This summer I went on an Alaskan cruise with my dad and sister as a last hoorah before starting my new job. It was a little stressful getting back from Italy and leaving for Alaska the next day (so much laundry!), but the vacation was well worth it. There are a lot of options for Alaskan cruises with tons of different itineraries on various cruise lines. We had sailed with Celebrity Cruises in the past so it was easy to stick with what we knew. Ultimately, I decided on the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Seward, Alaska for our itinerary. Here’s all the details of our Inside Passage Alaskan Cruise on the Celebrity Millennium!
Booking the Cruise and Logistics
Choosing a Cruise Line and Itinerary
I touched on this above, but I started off by choosing a cruise line that I’ve used before. There are so many different options that it was honestly just easier to make this decision and go from there. I really like Celebrity because they get a slightly older crowd (i.e., fewer little kids). They also have tons of live entertainment and nightly shows that I fondly remembered from our Caribbean cruises when I was younger. You’ll have an awesome time no matter what cruise line you choose, but you can’t go wrong with Celebrity.
As for the itinerary, I knew I wanted to avoid round-trip voyages because you stop at fewer ports in the same amount of time. I’ve always been intrigued by Vancouver so it was a no-brainer to start here. Ending in mainland Alaska gave us the opportunity to explore a little bit before heading home, but I would love to have stayed longer and venture up to Denali. More about that later!
We ended up booking a cruise of the Inside Passage, a 500 mile route that passes through many of Alaska’s southern islands. The Alaskan portion of the Inside Passage has over 1,000 islands! Our 7-day Alaska Northern Glacier cruise included the following stops:
- Vancouver (embark)
- Icy Strait Point
- Hubbard Glacier
- Seward (disembark)
For excursions, we picked a combo pack from Celebrity that gave us one activity at each stop. Again, there are so many options that this choice was out of convenience. We ended up loving most of the excursions so it was worth it!
As I mentioned in a different post, one of the reasons I chose Alaska was to take advantage of the Alaskan Airline Companion Fare. I had two vouchers to use, so we were able to get my sister’s flight to Vancouver and home from Anchorage at a steep discount. I used Merrill Lynch points (RIP) to cover my fare. Round-trip flights were pricey (around $1,000 per person), so I was glad I saved my dad close to $2,000 since he so generously footed the bill for this trip. And he let me book everything on my Chase Sapphire Reserve, including all our on-board purchases. Hello, 3x points! I was excited to fly through Seattle to check out the Amex Centurion Lounge.
We stayed in Vancouver the night before the cruise and Anchorage the day the cruise ended. In Vancouver, I used a voucher from Expedia to book a room at the Opus Hotel in Yaletown. In Anchorage, we stayed at the Sheraton Anchorage to take advantage of the lounge access I get from the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card. There were three of us in the room, but they didn’t monitor who accessed the lounge.
Traveling with three can be awkward for hotels. I purposely booked rooms with two queen beds, but at each hotel, we received an upgrade to a suite. It would be unwise to turn down an upgrade, right? While the rooms were larger, they had one king bed and a sofa bed instead of two queens. Unfortunately for my dad, he spent the entire vacation on sofa beds since cruise rooms generally don’t have two beds unless you want to shell out so more dough.
We had about 24 hours to explore Vancouver before our cruise set sail. I loved Vancouver and didn’t get the see nearly enough of it. We checked out Gastown and walked along the water, but I wish we had time for Stanley Park and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The weather was also gorgeous! We got one last look at Vancouver as the ship passed under the Lions Gate Bridge.
As we got farther away from sunny Vancouver, the change in the weather was noticeable. We didn’t have any downpours but there was a fair amount of rainy, misty weather on this trip. If you bring the right gear, the weather doesn’t really matter. Alaska is so beautiful that the mistiness actually adds to it!
Our first stop in Ketchikan was slightly cold and rainy, but we set off to explore the town before our seaplane excursion over Misty Fjords National Monument. Ketchikan has about 8,000 residents, making it the 5th most populous city in the state. There are some cool historic buildings to check out and an awesome riverwalk that you can’t miss. Another cool thing about Ketchikan is that some of the streets turn into actual stairways since the land is so steep!
The seaplane flight over the Misty Fjords National Monument with Taquan Air was one of the highlights of my trip. The pilot did a wonderful job of narrating and describing the history of the area. We even landed in the water in the middle of the fjords and got to stand on the plane’s pontoons! I also saw my first bald eagle during the flight.
