Why I think Alaska is the World’s Best Cruise Destination

Cruising to Alaska – Like No Place on Earth

We all have our favourite cruise destinations and for me, with over 60 cruises around the world under my belt, Alaska is the best place on Earth to explore by ship.

Just thinking about the three Alaska cruises I have done with Princess Cruises makes me wistful and wanting to return soon. I even bought an Alaskan CD of nature-infused music on my last visit so I could relive the magic of this amazing place back home.

The Alaska summer cruise season runs from May to September during the warmer months in the northern hemisphere. Over one million people annually visit Alaska by cruise ship, with over a dozen cruise lines touring, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises.

Because so many cruise lines sail to Alaska, competition is fierce, making fares very affordable. Seven-night cruises are often available from under A$1200 per person, twin-share, but the price is not the only reason to cruise to Alaska.

Alaska Cruise

Here are some other reasons why Alaska is an ideal cruise destination:

Best way to see Alaska – Due to the rugged nature of Alaska’s mountainous coastline, cruising is the best and easiest way to explore the USA’s biggest State. In fact, the coastline of Alaska is longer than the coasts of all the other US States combined. The Alaskan capital, Juneau, is so hemmed in by snow-capped peaks and the sea that there are no roads in or out of the city from other centres making cruising the best way togo. Cruising in Alaska is so accessible, simply fly directly from Australia into Vancouver and you’re onboard your cruise to Alaska.

The Scenery – Breathtakingly spectacular sums up Alaska. Abundant pine forests, towering, snow-cloaked mountains, mighty glaciers plummeting into the sea, glistening lakes and frontier gold towns with ‘wild west’ saloons. The famous Inside Passage that almost every Alaskan cruise traces is a maze of beautiful waterways lined by a thick green blanket of pines, cedars, firs and hemlocks. Your cruise ship will stop in front of a massive glacier in Glacier Bay so you can watch the awe-inspiring process of ‘calving’, where giant pillars of ice tumble into the ice-blue water in front of you.

The Wildlife – From the ship or ashore you are bound to see some of Alaska’s rich bounty of wildlife including whales, otters, bears, deer, caribou, moose, bison, eagles and salmon.

The Culture – Alaska boasts a rich fabric of native Indian and Eskimo cultures, showcased in recreated villages and colourful song and dance shows that cruise passengers can visit.

Short Cruises – Most Alaskan cruises are seven nights long, with three ports (such as Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway) and three days at sea (including sailing close to glaciers) so there’s an ideal mix of days ashore and relaxing time at sea – the perfect cruise as it were. You can choose from round-trip cruises from ports such as Vancouver and Seattle or one-way cruises between Vancouver/Seattle and Anchorage (using the ports of Seward or Whittier), with a connecting flight back.

Great Ports – There may be three or more ships docked at the ports but each destination is filled with colour, excitement, wonder – and lots of shopping. A stroll along the restored frontier-era storefronts and saloons of Skagway will take you back to the days of the Klondike Gold Rush. Lofty peaks loom over beautiful Juneau where a stop at the traditional Red Dog Saloon with its straw floor will have you singing along with the guitar player. While in Ketchikan, we recommend visiting the river brimming with Salmon, and take a stroll along historic Creek Street, a former red light district during the Gold Rush.

Alaska

Great Shore Tours – You are spoilt for choice when it comes to land excursions in Alaska – everything from native Indian cultural parks filled with colourful totem poles, kayaking trips with whales and sled rides on glaciers to salmon bakes at remote lodges, a scenic ride on the historic White Pass Railway, seaplane flights to far-flung fjords, glacier climbing and trips to see wild bears catch jumping salmon.

Land of the Midnight Sun – Because Alaska is so far north, you can enjoy extra long days of sunlight, daylight 24 hours a  day during the summer solstice on June 21. Walking around the deck at 11pm after dinner and seeing Alaska in all her glory in muted daylight is a real thrill. Despite what you may think, Alaska is not that cold in summer, with average temperatures up to 18 degrees Celsius.

