Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 31-year-airline analyst uses points and job perks to book a solo trip on an Alaska cruise.
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Occupation: Analyst for a major airline
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Trip Location: Cruise to Alaska
Trip Length: 9 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 20
Cost: Since I work for an airline, we get major perks when booking airfare on almost any carrier. I can fly standby for free on my own airline and buy discount standby tickets on others based on distance flown and various agreements with the airlines. When I booked the cruise, I planned on taking advantage of these benefits, however, when checking the flights as the days approached, they became more and more full. I ended up using miles to pay for a confirmed flight (with a layover in Chicago) just to make sure I got to Vancouver in time. It cost me 12,500 miles and $81. I did use my flight benefits to book a standby ticket on the return Anchorage to Dallas for $61. Since I had a full day to get back home, I was not as strict about the timeline and had some flexibility.
Cost: The cruise itself accounted for seven nights of accommodation. I paid $453 for the cruise. Norwegian was having a sale (they do frequently!) and I booked this trip about a week before it left and did not have to pay a single supplement fee (most cruises will make singles pay twice the fare). The actual cruise cost was $249 and the remaining $204 were taxes and fees. Another work perk is points that we earn for perfect attendance and recognition from leaders for going above and beyond. We can redeem these points for goods or gift cards, so I redeemed $200 worth of Visa gift cards and used them towards my reservation because it accepted three separate forms of payment. This definitely helped reduce my cost!
I flew into Vancouver the day before the cruise and booked an amazing deal on Hotwire for $166 total for a 4.5-star hotel in Downtown Vancouver, which was very close to the cruise port. After booking, it was revealed to be The Sutton Place Hotel and based on reviews, I was very happy with my booking. And since I went through Ebates for my booking, I get $7.80 back!
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending
Since I only had about a week between booking and departure, this was a blessing in disguise because it didn’t give me a ton of time to shop. Since I was planning on doing some sightseeing, I picked up some insect repellent wipes ($3) because I have a bad reaction to bug bites and I also bought a selfie stick ten years too late ($5.) My roommate agreed to cat-sit for me.
I booked my excursions for the cruise just before departing. For Juneau, I found a whale-watching boat tour that I wanted to book and ended up checking Groupon and found it listed! ($141.75 plus 6% cash back via Ebates of $8.51, brought it down to $133.24.) In Skagway, I booked a sightseeing excursion ($136) that included a van into Canada and a train ride back to Alaska with a tour guide that came highly recommended by a friend that had cruised to Alaska before. Finally, on the day of arrival into Seward, I needed to arrange transportation to the Anchorage airport. There’s a bus for $70 or the train for $99, but that still left a full day in either city, so I opted to book all-day sightseeing and transfer bus tour ($176.55).
10:00 a.m. – Since I am leaving on a weekend, my roommate is off work and in town, luckily. I ask if she’ll take me to the airport, and since I know she hates driving, I offer to drive my car there if she’ll drive it back and leave it in our apartment building’s covered parking. I also have the toll tag to pay to enter the airport ($2) so we leave a couple of hours before my flight. I didn’t get to eat breakfast, so I pick up a bottled coffee and donut pack from the 7-Eleven in the airport ($5.48). $7.48
12:30 p.m. – I eat my food on my flight to Chicago. It’s only a couple of hours and I alternate napping and reading for the duration of the flight.
2:45 p.m. – I have just over two hours during my layover in ORD. I have to change terminals and I see a Garrett Popcorn stall and know I need to pick some up (I’m not a popcorn fan, but the Chicago Mix is a treat once in a while!). I buy a small bag to snack on over the next couple of days and a bottle of water. Bonus, they offer an airline discount! $6.71
4:00 p.m. – The flight to Vancouver is four-and-a-half hours from Chicago and I know I’ll be hungry again. There’s a pizza place near the gate, so I order a small deep dish cheese pizza to eat onboard. I also find a water bottle refill station, so I fill up my travel bottle. $8.91
5:00 p.m. – The flight boards and departs! I eat my pizza and have some ginger ale onboard. I then spend most of the flight watching the musical scenes from A Star is Born and reading.
