On a boat!
August 4, 2015 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Alaska Cruise! What are your last minute tips, tricks and packing advice for someone who got a free-through-family cruise up the west coast and around a glacier and back?

Me- late twenties female, usually glued to her electronic devices, poor as a church mouse & non-drinking. I'm particularly excited for the climbing wall and ice rink. This boat appears to be marketed to older people (as fits the nice family that gave me my ticket) as a lot of the events are a spa that offers botox and workshops on retirements living planning.

What is a MUST BRING?
How much clothing for what's basically a week?
What activities are worth it?
Is it worth getting a wifi package?
What sort of social interactions should I plan for?
How do I balance August with Alaska + Glacier as far as clothes?

Other things I should know?
posted by Phalene to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
cruisecritic.com is your new best friend. They have lots of recommendations for first-time cruisers.

Remember first and overall that a cruise line exists to attach a vacuum hose to your wallet and drain it as much as possible. The basic cruise is free. Food is good, and there are things to do. But if you want an off-boat excursion, that will cost money. You can eat in fancier specialty restaurants, but that will cost money. Booze (which you don't use) will cost money.

The boat is warm. Alaska will be cool (15-18 degrees C high), and cold (0-5 degrees) next to or on top of the glaciers. Casual dress is fine. It will rain. Not, it might rain. It will rain. Bring rain gear.

The dress up nights are nice, if you want to participate in fancy dress up meals. Wear your finest. If you don't want to, you can eat anyway. You won't starve on a cruise ship.

I wouldn't get a wifi package, because that would cause me to miss out what's on board ship.

The gym on board will be great. Use the instructors if available. Take classes.

If you like sodas, get the all-you-can-drink package. You carry a special cup which you can refill everywhere.

Some cruises will have really off the wall activities like skeet shooting off the stern. Those are fun, but cost money.
posted by blob at 3:40 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

What activities are worth it?

If you're talking about cruise-organized excursions, I'd skip them*. They're expensive and they'll be tailored to the average passenger, who is probably more sedentary than you, electronic-device-addict or not. Grab a guide book and look up the ports where you're stopping, see if you can find something that excites you about each of them.

*That said, I did have fun playing with sled puppies at some touristy-but-adorable place, and my friends were happy with their afternoon of zip-lining. But hiking in Ketchikan was also great, and it was free.
posted by orangejenny at 3:48 PM on August 4, 2015

As above cruisecritic forums are invaluable. Don't forget Alaska is part of the U.S. So your U.S. Data package will be good while in port--check with your provider to make sure they offer 4G or LTE in the ports you will be going to. When we did Alaska 15 years ago verizon did not offer 'high speed' data in most of the ports.

Wifi is a catch-22. You will want to buy it, but you won't be able to use it like at home. Typically wifi on a cruise ship is like using a dial-up connection from last century. I only use ships wifi these days to download email--anything else is too frustrating. IM or FB will not be a satisfying experience. The latency in the satellite connection is very bad. YMMV

Bon voyage
posted by prk60091 at 4:29 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed an Alaskan cruise I took with my extended family when I was 23. But do know that the boat shuts down at about 9 p.m. and it is a quiet cruise (compared to Caribbean drinkfests) ... it's mostly older people and families. That suited me right down to the ground, really, because while I liked to party from time to time, a week on a quiet boat with an early bedtime and cool shore excursions was GREAT! But it will not be a party cruise. When we went to the casino on board most tables were $1 bet tables and the high rollers table was $5, and the dealer helped tell my aunt how to bet with the odds because she'd never played blackjack before. I mean, he literally gave her a pamphlet with the odds on it, and helped her remember what to do with a 14. It is not a wild and crazy cruise!

About half the towns we went to I did boat-organized tours; about half I toured on my own. If you are doing the Inside Passage, I really enjoyed the White Pass & Yukon railroad ride starting in Skagway. Juneau is CRAZY WALKABLE because it is smashed up against a glacier, so walk there! It has a lot of pretty cool museums and of course the state capitol building and stuff ... that is the city where I'd skip the cruise-provided shore excursions because there's plenty to do on your own. The cruise-provided excursions in Glacier National Park were really good, especially for my more athletic cousins (I did a "look at things with binoculars" tour because I am not so athletic), partly because it's so big that otherwise you're flailing a bit with just your 8-hour stop.

Bring some good books and plan to enjoy downtime. A few of my cousins swam, but it was way too chilly for me. Bring layers, and a waterproof layer for the top! Short sleeves, warm sweaters, and some kind of lined windbreaker.

Stuff from the lower 48 takes a crazy long time to get to Alaska ... the printed Wall Street Journal and New York Times used to arrive around 6 p.m.! That is sort-of fun in and of itself.

The salmon will be very good.

