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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Adventuring Alaska: Part 1

As I mentioned Sunday, we just got back from our Alaskan vacation.  And boy did we have a good time!! It was everything and more than we had hoped and prayed that it would be.

But before we dive right in let me start with a little bit of background on this vacation:  Why Alaska?  Why a Cruise?  Why now?

Why Alaska?  

Over a year and a half ago I was chatting it up with one of my besties, Emily, when I said, "I've never been on a cruise before!"

"Oh really?" Emily replied.

"Yeah! But I know where I'd go if I went on one!...Alaska!"
(I had recently been watching a show about Alaska on Netflix and was captivated by the scenery.)

Emily, excitedly squealed, "Cory and I have always wanted to go to Alaska!! Let's go!!"

I looked at her, maniacally grinning but completely serious, "Ok!"

And that was pretty much that! We talked it over with our hubbies and they were 9ish months later Emily and I sat around my kitchen island and booked our Alaskan Cruise.

 Why a Cruise?

We had considered renting a cabin and car in Alaska in order to see the state that way, but the problem with that is, much of Alaska is only accessible via plane or boat.  And much of what we were interested in seeing (whales, glaciers) would be much more accessible via boat, than car. :-)

Additionally, We felt like booking a cruise would allow us to better estimate our cost of the trip upfront and be able to budget/save up for it in the year and a half + planning time that we had.

Further, it's just easier.  Book the cruise, then book the plane tickets and you got yourself a vacation!- it's the easiest way to plan a vacation where you get to see the most variety of places.  In order to see even more, someday I would be interested in going back for a cruise plus land tour that visits places like Denali. 

But for us, at this time in our lives, this vacation was much more feasible (financially and time wise) and gave us a great taste of Alaska.  So if you are looking for a week long, reasonably priced visit to as much of Southern Coastal Alaska you can get, than I highly recommend a 7 Day, One-Way Cruise including Glacier Bay (more on Glacier Bay later)!

Why Now?

Why not?! Alaskan cruises are stereotypically more geared toward the more mature traveler. :-)  Not too many 20-somethings taking Alaskan Cruises.  But that was totally fine with us!

Alaska is a state for adventuring and what better time to adventure than when we are young, untethered, and healthy! We definitely saw this vacation as an adventure vacation and treated it as such as we were planning out our excursions (more on that later as well).

So now that you understand a little bit about why Alaska, why a cruise, and why now... let's talk about what the trip itself!

The Trip: Getting There

We researched a lot of different cruise lines, but ultimately decided to go with Princess.  In general, they have a good reputation for their cruises, but especially for their cruises to Alaska.  Prices were reasonable.  And we had heard good things about the food.  We had also considered Celebrity but decided against it due to a higher price tag and another big factor: Glacier Bay.  Only a small selection of cruise lines visit Glacier Bay at all and only two cruise ships can be there per day. That was a significant factor for us in choosing Princess.  
We decided to do a One-Way Cruise from Whittier, Alaska to Vancouver, Canada (vs. doing round trip from Seattle).  We really liked this option because it allowed us to see some extra parts of Alaska we would not have seen otherwise.  Beware, however, that flights are a bit more costly for this type of cruise - not to mention long! But it was worth it.
I mean check out that view!

After 17 hours of traveling, we finally reached Anchorage! 

We took a cab from the airport to our hotel in Anchorage and were so ready to settle in and start seeing what Alaska had to offer!  Although that was before we were told by our cab driver that we were going to "miss everything" by going on a cruise instead of hanging out in Anchorage :-).  We were definitely ready to prove him wrong.  

During our less than 24 hour stay in Anchorage we were able to hit up a couple of yummy food joints that my cousin Jenn recommended to us.  And people, let me tell you, they rocked our socks off.  They were probably the favorite places we ate all trip! 

First we had pizzas and apple ale at Moose's Tooth Pizza.  We tried the Avalanche, the Southwestern Taco, and Chipotle Steak pizzas.  All. So. Good.  In fact, the resident foodie of the group (Emily) said it was her favorite thing we ate in Alaska. 

The apple ale was my fav drink for sure! 

And just before we left for the cruise ship we hit up Humpy's Alehouse for the halibut (see what I did there).  Their halibut fish'n'chips were seriously melt-in-your-mouth and were my personal favorite from the whole trip!


Also while in Anchorage we found a sweet little town square with some gorgeous flowers where we stopped for a little photo session. 

Then we took a bus from Anchorage to Whittier where the boat was shipping out of.  The bus ride was great.  It was provided by Princess so we checked our luggage in with them and they got all of it to the boat and to our rooms for us.  It was a super easy process and well worth the $50 per person. In fact, this was the least expensive option we found of getting to Whittier from Anchorage. 

Our bus driver was really knowledgeable about the area and filled us in on all we were seeing as we took the hour and a half ride to Whittier.  

It was our first real view of the Alaskan landscape with its sparkling waters, puffy clouds, and towering snow-capped mountains.  Beautiful! 

The bus driver even stopped at a stream to point out some salmon swimming upstream.  Do you see them?

Then it was all aboard in Whittier- a very weird town.  The tall building on the right?  Yeah, our bus driver told us that is where everyone in Whittier lives.  The whole town.  They all live in that one building.  So weird.  But what is even more bizarre are the large buildings on the left near the tree line. Those were built almost completely with asbestos materials so these buildings have been left abandoned and cannot be torn down due to the cost of containing the contaminants that demolishing the building would bring. Trip tip: Bus drivers have the best and most interesting information! Talk to them!

It's a pretty industrial town with the port used primarily for fishing and cruise ships.  
But they've got nice boats!

So I thought I would stop here and conclude Part 1 with some tips that you may find helpful if you are planning a similar trip.  

1. When booking: book in shoulder seasons May, End of August - September for the best prices.  
2. Book a 1-way cruise to see the most of Alaska!
3. Do not miss Glacier Bay.  Make sure you book a cruise that includes Glacier Bay in its itinerary. 
4. We drove to Chicago and flew out of O'hare.  We booked a hotel to stay in when we got back and they allowed us to park our car there until we got back.  It worked out so well!
5. We arrived in Anchorage the night before our embarkation form Whittier giving us time to enjoy Anchorage and time to get to Whittier.
6. While in Anchorage you must eat at Moose's Tooth Pizza and Humpy's! Do it! 
7. If your cruise ship offers a bus service from Anchorage to Whittier, it can be a super easy way to get there and, for us, it was the cheapest option that we found. 

Next Wednesday I will be back with Part 2 of Adventuring Alaska where I talk about the places we visited while on our cruise: Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. And I'll be talking about which excursions we went on too!! Come on back ya'll! 

You can also read my recommendations on what to pack on an Alaskan cruise by clicking here

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