7:00 p.m. – Flight lands in Canada and we have to go through customs. Luckily, it goes pretty quickly and I head to the train station to go downtown. While looking at the ticket kiosk, I see a notification that you can use contactless credit cards without buying a fare and receive a discount, so I just use my Chase Sapphire Visa to board the train. It’s about 30 minutes downtown and then my hotel is a five- to ten-minute walk from the station. $5.92
9:00 p.m. – Once again, I’m hungry and it’s started to rain outside, so I check Uber Eats. There’s a vegan pizza place a couple of miles away with good reviews, so I order a pizza and mac & cheese to have it delivered ($25.96.) While I wait, I take a shower and decide to walk down to McDonald’s to buy a drink. I order a soda and a protein smoothie ($3.12) to take back to my room $29.08
10:30 p.m. – The food arrives! The pizza is delicious, but the mac and cheese is incredibly disappointing and I don’t eat it. I try to watch Netflix while I eat, but I realize that the hotel charges for wifi and I’m not splurging for that. By the time I’m done, I head to bed and read my downloaded book until I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $58.10
10:00 a.m. – I wake up and start repacking and getting ready for the day. Checkout is noon and I’m supposed to check in for the cruise between 12:00 and 12:30 p.m. I take my leisurely time getting ready, doing my hair, and just enjoying my morning.
12:00 p.m. – I check out of the hotel and pull up Lyft only to find out that there is no ridesharing in Vancouver! Oops! It’s only about a mile to the port, so I decide to walk and end up walking out with a mom and her daughter going on the same cruise. We get to the port and go through the check-in process. I lose them after checking in and head onboard the boat. First stop? Buffet for some food! Unfortunately, this makes me wary for the week because there are limited options for vegetarians and nothing really ends up being delicious.
2:00 p.m. – Our staterooms are available now, so I go and unpack my clothes. I hate living out of a suitcase for more than a night and there’s so much storage in this room that it’s nice to hang clothes up and have my things hidden in drawers. Since I am traveling alone, the two twin beds are configured together in a king-size bed below the big picture window with blackout curtains. There is a nightstand on either side of the bed and a vanity desk on one side of the room with a big mirror, drawers, and several shelves. There is a full-length mirror next to the desk as well. Opposite the desk area is a small shelf below the TV. The TV is wall mounted and can move around a bit, depending on where you want to watch from. Across from the closet is the bathroom, which is actually pretty big for a cruise ship cabin. The sink has little shelves up the wall on either side, where I store all my toiletries and there is a shower and a toilet behind separate sliding doors as well. After checking the daily itinerary, I end up wandering around the boat, trying to get the lay of the land. I buy the social media internet package so I can have some sort of connection with people I know and meet with the internet manager to process this purchase. $87.50
4:00 p.m. – Emergency drill time! Every cruise starts with a muster drill so we passengers know where to go in case of an emergency. Afterward, I end up watching us sail out and enjoy the view of the harbor and mountains around us.
6:00 p.m. – Dinner time! They post the menus for dinner outside the restaurants, and I like the options on deck for tonight. The great thing about cruises is that food is (almost) all-inclusive, so I can eat whatever and however much I want and not have to pay extra. Service is great and I enjoy my meal. Dinner ends up being the dining highlight of the cruise. Since I booked so late, I ended up with “Anytime Dining” which allowed me to just walk up to a restaurant and get seated when a table was available. I requested sitting by myself, so they were happy to do that for me (introvert life!) and the wait staff was still attentive to just me.
8:00 p.m. – While walking to the evening entertainment, I end up bumping into a friend! We met a long time ago and I knew she worked on cruise ships but did not know she was going to be on mine. It is a pleasant surprise on a solo trip and I get her work number so we can meet up later. The evening entertainment ends up being little snippets of all the forthcoming shows for the week, including a comedian, a contortionist couple, and some singing and dance numbers..
10:00 p.m. – I am already tired, so I head back to my stateroom. I read a bit of my book and then go to sleep.