If you fly out of Anchorage at the end, it takes FUCKING FOREVER to get to Anchorage from wherever the boat docks. I wanted to diiiiiiiiie of exhaustion. It is a VERY LONG DAY, and then you get on a plane and change a bunch of time zones no matter what, and that part kind-of sucks. Plan for suckage on the last day.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:42 PM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

I went on Alaska cruise with my 65 year old mom when I turned 30. I actually had the most fun on the three excursions we did, but we picked pretty active ones. One was a 10 mile bike ride in Juneau, one was a raft trip, and one was a kayak trip. I was always the youngest, but those activities attracted the younger, fitter olds, so it was a lot of fun. I also got a lot of attention from one of the middle aged guys in the cruise band because I was one of only a handful of sub-50 year olds on the ship. It was both nice and weird. All in all the whole thing was a pretty pleasant experience, though.
posted by MsMolly at 4:48 PM on August 4, 2015

I just got back from being in Alaska for two weeks, however I was not on a cruise, so I will only speak to clothing options. I was encouraged to think in layers, and that was good advice. I had days go from 50 degrees to almost 80 degrees F (if you're actually going to a glacier you'll need to plan on warmer clothes for that event).

What worked best for us was to have a several basic knit short sleeve shirts with fleeces we could add, and a rainproof windbreaker you can either layer or wear by itself. It generally rained part of most days. (but not for very long, so take heart!) For bottoms I was pretty casual and wore plain pants or jeans, but my daughters often wore skorts, with the idea of adding leggings if they got cold. Oh, one last note about the rain, I wasn't going to have access to a dryer so I was encouraged to bring a few more pants, socks, etc. than I had originally planned so that we would be able to change into dry clothes, so maybe put in one more pair of whatever. And we carried our backbacks everywhere we went.

I have friends who go on cruises and I think there is an idea of dressing slightly nicer for dinner, not an obligation, but rather a fun way to make the cruise special. There should be information about your particular cruise, but even if there isn't I would throw in a comfortable knit/easy-wear skirt that you could wear with leggings.
posted by dawg-proud at 5:45 PM on August 4, 2015

Bring a fleece. And a rain jacket. Maybe a hat. Gloves/mittens, if you get cold. A scarf or neck gaiter, maybe, if you're going to be on a glacier.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:48 PM on August 4, 2015

If you're thinking of signing up for hikes, research the towns first. I paid over $100 for a hike excursion that turned out to be a five minute walk from dock, and free and open to the public. Be warned!
posted by monologish at 5:55 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't say where all you're going but if Ketchikan is on your itinerary, take a bus to Totem Bight and hang around an hour or two. All the locals we talked to thought Totem Bight is the best park and better than the commercially run Alaskan Native village near town. There's the SE Alaska Discovery Center near the cruise docks that's worth the $5. There may be free walks you can do from there, but I didn't see any on their site,
August's moving toward the rainy season so it should be cloudy and drizzly most days. If you're not from the American SW or someplace dry and hot, you know what to expect - it's like fall.
posted by fiercekitten at 6:20 PM on August 4, 2015

What was nice on the Alaska cruise I took was pay the fee to have spa access whenever I wanted. It was a nice refuge from the bustle of the cruise. It was at the front of the ship and had huge windows you could lounge in front of wearing a robe.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:54 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dana Stabenow has written some good, cheap, easyreading, crime books set in Alaska, if you have an ereader of somesort. Liam Campbell and Kate Shugak series. A few of them are set in the fishing industry.
posted by kjs4 at 11:37 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Durable, waterproof footwear for hiking.

Binoculars! If you're going on a cruise, it's likely you'll visit glacier parks which are only accessible from ships - no way to see them on foot or land. Which means that it's good to have a pair of really good binoculars to view the animals from the ship deck.

Ketchikan salmon... it might be a bit too late in the year to watch the salmon now, I'm not sure... but if they're there, they're worth seeing.

& yea, some cruise-organized tours are ok while others are basically overpriced versions of what you can get from local guides. So it's good to do prior research and budgeting for this.
posted by aielen at 6:22 AM on August 5, 2015

My beloved and I went to Alaska via Princess at about this time of year two years ago. While at sea, the weather did not really allow for too much time on deck, and the seas were a little rolly, but just enough to rock you to sleep at night.

The people who work onboard work 7 days a week for weeks at a time, so don't scrimp on the end-of-voyage tip that the cruise line will automatically add to the bill; they really earn it. Food was fab, and we hooked up with a single tour company for tours in all three ports we visited. Unfortunately they went bankrupt during the voyage, but the tours happened anyway.

Formal night was a little too optional for my taste - we dressed, but not that many did...awkward in the dining room.
posted by DandyRandy at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2015

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