Know Before You Go: Planning your Trip to Alaska

Help for Cruise Ship Passengers

How to get the most out of your Alaska tours & Shore Excursions

by Jane Ambrose Button reprinted from Dolly Varden’s Tips ‘n Travel Newsletter

I recently read an article about how people spend more time planning their vacations than they do planning their lives. I am sure this is probably true for many. And although, I encourage you to spend some time planning your life, I also encourage you to research Alaska before you finalize your cruise ship plans. This way you can plan your time and itinerary to take advantage of all that Alaska has to offer for you.
Here are my 7 favorite tips:

1. Gather ideas on what you want to see and do in Alaska
Before you make your plans, read up on Alaska and research the most important things you want to see and do. This is a critical element, and will make planning the rest of your trip much easier. Alaska is so vast and filled with opportunities it is very important to familiarize yourself with the possibilities and then narrow them down – BEFORE YOU GO!

2. Decide on the Ports-of-Call that are most important to you
The typical ports where the cruise ships dock are: Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway. However these three stops are not always the only stops available. Other ports include Prince Rupert, Hoonah (Icy Straits), Sitka, Wrangell, Haines, Valdez, Seward & Whittier. Every port has its own heritage, charm and shore excursions. Once you have a clear picture of which towns you want on your itinerary, then narrowing down the right cruise becomes a clear choice.

3. Check for the amount of time in each port
You would be amazed at how many times we get calls from people wanting to schedule a certain tour in a particular port only to be disappointed that there is either not enough time for the tour they wanted ~ or not enough time for the two tours they had their hearts set on. It is imperative to know the times your cruise ship is going to be in port. Allow yourself not only the most possible hours in port, but try to schedule arriving in the morning and not the afternoon. When you arrive in the morning you have more choices throughout the day to schedule independent shore excursions and time for sightseeing and shopping. When we book tours we always double check the cruise line’s arrival and departure time – and you should too. A site where you can get this information is Northwest Cruise Ship Association

4. Book your shore excursions in advance
We get emails and calls from travelers who want to know if they can just book a particular tour at the dock when they arrive in port. My answer to this is always – book in advance – know what you are doing before you go. Many of the most popular tours are booked way in advance. These are ones such as flightseeing, helicopter tours, dog sledding, rafting, kayaking, whale watching, fishing. Although there may be exceptions, you really don’t want to spend your precious time in port running around trying to find a tour. Nor do you want to be disappointed when you can’t get on the one you wanted. When you plan in advance you aren’t rushed, you know what you are doing and in the long run you have more time to “vacation”.

5. Learn about the history of Alaska
Read all you can about Alaska. It’s history is captivating. Each town has its own heritage and story. The more you learn the more fascinated you will become. We’ll be posting a list of good books about Alaska on our website soon, in the meantime read as much as you can.

6. Know the best time of year to visit
We’re continually asked questions about the best time of year to visit Alaska. The answer to this is totally subjective and depends on your priorities. If it’s wildlife you want to see, then make sure you know the optimum time for viewing the species you are looking for. If you want the best weather – then probably don’t risk a September trip. What about the best fishing – well, what do you want to catch and where are you going to be? You see, there are lots of reasons to pick certain months. The best time to come to Alaska is when you and your family can take time off of work and see this majestic state.

7. Ask Questions!
It is so important to ask questions of people who know Alaska and the ports where you will be visiting. The big thing to remember is that other people’s views are extremely subjective. One person’s dream tour could be another one’s nightmare. I’ve talked to 2 families who have done exactly the same tour at the same time and one thought it was the best trip in Alaska and the other complained because it was not what they expected. Make sure you ask the right questions and ask someone who can give you straight answers