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Alaska Frequently Asked Questions

Alaska Frequently Asked Questions


Alaska Frequently Asked Questions
Planning an Alaska cruise vacation can be complicated - especially if you are a First Time Cruiser. Our list of Frequently Asked Cruise Questions should help you address many aspects of your Alaska cruise vacation. If not, please contact us and we will be glad to help you.

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When can I cruise to Alaska?

The Alaska cruise season begins in May and ends in September. Any earlier or any later and you'll experience shorter, colder and wetter conditions. Late Spring, Summer, and early Fall offer you the best chance to comfortably experience the natural wonders of our largest state.

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When is the best time to cruise to Alaska?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

Anytime between May and September is a good time to go to Alaska, but there are better times in the season to travel if you have a specific interest or motivation. For example, if you're interested in saving money, then the shoulder seasons of May and September are the best times to go. If you are traveling with children, you may be limited to mid-June through mid-August. Spring is a great time to see the wildflowers in full bloom and Alaska's Fall foliage is a sight to see as well. Your warmest and longest days will be in June and July and will offer you plenty of opportunities to enjoy active, calving glaciers. Each month has its benefits. You should plan to travel when it best meets your schedule and budget.

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Which cruise lines sail to Alaska?

Some of the most familiar cruise lines in the world have ships sailing to Alaska this year. You can cruise aboard Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Cruise West, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. If you are a past passenger of any of these cruise lines, please let your AlaskaCruises.com cruise expert know at the time of your reservation. You may qualify for additional past passenger discounts.

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Do any small ships sail to Alaska?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

Small ships are a wonderful way to see Alaska up close and without the number of people you may see on a more contemporary cruise line. In many of the remote waterways they visit, small ships are the only way to explore the area. They forsake the wider shipping lanes for channels just a few hundred feet wide, tie up to inner piers in tiny villages, and share waterways with local fishermen and perhaps a few private yachts. It's not uncommon to see the smaller ships get very close to the glaciers and even follow pods of whales. The atmosphere is very casual and you can choose to dine with whom you choose. Because of the personalized, almost expedition-style of cruising, small ship cruise vacations tend to cost more than the large, contemporary cruises.

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How long are Alaska Cruises?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

Alaska Cruise Vacations can be anywhere from 6 - 30 days depending on how much you want to do and see, how much time you have and how much you want to spend. Most Alaska cruises are 7 days and are either Alaska Inside Passage Cruises that sail roundtrip from Seattle or Vancouver; or, 7 Night Alaska Glacier Cruises sailing south from Anchorage or North from Vancouver.

Many passengers often choose to extend their Alaska cruises by adding a land tour to the beginning or end of their cruises. These "Cruise Tours" let you explore the interior cities and National Parks of Alaska allowing you to visit such places as Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park and Fairbanks. These cruise tours can range from three to 16 days in addition to your 7-day cruise vacation. If you have the time and a sense of adventure, a cruise tour is well worth it.

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Will I get cold in Alaska?

Alaska is our country's northern most state. It's above Canada and close to the North Pole. The cruise ships visit places with lots of ice and you can take tours which give you the opportunity to go dog-sledding or trek across a glacier. With this said, you would expect it to be very cold in Alaska. It can be, but not really in the May - September Alaska Cruise Season.

Temperatures in Alaska vary based on the time of year and the port or city you are visiting. The weather off the ship is unpredictable but here are the average daily high temperature in Alaska major ports and cities:

May June July August September
Anchorage 54F 62F 65F 63F 55F
Fairbanks 70F 70F 75F 70F 64F
Denali Park 58F 68F 70F 64F 53F
Juneau 62F 64F 64F 62F 56F
Ketchikan 56F 61F 65F 65F 60F
Skagway 57F 63F 63F 61F 57F
Vancouver 64F 69F 74F 73F 65F

Most days are very comfortable, but it's important to be prepared for both cold and warm weather. Pack wisely and dress in layers and you should be able to enjoy Alaska whatever the weather conditions may be.

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Is it true it doesn't get dark in Alaska?

