Alaska is a once in a lifetime adventure, with natural beauty, wildlife and wilderness, and mountains and glaciers. And the best way to experience all Alaska has to offer is on an Alaskan cruise.
My husband wanted to go to Alaska for years before we made the trip in 2019. Our son stayed with his grandparents as we looked forward to this trip together. This is a great trip if you're looking for a grown-up getaway or a second honeymoon. So let's explore Alaska and all it's adventures that should not be missed!
Our Alaskan cruise departed from Seattle, Washington, so this was our first stop.
After a two-hour delay in Detroit on the runway, our plane finally landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 11:00 pm. We didn’t realize how long the lines would be to get a ride to the hotel. The Uber and Taxi lines were both pretty long. After talking with a driver waiting curbside for passengers, we decided to take this transportation route.
Tip #1 – When traveling (I would say anywhere) look into researching the transportation options from airport to hotel. The headache of trying to scramble for transportation when you arrive without knowing your options is not worth it. Knowing your options can let you plan ahead and hopefully avoid those long lines.
Once we got our transportation settled, we made our way to our hotel, The Belltown Inn, which is conveniently located in downtown Seattle. The next morning, we woke up ready to go. Since we didn’t have to be on the ship until Noon, we took the opportunity to visit and tour the Space Needle since we were within walking distance. It was an easy walk there as we already had directions printed out.
Tip #2 – When visiting a destination look up the directions on google maps to anywhere you may be visiting whether it be sightseeing, attractions, landmarks, or restaurants (if you’ll be walking, make sure you select that walking icon) before you leave home and print them out. Although most travelers have cell phones on hand equipped with GPS apps, it is always good to be prepared in the event that you lose coverage or your phone dies. This is something I always do and it has come in handy for me.
The iconic Seattle Space Needle came into view as we made our way on foot. There was so much to admire about the tower’s incredible design that we were able to enjoy the view from many angles.
The Space Needle, originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, “The Age of Space” theme, stands at 605’ tall.
Next, we made our way to the famous landmark with our tickets in hand.
Tip#3 – You can go onto the Space Needle website and purchase your tickets online ahead of time. By doing this, your tickets will be cheaper and you can skip the excruciating long lines. Keep in mind if you purchase your tickets ahead of time, you have to pick a designated time to enter the Space Needle.
Our adventure started with taking the elevator all the way to the top. Standing at the top of the Space Needle with floor to ceiling glass and a revolving floor brings thrilling 360° panoramic views of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, the cityscape, and Olympic and Cascades mountain ranges.
Included with your ticket is a digital photo that can be taken by the many cameras positioned outside and around the Space Needle. Have some fun with it—take a nice family photo, one of just the kids, a couple photo, or a solo picture.
If you are afraid of heights, you might be tempted to skip this experience. Don’t. It's worth it for the views. The safe observation deck at the top has walls and benches that offer security.
Boarding Royal Caribbean, Ovation of the Seas
We arrived back at our hotel after the Space Needle to gather all our luggage and get ready to leave for the ship on our Alaskan cruise. We overheard another traveler talking about a shuttle van service. So, we made a reservation for the shuttle transport to our ship and it was cheaper than taking an Uber.
Tip#4 – If you are going on a cruise, book transportation from the hotel to the ship before you leave home…even if it costs a little more. It will be so worth it.
We boarded the Royal Caribbean ship, flourishing with excitement for our Alaskan cruise. Boarding begins hours before rooms are available. However, the pool, buffet and bars are usually open. Once our room was ready, we gathered our backpacks and headed to the eleventh floor and our balcony room. Our luggage would be delivered to our room later that evening. Stepping into our room, we were amazed by the size. We’ve been on cruises before and the rooms have always been—cozy. This room was bigger than what we were used to, but The Ovation of the Seas was a newer ship.
Packing for an Alaskan cruise can be tricky. It’s hard to decide what to pack because you don’t know what the weather will be like. The Summer months can get pretty decent weather. However, since we were going in September, we wanted to be prepared. We packed winter jackets, which wasn’t an easy task, and hats and gloves. When we got to Alaska it was in the 50’s and 60’s. We wore the hats and gloves in Juneau, but stuck with the sweatshirts as we didn’t need the winter jackets.
Tip #5 – When traveling to Alaska in the fall it's best to pack for all kinds of weather. Because even if you don’t need them on land, you most likely will need them on the ship when going up on deck because it gets pretty cold in the middle of the ocean. The only time we used our winter jackets was on the ship.
