Alaska Trip Planning (Things You Need 2 Know)

Juneau Alaska Port

So you’ve decided that you want to go to Alaska but need to find out some important information first. Well, you’ve come to the right place. There are so many things that you may need to know that is specific to you but I will share some information that may help narrow down some of your ideas or answer some questions for you.

Alaska is a seasonal destination for the general traveling public. As you know, even the whales head straight to warmer waters. I’m no marine biologist but I know that they head to Hawaii for the winter. That’s is why it’s great to go to Hawaii during December – March because that’s when you see these smart and happy whales in Hawaii.

Alright, It’s time to get serious…

When is the best time to travel to Alaska?

The season generally starts in April and runs through September. Obviously, July is the warmest month and it’s also the most expensive time to go generally due to such high demand. July is the peak part of the season.

It’s best to plan your trip to Alaska early, maybe 6-8 months in advance. Of course, the sooner the better but that doesn’t mean you can’t check availability 1-3 months in advance. You just won’t have as many choices and it will be more difficult to get what you want if you’re traveling with other family members and/or friends.

It doesn’t matter what month you go when it comes to some rain. Please know to expect it and be prepared for it. You may not see any or you may see light drizzle to a continuous downpour. Either way, it won’t keep you from enjoying Alaska very much. I can speak from experience.

If you want the best chance to see wildlife then I suggest you go early in the season as the wildlife comes out of hibernation and they are HUNGRY! Wouldn’t you be hungry after a long winter of being in hibernation? (I share that same feeling every morning when I wake up!)

The waterfalls and streams are really going at that time too, as the snow melts and summertime comes around.

As the season dies down in August/September, you can find less expensive travel fares. The students are back in school, so it’s less crowded too.

What is the best way to see Alaska? By cruise, by land or both?

This really depends on so many factors. But I’ll give you some things to think about.

If you’re visiting Alaska via a cruise, I highly recommend making the most of your trip by adding shore excursions. If you are physically able to get out and kayak, hike, take a seaplane or helicopter tour, etc, then do it! Get out into the wilderness while you’re there. This is also perfect for families, couples, solo travelers and don’t be surprised if you see a bachelorette party on your ship like Julianne Hough had in 2017.

If you are looking to explore Alaska by land, you have many choices depending on the physical abilities of the travelers and what you’re looking to do while you’re there. (Not to mention, your budget.) This may entail lots of driving and/or flying into places that don’t have road access, like Juneau.

Are you looking for a fully guided tour or something a bit more relaxed? Do you have 1 week or 2? I could go on and on but you get the idea. I can put everything together piece by piece or show you packages that are more value for your money but have what you’re looking for.

Most of my clients do prefer the cruisetour. A cruisetour is when you cruise a portion of the trip and you tour on land for a few days but not necessarily in that order. It’s really up to you how you want to do it. It makes sense especially if you’re taking the kiddos and grandparents for a trip of a lifetime.

This is an experience that can be coordinated in many ways but is the ultimate way that most couples, families and solo travelers prefer. You are in the care of the tour and cruise company all the way. You get transported from ship to train, take a scenic train ride to a chalet or lodge near the Denali National Park for 1-3 nights, and then head back to Anchorage to start your cruise or head back home if you’ve already done the cruise portion.

While at the Denali National Park you can travel 95 miles into the wilderness park on a bus and try to catch the Big 5 (grizzly bears, caribou, moose, Dall Sheep and wolves), flightseeing, visit a husky kennel, river rafting, take a helicopter to the nearest glacier, hiking and well you get the idea.

I think the best way to go is via a cruise/tour. You can start in Anchorage and take a train up to Mt McKinley where a rustic cabin awaits you. There are tours you can take to get into the Denali National Park. Please keep in mind that Alaska is still rustic. Comfortable but rustic.

You will need more than 7 days to be able to do the cruise/tour but it’s a great way to be in the actual wilderness and up close with the wildlife.

What are the best places to visit in Alaska?

I can actually create a personalized itinerary for you depending on what you want to do and see. Otherwise, if you cruise or take a guided tour then you are at the mercy of the tour or cruise company.

The good thing is, there are a lot of choices that you can pick from and find something that you will be excited about!

You can do a roundtrip in Seattle. That seems to be a convenient and low cost port to start. You could also start up north in Anchorage and sail south to Vancouver. That’s not the least expensive but it has it’s perks too! I could go on and on but each embarkation port and disembarkation port has an advantage to them. That’s something you’ll have to discuss with your travel advisor.

Keep in mind that you can spend extra days in your embarkation port or disembarkation port as well.

Welcome to Juneau Alaska

Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It’s small and not accessible by roads so you might as well see it by ship. You get to pass towering waterfalls on the way into Juneau that are breathtaking. You can explore the town or pan for gold in a real underground mine.

Hubbard Glacier is one of the most popular and one that you can see by ship. On glacier day, you will want to be ready with where you will be on the ship to see it and what you will be wearing because it’s freezing outside, of course. The captains are usually pretty good at getting as close as they can to it and they spin very slowly so that everyone on the ship can have a great photo op.