Alaska is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun because of the really long days you may experience in April through September. It's really quite a feeling to be cruising the Inside Passage, stepping out to your private balcony and enjoying the view at 11:00 pm at night!

The amount of daylight you experience while in Alaska depends upon where you are and when you traveling. Here are the number of average daylight hours in Alaska major ports and cities during the Alaska cruise season:

May June July August September
Anchorage 18 hrs 19 hrs 18 hrs 16 hrs 13 hrs
Fairbanks 20 hrs 21 hrs 20 hrs 16 hrs 14 hrs
Denali Park 18 hrs 20 hrs 19 hrs 16 hrs 13 hrs
Juneau 17 hrs 18 hrs 17 hrs 16 hrs 11 hrs
Ketchikan 17 hrs 18 hrs 17 hrs 16 hrs 11 hrs
Vancouver 14 hrs 15 hrs 16 hrs 15 hrs 13 hrs

With this said, you can't use the excuse "There are just not enough daylight in the day." Longer days give you even more opportunities to see wildlife and enjoy the natural, pristine beauty of Alaska.

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Is a stateroom with a balcony really worth it?

A cruise to Alaska is about enjoying the unspoiled natural wonders of America's last, great frontier. What a better way of enjoying it than from the privacy of your own private balcony stateroom.

There is nothing like having a balcony on a cruise to Alaska. Unlike cruises to the Caribbean or Bahamas, the view on an Alaska cruise is always changing. It's not just water, ocean, water, ocean. When you're sailing along the Inside Passage or College Fjord, you have an almost constant view of mountains, wilderness, glaciers, or quaint waterfront communities. You never know when you may see humpback whale or a pod of Orca whales. And with the longer, daylight hours in Alaska, you may see wildlife at almost any time of day.

Private balconies are also a great way to escape the crowds. When sailing in Glacier Bay or College Fjord, the decks are packed with hundreds upon hundreds of passengers crowding the ship's railing to snap a picture of a seal resting on a piece of floating ice or video tape a calving glacier. You can enjoy the same view from your own deck chair while having a cup of coffee - but without the crowds.

Balcony cabins seem bigger as well. With a balcony, it's almost as though you have floor to ceiling window to the most magnificent views in the world. If you're already spending the money and taking time to go to Alaska, treat yourself to a balcony as well. So the answer is "yes." A balcony stateroom is worth it.

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What will I see on my Alaska cruise?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

An Alaska Cruise not only gives you the opportunity to see Wildlife, Wilderness, Mountains and Glaciers, Alaska's natural beauty, but it also gives you a chance to enjoy attractions and museums that pertain to the Native American Culture and Gold Rush History that is unique to the area.

All Alaska Cruises and Cruise Tours will give you varying tastes of each of these depending upon the cruise vacation you choose. On an Alaska cruise you may see:

  • Wildlife - moose, caribou, dall sheep, grizzly bears, puffin, seals, humpback and killer whale, eagles and more.

  • Mountains - 7 of the tallest mountains in North America are located in Alaska and the Yukon, some of which are visible from your cruise ship. To see Mt. McKinley, North America's largest mountain, you'll need to take a cruise tour into Denali National Park.

  • Wilderness - rafting trips, salmon bakes, horse backing trips, fishing tours and hikes can take you into some of the most beautiful wooded areas you'll ever see.

  • Glaciers - Depending on your itinerary you will see one or more of these glacier areas: Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, Mendenhall Glacier, or the glaciers College Fjord.

  • History - All of Alaska is rich with Native American and Gold Rush history. Totem Bight Park, the White Pass Railroad are just a few of the many attractions you can see.

You'll see many of these right from your cruise ship or on your own. Or, you can enhance your trip by taking an optional Shore Excursion in the different ports of call.

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What is an Alaska Cruise Tour?

An Alaska Cruise Tour combines an Alaska Cruise Vacation with an Alaska Land Vacation to make a "Cruise Tour." These are 3 to 18 day that give you an opportunity experience both the coastal and interior areas of Alaska.

