We all see the massive behemoths from Princess, Norwegian, Holland America and other cruise lines in our ports and we’re grateful for the bucks their passengers drop in our communities. But should British Columbians actually cruise up the coast? Find out if it’s for you
I’ve been travel writing for two decades, and along with the standard planes, trains and automobiles, I’ve taken many cruise ships, ranging from regal (a luxe vessel through the Mediterranean in summer, with a butler, fully stocked bar and members of the Spanish royal family) to rough (petrol-reeking small-ship wine cruise on the Columbia River, in a dark, closet-size cabin seemingly located directly over the engine).
So can cruising the Alaska coast compete with the fjords of Norway, Northwest Territories glaciers, Newfoundland icebergs and Tofino whale-watching? Scenery-wise, yes: it’s spectacular—no other experience resonates quite like the Hubbard Glacier calving off a ’bergy bit. But are you built to cruise, Alaska-style?
Ask yourself these questions, which I contemplated while on a week-long sailing with Princess in July: more than five “nos,” and you might want to reconsider cruising...
1. Are you a heavy sleeper?
You’d expect a 2,000-plus person vessel—basically a fully occupied high-rise building turned on its side—to be as steady as she goes. But depending on your cabin location, chances are you’re going to feel some engine-room vibrations, cranking of the massive anchor chain or rocking of the boat at some point (particularly at night, when the captain might kick it up a few knots to make good time up the coast). The upside of a windowless inner-ship room, like the one I occupied, is its pitch-blackness during the almost-never-dark northern nights. But if you’re a light sleeper who is sensitive to sound and motion, you might have look to some combination of Gravol, melatonin, eye mask, ear plugs and the God of your choice for help sleeping.
2. Do you like a lot of walking?
There’s no getting around it (except on foot): even with best-placed cabin nearest to the elevators, you’re still going to be doing a lot of walking down corridors, around decks, up and down stairs and ramps, and more. You might love walking or running laps daily in the brisk sea air, like I did, on the outdoor track most ships have. But if you’re the sedentary type, rethink a big-ship cruise. It’s a lot of ground to cover—and that’s just on board, not to mention the in-port excursions.
3. Are you an extrovert?
If doing crafts and quizzes, playing cards and games, singing karaoke or sharing pictures of your pets with near strangers are your jam, there’s a packed daily schedule of activities (I was living for the daily Princess Patter newsletter explaining them all). If not, the days at sea could feel mighty long, and you might get a little fatigued of even your beloved travel companions. Unless your cabin is bright and roomy, you might not spend many daytime hours in there; I found myself bouncing deck to deck, space to space, seeking a quiet nook, sofa or table to read or relax... which usually lasted about two minutes, before some chatty passengers burst my quiet bubble. Extroverts might rejoice to be seated at a large dinner table with strangers (or new friends) every night. Are you one of them?
4. Are you ready for an internet detox?
Sure, there’s connectivity on cruises (typically a desktop-computer lab where you can rent by the hour, plus onboard Wifi—both tend to be a bit pricey, as is cellular service at sea) but it’s unlikely to be the speed and bandwidth you’re used to at home (forget about streaming movies or playing Fortnite). And while in my books a week-long digital detox is a good thing, I saw more than one passenger manically checking for cellular and Wifi signals as we got close to ports. (Note that some small Alaska towns, remote and with fixed bandwidth, are even stingy with Wifi for visitors).
5. Do you dig the young at heart?
Okay, yes, the Alaska cruise demographic is a little older. My Sun Princess mates were a fun-loving, karaoke-singing, hot-tubbing, ballroom-dancing crowd (and, in a stroke of rare good fortune for me, there were no kiddies aboard my adults-only sailing). You can always seek out a new-gen cruise curated for couples, gourmets, families or adventurers if you don’t enjoy the wise company of elders.
6. Do you enjoy a comfortable routine?
A typical Alaska cruise lasts almost a week, with perhaps every second day spent in port alternating with long days at sea. Although cruise lines do their best to shake it up with changing entertainment and dining options (on my trip, Calgary chef Darren Maclean, star of Netflix’s The Final Table, was on board to cook special Japanese omakase and kaiseki meals), you’re going to be eating at the same restaurants, working out at the same gym, listening to the same crooners and sipping at the same bars and cafes most days. And, like an all-inclusive resort , that can take away the paradox of choice in the best possible way.
7. Are you oblivious to the Norwalk virus?
With the number of hand-washing and Purell-dispensing stations on board, and posted rules around everything from how to it exit a public bathroom to filling personal water bottles, hygiene is at a premium on board. You’ll see chefs constantly taking buffet-food temperatures and refreshing dishes, staff checking pool and hot tub water frequently and maintenance staff sterilizing everything down to the patches of Astroturf on the deck at night. It gives a whole new meaning to “running a tight ship.”