Daily Total: $87.50
5:30 a.m. – The sun is already up? I wake up because of it and force myself back to sleep after tossing around for an hour. The whole long day/short night thing is going to be strange for me.
8:00 a.m. – I drag myself out of bed and head to the dining room for breakfast. I’m planning a lazy day, so I need to fuel up!
10:00 a.m. – After breakfast, I stake out a seat on the deck to read for a while. On vacations, I like to check out and enjoy some sort of rom-com type book (think Sophie Kinsella) and am reading Confessions of a Domestic Failure today. It’s a nice day, not too windy, and I keep one eye on the lookout for whales.
12:00 p.m. – Lunchtime already and I pick at a salad and some pizza.
1:00 p.m. – The restless sleep hits me, so I head back to my room to take a nap.
3:00 p.m. – I change into my swimsuit and decide to hit the hot tub. The perk of a cooler weather destination means that the pool and hot tub areas are practically empty! I end up chatting with a couple that is also from Texas for a couple of hours and enjoy the cool air and hot water. We have traveled to some of the same places, but are from different cities, and talk about our cruising experiences.
6:00 p.m. – Shower and change into nicer attire. Head to dinner. Tonight’s menu is Italian and I am a happy camper! After dinner, I watch the Not-So-Newlywed game show in one of the clubs. It’s a staple of most cruises and never fails to make me laugh. It’s based on the old-school Newlywed Gameshow, but they get a couple that’s recently married, another that’s been married for a really long time (I’ve seen more than 60 years!) and then a couple that’s somewhere in the middle. They ask each side of the couple a question about their relationship or their partner and then they have to match their answers. The questions range from “how’d you meet?” to more risque, about the most unique place they’ve ever “made whoopie.”
10 p.m. – After the show, I call my friend that works on board and asks if she wants to get a drink. She meets me at one of the bars where we spend a couple of hours catching up and I treat myself to a fruity drink. We people watch and sing along to the DJ before we’re too tired to stay awake. $13.14
1:00 a.m. – Finally hit the hay after a pleasant evening with my friend.
Daily Total: $13.14
8:00 a.m. – Ketchikan today! None of the excursions sounded worth the cost to me, so today is a souvenir and exploring day, so I take my time to get ready and eat breakfast.
9:00 a.m. – We have docked right downtown and the city is fairly small and compact. I walk along the water up to the Discovery Center, only to be informed that it is $5 today. I reach into my bag and realize that I left my wallet in the cruise ship safe and they will not accept any mobile pay apps. Instead, I just keep walking, exploring some back roads, and walking Creek Street, which is an entire shopping and living area built over a river! The buildings are beautiful and I wander along the salmon stream to see an old-fashioned salmon ladder. A salmon ladder is a structure that is built into a river, like a water staircase, to help young and migrating fish travel upstream to find better food sources or for mating. Unfortunately, no salmon are moving upstream today, so I just enjoy the pleasant weather and people watching.
11:00 a.m. – I head back to the ship, stopping at souvenir shops along the way to compare prices. With so much overlap in vendors and availability, I have the time to really see which places are the best bang for my buck. And, since I’m flying standby home, I can check my bag for free too! I make it back to my cabin, pick up my credit card from the safe, and head back to the shops.
12:00 p.m. – First stop, a local(ish) souvenir shop. It’s a smaller place that also sells candy. Here, I pick up three magnets and four stickers for myself and some friends and some taffy to bring to my coworkers ($26.57). Next, I head to a chain of Alaskan souvenir shops. Overrated, I’m sure, but great for picking up gifts. At the first one, I get my friend a t-shirt (cliché, definitely, but she really loves cheesy t-shirts) and find a nice deal on a soft sweatshirt for myself ($31.93). Moving onto the next store of the same brand, I buy a couple candy bars (one for me, one for my friend who is impossible to shop for), a clearance shirt for the aforementioned friend, and a coloring book for my friend’s daughter (their kids are like my nieces/nephews) ($17.00). Next stop, a different Alaskan store, but with lots of local and homemade items and where I really find some gems. Here, I buy a bear knit cap for one of the daughters and three little waterproof pouches, made from Alaskan themed fabric, that will be perfect for makeup or travel bags ($67.05). I am planning on keeping a couple for myself and the third is a gift for my roommate for watching my cat while I am gone. $142.55
3:00 p.m. – After all the bargain hunting, I’m exhausted, and head back to the ship. It’s nearly dinner time, so I just grab a quick bite from the buffet to tide me over and head to the room to shower and change.
