Alaska

Review: North Star Alaska Experience on Ovation of the Seas

In:
23May2019

Royal Caribbean has introduced a new Alaskan experience on it’s newest and largest ship to visit Alaska Ovation of the Seas.  The North Star Alaskan Experience is offered in addition to the customary and complimentary North Star Experience offered to guests on some Quantum class ships.  The new North Star Alaskan Experience is offered when the ship calls on Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier during the summer Alaska cruise season. 

The Alaskan edition of the North Star Experience is offered at an additional charge and timed to occur during the ship’s visit to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier.   Unlike the complimentary North Star experience the Alaskan experience ride extends over the sides of the ship giving participants unparalleled views of the ship and the surroundings.  Float over the side of the ship as pieces of glaciers float by below you.  

The North Star Alaskan Experience begins with complimentary hot chocolate in an exclusive area of the North Star Bar for participants while they wait for their North Star Alaskan Experience.

The initial offering of the North Star Alaskan Experience is priced at $49 per person for adult or child with up to fourteen guests per ride. The experience is shared with any other guests who book the same time.

The North Star Alaskan Experience lasts approximately 15 to 20 minutes and begins by rising to a height of approximately 250 feet above sea level where the North Star turns and extends over the side of the ship.  This position is held for a few minutes giving participants an incredible view of the ship and surroundings before the North Star climbs to a height of approximately 300 feet above sea level.

 After several minutes the North Star lowers and extends over the opposite side of the ship at approximately 250 feet above seal level before eventually returning to center and gently lowering back to it’s starting position.

 

The North Star Alaskan Experience is available while the ship is within Endicott Arm during the approach and departure from Dawes Glacier and it is available while the ship is at Dawes Glacier.  Both offer a unique and different perspective.  On the Ovation of the Seas initial visit to Dawes Glacier the rides starting between 9am and 10am offered views of Dawes Glacier while the rides before and after featured views of Endicott Arm.  This will vary from sailing to sailing depending on time of arrival and ice conditions.

Guests interested in the complimentary North Star Experience will find the North Star available based on reservations at certain times and purely on a walk up basis at other times.  A standby line is available during reservation based times for last minute guests on a space available basis.  The complimentary North Star Experience does not extend over the sides of the ship.  

Limited reservations are usually offered in the Cruise Planner before sailing while the majority of North Star reservations are offered only on board once the cruise has started.  Reservations can be made by visiting the temporary Box Office kiosks upon boarding on embarkation day.

The North Star Alaskan Experience is only offered on Ovation of the Seas and it’s a unique perspective to an Alaska cruise available on no other ship or cruise line.  

First look: Ovation of the Seas visits Alaska glaciers

In:
21May2019

Royal Caribbean's Ovation of the Seas has begun sailing her inaugural season in Alaska, and she is the first Quantum Class ship to offer cruises in the region.

When you combine the natural splendor and beauty of Alaska with one of the world's most advanced cruise ships, the result is a fantastic view.

Royal Caribbean crew ambassador Stephen Burke snapped these photos of Hubbard Glacier from Ovation of the Seas on her recent visit.

With the highest vantage point on any cruise ship, the North Star – the ship’s signature glass observation capsule with panoramic views from 300 feet above sea level – is the “best seat in the house” for guests to take in the majestic mountains, eye-catching glaciers and diverse wildlife native to the state’s stunning landscape.

This year marks Ovation of the Seas' first season offering cruises to The Last Frontier, with 7-night itineraries to destinations from Juneau to Victoria, British Columbia

Ovation will return to Alaska in 2020 for her second consecutive season to offer cruises through the region’s untouched wilds on 7-night itineraries from Seattle, Washington.

Royal Caribbean receives permission to sail to Glacier Bay

In:
Category: 
29Mar2019

The National Park Services has awarded a new ten-year concession contract to Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd to provide cruise ship services in Glacier Bay National Park, beginning October 1, 2019.

Royal Caribbean has been awarded access to Glacial Bay for the upcoming 2019-2029 cruise seasons by the National Park Service (NPS).  Every ten years NPS contracts are awarded allowing selected cruise lines to operate with the the Park.  Each cruise is allowed a specific number of visits in the Alaska summer cruise season plus additional visits in the Alaska shoulder cruise season, including May and September.

