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10 Money-Saving Tips for Alaska Cruises
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. Find a great cruise agent and enlist their help. Cruise agents can help vacationers find the best cruise to match their individual needs, save money, and monitor cruise line 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 give hundreds of cruise agents the chance to bid for their business.
2. Purchase flights early. Flights to Alaska can be costly, especially at the last minute. Price air travel options to and from popular cruise departure ports – such as Seattle and Vancouver – to determine which option works best for you before choosing your cruise. Seattle is served by several low-cost airlines. Some of these, such as Southwest, don't show up on popular booking sites like Orbitz and Travelocity, so make sure to check those airline websites directly. If you have frequent flyer miles, this might be a good time to use them. Make sure to book early for the best availability and flight itineraries.
3. Consider independent shore excursions. If you're taking a mega-ship cruise in Alaska, shore excursion expenses can add up fast. 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. On the other hand, booking tours independently can easily save you hundreds of dollars on some types of tours. Visit each port's official tourism or CVB website for information on independent tour operators, available public transportation, car rental companies, attractions, dining options, museums and more. This will give you an idea of what’s available in each port and help you stay within budget.
4. Check out the Alaska Tour Saver. This little book offers 2-for-1 deals on many of Alaska's top tours, hotels, car rentals and attractions and can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. It's important to book these tours in advance, however. 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. Join Roll Call message boards. 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 budget-friendly 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 score an invitation to a free cocktail party, depending on what cruise line you're on and how many people sign up.
6. Explore ports via rental car. Renting a car is one of the most budget-friendly ways to get out of town in Alaska. For families, especially those with younger kids or groups of four or five, renting a car can be a vacation budget saver. It's much cheaper than buying four or five individual tours and allows you to make your own schedule as well. Ports such as Skagway, Ketchikan and Anchorage (Whittier, Seward) can be perfect for independent car rental tours.
7. Look into public transportation options. Check out available public or other types of bus transportation in your ports of call and ports of embarkation/debarkation. For example, in Juneau, there's a bus available to the Mendenhall Glacier that will cost only a small fraction of the tour price being charged on the ship.
8. Access local Internet cafes. Internet access is expensive on cruise ships, so research Internet cafes in your ports of call. Check the port's tourism site for more information and inquire at your ship's Shore Excursions desk. In addition, ask some of your ship's crew members about Internet cafes and libraries with Internet access in port. In my experience, crew members are often the best source of information on where the best Internet and free Wi-Fi options are located.
9. Purchase camera supplies at home. Bring plenty of camera SD cards, film, batteries, and anything that you need to capture your vacation memories. These items will be much more expensive on the ship and in Alaska's ports as well. My rule of thumb for Alaska - take the amount of digital storage cards, film and batteries that you usually bring on vacation and then double it.
10. Bid for pre- or post-cruise 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.
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