I just finished my first cruisetour in Alaska and we are headed for the ship. You might ask what is a cruisetour? It is basically a land and sea package where you get to go a bit more in depth somewhere that a cruise ship couldn't go added onto your cruise. You can choose to do your tour portion either before or after your cruise but for Alaska I recommend doing it before. The tour portion in Alaska is busy and has lots of early mornings so doing the cruise after allows you to relax and recover. Most times you will have a few different package options for your Alaska cruisetour to include other things but all will include your cruise and land accommodations along with transportation to your cruisetour hotels. The big difference between the cruise and the tour is that your land portion doesn't come with food included like the cruise so you would need to choose an add on package if you want meals included on land. Here are 7 tips I learned from my Alaska cruisetour.
#1 Pack strategically. This really is key since you need to pack a little bit of everything for a visit to Alaska. It really is worth it to not have suitcases that are packed too tightly from the beginning since you will be having unpack and pack a few times. We ended up with 3 checked suitcases for the 2 of us (2 large and one smaller one) even though I probably could have gotten it all into just 2. I was very happy I chose to bring 3 as it made things easier for me. Princess does offer an option to send any bag you won't need on land right to the port so it will meet you on the ship instead of having to go to each lodge with you. That just didn't work for me but that was OK since having the 3 bags did help when we were juggling things from lodge to lodge. You most likely will only spend 1 or 2 nights at each lodge so it means a lot of living out of suitcases.
#2 Pre-plan your outfits for each day. This comes in handy when you have to have your bags out of your room at the crack of dawn. I recommend using some packing cubes or something that will help you keep your suitcases organized and easy to pull out a day's set of clothes the night before. In Alaska dressing in layers is key so make sure each day's clothes have you ready for any type weather no matter what the forecast might be predicting.
#3 Have a day bag plan. On the days you change lodges you might be on a long bus or train ride between lodges. You might also be doing a tour or excursion on the way between lodges so you will want to have a day bag with you with a few essentials. It is also good to keep anything with you that you really couldn't afford to lose or would need before getting to your next room, such as prescriptions or your travel documents. Be sure to read over your travel documents beforehand as there might be restrictions on the day bag you can carry on with you, for example the train between Denali and Anchorage has pretty strict rule of no wheelie bags can be carried on the train with you. There are specific size limits for the bag you can take on the train as it needs to fit in a tight space by your seat.
#4 Be Organized. Having packing cubes or some type of smaller bags or specific spots in your suitcase for things makes it easier to find things quickly. This also helps to be sure everything gets packed again each time you change lodges. The early morning bag pick ups can be hectic so being organized really helps.
#5 Read and reread the schedule for each day in advance. There will be lots of important times to remember each day so you don't want to miss the bag pick up or worse your bus. The morning we went into Denali park was a very early bus pick up and they stick to schedule so it would be a bummer to miss that bus.
#6 There are no guarantees. In Alaska this applies to a few things. Remember this is wilderness so there are some things no one can control. Number one is there are no guarantees that you will get to see a clear view of Mt Denali. It is said that usually only 30% of visitors get a clear view of the whole mountain just because it is so high that is pretty much has it own weather and will usually be hidden behind clouds. We realized how lucky we were to get a clear view more than one day of our trip. The second thing that people complain about is not getting to see all of the wildlife they wanted to see. Again nature doesn't always cooperate so you just might not get that shot of a grizzly or moose or whatever animal you were hoping to see during your Alaska visit. You should already be prepared for just about any weather as that is just a given with Alaska but weather can also affect other things like your mode of transportation. This is a little more unusual but happened during our trip that weather caused the train tracks to be impassable in spots due to rock slides and trees down so our scenic train ride from one lodge to the next was cancelled and we had to take the bus. I was really looking forward to the train experience and I know for most people that is a big part of what they want as part of their Alaska land portion. Hopefully you will get to see and do everything you really wanted to on your visit but if you don't there is always next time.
#7 Get enough sleep and drink plenty of water. There is a lot to do on your tour so getting a good amount of sleep and staying hydrated is important to being able to really enjoy everything. Alaska is 4 hours behind our East Coast time zone and along with the longer hours of daylight this far north it was easy to stay up way later than you intended and that 6 am bags out time sneaks up on you real quick. It is also very dry in parts of Alaska so be sure to drink enough water.
Did you know all of that about Alaska? I was amazed by how big Alaska really is when you see it laid on top of the rest of the US! That trivia doesn't even mention things like how big Glacier Bay National Park is (3.3 million acres by the way). Glacier Bay is just a small part of the 25 million acre World Heritage site (one of the world's largest international protected areas).
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