Etiquette Hell

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Title: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Snooks on January 08, 2012, 12:20:11 PM
I've got it into my head that we should go on a cruise to Alaska for our 5th wedding anniversary in 2014 (I'm a planner!).  I've never been on a cruise before so I have no idea which cruise lines are good and which ones to avoid.  Has anyone been to Alaska on a cruise (or is from there)?  Any must sees/don't bother withs?
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Angel B. on January 08, 2012, 12:42:11 PM
My family went on a cruise to Alaska a long time ago(2000 or so). My parents used Holland America Line, and loved it.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: gramma dishes on January 08, 2012, 12:45:15 PM
I have been on an Alaskan cruise with Cruise West.  (year 2002)

Their fleet is made up of very small (comparatively) liners.  Definitely not deluxe, but comfortable enough.  Their main 'claim to fame' is that they can get into much tinier spaces than their huge counterparts and therefore can take you into more intimate-with-nature settings and into ports too small to allow the big cruise ships.

You should know that these cruise ships lack some of the fancy amenities that the bigger ones have.  Basically the food is superb -- and plentiful.  You can sit wherever you like, with whomever you like in their dining room.  There are also snack foods available between meals that frankly are meal enough sometimes on their own!  But there is no entertainment at all other than for that provided by the crew and sometimes (in our case) by the passengers themselves. 

I would highly recommend it to anyone who really wants to see the natural beauty of Alaska and to explore some of the various small towns along the route.  I would NOT recommend it for someone who wants to be highly catered to, amused and entertained constantly, and/or wants swimming pools on board and some of the other amenities taken for granted among the "Luxury" cruise lines.

Interestingly, the prices are not dissimilar to those of the bigger ships.  So it isn't a money saver.  Which kind of cruise is "right" for you depends on what you want to experience.  For us, it was just perfect.   ;D
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: SisJackson on January 08, 2012, 12:55:48 PM
I've done two - one on Royal Caribbean and one on Celebrity.  The first time I did a bunch of ship excursions to various points of interest and while they were great, I had much more fun on the second trip, just exploring the cities on foot, using a map on a cell phone (since it's in the US, there was no charge for data usage like there would be at many cruise destinations.)  We ate lunch at places recommended on Yelp and did a couple of touristy things within walking distance, except for when we hopped a bus to Alaskan Brewery in Juneau for a tour and tasting.

On the trip where we did excursions, the ones our group loved best were "flightseeing" (from a float plane or helicopter) wildlife tours (where you get to see otter, whale, or bear - guaranteed or your money back) the sled dog experience (meet the dogs, ride a sled, play with the puppies if there are any) and the bald eagle preserve.

As I do with all potential cruisers, I highly recommend signing up for cruisecritic.com forums where you can get answers about particular ports of call, cruise lines, cruising in general, and a pile of other topics.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Layla Miller on January 08, 2012, 01:22:07 PM
DH and I went on an Alaskan cruise for our honeymoon through Norwegian, and I can highly recommend them.  I liked them partly for their Freestyle cruising style (no shared/assigned tables or set mealtimes, among other things) and partly for their Chocoholic Buffet!  :D
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Thipu1 on January 08, 2012, 01:33:48 PM
We've had two Alaska cruises.   One was a coastal Cruise only.  The combined the coastal cruise with an inland railroad tour and two nights in Denali.  both were done with Holland America.

Like other posters, I would strongly advise visiting cruise critics.com before making any arrangements.  The folks there are kind and very helpful.

Here are a few suggestions from our experiences. 

1) If possible, arrange to take your cruise from north to south.  On that route, you will see glaciers from the first day.  That's nice.  As you go south, the glaciers become more impressive.  Then, you begin to encounter towns.  As you go south, the towns become larger and more interesting. 
 
2) You might want to keep your camera ready at all times.  Anything can show up when you least expect it.  On our first Alaska cruise we were taking a stroll around the deck after dinner on a formal night.  Mr. Thipu's was wearing his tux and I was wearing a black dress with a gold shawl.  As we were walking we enjoyed the company of a half dozen orca playing alondside the ship.  Appropriately, they were also wearing black and white formal attire.

3). An Alaska cruise is not restful.  Because the ships follow an inside route, the shore is almost always in sight.  There will always be people at the rail with binoculars, zoom lenses on their cameras and sighting diaries in hand.  It's not unusual to go for drink before dinner and hear passengers comparing their daily sightings.

There's a lot to consider before booking an Alaska cruise.  Cruise critic is a great help in many ways. 





