Considering a trip to Alaska but don’t know where to begin? We sat down with three AAA Travel Counselors—Marco Ruiz of Monterey, California; Andrea Leslie of Las Vegas, Nevada; and Heidi Kazemi of Roseville, California—to answer some frequently asked questions and get some Alaska travel tips so you’ll be prepared to book your trip to this once-in-a-lifetime destination.
Vacation Now: How do I know if a trip to Alaska is right for me?
Marco: If you are a nature lover, Alaska is right for you.
Heidi: Alaska is all about scenery and wildlife. Many endangered animals you won’t find in large numbers elsewhere live in abundance here. Spot bald eagles, gray whales (from May to September), brown bears (from late April to early October), humpback whales (from mid-June to September), caribou in Denali National Park and many, many more species. You can also witness the northern lights, active volcanoes, 3 million lakes, tundra, rainforests, half of the world’s glaciers and so much more. The state certainly lives up to its motto, “North to the future.”
Heidi: You always have the option of doing a combined cruise and land tour, which is my favorite way to see Alaska. But there are some advantages to focusing on one type of travel. By choosing only a cruise, you could sail through the Inside Passage, where you’ll find breathtaking glaciers. You’ll also visit more port cites, including Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan; some cruises even stop in British Columbia. On a land-only tour, you can spend more time exploring Denali National Park, where you’ll see Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), and Talkeetna, where you’ll depart on a scenic train journey.
Andrea: The best type of trip for you really depends on your personality. One great benefit of a cruise is getting to see many different ports but only having to unpack once, as you won’t be moving from hotel to hotel.
VN: I’ve heard AAA partners use the term cruise-tour. Can you tell me more about that?
Marco: A cruise-tour is a program that includes a cruise and a land tour, usually guided, as part of one vacation package.
Heidi: You can choose to do the cruise first followed by land, or vice versa. There are also plenty of options as far as itineraries go for each portion of a cruise-tour.
VN: When is the best time to visit Alaska? How far in advance do I need to book?
Andrea: Cruise season in Alaska runs from mid-May to mid-September. Many people like to visit on the early end of the season, as they may see more wildlife coming out of hibernation. At a minimum, you should be booking six to seven months in advance.
Marco: Weather-wise, the best time to travel to Alaska is July or August, because the days are very long. But if you’re looking to save, you can often find better prices on sailings in early May and June, as well as in early September. Sometimes these shoulder months have the added benefit of being less crowded, since cruise lines typically have fewer sailings during these months.
VN: On what side of the ship should I book a stateroom to get the best view of the glaciers?
Andrea: You don’t need to be concerned about which the side of the ship your stateroom is on when cruising through the Glacier Bay area via the Inside Passage because there will be glaciers on both sides of the ship.
Marco: Most cruises sail the Inside Passage on at least one leg of the trip. In that case, it does not matter which side of the ship you are on, because the scenery is pretty much the same on both sides. Plus, on roundtrip itineraries, what you don’t see on the way there you will see on the return trip. If you’re going on a one-way cruise from Vancouver to Seward or Whittier, or vice versa, and sailing a route other than the Inside Passage, the best views will be on the starboard (right) side of the ship going north and the port (left) side going south.
Heidi: I always recommend booking balcony cabins for cruises to Alaska. It’s always fun to be able to have breakfast on the balcony with a view of the glaciers.