Cruise Day and Alaska’s Inside Passage
We were free to explore the ship while cruising the ocean and Alaska's inside passage. There is more to do on a cruise ship than one might think. It’s like a floating city. We relaxed by the pool; our favorite being the solarium—an indoor pool and hot tub area for adults only, completely surrounded by windows, so you can still see the crystal blue ocean and spectacular views. There were over-sized wicker chairs with cushions and pillows that quickly became a favorite of mine to lounge and read. But you had to snatch one up quickly because they didn’t stay empty long. This being indoors was a nice way to get out of the frigid cold but still have the views of the endless ocean and Alaskan mountain range; snow-capped mountains and peaks blanketed in white.
The Ovation of the Seas has fun activity options such as bumper cars and a roller-skating rink. Roller skating was a lot harder than I remember. I only made one loop around before my ankles were killing me and I had to call it quits. We solved puzzles through an escape room and flew in a ripcord by ifly—a tube where you lie horizontal with air flowing through acting as strong winds to simulate sky diving. As nervous as I was, it turned out to be an exhilarating experience. And lastly, we rode in the North Star, a circular ball with windows all around to give you 360-degree views as high up as 300 feet in the air.
Tip #6 – All these cruise activities require reservations. We learned that the hard way. To avoid any hassle, make reservations for these activities on your first day. They are only available certain times and fill up fast.
At each destination, you can book a tour, also known as shore excursions, through the cruise line. We booked one in Juneau that is a must do—a helicopter ride to the Taku Glacier and an airboat adventure. After taking a bus to our destination to board the helicopter, we were provided with snow pants and ice boots, which initially felt heavy as I tried to walk, and were given flight instructions. And due to weight, our seats on the helicopter were chosen for us and someone else sat between us.
Once we settled into our seats, we took off and the sound of the swooshing of the blades was like being caught in very high winds. We flew over gorgeous mountains and saw bears and moose that were very small dots from so high up.
Landing on the Taku Glacier, we exited the helicopter to venture around and experience walking on a glacier. The studded, spiked boots helped us maneuver. We were only there a few minutes enjoying the crisp fresh air, the wondrous views of snow-white ice and the glacier blue water. We cupped our hands to taste the ice cold, clean glacier water.
Next, the pilot flew us to where we would get the airboat—also known as a fanboat, a flat-bottomed watercraft propelled by an aircraft-type propeller.
We piled onto the airboat after putting on the heavy, bulky flotation jackets that also doubled as warm winter jackets (which we needed for this adventure). Feeling the biting, nippy wind in our faces, we cruised rapidly through the Taku River with views of the river, mountains, ice and glaciers, and spotted an eagle along the way.
It was a perfect day with beautiful weather as we were told the next day they would see rain.
We took an exclusive scenic railway that traveled up and down a mountain. But the weather didn’t cooperate as well as the day before in Juneau. While we were still able to see the views of mountains and rocks, animals and green trees, and waterfalls and flowing streams, we did encounter fog. Lucky for us, we sat on the scenic side on the way up when the mountainous views were clearer as the fog got worse throughout the day.
You do take a risk when booking shore excursions. There is always a chance the conditions might not be perfect and the weather less than ideal. But the shore excursions are still the way to go to experience it all.
After the relaxing and scenic train ride, we traveled to Alaska 360 where costumed staff re-enacted the Klondike Gold Rush-era with a gold mining demonstration and let us partake in gold mining ourselves…just like on the Discovery Channel show, ‘Gold Rush’. This is a show my husband enjoys, so he was the reason I booked this excursion. Turns out there is a whole technique to gold mining and I had fun swirling the water and dirt around in my bowl to see how much gold I would find. I discovered my gold weighed 2.4 grams and was worth $22.50. Not bad for my first time.
Sled Dog Demonstration
We were also given a sled dog demonstration by a real musher and got to watch her in action. She explained the training they go through and how tough the Iditarod race is. It's a team of 16 Alaskan Huskies trekking 1,000 miles across Alaska through high winds and blizzards. Once she finished, they brought out some cute, cuddly puppies for us to pet and hold.
We couldn’t leave without stepping foot in the cold chamber that gives you the experience of the 40 below temperatures just like on the Iditarod trails. It was bitter cold in the chamber as we stood there huddled together.
