How does an Alaskan cruise compare to the Caribbean?

How does an Alaskan cruise compare to the Caribbean?

Cruising Alaska with my family was the trip of a lifetime, but how does it compare to the Caribbean?  (Photos: Princess Cruise Line; Terri Peters)

Cruising Alaska with my family was the trip of a lifetime, but how does it compare to the Caribbean? (Photos: Princess Cruises; Terri Peters)

My family and I have cruised a few times before, but living near several central Florida ports, we’ve always chosen the warm waters of the Caribbean. A cruise in Alaska was high on our wish list and we recently decided to head to the west coast to try sailing straight to the ‘last frontier’.

For four nights we were immersed in breathtaking views, cool temperatures and Alaskan culture. Our “Alaska Sampler” cruise — an abridged Alaskan cruise that departed from Vancouver, British Columbia, traveled to Ketchikan, Alaska and returned us to Seattle, Washington — seemed like the perfect test run at the time of booking, but this It was Shortly after sitting on the porch of our oceanfront cabin and taking in the beautiful view, I wished we had booked a longer cruise.

Breathtaking views awaited us the morning we woke up to dock in Ketchikan, Alaska.  (Photo: Terri Peters)

Breathtaking views awaited us the morning we woke up to dock in Ketchikan, Alaska. (Photo: Terri Peters)

Cruise ports line the Alaskan coast, from Ketchikan in the south, dubbed the “Salmon Capital of the World,” to more northerly cities like Juneau, where glaciers and whale watching abound. Our sailing aboard Princess Cruises’ newest ship, Discovery Princess was meant to give us a taste of Alaskan cruising, and it made us absolutely hungry to explore more of this stunning destination.

How does an Alaskan cruise to the Caribbean compare?

How is an Alaska cruise different from a Caribbean cruise? Sunshine and warm water aside, the basics of a Caribbean cruise ship and an Alaskan cruise ship are the same. On both, families will find pools and hot tubs (though it’s often too cold to use them on an Alaskan cruise), bars and restaurants, teens’ clubs, and an activity calendar to keep kids occupied, excursions, shops, and spa treatments. In short, relaxation and family fun abound no matter where you sail.

My kids, ages 12 and 14, were surprised to find that while the ship's hot tubs were warm, the cold Alaskan air made it a little chilly to take a dip.  (Photo: Terri Peters)

My kids, ages 12 and 14, were surprised to find that while the ship’s hot tubs were warm, the cold Alaskan air made it a little chilly to take a dip. (Photo: Terri Peters)

What sets an Alaskan cruise apart, however, is the experience. Lisa Syme is vice president of Alaska project management for Princess Cruises — with six ships sailing to Alaska — and describes the Alaska region as “compelling.”

“The vastness is difficult to convey,” says Syme. “There’s a peace and comfort in seeing layers and layers of nature,” she adds. “Most people don’t live in a place where they have the ability to see and be in nature.”

What do you do on an Alaska cruise?

On our drive to Ketchikan, we decided to shop in the delightful port town, view historical totems and wave to seals swimming in the cool waters surrounding the harbour. And then there was our excursion: A trip to George Inlet Lodge where we took a boat tour of the area, fed fish to flying eagles and learned how to catch dungeness crabs. And then of course we feasted on the sweet crab meat while the waiters told us more about the unique little town.

On our trip to Ketchikan, we learned how Dungeness crabs are caught and got up close and personal with the crabs before returning to a lodge for a crab feast.  (Photo: Terri Peters)

On our trip to Ketchikan, we learned how Dungeness crabs are caught and got up close and personal with the crabs before returning to a lodge for a crab feast. (Photo: Terri Peters)

At each port they visit, Princess has a long list of excursions that Syme calls “Alaska specific,” from Puppies in the Piazza, where guests can meet sled dog puppies, to tours of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

“If you look at how many things there are to do in these ports as excursions?” says Syme. “There are literally people who go every year because they just want to do it again and experience something different in the ports. People can go on the ice and ride the dogs on a glacier, and that’s something special where a family can never fit that memory.”

The city of Ketchikan, both known as

The city of Ketchikan is known both as the “Salmon Capital of the World” and for its historical totems. (Photo: Terri Peters)

On days at sea, the ship remains uniquely Alaskan, from the banners in the piazza to the Alaskan seafood served in the dining rooms. “We’re trying to give the whole cruise an Alaskan feel,” says Syme, “not like you hop on a Caribbean ship and go to Alaska.”

When Should You Take an Alaskan Cruise?

The cruise season in Alaska typically lasts from May through September. While my family sailed in early May, Syme says the majority of families with school-age children book during the months of July and August — when school is out for the summer — so they can take a longer cruise and see as much as possible area as possible.

In the Discovery Princess' piazza-like atrium, Alaskan banners reminded us we weren't in the Caribbean, even on days at sea.  (Photo: Terri Peters)

In the Discovery Princess’ piazza-like atrium, Alaskan banners reminded us we weren’t in the Caribbean, even on days at sea. (Photo: Terri Peters)

“What families think is really great is that this is the case summer cruises and most of them last seven days,” she explains. “It’s a perfect ‘Fit it in’ trip, and … it’s very common for families to travel together for generations, or for siblings to travel as adults with their families. Alaska seems like a place for an extended family.”

Is an Alaskan Cruise Good for Kids?

My tween daughter and teenage son are hard to impress. Alaska blew them both away with its beauty: it was like nothing they’ve seen in their lives (same goes for my husband and I, frankly) and they still talk about seeing schools of whales in the ocean below our room, the tried to get in the hot tubs on board at 40 degrees and what it felt like to wake up in Ketchikan surrounded by mountains and breathtaking views.

Were you cold? Yes. Have you ever wished the weather was more favorable for using the Discovery Princess pools? Absolutely. Have any of you tried fresh Alaskan salmon? Not even close. But the journey took them out of their comfort zone, showed them incredible new things and literally changed their worldview.

Our Alaska cruise was an amazing experience for my son and daughter, as well as my husband and I.  (Photo: Terri Peters)

Our Alaska cruise was an amazing experience for my son and daughter, as well as my husband and I. (Photo: Terri Peters)

And while my kids have never participated in the youth activities on a cruise ship, there are many Alaska-themed programs for families to enjoy. “You can get your kids involved in these onboard children’s programs that are free and educational,” Symes points out. “We have a junior ranger program in Glacier Bay where someone comes in and kids learn all about Glacier Bay and the wildlife there.

“When you meet Alaskans,” Symes explains, “they are so passionate about Alaska because they are from Alaska and live in Alaska. No one complains about the weather or the traffic: in Alaska, it seems the awe and wonder never fade.”

Having experienced her condition firsthand, I can honestly say I understand why. And as Alaskan cruises transform, we’re already thinking about taking a seven-day trip next summer to see even more of the state.

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