5:30 p.m. – I decide on an early dinner, and hit the dining room. After I eat, it’s time to enjoy a show and it’s the contortionists tonight. It’s a cool concept at first, but after about ten minutes of them doing the same tricks over and over again, I get bored and leave early. They have some talented entertainment, but the same thing on repeat is redundant.
8:30 p.m. – I wander through the duty-free shops and gift shops on the way back to my room. Mostly on one deck on this ship, there are shopping opportunities, like a gift shop with cruise specific items and branded Norwegian stuff for sale. They also have random necessities, like over-the-counter medication and some snacks marked way up. Other shops include a few duty-free stores, selling jewelry, sunglasses, perfume, and makeup. In my experience, it’s pretty close to the full retail price for anything at home, but you save on taxes. I am not one for shopping often, but sometimes there are cute clothes or jewelry available, so I check it out. Unfortunately, nothing strikes my fancy this time! Last second, I run-up to the buffet for a late-night ice cream cone and then head to bed. Once settled in, I get comfortable with my book and read until I fall asleep a couple of hours later.
Daily Total: $142.55
7:00 a.m. – We’re in Juneau today! I have the whale-watching tour that was pre-booked for this port but doesn’t have to meet until 11:30 a.m., so I take my time this morning. This means heading to the buffet and finding a table with a view to eat oatmeal and read for a couple of hours. I end up on the deck in the back, enjoying the view in port and alternating checking my email (yay! full internet finally – even if it’s 3G!) and reading the news.
11:00 a.m. – We are docked about a mile from town and the rest of the cruise ship docks, so we have to wait in line to disembark and board busses into town. I am anxious waiting in line as the minutes tick by but manage to get there just in time to head to the meeting point for my excursion. The plan today is to go on the whale watching boat tour and then visit the Mendenhall Glacier.
12:00 p.m. – After taking a bus on a brief tour through Juneau to the marina with some history shared by the guide, we board a catamaran to head out onto the water. The guides are really great, sharing with us history about the surrounding water and mountains and information about any animals we may see. Did you know that in the Alaskan water in the summer, if you see a whale, it’s typically just its tail when it starts a dive for food? This is opposite from whale watching in Hawaii in the winter when whales breach to attract attention while mating or stun fish closer to the surface for eating. However, as guaranteed in the tour, we see several whales! Our first view swims just alongside the boat, but there are rules about motors near wildlife, so we travel on and end up near a couple of smaller boats. Basically, we spend a couple of hours on the water alternating between watching whales swim and dive and blow air and enjoying the scenery and commentary. They also provide some snacks and water on board to tide you over.
2:30 p.m. – We get back to the dock and then board buses to head to Mendenhall Glacier. Mendenhall Glacier is a 13-mile long glacier that is retreating due to climate change and has created the Mendenhall Lake as a result. You’re able to walk very close to the glacier and observe it from several locations. I take a short walk to the viewing platform for the glacier and just sit and people watch and listen and appreciate the beautiful weather and scenery. After a bit, I venture inside the visitor center, where I view a film about the history of the glacier and pick up some stickers and a pin as a souvenir from the gift shop. Buses run every 30 minutes back downtown, so I decide to take a bit of a hike and befriend a squirrel before catching the next bus. $16.95
4:30 p.m. – The bus makes two stops, one in downtown proper and one closer to the cruise ships, and I decide to take the first stop and walk back to the shuttle. It’s starting to rain a little, so I’m grateful to have my raincoat in my backpack. My late breakfast has finally worn off, so I’m browsing local restaurant menus as I pass. Unfortunately, nothing sounds both good and worth the price for dinner, so I end up ordering a couple of scoops of homemade ice cream and taking the free shuttle back to the ship. $6.00
6;00 p.m. – After a shower, I grab dinner at the restaurant and catch the entertainment for the evening. It’s a sort of Cirque meets Glee Club show, but I don’t hate it.
