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Alaska on a Budget: Cheap and Free Things to Do in Port
Everything's bigger in Alaska. It's twice the size of Texas, the natural beauty is immense and prices for tourist staples are supersized, as well. That's because the cost of what you eat, drink or buy in Alaskan ports reflects the cost of getting it there. Then there are the shore excursions. Tours in Alaska tend to be more expensive than you'd find in the Caribbean because tour operators have to shoulder the costs of operating in the United States (minimum wage, insurance, etc.) and many excursions traverse long distances by bus or even plane, boat or train and include a meal (salmon bake, anyone?), all of which increase the cost. The good news? It's definitely doable to have a memorable time without busting your vacation budget. Read on for the bargain-price -- or free! -- experiences we found in the popular ports of Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia.
Whale Quest Juneau Whale-Watching Excursion Review
Alaska is one of the world's premiere destinations for wildlife, and a cruise here offers plentiful opportunities through shore excursions to spot native creatures in their natural habitat. A prime example is in Juneau, where humpback whales are so common that sightings on whale-watching day cruises are typically a guarantee (or your money back). We tried a Juneau whale-watching and Mendenhall Glacier excursion to see if these incredible mammals do, in fact, join the tour.
Canada's Rocky Mountaineer Train: A Perfect Alaska Cruise Extension
Anyone looking to explore the staggering landscapes of Western Canada should consider a pre- or post-Alaska cruise extension on the Rocky Mountaineer train. Rocky Mountaineer operates a handful of two- and three-day rail journeys, including service from the cruise departure cities of Vancouver and Seattle. You will be awed by the sheer scale of the mountain ranges, rushing rivers, waterfalls and miles of ever-changing wilderness -- from the comfort of your coach seat. The cruise-and-rail packages sold through the Rocky Mountaineer website are in partnership with Holland America Line voyages. However, Rocky Mountaineer also partners with multiple cruise lines, such as Cunard, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Azamara and Viking Cruises, which sell packages bundling a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer train with a sailing to Alaska. If you're looking to board the train but not sure where to start, we've broken down where you can go, what packages you can buy and what you can expect onboard the Rocky Mountaineer.
Alaska Cruise Tips
Alaska is an intriguing, culturally diverse destination with thousands of miles of scenic coastline that make it a natural draw for cruise ships. Each of the ports offers a different perspective on life in the most northerly U.S. state. Ketchikan is a center for several Alaska Native cultures, Skagway is Gold Rush-era oriented, Petersburg reflects its Norwegian heritage, while Sitka touts Russian and Alaska Native ties. Cruise travelers enjoy the history and the frontier ambience of the 49th state, but its wildlife and scenery are the main attractions. Towering mountains, massive glaciers, tranquil (and sometimes turbulent) waterways, countless acres of rainforest and Arctic tundra are the magnets for cruise passengers. Whales, eagles, bears, moose, seals and seabirds may be seen from your ship, in port or on a shore tour. Alaska's biggest shortcoming is the weather. By booking an Alaska cruise, travelers are likely to be trading in a week of warmer weather at home for the possibility of gray or rainy days and chilly midsummer temps. Helicopter and float plane tours are regularly canceled for imperfect conditions, and no tour can guarantee wildlife viewings. But, if you're willing to be flexible and take your chances, a visit to Alaska will not disappoint. Booked? Find your Roll Call to see who's sailing with you.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.