Add-on Tours – After travelling to North America for a seven-night Alaskan cruise we recommend visiting Canadian Rockies from Vancouver or Seattle. Alternatively, the wild interior of Alaska, including the wildlife-rich Denali National Park, from Anchorage is stunning. You could also bookend your cruise with both destinations! The major cruise lines run their own rail and coach tours through Alaska – and several run their own wilderness lodges. No matter which tour you add on, this is an unforgettable holiday!

Alaska Cruise

Top 10 Alaska Cruise Tips

1. Vancouver is my tip for boarding your Alaskan cruise – spend a day before you board to explore this beautiful harbour city.

2. One of the best itineraries is the seven-day Gulf of Alaska cruise, one-way between Vancouver/Seattle and Anchorage. This cruise takes you further north to the fascinating city of Anchorage as well as the stunning College Fjord, renowned for showcasing the world’s biggest collection of tidewater glaciers.

3. The shoulder seasons of May and September can be colder and wetter but also more affordable but June-August are warmer, with lots more daylight – but also busier.

4. In Juneau, buy your own ticket up the Mt Roberts tramway to the top of the mountain for panoramic views. Enjoy a helicopter flight that lands on the glaciers and before returning to the ship, but make sure you stop off for a pint of local lager at the foot-stomping Red Dog Saloon.

5. When visiting the tourist strips of ports like Ketchikan, take time to stroll along streets back from the main shopping centres so you can get a better, more authentic feel for how Alaskans live.

6. Ride the White Pass Railroad in Skagway up through the mountains and if you can make the take time to walk through the nearby pine forests, dotted with lakes throughout – you won’t be disappointed. Quench your thirst at the fun Red Onion Saloon in town before heading back to your ship.

7. Although you see lots of snow and ice in Alaska, the pools onboard your ship are warm and the jacuzzis are hot. There’s nothing like soaking in a steaming, outdoor spa, drink in hand as you watch the spectacular scenery float by. You might get funny looks from other rugged-up passengers but you’ll be the one having all the fun!

8. Bring some binoculars with you so you can look out for bears and whales from the ship.

9. Highly recommended before or after your cruise is an add-on rail/coach tour through the Canadian Rockies and/or the interior of Alaska to the wonderful Denali National Park – home to North America’s highest mountain, Mt McKinley.

10. Book your Alaska cruise holiday, including your flights, through Cruise Express who can organise all the details and book you the best deal – and take time also to also check our 24/7 self serve ‘look and book’ page on our website.

Call our team on 1300 766 537 or visit our website for more information!

Top Tips for Planning a Cruise

Regardless of age, family situation, destination desire or budget, cruising can meet everyone’s requirements and is a terrific way to enjoy your holidays.

Whether you have taken cruise holidays before or are a complete cruise rookie, outlined below are some top tips for planning your cruise to ensure you get the most out of any and every cruise holiday.

What sort of cabin would I like?

The first of our top tips for planning a cruise is that there are essentially four types of cabins to choose from. From cheapest to most expensive they are an inside cabin with no ocean view, an outside cabin with sea views, a balcony cabin and a suite. It’s really a myth that you don’t spend much time in your cabin and that any cabin will do.

You do spend much of the cruise in your cabin and it can define your whole holiday so it’s important to select the accommodation that you will enjoy. If you’re on a tight budget and you’re motivated by the destinations then, yes, an inside cabin is a good choice. But since you’re on a sea holiday we think it’s a good idea, if the budget permits, to see the sea from your bed – waking up to see where you are is a real treat.

A balcony allows you to enjoy the fresh sea air and relax outside in private and if you really want to treat yourself, or if you’re celebrating a special occasion, then a suite will indeed be sweet. We know our ships so ask us at Cruise Express for our advice. We can help you find cabins with the best views and positions and away from noises, and we can often organise free cabin upgrades if they are available so booking through a travel agent like Cruise Express is a good idea.

Do I want to go on a group trip or on my own?

Cruise Express offers its own hosted cruise tours but we can, of course, book you on any cruise so you can enjoy a voyage on your own or with a partner, your family or a group of friends. Regardless of how or who you go with, there are lots of ways to plan for this – some ships cater better for families, some for adults only, and some to the single traveller.

