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Cruisetour Itineraries

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

Cruisetours combine sea-based cruises with land-based tours - traveling by bus, train, air or a combination of the three - offered before or after the cruise. Typically, the land portions of cruisetours last anywhere from three to eight nights, but usually are four or five days long. Cruisetours of Alaska are popular in part because for many people, a trip to Alaska is a once in a lifetime or at least relatively uncommon experience - and they want to make the most of their time after flying all that distance. Thus you can see both coastal Alaska and interior Alaska on one airfare and on one vacation. Cruisetours are also convenient, in that you book your entire trip the one entity, the cruise line. There's a seamless handover, as it were, between the cruise director and crew onboard and your guides on land.   

Keep in mind, though, that the land portions of cruisetours are usually more expensive than the sea portions - the per-day cost may be twice as much or even more, especially since many meals may not be included on the land portions.  You may also end up paying more for airfare if you fly into, say, Seattle, and fly back from Fairbanks, than if you flew roundtrip to, say, Seattle or Vancouver. Accommodations on cruisetours, though, are included and are generally of a high level. On Holland America cruisetours, for instance, you can expect to stay in the cruise line's own Westmark Hotels, and on Princess in Princess Lodges - both ranked among the best chains in Alaska.   

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Options in Port

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

You have three major options for spending your time in port: taking a cruise ship organized shore excursion, taking an independent organized shore excursion or going off to explore completely on your own. (Of course, if the port doesn't interest you, you can always stay on the ship if you choose - and some passengers do take advantage of that opportunity to schedule leisurely spa appointments or simply relax on deck.) We'll take a look at the pluses and minuses of each option. Keep in mind that whichever option you choose for one port, you can always choose a different option for the next port; for instance, you might choose a cruise line organized flightseeing trip in Ketchikan, book an independent whale-watching tour in Juneau and then explore Skagway by yourself. Finally, you may well have time to take a shore excursion (or even two) and still have time to explore the port on your own a bit, if your excursion isn't of the all-day variety. 

Shore excursions purchased through your cruise line can be enormously convenient. You sign up a few days (or weeks, if you go online before your cruise) in advance, you pay through your shipboard account, you board your transportation soon after leaving the ship, and you are guided or escorted to - and usually during - your destination or activity. 

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British Columbia (Canada) Ports

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

 

Parliament Buildings

 

Also in the Inner Harbor area is the Royal British Columbia Museum, whose permanent galleries showcase the province's human and natural history, from native cultures to modern times and regional wildlife. Inside the museum is an IMAX theater, and you can buy combination tickets to both, or just to one or the other. To get your money's worth, plan to spend at least two hours in the museum alone. 675 Belleville St., tel. 250-356-7226; open daily 9 am to 5 pm; $$$$. IMAX open daily 10 am to 8 pm, $$$. 

 

Thunderbird Park , near the museum, is the place to see totem poles in Victoria. You'll also find a number of other beautiful parks wandering around the area. 

 

Touristic attractions include the Undersea Gardens (off Belleville St., tel. 250-382-5717; open daily year-round 10 am to 5 pm and 9 am to 8 pm July-September; $$), where you can view local marine life such as salmon, anemones, octopi and eels, and watch as the marine life are fed by divers. It's located in a floating vessel moored in the Inner Harbor across from the Parliament Buildings. Miniature World (649 Humboldt St., tel. 250-385-9731; open May to early September daily 9 am to 9 pm, hours vary rest of the year; $$$) presents different "worlds" - such as the circus, the frontier, the Canadian railway and doll houses - in miniature. And the Royal London Wax Museum (470 Belleville St., tel. 250-388-4461; open daily 9 am to 9 pm, $$$) depicts everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Gordie Howe in wax. 

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Settling on a Stateroom

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

No matter which cruise line you take or what the level of luxury, fares often vary dramatically within the same ship. The number one reason for that is which type of stateroom or cabin (the names are used interchangeably) you pick. 

The least expensive staterooms are almost always "inside," that is, they have no windows. The next higher category is "outside" cabins, which do have windows, of varying sizes and shapes. Next up the ladder in expense is the balcony cabin - an outside cabin with a veranda. The fourth and highest category is the balcony suite - a multi-room cabin with veranda.  

Within those four major categories, you'll also find a number of sub-categories that can affect the price. For instance, an outside cabin may have an "obstructed" view, usually meaning that a lifeboat or other object at least partially blocks your scenery. Those cabins are usually somewhat cheaper than other outside cabins (and certainly should be; always check to make sure whether your outside cabin has an obstructed view). Most subcategories, though, are based on where the cabin is located on the ship. For various reasons, cabins that are higher up on the ship are usually more expensive; similarly, the lower a cabin is on the ship, the less pricey it tends to be. Cabins midway between the fore (front area) of the ship and the aft (rear area) of the ship also tend to be more expensive, on the theory that they offer a smoother ride. Unless you're particularly prone to seasickness (the type who gets queasy in a bathtub), however, this should be less of a consideration in Alaska, especially in the relatively calm waters of the Inside Passage, than in most other cruising regions of the world. 

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The Cruise Lines

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

We'll now take a detailed look at all the different cruise lines, and their ships, in the Alaska market. These fall into four main categories: Mainstream/big ships, luxury lines, small/expedition-style ships, and ferry systems operated by various government entities (the last, while not technically cruise ships, are often used for the same purpose). We'll also take a brief look at some cruise lines that include Alaska as part of much longer itineraries around the globe. 

For mainstream and luxury cruise line ships - that is, big and mid-sized ships - you'll find a set of facts and statistics listed under the name of each ship. Some of the stats are easy to figure out, others may seem pretty mysterious. Here's a breakdown: 

Registry - this is the country in which the ship is registered, often bearing little relation to where the cruise line is headquartered; very few ships are registered in the United States, for instance. 

Officers - this lists the nationality or nationalities of the top navigational officers, often Italians, Scandinavians, British or other Europeans. 

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