traveling to Seattle with kids, you might want to make time for a walk around the Seattle Aquarium. The family-friendly aquarium is located on Pier 59. A not to miss experience is seeing the city from above at the Space Needle.  From Olympic Sculpture Park, it’s less than a 10-minute walk up Broad Street to the Space Needle. Located at the Seattle Center in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood (now known as Uptown), the legendary Space Needle is the city’s most famous landmark.  The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Since then, the 605-foot-high observation tower has been one of the most enduring symbols of the Pacific Northwest.  Grab your tickets and zip up the elevator to the observation deck at the 520-foot level.  For music and movie buffs, you can visit the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) Once called the Experience Music Project, the museum sits on the northeastern edge of the Space Needle.   Once you’re done experiencing MoPop, hop onto the Seattle Center Monorail. The monorail station is a 2-minute walk east of the museum; in fact, the monorail track runs right through the museum!  The Seattle Center Monorail isn’t just a cool public transport option; it’s one of the city’s major points of interest. The elevated rail line completes a 0.9-mile run from the Seattle Center to the Westlake Center Downtown Seattle. The trip only takes about two minutes, and the bird’s eye views of Seattle’s downtown will be unforgettable.  If you are you a gum chewer, go ahead and stick your gum on the famous gum wall.  The Gum Wall started in the 1990s when local patrons and performers at Unexpected Productions stuck their used gum on the wall. Since those days, the wall has grown piece by piece to cover an enormous expanse of brick and continues to expand down Post Alley.   With so much to do in Seattle, we can even get you a two night hotel stay and offer so many more experiences in this hip city, including in breathtaking Mt. Rainer National Park!

Which Cruise Line is the Best to cruise Alaska?

This is important but I do think that the ports are the most important aspect to consider so if it comes down to booking on a particular ship versus a particular itinerary, I would choose the itinerary.  Ideally, you want the perfect ship for your and your companions’ desires and companions and the perfect itinerary.  There are a few cruise lines who are known for their relationship with Alaska.  Princess, Holland America, Norwegian, Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity are among the top.  Some of these cruise lines do not cruise into Glacier Bay National Park.  This UNESCO site is one I don’t think you should miss if at all possible.  You spend the day there cruising, not getting off the ship and seeing some of the most beautiful glaciers, mountains, riverfall, and wildlife.  It really is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Keep in mind, all Alaska cruises will take you to at least one glacier.  For some, Glacier Bay National Park is not an option if cruising on Disney or Royal Caribbean is a must, but the itineraries do change from season to season which is why we can pair you with the best itinerary based on your ship preference.  When cruising with children, some people know that they want the best kid’s clubs and best entertainment for children.  Disney, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian win here.  Some of the Norwegian ships have race cars, laser tag, interactive games and more.  Disney, well, the name says it all, the younger generation will be cruising Alaska with Mickey Mouse, a win win for sure!  Royal Caribbean has different sized vessels cruising to Alaska each year.  Some have the North Star,  which elevates you high above the ship for unrivaled 360-degree views of the world as you wander. Just step into the observation capsule (winner of the Guinness World Record)for the tallest viewing deck on a cruise ship — and take in views of the ocean, ship, and some of the world’s most incredible shores from over 300 feet above sea level.  (Must be at least 42 inches tall or 48 to ride alone and weight a maximum of 300 lbs). Some Royal Ships offer their guests bumper cards, ice skating rinks, surf simulators, and rock climbing walls.   Princess was the first cruise line to go to Alaska and wins the award for having the best relationship with Alaska.  You will always have a great port spot and Princess also offers a cruise for the glaciers which allows you to cruise to Glacier Bay National Park and Hubbard Glacier!!

What Is the Best Itinerary?

This is going to totally depend on which you want to experience.  In my personal experience, I would choose Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Glacier Bay National Park.  I have advisors that would choose Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.  

We give our clients a guide to each port so they can see which ones they would like to visit the most.  With that being said, if you get 3 of your top 5 ports or the ship that fits your family’s style and budget, you are going to have the VERY best experience in Alaska.  Every port has a variety of excursions and things to see and do and we help you find the best  FOR YOU! 

One of the things that most people consider or at least compare are which glaciers they could see.  You will likely choose from Glacier Bay National Park, Hubbard Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord, Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier, or The Stikine Icecap

Glacier Bay National Park is on many people’s bucket lists.  Besides the fact that you can see seven glaciers in one day, the bay itself is part of a national park. Rangers will board the ship to answer your questions. They’ll have maps, charts and all the information you could want about the glaciers and the wildlife in the park.  They will be on the loud speaker part of the day explaining the wonders that you are witnessing.  The ship will visit the park all day, traveling over 120 miles.  Ships stop in front of one of the tidewater glaciers for about an hour, rotating 360 degrees to give everyone on board a view.  Only two large cruise ships are allowed in Glacier Bay each day.  Here are some of the pictures I took in Glacier Bay!

