Alaska – Homeward Bound

Alaska – Homeward Bound

After a too-brief week in our luxury suite, it was time to head home, southward through the Inside Passage. As usual, the weather varied between sunny and foggy. Big islands, little islands, mountains – beautiful scenery, and very little civilization, other than some occasional timberless areas that have been recently logged. And we did see a whale (very briefly!) We celebrated our final evening on the back deck with a bottle of champagne.

Some reflections on the cruise: This really has been a fun trip. We’re a bit conflicted about the cruise line: on the plus side, it’s been run very efficiently, we had a fabulous suite at a sweet price and excellent service on board. On the down side, the cruise industry in Alaska is somewhere between oligopoly and monopoly, with Carnival Cruises owning themselves as well as Holland America, Princess and who knows who else. They also own many of the major shops (“we have all the diamonds and tanzanite we need, thanks”). The merchandizing on board is _endless_ with lectures on “the best tours in X” (tours are among the top 3 revenue sources for cruise ships), “the best shopping in port X” (where Carnival owns the shops), the special drink of the day (liquor sales are also in the top 3 revenue sources). And of course, shopping on board and the never-ending art sales… How many diamonds does one couple need? (hint: the ones in our wedding rings are more than sufficient).

Upgrading to a suite (the largest on the ship other than the Owner’s Suite) brought our cost up beyond what we’re normally willing to pay for cruising – but is really only the equivalent cost to a low-end inside cramped (no windows/portal) cabin at normal prices. And we got a ton of perqs – special Concierge and lounge services, free laundry and dry cleaning (which can cost a fortune), a wrap-around deck/veranda of about 33’ / 10m in length, at the stern of the ship and around the port side). We got invited to multiple parties (free drinks…) with the Captain on down, a complementary bottle of wine… the list seemed endless. Did we mention the Jacuzzi tub?

Our advice for taking an Alaska cruise:

  • Find a way to escape the shopping streets. Some of the towns are worth exploring a bit. But a lot of the best experiences are outside of the towns, in the great outdoors
  • Ship excursions are generally high quality, but are very expensive and involve three or four dozen fellow passengers (ie big crowds)
  • To book non-ship excursions, check out tripadvisor.com for highly rated local vendors. Book as far in advance as you can – most of them were sold out by the time we contacted them two weeks ahead of our cruise
  • Another option is to use third-party shore excursion companies like portcompass.comViator.com or Shoreexcursionsgroup.com. Plus, you can always find local vendors on the dock peddling a range of last-minute tours.
  • If you’re ever going to splurge on a balcony, Alaska would be the time to do it – because so much of the beauty is just cruising through the inside passage and  along the coast.
  • There are some great last-minute bargains, starting about six weeks out. We purchased at about three weeks out. Most of the bargains seemed to be out of Vancouver rather than Seattle. Factor in the additional flight costs if you book at the last minute. I use the 90 day ticker at www.vacationstogo.com  to search for the deals – they have the best cruise search engine in my opinion. You can make the actual booking elsewhere if you want.

Enjoy some pictures from the inside passage below, and stay tuned for our next adventure!

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