The advantages of a hosted group tour include:
– Group savings/lower fares/many inclusions such as transfers
– VIP/express entry into major attractions
– Assistance at hand if you get sick or lose your passports or money, etc
– Camaraderie with as much or as little group interaction as you want
– Your host looks after all the paperwork, directions and details so you can relax and have fun

You might feel safe and confident holidaying on your own in many places but perhaps destinations such as Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, South America and parts of Asia are best explored as part of a group led by experts in the region.

What is my budget?

Let us know your budget so we can tailor a holiday that suits, with enough money left over for spending along the way. Factor into the budget items like souvenirs, gifts, photos, tips, spa treatments, drinks, snacks, meals ashore local sightseeing and specialty restaurants on your ship.

What is included?

Your Cruise Express consultant can help you find out exactly what is included in your holiday cost so that there are no nasty surprises. Sometimes it can be more affordable and relaxing to sail on a luxury liner that includes drinks and often shore tours in your fare. We can do the sums for you.

Of course, when you join our escorted cruise tours, more is included in the fare with flights, transfers, sightseeing, pre or post cruise accommodation and some shoreside meals often all covered for peace of mind. – decide what works better for you.

Who do I book through?

The cruise line, a website company or a travel agent? Of course, we’re biased, but a travel agency specialising in cruising like Cruise Express can offer you independent advice and the best deals from ALL the cruise lines, not just one. And we feel it’s important when it comes to holidays to speak to a real person, not a website address, for the best personal and friendly advice, and fast answers to all your questions.

Do I book early or should I book closer to the cruise?

For peace of mind, it’s always better to book in advance so you can choose the best cabin for you, lock in your holiday dates, reserve your place on the cruise (which might book up later) and take advantage of early booking fares. Of course, last-minute booking specials do pop up but your choice of cabins and dates can be limited. Booking connecting flights is also cheaper in advance than at the last minute.

Do I have travel insurance and all the right visas/documents?

Cruise Express can advise you on all the documents, visas and vaccinations you need for your trip so that everything goes smoothly. Of course, your passport needs to be up to date (with up to 12 months validity depending on the destination) and travel insurance is always a must because sometimes things in life just don’t go to plan!

What do I bring?

To ensure you are comfortable onboard, it’s important you find out, in advance, what dress codes are expected. Most ships have smart casual and formal nights and some add fancy dress or semi-formal nights as well so do your research to find out what is expected so you can join in the fun and look the part.

Of course, we can assist with all these important matters!

Please call us on 1300 766 537 or visit our website to see all of our great adventures…

How to Choose the Right Cruise

Are you plotting and planning to spend a small part of next year on a cruise ship?

With an ocean of cruises now available worldwide, Cruise Express is here to help you navigate your way on how to choose the right cruise.

There are more than 70 ocean-going cruise lines in the world operating over 300 liners on the seven seas – so which cruise line and which ship is best for your dream holiday? Each and every one is subtly different, delivering a distinct experience to match a certain type of passenger.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a cruise, so let’s explore a few of them…

Size Matters
One of the biggest factors in choosing the best ship for you is the size of the vessel. Ships today range in size from small yacht-like vessels carrying less than 100 passengers to mega-liners five times larger than the Titanic, accommodating over 6,000 passengers.

Smaller ships – boast more exclusive and intimate atmospheres. You get to know the crew and fellow passengers very quickly and it’s easy to find your way around, and if you’ve forgotten your sunglasses as you hit the pool deck, it’s a quick stroll back to the cabin. Smaller ships can also dock in smaller ports near the center of town with embarkation/disembarkation usually being quick and crowd-free.

Keep in mind though that smaller ships are less stable than bigger ships – an important consideration if you are prone to seasickness. By economies of scale, cruises on smaller ships are typically more expensive than cruises aboard larger liners.

Larger ships – offer affordable fares and a bigger range of facilities and activities, with more choices for entertainment and dining.  However, they tend to be less personal with, for example, boarding and disembarkation being more regimented.