 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: gramma dishes on January 08, 2012, 01:56:05 PM
Well ... now I'm totally embarrassed.   :-[

I actually went on a Google search to try to find the name of the specific ship we traveled on and low and behold!  Apparently Cruise West shut down its operations in 2010 for "restructuring" and is no longer operating under that name. 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: buvezdevin on January 08, 2012, 02:38:15 PM
We cruised Alaska on Royal Caribbean, a land sea combo which included Denali in July, 2010.  While I was looking forward to the experience, it was so much more enthralling than I had anticipated.  Of the various people I know who have cruised Alaska, I have yet to hear that anyone did not find it amazing.

There are quite a few lines, various tours, and I am sure you will enjoy doing the research to find a tour which best meets your interests and preferences, so the one recommendation I will share is to book an itinerary which includes Glacier Bay (full day).  I think most cruises do, but I know not all do.  This was particularly a day on our cruise which I had expected to enjoy, but we and a number of others considered it one of, and possibly the most magical of the sights - and that's high praise given the wealth of spectacular sights.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Snooks on January 08, 2012, 02:45:39 PM
Thanks for all the feedback, I'll head over to Cruise Critic but I tend to get overwhelmed with information so I thought I'd try here first and you haven't disappointed me!  I'll make sure to find one with Glacier Bay.  I love the sound of the sled dog experience so I'll keep that in mind.  We're in the UK so we're hoping to do a round trip from Seattle and have some time there before the cruise.  We did Yosemite, Sequoia and King's Canyon in 2011 and Bryce, Monument Valley and Zion in 2005 so I'm hoping for a similar type of holiday with lots of natural beauty but lots to do too.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: mrs_deb on January 08, 2012, 04:29:58 PM
Mr_Deb and I are taking his parents on an Alaska cruisetour this late May, with Princess.  We had heard that Princess was the tops for cruisetours.  Whether that's true or not, every single person I've ever spoken with about cruises has said that Alaska was the very best cruise they ever took, so I'm pretty excited.  It's 10 days - 7 cruise and 3 land.  Lodges and trains and such like.

Check this Frommers page:

http://www.frommers.com/destinations/alaska/0210024436.html

If you are going to spend some time in Seattle before/after, be sure to catch a Mariners game!
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Sharnita on January 08, 2012, 04:41:17 PM
My parents did a cruise that included a train/bus trip through Alaska as well as the cruise.  I think they enjoyed both equally and would recommend the combination if at all possible.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: chmac on January 08, 2012, 05:26:18 PM
we did an Alaskan cruise with Norwegian a few years ago, had lots of fun.  Just make sure your room isn't 3 floors up directly over the nightly entertainment or you'll get the music booming through your room.  (Although they didn't go too late).  I really enjoyed the train ride in Skagway, up along the old gold rush trail.  Beautiful scenery.  The old cemetery also looked interesting but just saw it in passing.  Our tour went from Vancouver, south to north and then looped back.  I almost wish we had done 7 days out and flown back, or started north and headed down rather than doing a loop.  Didn't get as far north as Sitka, that sounds interesting.  The nice thing about Norwegian is that they were one of the only ships to dock near Wrangell, so it was much less busy and touristy, got to walk around town and visit with the locals, interesting little museum.  Stopped at Ketchikam, Juneau, Skagway and Wrangell. Ketchikam was very busy and touristy but good history, interesting heritage center. Did the gold mine tour at Juneau, there were only 3 of us on the tour since everyone else went whale watching, so we got a great personal tour and my young son got to see all the heavy equipment he ever wanted!  Great food on the ship, no set time or place to eat, which meant you didn't have to be in the dining room at a set time at a set table.  The draw back was that on the last night, when everyone wanted to eat in the dining room, the line up was out the door and up the stairs, we ended up at the more casual buffet.  But, the chocolate buffet was pretty good!
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Tierrainney on January 08, 2012, 05:43:01 PM
We did an Alaska cruise in 2003 on Radison, that is now Regency cruise ships. It was a smaller ship that some of the enormous ones, but not so small as one of the ones mentioned up thread. You needed a pass port for this one, as it had stops in Canada. Some times we did scheduled shore excursions and sometimes we didn't. IN Victoria, Canada, we did not have a planned excursion, but a horse drawn trolley came to the docks and we were able to purchase tickets. We were the only people to do so, so we got the fun of a private ride without the price. The only disappointing one was the glacer raft ride. I was expecting "white water" and it wasn't anything close. The guide, however, was very funny, so it still fun, just not what I had expected.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Sharnita on January 08, 2012, 06:10:00 PM
came back to say my mom said their trip was through Princess, with a guided land tour first.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Thipu1 on January 09, 2012, 08:37:09 AM
Most all of the lines that cruise Alaska are good but each one has certain distinctions.

