Subject: Re: Alaska - Cruise - First Timers
Hello, We cruised Alaska in July, and I don't think a day goes by when I don't think about that trip. It makes a lasting impression on you-- what a great way to celebrate an anniversary! (Be sure to let HAL know what you're celebrating--they'll do something special for you.)

You'll love HAL, your wife's black with pearls plan is perfect, and yes, planning your excursions ahead of time is better to avoid disappointment as well as the hassle of booking on board. Alaskan cruising is more popular than ever, and post-9/11, additional ships have been deployed from their usual summer homes in the Mediterranean to Alaska, so popular excursions can sell out. You will be competing with not only your fellow passengers, but also the thousands of other pax from other ships that will be in port at the same time, for a finite number of opportunities presented by these small port communities--Skagway's resident population is 800, the largest of the three is Juneau at 30,000.

If you decide to take the Skagway train ride, I'd advance book with HAL for convenience. As to the other excursions, you might want to compare what HAL is offering to what independent operators can furnish. For information about independent operators in Alaska and what the various excursions are really like, and anything and everything else you want to know about cruising Alaska, the best online resource I found was the Alaska discussion board at www.cruisecritic.com.

HAL likely offers an Inner Passage cruise companion book with map similar to the one we purchased from Princess. It is well worth the investment--and don't wait to buy it on board, order it now so you can learn all about the history, culture, navigation facts, wildlife, etc. in advance. During your cruise, you can tape the map to a glass picture frame in your room and follow the navigational mile-by-mile commentary in the book.

Enjoy your research!

Diana Ball near Houston, TX