I remember not long after we got married, my hubby and I often talked about the places we wanted to travel to in our lifetime. Destinations were often categorized as ones we would do as a family and others where we would wait to have an empty nest. Honestly, Alaska was one of the places that neither of us were very interested in. Living in the Pacific Northwest, the pictures of Alaska all seemed similar to what we saw almost every day. Then one day…
…after our son was grown and moved out, my parents suggested taking a family cruise to Alaska. As they were aging, they were having trouble getting around on their own and appreciated the thought of having their grown kids along with them. We all coordinated a trip that included my parents, two of my siblings and their spouses, as well as a couple of friends that we consider family. Even if I wasn’t excited about the destination, I knew I’d enjoy the time with them.
Getting on the ship in Seattle, I started to get a little cranky. My hubby and I seemed to be the youngest ones on the ship…(although I think we found one couple who were younger than us). We were traveling on Princess Cruise Lines which does tend to have a slightly older clientele and cruising in September after all the kids were back in school definitely changes the demographic. But…
…can I just say how much I loved cruising the Inside Passage!!! Being able to sit on my balcony and watch the scenery and wildlife float by was an amazing experience. Having naturalists onboard the ship explaining what we were seeing and teaching us how to spot whales was phenomenal.
Where is Alaska’s Inside Passage?
Alaska’s Inside Passage is a coastal water route that travels from the Puget Sound region in Washington state, up the west coast of Canada, and reaching all the way to Alaska weaving in and out of islands. It is popular by ships (and passengers) who wish to stay out of the rougher waters of the open ocean.
A bonus is the stunning scenery you encounter as you wind your way through the passage. It is true northwest frontier with unspoiled forests and beaches. You view glaciers, waters abundant with icebergs, cascading waterfalls, fjords enshrouded by mist and fog…all from the deck of the ship or your cabin’s balcony. You can watch eagles soaring above, orca and humpback whales playing and eating in the waters, white mountain goats perched along the cliffs, and occasionally a bear down by the water trying to catch a meal.
What is the Best Way to Experience Alaska’s Inside Passage?
There are three ways to experience Alaska’s Inside passage. You can see it via car travel stopping and staying in small hotels or campgrounds along the way. Some areas of the Inside Passage are not accessible by car, so this makes it the least desirable way to see it.
You can travel via Alaska Marine Highway System ferries. These passenger and cargo ferries are colored in blue and yellow. You can catch a ferry out of Bellingham, Washington. You can look at the schedules and choose where you will stop along the route and plan how long you wish to stay in each. The Alaska Marine Highway System has a helpful website for planning if you want to go this route.
My preferred method for seeing Alaska’s Inside passage is via cruise ship. One of the things I enjoy about cruising the Inside Passage is that many cruise lines offer something for everyone no matter your age or what you enjoy doing. People who enjoy adventure can go zip lining or hike on a glacier. Those who are interested in culture can enjoy a salmon bake and some traditional Native American dancing. If you want to sit back and enjoy a scenic train ride, they’ve got you covered too. And at the end of the day, you can all gather back for dinner and share your experiences.
Princess Cruise Lines has been rated the #1 cruise line for Alaska for a number of years. But Royal Caribbean’s Anthem class ships are definitely giving them a run for their money. The ability to experience the Alaskan scenery suspended 300 feet in the air on the North Star 360-degree glass capsule (exclusive to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line) can’t be beat.
Also highly recommended for Alaska is the Norwegian Cruise Line ship the Bliss. This ship was specifically designed with Alaska in mind and includes a two-story indoor observation area on the front of the ship. A good travel advisor can help you find the cruise ship and cruise line that best fits you or your group’s wants and needs.
Where You Can Expect to Stop on an Alaska Inside Passage Cruise
Most Alaska Inside Passage cruises start their round trip voyages in ports at either Seattle, Washington, or Vancouver, British Columbia. Typically these cruises last seven nights but could be longer or shorter depending on the cruise line and time of year.
Typically, cruises stop in the ports of Juneau and Skagway. You also usually have several days of just cruising the inside passage or along an iceberg-filled fjord.
Juneau is Alaska’s state capital. It lies between a waterway that never freezes over and ice fields that never melt. Some of the top things to do in Juneau include taking a seaplane ride over Mendenhall Glacier…or maybe even a helicopter that stops on the top of the glacier. Visit a summer sled dog camp where you will be taken on a ride via a wheeled sled led a team of huskies. Another popular favorite is a whale watching trip and salmon bake. Again, there is pretty much something for everyone’s age and level of adventure.
Skagway also has some unique excursions to enjoy. You can ride the White Pass Train along the mountainside and enjoy some breathtaking scenery while you learn about the miners heading to the gold rush in Alaska. Their stories are intriguing and often tragic. You can visit the Liarsville Gold Rush Camp and enjoy some fun entertainment and try your hand at panning for gold. If you’re up for some real adventure, try zip lining over the Alaskan wilderness.
How to Save a Little Money on Your Alaska Inside Passage Cruise
There is no way around it…cruising can be expensive. But when you take into consideration all that a cruise includes, it doesn’t cost significantly more than taking the Alaska Marine Highway System and piecing everything together yourself. There are also a few ways to try to keep your costs on a cruise reasonable.
Some of my top tips for keeping cruise costs down are:
- If possible, travel during May or September. May is the start of the cruising season into Alaska. Since the kids aren’t out of school yet, you will find the ships not as full and less children running around. The same holds true for September after the kids have all gone back to school. This makes for a great opportunity for families traveling without school-age kids or families that home school.
- Avoid the “specialty dining.” The food on an Alaska cruise offers lots of fresh and local foods in the dining rooms. There really isn’t much need to pay extra for the “specialty dining.”
- Compare cruise lines. Some cruise lines offer better rates but lack some of the amenities offered by the more expensive cruise lines. If the main attraction of this cruise is experiencing Alaska, these amenities probably won’t be important to you and makes it easier to forego them.
- Don’t book your port excursions through the cruise line. There are lots of useful websites like Shore Excursions Group where you can book the same excursions offered by cruise lines at a lower price. Most offer money-back guarantees in case a ship is unable make a port. Always check the fine print to be sure you understand terms and conditions. However, I’ve had nothing but excellent feedback for Shore Excursions Group from my clients.
- Understand the factors of how a cruise is priced. This article titled Beginner’s Guide to Cruise Prices continues to be one of my most popular blog articles of all time.
- Use a travel advisor to help you watch for and apply any promotions to the cruise you’re interested in. A trained travel advisor is worth their weight in gold.
How Can I Learn More About Alaska’s Inside Passage?
One of the best ways to find more information about Alaska’s Inside Passage is to contact your travel advisor for more information. A good travel advisor will be able to find the answers to your questions and make recommendations to you based on your travel preferences. If you are getting serious about booking, many travel advisors will send you information and brochures that you can go through.
I always recommend doing a little research at home, too. I find one of most informative and unbiased ways to find out about destinations is by searching for and checking out books, magazines, and videos through my local library.
Alaska’s Inside Passage Offers Something For Everyone
If you had told me 15 years ago that Alaska is a great destination for everyone, I would have given you the stink eye…seriously. I thought Alaska was for the person who enjoyed rustic camping and adventure that required a person to be in tip-top shape physically. I was so wrong.
I absolutely love Alaska’s Inside Passage for all that it offers. And it doesn’t matter if you’re 5, 35, 65, or 95, there is something that will inspire you and take your breath away. The food, the nature, and the activities provide something for every member of your family to enjoy, remember and talk about.
I always say that the family that plays together, stays together. Alaska is the playground of the last frontier. It is best experienced with your family and friends.