Alaska Cruise Planning up-date

I’m not sure if AAA has a Horizon’s publication throughout the country but here in New England they put out a monthly newsletter called Horizons AAA Southern New England. I really enjoy this newsletter and try to read it as soon as it comes in. Sometimes I’m not too successful but I managed to get right to the September issue this time.

In this issue I found out  that one of the new AAA discounts is at Friendly’s Ice Cream. You can get a AAA breakfast for just $3.00 or a AAA Triple Scoop Sundae for $3.00. All you have to do is show your membership card.

Also in this issue way down at the bottom (below the fold as they say) was a tiny paragraph that was titled “TRAVEL NIGHTS FOR MEMBERS”.

The one paragraph  said only “You’re invited! Learn about Alaska Cruise Tours at AAA’s Somerset office at 6pm 9/22. To RSVP call…(800) etc.

It just so happened that I had a few hours of “flex time” at work that had to be used before Oct 1 so I requested and was granted, the evening of the 22nd off.

About a dozen people were in attendance. About half of whom had actually been on a cruise before and 2 had been to Alaska so we were a “ripe” group. Most everyone looked to be nearing senior status, a lot of white hair and life lines on faces. I fit right in. There were more women than men. In fact I think there were only 2 men in the whole group.

There were about 5 AAA travel counselors and a representative from Holland America Cruise Lines.

Holland America was the line my sister had originally suggested. Then because we listened to a lot of people we kind of shied away from them and switched to Royal Caribbean. Sis took the itinerary from RC and showed it to her AAA travel rep and they said it was a good one but it was very expensive. I was feeling extremely uncomfortable because I just wasn’t really sure what we were getting for our money if we booked that. I really wanted some Face-to-face with someone.

When I arrived and they introduced the Holland America  Rep I thought we were in for a hard sell event but nothing could have been farther from that. The first thing the rep did was put on a 15 minute DVD with a sample cruise tour. This broke down the many, many offerings into 4 basic packages. This began to de-mystify the process right there.

When the DVD was finished the rep took the stage. Her first words were ” Booking a Cruise to Alaska is a very complicated process and you need to do your homework. Most people love Alaska  and say they will go back but few ever get the chance to go a 2nd time. There is no doubt about it, it is an expensive, once in a lifetime trip.”

WOW that didn’t sound like hard sell to me. It sounded more like a caution. The next thing she said was ” If you are going on a budget in 2012 and think you will be in a better place financially in 2013, wait. It’s better to go with a more flexible budget.”

That out-of-the-way she made another strong recommendation. Before you book your cruise make a list of what the trip means to you and what you want to see/ do/ experience while you are there. Cruising the Inside Passage is beautiful but what you will see is water and glaciers for 7-14 days. That is only 10% of what Alaska is all about. If all you do is cruise the shoreline  you will miss 90% of what this great land has to offer. The way to make a memorable vacation is the add the shore excursions of which Denali is the top draw.

Moving on to how the packages are built she explained:

  • Package 1: 7 day southbound cruise
  • Package 2: 7 day northbound cruise
  • Package 3: 14 day round trip cruise
  • Package 4: Expedition Cruises

She said a number of years ago the word began to spread that going “southbound” was the best way to see Alaska but in fact it didn’t matter. She said traveling northbound can save as much as $400-$500/ per person. So for the budget conscious this should be given serious consideration. She offered a map to show that all of the cruises pretty much covered the same routes;

Packages 1 and 2 allow you to add-on the 2 day Denali land tour. The transportation to and from Denali is by bus and train. Both have dome windows. Inside the park you are escorted on  school buses. They recommend 2 days in the park because mother nature is in charge. There’s no guarantee what animals will be out and about or how clear the mountain will be.

The 14 day cruise did not have an expedition to Denali and she did not go into the Expedition cruises. They could be discussed one on one as they were quite a bit pricier.

What time of year should you go? well, she said May and early June are the “Shoulder months” and less expensive. It is also the time of year you will see the most animals. Since the wildflowers and grasses are just beginning to bloom the animals come right down to the roadside. Sun set  at this time of year is around 10:30 pm.

June and July are the “High Season” It is the most expensive and the time when you experience the “Land of the Midnight Sun” as this is when the sun is up just about all night and day.

August and September is the time the season is winding down. You will probably have snow and it will definitely be cold. It’s the time of year you may see the Northern Lights. There aren’t as many animals as in the spring but you should still see many.

As for clothing..LL Bean was mentioned as were mittens and scarves and comfortable shoes and sneakers.

I’m about out of time for tonight but tomorrow I’ll fill you in what she had to say about the ships themselves.

( photos and map are taken from Travel brochures)

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