10:30 p.m. – Since my plans for tomorrow start early in the morning, I head to bed and try to sleep through the night.
Daily Total: $22.95
6:30 a.m. – I have to be off the boat as soon as it docks at 8:00 a.m. in Skagway to check-in for the sightseeing excursion, so I wake up early to get ready and eat. It’s another breakfast in the buffet as I watch the boat sail into port and drop anchor.
8:00 a.m. – After disembarking the ship, the check-in for my excursion is right at the gangway. I pre-booked a half-day of sightseeing that travels by van through the White Pass into British Columbia, Canada, and then takes a train back down the mountains. I’ve heard the scenery is beautiful and we get many opportunities for photos along the ride up. It’s also following the path that people took during the Gold Rush, trying to find new areas to excavate gold when times were promising, in between the winter weather. I manage to snag a window seat and an open row for the van up into the mountains.
10:00 a.m. – The trip up to Fraser os incredible. We have a guide that is really knowledgeable and funny and makes the trip even better. We see bears cross the road in front of us and even pull over to watch them eat dandelions, which she says you rarely see so close to the highway. Just before crossing into Canada, we stop at the “Welcome to Alaska ” sign and take pictures there as well as over several turquoise and deep blue lakes and mid-rise snow-topped mountain ranges. We have to stop in Canada once through the mountains for a passport check and then continue to the train station in Fraser, BC. The city of Fraser itself is really just a train station where the train through the Yukon Mountains first meets up with the South Klondike Highway, but it is the last boarding point in Canada for the train back into Alaska and along the mountains.
10:30 a.m. – We board the train to head back down to Skagway and I basically fling myself into the last window seat on the side that my friend said had a better view. In the end, it does not matter too much as I preferred standing outside on the platform to watch the sights go by from both sides. There is a guide over the speaker on the train providing a history of the White Pass and the Gold Rush in this area of North America.
12:30 p.m. – Once we back in Skagway, I opt to get off the train at the first stop and walk to the port. All of the buildings and downtown look straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie and with so few permanent residents, there isn’t even much car traffic to be worried about either! I’m craving some decent food for lunch and find a brewery/restaurant that has the Impossible Burger listed on its menu. Unfortunately, after sitting down to order, they have run out of both the Impossible Burger and the pineapple vanilla house-made vodka I wanted, so I opt for just their own vegan burger and a vodka cranberry. Despite the disappointment in availability, the food is delicious and hits the spot with what I’ve been missing onboard the ship. $26.00
2:00 p.m. – I spend the next hour or so wandering in and out of all the local shops. I pick up a mountain pin at a little souvenir store ($5.24) and the smell of freshly made fudge lures me in and convinces me to buy a sampler pack ($27.83). It is delicious and sweet and just what I like to eat at night before bed. I take my treats and slowly walk back to the ship, with many stops for photo breaks along the way! $33.07
4:00 p.m. – After an early morning, I take a nap and then head to dinner. Since I had a large lunch, I eat a smaller dinner.
7:00 p.m. – I decide to have a drink at the mojito bar on the top level that is floor to ceiling windows. I am usually a vodka-soda girl, but this entire bar specializes in mojitos, and they have a menu with so many creative options. I end up going for Pineapple Coconut mojito that is made with coconut rum and pineapple puree. It is delicious and I spend a couple of hours reading and enjoying my drink as we sail along the Alaskan coast and the sun drops lower behind the mountains. $13.14
10:00 p.m. – I fall asleep watching Inside Out in my cabin.
