Why the journey is the destination when it comes to Alaska cruises (2024)

They say getting there is half the fun. Usually, I disagree. When I travel, I want to get to where I’m going as quickly as possible to make the most of my time there. However, sailing Celebrity Edge on its maiden Alaska voyage from Seattle, I was all about the journey.

Staring up at the snow-capped mountains through the ship’s floor-to-ceiling windows and watching for wildlife in the icy waters below, I was mesmerized by the famed Last Frontier. And I realized that on an Alaska cruise, the journey is a destination.

Here’s why and what travelers should know about cruising Alaska.

Why is Alaska a popular cruise destination?

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Alaska is a bucket-list destination for many people. Some may wait their whole lives for the trip. While Alaska Airlines and other carriers fly throughout America’s largest state, it isn’t as easy to navigate as the Lower 48.

Cruises allow travelers to visit multiple destinations without taking separate flights, renting a car or moving from hotel to hotel. My Edge itinerary included stops in Ketchikan, which is surrounded by the lush Tongass National Forest; the state capital of Juneau, which is only accessible by air or sea; and Skagway, home of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. The ship also carefully navigated the stunning Endicott Arm fjord toward Dawes Glacier, a highlight of the trip.

The easy trip can also be more accessible for people with mobility issues and other disabilities. Like other cruise lines, Celebrity has a team dedicated to accessible cruising. Numerous guests on board my sailing used walkers, canes or wheelchairs. Plus, it’s just nice to be able to take in the dramatic coastlines from the comfort of a cozy cabin or lounge when it’s chilly outside.

Are cruises to Alaska worth it?

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They can be. At last check, the lowest price on a seven-night Celebrity Edge Alaska Dawes Glacier sailing, roundtrip from Seattle, for the remainder of this summer is listed at $778 per person on the cruise line’s website, based on double occupancy in an inside stateroom. That does not include travel to or from Seattle nor any taxes or fees, which can balloon the bottom line on any cruise. Nor does it include promotional discounts, which are pretty much always available. After taxes and fees, that works to about $2,212 for two people or $1,106 per person.

The cheapest seven-night Southbound Glacier sailing on the Edge’s sister ship, Celebrity Summit, is much less at $249 per person, based on double occupancy in an inside stateroom. It’s worth noting the Southbound voyage goes from Seward, Alaska, to Vancouver, British Columbia, not a round trip. Also the Summit is not an Edge-class ship, The Celebrity Edge is the first Edge class ship to sail Alaska; it was also the first ship in Celebrity’s most recent series, which also includes the new Celebrity Ascent. Edge-class ships were designed to bring guests closer than ever to their destinations, with their signature Magic Carpet cantilevered platform that extends beyond the ship’s edge and other features that bring the outside in. After taxes and fees, the Summit sailing adds up to about $1,231 for two people or about $615 a person.

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Both are cheaper than flying between cities and staying at hotels for a week in Alaska, but they're also cheaper than other popular vacations. For example, seven nights at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, a value resort at Walt Disney World, costs $955 for the room alone, including taxes and a summer promo deal. Adding seven days of park tickets, without park hopping, and the total becomes $2,195 for two people or about $1,098 per person, excluding food.

Meanwhile, cruises include all onboard meals – except optional specialty dining and alcohol. There are also a boatload of included activities, like nature talks, tai chi classes, guided arts and crafts, trivia, games and childcare. There’s live music available through the day and nightly stage shows. I sampled a little bit of everything, but for me, the best part of the ship was the views.

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Do you see wildlife on an Alaskan cruise?

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Yes. I saw whale spouts three times from the ship, though the whales didn’t breach above water. I also saw a handful of harbor seals and a dozen eagles from the ship and from shore. Bald eagles are so common in Alaska that a tour bus driver jokingly called them bald seagulls. There are 30,000 bald eagles in the state, according to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

I kept an eye out for bears on an excursion to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. I didn’t see any walking along the paved, wheelchair-accessible Nugget Falls Trail, but I did spot all sorts of spring buds and the most beautiful moss.

