Or: what’s so bad about traveling together with 3,000 other tourists, and is there an alternative? (the answer is YES).
Cruising in Alaska
As you may have heard, Alaska is an ideal destination for cruises. Most cruises start in Vancouver, travel along the western coast of British Columbia and through the Inside Passage, and end a week later in South central Alaska, in Whittier (an hour south of Anchorage) or Seward (two and a half hours south).
There are many variations. You can start in Alaska and end in Vancouver, you can take two back-to-back cruises and complete a two-week loop and so on. However, the bottom line is that almost all cruises stop in the same places. The cities in which you stop along the way (usually Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, with some optional additions here and there) enjoy the tourist traffic, the cruise companies enjoy the business, and the truth is that most tourists also enjoy the experience.
Food is served around the clock, there are endless entertainment options on deck, and it’s an ideal arrangement for families with children – you don’t have to think about what to do with them, just let go and someone will take care of them. Even the prices aren’t that bad (usually $800-$2,000 per person, and there are many bargains). So far so good.
So what’s the problem?
Glad you asked. The cruise companies’ trick is to wring as much money as possible out of you during the trip, instead of charging high for cruise tickets. This is mainly manifested when you stop in cities along the route, where a huge industry of shore excursions developed – anything from tours around the town to scenic flights combined with dog-sled tours.
Nobody wants to disembark in some town and then sit at a café near the port for eight hours, so two things happen: first of all, you can’t go too far (you have to get back to the ship on time), so you can’t see the really special places, only what’s close to town. Beyond that, because there are thousands of people disembarking at once, everyone ends up going to the same place at the same time.
To give you an idea, in the summer a town like Skagway (pop. 500 during the winter) welcomes 10 to 15 thousand visitors. The towns themselves turn into a long line of jewelry stores, because someone figured that jewelry would be the easiest to sell to cruise-ship tourists.
In terms of cost, shore excursions are becoming a significant addition, amounting to $500-$1,000 per person (a gross estimate, and you can of course spend much less or much more). The result, to put it mildly, is Disneyland for grownups.
This is all fine of course, and we all have the right to travel as we please, to eat and rest and buy jewelry by the dozen, but is this the best way to experience Alaska? The answer is, of course, no. It may be a good way to travel with your mother-in-law, and I’m not even sure about that.
(Ok, I may be coming off a bit bitter. I’ll just have a sip of water and be right back.)
(All done. Where were we?)
Does this mean you should drop the Alaskan cruise idea? Absolutely not. A few Alaskan companies operate small-ship cruises, and I believe this is one of the best ways to properly see Alaska.
Unlike big cruise ships, which carry over 2,000 passengers and tower to a height of 15 floors above the water, small ships only carry around 50 and have no more than three floors. The experience is very different. The smaller ships can enter smaller bays, into which the big ships cannot go. Their time schedule is much more flexible, and it’s very easy to change plans in order to make the best of the weather or of animal encounters. Above all, their encounter with Alaskan wildlife is entirely different. Just imagine the difference between seeing whales just above sea level and watching them from the tenth floor.
Even in terms of quality (rooms, food, etc.), the small ships are equal to the big ones. The big ships may have the upper hand in terms of entertainment choices on board, but it’s an entirely different genre of travel, as you may have realized. Unlike big cruises, small ships do not stop in towns along the way, but in small quiet bays, where you can go on guided trips by foot or kayak. Price-wise, this is usually more expensive than a big-ship cruise, but there are no surprises – no fees for shore excursions, and everything is included in the ticket price.
If you’re mainly interested in a cruise to unwind and relax, and you don’t really care if it’s in Alaska, Greece or the Caribbeans, a large cruise ship may be the right thing for you. But if you’re coming to Alaska to travel and to experience it up close, if you’re not into traveling with thousands of people around you, and especially if you’re interested in actual nature and not in tourist attractions, a small-ship cruise is what you need.
What do we offer?
We mostly work with a company called Un-Cruise, and judging by the mane you can guess that they have a slightly different approach to the whole cruise idea. You can get an idea about them through the video above and if you would like more information, call us! We would love to work with you and go over your options (price-wise, booking through us will be the same price and sometimes even cheaper than the prices offered on their website).
Additionally, we work with a number of small yacht operators (4-6 passengers), that offer a unique experience and an amazing way of seeing Alaska, especially as family trips. As with the above, if you are interested, contact us and we would be happy to help.