Alaska Cruise this summer - any tips?

CaroleOHMay 7, 2006

My 8 year old son and I are going on an Alaskan Cruise in July with my parents. DH and 2 teenage DS's are staying home - too many golf tournaments!

We're cruising on Holland America round trip out of Seattle, so we're not going all the way up to Anchorage or doing any side trips. We'll be stopping in Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC.

Anyone have any suggestions for excursions/clothing/things that are a must see in these locations?


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I did an Alaska cruisetour last summer with my DD and SIL. We had a great time. We went all the way to Prudhoe Bay.

We had a hard time picking shore excursions, they were all very appealing and were weren't disappointed on any of them. I'm sure you son would like the ones that have hikes or something that doesn't involve too much sitting, and there are a lot of them at each port. My DD and SIL did the gold mine tour in Juneau and enjoyed it, but there's probably 40 other good choices.

You should go to, they have a lot of message boards, one devoted to Alaska, another to HAL, you can get a lot of good advice.

Tom Bodett has a couple of books your son might like, Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier and Williwaw! Both are set in Alaska. I'm sure you can find them cheaper on Amazon.

As far as clothing goes, layer, layer, layer. It can be cool in the morning and very warm by afternoon, both on the ship and on shore. Most of the excursions that need waterproof clothing will provide it.

Have a wonderful trip.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2006 at 12:35PM
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Yes! Be sure to check out

it is a WEALTH of information! Very helpful in planning our September 06 Alaska cruise.

In Juneau, we are whale watching with Captain Larry.

In Ketchikan, we are taking a seaplane to Misty Fjords with

There are threads on cruisecritic which discuss what kind of clothing to pack, and people give their feedback on shore excursions.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 10:07AM
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My husband and I took the Holland America cruise to Alaska 2 1/2 years ago. It was awesome! Great ship, great service, great food. Bring: binoculars, warm jacket/rain coat; camera with zoom. It is truely beautiful. We looked out our cabin window one afternoon and had a pod of orcas swimming beside us. Right beside us. WOW!

We went on a whale watching boat and saw the whales bubble feeding right in front of us. It was really an amzing experience. The naturalist/tour guide on the boat was crying b/c she had never seen them do that before. Definitely a highlight! We took a helicopter to a glacier and hiked around, we took a jeep ride up into the mountains. All very cool! Holland America offers alot of side trips at each stop. All I can say is try to do 2 per stop if fianances allow. Also, do the most active side trips you can (almost all of them will be fine for an 8 year old). You only go to Alaska once, so see and DO everything you can. Have fun!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 2:06PM
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We went on a Celebrity cruise to Alaska a few years ago in July. The weather was pleasant- 70s during the day, cool at night. It is cold on a glacier- you need a jacket.

From Juneau we took a helicopter ride to see and walk on glaciers. They have helicopter rides to dogsled camps where you get to ride the dogsled on the glacier. I'm sure your son would love that. You can also take a train ride to a stream where you pan for gold.
Some of our friends went salmon fishing.

It was one of our most favorite trips.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2006 at 9:59PM
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We did the HAL cruise a couple of years ago, not quite honeymoon but close. DH had been to Alaska a lot and wanted me to see it sooooo much, we delayed Italy. (hrmph, still no trip to Italy 5 years later...but that's another story)

I add that bit because some of my less than enthusiastic impression was because I really didn't want to go so much. I loved our first night in Vancouver and we both decided that was a return trip, which it was. I don't remember that many excursions being offered which means I wasn't interested in them, not that they didn't have them. Dh did one of the rail lines himself and I have to say, those small towns in a drizzle can be see fairly quickly. It certainly gave me a feel for dh's family who homesteaded out there - dh's sister and bil. That was a hard life I'm sure in the 1950s and it's an amazing land even now.

