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We had never really been on a cruise before, and we recently went on a cruise to Alaska with extended family. Since we had no idea what to expect or how to plan, we did a lot of research! We even asked our readers for their insider tips on making a cruise amazing, and our cruise really was enjoyable. In fact, we are already planning our next trip on a ship. This post will consolidate all that knowledge into one place so that you can get the most out of your Alaska cruise.
Cruises are great because they are generally all-inclusive. This means that your travel, lodging, and food is all lumped into one big fee. Not only that there is a huge variety of food for picky eaters. Cruise lines go out of their way to entertain you and your kids of all ages with things like shows, game rooms, activities, and other things, all of which are included in the cost of cruise. We didn’t pay for the blues band concerts Dad enjoyed each night, the movies or performers in the theater or on our TV, the video games, air hockey, pinball, or skeeball that our kids played, or the trivia games or board games that we played onboard. We even watched a comedian onboard one night for free. Make sure to explore your ship and find all the great amenities, and check the daily schedule for events.
So we loved that for one cost we had everything booked and taken care of for an entire week vacation. This was the best part of our cruise.
We were a little confused about the food on our cruise, so I want to explain. There is sit down dining that is part of your cruise. You are assigned a scheduled time for dinner or you can request a time if there are open seats. This is the dining room and requires a little nicer dress. They also have a specific menu to choose from, and fancier options.
The lido deck is a buffet and has more open hours. There are still meal times: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with an hour changeover between meals, but you can eat almost anytime. There are a lot of different options so our kids loved eating at the buffet because they could walk around and pick things from all of the different lines. We liked eating in the lido deck for breakfast and lunch, and then enjoying a nicer dinner in the dining room.
There are plenty of hidden costs that can add up if you aren’t prepared for them. Most of these costs are for what we’d call “luxuries,” but some people may consider them the necessities of life. Some costs that you may not be aware of when you book that cruise package include:
Beverages: Water, orange juice, lemonade, and coffee were free on our cruise. If you require soda or alcoholic beverages, they will cost you. Alcohol and soda cans are charged per drink. There is a “soda package,” which was around $50 per person on our cruise line. It included canned soda throughout the week.
Excursions: As your boat ports, you can spend a day in places like Sitka, Victoria, Juneau, and Skagway. At each place, the cruise line offers adventures, but they are not cheap. We ended up spending much more on our shore excursions than was spent on the actual cruise. We had five people, so a whale-watching trip that cost $149/person added up fast! But there are advantages to these excursions. Make sure to read the Our Big Tips section below for more information.
Gratuity: There is a “forced” gratuity charge, and it’s pretty expensive. We were charged $16/person per day. This worked out to over $600. At first, I was bothered by this charge, as it seemed more like I was paying than tipping. But after the cruise, I was actually grateful for this charge. The crew of our ship was absolutely amazing. You literally could not walk past a crew member without them saying hello and asking if they could help you. Without the “forced gratuity,” one of two things would have happened.
First, I would have spent just as much tipping all the people who cleared my table, worked on projects with my kids, performing, cleaning my cabin, and carrying my bags. Or second, I would have worried about how much to tip, who to tip, and ended up feeling guilty most of the time for failing to tip or under-tipping. This way, I didn’t have to worry about it. They were all “pre-tipped” so I didn’t have to think about it.
Internet: Even though our business is all Internet-based, we see going online as a luxury. This meant that we didn’t pay around $175 for Internet access for our weeklong cruise. We just did without. This wasn’t a great hardship for us, but it was for others. In fact, we had a friend whose teen ran up $400 bill of roaming and data charges on their phone as they were in and out of international waters. So make sure to pay for the Internet upfront if you need it.
Our Big Tips
These tips have to deal with money, hence the name Big Tips. They will make a big difference in the cost of things, so this is how we helped manage the extra costs.
Plan out shore excursions before you book an off-ship adventure.
The website for the cruise line details when, how much, and any restrictions for tours. We booked multiple excursions and we mostly did it through the cruiseline. This was far less stressful, because we knew the cruiseline would get us back to our boat on time, and wouldn’t leave us behind if our ship came in late. They also provided shuttle service to and from the dock. When we booked our own excursion, we paid $65 for a rental car and $40 for an Uber from the rental car place at the airport back to dock. This DID save us money, but not enough to pay for the headache and worry. If you’re like us, expensive is okay, as long as you know how expensive it’s going to be upfront.