Just like the children’s story about ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, there are also mid-sized ships carrying between around 1,000 passengers that you might find are just right for you!

Classic versus Modern
Would you like to sail aboard the latest and greatest ship with all the mod cons or a classic liner built 30, 40 or 50 years ago? There are some beautiful older ships that offer a traditional cruise experience without the bells and whistles of today’s mega ships. But the latest liners offer lots of affordable balcony cabins, a vast array of gourmet dining venues and lots of activities and attractions to entertain including ice skating, flying foxes and rock climbing.

Sea or Port Days
This issue divides many cruise fans. Some love visiting lots of ports during a cruise while others prefer lots of long and leisurely days at sea. A mix of both is usually ideal. Some seven-day cruises in Alaska, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean offer just two days at sea so it’s best to pick a cruise itinerary wisely.

Port-intensive cruises take you to lots of destinations but you will be busy and you may end up spending more during your many trips ashore. Meanwhile, cruises with fewer ports tend to be more relaxing and ideal if you like nothing more than basking in a deck chair and staring at the boundless ocean.

Style of Ship
Just about everyone loves the idea of a luxury liner but it‘s important to consider how comfortable and relaxed you will be on a five-star ship with black tie balls, dress protocols and fine dining. It suits some discerning cruise fans but not others who may like to sail aboard a more relaxed, fun-focused ship with a broader range of passengers and late-night show lounges and discos.

Some ships and cruises are more suited to older passengers while others are geared to young couples or families with extensive kids clubs so it’s vital you know something about the ship you plan to spend your holiday on.

Typically, the longer the cruise, the older the average passenger. Cruises in peak seasons like Christmas and school holidays attract younger passengers. The style of Ship you cruise on is also influenced by the nationality of the cruise line operator. Many cruise lines are American which suits most Aussie cruisers but others are English, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian or French.

Of course, there are locally based cruise lines here in Australia tailored just for Australians. If you like your spa treatments or gym workouts, there are some ships that have bigger and better health and beauty facilities than others.

Some ships have traditional, fixed dining times, which certainly have their appeal – while others allow you to dine anytime you like and other ships offer both systems. And then there are ships (mostly older vessels) with mostly twin beds instead of double beds. Some ships have no balcony cabins and a handful of suites while others have all balcony cabins or whole decks of suites. And there are cruise lines which offer enrichment and learning via numerous onboard lectures and workshops while on others bingo and belly flop contests are the go.

So you see there is a LOT to consider when choosing a cruise, especially for novice cruisers. The key is to let the experts help you select the right holiday and at Cruise Express, our experienced staff have collectively experienced hundreds of cruises right around the world. Our team is trained to match each client to the right ship so that you enjoy exactly the type of cruise holiday you want, expect and deserve. Cruising is our passion and we know our ships and all their different personalities and it’s our mission to ensure you end up on the ship and the cruise that provide memories you’ll always cherish.

So when you next choose to cruise, contact us at 1300 766 537 at Cruise Express and let us help you find the cruise just for you.

Cruisin’ with the Family

Booking a cruising holiday for families with young or not-so-young children is a wonderful experience with so many options on offer.  Outlined below are a few of Cruise Express’ favourite suggestions to help parents and children have the best holiday possible!

1. Size Counts – Choose a larger resort-style ship which offers more facilities for kids and teenagers and more clubs for different age categories. Bigger ships also carry more kids so your brood can make friends more easily.

2. School Holidays – If you can and your kids are young enough and not in senior years at school, take a cruise outside school holiday periods when there are more cabins available and fares (even airfares) are more affordable. You’ll be surprised at how many other kids there will be onboard for your children to mix with.

3. Activities – Many larger cruise ships today have water slides, rock climbing walls, wave-surfing pools and flying foxes which are huge hits with older kids.

4. Package – Before you leave or as soon as you board, buy a soft drink/ice cream package for your kids so they can enjoy unlimited refreshments during the cruise, saving you money in the long run.