I was interested in the helicopter to the glacier but dh wasn't and that is the only regret I had. I now would have just done it on my own, and to h*ll with the money. I think it was $250. a person. I had only walked on a small glacier and still want the bigger feel. Glaciers, eagles, whales, and lots and lots of green trees and mountains. We had a lot of mist so we usually only saw the nearest range to the east, and only got glimpses of more distant mountains thru the mist.

HAL is a wonderful line, and while I didn't think I was 'old enough' for a cruise, it gave us enough time to be together and on our own - a good balance. We made sure we did our walking - enough to earn a track jacket at the end of the cruise - and didn't gain weight.

It is amazing to see how small the towns are up the coast even tho they are the names you see on the map. We went in July and had a lot of pretty brisk weather. I always wore my fleece and usually my slicker too. The one in a slicker is dh...

One day I would like to visit Fairbanks in the winter cause my son lived there for three years. I think he puts it that it was about 2 yrs too long. ;-) Maureen

    Bookmark   May 10, 2006 at 12:49PM
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Thanks for the posts! I am starting to do some planning on the excursions. These port excursions can add up quite quickly so I think I'll have to limit myself to one $$$$ one and others that are less costly...

Momj47/Demicent - I did find Cruisecritics and have been looking through their reviews/forum posts. It amazes me how many cruises alot of these folks go on!

Artteacher - the helicopter dog sled trip was the one I was thinking of splurging on for my son. How many 8 year olds from OH get to ride on a dog sled? I guess I'm just a little freaked about going up in a helicopter, but if there were alot of accidents, I'm sure we'd be reading about it on TV or the internet forums so I need to RELAX!

Maureen, sorry you didn't have the greatest trip - next time you'll have to go on the one way trip and go up to Fairbanks. Although in the summer it's probably alot different than wintertime.

We're going to be busy this summer! Kitchen demo starts soon and should be just about all done when we take off for Alaska, so I am looking forward to this trip!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2006 at 10:28AM
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caroleoh - in Juneau I would suggest:

1. The Princess Alaska GAstineau Mill & Gold mine tour - is great, and young ones really like it also "A half-day tour visits the ruins of a hard-rock gold operation that operated from 1915 to 1921, then goes 360 feet into one tunnel for a mining demonstration. Guests also get to pan for gold from the mine's tailings." I think it can be booked through Princess Tours, 151 Mill St - Phone 907/463-3900. It was locals and miner's that actually established this tour, however.

3. If you don't want to spend $60 per person but are interested in mining...take a walk out to a beautiful area called Basin Road. Or taxi out ($6.00)and walk back. Snuggled in the mountain side are the original minining buildings and equipment called the Last Chance Mining Museum ( about $3.00). From Frommers " On the site on forested Gold Creek where gold was first discovered in Juneau, the museum preserves old mining buildings and some of their original equipment, including an immense 1912 air compressor and a layered glass map of the tunnels. This was once a nerve center for one of the world's biggest hard-rock mines. The highlight is its energetic and learned guide, Renee Hughes, who lives above the compressor with her husband Gary Gillette. Both are leaders of the Gastineau Channel Historical Society.
Ask Renee about the cave-in of the Treadwell Mine to hear her riveting storytelling. The entrance to the site -- which contains relics and buildings spread over several acres -- is a bridge over the creek, which leads to a steep trail up to the buildings." Check for the open times before you go out there.

2. Mendenhall Glacier - is awesome and cheap. There are a couple of $10 RT Glacier Express buses (in contrast to the "expensive tours" - the $10 RT bus is all you need). It generally runs every half hour in both directions - takes 20minutes to get to the glacier. The glacier is free, as are the trails there. There are a couple very short ones trails , and a 3 mile trail. The glacier visitor's center is informative (costs $3-$5 per person) but you do not need to even go in it if you don't want. The beauty is outside! Plus there is a bear lookout there (free).. and in August bears can frequently be seen trying to get the salmon.

4. Fish Hatchery is another inexpensive possibility - and is really interesting to see when the fish are coming in (usually August).
For this .. you also do not need to take an expensive "tour" - the city bus goes very close to it - maybe a block 1/2 away .. and the entry fee is $3-$5.

