Spoiler Alert: This is my first blog entry where I will be putting my own photos – since this vacation was so special for me, I decided to use this post as a medium to show my face (finally!) to all the readers. So, read on.. 🙂
In February 2019, I heard about Alaska cruise for the first time, which prompted me to plan my own Alaskan vacation as well. Being me, planning a vacation involves reading travel blogs, watching travel Vlogs, Google-ing about the destination, talking to people who have been there and eventually, making my own vacation plans. One of the most interesting travel blogs that I followed religiously to make my own itinerary was from an Indian couple – Bruised Passports (such an appropriate name!).
For the longest time, I was debating which cruise line to take, and whether to travel solo or with my parents. After long discussions over FaceTime across different time zones, I eventually decided to book Alaska cruise for June 2019 with my parents. A few helpful things I learnt while booking my trip are:
- Boarding from Seattle Vs Vancouver: I chose the cruise line departing from Vancouver because it goes through Inside Passage, northbound to Alaska – it has calmer water and thus, minimal or no sea-sickness, if you are concerned about it. Plus, I wanted to see Vancouver!
- Which cruise line to take: This was my first cruise and I wanted to go for a classic cruise experience. Also, considering I had my parents with me, I chose a family-friendly cruise line; thus, I picked Holland America Line – the cruise line with longest standing track record for Alaska cruise. I had also looked at Celebrity cruises and Princess cruises – but their itineraries departing from Vancouver were already booked. Princess and Celebrity cruises are a bit pricier, but their onboard activities are catered more for young and middle-aged population.
- Best time to go: Usual tourist season for Alaska is May to September, most ideal being July and August, with perfect weather conditions most time of the month. I had my vacation scheduled for June, so couldn’t go any other time.
- Which shore excursions to book: As I said before, I followed Bruised Passports’ recommendations and booked the must-do excursions – Whale watching, Yukon pass white rail and Helicopter Glacier walking tour. Some websites also recommend Lumberjack show in Ketchikan, but I wanted to explore Ketchikan myself. Thus, no excursions in Ketchikan.
Flying to Vancouver:
We flew in to Vancouver from New York a night before our cruise, since I wanted to explore the city. We stayed at Hyatt near Canada Place Terminal, which was a 5-minute walk to the cruise port. I instantly fell in love with this city! Amazing weather, good food, so much to do [great night life and gay clubs 😉 ] and Stanley Park. I love running outdoors and a city that is so runner-friendly grabs my attention easily. I ran in Stanley Park along the harbor, on the morning of our cruise departure. The views were absolutely stunning with the cold breeze hitting my face, sound of waves and chirping birds and above all, a bright sunny day. Guess what, I saw our huge ship on my way to running.
Day 1 & 2: Cruising
After boarding the ship (which was a pretty smooth process taking around 2 hours), we finally entered our respective rooms. I had originally booked Inside rooms, but a week before boarding, I got an offer to upgrade to Verandah rooms – and this was the BEST decision I ever made on this whole trip! Having a personal balcony with access to the amazing Alaskan views 24*7 is priceless. I had spent my first 2 days on the ship mostly exploring the ship, eating, drinking (obviously!), working out and reading. My parents had their own Verandah room which they loved. They would order tea and light breakfast every morning and enjoy it on the balcony with the pretty views in front of them. I am missing my time on the cruise while I am writing this, sitting in my New York apartment.
Moreover, I had heard that cruise vacations are a lot about food – but I didn’t realize what it meant until I actually experienced it myself – IT IS ALL ABOUT FOOD!!! I was also very excited for the Gala Dinner night(s) on HAL – what else does a gay guy like me want, another excuse to dress fancy 😉
Port 1: Juneau
Our first port of call was the capital city of Alaska, Juneau. I had booked a shore excursion which included a trip to Mendelhall glacier and whale watching. For some logistic reasons, we were switched to “Whale Watching only” excursion, which I still enjoyed a lot. Although I felt bad missing out on visiting Mendelhall glacier, I had hoped that my helicopter glacier tour in Skagway would compensate for this (which you’ll know soon enough what happened!). Anyway, whale watching was really fun – first time for me and my parents, who seemed to be way more excited than me! Haha..
Port 2: Skagway
After a full dose of wildlife in water, our ship docked at Skagway for a full day, which meant more wildlife, more nature and some small town life exploration. As I mentioned before, I had booked 2 excursions for this port- White Pass/Yukon rail and helicopter glacier tour with dog-sledging. But isn’t Alaskan weather known to be unpredictable?? Due to bad weather conditions, my helicopter ride was switched from 9 am to 2 pm. So, we went on to do the rail ride first. One of the oldest narrow gauge railroad built in the era of gold-mining in Alaska for gold transportation, it was a very scenic and peaceful train journey. I am a very active person, who prefers hiking, sky diving, scuba diving, etc, over siting in a train and doing nothing. But, this train ride was a nice change of pace for me as well- as they say – “sit back, relax and enjoy the view”.
After the rail journey, we headed for our helicopter glacier tour. The weather had cleared out and our chopper finally took off at around 2.30 pm. But, maybe walking on the glaciers wasn’t in books for me. Due to severe weather conditions in the air, we had to come back to the land – to give you an idea of how bad it was, our helicopter was swaying to one side due to extremely strong winds. On the bright side, I got a free helicopter ride with some more amazing views!!
Port 3: Glacier Bay National Park
This was my most memorable time on ship – cruising through the glaciers, with various shades of blue, white and green over vast expanse of water and ice. Can’t describe it in words, maybe the photos below can give you an idea of what it looked like.
Port 4: Ketchikan
Our last port of call on the journey – Salmon capital of the world – Ketchikan. Our day here was pretty relaxed – walking through the Creek Street, visiting the Totem pole museum and eating Salmon, obviously.
Last day on cruise…
On our last day, I had made dinner reservations at Tamarind, one of the specialty restaurants of HAL. This was the most amazing Thai food I had, second only to Thai food I had in Thailand! Excellent service and amazing food. I would recommend Tamarind to anyone who likes Pan-Asian cuisine.
Before closing, all I can say, Alaska cruise was absolutely fun and an unforgettable experience for me. I would highly recommend it for every traveler. Feel free to reach out to me on this blog, if you need any help planning your Alaskan cruise. Happy traveling!
Also, belated Happy pride everyone !