North to Alaska on Ovation of the Seas

I am soon off on the Ovation of the Seas to Alaska. I managed a deal that I could not pass up at $770 CAD PP (included taxes) for a Balcony Guarantee.
This will be my 14th time to Alaska in the 40+ years I have been cruising. In that time I have seen many changes from the size of the ships sailing to Alaska to a Glacier completely retreating from view.
The one thing that has really changed is the size of the ships and this has altered the experience as far as I am concerned. You see the large ships can not take the “inside passage” today just because of their size. In fact many cruise lines have given this route up even with smaller ships. You will see Holland America and Disney do the true inside passage throughout the cruise season. It won’t be every trip but all I can say is if you do take a window seat with your camera in hand.
This will only occur on Sailings from Vancouver as Seattle sailings sail out Juan de Fuca Straight into the Pacific Ocean.
By the inside passage that I am referring to is the BC Ferries route to Prince Rupert.

Ovation of the Seas

Hubbard Glacier Alaska

This cruise is a repositioning cruise because this ship sails from Seattle in the summer to Alaska. The reason it is Vancouver for one sailing is it came from Hawaii and the USA Passenger Services Act requires it to come to Vancouver because a non US Flagged vessel can not transport passengers between 2 US ports.

This is a 8 night cruise from Vancouver to Seattle.

May 9 Vancouver, BC, Canada Embark
May 10 Vancouver, BC, Canada 1:00am
May 11 Ketchikan, AK 11:30am 6:00pm
May 12 Juneau, AK 10:30am 10:30pm
May 13 Skagway, AK 7:00am 8:00pm
May 14 Endicott Arm, AK (Cruising)
May 15 At Sea
May 16 Victoria, BC, Canada 8:00am 8:00pm
May 17 Seattle, WA 6:00am

When I booked this cruise it had a stop in Sitka Alaska on May 11 which I had hoped to be able to go find Alaska first Geocache.
I was also somewhat puzzled at our departure time on May 9th at 5:45 PM. The reason is there are a few ships that sail into Vancouver at the start and finish of the Alaska season that have to go under the Lions Gate Bridge at low tide. Generally in the past this has happened between midnight and 3:00 AM.  The Majestic Princess also leaves Vancouver the same day but it’s departure is listed at 1:00 AM. I know that a couple of ships that visit here have had their funnels shortened to allow this. I had not heard that this had occurred on the Ovation since last year. With Tide Tables being available for almost 2 years in advance you would think they would have checked this say last year rather than weeks before the cruise.

I have been looking at what I may do this cruise in each port that is different than my prior trips.
For instance in Skagway I have done the White Pass Railroad a few times. I now look for something different. Last time I rented a car and went north to Whitehorse in the Yukon.

I am going to give you some tips about how to get cheaper excursions. You will hear this from the cruise lines. If you book with us we guarantee to get you back to the ship in time and the ship will wait for us. I know of several ship excursions just recently that did not get back to the ship in time and the ship was forced to leave and leave the passengers behind. In one case it took 5 days to reunite with the ship.

Courtesy of White Pass Railroad

The White Pass Railroad – Courtesy of White Pass Railroad

The White Pass railroad leaves Skagway up to 3 times a day. There is normally 4 trains that will leave about 10 minutes apart. Two of those trains leave from the Railroad Dock as there are 2 ships docked there. One train leaves from the Ore Dock and another from the Broadway Dock. This is normally the dock you leave from if you go on your own. It might appear to be a pain to walk from the ship to here but if you leave on the train from the Railroad Dock you are going to go into town when you return. Almost everyone ends up in town after the train.
For instance Royal Caribbean is charging $218 USD ($300 CAD) PP while the White Pass buying direct charges $146 USD (201 CAD) PP for the return trip. It is the exact same trip. Consider the savings buying direct. Other cruise lines are not as bad as this but take a look and compare.
The White Pass offers many options to travel on the train including a Steam Train on weekends.
Now don’t be worried if you are doing the return trip on the train. You see when you get to the top you switch sides for the return trip. The seat backs flip over and everyone changes sides. The train also has viewing at the ends of the cars that you can walk to to take photos.

To give you some other ideas like Whale Watching in either Juneau or Victoria, Icy Straight Point etc. similar savings can be had. I checked Juneau for this year and they list a 4 hour whale watching tour for $165 USD ($227 CAD) PP while Royal lists it online as $298 USD ($410 CAD) PP.
You can book this tour in the morning and be back long before your ship departs. Most ships stay early to late evening in Juneau.
Just do a little research at each port and compare prices. Many times the cruise line is using the same tour company as what you can get tickets on.

I will give you an idea of what happened on a cruise when we stopped in Kochi India. About two months before the cruise a bunch of us Geocachers got together and rented a house boat down in the lake district about 1 hour south of the port. We found a good tour operator and rented 2 boats putting roughly 20 on one boat and 14 on the other. The cost quoted was $99 USD PP including the bus ride and a full Indian lunch on the house boat.
A couple weeks after we booked we heard from the tour operator asking if we needed a third boat because he had been contacted by Royal Caribbean to rent as many boats as he could supply. Royal charged guests $250 USD for the exact same tour. The big problem was Royal was putting 35 on each boat and the boats did not have enough food.  The real good part was we were first on the boats and first to leave so we knew we would not miss the ship.
What I am saying is don’t be afraid to look online for a tour operator. Many times you can find out who the cruise line uses and use them but pay less.

I will be posting updates to this as days goes by. I have had a document that I have given to my fellow Geocachers telling them the do and don’t s and how to save money. Where to geocache and how to get there. The one thing I recently learned a local Bus Service in Juneau was sold at the end of the season last year and the prices have been raised as a result. Will be interested to see what is available.

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