My collegues and I enjoying Hubbard Glacier from the Retreat on Holland America’s Oosterdam.

My colleague and myself took advantage of “The Retreat” located on the Sports Deck of the Oosterdam with Holland America for our glacier day. We had a cabana for all of our friends and had prime view of Hubbard Glacier. By the way, we had the most amazing servers there to cater to our every needs. Hot chocolate to our hearts content, lunch order delivered, champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, blankets and they were excellent at keeping out the peasant folk to who wanted to intrude on our exclusiveness (and because the views were AMAZING.)

Sitka, Alaska is beautiful!

One of the ports I got to visit was Sitka. It’s not very common to stop there so I thought it was extra special to get to see it. Most itineraries do not include Sitka. It’s gorgeous, quaint and has very interesting history. Did you know that Sitka was owned by Russia until 1867 and it was Alaska’s first capital city?

Sitka has great shopping, restaurants, it’s very walkable and has an awesome Totem Pole park inside the Sitka National Historic Park.

Sitka National Historic Park

I can’t leave you without highlighting the train ride to Denali (formerly named Mt. McKinley). Long story about the name change. You can read about it here.

Denali is the highest point in North America at 20,310 ft. There is a rough dirt road that you can take into the park where you can get the best views of wildlife. It will be an adventure for sure!

One of the stops you may see on your itinerary is Victoria Canada, before arriving at your final port. Victoria is absolutely stunning. It such a gorgeous city! This is where the Butchart Gardens is located. (By the way, the middle “t” is silent, ok?) Some itineraries may allow you enough daylight hours to see Butchart Gardens and some may not. Although there are nighttime tours for the gardens too.

Victoria BC Canada

I chose to explore the downtown of Victoria near the port. It truly is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen and it came alive at night too! It does have a very British colonial flare to it. It’s very walkable and there are so many fun and upscale restaurants, shops and we even found Chinatown via a very narrow corridor which looked a lot like Daigon Alley.  There was live music playing, horse-drawn carriage rides, fun al fresco dining, and the weather was perfect!

Victoria BC Canada

What clothing do I need to pack for Alaska?

Alaska is one of those destination where you really need to plan out your wardrobe and be prepared for the worse and the best. You’ll hear a lot of advice calling for “layers of clothing”. It may be a warm sunny day in one port and rainy at the next port. Either way, you should be prepared for both.

Ready For Formal Night On The Ship

If you are cruising a standard 7 day voyage, then you will have at least 2 “formal nights” so you will want to make sure you have a couple of cocktail options for women such as dress pant suit, cocktail dress and the like. Men are free to wear any kind of suit but at least dress pants and a nice button collared shirt. Nowadays, cruise lines differ in the way they are relaxed on some requirements but please ask your professional travel advisor for specifics.

You don’t even have to participate at these formal nights. You can always order room service or try another dining venue.

If you already have waterproof boots/shoes then pack those. I didn’t have any but kind of wished I had some. There’s not a lot of call for those in Arizona so I didn’t want to spend good money on shoes that I’d wear once or twice….ever.

If you’re planning on hiking, take some good hiking shoes. It would stink if you had a chance to hike a gorgeous trail and couldn’t due to not taking your hiking shoes.

I wish someone would have told me to have a water bottle carrier. You are not going to want to walk around with your purse or backpack while on the ship but you need to be able to carry your room card, water and whatever you can’t live without like lip balm.  A small cross over body purse is great for women but I didn’t see any men with one of those…just an observation.  But you can’t fit a water bottle in that tiny purse so you need to have some way of carrying it around because you can refill it at the drink stations. Unless you want to buy water bottles at the bar or pre order some for your stateroom.

Another thing to think about is workout clothes! I know, I know…what the? I’m not an active person but even I loved the opportunity to workout in the most scenic gym ever. I also didn’t want to gain 10 pounds after all the eating I was doing on the ship. And the best part… is you can reward yourself at the spa!! Hey! You’re on vacation right?

What other important documents to I need to travel to Alaska?

You need your passport. Yes you can maybe get away with a birth certificate along with another official government issued identification but not in all cases. Please, please check with your travel professional!

One last thing on traveling to Alaska via Canada is to make sure you don’t have anything on your record that could cause officials to deny you entry or boarding. Even a DUI can keep you from enjoying your wonderful trip and this is something that is not covered by travel protection insurance so you want to make sure you are upfront about this. This is a delicate matter and should be handled very professionally. My job is to make sure you don’t waste a penny on a trip you don’t enjoy or don’t get to take. The Canadian border officials don’t mess around.

In summary, I’m not gonna lie, I don’t do well in colder climates but Alaska was so worth seeing! Alaska was not on my bucket list but I was well prepared and was not disappointed at all. The landscapes are absolutely majestic and the wildlife is glorious. I think it’s because we live in an environment that is so different from the lush, green, mountainous and rugged beauty of the “Last Frontier”.

I’m so grateful that I got to go. It would be my pleasure to help you with your travel arrangements. If you have any questions or would like more information about traveling to Alaska, please contact me at 480.290.1889 or cristina@cultivatedescapes.com.

Adios,
Cristina