The Parks Service asked each cruise line detailed questions about the impact its ships would have on the park's ecosystem. A panel of technical experts reviewed each proposal package submitted by various cruise lines, and Royal Caribbean was among seven cruises lines that were awarded a contract.

"We are excited to welcome seven cruise lines to Glacier Bay. The very competitive process resulted in some of the highest cruise tourism environmental standards and best visitor experience quality seen in the world," said park superintendent Philip Hooge.

Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska's Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site—one of the world’s largest international protected areas. 

Video: Alaska cruise mistakes to avoid!

In:
07Feb2019

Are you planning a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska and looking to avoid some easy pitfalls? After taking our first cruise to Alaska, we have a few of the things we wish we did differently.

A cruise to Alaska should be at the top of any cruisers' must-do list, and we loved our time visiting the Last Frontier, but we definitely learned a few lessons from our first Alaskan cruise. For our next cruise, we will definitely change things up and we are sharing our lessons learned in this brand new Royal Caribbean Blog video!

And if you love this video, we have lots of other great cruise videos to watch on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single episode!

If you have cruised to Alaska, what mistakes would you avoid the next time? Share your ideas in our comments!

Top 10 tips for planning your Alaska cruise

In:
Category: 
17Jan2019

If there is a cruise destination worthy of anyone's bucket list, it has to be Alaska. Royal Caribbean is one of the biggest cruise operators that offers regular service to Alaska and it is one of the top destinations in cruising today.

Here are the fundamentals of planning a cruise to Alaska to kickstart your approach and ensure a great trip to the last—and vast—great frontier.

Invest in clothing essentials

Even though your Royal Caribbean cruise will take you to Alaska during the warmer months of the year, it can get downright cold (and wet) during your Alaska cruise.

Given its northerly position and varied geography—from mountains and oceans to glaciers and tundra—you can experience several microclimates in a short amount of time, which can mean extreme temperatures in one place, and mild conditions in the next.

There are plenty of great packing choices to consider, but here are the top things to have before heading to Alaska:

Pro tip: If buying an all-new wardrobe sounds expensive, consider buying clothes on eBay.  A quality jacket is an especially costly item, but buying a gently used one from eBay can save lots, especially for kids.

Pick the right cabin (without overpaying)

One of the lessons we learned from our first Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska was that while a balcony cabin is nice to have, it is not nearly as essential as others lead us to believe.

If a balcony stateroom is in your budget, then definitely book one and enjoy the opportunity to have a private area to enjoy the natural beauty of Alaska anytime you see fit.  There is no denying having that easy access and private space, especially when near a glacier is a lovely perk.

However, you can still have an amazing Alaska cruise by depending on public areas to enjoy the view.  Royal Caribbean's ships feature ample deck space to enjoy the view, any time of the day.  Even when near a glacier, you ought to find great viewing opportunities.  Moreover, the price of a balcony room may be so much more expensive from a interior room, that we think it is a better investment to book the cheaper room and use the money saved to invest in an amazing shore excursion.

The bottom line is consider all room categories, but do not assume you have to get a balcony room.

Pro tip: If possible, book your stateroom as early as you can.  Prices for Alaska cruises tend to only go up over time, so book early.

Book your excursions in advance

An Alaska cruise places extra emphasis on the importance of your shore excursions.  Traveling to Alaska means getting out there and experiencing the natural wonders on foot!

Unlike Caribbean cruises where you can largely "wing it" when it comes to making on shore plans, you definitely want to research and plan your shore excursions ahead of time.  There are a ton of excursion choices, both from Royal Caribbean and third-party providers, so you will need time to consider each one and read about what others have done.

Be aware that some excursions can, and do, fill up. So if there are any that you know you definitely want to do, be sure to sign up in advance online.

Pro tip: You can get first-hand shore excursion reviews and recommendations from other blog readers in our Shore Excursions message board.

Research local food

One big mistake we made on our Alaska cruise was not taking the time to research where to eat in the various ports you visit. Alaska has some amazing local cuisine, but there are a lot of pretenders alongside the great stuff.

Each port you visit will take you to some terrific spots to eat, so don't rely purely on your Yelp app once in town.  Figure out the restaurants and bars you want to go to before you leave home, especially if you are interested in enjoying the best crab, salmon and beers of Alaska.

