Alaska by Sea

Glacier Bay in Mountains, Alaska, United States

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, we decided we would make the best of our time here, however long it might be, and explore as much of the area as possible. We also committed to using Seattle as a launching pad to nearby states and countries to minimize the amount of time we were spending getting to a destination and instead maximizing our vacation days.

That approach has led us all over the state, from the Olympic Peninsula to the Yakima Valley to the San Juan Islands to the Northern Cascades with many more adventures to come. It’s also led us throughout the region, from Portland to Vancouver, and Coeur d’Alene to Victoria.

While we have been able to squeeze a number of these adventures into day and weekend trips, we also identified a few week-long adventures to states and countries that are relatively nearby. Earlier this year we took an incredible trip to Hawaii’s Big Island and Oahu, and this fall we were planning for another week-long vacation to Japan.

A week or so ago I was close to wrapping up my research for our 10-day trip to Japan. We were planning to go over Labor Day to take advantage of the extra day off work. We’d whittled down flight options to take advantage of our frequent flyer mile programs while trying to travel direct. I was all ready to book our flights, knowing that once we were locked in I could really dig into where we would stay and how we would get around and reach out to friends, family and co-workers who had been there for their advice.

For some reason I delayed our booking, saying I wanted to sleep on it and do it in the morning. As we were preparing for bed and I was playing on my phone, I continued doing a little research. I realized I hadn’t actually looked into whether September was a good time for us to travel there—I had simply based the timing on our availability.

As I started on this new query, I came across site after site reminding travelers of Japan’s summer heat, which extends well into late October! We’re talking upper 80s during the day and lower 70s at night. September is also peak typhoon season. I had no idea!

I quickly began to envision how this would impact our time there, especially in giant, bustling cities like Tokyo. Brian and I do not do heat. There is a reason some of our favorite trips have been in the cold and snow, and it’s not because of off-season pricing and fewer tourists, although those are amazing benefits. We simply don’t enjoy being out in the heat. We’ll take negative temps over blazing sun any day.

I was completely thrown for a loop and immediately rethought the entire trip. While Japan is on top of our list of places to go, it was clear I needed to look into a different time of year for our travels.

But if we weren’t going to Japan this fall, we had a whole week of vacation now open! I didn’t even know where to begin! There are literally hundreds of places I want to go! What if we added more time and went somewhere farther away? What if we didn’t go that week at all and instead went later in the month to celebrate our anniversary? I was quickly spiraling down a rabbit hole of adventure planning possibilities.

Thankfully my husband is rational and soon brought me back to my original guiding principles of travel. Focus on places nearby where we benefit from our Seattle positioning. Focus on places where we can maximize our week and cover the most ground in our limited amount of time.

After consulting my extensive ‘places I want to travel next’ excel document, the obvious choice from a locally accessible standpoint was Alaska. We’ve been wanting to go, it will conclude Brian’s travels to all 50 states, and there are limitless things to see and do via plane, train, automobile and ship. The downside is that we will never be able to accomplish everything in a week—it’s too vast and there’s too much.

The more I investigated, the more it became clear we would have to accept that we wouldn’t be seeing everything and instead focus on how we could make the most of this adventure. For instance, maybe we could go by train and explore further north into Denali National Park and Fairbanks. Or maybe we could go by motorcycle via British Columbia and experience nature up close and personal. Or maybe we could go via cruise ship and experience Alaska’s glaciers from the water. None of them would be the full package, but each type of trip might have something different to offer.

It was absolute kismet that around the same time I stumbled upon this LA Times article about why your first trip to Alaska should be by sea. I didn’t need much convincing—I immediately set off researching week-long cruises to Alaska from Seattle, finding dozens upon dozens of options across multiple cruise lines. I was able to quickly prioritize based on itinerary and the amount of time needed and a clear winner arose on Holland America Line. Once I had landed on the cruise, Brian spent several days calling dozens of booking agencies in order to find us the best deal. Teamwork!

At long last my autumn holiday is booked—Alaska via sea in September! Our itinerary includes stops in Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan as well as days exploring Glacier Bay National Park and the Inside Passage. I’m a little nervous about getting seasick during our day at sea (we’ve only cruised once before, and I ended up having one rough night), but I think I have plenty of time to research options for keeping that at bay.

In the meantime, I’m printing out our excursion options and starting to work through which places are worth exploring via guide and which we can explore on our own.

Have you cruised to Alaska? Any tips to help us make the most of our time on and off the ship?

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