Thinking of embarking on an Alaskan cruise? Before you book, ask yourself, do you love incredible views? Can you appreciate nature in its rawest form? Have you dreamed of soaring with bald eagles or watching whales launch out of the water? Are you ready for a life changing trip?! If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, Alaska is calling!
A few things you should take into account before you book:
- You are only fully on board the ship for 2 whole days that are spread apart. The other 5 have some sort of stop, so don’t worry about getting too cooped up!
- Alaskan cruises are much more laid back than Caribbean cruises. There is less of a “party” scene and the actives are a little further apart / aimed at an adult crowd. With that said, if you are ok with the relaxed vibe, you are good to go! You can also make the cruise as jam packed as you want by taking advantage of all of the on-ship activities, even the ones that may not peak your interest at first.
- Expect to spend about double the cost of your cruise ticket. From transportation, hotels, excursions, dining, and cruise fees, cruises can cost quite a bit more than expected. More detail on this is below in the Booking Fees section of this post.
Booking Your Cruise
- Booking through a major travel agency can have a lot of perks.
- Make sure the agency books a lot of cruises so they have buying power first. Those agents can get you the best deals on your cruise price.
- You can get room upgrades on better floors or locations. You do not want to be the floor beneath the treadmills or food courts! Agents can also help book multiple room parties close together.
- They will ensure you have the best dining options like restaurant preferences and getting tables next to windows.
- They can get you on ship credits between $25 – $100 per room and can help you get any booking specials that might be running.
- Interior vs. exterior rooms are up to you. Exterior rooms are about double the cost so it really depends on your budget.
- Interior rooms have big mirrors so they seem larger than they appear. You will not be in your room too much since there are so many days off of the boat. We booked an interior room and it was fine with us!
- Balcony rooms – Go big or go home right? If you do want a view, go with the balcony instead of the window. You will have a great view and have a high likely hood of seeing whales right from your bed if you are an early riser. It is also nice to have the privacy while viewing the glaciers from your room. This is a great option if you don’t mind spending extra and you can potentially qualify for a free drink package if you book at the right time and check the ongoing deals page!
- Expect extra fees on your trip.
- Not only does the cruise cost $800+ depending on the room you pick, but there is a daily “tip” fee for your room cleaning team of $25+ per room.
- Excursions are not included so plan for $50 – $500 per port for excursions depending on what you want to do.
- For any use of the gym facilities outside of do-it-yourself, there are fees. $20 to use the upgraded saunas, spa treatments (for which I am a sucker), $12 per yoga class… these things also add up if you do them.
- Gratuity is automatically added to any additional food / drinks you buy from bars / restaurants not included in the base price of the cruise.
- Don’t forget transportation from the airport to your pre-boarding hotel or to the docks. In Seattle, this can be about $40 to downtown and another $20 to the docks. Multiply this by two for both ways.
- If you don’t want to be risky and fly in the morning of your cruise, you will also need to account for the hotel on either side of your trip. I highly recommend the Maxwell hotel in Seattle as it is not too expensive ($137 per night), has amazingly comfy beds, and lots of personality.
Don’t book on the ship because you will be going in a huge group and paying too much. Also, don’t worry about booking early!
- We booked all of our excursions off the boat and in advance of our cruise to save money and to ensure we got what we wanted. Little did we know that at every single port, there are tons of excursion booking booths with discounted rates for basically every tour offered on the ship. Not only that, but almost all places guarantee you will be back in time before your ship leaves.
- The excursions we did and highly recommend are below:
- Juneau – Harv & Marv’s whale watching. Not only did we see tons of whales, we had a personal boat for the 6 of us for about $20 more than what we would have paid for a huge group boat ride.
- Skagway – Skagway Shore Tours Hike and Float picked us up right from port and took 9 of us total to the Chilkoot Trail for a two-mile rainforest hike and then float down the Taiya River. It cost $95 for the 4-hour experience and included snacks and two great guides!
- Ketchikan – Southeast Sea Kayaks took us on a 4-hour kayaking adventure through Orca Cove. There were a total of 6 people on our tour, including us, and the tour was $169 per person. We spent 2 full hours kayaking and it was our favorite part of the entire trip.
- Forms of identification: Passport and ID are a must so don’t forget them! Also, you may want to bring a lanyard for your cruise ship ID card so you do not lose it while walking around.
- Warm stuff: I read mixed reviews about how warm it gets in the various ports in Alaska and packed mid-warm jackets. I wish I had a heavier jacket, especially for the days we were onboard the ship.
- Warm gloves, a beanie, scarves, warm socks, and a waterproof jacket are must haves.
- The right shoes: I wore my hiking boots or my rain boots the entire trip. Seattle was very rainy so my rain boots were a total hit (and I jumped in quite a few puddles). My hiking boots were warm and great for the long walking days ashore.
- Have the right socks and waterproof / warm walking shoes.
- Rain gear: It rained at least once 90% of the days we were on our trip. My rain jacket, rain boots, and umbrella were life savers. Don’t forget them!
- Personal products:
- For every trip, sunscreen is a must have.
- Bring lots of hydrating moisturizer and lip balm as well since the dry weather will get to you.
- If you have finicky hair, the 2-in-1 shampoo / conditioner on the ship isn’t great so make sure you pack your favorite travel sized hair product. Also, the hairdryers are low powered so, if you have thick hair like mine, bring a hairdryer that won’t take 45 minutes of your cruise time to dry your hair.