Try not to worry about the weather

News flash: it will rain while you are in Alaska, but it is also not the end of the world.

Weather forecasts do not always match you will experience. Be prepared for changing weather daily. Be prepared with varying clothing options (i.e. wear layers).  And when it does rain, just give it a few minutes, it generally does not last long. Take it all in. And remember, many excursions go rain or shine!

Pro tip: Despite the rain, do not pack an umbrella. Instead, make sure there’s a hood on your all-weather jacket. And it is worth noting that a hood takes up far less space than an umbrella, leaving more room for your gear and adventure essentials.

Bring binoculars

Alaska is all about what you see around you, and often the very best of Alaska's natural beauty and wildlife is best seen through a pair of binoculars.

You do not need to go crazy with the fanciest binocular on the market, but being able to zoom in on a bald eagle resting, or sea lions swimming is worth every penny of a binocular.

Fly into your departure port a day early

This tip can be applied to any cruise vacation, but flying into your departure port (Seattle or Vancouver) at least one day early is a really, really good idea.

If you are flying in from somewhere east, you will have to contend with a long flight and a different time zone.  Getting in a day early allows you to rest up before a busy first day on your cruise, along with more time to adjust the time zone change.

Pro tip: Speaking of your embarkation port, pick a hotel nearby the many local attractions so you can explore these exciting and beautiful cities.

Take advantage of port lectures

Royal Caribbean offers complimentary lectures presented by higher education staff on the history and culture of the ports your cruise will visit.

It is easy to overlook these type of offerings with so many other activities and things to do onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise but do yourself a favor and check these out. The lectures provided onboard offer important context for the adventures you will take on shore later in your visit.

These lectures may not offer money saving tips or pitfalls to avoid, but they do offer the kind of insider look at these ports that I think helps improve your appreciation of each city when you go to visit them later.

Alaska cruises are not like Caribbean cruises

 

If you are used to cruising in the Caribbean, going to Alaska is going to surprise you in some ways with the different approach and experience it offers.

Cruising to Alaska is a port intensive itinerary with shore excursions that cost significantly more money and far fewer party events.  Unlike the Caribbean where the places you visit can sometimes be secondary, an Alaska cruise is all about where you visit and the onboard experience can almost become an afterthought. 

Pro tip: Always walk off the ship when in any port you visit. Even if you have nothing booked, be sure to get off the ship at every port. Sometimes the piers are a little longer in Alaska but the port towns are pretty small and easily walkable making them nice for self-guided tours. 

Consider a cruisetour

In addition to the cruises, Royal Caribbean offers expanded journeys into Alaska with its cruisetour program.

A Royal Caribbean cruise tour will take you to even more incredible destinations that no cruise ship can visit. From the coastline to the heart of the frontier, a Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruisetour land and sea package delivers all the must-see sights by ship, train, and multi-night land tour. 

Either before or after your Royal Caribbean cruise, you can book a cruise tour that combines a cruise and a land tour, which usually runs three to seven nights. Popular destinations include Denali National Park (for wildlife viewing), Talkeetna (best place for Denali views) and Fairbanks (Alaska pipeline). 

Every Royal Caribbean Alaska Cruisetour includes knowledgeable Adventure Specialists who act as guides, historians and concierges. They are by your side for the entirety of the land tour, providing insider tips and local perspective.

Your thoughts

What are your top Alaska cruise tips? Share them or any questions you have about these tips in the comments!

Royal Caribbean planning its biggest deployment ever to Alaska in 2020

In:
07Nov2018

Royal Caribbean announced today it plans to send three ships to Alaska in 2020, marking the cruise line’s biggest presence in the region yet.

Ovation of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas and Serenade of the Seas will offer sailings to The Last Frontier in 2020. Before arriving to the Last Frontier, Ovation and Radiance will island-hop along Hawaii, while Serenade sails the Panama Canal and Golden Coast on her way west. 

Ovation of the Seas will return for its second consecutive season to offer 7-night itineraries from Seattle, Wash. 

For the first time since 2009, Serenade of the Seas will head west as it repositions from a winter in the sunny Southern Caribbean to Vancouver, British Columbia, making 2020 Royal Caribbean’s first summer season with three ships in Alaska. Serenade will sail 7-night itineraries through the 500 miles of shoreline that is the Inside Passage, calling on Ketchikan, Juneau and Icy Strait Point, Alaska.