Icy Strait Point
Icy Strait Point is a little confusing. First off, the town is actually called Hoonah. Icy Strait Point is purely a cruise destination for this area. It’s only open when cruise ships are in port. Hoonah is largely a Tlingit community so a lot of the employees are part of the Tlingit tribe. It’s a unique experience to hear more about indigenous Alaskan culture firsthand. They offer tons of excursions like ziplining, whale watching, and kayaking. There are also some shops and restaurants. Basically, if you stop here, you have to book an excursion.
We did a whale watch and bear search. The whale watch was with a big group, but we were still able to see easily since you could get up and move around. We saw several humpbacks and were lucky enough to see killer whales. Killer whales move quickly through the area so it can be hard to see them even if a group saw them earlier in the day. We also saw an adorable sea otter which is my favorite sea animal so I was pretty excited!
After the whale watch, we headed to the Spasski River Valley for our bear search. It was nice walking through this area, but our group was so loud (read, annoying) that we didn’t see much. Some people are incapable of not talking! There was a bear way off in the distance, but you couldn’t see it without binoculars so I personally didn’t get to see it.
Our next stop was the big capital city, Juneau! Juneau was the most visually stunning port in my opinion. The city, which is more like a town, is surrounded by mountains covered in evergreens with beautiful, trickling waterfalls topped off with misty clouds. Juneau is on mainland Alaska, but you can’t actually get anywhere else by road. All food and goods are brought in by ship or plane.
Our tour started off with another whale watch with Gastineau Guiding Company. This one was with a much smaller group on a boat designed specifically for whale watching. When we stopped, the tour guide could lift open the windows and hook them onto the ceiling for prime viewing. This whale watch was awesome. We saw SO many killer whales up close and personal. A group of six or seven swam alongside our boat! This was definitely a highlight of my trip. After the whale watch, we went on a short hike to the Mendenhall Glacier which is part of the Tongass National Forest.
After the tour, we walked around a bit, checking out the state capitol and counting the number of marijuana dispensaries.
Our last port was Skagway, population 920. Skagway was a popular port during the Klondike gold rush in 1896 where 100,000 prospectors headed to the Klondike region of the Yukon in hopes of finding gold. As a result, in 1898, construction began on the White Pass and Yukon Route. Our excursion for this trip was a train ride on this historic route. The narrator described the history of the gold rush and highlighted points of interest along the way. The ride actually passes into British Columbia before turning around, but you don’t need your passport since you don’t actually get off the train.
We walked around a bit after the ride, but as you can imagine, it’s mostly touristy shops, and if you sniff around, more marijuana dispensaries. The surrounding area here is gorgeous. It was my sister’s favorite, but I still preferred Juneau.
The stop at Hubbard Glacier was more like a pit stop on our way to Seward. The ship stops for a few hours for passengers to view this massive, 76 mile glacier. We were lucky and had a clear day, which made for perfect viewing! After the the stop at the glacier, the rest of the day was at sea. We geared up for our last dinner and show, and packed up to disembark bright and early the next morning.
We got off in Seward which is about 130 miles from Anchorage. My dad didn’t have enough time off of work to explore mainland Alaska (my sister and I wanted to go to Denali), so we booked a full day tour to transport us from Seward to Anchorage. I really liked the tour, and our tour guide, Eliza, was fabulous. However, most of our bus was one giant group who was traveling together (over 30 people) and they were extremely obnoxious. Annoying tourists aside, this tour is a great way to see some of what mainland Alaska has to offer. The tour included the following:
- A tour of Seward by bus
- Hike to Exit Glacier
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (finally got to see bears!)
- Tickets to go up the Alyeska Mountain Tram
- Bus tour of Anchorage (not much to see here…)
- Hotel or airport drop-off
We spent the night at the Sheraton in Anchorage. I definitely don’t feel the need to go back to Anchorage itself, but Alaska is huge and has so much to offer in the surrounding areas.
This was a massive post, but Alaska is the biggest U.S. state. While I saw so much on this cruise, this was just the tip of the iceberg on what you can do and see in Alaska. From the wildlife to the beautiful surroundings, I can’t recommend taking an Alaskan cruise enough. I don’t see myself living in Alaska anytime soon, but it’s definitely worth a visit (or two!)