If your itinerary says you’ll be cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord, you are there to see the twin Sawyer glaciers. The narrow fjord is stunning in its beauty. Plus, you’ll get closer to land here than in the big open bays, offering a better view of waterfalls and wildlife. Look for bears and mountain goats.

Hubbard Glacier has an enormous face!   Its massive size means you can see it even on visits when the ship cannot get as close as you’d like. Ships typically get within a quarter- to a half-mile of the face of the glacier, but the amount of ice in the water can force ships to halt farther out in the fjord in some cases.

Hubbard is sometimes called “The Galloping Glacier” because it has been advancing into Disenchantment Bay for more than 100 years — sometimes in surges that cut off nearby Russell Fjord. It is currently considered stable in terms of overall size, but it’s steadily moving forward into the bay.

Both Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier give cruisers the possible opportunity to witness movement causing ice to break off and fall into the sea in a process known as calving, which is not related as much to temperature as it is to the physics of the glacier’s thickness and the steepness of the land mass it crosses. Ice chunks the size of three-story buildings often fall into the water, creating a thunderous roar and waves that pound nearby shorelines. Hubbard gets a nod for its sheer size, while the Glacier Bay option is prized for how many glaciers you can see in one day.

The other glaciers that ships cruise to our through fjords (narrow passages with huge mountains on both sides leading that lead to a glacier.  Endicott Arm Fjord and Tracy Arm Fjord are your options with Stikine icecap on Disney Cruise itineraries.  

Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier  is a fjord that branches off Tracy Arm and might be used as a backup for Tracy Arm if the weather or ice prevents your ship from reaching the Sawyer glaciers. Because Endicott Arm is a bit straighter than Tracy Arm, larger ships (such as Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas) will schedule visits here. The glacier you’ll see at Endicott Arm is Dawes Glacier. Ships may offer boat excursions to see these glaciers close-up, both on the day of scenic cruising and in Juneau.  Located southeast of Juneau, Endicott Arm Fjord is part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness area. Sailing through Endicott Arm Fjord to Dawes Glacier is a somewhat similar experience to navigating up Tracy Arm Fjord. While sailing through Endicott Arm Fjord, waterfalls and a variety of wildlife including harbor seals, mountain goats, and bears can often be seen.

Tracy Arm Fjord is another breathtakingly beautiful area that’s often included on Alaska cruise itineraries. Tracy Arm Fjord is part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, which also includes nearby Endicott Arm Fjord. Located south of Juneau, Tracy Arm is a long, relatively narrow fjord ending at the two stunning faces of Sawyer Glacier — North Sawyer Glacier and South Sawyer Glacier. These twin glaciers often produce deep blue icebergs and sometimes well over a hundred seals can be seen hauled out on the large glacial ice flows — particularly in June.

The Stikine Icecap- Renowned for its iconic granite spires and imposing peaks, Alaska’s southernmost icefield is one of the 3 biggest icecaps in the state. Straddling the Alaska-British Columbia boundary, the Stikine Icecap boasts an abundance of glaciers and serves as a primary source for the Taku River and the Stikine River. Stand in awe at this spectacular icefield and be on the lookout for the process known as calving, where giant chunks of ice break off and spill into the sea below without warning.

College Fjord is a more northerly option, near Whittier, so you’ll typically find it on itineraries that sail to or from Whittier or Seward. This is a bonus glacier viewing spot because most itineraries that include it also include either Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay. The real bonus, though, is that the fjord is home to five tidewater glaciers.

My family and I chose to cruise on the Crown Princess so we could go to every port in Alaska. Below are some of the highlights from latest cruise to Alaska. The picture are from the White Pass Railway in Skagway, Whale Watching in Icy Strait Point, Taking a Helicopter to Mendenhall Glacier, Experiencing Crab Catching on the Deadliest Catch Boat, and Having Crab Legs at Tracy’s Crab Shack in Juneau.

Our advisors will ask you discovery questions to give you the best cruise ships and itineraries that fit your desires and budget and you will pay the same cost as you would booking it online yourself.  You will then have a travel advisor at your service with questions along the way, adding on a new promotion that could save you money, assistance with booking excursions, WiFi, getting transfers to the port, booking a hotel stay in Seattle or Vancouver, helping get luggage stored if you have a late flight on the day of departure, packing must-haves and so much more!  We even send our cruisers a Bon Voyage gift.

Every cruise is going to give you an opportunity to see glaciers, whales, bald eagles, bears, the Tongass National Forest and views that you have never seen before!  Alaska is popular and you need to get your deposit in soon for 2024 as we are already booking into 2025.  Don’t wait, reach out and let’s get your countdown started!! 

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