Alaska is a dream destination for many cruise passengers. Aptly called "The Great Land," Alaska is filled with majestic mountains, breathtaking scenery, and incredible experiences. Imagine dogsledding atop a glacier, taking a flightseeing helicopter ride, watching humpback whales breaching, and seeing massive grizzly bears prowling along the shoreline.
While Alaska cruises are magnificent, flights and shore excursions can also be expensive. If you're planning an Alaska cruise, here are ten money-saving tips to help you get the most from your vacation budget:
1. Use a great cruise travel agent. Cruise agents can help vacationers find the best Alaska cruise, save money, and monitor sales after booking to get upgrades and more. At CruiseCompete.com, vacation shoppers can anonymously submit the ship and sailing date they're interested in and let hundreds of cruise agents bid for their business.
2. Check air costs before finalizing your itinerary. Flights to Alaska can be expensive. Price out air travel options to and from popular cruise departure ports – like Seattle, Vancouver and the Anchorage area – to see what works best for you before choosing your cruise. Seattle is served by several low-cost airlines. Some don't show up on popular booking sites like Orbitz and Travelocity, so make sure to check their websites. If you have frequent flyer miles, this might be the time to use them. Make sure to book flights early for the best availability and itineraries.
3. Consider independent shore excursions. If you're taking a mega-ship cruise in Alaska, shore excursion expenses can really add up. Book your tours independently to save money. There are pros and cons for booking through the ship or on your own - and yes, the ship will wait for you if you buy your excursion through the cruise line. But booking your own tours independently can easily save you hundreds of dollars on some types of tours. Visit sites like Viator.com as well as the ports’ official tourism websites for information on available public transportation, car rental companies, attractions and more. If you’re taking a voyaging through Alaska with a small ship line such as UnCruise, shore excursions are generally all included.
4. Find BOGO deals. If there are two or more of you traveling together, consider purchasing the Alaska Tour Saver. This coupon book offers more than 130 2-for-1 deals on many of Alaska's top tours, hotels, car rentals and attractions - but it's important to book early. Many tour operators only allow a limited number of Tour Saver coupons to be used per day. For more information, go to www.toursaver.com. If your cruise leaves from Seattle, there's a Tour Saver book available for that location as well.
5. Get together. Check out the Roll Call boards on Cruise Critic and sign up for your ship's sailing. This is a great way to meet other people who'll be traveling on your ship and organize group tours in advance. In addition, the Cruise Critic boards provide lots of money-saving "been there, done that" advice from fellow cruisers and valuable information on independent tour operators. You might even get a free cocktail party, depending on what cruise line you're on and how many people sign up.
6. Create a DIY (drive-it-yourself) tour. Renting a car is one of the most budget-friendly ways to get out there in Alaska. For families, especially those with younger kids or groups of 4 or 5, renting a car can be a real lifesaver. It's often much cheaper than buying 4-5 individual tours and it allows you to make your own schedule as well. Ports like Skagway, Ketchikan and Anchorage can be perfect for independent car rental tours.
7. Take the bus. Check out available public transportation in your ports of call and port of embarkation. For example, in Juneau, there's a public bus available to the Mendenhall Glacier that will cost only a small fraction of what they're charging on the ship.
8. Access the Internet shoreside. Internet usage is expensive on cruise ships - and Alaska is no different. Each port has Internet cafes available. Check the port's tourism site for more information or ask one of the ship's crew members. In my experience, crew members definitely know where the best Internet cafes are located.
9. Stock up on camera supplies at home. Bring plenty of camera SD cards, film, batteries, and anything that you need to capture your vacation memories. Those things will be far more expensive on the ship and in Alaska than at home. The scenery and experiences that you'll have in Alaska are incredible. My rule of thumb for Alaska - take the amount of digital storage cards and batteries that you usually bring on a normal vacation and double it.
10. Bid for hotel rooms. If you're going to be staying in a hotel in Seattle or Vancouver pre- or post-cruise, consider trying to book your stay using Priceline or Hotwire. I've easily saved more than $100 per night on hotel costs by doing this on past trips. This works well for singles or couples, but families should be careful. Double beds and occupancy levels above two persons per room are not guaranteed. Determining what price to bid can be tricky - use BiddingforTravel.com, BetterBidding.com and BiddingTraveler.com to discover what Priceline bids have been accepted recently. Another good site that doesn't require bidding is GetaRoom.com. Call their 800-number to uncover low unadvertised specials.
If You Go:
* If you're planning on renting a car in Alaska's ports of call, make your reservations early. In addition, check with membership organizations such as AAA, AARP, Costco and others for possible discounts.
* For more information on shore excursions available through Viator, visit www.viator.com.