If you are looking at planning your Alaska holidays and not sure where to start, let me assure you that taking a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line is an effortless way to visit America’s Last Frontier. For several years, Alaska was the last state in the United States for me to visit, with Hawaii coming before it. Reason being, they are not part of the continental USA. I tried several times on my own to plan Alaska Holidays with friends or family and it never worked out because we could not decide where to go, when to go, getting around, taking smaller planes, etc. Fortunately I am a seasoned cruiser and always thought at Alaskan cruise would fit the bill for discovery.
Luckily I was right. Taking this Alaskan cruise was the easiest way to experience multiple cities, cruise the inside passage and not have to worry about flights, packing and unpacking, figuring out meals, etc. The cruise started and ended in Seattle. Once on board, everything was unpacked for the week and a breeze to enjoy.
Alaska Holidays: Planning a Cruise – Know Before You Go
- Cruising to Alaska is limited and runs only from May-September, giving you optimal weather to work with during your trip. However, the beginning and end of the season can deliver not so great weather – as with all things, come prepared just in case.
- Weather during the cruise season is variable. For example: it can be rainy and cloudy at the front end of the season and get warmer and sunnier as the season progresses.
- Norwegian has two nearly brand new state of the art ships cruising the Alaska route: Norwegian Bliss and the Norwegian Joy. They are built very similar and you will see a lot of the same activities, restaurants and room styles.
- Norwegian Bliss started the Alaska Itinerary in 2018 and Norwegian Joy in 2019.
- The Norwegian Joy just underwent a refurbishment in April of 2019.
- Norwegian Bliss started the Alaska Itinerary in 2018 and Norwegian Joy in 2019.
- After the first night, you will be setting your clock back one hour for most of the trip. If you live on the east coast like myself, that means there is a four hour time difference.
- Once you book your trip with Norwegian, if you have not cruised before, you can set up your account online. This gives you access to the excursions on board, shows, restaurant reservations, etc.
- Once you sign up online and take your first cruise, you become a Latitudes Member. I have taken so many cruises with Norwegian that I am a Platinum Latitudes Member. Loyalty pays off in perks!
- Pro Tip: if you can, book everything before you get on board. When I got on board before 11:00am, I went right to my room to book things from the TV and many things were already full. If you can do this before getting on the ship and in advance, you have the best chance of getting what you want, when you want it. A lot of things were sold out and booked the first morning. I can’t stress enough to plan ahead if there is something you really want to see or do.
- Once on board, you will have on the first day a drill just in case there are any emergencies. It only lasts about 15 minutes and it is mandatory. This will take place sometime before the boat moves out of port in the late afternoon before you start your Alaska holidays at sea.
- Each day your steward will leave you a Freestyle Daily, which includes everything you would need to know for the next day. Opening and closing times of every restaurant, bar, service, etc., activities sheet with everything happening on board for the entire day, weather forecast, daily happenings that are more in depth, information for the day, and so on.
- Norwegian is plastic free, so if you would like a paper straw, just request one.
- 75% of the rooms on board have balconies – and I highly suggest you get one!
- Room service is available on board except for disembarkation and when you first get on board.
- Disembarkation is very easy. You will collect luggage tags in the color timing you would like to get off the ship. For example: I had gold luggage tags because I am a platinum latitudes member. Everyone with luggage tags sets their outside their room with tags by midnight the night before the ship gets in, and once you exit before customs, you claim your luggage.
- Alternatively there is a window of time first thing in the morning for those who just want to walk off with their own luggage (I think it was 6:45 am).
- If you have an early flight home, I would highly suggest walking off the ship with your luggage and going straight to the airport (which is about 30-45 minutes away). Many ships came into dock that day and there was maybe 1000-2000 people in the security line at the airport. Nothing ruins Alaska holidays like a missed flight.
- If your flight is later, still plan for airport time, but you don’t need to walk off as early.