- Day-pack: I bought a North Face Flyweight foldable backpack that zips itself into a tiny bag that takes almost no space in my luggage. This bag became my go to for all of our excursions. It held my water bottle, was my wallet, had space for my rain jacket, umbrella, camera, and any other gear I could need for the day. It was so much better than carrying a purse around and was one of the most convenient things I had on the trip. A day-pack is a must for any active excursions.
On Board Your Cruise
Boarding & Debarking:
- Airport to dock or hotel: We took an Uber from the Seattle airport to our hotel. There should not be surge pricing at the airport since there are tons of transport options. Almost every car service goes to the airport so getting to your hotel or the port should be easy. Expect about $40 to downtown for two people.
- Downtown hotel to port: Surge pricing can occur close to the boarding time so check what your Uber fare is from your hotel to the port. If it is surge pricing, check with your hotel. They should also have shuttle / car services at set prices to take you to the port. This will help you get a good gauge for how much you should pay.
- Boarding: Our boat started boarding at noon and we got there right when it started. There was a minimal line and it only took us 15 minutes to board! Once we were on ship, we were free to grab a celebratory drink! In short, get there early to avoid lines and start your cruise quickly and stress free!
- Debarking: There are two options; carrying your own bags off the ship or letting the ship do it for you.
- Recommended: Carrying your bags off early will get you off the boat by 8AM and you will not need to wait for your luggage. Our de-board time was 7:55 AM and we were off the ship and in an Uber at 8:15 AM. It can’t get much easier than that!
- For those letting the ship deal with your luggage, it gets collected the night before you debark. Then, you have to be out of your room and in a holding area by 8 AM where you must wait until your group gets called, which may not be until 10AM. The process is relatively quick from there but then you also have to find your baggage. On top of all of that, the traffic to get out of the port and the prices for transport go up drastically since it is peak hour. By the time you are back in the city, you have missed out on at least 2 hours of prime tourist time!
Cruise Food 101:
- For when you aren’t in a rush in the morning, a great breakfast option is breakfast in bed! While the menu is a little more limited to mainly baked goods, cereal, and fruit, having breakfast while looking out your balcony / window in bed it an excellent start to the day! Not only that, but its complementary.
- The buffet open as early as 6 AM and restaurants at 9 AM for all other breakfast options. The food it’s the same pretty much where ever you go.
- Typically, while at sea, the formal restaurants are open for lunch. While they take longer than the buffet, the food is typically a bit better.
- One of the buffet restaurants on board usually has a rotating menu of different cuisine. Look for the daily updates in your cruise itinerary for new options like “A Taste of Alaska”, Mexican, Indian, or Chinese food.
- Book the 5:30 PM (or early) dinner reservation for your evening dinners. The food and menu is much better in the restaurants (included in the price of your cruise) than the buffets. Also, booking the early dinner will ensure that you are done in time for any of the fun shows or evening activities that the cruise provides.
- Try a celebratory dinner at least one night in one of the other restaurants onboard that you have to pay for. We had a delicious 4 course steak dinner in the Crown Grill for only $29 a person. Considering we are from Texas and have good taste in steaks, I can say with confidence that it was a great deal and a great meal.
Alcohol / Beverage Options:
Before buying the alcohol package on the cruise, which can be over $50 per day (about 5 drinks a day), consider the following:
- Look for / ask your travel agent about free alcohol packages if you book a suite or balcony room.
- You can bring a bottle of wine per person in your luggage which can save you money. Also, if you go with friends who bought the alcohol package, get them to bring your extra bottles of wine in their luggage.
- There are happy hours onboard almost twice a day (around 3 PM and 10 PM) which have deals like buy one, get one for $1.
- You will be off the boat for multiple days so you will be paying your alcohol packages on those days even if you don’t use them.
- Overall, we did not buy the drink package and faired just fine.
- On-ship communication:
- Most blogs will recommend walkie-talkies to talk to your other cruise buddies. On Princess cruises at least, there is no need for them! Princess has an airplane-mode website that is free on their Wi-Fi. The site lets you message anyone else on the cruise. You can even have group chat! While it is not an app so there are no pop-up notifications, it is still a good way to communicate with your buddies without paying for anything extra.
- The Princess website will also show all of the day’s activities so you can check them out / add them to your personal calendar while on the ship. You can even share events with people through
the messenger function as well!
- Movie nights: A must do at least once! The ship shows various movies each day on the outside movie screen. Find one you want to watch, grab a hot chocolate, and pick a lounge chair to relax in on deck. Too cold? Don’t worry, the staff provides fleece blankets and warm popcorn for an incredible movie watching experience.
- Art auctions: Do not buy art on board the ship without doing your internet research first. A lot of times the prices are high and the value is low. What you should do, however, is attend the high-speed auction and watch people spend tens of thousands of dollars on pieces in seconds and the funny auctioneers try and get people to buy. It was quite an entertaining part of the trip!
- Get involved in the axe-throwing, karaoke, trivia, or dance competitions. It will only make your trip that much more fun and will make you an on-board celebrity!
- Attend the Alaskan speaker events that come onboard. A word of warning, their stories are inspiring and will make you want pack up and move to Alaska as soon as you return home.
5 thoughts on “Alaskan Cruise 101”
Thanks for this guide. It’s overwhelming to book a cruise and this really helps. Can you share what cruise you went on and an itinerary?
Hi! We did a Princess cruise that left out of Seattle, went to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan and Victoria.
Planning our first cruise ever and it will be to Alaska! Thanks so much for this post – printed it out and can’t wait to devour it and begin the process!
I am so glad you like it Jackie! That made my day! I hope you have a fabulous time on your cruise. If you have any questions – I am happy to help!