The ship’s onboard naturalist gave us a heads-up on what to look for and taught us about various species in presentations in the ship’s theater. She also broadcasted live on the ship’s TV channel and inside speakers while traveling through the Endicott Arm. However, her voice wasn’t carried on outside speakers to avoid potentially disturbing wildlife.

What is the best month to go on a cruise to Alaska?

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The Alaska cruise season runs from late April to early October, though dates vary by cruise line. Guests who sail early or late in the season may find lower rates than during the height of the summer, but they may miss out on warmer weather.

It was in the 40s to 50s most days of my May sailing, and it rained on our Juneau day. The onboard naturalist warned that there is no bad weather in Alaska, only poor clothing choices.

How much should I budget for an Alaskan cruise?

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You should pad your budget with several hundred extra dollars for excursions and dining off-ship. Both can be pricey but enriching. My Mendenhall Glacier excursion was just under $130, including transportation and an off-site Gold Creek Salmon Bake, with all-you-can-eat fresh salmon cooked over a wood-burning fire. I’ve never had better fried fish than the local halibut at The Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan, and I will be dreaming of the sweet, plump red king crab at Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau for years to come. If you want freshly caught Alaska seafood, you’ll want to get it at port.

You may be able to spot whales from the cruise ship, but if you really want to go whale watching, salmon fishing, dog sledding, or get up close to glaciers, that’s generally going to require an excursion. Excursions offered through cruise lines tend to cost more than those booked independently, but booking through the cruise line can streamline payment and ensure that the ship won’t leave without you if the excursion runs late.

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One port you can enjoy on the cheap is Skagway. You can explore several exhibits and historic buildings on your own, as part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. However many visitors splurge on a scenic train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway up to the Canadian border and back.

Is it worth getting a balcony on a cruise?

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Yes and no. The views throughout Alaska are breathtaking, and being able to enjoy them from your cabin any time of day feels luxurious. I loved waking up to mountains, thick with trees, outside my window and scanning the waters for marinelife before bed.

Just over 80% of Celebrity Edge’s staterooms have a balcony. I had an Infinite Veranda, which is unique to Edge-class ships. Rather than a traditional balcony with a sliding glass door, Infinite Verandas incorporate what would be exterior balcony space into the interior of the cabin and have a window that slides halfway down the exterior wall with the push of a button. I loved how much bigger it made the cabin feel and appreciated the extra climate-controlled living space. It was still chilly during my early season sailing, so I rarely put the window down and think I would have enjoyed a non-balcony, oceanview room just as much.

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Of course, if you book an inside cabin, you can still enjoy the scenery from public areas of any ship. The Celebrity Edge brings the outside in with tons of windows, including in the buffet restaurant, Oceanview Cafe, where I spotted my first whale spout. In the back of the ship, there’s a relaxing mixed-use space called Eden with three stories of windows that I found myself drawn to daily. The solarium, with its tall windows and rows of lounge chairs, also offered expansive views.

Do I need a passport for an Alaskan cruise?

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Maybe.For a closed-loop cruise that starts and ends in the same U.S. port, like the one I was on, all you need is proof of citizenship.

“According to U.S. Customs & Border Protection, this includes an Enhanced Driver’s License, which is a state-issued driver’s license that provides proof of identity and U.S. citizenship; a government-issued birth certificate (issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where the person was born) or passport; and if 16 or older, a government-issued driver’s license or picture ID denoting photo, name, and date of birth,” according to Celebrity.

Of course, not all Alaska cruises are closed-loop cruises. Some start or end in Vancouver, Canada. There are also cruises on several smaller U.S.-flagged cruise lines like Alaska Dream Cruises and Uncruise Adventures, which may not require passports depending on the itinerary.

Can you see the Northern Lights on an Alaska cruise?

It’s possible, but because daylight hours are so long during the summer in Alaska, the best chance to see them would be on a cruise late in the season.

I woke up in the middle of the night a few times to look for Northern Light. I didn’t see any, but I heard passengers on a previous sailing spotted them. Then again, so did people all across the country during the solar storm earlier this month.

The reporter on this story received access from Celebrity Cruises. USA TODAY maintains editorial control of reviews.

Why the journey is the destination when it comes to Alaska cruises (2024)


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