We've already heard once from our cruising pro Amy, whose extensive insider knowledge comes from 12 years of working on Princess vessels as a bar steward and eventually a food and beverage manager. Many of her seasons onboard were spent in Alaska, cruising amongst glaciers, wildlife and wilderness - so who better to tell us all about this unique bucket-list trip?
Amy's best Alaska memories
Amy spent at least five seasons cruising in Alaska during her 12 years with Princess - a cruise line with a big presence in the region. You can probably imagine that she has some great recollections of her time there!
Even with her hectic work schedule as food and beverage manager, she found opportunities to go ashore - being in such a beautiful part of the world, you would make the time! In most ports the ships are docked rather than anchoring offshore and tendering passengers to shore, which greatly reduces the time spent transiting and meant she could pop out to explore.
The restaurants onshore were, surprisingly, one of Amy's favourite things about her forays into Alaska. She recommends trying some of the local food, particularly seafood like halibut and salmon.
Another fond memory was overnights in places like Skagway and Whittier - getting to know the locals was a highlight of these! There are some characters in Alaska's remote towns, and a cruise is one of the few ways to visit them and learn a little about their perspective.
Scenery and wildlife
The vistas of glaciers, mountains and fjords are one of the primary reasons anyone cruises to Alaska, so we asked Amy what her visual highlights were during the seasons spent there. Of course, there were many!
Glacier Bay is her top pick for scenic cruising - here, Princess passengers spend the day enjoying the incredible natural beauty from the comfort of the ship. A ranger commentates the views from the bridge and points out any wildlife.
On the urban side of things, Skagway was her favourite port to approach - "it looks like it's from an old movie" The Red Onion Saloon is a must-visit there, an old brothel turned museum.
Glaciers calving was one of the coolest moments that Amy recalled being witness to, along with seeing brown bears catching salmon in their natural habitat. The Northern Lights are a spectacular phenomenon sometimes spotted during Alaska cruises, and Amy says she loved to view them from up in the Skywalkers night club.
On her list of wildlife spotted are bears, whales, seals, bald eagles and more - quite an impressive selection!
Recommendations and insider tips
It's what we all really want to know - the insider knowledge that Amy can espouse for anyone planning a journey to Alaska. After so much time spent onboard in the northern state, she has wisdom to share!
Picking shore tours is always a challenge, so we enquired about which ones she would suggest. Fishing was one of them, mostly because you could bring your catch back to the ship to be cooked for dinner that night - a very cool way to experience the flavours of Alaska. The White Pass and Yukon Route train is another recommendation, and Amy regrets never having done the dogsled tour when she had the chance.
If you have a balcony cabin, definitely treat yourself to a champagne breakfast one morning so you can enjoy a particularly luxurious scenic sunrise. Amy also points out that it's a good idea to consider your itinerary when choosing a cabin. If your voyage is northbound only, a starboard-side cabin will offer more views, while southbound voyages favour port-side cabins. If you're booked on a round trip, either is fine.
Bring binoculars! Amy also mentioned that a specialty coffee or hot chocolate laced with your favourite liqueur makes a fantastic addition to an afternoon spent gazing at scenery.
As food and beverage manager, Amy is very well-placed to give some foodie tips! Here are her best ones:
- Be sure to sample the local beers when you go ashore - her favourites were Alaskan Summer Ale and Alaskan IPA.
- The adorable little Burger Queen shack in Ketchikan has the best burgers ever.
- Also in Ketchikan is Ketchicandies, a must-do for anyone with a sweet tooth.
- Try the high tea at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria if you stop there.
- Reindeer sausages are a unique Alaskan culinary experience.
- King crab, clam chowder and halibut are also iconic tastes of the region.
What about the cold?
One thing which many people wonder about when dreaming of an Alaska cruise is the weather - so far north, you can expect a distinct chill even during the cruises season in May, June, July, August and September. However, Amy points out that it is still summertime and is not super cold. You don't generally catch people using the pools, however quite often only light clothing is required, especially in the southerly stretches. During her tenure, a popular activity organised by the crew was an onshore BBQ which encouraged people to get out and about and enjoy the weather.
Most of Alaskan cruises depart from Vancouver and Seattle. Go on Cruise Sale Finder to find some cheap cruises and book your next cruising holiday now!