Daily Total: $72.21
7:00 a.m. – With two sea days ahead of me, I am looking forward to lots of relaxation and sightseeing. We are glacier sighting today, so I wake up and head to breakfast at the buffet and snag a table on the deck. Our cruise ship will spend the next two days sailing along the coast of Alaska, including into Glacier Bay National Park and around little inlets and islands, watching for wildlife and viewing the coastal beauty of Alaska. This is an unofficial perk of booking a one-way Alaska sailing (departing from Seattle/Vancouver and arriving in Seward/Anchorage, Alaska – or vice versa): more time to see Alaska and the coast. Cruise ships that sail round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver have to turnaround halfway through the week and don’t get to see much past the Juneau area!
9:00 a.m. – After I finish eating, I continue to sit on the deck and read my book and listen to the overhead speakers. Since we’re cruising inside the Glacier Bay National Park, there’s actually a National Park Ranger on board the ship that is narrating our journey. It is very cold at this point, so many guests aren’t joining us on the dock, but when ranger points out the highlights, there’s a rush of people from inside! It’s very informative and she’s explaining the history of the area, how it’s been affected by climate change and the dim future expected for the glacial areas in Alaska and Canada.
1:00 p.m. – We get to see so many incredible sights. There’s a bear swimming alongside our ship for a short time, which even the park rangers are thrilled to see! The ship spends the day sailing into inlets and turning around, so all viewing areas from the ship can see the entire scene. We get to see the Lamplugh Glacier, Johns Hopkins Glacier, Gilman Glacier, Grand Pacific Glacier, and Margerie Glacier. The glaciers really vary in size and appearance; our first real view of a glacier was where the Margerie Glacier meets the Grand Pacific Glacier. The Grand Pacific Glacier is under a layer of sediment and dirt, so it was not particularly impressive, but it stands opposite the Margerie Glacier, which is one of the most viewed in Glacier Bay, spanning about a mile wide and 250’ above the water where we could view. It is light blue and looks like cave crystals all the way across. We spend about an hour in this inlet. This glacier also calves while we are observing, which means a large chunk of ice broke off from the glacier. It is so loud. We then proceed to another inlet to view the Johns Hopkins Glacier and the Gilman Glacier, which are attached at this point. These glaciers calve icebergs that spot the water and we see a few seals and birds hanging out on them.
4:00 p.m. – After we leave the National Park, I head back to my cabin for a nap before dinner.
7:00 p.m. – Dinner is at the dining room again, with me and my book. Though I am very much an introvert and enjoy my alone time, this cruise has been testing that limit. I’ve gone on a cruise by myself before, but it was in the Caribbean, so the crowd leaned much younger, and there were a lot more activities onboard for entertainment. I am very glad I bought the internet package to at least have some sort of communication on evenings like this! I put on a new swimsuit to head to the hot tub, and for once, actually really like how I look in it. So, mini photoshoot in the cabin and I send a couple of snaps to my friends who try to support me and my negative self-image. Too bad there’s no crush to send a thirst trap to! Once I get to the deck, there’s a college girl in there already, so we start talking, and she’s on vacation with her parents. They join us later, and we have a nice talk about life after college and how I got into my line of work since she wants to be a flight attendant and I know a lot through my job!
11:00 p.m. – They shut down the hot tub, so I grab some fries on my way back to my room and fall asleep pretty quickly. Hot tubs can wear you out sometimes!
Daily Total: $0
7:00 a.m. – It’s another day at sea and my last day on the boat. It’s an early morning approach to Hubbard Glacier and I want to get a prime viewing spot. I eat breakfast inside (it’s so cold now!) and then head to an open deck to enjoy the scenery.
9:00 a.m. – The only announcements we get now are from the cruise director and captain, who just give us updates as to our location. While this is only one glacier as opposed to several in the national park, the Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America. The ship ends up taking a couple of hours to sail into the bay, make a full and slow turn, before leaving the bay. Since the weather is nice and there is not too much ice in the area, we are able to get very close and listen to the ice break off the glacier into the water. It’s loud and incredible. We see seals perched on small ice blocks and seagulls abound.
11:00 a.m. – The ship is now on its way to Seward for disembarkation tomorrow. We still get some pleasant sights along the way, but nothing compared to the sightseeing of the past couple of days. I eat lunch on the buffet and then watch some game show activities in a lounge for a couple of hours.