Radiance of the Seas will once again offer 7-night, open-jaw itineraries between Vancouver and Seward, Alaska.

In repositioning to their seasonal summer homeports, all three ships will chart their own course through exotic and off-the-beaten-path locales to discover cultural treasures. Serenade of the Seas will sail through one of the largest and legendary engineering projects ever undertaken as she makes her way from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to Los Angeles, Calif. on a 15-night Westbound Panama Canal sailing departing May 4, 2020. Along the journey, guests can encounter the charming cultures of Central America with visits to Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. On May 19, 2020, Serenade will then head over to Vancouver, British Columbia to navigate the Pacific Coast on a 7-night sailing.

Both Ovation and Radiance of the Seas will say aloha to the islands of Hawaii. Ovation will embark on its 12-night cruise from Honolulu, visiting Maui (Lahaina), Kailua Kona and Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, on May 7, 2020. Also sailing from Honolulu and departing on May 5, 2020, Radiance will offer a 10-night itinerary to the Last Frontier with ports of call including Maui (Lahaina), Kailua Kona, Hilo and Kauai (Nawiliwili), Hawaii.

Royal Caribbean’s 2020 Alaska cruises open for bookings on Thursday, Nov. 8; Crown & Anchor Society loyalty members are able to book one day prior.

Royal Caribbean releases 2020 Alaska and Hawaii sailings

In:
05Nov2018

UPDATE: While the sailings appear on Royal Caribbean's website, the sailings do not appear to be bookable.

Royal Caribbean's website is now showing 2020 Alaska and Hawaii sailings are viewable on the website.

While no official announcement has been made, we were able to browse the Royal Caribbean website to see and book the new sailings.

There will be three ships sailing to Alaska in 2020.

Ovation of the Seas will offer a 12-night sailing from Honolulu to Vancouver on May 7, 2020, before starting 7-night roundtrip Alaska Glacier cruises from Seattle, Washington that will begin later in May 2020. Following her Alaska season, Ovation will sail a 10-night Hawaii cruise from Vancouver to Honolulu.

Radiance of the Seas will first sail from Honolulu, Hawaii to Vancouver in May 2020, prior to offering 9-night Destination Denali open-jaw sailings between Vancouver, British Columbia and Seward, Alaska. She will also offer 10-night and 13-night open-jaw sailings between Seward, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia (optionally in both directions). Radiance of the Seas will offer a 10-night Hawaii cruise  from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Hawaii in September 2020.

By August 2020, Serenade of the Seas will offer primarily 7-night roundtrip Alaska Glacier cruises from Vancouver, British Columbia. Serenade of the Seas will offer a 11-night Hawaii cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia to Honolulu, Hawaii in September 2020.

Be sure to consult the Royal Caribbean website or your travel professional for further assistance with itinerary options and booking.

Excursion Focus: Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp in Juneau, Alaska

In:
Category: 
17Jul2018

Do you like cute puppies? Do you like playing with cute puppies.  You have satisfied the prerequisites for the Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp shore excursion.

That is essentially what we thought when we booked the Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp excursion on a recent Explorer of the Seas cruise to Alaska.  While browsing the Juneau shore excursions, we decided to conduct some serious scientific research and spend a couple of hours playing with puppies...and maybe learning something or two about the Iditarod race.

Description

There are many different shore excursions in Alaska that incorporate dog sledding into them, but if all you want to do is focus just on the dog sled aspect and play with puppies, this is the excursion for you.

The Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp tour is offered directly by Royal Caribbean, and can be booked prior to the cruise or once onboard.

After disembarking the ship in Juneau, we found our group meeting location in the parking lot adjacent to the pier area.  Once everyone arrived, we boarded a small bus that would take us on the roughly 10-15 minute ride to the dog sledding camp.

The camp is located on the outskirts of Juneau, Alaska.  We visited a real dog sledding camp, where when the operators are not offering tours to cruise passengers, they are training for dog sled races that will take place in the winter.

Upon arrival, our group was split up to maximize our time and minimize standing around and waiting.  There are three basic components to the Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp excursion:

  1. Riding the dog sled
  2. Learning about dog sled races
  3. Playing with puppies

In our case, we started off with the dog sled experience while the other people in our group met the puppies.  Later on, we would switch.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no snow in the ground in the summer in Alaska, so the dogs practice pulling a cart that is meant to evoke the same experience as a dog sled.  A group of dogs pull the cart around a track that goes through a large portion of the forest.  