5. Rooms – If your children are small, sharing a 4-person cabin with bunks is ideal but if they are older, you’ll be falling over each other. Many ships offer interconnecting cabins or you can opt to get neighbouring cabins – next to each other or one outside/balcony cabin and one inside cabin directly opposite the hallways to save money.

6. Balcony – If your kids are young, a balcony cabin is not recommended for safety reasons. An outside cabin with a window or porthole will be just as exciting for the kids and you won’t need to keep an eye on them constantly.

7. Kid’s Clubs – Encourage the children and allow yourselves to take advantage of the Kid’s Clubs. That way they can have lots of fun and you as parents can enjoy relaxing time together, meeting up as a family at times throughout the day for meals.

8. Dinner Sittings – If your kids are under 12, opt for the first sitting dinner or book earlier dinner times if your ship offers open dining.

9. Ashore – When ashore don’t try to pack too much into the day, particularly in hot, tropical zones, as the kids will tire quickly. A morning excursion could work best before returning to the ship for a late lunch and afternoon siesta!

10. Duration – Shorter cruises of under 10 days are better suited to families. There are weekend and 5-day cruises from Australia or longer 7-10 day cruises to Queensland or through the South Pacific which the kids will love.

Call us today on 1300 766537 or visit our website to find out the most suitable options for your family holiday!

Tips for the Solo Cruiser

An increasing number of cruise lovers are sailing on their own so Cruise Express has some handy tips on how to make solo cruising more enjoyable and affordable…

1. Avoid the Dreaded Double Solo Supplement – by keeping an eye out for low single surcharges or special deals that offer no supplements at all, allowing you to cruise for the twin-share price. These bargains often appear online “Your Solo Zone” or you can ask the Cruise Express team to keep an eye out for you.

2. Reduced or no Single Supplements Solo friendly cruise lines include Crystal Cruises, Azamara Cruises, Compagnie du Ponant, Voyages of Discovery, Saga Holidays, Voyages to Antiquity and Silversea Cruises as well as river cruise lines such as Uniworld, TAUK and Viking. So focus your search when checking our 24/7 Cruise Express ‘look and book’ website.

3. Cabin for One Please – The good news is that it seems dedicated cabins for one are making a return to the seven seas. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic debuted in 2010 with 128 studio cabins designated for single travellers and priced for single occupancy.

The ship also offers a special lounge for studio passengers where you can mingle with other solo cruisers and enjoy a bar, entertainment and a concierge for dinner bookings. P&O Cruises’ UK ship, Azura, also took to the water in 2010 with 18 cabins dedicated to singles and other cruise lines are certain to follow as demand for solo travel increases.

4. Willing to Share a Cabin? – Consider sharing a cabin with another solo traveller to split the cost. The idea may not appeal to everyone but you can save money and you may strike a new lifetime friendship.

5. Small Ships Ahoy! – If you’re alone, choose a smaller ship where the atmosphere is more relaxed and social and where it will be easier to meet other single travellers. You’re also more likely to run into familiar faces on a boutique-style vessel than a superliner with thousands of passengers.

6. Get Amongst it – A great way to meet other travellers is to join onboard activities such as craft classes, skill workshops, dance lessons and language courses. The ships’ shore tours also offer opportunities to have fun with fellow passengers.

7. Keep Cruise Staff Informed – Tell the cruise staff you are alone but keen to meet others and they will no doubt help you do that, assuming that is what you want from your holiday!

8. Get Mingling – Many ships offer singles parties but early in the cruise you can also visit bars and lounges to see who else is onboard and also looking for company.

9. Keeping  Your Holiday Flexible – If you’re not happy with your dining companions at a fixed dinner sitting, ask the maitre d’ for another table or request to sit with other solo passengers. And when offered a flexible dining plan, ask to be seated with others so you don’t end up eating alone.

10. Care to Dance – Some cruise lines such as Cunard Line, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises may offer ‘gentlemen hosts’, usually aged over 55, whose job it is to provide social company in the public areas to single females, especially on the dance floor so you can dance the night away!

Our staff at Cruise Express have helped countless single travellers of all ages book cruise holidays.

Call today on 1300 766 537 or visit our website to find your next perfect holiday.