I had to learn the 'hard way'. However, I came out MUCH better for it. I felt/feel like a travel agent myself by the time our cruise came up. I am a very thorough person and want to provide Everything I learned concerning all aspects of the trip. I have written several reviews on Trip Advisor and spoke to them yesterday as I did not see certain catagories I wanted to write about so Trip Advisor advised me to go to their Forum and to cruise critic. I'm not the best person to know how to use a computer and will try to write on their Forum but since I'm here, I will share all I know. You can also view my posts for Juneau (Harv and Marv) INDEPENDENT BOOKING and Vancouver Eatery posted 7/17. My Reviews on 8/12 for Vancouver Hotel ( Renaissance Harborside). Now for some in depth info to plan your trip.
Without going into a lot of detail, unless you are a Disney, Castaway Club member, you can disregard the "date" to book shore excursions. What the Disney Vacation Planners (DCVP) fail to tell you, unless they've changed their policy is that one cannot Log In to do this UNTIL April. However, you will be much better off booking Independent Excursions regardless of what cruise you take.
I found booking our own (for family of 10, 6adults, 4 small children) allowed for:
1.More timeslot options 2.Smaller more personal group sizes 3.You book through the actual excursion sites receiving 1st hand knowledge . We can all read from what's on a piece of paper the cruise lines off. 4. You save lots of money booking your own excursions.
TRAVEL INSURANCE: I also researched and got my own. I can HIGHLY recommend Insure My Trip, they were great to work with and for my group of 3 families, I saved nearly $750 over the cruise rate.
TRANSPORTATION-Transfers: I booked independently from the suggestion of our hotel in Vancouver with: United Executive Transportation They were unbelievably good, on time, professional. I cannot say enough good things about them. We had a 14 passenger van that included 4 car seats for our little ones. Just tell them. We saved over $300 vs the cruise line transfers (Airport-hotel; hotel-ship, ship-airport)
Flight PURCHASES: Once you confirm your cruise "hold" IF you call an airline that far in advance you can save about $400 per ticket.
Now I will go back to Trip Advisor tomorrow and post reviews on the independent shore excursions for Skagway and Ketchikan . Hope this information is helpful.
See my notes under whale watching. Oh, Harv and Marv also take you to Mendenhall Glacier where you can stay long enough to take pictures of the glacier and H & M then take you back OR you can stay out at the glacier and ride the city bus back for a few dollars.
Harv & Marv took us there very nice. Could stay at our leisure or return to town with Harv & Marv Shuttle
Had a marvelous independently booked excursion with Harv and Marv: aboard Riptide with Brian as our captain. We saw lots of sealions and lots of whales, one breached 5 times!!! Harv and Marv took care of making ALL arrangements and bookings for our helicopter excursion with Coastal Helicopter...it's just all so easy to do yourself. ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL TOUR
The ships dock just across street from Lumberjack Show. A really fun family excursion that lasts 1hr, which gives you enough time to walk about 300yds and also take the Bearing Sea Fishing Tour.....ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. Booked directly with Shauna, she was something else!!! Kudos to her. She really went the extra mile making sure my family got everything we needed. We actually became very good email partners. She is the one that really sold me on doing both tours. On this excursion we had lots of hands on with all the crabs, prons, etc. which the kids loved. And oh my gosh, we fed eagles and took photos of hundreds of eagles. This was magnificent excursion.
A really neat 1hr family adventure. Lots of fun.
We booked independently with Chilkoot Tours: Yukon Rail & Bus Tour w/dog sled ride. It's always best to take the train up and bus ride down. We went into Yukon Territory and transferred to a SMALL 20 passenger mini van to Caribou Crossing for lunch and the Dogsled ride (we could have opted out for this which is optional). Great BBQ lunch, beautiful scenery and lots of photo stops up there and on way down mountain. On the train we passed 3 bears alongside the train and 2 caribou. The captain told us we were very lucky to see them.