Alaska Holidays Itinerary
For the cruise on the Norwegian Joy that I just took, here is the Itinerary for my Alaska holidays:
7-Day Alaska Highlights: Inside Passage from Seattle
- Day 1: Embark from Seattle 5:00pm
- Day 2: Sea Day
- Day 3: Ketchikan, Alaska 7:00am-3:00pm
- Day 4: Juneau, Alaska 7:00am-1:30pm
- Scenic Glacier Cruising
- Day 5: Skagway, Alaska 7:00am-5:00pm
- Day 6: Sea Day
- Day 7: Victoria, British Columbia 4:00pm-11:59pm
- Day 8: Disembarkation from Seattle 6:00am
If you take this exact cruise through the Inside Passage, your Alaska holidays begin and end in Seattle. If you are traveling a distance to get in, I found it was easy to come in a day early and stay in the city. I checked in at the Four Seasons and the ship terminal was about 2 miles away from the hotel (bonus: the hotel has a car service for guests within the vicinity and they dropped me off at the cruise terminal). This gave my body the adjustment for the time that I needed. Seattle is a great city to explore with a lot to offer its visitors. I would recommend either checking out the city at the beginning or end of your trip.
Picking a Room
I am a huge advocate of rooms with balconies. There is something to be said for being able to wake up, brew a cup of coffee or tea and step out onto your balcony and see the world.If you love seeing the ports, the landscapes, the ice, and the sunsets and sunrises in the comfort of your space, get a balcony room. The Norwegian Joy is 75% balcony rooms, so you might as well get one for your epic Alaska holidays you are about to have.
There are a variety of staterooms on board starting with inside staterooms all the way up to a 2 bedroom Haven Suite and a Haven Deluxe Owners Suite.
During my trip I checked into a balcony level stateroom that came complete with a queen or two twins, sitting area, vanity, coffee/tea maker, balcony, bathroom with separate glass shower, ample storage space both in the closet and in cupboard space, TV, and more. The space of the room is really nice and comfortable for the week long cruise and some of my favorite room features were: USB cord in the light by the side of the bed, individual lights and reading lights, movies on demand, access to shore excursions, restaurants and shows on the TV, personal thermostat, private balcony, and room for luggage under the bed (I brought a checked suitcase and a carry-on and they fit perfectly – altogether we had four suitcases stowed underneath).
If elevated experience coincide with your Alaska holidays, I would highly recommend booking a room within The Haven. This exclusive category is a ship within a ship. You need to be staying in The Haven room categories to access to added benefits that include: 24 hour butler, private concierge, Haven restaurant, lounge and bar, private pool and chairs, private sun deck with hot tub, chairs and cabanas, luxury bath amenities, priority boarding and disembarkation, and much, much more!
I did a two week cruise in The Haven before and its magnificent. I would strongly argue that The Haven restaurant is the best on the ship, but the only way to gain access is to book a room there.
**I was able to dine in The Haven and photograph the common areas on my cruise because I worked with Norwegian on this trip. I hope these photos give you a better idea of what The Haven has to offer.
READ MORE: Norwegian Breakaway’s Haven Penthouse Suite
Life on Board
One thing you will be pleased to hear is that there is no shortage of things to do on board the Norwegian Joy! Each night your steward leaves a “Freestyle Daily” in your room with everything happening the next day. Even on days that the ship is in port, there is plenty to do on board. I have met a lot of people who never even get off the ship. They just like to go on the cruise and relax for a week or two.
Some of the things you will find on board are:
- Broadway shows
- Comedy shows
- Wine musicals
- Observation Lounge for viewing while at sea – also a great place to just read, hang out or play a game
- Whiskey Bar
- Waterfront – area outside the restaurants on deck 8 where there is seating and walking space
- Wine tastings
- Paint classes
- Aqua park and water slides
- Mini Golf
- Art auctions
- Specialty parties (like GLOW or 90’s theme)
- Game shows
- Laser Tag
- Galaxy pavilion
- Jogging track
- Lots of bars and dining options
- … and so much more!
A lot of people spent time in the Observation Lounge because it is floor to ceiling glass windows with incredible views of Alaska!
