3 ways to amp up your Alaskan cruise adventure

3 ways to amp up your Alaskan cruise adventure
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(c) Rebecca Olsen

Cruising through the jaw-dropping wonder of Alaska is a bucket-list vacation and something most people will only do once in their lifetime.

Here’s how to make the most of it:

1. UPGRADE

Some upgrades are worth splurging on and a balcony room is one of them. Balcony rooms are often slightly bigger than standard rooms, but the extra wiggle space isn’t their biggest draw. An Alaskan cruise is all about the scenery, and a small porthole—or worse, no window at all—just won’t cut it. With a balcony room on Norwegian Sun, you’ll wake to a floor to ceiling view of the sun rising above the magnificent Alaskan landscape.

<p>Balcony aboard the Norwegian Sun. </p>

Balcony aboard the Norwegian Sun.

(c) Rebecca Olsen

With a balcony, when the ship passes by calving glaciers or seal-inhabited outcrops, you’ll be able to enjoy the view without peering over and between a hundred other cruise passengers vying for a coveted spot at the railing. And after you put the kids to bed at night, you can relax outside and enjoy the peace of the sunset and the gently lapping waves. (Being able to open a door for fresh air when sea-sickness hits is also worth more than gold... just sayin’.)

<p>Cruising through the ice aboard the Norwegian Sun.</p>

Cruising through the ice aboard the Norwegian Sun.

(c) Rebecca Olsen

Drinks packages, internet access, and upgraded meals all fall into the ‘not worth it’ category. Pay for an occasional drink onboard, and enjoy another—often with complimentary WiFi—at a local bar on-shore. The meals included with your cruise package are perfectly fine. Honestly.

2. GET OUT AND ABOUT

I once sat near a woman deep in discussion with her partner about what they would do the next day. Bingo at 10. Lunch at 12. An art auction at 1:30. Jewelry seminar at 3. Nevermind that we were docked in one of the world’s most beautiful ports. Don’t get me wrong: absolutely enjoy the amenities of the ship while underway or at night when there’s nothing else to see; but the moment you dock, get off and explore.

<p>Aboard the White Pass Railroad in Skagway.</p>

Aboard the White Pass Railroad in Skagway.

(c) Rebecca Olsen

Sometimes, activities offered by the cruise line are fabulous and reasonably priced (the White Pass Railroad in Skagway is phenomenal and tickets are available on all major cruise ships). However small, boutique operators are often able to offer high-quality, custom experiences that no cruise ship ticket desk can replicate. Family-run Southeast Sea Kayaks in Ketchikan is one such operation. While your fellow passengers are playing bingo or stuck aboard a tour bus, you’ll spend a glorious afternoon sea kayaking in Orca Cove, watching for whales, and finding starfish. On shore, a doe and her foals will stop grazing to watch you glide by. Beneath your kayak, seals will dive and spin in synchronized perfection, coming to the surface to bristle their whiskers at you. It will be utterly magical.

Be sure to research and book well before your cruise. Small operators usually have limited space and sell out quickly.

<p>Whale watching in Juneau.</p>

Whale watching in Juneau.

(c) Rebecca Olsen

3. EXTEND THE TRIP

I get it. You’ve already spent your life’s savings on this trip and you have no idea how you’ll pay your credit card off when you get home. But you’re already in Alaska. You may as well spend an extra few days or even a week or two—it might just be the best part of your Alaskan adventure.

After disembarking, most cruise passengers make a beeline for Anchorage and a flight home, completely missing the beauty of one of Alaska’s best kept secrets: the Kenai Peninsula. This 15,000 square mile land mass protruding from the mainland is where Alaskans go on vacation, and it’s easy to see why.

<p>Exploring the coast with Kenai Backcountry Adventures.</p>

Exploring the coast with Kenai Backcountry Adventures.

(c) Rebecca Olsen

The more adventurous traveller, the Kenai offers a smorgasbord of adrenaline-inducing activities in every season. Fishing and wildlife viewing are the most popular, but to get a real feel for Alaska’s Playground, you need to get into the back country. Kenai Backcountry Adventures is the best in the business, and specialize in multi-day, multi-sport adventures for everyone from adrenaline-junkies to young families. Plus, they will tailor an custom itinerary to your specific desires and abilities. Love the water? They’ve got both relaxing floats and hair-raising white-water kayak adventures. Fishing? They know the best spots, well away from the hordes of other fishermen. Heli-skiing? Heck yeah. Want to camp under the stars? They’ll trek with you onto the tundra where you’ll forget that you’re even on planet Earth. A few days with Kyle and his team will have you making plans to relocate to Kenai permanently.

<p>Surrounded by wilderness with Kenai Backcountry Adventures.</p>

Surrounded by wilderness with Kenai Backcountry Adventures.

(c) Rebecca Olsen

For those who prefer to live life at a gentler pace, the area is dotted with boutique lodges and bed and breakfast establishments. At Great House Lodge, Chef Paul Warner welcomes guests like family to his 12-acre part-restaurant, part-lodge. Relax by the fire with a book from the extensive library, or try your hand at the many handmade wooden games around the home. You can even help prepare a meal of freshly caught salmon and locally sourced ingredients in an enormous kitchen overlooking the Cook Inlet. Keep an eye out for Mount Denali: it’s visible from the kitchen window on a clear day.

<p>Preparing dinner with Chef Paul at the Great House Lodge</p>

Preparing dinner with Chef Paul at the Great House Lodge

(c) Rebecca Olsen
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