You can explore the heart of Alaska including Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park.You will travel by deluxe motor coach and/or trains, stay at exquisite, mountain lodges and view wildlife in its natural habitat. You will participate in adventurous and culturally rich shore excursions. Additional excursions can be purchased along the way to help complete your Alaska adventure. To truly see Alaska's impressive shoreline as well as its interior, a cruise tour is the only way to go.

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Will I get to see Mt. McKinley?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

Mt. McKinley, North America's largest mountain at 20,360 feet is located in Denali National Park, in the interior region of Alaska between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Tours in Denali National Park are only available to Alaska Cruise Tour passengers only and not to 7-night Alaska Cruise Only passengers.

Mt. McKinley is so large it creates its own weather. With this said, cloud coverage is unpredictable and full view of Mt. McKinley is never guaranteed by any cruise line. But when he's "out," viewing North America's highest peak in its full glory is truly an awesome sight!

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When's the best time to see whales?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

Whales begin their Northbound migration Alaska in February with the the cows and calves beginning around April and continue their trek through May. If you visit Alaska between June and early September, you may see Humpback and Minke Whales, Orcas, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Dall's and Harbour Porpoises. Between June and July, you have your best chance of seeing bubble-netting Humpbacks.

When you're cruising in Alaska, it's not uncommon to see whales right from the deck of the ship or your private balcony. To increase your chances of seeing whales, you may want to take an optional whale watching tour that will take you and group of other passengers on a small boat in search of whale pods. This a very exciting especially when the captain of your boat starts following a pod and getting close to a whale as it makes a terminal dive or comes up for air.

Whales will begin their Southbound trek in late October and continue through December.

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What should I wear on an Alaska cruise?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

The key word for dressing for an Alaska Cruise is "Layering." Casual sportswear including windbreakers, pants and jogging suits are well suited at both sea and ashore in Alaska. Remember to bring a sweater or jacket for cool evenings. The weather is unpredictable and you should plan on bringing a rain resistant jacket for shore side activities. Light gloves, a hat or visor and sunglasses are also recommended. You'll also want comfortable walking shoes and sandals with a rubber sole as you explore the shores of Alaska.

Alaska Cruises tend to be more casual than other destination. However, many of the contemporary cruise lines still observe formal nights and resort-casual nights Alaska cruises. Smart Casual is similar to what you would wear at home going out to dine at nice restaurant and can include skirts/dresses, slacks, sweaters and blouses for ladies and pants and open neck shirts for men. A jacket and tie are optional. In the dining area, items such as cutoff t-shirts, halter tops and torn jeans are not permitted.

In the evening, ships vary as to dress. As on shore, attire is dictated by occasion. For the Captain's Gala, for example, you'll probably want to wear something more formal, such as a dark suit, or cocktail dress; perhaps even a dinner jacket or gown.

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Should I bring my kids?

Absolutely! Alaska is not only a fabulous, unforgettable vacation destination full of cool, high adventure activities, it's also an unbelievable educational opportunity for the kids. If your children are active and love adventure, they will enjoy an Alaskan cruise.

Several of our cruise line partners who sail Alaska cater to and provide facilities and services for families with children of all ages including toddlers, youth, tweens and teens. This includes expansive kids programming, kids facilities, kids menus and even special Alaska Shore Excursions and activities for the kids.

Most cruise lines have cabins that can accommodate three, four of five passengers in one cabin. This means that children can often travel at substantially reduced rates when they share a cabin with their parents, making it more affordable to take the whole family to Alaska.

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Which side of the ship is best for viewing glaciers?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

This is one of the most common questions ask of our agents. While we can understand that one may think that the right side of the ship (starboard side) is better for scenery on a Northbound cruise and the left side (port side) better on a Southbound cruise but this isn't true. When cruising the Inside Passage, there is scenery on both sides of the ship and when you are entering the fjords in Alaska, the viewing will be equally good from both sides of the ship over the duration of your cruise vacation. In other words, during your cruise, you'll see scenery from both sides of the ship.

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Can I bring my wheelchair to Alaska?

