My husband and I are going to take an Alaskan cruise in June on Princess. Having never done this before, I have a few questions that my travel agent isn't able to answer. I'm hoping someone can offer some opinions:
1. Will I save a significant amount of money if I book my airfare through the cruiseline?
2. Which is nicer, Ketchikan or Juneau? Northbound you spend more time in Juneau, and on Southbound you have more time in Ketchikan.
3. Are there any differences between the Sapphire Princess and the Diamond Princess? I know that they are sister ships, but I'm just wondering if people have preferences.
4. On the Northbound cruise, you're at Glacier Bay from 6:00 am to 3 pm and then in College Fjord from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm, whereas with Southbound you're in GB from 10:30 am to 8:30 pm and CF from 6 am to 9 am. Is one preferable over another in terms of what you get to see and do?
Thanks for any advice!
Welcome to Cruise-Chat! I'll tackle the first question and let some of the folks here who've cruised Alaska on Princess handle the rest.
Cruiseline air is typically not the best value. However on open-jaw flights like a north or southbound Alaska sailing they are more competitive, still probably higher than you could find by shopping online. If you're going to fly in just for the cruise you should consider using cruiseline air even if it is a little higher. The two piers in Alaska are Whittier and Seward, both a long way from the airport in Anchorage. An hour and a half for Whittier and two hours to Seward by bus, car. You will also want to take advantage of the cruiseline transfers. There are motorcoach transfers and some lines offer a train transfer.
If you're planning on flying in one or more days prior to a southbound and exploring on your own, do your own air and rent a car. Forget the transfers. They have recently added rental car drop offs at the piers. Cruiseline hotels and lodges are overpriced and if you book the air but not the hotel you'll be charged air deviation fees for changing dates for flights and any other changes you request. Above applies if you're doing a northbound and staying a while at the end.
Have a great cruise and give us a review when you get back.
I would do Southbound for a couple of reasons. First, Alaska take a long time to get to by air. From most place in the United States, you're flying at least 7-12 (including travel stops). It is easier to do this I think at the start of a trip then at the end when you are likely to be more tired. In our case, we actually flew in to Seattle from various locations (I met two people from my family for the cruise), then stayed overnight in Seattle, then flew on to Alaska. As far as air is concerned, we found the cruise lines to be a bit more expensive on air, so we booked it ourselves. Alaska is an expensive flying destination, so you won't usually find any bargains.
Glacier Bay and C0llege Fjord are both scenic cruising days, so you don't get off the ship. IN College Fjord, you essentially go through it to a certain point to see the Harvard Glacier, and then turn around and come back out. As long as it will be light out, I am not sure it really matters what time you arrive. We got there early in the morning, and the water was still as we moved through it. I suppose if you arrive on a day when there will be other ships, the movement of the water might affect photos, cause the reflections of the glaciers won't be as good. This is all picky picky stuff though. GB is the same except that there, the main attraction is the Marjorie Glacier. The ship will park sideways in front of it for like three hours so you can watch it, and hopefully see the glacier calving. at some point the ship will turn 180 degrees so people on the other side who want to see it from their cabins can.
I would probably say that there is more to do in Juneau, but that depends on your point of view. Be sure to take two excursions while you are there. First go to see the Mendenhall Glacier. Take the shortest excursion for that one. I think it is like 2 hours from start to finish. Then go whale watching. I recommend that you look into a small tour provider perhaps outside of Princess. We chartered a boat through Harv and Marv's Alaska Outback, and it was FANTASTIC. They were terrific and it was just the three of us on the boat. A bit pricier than the Princess tour but so much better with personalized choices of what we wanted to do, and no other people to obstruct picture shots etc. They book up quickly so schedule your excursion now if you're interested. They will meet you right where the ship docks with no problem. YOu can find them on the internet by typing in "Harv and Marv's"
I found the excursions at Ketchikan far less exciting. The one thing I do recommend is the Great Alaskan Lumberjack show, which was very fun and quite well done. I usually hate stuff like that -- too cheesy for me, but this was really hilarious. Well worth seeing.
Have fun on your trip. Alaska is great. I understand why people go back again.
Consider a B2B from Vancouver or Seattle. You may find that the airfare to or from Anchorage is high, but that the airfare to and from your hometown to Seattle is reasonable. Use the money you save on airfare to really treat yourself, as a B2B cruise to Alaska is a wonderful way to see this great part of the world. If you want to cruise out of Vancouver there is a bus that goes from the Seattle airport direct to the cruise terminals in Vancouver for $50 per person one-way or $100 round trip. This means that if you find a great airfare to Seattle and want to cruise out of Vancouver you can do so at little cost and very convenient.
A B2B may not work for you but at least take a look at it. We did a B2B from Vancouver in August of 2007,and it was a great cruise.
Highly recommend that you go on the Kenai Fjords boat trip to see glaciers, wildlife, whales and lots of birds including bald eagles.
My best friend and I took the Coral Princess southbound last year and we were very happy we did. Actually we did a cruise plus tour in which we stayed 2 nights in Vancouver after the cruise. I'm in California so Alaska was not as long a trip for me as it would be for you but we both were happier that our longest travel day was at the start of the trip. We did the canopy zipline tour in Ketchikan and had a blast! In fact we're taking the CP again in June 2008 and we're going to do both the zipline in Juneau and the one in Ketchikan! The Mt. Robert's tram in Juneau is only $25 for an all day pass and the views are great. College Fjord early in the morning was beautiful and there was hardly anyone up on the top deck. We're taking the southbound again, it was great.
Alaska got us hooked... I hope it does the same for you!
Both Juneau and Ketchikan each have good selling points...Juneau is a better place to shop and the Mendenhall glacier is wonderful...in Ketchikan, we've gone on the Cultural tour which includes the Totem Village, musueum and a ride thru town....On the glaciers, you just look and will be amazed..the last time in Glacier Bay we spent 6 hours of wonderment...glaciers, seals, whales, otters..the best 6 hours of any cruise we've been on....Alaska never fails to amaze me....it's almost a religious experience...we are going back for the 3rd time in 2008....haven't decided which ship yet...Have a wonderful Sailing...
If you aren't looking at adding a land package to Fairbanks or Denali to your cruise, then you aren't limited to just the NB or SB. You have other options to sail roundtrip out of Seattle or roundtrip out of Vancouver. Princess has a new 14 day roundtrip cruise out of Vancouver this year called Connoisseur. It visits Kodiak, Valdez, Seward as well as Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Sitka, and Glacier Bay.