Seattle is a travel destination on its own, but for many people the Emerald City is also the preferred gateway for a cruise to Alaska. Seattle offers 7-day round-trip itineraries to Alaska, sold by a number of different cruise lines. The cruises from Seattle will not give you an in-depth exploration into the interior of Alaska, but rather just offer a taste of what Alaska has to offer. Following is a brief starter’s guide to help get you thinking about booking your Seattle cruise to Alaska.
The “mass market” cruise lines departing from Seattle include Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line. For those looking for a more intimate experience you may want to research cruises from Seabourn Cruise Line, Lindblad Expeditions, Windstar Cruises or UnCruise Adventures. Note, however, that cruises on smaller ships typically begin and end in Alaska or Canada, in which case you will need to budget for additional flights and travel arrangements The cruises that are round-trip from Seattle, the focus of this article, will typically be limited to the mass market lines and the larger ships.
With so many different options to choose from it can be hard to know where to start. If you have never been on a cruise before your first question is probably what differentiates the cruise lines from each other. Some questions that you may want to research include how many people does the ship hold, how is the food rated, what entertainment does the ship offer, what is the cruise line’s target demographic (for example, young families, singles, retired) and, perhaps most importantly, cost.
A good tool to get started is the Boards section at Cruise Critic. There are different forums for each cruise line and also a general forum for all Alaska cruises and cruise tours, located in the ‘Ports of Call’ section. If you register for a free account you will be able to search all Board topics, which can help narrow down your search considerably. Any question you may have has been answered probably hundreds of times previously.
Of course, online bulletin boards may be a little old-fashioned for some people. Another option would be to ask questions in Facebook groups, or in other social media. On Facebook you will find groups specific to Alaska and also to each cruise line. With Facebook it’s always good practice to first read over the group’s rules and guidelines, but then also use the search function within the group. You will often find that common questions have been asked many times before and that a quick answer is at hand. Facebook can also be a great place to research travel agencies (more on that later), some of which will offer Webinars and other online activities. For those more visually oriented YouTube can be a great resource as well. The challenge with using YouTube is that you will want to make sure you are finding current content.
To compare prices, itineraries, and dates I recommend using online booking engines such as SmartCruiser, Cruises.com or Expedia. SmartCruiser seems to have the lowest rates from my experience, but they do require you to register for free before viewing. Travelzoo is another great resource. Trazelzoo scours the net for the best travel deals, not just for cruises but for any vacation. They then publish a weekly “top 20” deal list, accessible to anyone who signs up for their newsletter.
Once you feel have a good handle on what your options are you will want to narrow down where you plan to purchase your cruise. Some people prefer to simply book via online travel agencies, such as Expedia, AAA Travel or Costco Travel. Other people prefer to meet with a travel agent in person or speak to someone over the phone. Ask your friends and colleagues if they have an agency or agent they can recommend.
Good travel agents can be hard to come by, but a good agent can make a huge difference in the quality of your vacation and can help you navigate trickier questions such as whether or not to purchase cancellation protection. There can also be additional advantages to purchasing your cruise through a travel agency. Often times, travel agents will offer special amenities, such as shipboard credit or a complimentary dinner at the ship’s premium dining room.
If you would rather work directly with the cruise line to make a booking, simply navigate to the company’s website and create your booking online or call their 800 number. You most likely will not receive any special amenities by booking directly with a cruise line, but you will have complete control of your reservation which some people prefer.
Many cruise lines also offer the possibility of working with a “cruise consultant”. You can think of a cruise consultant as kind of an in-house travel agent who only sells that cruise line’s product. Cruise consultants sometimes are also able to offer additional booking incentives, much like a traditional travel agent.
Before purchasing your cruise, however, be sure to review the ship’s itinerary and make sure that it meets your expectations. If you’ve never been to Alaska before you may not have a preference, and that’s fine. Every itinerary will have ports you may love, some that are just okay, and some you just don’t care for. Just research, research, research.
Learn about the different ports and about the glaciers. You may find you want an itinerary that features Sitka, or you may want to see Glacier Bay as opposed to Hubbard Glacier. Anything to narrow down your search helps. Now go book that Alaska cruise!
(An earlier version of this article was previously published at Examiner.com on July 10, 2011).
For a complete list of Alaska-related content, please see the below:
- Arctic Circle Air Adventure with Northern Alaska Tour Co.
- Exploring Juneau, Alaska with Holland America Line
- Jeff King’s Husky Homestead in Denali
- Seattle cruises to Alaska | an introduction
- Visiting Mendenhall Glacier on layover at Juneau Airport
- Welcome to Denali, home of the $9 Subway footlong
- 2011 Seattle cruises to Alaska: Holland America Line
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