Alaska Holidays: Dining on Board
I have met endless people in my travels who love to cruise for the food, and I can’t say I blame them. The food continues to impress me with each new ship launch. The Norwegian Joy has so many offers to choose from and I will break them down below. But just know, the food is good everywhere.
The ship has included and then specialty restaurants for fee. You could book a deal online that gives you access to all the restaurants all week, just look for those deals. But I want to be very upfront about the dining on board, ALL the food is good. Norwegian does a great job of of making delicious menus and keeping new stuff coming everyday with a nice variety.
Taste – one of three main dining rooms offering breakfast, lunch and dinner
Savor – one of three main dining rooms offering breakfast, lunch and dinner
Manhattan Room – one of three main dining rooms offering breakfast, lunch and dinner
Garden Cafe – buffet on board offering three daily meals plus snacks. Each night the Garden Cafe will have a theme that they will make additional specialty food for (example: seafood night). The buffet is where you will find the most diversity of food on the ship as they offer many stalls with global food.
The Local – 24 hour pub fare
Haven Restaurant (this is for guests of the Haven only) – while this is my favorite restaurant on board, you do need to book a Haven room to gain access. The restaurant serves three meals a day
In-room Dining Continental Breakfast – in your room you will find an in-room dining book. Inside there are door hangers for a continental breakfast. Just fill it out and leave it on your door by 4:00am and you will have it delivered. THIS option is great if you have early excursions and need to get ready but don’t necessarily have time for a sit down breakfast
Specialty Dining (for a fee):
American Diner – American comfort food
Teppanyaki – one of the coolest dining experiences! All the food is cooked in front of you and the chef sings and dances while doing tricks with the cooking utensils
Ocean Blue – this is a seafood restaurant and the ONLY restaurant I have not eaten at on Norwegian ships.
Cagney’s Steak House – Norwegian steak house
Food Republic – tapas plates by a globally inspire menu
La Cucina – house Italian restaurant
Le Bistro – house French restaurant
Q – BBQ!
In-room Dining – you can get in-room dining 24 hours a day on board the Norwegian Joy (so you will never go hungry during your Alaska holidays)
Excursions to Take During Your Alaska Holidays
There were so many wonderful excursions offered during my Alaska holidays up the coast. Deciding on just one per port was tough, but I made it happen. You will find things from easy to adventurous things to do in Alaska. I won’t lie, I had pretty rainy weather most of my trip, but all the excursions still went and we made the most of it. Rainy, fog, low clouds, snow, it happens – it IS Alaska.
When I first saw the itinerary I noticed the first three ports had early arrivals and early exits and I had no clue why. However, now that I have done the cruise I can tell you that I think it is so you can see the inside passage during the day for the cruise. You will still get plenty of time to explore in the ports. You are basically getting a two for one deal, because the inside passage is beautiful.
Ketchikan was the first stop on the inside passage and the first city in Alaska. This small coastal town is popular for having the most totem poles in one area and being the salmon capital. If you opt not to do an excursion in town, walking off the ship you can access most of the city as it is not very big. However, there are some amazing tours being offered that you could take advantage of. Deciding on one will be the tough part.
Some of the excursions that were offered during the cruise:
- Ketchikan Highlights by Trolley – this one hour and a half journey starts at the cruise port and takes you through town, to see the largest collection of totem poles and you can end either at Creek Street for shopping or back at the ship. I recommend Creek Street because it has such fascinating history and lots of shopping.
- Halibut fishing – 3.5 hours of fishing time (note – there is a 45 minute ride each way)
- Rainforest Canoe and Nature Trail – this 20 passenger canoe that is 37 feet long will lead you by the Tongass National Forest
- Lumberjack show and crab fest – an hour of Lumberjacks battling each other followed by an Alaskan crab feast
- Zodiac coastal expedition – set off on your boat to experience wildlife and Ketchikan from the water
- Eagle Island sea kayak – kayak through the Tongass National Forest. Perfect excursion for your Alaska holidays!
