Day : Cruising The Inside Passage
Cruising the Inside Passage was a relaxing way to start the first full day of our trip.
We passed by many islands, big and small, as our captain navigated through scenic gorges like the precarious Seymour Narrows.
Much of the landscape is covered by dense forest, but if you watch closely, youll see some waterfalls along the way!
I Enjoy A Much Deserved Nap And Wake To Find Quite A Spectacle
A group of almost a dozen Dall porpoise are swimming in the bow wave of our boat, just beneath the front deck. They dart from side to side and pop out of the water, putting on quite a show.
As we pass Admirality Island , the weather breaks up and we soon find ourselves basking in the sunlight. We see all sorts of shorebirds, hawks, and eagles along the shores of this huge island, which boasts one of the highest per capita grizzly populations in the world. Baranoff Hot springs is our next destination, and what a destination it would prove to be. After getting onto the little dock, I made my way past several buildings there are a few homes here, as well as a gallery featuring some work from local artists. There is also a huge river pouring down a nearby hill.
Hiking along this river with our guide and some of the other passengers, we soon find ourselves at the hot springs I have heard so much about. I just couldnt resist and hopped right into one of the pools. Some were more reluctant then others, but soon the rest of the passengers had found their way into the water with me.
Fueled by afternoon naps and a full day of excitement, I stay up with some of my fellow passengers and crew late into the night, trading stories and laughing heartily.
Alaska Cruise Itinerary: Day 4
The other passengers and I have tentatively agreed to spend part of the morning sleeping in. The laid back atmosphere and philosophy of the Sikumi and allow for such plans, so we take advantage.
Booking My Flight Home Before Noon
I booked my departure flight from Seattle at 11:27AM on disembarkation day. Originally, we were set to arrive in Seattle at 6AM, leaving me plenty of time to get to the airport . Due to the sailing’s itinerary change and unexpected delays, though, I did not have nearly as much time as I anticipated.
While I did make my flight home with nearly an hour to spare, I wish I had booked a flight just a little later to avoid the extra stress I encountered due to my early flight.
On the last morning of the cruise, I brought my suitcase to the Royal Esplanade to get in line for disembarkation. At around 7AM, there were only a few people ahead of me.
Then the departure process ran into several delays as we entered and docked in Seattle, leading to huge lines and a little bit of chaos. Many passengers were getting nervous about their early flights.
Luckily, since I was one of the first people in line for departure, I was able to quickly get an Uber and did not run into traffic on the way to the airport.
Was it worth the stress, though? Not really. While waiting at the airport longer before a flight isn’t always enjoyable, it is certainly better than missing a flight if things go wrong. Disembarkation can be affected by many scenarios, so if you’re sailing to Alaska, try to get a flight leaving Seattle at 1PM or later.
Ultimately, whether in Alaska, the Caribbean, or anywhere else, a little bit of planning and flexibility can go a long way.
Scenic Cruise Destinations In Alaska
Glaciers are a must-see in Alaska, and every cruise itinerary features at least one day of scenic cruising. Glacier Bay National Park is the top pick for glacier-viewing because of its multiple glaciers and generally passable channel. However, so many cruise lines wish to visit that the national park issues a limited-number of day-use spots each year.
Other scenic cruising sites along the Inside Passage include Tracy Arm with its Sawyer Glacier andEndicott Arm with Dawes Glacier. One-way Alaska cruises that travel to/from Seward and Whittier may also visit the spectacular Hubbard Glacier.
Typically, the big ships will open up all the outer decks for passengers to crowd the railings to watch the glaciers calve and scan the area for wildlife. If you want to get out on a kayak or small boat to get closer to the glacier or the marine life, youll need to book an expedition cruise.
Compare the options in our guide to scenic cruising in Alaska.
Best Time For Alaska Cruises
The Alaska cruise season typically runs from late April to early October, with high season normally falling between June through August. However, the best time to go is rather subjective.
May and September offer cheaper cruise fares and fewer crowds however, due to more unpredictable weather, shore excursions have a greater chance of being canceled than they do in high season — especially boat and helicopter tours. May is one of the driest sailing season months in the Inside Passage region, but you may still find snow on the ground — great for scenic photos, less ideal for hiking.
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Choose An Alaska Cruise Line
Just about every line offers sailings to and from the Anchorage area. From big ships to small vessels, luxury sailings and adventure-oriented expeditions, theres something for everyone. Azamara, Cunard, Crystal, Celebrity, Holland America Lines, Norwegian, Ponant, Princess, Regent, Royal Caribbean, Silversea, Windstar and Viking Ocean Cruises all have offerings in this part of Alaska.
Choosing The Right Cruise For You In Alaska
Your three main questions in choosing a cruise in Alaska are “When should I go?,” “Where do I want to go?,” and “How big a ship?”