Most cruise lines will do their best to accommodate wheelchair passengers wherever possible. Many of today's modern cruise ships are built with numerous wheelchair-accessible staterooms that include wide doors and large bathrooms with roll-in showers with handrails, hand-held shower heads, and fold-down seas and stools.

They will also do their best to accommodate wheelchairs on the Cruise Tours as well. Many of the rail cars used by Holland America, Princess and Royal Celebrity Tours are accessible to the lower levels including the dining, restroom facilities and viewing platforms. Whenever possible, they will use motor coaches or vans equipped with lift-platforms to assist passengers in boarding and departing the coaches.

All cruise lines require advance notice of wheelchair passengers for all travel in order to ensure appropriate accommodation. Note that while all guests are provided assistance in boarding and departing the cruise ship, motor coaches and rail segments on the land tours, passengers with disabilities must be able to travel independent of assistance in other situations or travel with a companion who is capable of providing assistance.

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Can I go fishing?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

If you love fishing, you will love Alaska. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy full- or half-day fishing excursions in all the Alaska ports of call. You can fish for King Salmon, Pink & Silver Salmon, Sockeye, Halibut, Rainbow Trout, Char, and Steelhead depending on the port or city. This is one of the most popular activities on an Alaska cruise. Not only is it a high adventure sport that gives you a chance to land "the big one," it also combines the benefit of exploring some of the most beautiful scenery in Alaska, and maybe some glacier viewing or whale watching depending upon your fishing guide and tour.

Fishing excursion can be booked through the cruise line or independently through AlaskaCruises.com. An example is a tour in Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world, where you will go out on a charter boat spending 4 hours fishing for salmon in Alaska. These boats< are fully guided and all gear and licensing included. If you have good day, which we hope you will, you can have your fresh catch packed and shipped back home where enjoy salmon steaks for months; or, you can have the chef onboard the ship prepare your fresh fish for dinner. The cost of the fishing excursion is approx. $180 per person and will vary by cruise line. Packing and shipping your fish home will be additional.

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Is Alaska affordable and a good vacation option?

Yes! There are cruise vacations to suit every budget, from the cost-conscious to the most luxurious. Even more important, a cruise offers the best travel value for your money. Your fare includes all meals, your cabin, onboard daytime activities, nighttime parties and entertainment. So for once, you'll know what your vacation will end up costing you before you go. (Your only extra expenses will be drinks, gratuities, optional shore excursions, and personal services such as massage or hairstyling.) You'll be amazed at the value.

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When's the most affordable time to go to Alaska?

There are two seasons for Alaska - Shoulder Season and Peak Season. Shoulder Season includes cruises in May, the first week of June, the last week of August and all of September. Peak Season is most of June, July and August.

Peak Season tends to cost more because the weather is better and that is when more people can travel. The kids are out of school and that's when folks take their family vacation. Since demand higher, so are the prices. However, if you can travel in Shoulder Season, when demand is lower, you can take advantage of special promotions and pricing.

While pricing may May and September but Alaska is certainly no less spectacular. Whether you cruise when the Inside Passage is blanketed with spring wildflowers or ablaze with fall foliage you'll be awed at Alaska's natural wonders.

Cruise Lines will also offer early booking discounts if you book your cruise by their Early Booking deadlines.

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Is the casino open during an Alaska cruise?

Gambling is not legal in the state of Alaska. However, the cruise lines will open the casino during the period when you are sailing in the international waters around Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. At all other times, the casino will be closed.

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Will I get seasick in Alaska?

Cruising the Inside Passage, Glacier Bay or through College Fjord is like sailing on glass. Not only are the waters in these areas smooth, today's modern cruise ships are quite large and contain hi-tech stabilizing devices. In the unlikely event you experience motion discomfort, there are a number of over-the-counter solutions to ease your concerns. These include Bonine, Mecklizine, Dramamine, Transderm Scope Patches, and Seabands. Please consult with your physician or pharmacists before taking any medication.

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How do I book my Alaska vacation? Can I book it online?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

An Alaska Cruise Vacation is a very complicated vacation. It's more complicated than booking an airline ticket, hotel, rental car or a short cruise to the Bahamas. An Alaska cruise vacation can truly be vacation of a lifetime. It can be a significant investment of both time and money. Therefore, we highly recommend you enlist the services of a professional Alaska Cruise Specialist to help you choose the right Alaska cruise for you.

