An Alaska cruise is a bucket-list trip for travelers who love the great outdoors. Cruise ships typically sail weeklong northbound and southbound trips, often between Seattle or Vancouver and Anchorage. Expect to find unbelievable scenery along the way, at points such as Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay, not to mention deliciously fresh seafood. It's the voyage of a lifetime -- and you'll want to make sure your experience is the best that it can be. Here's how to do just that:
Book sooner rather than later.
As winter morphs into spring, more vacationers will be shoring up their summer getaway plans. By mid-spring availability and cabin choices will dry up, leaving slim pickings if you have a certain stateroom category in mind. As of this past week, we still found some good options. We particularly liked Princess Cruises' seven-night Voyage of the Glaciers cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage aboard Pacific Princess in early July. Inside cabins start at $799 per person, based on double occupancy -- that's a good rate for a high-season departure on a premium cruise line. The big message here: If you're looking to sail this summer, we suggest booking right now.
Look to shoulder season if you're on a tight budget.
May and September departures offer the best pricing. During these months, temperatures are lower than in June, July and August, and so are the costs. Upmarket line Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Solstice sails a six-night voyage in early May northbound from Vancouver, with rates starting at $799 per person. For comparison, the same cruise in mid-July will cost $1,179 per person -- then falls to $1,000 in early September. But even better? For this coming week only, one of ShermansTravel's weekly Top 25 Deals gives you the chance to nab Celebrity Millennium's six-night Alaska cruise for $544 (about $300 off). And if the nice prices aren't enough to convince you, there's the fact that avoiding the high summer season also means avoiding the bigger crowds in port.
Add a land tour.
There's so much nature and adventure off the coast in Alaska, which is why combining a sailing with a land tour is highly recommended. Several lines offer this option, including Holland America, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International. Denali National Park is the favorite add-on for cruises that begin or end in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Holland America's cruise-tour options include a seven-day northbound cruise from Vancouver followed by two nights in Denali, plus sightseeing in Anchorage and Fairbanks. In mid-June, this 12-day cruise-tour aboard the line's Zaandam starts at $1,749 per person.
Pack the right clothes.
The weather in Alaska is tricky. On mid-summer days, expect temps to reach the mid-60s along the coast. In the evenings, you'll want a sweater or jacket. Planning to dress in layers is a good idea in general, so be sure to pack lightweight as well as warm clothing. A rain jacket or windbreaker with a hood is a must all season, as are walking shoes or hiking boots. Finally, know that it can get chilly in May and September, with daytime highs in the low- to mid-50s.
Sign up for excursions early.
There's nothing more disappointing on an Alaska cruise than finding out that the shore excursions that you hoped to take are sold out. After all, Alaska cruises are all about experiencing the destination, and shore excursions will sell out fast. Be sure to make your selections as soon as possible after booking the cruise, so that when you board the ship your excursion tickets will be waiting for you in your cabin.