Subject: Re: Alaska cruise
Hi Diane,

We are frequent cruisers and enjoyed our Alaskan experience last July more than any other cruise we've taken thus far. But the reason Alaska tops our cruise list has very little to do with the onboard experience. Except for the scenery and wildlife viewing from the ship, the highlights of our trip were what we discovered on Alaskan soil (and on snow and ice, too!). Alaska is a place of incomparable natural wonders and a state full of diverse historical and cultural treasures. And if you like active pursuits, Alaska will give you the chance to engage in once-in-a-lifetime adventures ranging from sea kayaking in the fjords and whale, bear and eagle watching to mountain summit air tours and heli-glacier landings and much, much more in between!

So, with that personal perspective, I write to offer slightly different opinions than the wonderful contributions you've already received. As always, travel styles come down to personal preferences, tastes and interests--what I think may not be a good fit for you at all.

One, traveling to Alaska can be one of the more expensive trips you will take in terms of both the monetary and time investment required. Accordingly, I agree with the other contributor: keep your mind open to adding as much pre- and post-cruise time for land exploration as is possible on the do it now, we might never be back theory. The six in our extended family group from ages 9 to 69 unanimously voted that the highlight of our entire trip was during our post-cruise foray into the interior: a flightsee encircling Mt. McKinley with glacier landing--it was exhilirating to be atop the highest mountain in North America!

Second, consider choosing your cruise based on itinerary vs. which cruise line sounds more appealing in terms of cabins, food, entertainment, etc. IMHO, the best itineraries are (1) one-way vs. roundtrip, (2) include a day cruising in Glacier Bay National Park, and (3) include Inside Passage travel between Vancouver Island and the mainland (vs. outside of Vancouver Island). Although all of the mass market cruise lines have ships in Alaska, if you are considering Celebrity, I think out of the pack, you will be equally pleased with Holland America and Princess. (If budget is no concern, there are luxury lines and specialty, small-ship lines to consider, also.) As to your onboard accommodations, specifically discuss with your travel agent (who specializes in cruises--not all TAs are expert in cruise bookings) a balcony cabin that offers overhead and side protection from the elements--you will savor the incredible passing scenery and wildlife much more in the comfort of your own sheltered, private balcony than while parked in a deck chair huddled up against the ship's railing amidst the cold, wind and frequent rain. I concur with the other traveler's advice to secure a starboard cabin going north, port side going south.

Third, and finally, to voice a different opinion re: your land touring options. If you're already an independent sort of traveler, you need not give that up when you cruise! For us, the ship is a form of transportation and accommodation; once it deposits us at our destination, we prefer our independent explorations to ship-sponsored tours. If you are willing to invest the time necessary to educate yourself about the land offerings in each port, you will have no difficulty mastering the logistics of touring on your own. In seven cruises, we've taken only one ship-sponsored excursion (because that operator was the only one doing that activity)--all of the rest, we've done by ourselves, and we've never missed the ship or even had a close call. The key is advance research and planning, plus common sense, e.g., don't book an independent tour that ends too close to your ship's departure time. It is very important to understand that in the coastal ports of Alaska (like the ports in many other places), the locals' very livelihood is dependent on cruisers. For that reason, they know more about the cruise ship schedules than we do. They are eager to proudly share with you the best of their special place *and* to timely return you to ship safe and sound, as their business reputation is reliant on your satisfaction.

For more information, I recommend three basic sources for starters: your public library; the Milepost, which is the Bible of Alaskan travel (see their website); and which is dedicated to information about cruising, cruise reviews from people like you and me, and moderated forums that are extremely active to the tune of hundreds of new posts daily by folks talking about specific cruise lines and destinations.

Best wishes in your planning. I just noticed you are talking about this summer? You need to get moving--the Alaska cruise season is May to Sept., and it is so popular, ships are already heavily reserved by now, this year more than ever considering many Americans' desire to stay closer to home.

Diana Ball near Houston, TX