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...Read more
Why a Hosted Cruise Tour is Your Express Ticket to a Dream Holiday
Whether you want to sail the seven seas on your own or with a group, Cruise Express can book any holiday for you but the cruise tours we regularly...Read more
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.
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.
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!
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!
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…
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.
Cruise Express Director, Hardy Schneider’s passion is travel and has been fortunate enough to have been doing this for over 40 years. He has a few pearls of wisdom to share…
First, Business or Economy (and why)?
Because I spend up to six months overseas every year hosting and managing our tour groups, I generally travel in Business Class so I can be fresh on arrival and hit the ground running.
Most frequented destination?
Europe, where we host most of our cruise tours, is my main destination with three visits there this year but this year I am also managing tours in the UK, Africa, India, South America and even Antarctica so, yes, I do get around this planet a fair bit!
If I ran my own airline I would…(tell us what you would do differently or better than the way airlines are currently run)
So many airlines are paring back their onboard offerings to cut costs but I think it’s the little touches like a sparkling wine before take-off that passengers really appreciate and miss when it’s taken away which seems to have happened on many airlines recently. Personally, I love carriers that provide passengers with pyjamas so you don’t have to sleep in the clothes you wear on arrival. Little pleasures can make a real difference and I think there is a market segment willing to pay a little more for premium service.
Where’s the worst place you’ve been lost?
I don’t usually get lost but I was once hosting one of our cruise tour groups in Egypt and after I told all our guests, who were heading off for some shopping time in the bustling Grand Bazaar in Cairo, to meet the bus at a designated spot outside the bazaar, I quickly got lost in the bazaar myself. I was hassled by so many hawkers that I lost all sense of direction in the maze of alleyways. I had no idea where I was. It was like a scene from the ‘Life of Brian’, with goats being slaughtered and blacksmiths working on fires all around me. I am very meticulous with time and duty so I was determined to meet our passengers back at the bus on time. Luckily, a local pointed me back to the spot and I arrived just in time but in a lather of sweat although I doubt any of the guests would have known of my preceding panic!
Most memorable overseas dining?
I will never forget the moment a waiter on the five-star Silver Spirit grabbed a huge sword off the wall and swiftly and very spectacularly sliced off the head of our bottle of champagne for an anniversary our party was celebrating. Don’t try that at home! A breakfast on a boat in the Amazon jungle was pretty surreal but another memorable meal was a lunch at Le Train Bleu – the extravagant restaurant inside Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris where English royalty used to dine between trains. It’s the same restaurant featured in the film, ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’, but my experience there was much more refined and relaxed! But my all-time favourite culinary experience can be found at Paul Bocuse’s fine dining restaurant in Lyon, France.
What’s in the suitcase?
There’s always far too much in my suitcase. You would think that after directing so many tours for 15 years I would learn but I often give Imelda Marcos a run for her money with all the shoes I bring. I pack lots of overseas adaptors – to give to our clients who have forgotten theirs – and also our little Cruise Express mascot, ‘Duck’, who travels with us everywhere and insists on being photographed at famous places around the world.
How do you make the most of a spare afternoon in a strange city?
I love to walk so whenever I have a few spare hours I grab a map and advice from the hotel concierge and explore a city on foot. Paris and Vienna are two of my favourite places to wander around.
Any travel tips?
Never leave home without travel insurance and never stop exploring as much of the world as you can. It’s a wonderful planet we live on so travel with open eyes and a positive attitude because life is too short to look for negatives.
What technology do you use?
I bring my iPhone and laptop with me and use free wi-fi to keep in touch with our head office in Sydney.
Best overseas purchase?
If I brought souvenirs from all my trips, my home would be overflowing so I look for special pieces like a rug I bought in Turkey once. It’s in my bedroom so every time I wake up I am reminded of my time there.
Best travelling tale?
We are very passionate about service at Cruise Express but sometimes not everything goes to plan on tour like when a suitcase containing evening formal wear for one of our client couples went missing just before we boarded Queen Mary 2 in Cape Town. I was determined for the bag to turn up so the couple could enjoy the ship’s famous black tie events so I hit the phones, went to the airport cargo area and spent hours tracking the bag from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I was told there was no way the bag could make the ship before we sailed but I spoke to a cargo worker in charge who promised he would have a driver on standby to rush the suitcase to the ship. The ship’s crew were starting to remove the gangways but just as the life boat drill finished I saw the courier car arrive at the wharf. I dashed off the ship and picked up the suitcase. While I was last to board, I had the suitcase finally in my hand. What a relief!
Best thing about travelling?