You are seated in the cart, get buckled in, and are lead by a dog sled musher.  The musher explains how the races work, describes the nuances of dog sledding and how the dogs train for the race, and takes you and the dogs out on the track.

The entire race portion takes you around the track, with a break along the way for the dogs.  The track area goes through a heavily wooded part of the camp and it is quite lovely and beautiful to be in there.  Meanwhile, the dogs seem to relish the thrill of the race.

Along the way, the musher will take photos of you in the cart while you remain seated. 

After the race concludes, you get a chance to meet and pet the dogs that pulled you.  The make up of the dog team will vary from experienced dogs who tend to lead the pack, to the inexperienced and brand new dogs that pull up the rear of the team.  

After the dog sled portion, there is an opportunity to learn more about dog sled racing. 

You learn about the history of the Iditarod race, and how dog sledding has evolved to where it is today.  On our visit, we also had an opportunity to meet a retired dog sled racer, who is now quite content laying around and being petted by strangers.

The camp also features a suspension bridge for taking photos.

Following the lesson in dog sledding, it was time for the pièce de résistance, the puppies!

On our visit there were three sets of puppies of different ages: very young puppies, young puppies, and adolescent puppies.

A member of the camp team will distribute puppies to people in the group. Ultimately, it is up to your fellow excursioneers to share time with the puppies and pass them around.

You can pet them, hold them, take selfies with them, hug them and likely try to convince your significant other/parent/cousin/uncle to adopt a puppy as soon as you get home.

During the puppy petting time, there is also complimentary hot chocolate you may enjoy.

Comments

Just as the excursion promises, this is an opportunity to see, play and pet puppies.  I was a bit skeptical about how many puppies there would be (as opposed to older dogs), but they had quite a few and it lived up to the expectations.

The race part of the tour was better than I thought it would be, with a sense of exhilaration as we raced around the track.  These dogs are the real deal and at the very hint of going on a race, they would all start howling and barking in euphoric anticipation of what they knew what was coming next.  

Of course, meeting the puppies is what everyone is really there to see, and it is quite the experience.

The only real issue with meeting the puppies is it is wholeheartedly dependent on your fellow guests to share and be gracious with time.  There is a limited amount of time with each group of puppies, and in our experience, there were definitely some people who tended to hold onto the puppies longer than others. There is no guidance given on time, nor is there any kind of rule.  Just keep in mind that there are not enough puppies for everyone to have one at the same time, and so, whoever does not have a puppy is likely looking longingly at the people with the puppies for a turn.  Be kind and rewind, err, share the puppies.

I liked how they split up the group at the start of the excursion to minimize the time we spent waiting.  It helped keep everything moving, and when it came time to meet the puppies, having less people to compete with meant more quality time with the dogs.

Our tour clocked in at two hours, which was just the perfect amount of time, in my opinion.  We had enough time to do everything without having that feeling of, "when are we going to start the next part already?".

As mentioned earlier, there are a few different excursions offered that incorporate this experience into the total tour.  If you are looking to just meet the puppies, this is the tour for you.  If you want to meet puppies and do some other touring, consider one of the other tours.  We ended up touring on our own after this excursion, but it is important to know there are other excursions in Juneau and Skagway that offer very similar experiences.

Cost: $127 per adult and $127 per child (our three year old daughter was free).

Excursion Focus: Yukon Hummer Adventure in Skagway, Alaska

In:
Category: 
09Jul2018

Exploring the vast wilderness of Alaska can take you to so many places along the way, and Royal Caribbean offers one way to do in some serious style.

On a recent stop in Skagway, Alaska on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we tried out the Yukon Hummer Adventure so that we could not only see large swaths of Alaska and the Yukon Territory, but do it in a really fun way.

Description

The Yukon Hummer Adventure is a 4 hour tour that takes you from Skagway deep into the heart of the Yukon Territory in Canada.   Your group gets to drive a 4-wheel-drive Hummer H3 as part of a caravan that will see a lot of the countryside.