Carry cash for tipping.
On all of our shore excursions we tipped guides and shuttle drivers. These people aren’t paid by the cruiseline, so when they did an exceptional job, we let them know with a tip. We also tipped our waiter in the ship restaurant some extra cash because he was so amazingly good to us. We took around $300 cash and gave around $200 of it away in tips throughout the week.
Plan for 4.
The hardest thing for us was that everything on the ship is based on a couple or foursome. Rooms are for families of 4. Tables are for 4 people. The five of us struggled with this more than just about anything else. Since we were with a large family group, we were able to work it out, but be aware that you may be splitting adults in rooms or paying for extra unused beds if you are not a lucky family of four. So our recommendation is travel with others to evenly fill up the rooms.
Our Little Tips
Some small things we took or did that helped make our cruise even better.
Put phones in Airplane mode.
You do not want to get excessive charges for roaming, so it was just easier to keep the phones in airplane mode on the cruise ship.
Use the Cruise line app to communicate.
It’s like texting, but you can use the app for free while onboard. Download the app before arriving at your cruise so you’re all set.
Take a swimsuit and a nice set of clothes so you can swim and eat in the upscale restaurant. The cost of the nice sit down restaurant, was included in our cruise, but they asked that you dress a little more appropriately. You can dress how you want at the buffet.
Don’t plan on doing laundry. It costs an arm and a leg for a small bag, so pack light and rewear items. Check with your ship because some have self-serve laundry machines. Our ship had a small bag to fill, but it came back clean and pressed.
We took 5 outfits and wore them each twice, plus one nicer outfit for dinner. We only took one pair of shoes and a pair of flip flops for the pool. Alaska is not the same as a Bahamas cruise, so we also needed a coat, gloves, and a beanie.
Bring poopourri spray.
There are no fans in the cruise ship bathrooms, and luckily our readers let us know to take this spray. Our kids thought it was amazing and want to use it at home. It was a great addition to our room.
This was another tip offered to us by readers, so we bought some magnetic hooks. The walls in our cruise room were magnetic, so these hooks helped with jackets, hats, swimsuits, and towels. Our bathroom walls were not magnetic, but this varies by cruise ship. These are not necessary, but helped a little with the space. Choose hooks that can hold a good amount of weight because some coats would drag our hooks to the ground. We bought the 28 pound, so I would recommend the 40 pound to hold everything up.
Everyone told us that there wasn’t a ton of space in the rooms, but we found that we had plenty of space. Maybe we are light packers, or maybe our room was bigger, but this did not seem to be a problem for us. We could store luggage under the bed. There were three closets, and cupboards. But we did all pack into a carry-on, which definitely helped.
Mom gets a little bit motion sickness, so her friend gave her a tip that helped. She took one pill every day, and she started the day before the cruise and kept going the day after, too. Mom used Bonine because she found that it was easier on her stomach than Dramamine. Bonnie is super affordable and I bought a travel size one at Walmart.
Everyone gets a key card for the room. It was so much easier, especially for kids, to keep the key card in a lanyard with them at all times. We had lanyards laying around from sports and a Disney trip, but you can order a bunch of cheap ones on Amazon.
If you are going to Alaska, you will want binoculars to see wildlife while you are on the cruise ship. Take small ones so they don’t take too much space in your bag. You probably don’t want to buy these binoculars just for the cruise, but after using many pairs, these are our favorites. We have three pair now and threw all the others away. Worth every penny. Small, but powerful.
Power Strip with no surge
Many people warned me that we shouldn’t take a power strip with a surge protector or it would be confiscated. And they were right. But you will want some type of power strip where you can plug a bunch of different things into since you will probably only have one, maybe two outlets in your cabin. This is the power plug I took and it worked great for our room.
Communicating with Kids
Some suggestions that we heard for keeping track of kids on the cruise ship were walkie-talkies or white boards to leave messages. Our family chose to use white boards since we were in 7 different cabins (there were 25 of us traveling together). So we stuck them outside our cabin and any time someone went to a certain place, we wrote on the white board. Adults could communicate via the app, but younger kids could use the white boards. It worked well for us.
This is a lot of information! We hope that it helps you as you plan for your cruise to Alaska. If you have any specific questions, we are happy to help. Send us an email at email@example.com and we will answer the best we can.