The cabins on Holland America tend to be a bit larger but the passengers tend to be quite elderly.  A few years ago, we were on a Holland America cruise to Hawaii on which five passengers died of natural causes.  Possibly because people tend to be of such an advanced age, the food, while good, tends to be somewhat bland.

Princess tends to be more lively, the passengers are younger and the food is more seasoned. I have yet to have a pasta on Princess that was less than remarkable.  However, the cabins are smaller.

All lines offer a wide variety of shore excursions with the level of exertion needed indicated.  You can book these before boarding or any time during the cruise.  Cruise Critic is a good place to talk to people who have taken shore excursions because the tours vary greatly in quality. Also, with other cruise critic people, we've been able to arrange independent shore excursions for about half what the ship charges. 

One thing to be careful of on Alaska cruises is the distinct possibility of salmon burnout.  Most fish on cruise ships comes aboard frozen.  In Alaska, ships will often take on fresh salmon every day. 

Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Mikayla on January 09, 2012, 12:42:24 PM
I can't add much, other than repetitive.  But my dad and stepmom did this several years ago on Norwegian, and they absolutely loved it.  It was surprising with my dad, who thinks cruise = snorkeling and umbrella drinks. 

And as for Norwegian, I've never been to Alaska, but I've cruised with them several times and I absolutely love them. 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Snooks on January 09, 2012, 12:57:29 PM
Thanks again everyone, particularly interesting to hear that Holland America attracts the older audience, that makes sense as the relatives who told me about it would fall into that category.  I think it'll come down to a combination of price and departure/return points.  Interesting to hear that there aren't any cruise lines people have said to avoid, which makes me feel better.  I'm always convinced I've booked with the wrong hotel/airline/anything but it sounds like I can't really go wrong here.

I have now got one other question which I'm sure is a silly one but as a non-fish eater am I going to be stumped for food choices?
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Layla Miller on January 09, 2012, 01:04:41 PM
I have now got one other question which I'm sure is a silly one but as a non-fish eater am I going to be stumped for food choices?

I don't care for most fish and DH is allergic, and as I recall we had no problems at all.

Enjoy your trip!
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: gramma dishes on January 09, 2012, 01:55:37 PM

I have now got one other question which I'm sure is a silly one but as a non-fish eater am I going to be stumped for food choices?

No, definitely not!  I think all the cruise lines from the smallest to the largest pride themselves on offering a plethora of different choices in foods.  While fish is somewhat a "staple" on Alaskan cruises, you always have other options.  Lots of other options!
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: buvezdevin on January 09, 2012, 02:20:30 PM
POD to gramma dishes, in our experience and those of other friends and family on other cruise lines, the variety and plenitude of food options was very good.

For experiences you may want to try, several ports offer zip lining.  I have a fear of heights, so DBF was surprised I wanted to do this.  It was sooooo exhilarating and the views wonderful!

While I agree with some PPs who have mentioned that ship offered excursions are pricier than booking independently, two things to weigh when planning your cruise: 

1.  If you go with an excursion booked through the ship, you minimize/avoid the possibility of running late in returning and possibly missing sailing departure from port.  We did see one couple running for and missing their ship's departure, but I have no idea of the circumstances in their case.

2.  On some cruises, for some excursions, it can be best to sign up in advance.  Some will often sell out, and if you book excursions prior to boarding the ship, you avoid what can be a time consuming massive cluster when the ship opens the on ship booking desk.  There were a very few excursions on some prior cruises we have taken which were fully booked before the start date of the cruise.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Snooks on January 09, 2012, 02:47:33 PM
Oooh zip lining sounds fun, there's an activity in the UK called Go Ape which ends each tree top obstacle course with a zip line and we've been on lots of those so I think that would be something we'd go for.  I'm quite risk averse so I like the idea of sticking with the cruise line excursions and not missing the boat (literally!).  I'm viewing this as being a bit like our honeymoon trip to Disney where there was a lot of work up front to make the holiday more relaxing.

Does anyone have any recommendations for the "best" time to go?  Basically we'd be looking at either early July or mid September (avoiding the August price hike).