Strolling through the streets of Skagway, we found a local restaurant, Skagway Brewing Company. Here we enjoyed traditional Alaskan crab legs and Alaskan beer, Skagway’s signature brew, the Spruce Tip Blonde Ale, which carried a sweet citrus flavor and smooth finish.
Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier
The next day we were to cruise through the Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. This is what we were most excited about—sitting on our balcony, cuddled up with blankets, floating through the glaciers. But when we woke up that morning and looked outside, it looked like we were up in an airplane surrounded by clouds. And the ship had stopped moving. A little while later, the captain came over the loud speaker, announcing that it was too foggy and too much ice to cruise through the glaciers. We had to turn around and go back out into the ocean. We were very disappointed. But we would have felt even worse if we didn’t already have that glacier experience in Juneau. On the upside, once back out into the ocean, we periodically spotted whales peaking their head out of the water.
We slept in and spent most of the day relaxing at the Solarium pool. It’s nice to have days at sea to break up the trip and offer leisurely time on board.
Taking a break from the pool, we had lunch at Jamie’s, a specialty Italian restaurant on board that typically cruisers are charged more to enjoy. But when booking our trip, we received vouchers from AAA Travel, the travel agent we used.
Tip #7 – AAA Travel tends to give vouchers and other free amenities. I can’t say if you get the same vouchers and free amenities for every cruise. I would imagine it would all depend on the cruise line, ship, travel agent, etc. But booking through a travel agent can take all the hassle out of the planning with receiving free vouchers and discounts as a bonus.
There were so many options of restaurants and delicious food on the ship, it made it hard to decide where to eat and kept us full all week.
We also tried our luck at some slots in the casino. A little note for any gamblers, cruise ship casinos are only opened when the ship is at sea or in port in select countries that permits gambling. And we ended the night in the dining room for formal night enjoying a buttery lobster dinner.
Victoria, British of Columbia
In Victoria, we enjoyed a whale watching tour. Once on the excursion boat, we chose to venture outside where we can smell the salty air, feel the mist from the water and the wind whipping in our faces bringing a bitter cold, but well worth it to see the whales. When booking whale watching tours, whale sightings are usually not always guaranteed. I can tell you there were no shortage of whales on this tour.
We saw quite a few black Orca whales with beautiful, smooth, rubbery skin, blowing water through their blowholes, swimming near the boat and diving into the water. With over 80 resident Orca Whales that frequent the Southern part of Vancouver Island, they can be seen all year long.
Once a whale completely comes out of the water and dives back in, they disappear under the surface until you see another sighting.
As we came closer to a rock island with a lighthouse, the boat glided slowly coming up on hundreds of marine mammals—harbour seals, California sea lions, and sea otters—either swimming along in the water or lying lazily on numerous rock formations. Only a few handfuls had their heads popped up as if they were ready to pose for the dozens of cameras.
Once we exited the boat, we took a walk into the town of Victoria where we discovered Fisherman’s Wharf, a unique marine destination populated by fishing vessels, floating homes, shops, and restaurants. Their exquisitely beautiful blues, reds, oranges, greens, and yellows put the colors of the rainbow to shame.
Vancouver, British of Columbia
This is where our Alaskan cruise ended. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do an excursion in this city because we had an early flight at 11 AM.
Tip #8 – Try not to book a flight before Noon if you are debarking a cruise ship. Better yet, book an evening flight so you can book a shore excursion in this last city.
I knew booking this flight would cut it close, but from experience, I also knew it was doable. We debated all week whether to check our bags at the end of our cruise to be taken to baggage claim or carry our bags off the ship ourselves. In the end, we checked our bags, which was a mistake.
We would have made our flight, but the ship lost one of our bags. And because of the time spent filling out a form for the lost luggage and the airport being 35 minutes away from the port (which I did not know beforehand), we missed our flight.
Tip #9 – Make sure to calculate the distance from the port to the airport. This will help you determine what time to book your flight.
Tip #10 – And if you absolutely have to book an early flight, don’t check your bags. Carry them off the ship with you that morning.
After waiting around in the airport all day for our rescheduled flight, we took the 7:30 PM flight out of Vancouver to San Francisco. The 1 AM flight out of San Francisco to Chicago. And boarded our last flight out of Chicago at 9 AM the following day, finally making it home at 12:30 PM.
Although our flight home wasn’t fun, all we had to do was close our eyes or look at the pictures on our phone and we were transported right back to the glaciers, the whales diving beneath the blue expanse or the luxurious treatment we received on the ship. Our Alaskan cruise was a trip to remember!
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