We booked our excursion directly with Royal Caribbean and took an early time to ensure we had time after the tour to explore Skagway upon return.  The tour cost us $152 per adult and $104 for our 7-year-old daughter.  We are pretty sure nearly all of that cost pays for the gas for the H3. 

A representative from the tour company will meet you at the end of the pier and provide van transportation to the tour departure point.  Here, you hop into a H3 (4 people per vehicle), do a quick radio check and set out on the road.

The Hummers provided had some mileage on them (149k miles on the one we drove) but were in good working order.  The cars were comfortable and have an automatic transmission.  There is also climate control and a sun roof.  

All guests planning to drive must be at least 25 years old, bring a valid driver's license and name of insurance company, and must sign a liability/insurance waiver.  

Each car has a two-way radio that you can use to communicate during the drive.  The tour leader drives first, which everyone in the group following.  The tour leader regularly comes on the radio to share driving strategies, point out animals, and provide history of the region, the gold rush, and what life is like there today.

During the tour, you will reach White Pass Summit and pass through subalpine terrain, en route to the narrow Caribou crossing at the headwaters of the Yukon River and see Emerald Lake.

We made a few stops along the way, which include

  • The Yukon Territory welcome sign
  • Emerald Lake
  • Village of Carcross, Yukon Territory
  • The Alaska welcome sign (on the return trip)

The exact route you go on will depend on road and weather conditions.  We also stopped to see a bear that was alongside the road.  We would have made more stops for wildlife, such as moose or porcupine, but we never saw any.

Since this excursion crosses the U.S.-Canadian border, guests must carry their passport, and if applicable, their visa.

Comments

We booked the Yukon Hummer Adventure because it allowed us to cross off two bucket list items: see lots of the countryside in and around Alaska, and drive a Hummer.  We certainly accomplished both.

Much of the tour is conducted as you drive, and there is a lot of places along the way that you will see, but will not have time to stop at and explore.  In order to reach Carcross and Emerald Lake, much of the tour time is required in getting back and forth.

When you do stop, there are often beautiful vistas to enjoy and the kind of scenery you might imagine Alaska and the Yukon are known for historically.  I certainly would have liked to have made a few more stops on the way at other spots, but I did feel we saw a lot more of the Yukon than anyone else on similar tours.  Seeing the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes, even at 55 miles per hour, is better than not seeing them at all.

Our tour guide briefed us early on the tour about what to do when we see a bear, and I was very happy we did find one along the way but that was the extent of the wildlife on the tour that we spotted.  Obviously which animals you see or do not see is left to chance, but it is worth noting that our driver was willing to stop for other animals if they were spotted.

Driving the Hummer was very easy, and as someone who does not know how to drive a manual transmission, it was simple enough to operate the Hummer.  If you can drive a pick up truck or mini van, you can drive a H3. 

The best part of the tour is we covered so much ground and came across so many beautiful views along the way.  Being able to drive the H3 was also really fun, and I do believe half the appeal of this tour is you have to be excited to drive a Hummer in the first place. 

The two major stops along the way are Emerald Lake and Carcross.  Emerald Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake that is known for its intense green color.  It looks like it belongs in the Caribbean, and not in the sub arctic.

Carcross is a small village just before Emerald Lake and you will have your longest stop.  There was just enough time to use the restroom and grab coffee and a snack.  I would have loved to have had an additional half hour to explore the town a bit more.

More time is really at the heart of my only complaint about the tour.  You spend a vast majority of the time doing exactly what the tour promises: driving a Hummer.  While neat and a great way to inflate your manly ego, I can think of 3-4 places I really would have liked to visit along the way.  It should be noted you can book a private tour with the tour operator and basically go wherever you want, as an alternative for those that also like the idea of exploring on foot and driving an awesome car along the way.

Our tour guide, Ben, was very helpful and conveyed the story of the gold rush and life in Skagway and the Yukon today.  Ben was insightful, knowledgeable and happy to help take photos at any stop.  

Overall, we had a great time seeing a lot of Alaska and Canada on this tour.  If the idea of driving a Hummer and exploring the Yukon sounds like a great combination, then this is the tour for you.

Cost: $152 per adult, $104 per child. Children must be at least 5 years old. Booster seats are available.

6 mistakes & 3 things we did right on our Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska

In:
Category: 
03Jul2018

We had a fantastic Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska.  So much so, it was the kind of cruise vacation that met and exceeded all of our expectations.  As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and looking back on our first Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska, here are six mistakes we made and three great choices during the cruise.

