Cruising to Alaska

Me and my sister Kristjana travel together once a year, for some quality sister time, and to see a cool new place. This year we decided on a cruise to Alaska, since both Vancouver and Seattle serve as main port departures for the hundreds of cruises and ships that do the trip every summer season. We sailed roundtrip from Seattle with the Norwegian Star and stopped in 3 Alaskan port towns, as well as Prince Rupert BC.

a floatplane taking off in Ketchikan with our Norwegian Star in the background

Norwegian Cruise Line markets “free-style cruising” as their trademark, since dining times and locations are not set and you can literally eat unlimited amounts of food 24 hrs a day. One night they even had a chocolate buffet – we had serious conflicts with our indulgent desires and sugar-overload tummy grumbles. Others found their guilty pleasures at the casino on board, at one of the many Bingo games, at an Art Auction or at the jewellery/alcohol/tobacco duty free shop. Apparently buying serious, collectable art and very precious stones and gems is the thing to do when cruising to Alaska – I had no idea.

decadent chocolate overload

The ship was 14 decks tall, with 13 restaurants, 9 bars, 6 hot tubs, 3 pools, 2200 passengers, and 1100 crew – thats a staff member to every two passengers! We had the most phenomenal weather imaginable for Alaska or late September; there were sunny, clear skies every day with highs around 20 degrees. We got serious tans from hottubing and walking around ports in just t-shirts and joked people would think we accidentally cruised to Mexico.

We were a slight minority on the ship, since the majority of the passengers were American (followed by British?), over retirement age, and traveling with a spouse (and sometimes their whole family). I was impressed by the amount of people with accessibility needs or excess weight that didnt let anything stop them – everyone still got around the massive ship no problem and got off to enjoy every day in port. A policy I found strange was that people over 250 pounds paid a premium (sometimes 80%) on many of the shore excursions since the floatplanes and helicpoters taking tourists around were weight restricted.

Our first port in Alaska was Ketchikan, followed by the capital Juneau, and Skagway last. We ported both cities right downtown, and the gangway led us straight into the small, city center which acted as a perfect tourist trap. There were shops galore, cafes, restaurants, bars, internet and beautiful parks or docks to walk along and you really didnt think of leaving town to go see the real Alaska. The nicknames ‘the great land’ or ‘true wilderness’ really didnt shine through in our narrow experiences, but neither did Ketchikan’s reputation for being the city with more rainfall than any other American city.

cruising towards a breaking glacier

We sailed up through the Inside passage and saw some beautiful islands, arms and sounds, as well as ice-topped mountains, hanging and melting glaciers. Our last port was Prince Rupert BC, which has only had a cruise port since 2004 and is still developing the cruise tourism industry the Alaskan cities have perfected. It was a small, sleepy town and the crew all joked there was nothing to do there and they had no idea why we went there, but I thought it was a perfect addition to sailing Alaska, since much of the western Canadian coast is Alaskan territory, and for many of the Americans, it was their first time in friendly Canada. Or maybe I’m just slightly partial to Beautiful British Columbia 🙂