There are literally hundreds of different Alaska Cruise and Cruise Tour options to choose from and the best vacation for you depends on how you answer these questions:

  • When do you want to go? For how long?

  • What kind of Alaska Cruise Vacation do you want? Inside Passage Cruise? Glacier Cruise? Alaska Cruise Tour?

  • What do you want to see? Which is more important? Glaciers? Wildlife? Wilderness? Mountains? History? Folklore? High Adventure? Sports?

  • What's your cruise experience? What's your other vacation experience? Which cruise line is best for you? What type of accommodations?

  • How are you getting to Alaska? Do you need transfers? Using frequent flier miles?

  • Are you taking kids? How old are they? How many cabins do you need? Do you need cabins near one another? Do you want to sit together at dinner? Are you celebrating a big anniversary? Does everyone need the same type of cabin? Do you qualify for a group rate?

  • Do you have special needs? Crib? Wheelchair? Special diet?

  • What kind of rate do you qualify for? Are you AARP? A Platinum Card Holder? Retired from a Fortune 500 company or part of Credit Union? Work for an airline? Military? Teacher? Resident of a certain city? AAA or Union Member? Are you a past passenger of the cruise line? What's your past passenger number? Do you have any coupons or upgrade certificates?

Your best bet for booking your Alaska Cruise Vacation is 1) find a company like AlaskaCruises.com who specializes in Alaska Cruises and Cruise Tours and 2) get on the phone and speak to a live Alaska Cruise Specialist to help you find the best cruise vacation for you.

You can request an online quote for an Alaska Cruise by completing our Request an Alaska Quote Form and one of our cruise specialist will get back to you by phone or email right away. Or you can call us at 1-800-201-6937.

Websites like Travelocity and Expedia may let you book a 7-Night Alaska cruise online, but you could be paying more than if you just picked up the phone and called an Alaska Cruise Specialist. Large Internet Travel Companies typically don't have the staff to manually research all the rate programs for which you qualify or they don't have the resources of people available to answer any special Alaska questions you may have.

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Do I need a passport, visa or other documentation to go to Alaska?

Proper proof of citizenship is at all times REQUIRED to travel. It is the responsibility of each passenger to be aware of the proper documentation required for travel regardless of Cruise Line and destination, including but not limited to valid passport, photo identification, proof of citizenship, visas and inoculations if applicable. If you do not provide the required documentation at time of embarkation, you will be denied boarding without recourse for refund. Should boarding be denied, your cruise is non-refundable. You will be solely responsible for all expenses. The Cruise Line and WMPH Vacations are not responsible for refunding any moneys paid and/or reimbursing you for any out-of-pocket expenses that may be incurred.

NON-U.S. & NON-Canadian Citizens Valid passport is required, AND a multiple re-entry visa (B-2 Visitor's Visa) may be required, for foreign cruise passengers sailing from the United States. Traveler may also be required to have sailing permits and/or visas to enter some countries.

TRAVEL TO ALASKA & THE PACIFIC COAST
The Canadian Government requires Foreign Citizens from most countries to obtain a visa for entry into Canada. This law affects all cruises that make a port of call in Canada including most cruises to and from ALASKA and the Pacific Coast. Failure to present the required visa will result in denied boarding with no refund. Find out if you need a visa: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp.

U.S., Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents***
Many Cruise Lines now require all guests to carry a valid passport. Please refer to your specific Cruise Lines web-site for the most up-to-date requirements.

***ATTN PRINCESS CRUISES PASSENGERS: The following is the passport requirement when minors travel with one (1) adult 21 years of age or older on a voyage governed by the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). This includes travel within the United States, Hawaii, Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico & the Panama Canal. Princess requires that ALL passengers must be in possession of a valid passport. In cases of emergency where guests may be required to disembark at a non-U.S. port, Princess cannot guarantee that all members of your party will be allowed to disembark with just a WHTI-compliant document or birth certificate. Failure to present a valid passport for all passengers traveling together will result in denial of boarding without refund.