The mistakes

Assuming a balcony room is a necessity

If you read any blog post, feature article or message board post about taking a cruise to Alaska, nearly everyone seems to talk about the importance of booking a balcony stateroom.  So much so that it makes it seem like not booking a balcony stateroom is a mistake.

Over the seven nights of our Alaska cruise, we stayed in a Junior Suite balcony stateroom and it was a spacious room with some nice perks associated with it.  However, I really do not feel that staying in a balcony stateroom is the must-do that everyone makes it out to be.

To be fair, having a balcony stateroom is very nice and I enjoyed walking out whenever I pleased to enjoy the scenery.  Having walked the ship, I felt there were numerous and ample opportunities to enjoy the scenery passing by without a need for a balcony room.

By far the best time for seeing the most compelling scenery is during the Tracy Arm fjords morning, culminating with a marvelous glacier.  

The ship does 360 degree spins to provide everyone with a view of the glacier and surrounding area.  If you rely purely on your balcony, you will miss out on a great deal of the viewing time.  Moreover, the public decks are not that crowded.  I surveyed the crowd on the helipad, pool deck and aft FlowRider area and in all cases, it was quite easy to walk up and snag a spot.

Booking a balcony room is not a mistake by any means, but when you consider how much more a balcony room will cost versus one of the interior rooms, saving a lot of money and opting for an interior room (money that can be spent later on some really amazing excursions) is a fantastic idea.

Booking CityPass in Seattle

Before and after our cruise, we wanted to get a good sampling of what the city of Seattle, Washington has to offer.  It seemed as though the CityPass option was perfect.  For one low cost, you could experience up to 5 popular Seattle attractions and save quite a bit of money.

There are two reasons why I believe buying a CityPass was a mistake for us.

First, we underestimated the amount of time we would need to do it all.  I really thought between the day we flew into Seatle before the cruise and the day after we got off the ship we would have more than enough time to visit all the attractions included with the CityPass.  Between the travel fatigue of getting into Seattle and the post-cruise fatigue, the reality was we needed more time to see it all (in addition to meals and catching up on sleep).  Moreover, some of the museums included in the CityPass were less than our favorite uses of time (the science museum and aquarium were great, but the Museum of Pop Culture was a dud).

If you happen to be spending more than 3 days in Seattle, it can be a decent money saving option.  Just keep in mind that while it includes five attractions, they are all not made equally.

Not spending more time at Mendenhall Glacier Park

When we planned our day in Juneau, we leaned heavily on the guided tours available. We had a great time learning about the Iditarod race and of course meeting and petting some really cute puppies. However, I wish we had spent much more time at Mendenhall Glacier Park.

I had no idea how close you can get by simply taking a taxi to the park and walking on one of the many easy to navigate trails and get an amazing view of this natural wonder. I am by no means an outdoors man, hiker or park kind of guy. Getting the mail in the summer afternoon is what I consider to be on par with Lewis and Clark’s survey of the Louisiana Territory. I found the Nuggets Fall trail to be very easy to walk and my kids loved seeing what was just around the next corner.

If I could go back again, I would grab a taxi and head straight to Mendenhall Glacier Park and walk the trails and enjoy the incredible scenery. There simply was not enough time for my liking on this go around and I would advocate anyone visiting Juneau to plan on lots of time at this park.

Not researching where to eat in port

In each port we visited, we spent a lot of time figuring out which excursion to try but no time researching the best local restaurants to dine at. The result was we ended up in good, but not great restaurants.

The ports of Seattle, Juneau, Skagway and even Victoria have a reputation for fresh seafood and while many establishments offer it, I think it is safe to say everyone wants to experience the best while on this kind of a trip.

I relied too heavily on simply pulling up my Yelp app to guide me, but there are a lot of choices and it is hard to know which spots really offer the best seafood, and which offer the okay or good stuff. 

My advice is to figure out which local food you are most interested in and finding a couple of options in each port to visit.  There are a lot of restaurants, but I know we probably ate at a few tourist duds rather than the real deal.

Not renting a car after the cruise

We planned a few days in Seattle after our cruise to explore more of the city.  Since Explorer of the Seas returned on a Friday, we had a built in weekend after the cruise to explore.  I wish I had taken the first day back to explore Seattle, and then rented a car to be able to go beyond the city limits.