Did anyone celebrate anything on board, if so are they particular about the dates i.e. do you have to be travelling on the date of celebration?
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: buvezdevin on January 09, 2012, 04:45:11 PM
I would strongly suggest July over September, for my personal preferences weather and light-wise, but you may want to check annual temp and daylight norms for those months yourself.  We were there in July, and I loved the long sunlight hours (it did get dark plenty of hours in the evening, but there was a lingering dusk).

DBF celebrated a birthday during the cruise, which we had noted when booking.  The registration forms asked if any event was being celebrated, we noted the date and event, and the ship supplied a bouquet of balloons outside our door that morning, and a birthday cake with candles at dinner.  Particularly as you plan to celebrate your fifth year anniversary, I imagine you can so specify and then provide the date you wish to observe it, even if the actual date is outside your cruise schedule.

And, to correct an earlier entry, our Alaska cruise was on Princess, we were on Royal Caribbean for a different cruise.  I enjoyed both lines, but clearly have a bad memory for the cruise line vs location!  One thing I do remember is that we booked our cruise ourselves, when DBF learned of a sale on Princess bookings in the December before our July cruise.  A couple who we got to know during the cruise had used an agent, and they were in the process of booking a different line (same itinerary) when their agent suggested booking the one we were on during the same sale.  As you are planning well in advance, just thought I would add the suggestion to sign up for emails on discounts available at some times of the year.  The cabins booked after the sale were a good bit more, and we were also able to get a choice of cabin location from a broader array by booking more than half a year ahead.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Thipu1 on January 10, 2012, 08:28:06 AM
You will almost certainly not have any problems with food choices.  Traditional dinner menus on ships always seem to involve the following entrees.

A beef dish
Another meat,
A poultry dish
A fish dish.

Nowadays, there's usually also a vegetarian option and no matter what the evening's menu is, you can always order basics such as a steak, or roast chicken. 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Snooks on January 10, 2012, 09:53:41 AM
Thanks to all the information I managed to gather here I think we've settled on a cruise line and a cruise (assuming they don't switch the itineraries too much).  I think we'll be going for the seven day inside passage round trip from Seattle with Princess.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Thipu1 on January 11, 2012, 09:57:11 AM
One more post.

We agree that booking shore excursions through the Cruise line has certain advantages.  If there are delays or other problems, the ship will not leave without you.  Casually picking up a taxi on the pier can be iffy.  We have known passengers who missed the ship by doing so.  There are also stories of passengers who were seriously cheated or extorted by unscrupulous drivers.  however, we have not heard this first-hand from anyone.

The independent tours we arranged with fellow Cruise Critic posters have all been excellent.  The people who volunteer to plan these things have all been professional travel agents or event planners who know the market.  Often, they use the same tour companies that the Cruise lines use. 

Enjoy your vacation!  Come the summer, we'll be looking for your Alaska posts. 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Snooks on January 11, 2012, 10:02:34 AM
Enjoy your vacation!  Come the summer, we'll be looking for your Alaska posts.

Summer 2014.  I'm a true planner, although with this trip it's so that I can budget for it by cutting holidays this year and next year.  Once we've finalised our trip I'll certainly start looking on Cruise Critic to decide on excursions.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: kareng57 on January 17, 2012, 08:34:46 PM
One more post.

We agree that booking shore excursions through the Cruise line has certain advantages.  If there are delays or other problems, the ship will not leave without you.  Casually picking up a taxi on the pier can be iffy.  We have known passengers who missed the ship by doing so.  There are also stories of passengers who were seriously cheated or extorted by unscrupulous drivers.  however, we have not heard this first-hand from anyone.

The independent tours we arranged with fellow Cruise Critic posters have all been excellent.  The people who volunteer to plan these things have all been professional travel agents or event planners who know the market.  Often, they use the same tour companies that the Cruise lines use. 

Enjoy your vacation!  Come the summer, we'll be looking for your Alaska posts.


Re shore excursions:  for some such as helicopter tours, rafting, etc. then it's certainly advantageous to book through the cruise line.  But for some others there's no real need as long as you keep your eye on your watch.  Some examples:  in Sitka the Raptor Rehabilitation Centre is only about a 20 minute easy walk from the pier.  Juneau has a hop-on/hop-off tourist trolley bus that runs all day, and in Ketchikan the horse-drawn trolley tours run frequently throughout the day.  Paying a premium for the ship-tour just costs a lot more $$$ that doesn't give you anything extra.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Thipu1 on January 18, 2012, 09:59:13 AM
Thoroughly agreed, Kareng57.

Tours, especially things like helicopter excursions can be very iffy if not outright dangerous.