Visiting new and exciting places and immersing yourself in diverse cultures is a great learning experience but for me the greatest gift of my travels are the amazing friendships you make abroad with locals and also our tour guests. They start as customers and end a tour as family and friends.
Top travel gripe?
Visas are a real hassle to deal with and I don’t like being called an ‘alien’ in airport immigration queues!
If you would like to book a trip with Hardy and his wealth of knowledge, please contact Cruise Express on 1300 766 537.
Whether you want to sail the seven seas on your own or with a group, Cruise Express can book any holiday for you but the cruise tours we regularly host around the world are amongst the most popular holiday options we sell, with many customers enjoying our diverse range of escorted voyages.
From Africa to Antarctica, Europe to America and Great Britain to Asia, Cruise Express is famous for the successful and popular cruise tours we lead to all corners of the globe.
So let’s look at the many reasons that make hosted cruise tours a great holiday option for you to consider on your next journey abroad…
Hosted Cruise Tours are:
1. EASY – Escorted tours are the easiest way to see the world. All the paperwork, transfers and travel details are taken care of so your holiday is hassle-free. All you need to do is sit back, relax and enjoy yourself!
2. SAFE – You’re with a group led by experts so safety is heightened, particularly in more exotic destinations like Africa and South America where it makes sense to travel with a tour group. And if you lose anything or have a mishap or problem, we are there to help you.
3. AFFORDABLE – You enjoy the benefits of the group discounts we obtain. Add up all the inclusions and you’ll see our value-for-money group tour fares are hard to beat. One of the best deals are our exclusive shore excursion packages where you travel with fellow Cruise Express passengers from Australia on our own coach to see the highlights of each port we visit. No need to book your own land tours and no need to queue at the shore tours desk!
4. FUN – Yes we have lots of fun on our tours with a great sense of camaraderie and high spirits shared amongst the group. We often host complimentary welcome aboard and farewell cocktail parties at sea too during our tours and they are also lots of fun!
5. FRIENDLY – It’s almost impossible not to forge new friendships with fellow, like-minded guests on our tours. Clients tell us over and over that the friendships they have formed on tour have lasted many years.
6. STYLISH – Well, the cruise tours we host are stylish anyway, with our guests staying at premium hotels, flying with full-service airlines and enjoying blue ribbon experiences all the way.
7. IDEAL FOR SOLO PASSENGERS – If you’re a lone traveller you’ll be part of the family on our group tours, with everything taken care of for you.
8. FLEXIBLE – You can spend time with the group or on your own whenever you want.
9. INSIGHTFUL – In addition to the friendly Cruise Express host leading the group, local guides also join us along the way, showing us special places you would have missed on your own and giving us a local’s insight into the destinations we visit. You’ll learn all the secrets about the ports we visit, the ships we sail on and the best places to shop.
10. TRUSTED – As one of Australia’s leading specialist cruise agencies and the recipient of many awards, Cruise Express has laid out the red carpet on escorted cruise tours since 2001 so you know you’ll be in good hands!
Call us today on 1300 557 031 for more information or visit our website www.cruiseexpress.com.au
The Journey or the Destination?
Your guide to making the most informed decisions
We all love cruising and we know the journey and the ship are intrinsic elements of a memorable holiday afloat but of course, the ports you visit make a cruise even more sensational. Some die-hard cruisers love nothing more than endless days at sea and don’t even get off in port but for many, the destinations a ship takes you are the main reasons for selecting a particular cruise, so choosing the right cruise shore tours are essential.
So what’s the plan when your ship drops anchor or docks at a port? Should you buy one of the line’s organised cruise shore tours or head ashore to explore on your own?
Long before your cruise read about the places you will visit on your itinerary via guidebooks, brochures, and tourism websites.
That way you can learn what are the must-do sights and experiences. Also be sure to ask your well-travelled Cruise Express Consultant about their suggestions of what to see and do as they may know special, ‘secret’ places off the beaten tourist trail. Armed with this knowledge, you can decide what shore tour to buy, if any, or if you can or should seek out those places on your own.
Shore Tours – Rip off or Money Well Spent?
Booking an organised shore excursion through the ship can come with a hefty price tag, but it’s hassle-free and you know the tour will be professionally run by reputable operators. The ship will also wait for its own shore tour guests to return at the end of the day, even if their tours are running late. Groups on tours usually gain express VIP entry into major attractions. Solo passengers and others may also appreciate the opportunity to see a place with other cruise passengers and the chance to make new friends.