When to Go
If you are considering traveling in a shoulder month, remember that some shops don’t open until Memorial Day, and the visitor season is generally considered over on Labor Day .
Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska?
The Inside Passage runs through the area of Alaska known as the Southeast , that narrow strip of the state — islands, mainland coastal communities, and mountains — that runs from the Canadian border in the south to the start of the Gulf in the north, just above the Juneau/Haines/Skagway area. The islands on the western side of the area afford cruise ships a welcome degree of protection from the sea and its attendant rough waters . Because of that shelter, such ports as Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, and others are reached with less rocking and rolling, and thus less risk of seasickness. Sitka is not on the Inside Passage , but that beautiful little community is included in most Inside Passage cruise itineraries.
The Southeast encompasses the capital city, and townships influenced by the former Russian presence in the state , the Tlingit and Haida Native cultures , and the great gold rush of 1898 . It is a land of rainforests, mountains, inlets, and glaciers . The region is rich in wildlife, especially of the marine variety. It is a scenic delight. But then, what part of Alaska isn’t?
Big Ship or Small?
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Day : Exploring Valdez
Tonights lodging: second night at the A-Frame in town
Brunch at The Fat Mermaid
This place seems to be a staple in Valdez! Everyone told us about this place. They serve up delicious food and theyre the only restaurant we visited that had WiFi, so maybe thats why! The reindeer sausage and french fries were AMAZING.
Valdez Glacier Lake
You can basically drive right up to this lake. We just walked around the lake and admired the icebergs in the water, but you can also kayak and stand-up paddleboard here. In fact, if you kayak, you can go all the way to the Valdez glacier!
We did two short hikes. The first was the Civic Center Overlook Trail , which gives you a cool view of Valdez from up high. Then we did the Dock Point Trail , which is toward the docks and harbor.
The Dock Point Trail is supposed to have great views, but unless we took a wrong turn, all the views we saw were obscured by tree branches. We got the shot above at the Dock Point Trail. There are also plenty of more trails in Valdez if you want something more strenuous!
Walking around the harbor & around town
Valdez is a very small coastal town with a pretty harbor and mountain views all around. Its easy to stroll along the main downtown area and by the docks.
This food truck has the best reviews in town. The Nat Shack serves up delicious tacos and crunch wraps. I got the locals favorite crunch wrap and it was amazing!
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Day 1: Fairbanks To Anchorage
6 hours 45 minutes of driving
Flying home tonight at 11:45pm
7:30AM Breakfast at Borealis Basecamp, then check out around 9AM to make sure you have time to make the drive
Today youll have to be aware of the time if you have a flight out tonight, as we did. Our flight was originally at 8 but got pushed to 11:45pm, which meant we had the whole day to explore. If you have more than 11 days, you can split today into two days by staying near Denali National Park and Preserve or Talkeetna tonight. Then on the next day, you can visit Talkeetna before heading back to Anchorage.
Denali National Park & Preserve
The one thing that people asked us repeatedly was, when are you going to Denali? As North Americas tallest peak, I guess its no surprise this national park is so popular! There are a few ways to do Denali.
- One is to drive into Denali, then take a bus shuttle to explore further into the park.
- Another is to just do as much of the drive as possible by picking up a permit, which you should do ahead of time.
- You can explore Denali by going through a tour like this one.
- You can also do a helicopter tour to explore Denali, which sounds like the coolest option to me!
- Due to COVID and confusion about the permits, we just did the scenic drive into the park and went as far as we could without the permit .
Denali View North
If its a clear day, Byers Lake also offers a view of Denali! If its rainy and foggy, like ours was, you wont see much.
Denali View South
Whens The Best Time To Take An Alaska Cruise
The cruise season in Alaska runs from late April/early May until early September, and can be broadly split into three different seasons: spring, summer and autumn. Theres not really a best time to take an Alaska cruise as each season has different advantages and disadvantages which might relate to the weather, the wildlife, the prices or the size of the crowds.
Its important to remember weather in Alaska is pretty unpredictable, so youre never going to be guaranteed blues skies and sunshine, even in the middle of summer. I travelled in late August and got lucky with some beautiful weather, but the same cruise a week earlier had thick fog and rain, so theres always a bit of luck involved and you need to be prepared for changing weather conditions pack wet weather gear and warm layers whenever youre travelling.
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Best Overall: Norwegian Cruise Line
Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
- Ship Name: Norwegian Bliss
- Itinerary: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Victoria
Norwegian boasts that it has the youngest fleet cruising to Alaska,” and the Norwegian Bliss is NCLs newest ship . Bliss has buzzworthy features like laser tag, a race track on the top deck, and thrilling waterslides that overhang the sides of the ship. The ship has accommodations for every type of cruiser, including solo staterooms and elegant suites in the Haven, a luxurious enclave. Another perk of this cruise is that is sails round-trip from Seattle, so guests can drive or fly into the same port for departure and arrival . Bliss also has a beautiful observation lounge ideal when sailing the Inside Passage.
