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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Denali Tundra Wilderness Bus Tour Excursion Review
Eight hours on a school bus? At first blush, the Denali Tundra Wilderness excursion isn't necessarily the most appealing option on an Alaska cruise tour. But, there are reasons this iconic experience is a must for travelers into the Alaskan interior. First off, Denali bus tours are the only way for people to get into the heart of Denali National Park (only a limited number of passenger cars win permits in an annual lottery system). And second, it's your ticket to exceptional wildlife viewing, with chances to see black and grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and more.
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.
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.