Travelling in more remote or third world destinations may make you feel uncomfortable. Where English is rare or safety and security are issues, then an organised shore tour also makes good sense. If a port visit or tour is cancelled, you’ll also receive a refund from the cruise line.
On the flip side, organised shore tours can involve a bit of waiting and you need to follow the leader and stick with the group which can frustrate budding explorers. Seeing a destination blur through the windows of a coach can also be restrictive for some who may see something they want to see up close.
Cruise Express Shore Tour Packages
Trying to select the right shore tour can be confusing so to make it easy on the many tours Cruise Express hosts around the world, we often offer our groups shore tour packages with a tour in each port. These packages are often cheaper than if you buy them individually through the ship and they comprise of our own Cruise Express guests so you’ll be among friends. There are no booking hassles either, with our team looking after all the details so these packages are well worth considering on our group trips.
Tips for Shore Tours
If you have decided to buy a cruise shore tour, it’s a good idea to book in advance from home. You don’t want to board your Alaska-bound cruise ship only to discover that all the glacier helicopter trips and bear-spotting tours you wanted to do are all sold out. Exciting and unique adventures like these sell quickly so don’t miss out.
Opt for a half-day shore tour, leaving you with time to explore on your own for the rest of the day. You can often also ask your tour driver or guide to drop you off in the centre of town at the end of the tour rather than back at the ship so you can do some exploration and shopping on your own. Shuttles back to the ship can often be free for shore tour passengers doing this.
Whether you’re on a tour or on your own, it’s always a wonderful experience to dine in a restaurant where you can feast on the local cuisine. Some passengers make a point of returning to the ship for lunch because it’s included but occasionally just pull up a chair in a romantic trattoria where the view, sanctuary, and food are what the real memories are made of.
Independent Sightseeing – The Pros and Cons
If you’re willing and able, seeing a port on your own can be freeing, exhilarating and rewarding. By catching local buses, trains or ferries you get to experience a destination as a local. You’ll also meet locals and have time to enjoy places that interest you while grabbing a coffee in a cafe anywhere you want.
In many cities such as Venice, New York, Vancouver, San Francisco, Monaco, Santorini, and Dubrovnik, it’s relatively easy, and a pleasure to walk ashore and explore the city by foot. You don’t need an expensive shore excursion to savour the magic of Venice’s maze of canals and pathways.
But when you’re on your own, you’re on your own, with no help from tour guides and hosts or the cruise line if something goes wrong or you get lost. The ship won’t wait for you if you miss the sailing time either.
There are lots of YouTube videos showing passengers running and screaming in vain down the pier while their ship slips away. Funny yes – unless it’s you! Also, if you’ve organised and paid for your own private tour in advance and the ship doesn’t end up visiting that port, maybe because of rough weather, you may lose your money.
Tips for independent touring ashore
After checking a ship’s list of cruise tours you can often see that it’s relatively easy and much cheaper to do the activities on your own. For instance in Juneau, Alaska, you can buy a cruise tour from the ship that takes you up the spectacular Mt Roberts tramway high above the city or you can just walk the short distance from the ship to the bottom cable car terminal and buy a ticket yourself, cutting out the middleman.
When touring on your own, yes, plan ahead certainly, with a rough idea of what you want to see and do but don’t over-plan or over-schedule everything to the last minute. Allow for delays and for unexpected sights that will take your interest. When you’re on holiday it’s easy to forget that locals are not, so be aware that morning and evening rush hours can be busy and may slow down your touring plans.
Use local transport to get around – e.g. ferries, trams or subways and consider bikes as a wonderful way to see a local destination. Taxis, when shared by two or more passengers, can also be an economical way of getting around a destination. If you’re heading to a destination further afield in a cab, be sure to set a flat fare at the start of the trip to avoid being taken for a ride! Hop-on, hop-off tourist buses in many popular destinations are also an ideal way of seeing a city.
If your ship docks some distance from the city, e.g. in Rome, see if a shuttle is available for purchase so you can get to the city and then explore on your own rather than on a group tour. Of course, the big tip when sightseeing on your own is to check the time you need to be back onboard before you go ashore for the day and then keep an eye on the time through the day, leaving plenty of time up your sleeve. It’s always a good idea to be back onboard at least 30 minutes before the recommended time to ensure you are not stressing about missing the boat!
The world’s a beautiful place with lots of amazing destinations to visit so whether you explore them on a tour or on your own, we hope each experience enriches your holiday and your understanding of the many colourful cultures and spectacular places that lie over the horizon.
For your personalised travel specialist, call us today on 1300 766 537.
Bon Voyage from Cruise Express!