IMO the helicopter tours and dog sled tours are very unique but extremely overpriced. As for safety, when compared to the number of flights it is probably pretty good. Does that mean there are not ever any incidents? No - there are but the majority of flights are problem free. Scary problems exist on cruise ships too ... keep a sharp eye on your child!

Have a fun trip .. and make sure you have rain gear .. it could be sunny every day or it could rain 24/7.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 3:26AM
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It wasn't that you weren't "old" enough for a cruise.. you weren't "old" enough for HAL! ;)


    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 7:54AM
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Thanks Miruca for the tips...Now that I'm in waiting mode for my kitchen cabinets to arrive, I think I'll do more research on the excursions. Part of me wants to wait to book these things because if the weather is awful I don't want to be committed to a certain excursion, but the other part of me would be very disappointed to be closed out of some of the better trips since we'll only probably do this once.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2006 at 9:11PM
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We didn't book our helicopter ride to the glacier until we were on the ship. There were lots of options available, if you are flexible with time and $$$.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 6:19PM
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One more point-

It is best to book any helicopter rides through the cruise line, even if it is more expensive. They will use reputable companies with experienced pilots. When you get off the ship there are lots of cheaper tours you can sign up for, but I'd stick to the ones offered on your cruise.

There have been helicopter accidents there (one the week before I went!), as well as in other places, but you MUST see the view as you go over the mountains from the city of Juneau into wilderness, and all the glaciers are below...AMAZING!

We had great weather in July- sunny, a little rain in Sitka. I guess we were lucky. It does get cool and breezy near the glaciers. Take a jacket/fleece with a hood, if possible.
I LOVED Alaska! Enjoy!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 7:44PM
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We went a few years ago and loved it! But because it's been acouple of years I can't remember where each excursion was. I remember we really enjoyed the train ride through the mountains because you really got to see the land.

We also did a whitewater raft thing that was really fun but we were there on a sunny day in July and it was still quite cold with water in the boat and ice floating around. My then 4 yr old couldn't enjoy it b/c she was so cold and I couldn't really enjoy it b/c I was worried about her. Wish we had gone whale watching instead that day.

Everyhting else was amazing.

I think it was in Ketchiken we went into town and did a trail walk on our own up a slope. Really nice well marked trail. You had to walk through town to get there and we enjoyed seeing residential areas with goats in the front yard etc. We are from the prairies and this was one of the most interesting parts of our trip. Just seeing how houses are built on the slopes and the different wildlife, etc.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2006 at 8:25PM
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re artteacher nj comment on booking helicopters through the cruise line to ensure reputable companies and experienced pilots. For pick-up convience etc it might be easier to book the helicopters or small planes through the cruise industry .. but it is in no way necessary nor does it speak to the reliability of the companies or experience of the pilots.

There are only a couple of companies that do helicopter rides .. they are of similar experience, reputation. One cannot just start up a rogue helicopter business - lots of regulations etc and permitting associated with flying over/landing on glaciers.

As for experienced pilots... at least for the small airplane companies .. the pilots are frequently from the lower 48 and are getting their "hours" and experience in during the summer tourist season. I would imagine that it is a similar situation with the helicopter business.

Re accidents .. they do happen. There was another one yesterday.

There was a TV movie made about a fiasco a few years ago where a one or two copters went down with tourists, the copter sent to rescue the tourists also went down, then a 3rd rescue copter went down. The weather closed in...the decision was made to send no more rescue copters. Rescue teams hiked in and over the icefield with blankets and provisions. The tourists spent a cool, cool night on the glacier.

But .. one does decide to get in a car, or bus, or train even with the thousands of accidents across the nation. Life's a risk.

Having said that ... how often do I fly on the companies that hire seasonally from the lower 48? Rarely, if ever :).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2006 at 5:59PM
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