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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.
Best Alaska Shore Excursions
Alaska is one of those places where you want to get off the beaten path and experience the landscape -- the "real" Alaska. Luckily, the cruise lines make it easy with shore excursions that range from the sublime to the extreme -- from a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to see the beautiful scenery to a hike in crampons atop a pristine glacier. Recognizing that the Alaska demographic is fairly broad, cruise and excursion companies offer active itineraries -- hiking, biking and kayaking -- in addition to tours for history-lovers, those interested in native culture and those looking for pure entertainment -- like the Lumberjack Show or Duck Tours in Ketchikan. There is truly something for every taste. Here are our favorite Alaska shore excursions among the copious offerings.
Small Ships in Alaska: A Guide to Cruising Off the Beaten Path
While many cruisers have their first glimpse of Alaska only through bigger ports such as Ketchikan and Skagway, there have always been those who want to take the route less traveled through the Inside Passage. Enter small ships. Able to dock in isolated bays and tiny cities like Petersburg and Wrangell, small ships provide more intensive -- and usually more expensive -- ways to explore Alaska's coast. Life onboard an Alaska small ship, which typically carries fewer than 100 passengers, is a far more relaxed experience than you find on a standard cruise. You wake up to the sound of birds instead of noise from the balcony next door. Your days consist of kayaking or hiking, rather than shopping and taking helicopter tours. Evenings are spent reading in your room or listening to a naturalist talk. And there's no need to buy a new cocktail dress, although you might spend just as much on outdoor gear. Fortunately for adventurous travelers eager to embark on Alaska expeditions, several cruise companies offer these intimate, nature-focused experiences. Even better, the lines are expanding their fleets, as well as their itinerary and excursion offerings. Here's a look at Alaska's small ship cruises and where they're going.
Compare: 12 Cruise Ships in Alaska
It's hard not to revert to hyperbole with Alaska. Here lie more than enough towering snow-capped mountains, breathtaking calving glaciers, extraordinary wild animals and quirky (if overtrafficked) frontier towns to wow hundreds of thousands of cruisers annually. With more than two dozen mainstream ships plying Alaska's island-filled southeast region from May to September, passengers certainly have options. This chart features a representative from every major line in the mainstream and luxury markets, from the intimate and upscale Silver Shadow to new mega-ships like Norwegian Bliss. (For those who'd prefer to cruise with no more than 100 passengers, see our rundown of small-ship cruise lines in Alaska.) Each of the 12 ships, which were hand-picked based on their popularity among all cruise options in Alaska, caters to a different type of traveler. Families on a budget might find the most "bang for their buck" onboard Carnival Legend, while couples looking to splurge can pamper themselves with Crystal Symphony's lavish suites and all-inclusive fine dining. Familiarize yourself with the biggest contenders' itineraries, exclusive regional offerings and more to determine which is the best Alaska cruise option for you. Note: Click on a ship name to get more info and read hundreds of cruise reviews.
7 Places to Cruise Without a Passport
You've decided you want a vacation, but there's a problem -- you don't have a passport. Maybe you've never had the time, money or desire to travel abroad previously, or perhaps your old passport has expired. Whatever the reason, you still have choices. One option is to take a closed-loop cruise -- a round-trip sailing that leaves from and returns to the same U.S. port. For that, you need only a birth certificate and a driver's license (or other acceptable, government-issued photo ID). You can't cruise just anywhere on a closed-loop sailing, but the choices are more interesting than you might expect. Below, we've compiled a list of seven places to visit without a passport, from scenic Alaska to the beachy Caribbean.
Alaska Cruise Tour Tips
A voyage along Alaska's Inside Passage is a must-do for most cruisers -- but what about the rest of the state? The 49th State is so vast and so beautiful in its varied geography that a typical seven-night sailing just isn't enough to take it all in. Enter the cruise tour. These itineraries tack an overland trip onto the usual cruise, allowing passengers to leave the coast behind to explore Alaska's Interior. Central to all of these trips is Denali National Park, home of Denali -- North America's highest peak -- and numerous species of wildlife, including grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep and moose. Longer cruise tours not only take in Alaska wilderness gateways, such as Anchorage, Talkeetna and Fairbanks, but might also venture into Canada's Yukon Territory. There, towns like historic Dawson City, the epicenter of the Klondike Gold Rush, bring the story of the "Sourdoughs" to life. Another option is to travel through the Canadian Rockies, visiting natural wonders like Banff and Jasper (partially by train), and typically connecting with the ship in Vancouver. Still others take people south of Anchorage into the Kenai Peninsula, home to Seward (an active cruise port and access point for Kenai Fjords National Park) and Homer (a regional cultural capital); the peninsula is a sportsman's paradise for fishing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. The distances between towns in Alaska, Yukon and throughout the Canadian Rockies might look manageable on a map, but the sheer size of the area involved is deceiving. It takes eight hours on a train to get to Denali from Anchorage and another seven hours (or more) by bus from Dawson City to Whitehorse in the Yukon; a decent portion of a cruise tour is spent in transit. Yet the cruise lines do their best to make the hours pleasant. Operators such as Holland America and Princess have been providing these tours for many decades now, and their operations are well organized, with plenty of excursion options for all levels of fitness. Bags are spirited from hotel to hotel with ease, and you can even send suitcases ahead to the ship, in some cases. Even the longest of cruise tours won't get you through all of Alaska, though; the state could easily take a lifetime to explore. But a few days in the Interior will certainly give you a better perspective on what Alaska is all about, and you'll return with a new appreciation for what is still America's last frontier.
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.
11 Best Cruise Destinations for Active Cruise Travelers
You can get a workout on pretty much any cruise, but to maximize your adrenaline-pumping options, it's best to find the right combination of cruise ship and destination. Active cruise travelers will usually turn up at least a handful of shore experiences to whet their appetites for adventure, but if you're cruising with a sedentary lot, that city bike tour or rainforest hike might get canceled due to lack of interest. Likewise, certain ports simply don't lend themselves to athletic adventures, while others have so many active choices, it's hard to make up your mind. Below, we have listed our picks for the 11 best adventure cruise destinations for those who are active travelers, as well as our suggestions for the cruise lines that make the best matches. Just don't forget to pack your running shoes and snorkel gear.
What To Do When Bad Weather Ruins Your Cruise
In a cruise brochure, it's always a perfect sunny day. Happy families play on the beach, gasp as whales leap from the water or triumphantly scale mountains for million-dollar coastline views. Unfortunately, life doesn't always look like the brochure. Stormy seas, heavy downpours and thick fog can cancel active shore excursions, ruining plans for an outdoor adventure. But don't let Mother Nature get the best of you. Even in top adventure spots like the Caribbean, Alaska and Norway, there are still fun things to do, whatever's happening outside. Here are suggestions for how to make the most of a bad-weather day.