U.S. Resident Aliens are required to present, in addition to a valid passport & any other required document, a current and valid Alien Resident Card. Canadian Permanent Residents are required to present a valid Permanent Resident Card in addition to a valid passport and other required documents.

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Should I Purchase Shore Excursions?

AlaskaCruises.com Alaska FAQs.

Shore excursions are optional, guided tours in a cruise ship's port of call. They are offered in all Alaska ports and cities and are a great way to enhance your cruise experience while seeing more of the places you visit.

An organized Shore Excursion can maximize your time ashore and eliminate the need for making time-consuming arrangements while in port. These tours are led by local residents, who's expertise and first-hand knowledge of the history and folklore of a local attraction can offer colorful insights and anecdotes that you just cannot experience on your own with a city map and guide-book.

Every cruise line has guided tours available in each port of call, highlighting the places to sightsee, shop and experience local culture. As a convenience to their passengers, they provide a complete list of shore excursions, descriptions, and prices in advance with your cruise documents and on their websites to help you decide which tours you can take. You can them pre-book them prior to leaving home or wait until you board your ship.

For more information about Shore Excursions, click here.

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When should I book my Alaska Cruise Vacation?

The number of cruise ships sailing to Alaska is restricted to minimize the impact on Alaska's natural environment and tend to fill quickly especially in July and August. Even so, 'early bird' discounts can be found and we recommend taking advantage of these by booking as early as possible. Balcony cabins are very popular on an Alaska cruise and tend to sell out before inside state rooms. Families wanting cabins close together or 'quad' cabins (able to sleep 4) should also book as early as possible.

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How do I Arrange Airfare?

When traveling to Alaska, you may purchase your airfare on your own, use frequent flier points or you may elect to buy it from the cruise line as part of your cruise vacation. While purchasing the airfare directly from the cruise line may be slightly higher than buying it on your own online, there are a number of benefits to letting the cruise line cover the whole vacation. This includes:

  • One point of contact.
    When you book with the cruise line, you only need to have one phone number to handle all aspects of your vacation.

  • Transfers and Taxes Included
    Cruise Line airfare typically includes the cost of getting from the airport to the ship and from the ship back to the airport after the cruise.

  • One deposit
    Unlike buying an airline ticket online, when you book your airfare with the cruise line you do not have to pay for your airfare in full at the time of your booking, unless you are booking your cruise and airfare during the final payment period of the cruise.

  • Airfare may be refundable
    If you have to cancel your cruise outside of cruise line cancellation penalties, then you are not stuck with unused airline tickets. If you must cancel your cruise, your air is cancelled with it.

  • Cruise Line Responsibility
    If you miss your ship's departure due to a flight delay, the cruise line has responsibility to get you to the next port of call. If you book your airfare on your own, you are on your own to catch the ship at the next port.

While there are benefits to booking your airfare with the cruise line, there are negatives as well. Cruise Line airfare may cost more; flight schedules are assigned by the cruise line after final payment; cruise lines do not make or guarantee seat assignments.

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Can I extend my Alaska Cruise Vacation?

If you are sailing to or from Vancouver, consider spending a few extra days either before or after the cruise to enjoy some of the local sights. Most cruise lines offer affordable pre- and post-cruise hotel programs that give you the opportunity to experience some of the local attractions like the Space Need and the Pike's Market in Seattle or the Butchart Gardens in Vancouver/Victoria.

You can also extend your trip with optional, high adventure Alaska trips to Nome and Kotzebue, the Kenai Peninsula or the Canadian Rockies.

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Should I purchase travel insurance?

We highly recommend purchasing trip cancellation coverage. In the event that your trip is cancelled due to a medical emergency in your immediate family, you will recover the non-refundable portion of the cruise price. This coverage includes any pre-existing medical conditions as long as its purchased within 14 days of placing your initial deposit. Additional coverage is also available for baggage protection, emergency evacuation and medical.

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Last Updated : Mar 2014
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