- Saxman Native Village – Visit the Beaver Clan House, Totem Village and the gift shop
Juneau is the only port that whale sightings are guaranteed if you take a whale tour. If seeing a whale is high on your Alaska holidays bucket list, book one of the amazing whale watching tours. There are a lot of tours offered here but there are also a lot of things to do in Juneau if you just want to get off the ship and explore.
We left port early in the day because we were supposed to cruise up to Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm Fjord. Our ship could not make it all the way down because there was too much ice – HOWEVER – my biggest regret is not taking this special excursion that is on a small boat that will take you down there. If you can, I would take that excursion and its costs around $249.
Excursions that were offered during this port (and are subject to change):
- Mendhall Glacier and Mt. Roberts Tram – we did this excursion and the visibility was really low that day. It was hard to see the glacier and almost zero visibility from the tram (this could just be the season we are in_ but we had a magnificent time anyway
- Whale watching and wildlife quest – cruise through Auke Bay for guaranteed whale sightings
- Mendhall Glacier river float – if your Alaska holidays are looking to take exciting adventures up a notch, this excursion is for you. You can get in a paddle raft or an oar boat (where the guide does the work) and white water raft through and to the Mendhall Glacier
- 5 glacier seaplane exploration – explore five glaciers in the air
- Helicopter glacier trek – take a helicopter to your destination and then spend time trekking over the glacier
Skagway is a pretty small town and the last stop in Alaska on this journey. We only spent minimal time in the city but there are things to do in Skagway. We just opted to take a tour outside the city and then walked around when we got back.
Pro tip: If you decide not to do an excursion in this port, you can walk from the ship to town. We walked back from the furthest point leisurely and it took about 45 minutes. It is all flat ground and a nice walk. The town is not very big but there is plenty of shopping options and free Wifi at the library.
Pro tip+ : if you are planning on doing one of the scenic railway excursions – book in advance!!! So many people said they could not get a ticket because it was sold out.
Excursions that were available in Skagway on my trip (and are subject to change):
- White Pass scenic railway – this 40 mile round trip ride takes you over 2,500+ feet up in elevation and is the direct route during the hunt for gold
- Alpine Lake canoe adventure – after a tour of Skagway, drive the 40 minutes to Summit Lake where you will board your 31 foot voyager canoe
- Klondike Summit, suspension bridge and salmon bake – this is the tour we took on our Alaska holidays! This tour goes up the Klondike Summit, crosses over into Canada (you will need your passport + visas if you required them) and stops at the Yukon Suspension Bridge, then finishes in Liarsville for a salmon bake
- Ghosts and good time girls walking tour – learn about Skagways rich history while a madam who is dressed for the occasion walks you through town and tells stories of the past
- Dog sledding and glacier flight seeing helicopter – fly over glaciers and then land ON Denver Glacier where the dog camp is
Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria was the only port that we arrived later in the day to. We got in around 4:00pm and did not leave until midnight. This port did not have as many options for things to do, but I decided to go to The Butchart Gardens and it was so stunning. I highly recommend it.
Excursions that were available in Victoria:
- Victoria highlights – two hour tour that is driving around Victoria with a guide
- Ocean wildlife and orca exploration – this tour is designed to showcase as much wildlife as possible
- Butchart and Butterfly Gardens – both gardens are across the street from each other. First stop at the Butterfly Gardens where you can see butterflies, flamingos, a duck, and various other wildlife living together. Then head over to Butchart Gardens for about an hour and fifteen minutes. I did not think that would be enough time to see the gardens but we made it to all the sections with 10 minutes to spare.
- Craft brewery and distillery tasting tour – taste three beers and two whiskeys on this tour
- Vancouver Island wineries and cider farms – this five hour tour takes you to three different estates for tastings
Overall, I could not have planned my Alaska holidays any better. I wish the weather had been better, but it is Alaska and it is very unpredictable. No matter what, your cruise is going to be fabulous. So eat at all the restaurants, explore the the exciting and historical ports and try and see some wildlife!
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Disclaimer: this post is written in collaboration with Norwegian Cruise Line. As always, opinions are entirely my own.