On our last trip to Hawaii we did book an independent helicopter trip.  We booked with the same company that the ship used for a flight over the Kiluea volcano and took the same flight. 

Mr. Thipu, however wanted something a little special that the company offered but the ship did not.  We did pay a bit more but we flew in a helicopter with no doors.  It was awesome (and I mean that in the adult way) to really feel the heat and smell the sulphur from the volcano. 

We did the flight in the morning.  The next flight was a group from the ship and we watched as the doors were put back on. 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: hyzenthlay on April 08, 2012, 05:18:21 PM
My parents treated us to one many years back, they really like Princess and have cruised with them several times, and that's who we used for the Inside Passage trip.

They booked for the very front of the high season, which means the rates were a little lower, but there was still a chance for poor weather. We got lucky, only one day was the weather an issue at all, and it was the day we were mostly at sea.

My DH and I did a helicopter flight to a glacier and a kayaking day trip and both were a HUGE amount of fun. (The kayaking day trip is a whole nother hilarious story and we got our money back on that one, but it was still a blast to do.)

My parents splurged for a cabin with a balconey, and the one day that was mostly glacier watching we were able to sit on their balconey without the crowds at the rail. So I would think about splurging for that upgrade, but my parents splurging meant the private balconey for 10 of us, if it's worth it for only 2 people is a different story  ;)

 
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: kareng57 on April 08, 2012, 10:42:16 PM
Well ... now I'm totally embarrassed.   :-[

I actually went on a Google search to try to find the name of the specific ship we traveled on and low and behold!  Apparently Cruise West shut down its operations in 2010 for "restructuring" and is no longer operating under that name.


I think the writing-was-on-the-wall for Cruise West and other low-capacity, low-cost cruise lines.  They just can't be cost effective.  I know, we were at the pier in Portland about three years ago (for an afternoon sightseeing excursion) and I took one of their brochures and was pretty interested.

Even if they're trying to attract passengers who want to eschew the ships that have a capacity the size of a small town - they can't make it pay.  A ship carrying 4000 passengers will always have way lower per-passenger fuel costs than one that carries 400 passengers.  The only way that the smaller ship-line can make it pay would be to have many high-end luxury touches - most of them unaffordable, unfortunately, for Cruise West's dedicated clientele.

For people seeking smaller vessels at an other-than-outrageous cost - Holland America could be a good bet.  Their ships certainly can't be called "small", but (at least for my current knowledge) they tend to have fewer than 2000 passengers.

Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Thipu1 on April 10, 2012, 08:32:52 AM
While we wouldn't want to sail on something like the Allure of the Seas, we'd like to tour it.   We have sailed on some very large ships and they aren't bad.  The dining rooms are arranged with dividers so the space seems far more intimate than it really is.  The only place you really notice the size of the thing is the main show lounge and, of course, the trek that seems like miles back to your cabin.
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Girlie on June 06, 2012, 11:07:44 AM
Holland American and Princess are actually owned by the same people (now), but the culture is different.
Holland America is normally considered, by cruising standards, to be a bit more formal, usually appealing to a bit of an older crowd.
Princess caters to a younger set, and has all the differences that normally come with that.

My sister lives in Anchorage, and used to work for Holland America on one of their trains that goes back and forth between Anchorage and Denali National Park. She quit a few years ago to pursue other things, but enjoyed what she did.
When my mom retired, she went to work for Princess, also in Alaska. She spends every summer at the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge near Talkeetna. Cruisers often book a land/sea package, and the lodge is the "land" part of the deal. She loves it, and she loves Alaska.

I haven't been yet, and am so jealous of anyone that is going. But happy for you, too! You'll love it, I'm sure. :)
Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: mrs_deb on June 06, 2012, 11:16:07 AM
We just got back from our Alaska cruisetour on Sunday morning.  It was hands down the most interesting, educational, busy vacation I've ever taken.  I needed a few days to rest up from it!

We landtoured in the Princess Denali and McKinley lodges, and cruised from Whittier to Yakutat Bay, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan, ending in Vancouver.  The first two days in the Bays were awesome and unforgettable.  We spent all day outside on the decks in the rainy cold wind - and loved every minute of it.  I'm making a slide show out of the thousands of pictures taken; in case anyone is interested, I can share it when it's done.

Title: Re: Alaska Cruises
Post by: Girlie on June 06, 2012, 01:02:31 PM
Maybe you met my mom, mrs deb! :) As for the pics, I'd love to see them. Alaska pics are always so beautiful.