Day : Anchorage To Knik River
1 hour 44 minutes of driving
Tonights lodging: Knik River Lodge
8AM Breakfast and check out
A Goldenview Bed and Breakfast serves up a full spread for breakfast! Homemade bread, jam, eggs, quiche, yogurt, and more! Since the Eagle River Nature Center was closed, we ended up soaking in the hot tub here for quite a while! It was a relaxing start to the day!
Eagle River Nature Center
As I mentioned, the Eagle River Nature Center was closed on the day we were there, but if its open when you visit, definitely add it to your list. There are great hiking spots and beautiful views here!
Alaska Helicopter Tours
Alright, now for my favorite activity of the WHOLE ALASKA TRIP! We got to do the Grand Knik Tour with Alaska Helicopter Tours which includes three landings! Ours included an Ice Fall add-on as one of the three stops.
This was by far my favorite experience in Alaska, and is arguably the best way to see Alaska! It takes off from the Knik River Lodge, so I booked lodging at the lodge for tonight. If you have the chance to do a helicopter tour, sign up for this one!
Since the Knik River Lodge restaurant was only open on weekends when we visited, we headed into Palmer for dinner. Turkey Red serves up fresh, organic, local food that is absolutely delicious! I ordered the chicken funghi, Harrison ordered the Moussaka, and we shared a peanut butter tart for dessert!
Knik River Lodge
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Best Large Cruise: Royal Caribbean
Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
- Ship: Ovation of the Seas
- Duration: 7 nights
- Itinerary: Alaska Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Victoria
If youre looking for a cruise to Alaska with all the theme-park-like attractions, then the Ovation of the Seas will not disappoint. Built in 2016, Ovation is currently ranked as one of the 10 largest cruise ships in the world with onboard features like a skydiving simulator, a cocktail bar tended by robots, aerial performances in the theater, and the North Star, a moving observation pod with surreal views. The first two days of the voyage are spent at sea so theres plenty of time to explore the ship and try different activities. Or, dine at specialty restaurants like Chops Grille, Royal Caribbeans iconic steakhouse Wonderland, an eclectic array of dishes, or Giovannis table, a favorite Italian restaurant.
Youll Learn Heaps About Alaskas Gold Rush History
Given that almost every major town or city in Alaska has gold mining history at its heart . Some of the best experiences include following the trail of the wide-eyed gold prospectors along the White Pass and Yukon Route in Skagway, strolling the Red Light District of Creek Street in Ketchikan, and panning for gold at Crow Creek and Indian Valley mines. Also visit-worthy is Fairbanks, the Gold Rush boomtown that became Alaskas largest producer of gold for the 15.4 million ounces of gold that were extracted from its mineral deposits . Nowadays, it embraces its Gold Rush roots with a slew of attractions, including Gold Dredge 8 where you can enjoy a close-up view of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, hop aboard a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad in the Interior’s original goldfields, and sift through the dredge tailings for yourself. Equally fabulous is the Riverboat Discovery III, a three-hour, fully-narrated Tanana and Chena Rivers cruise on an authentic sternwheeler departing from Steamboat Landing – a replica Gold Rush-era river port complete with dining hall, gift shop, museum, and ice cream parlour.
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Best Modern Cruise: Celebrity
- Ship Name: Celebrity Solstice
- Itinerary: Seattle, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Alaska Inside Passage, Victoria
For an upscale Alaska cruise without the luxury price tag, Celebrity is a fantastic option. The award-winning, Celebrity Solstice is a dignified ship that focuses on modern well-being. Activities include culinary classes, silent discos, and educational lectures. Theres also a half-acre of fresh grass with hot glass demonstrations, private cabanas, and outdoor movies. The ship also has a fabulous fitness center and programs, and the Canyon Ranch Spa situated right next to the Aqua Class cabins. These cabins include access to a health-conscious restaurant as well as the relaxation room and other spa perks. This voyage includes a full day cruising Endicott Arm for fabulous views before concluding in Victoria.
Rhine And Danube Rivers
Why we love it: River cruises are luring baby boomers off bus tours and onto cruise ships. Europe’s Rhine and Danube Rivers are the most popular introductory itineraries due to their charming scenery, slower pace and bucket-list cities like Amsterdam and Budapest. Rhine River cruises afford a fabulous wine scene and must-see villages like Strasbourg and Rudesheim, while the Danube — which includes stops in Nuremburg, Vienna and Melk — is dotted with cities rich in art history. Fairytale castles, medieval influences and UNESCO World Heritage Sites give you a glimpse of each region’s history and culture and allow you to venture at your leisure.
Itinerary highlights: Amsterdam, Basel and Rudesheim on the Rhine Budapest, Vienna and Melk and the Christmas markets during the late fall and winter on either itinerary.
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