I get lots of questions abou Alaska cruises and cruise tours, so I’d like to cover five key factors to keep in mind when planning a visit to America’s last frontier: price, itinerary, weather, wildlife and passports.
Discounts are available right now on virtually every departure for the entire Alaska season, which runs from May to September. Shipboard credits and other free amenities are also available on many sailings throughout the season. In general, you’ll find the lowest rates on departures early and late in the season.
If for some reason you must sail on a specific ship on a specific date, or you require a cabin that accommodates three or more people or a passenger with special needs, or you need two adjacent or adjoining cabins or more than four cabins on a single sailing, you should call me at 214-254-4980 and lock in your rate as soon as you possibly can, while there are still cabins that will accommodate your needs on nearly every ship.
However, if you are flexible about date and ship and don’t fall into any of these categories, I recommend waiting until about 90 days prior to departure to book an Alaska cruise, as rates for many cabins are likely to be reduced at about that stage.
There’s a chance that well-timed connecting flights could sell out if you wait, but I’d personally take that risk in order to wait for a terrific late-breaking deal to emerge. If you are flying from the DFW area, let’s check the deals on Virgin America as we have been seeing flights in the $99 each way range. You may need to go an extra day or extend an extra day in Seattle, but who doesn’t enjoy Seattle. We have plenty of discounts on hotels and flights.
As with all last-minute cruise deals, we will have them first on our site, and we will sell out many of the departures before most other travel agencies even hear about them.
There are two types of itineraries for Alaska cruises: Inside Passage cruises that sail roundtrip from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco; and Gulf of Alaska cruises that sail one way between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier.
The roundtrip cruises offer two advantages: 1) you can book closer to departure because there are many flights daily into, and out of, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco; and 2) they require less-expensive airfare because no long flight to (or from) Anchorage or Fairbanks is involved.
Air into (and out of) Anchorage and Fairbanks is quite limited and flights fill early with cruise and cruise tour passengers, which makes it more risky to wait for a last-minute deal on a one-way, Gulf of Alaska cruise.
The biggest advantage of one-way cruises is that they allow the opportunity to explore the interior of Alaska on a pre- or post-cruise land tour. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all Alaska cruisers opt to extend their cruise with a tour of inland Alaska (out of Anchorage or Fairbanks) or British Columbia or the Canadian Rockies (out of Vancouver).
If you are leaning toward one of these cruise tours, keep in mind that tour buses, rail cars and lodges in Alaska are very limited in supply and can sell out early. I recommend booking cruise tours no later than the end of February to ensure availability.
Alaska weather is delightfully unpredictable, but in general you’ll find the warmest temperatures in July and August, when average highs are in the low- to mid-60’s. Precipitation can rise a bit in late August and early September, but I personally would not avoid that time for that reason.
Wildlife is one of the big attractions of Alaska, and different species of wildlife are active at different times throughout the cruising season. Humpback and killer whales are seen throughout the summer in large sounds and straits along the coast, as they migrate between their winter homes in the south and their summer homes in the north. Brown and black bears can be seen in grassy tidal flats starting in May and near salmon streams and berry patches in July and August. Moose and caribou begin calving in May and cow moose and their young can be seen near thickets along roadsides and rivers in May and June.
Bald eagles are plentiful and can be spotted at the water’s edge throughout the summer, particularly near salmon-spawning streams. Tufted puffins and other seabirds begin nesting colonies on coastal islands in May. Shorebird watching is popular in August and September, as various species begin their migrations south for the winter.
Harbor seals are visible throughout the season and can be seen with their pups on and around the icebergs of Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay during the month of June. Sea lions start to become visible in September.
Fishermen will be happy to know that at least one variety of salmon -- the prized king salmon -- runs from May through August. Late May through June is the best time for saltwater king salmon fishing, and July through August is best for freshwater king salmon fishing. Sockeye (red) salmon fill freshwater streams and rivers on their spawning run from late June through July. Saltwater fishing for chum and pink salmon is best in July and August, and freshwater fishing for these species is at its peak in August. Coho (silver) salmon can be found in saltwater areas from late July through early September, and are abundant in freshwater areas during September and October. Halibut is most abundant in saltwater areas from late June through August.
Passports are required for all travelers who enter or re-enter the U.S. by air from any other country, which means that U.S. citizens and residents who fly back to the U.S. from Vancouver or any other Canadian city after an Alaska cruise or cruise tour are required to have a valid passport.
Passports are also required for anyone who enters or re-enters the U.S. by land or by sea. There are a few exceptions to the passport requirement pertaining to land and sea border crossings:
First, U.S. citizens on cruises that begin and end in the same U.S. port and travel to destinations in Canada (and select other countries) are able to re-enter the U.S. with proof of citizenship other than a passport, such as a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID. Passports are required for cruises that begin in one U.S. port and end in another.
So, U.S. citizens on cruises that sail roundtrip from Seattle or San Francisco are not required to have a passport. U.S. citizens who drive to Vancouver for a roundtrip Alaska cruise or who cruise one way between Vancouver and an Alaskan port (such as Whittier or Seward) do need a passport.
Next, children under the age of 16 who are citizens of the U.S. or Canada are exempt from the passport requirement for land and sea border crossings. In lieu of a passport, children are able to use a birth certificate as proof of citizenship for entry into the U.S. by land or by sea. Children entering or re-entering the U.S. by air are still required to have a valid passport.
Finally, a lower-cost alternative to the passport, called a passport card, is acceptable for entries into the U.S. by land or sea. Compared to passports, which cost $135 for first-time applicants ($105 for children), passport cards cost just $55 ($40 for children). The passport card is not acceptable for air travel.
Even in cases where a passport is not required, CruiseOne of Dallas and all cruise lines recommend that passengers have them anyway. This is because, while highly unlikely, an emergency could arise in which a U.S citizen needed to disembark early and fly home from Canada, and a passport would be required for that flight.
Passports are required for citizens of all other countries for any Alaska cruise or cruise tour.
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Is this your year to experience the incomparable natural beauty and majesty of Alaska and British Columbia? I can help you find the perfect cruise for you that fits your needs at the best value. Give me a call at 214-254-4980 / 888-908-9420 or email at email@example.com