Seattle offers a lot to see and do, but there is a ton very close as well.  The Boeing Factory, city of Vancouver and nearby national parks are wonderful places to visit and by the second day in Seattle, I felt like we were going to attractions that were nice, but nearly as compelling as the others I listed.

Moreover, renting a car would have included the cost of getting from our Seattle hotel to the airport, so it would not have been a major additional cost to spring for the rental car.

Not attending the lectures on the ports

Royal Caribbean offered complimentary lectures presented by higher education staff on the history and culture of the ports we visited, and I wish I had attended these.

As is often the case on Royal Caribbean cruises, we each must juggle the multitude of activities offered onboard (in addition to the ever tempting nap), and unlike a Caribbean itinerary, the lectures provided onboard offer important context for the adventures you will take on shore later in your visit.

These lectures may not offer money saving tips or pitfalls to avoid, but they do offer the kind of insider look at these ports that I think helps improve your appreciation of each city when you go to visit them later.  The other guests on my cruise that did attend these lectures reported back having a better understanding of the history and significance of various landmarks and institutions they would see in port. I think it is far more valuable to know about why the places you visit are important rather than trying to learn and appreciate at the same time.

Things we did right

Bought jackets on eBay

Unless you live in a particularly cold climate to begin with, more than likely you will find yourself buying a lot of clothing to be prepared for an Alaska cruise. One of the mantras of packing for an Alaska cruise is to layer your clothing.

Fleece and waterproof jackets are the bread and butter of layering, but you will find these type of jackets to be pricey (especially the name brand ones).

I have two kids (ages 7 and 3) that needed jackets and I really did not want to invest a lot of money on outerwear that they would quickly outgrow. Moreover, living in Florida means it was not like we would get a whole lot of additional use out of them after the trip.

Buying our kids jackets and my own fleece jacket on eBay saved us so much money. A North Face waterproof jacket and Columbia waterproof jacket cost just $50 total. My North Face black fleece jacket came in at just $13. We saved hundreds of dollars by going this route.

In many cases, it was clear people had bought these expensive jackets for a trip and now have no use for them anymore. When it comes to kids especially, the shelf life of clothing is quite short before they are too small and I am really glad I saved money with this idea.

Moving around the ship in Tracy Arm

As I mentioned earlier, we had a Junior Suite balcony on our Explorer of the Seas cruise to Alaska, which meant we had a private spot to enjoy the view in Tracy Arm. As the glacier started to slip from view due to the ship’s rotation, I wanted to see more and decided to see how crowded it was elsewhere on the ship.

To my surprise, the public decks were not that crowded. I found a one person deep crowd at any given area and it proved to be quite easy to get a spot of my own once someone else moved on.

Not only was it easy to get a spot along the railing to see the glacier, it meant I got more time seeing the glacier and surrounding beauty. Keep in mind that your time viewing the glacier is quite limited, so by moving around the ship to see the glacier on my own, I greatly multiplied my viewing opportunity.

Taking my kids

After booking my Alaska cruise, some people asked if I was bringing my kids with us.  I was kind of surprised to hear that question, because I knew it mostly likely came about because going to Alaska is quite expensive and how much will a 7 and 3 year old really get out of the experience.

Bringing my kids with us was a great decision for many reasons.  First, I believe good parenting starts with providing positive learning experiences for children.  Anywhere we take them, including vacations, should be about surrounding them in a positive environment where they can create memories that will guide them for the rest of their life. 

Second, the shore excursions in Alaska are vastly different than ones in the Caribbean.  While going to the beach or renting a boat is also a positive experience they enjoy, our tours in Alaska took us to places they only saw in books iPads and movies.  We often tell them our day trips at home are a kind of adventure, but taking them to Alaska was a true journey.

There is no point in arguing the fact that leaving the kids at home would have saved us thousands of dollars, but the memories we make as a family are so important to me, because it is my own memories of travelling with my parents and sisters years ago that I believe fostered my own drive to visit the world via a cruise ship.

Your thoughts

What do you think about the mistakes and successes from my first Alaska cruise? If you have cruised to or visited Alaska, what mistakes do you feel you made? Any questions for those taking or considering an Alaska cruise? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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