1:00 p.m. – Taking an early nap today!
4:00 p.m. – Since it’s the last night on board, I take my time to do my makeup and hair and then realize that the vegetarian menu for the dining room sucks tonight. So, I find a nook and cozy up and read for a couple of hours.
7:00 p.m. – Dinner tonight is grazing the buffet, which once again, is a disappointment. Some rice, cheese, and bread. There are not really any vegetarian-friendly entrees on the buffet throughout the week, which is frustrating. As a frequent cruiser, I can usually make do with a couple of options, but this ship, in particular, had fewer options than any I’d been on before. And I’d sailed on this cruise line twice previously without as many issues! Carbo-loading hard on this cruise!
9:00 p.m. – Last night of vacation means packing time. Since I do travel a lot, I’m fairly decent at re-packing at the end of trips and realize quickly that I will be checking my bag home and now have an extra tote bag to carry on with the gifts and clothes. I shower, get everything organized, and then go hang out with my friend as she finishes up working and just enjoy chatting to her and her coworkers in their retail space. She works with people from around the world, including Asia and Europe, so it’s nice to see how the view working onboard a ship.
11:00 p.m. – The invoice for the cruise is left on my nightstand during the evening cleaning, so I review the charges. In addition to the two drinks that I purchased and the internet package, I also confirm the gratuity charge. They automatically add $15 per person, per day onto the charges ($105). You can adjust manually at Guest Services, but I am fine with the auto-gratuity this time. I end up going to sleep since it’ll be a long and early day tomorrow! $105
Daily Total: $105
6:30 a.m. – Disembarkation day is always rough. It starts early, it’s crowded, and people are easily grumpy. Since I am carrying all my own bags off the ship, I take them to the buffet for breakfast. Last morning with oatmeal and pastries and powdered eggs.
7:45 a.m. – We’re able to finally disembark the ship at Seward, Alaska. I am not flying home until after 8:00 p.m. from Anchorage, so I have the all-day sightseeing and transfer bus tour that I booked in advance that ends up dropping me off at the airport around 5:00 p.m.! We will spend the day on a bus with a guide as they share some information and history about the area, and making stops at Kenai Fjords National Park, an animal conservation center, a ski resort, and then to the airport!
8:30 a.m. – The bus picks up right outside the cruise port, so I grab a window seat and since I’m traveling alone, there is no one seated next to me. It’s a big, touristy bus, but the guide seems friendly and everyone seems happy to be there, so though I avoid group travel, I’m looking forward to what’s to come. I booked the transfer fairly last minute and at this point, I can’t really remember what’s on the itinerary! My phone doesn’t have great service once we leave town, so it’s a fun surprise. The bus ride starts with a tour of Seward, a tourist stop in itself, on the bay with mountains all around.
9:30 a.m. – We stop at Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. We get an hour and a half to hike to the glacier if we want and sightsee around this section of the park. The trail to the viewing point of the glacier has trailheads with years on them, indicating how far the glacier used to reach in that year. It’s fascinating to see how quickly it has receded in the last few decades especially. Remember when I said I forgot what all this tour entailed? Silly me didn’t realize that there was hiking, so I am wearing flats and my outdoor sneakers are in my backpack under the bus. So, this genius gets to hike a couple of miles over rocks and a bit of climbing in Aerosole flats. But hey, we both survive! And the view is amazing. I stop at the gift shop to pick up a pin before boarding the bus. $5.95
11:00 a.m. – Our next stop is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a sanctuary that takes in injured and orphaned wildlife. While some are released back into the wild, many become permanent residents due to their circumstances. It’s open to the public, so we get to see all sorts of amazing animals, including black and brown bears, moose, bison, lynx, porcupines, reindeer, and more. It’s a great pit stop for this animal lover and it’s nice to see people care about conservation everywhere.
2:00 p.m. – Our next stop is Alyeska Resort, a ski resort from the base to the summit of Mount Alyeska. We get a box lunch here, but as a vegetarian, the veggie sandwich is soggy and pretty underwhelming. I’m also starving at this point, so I inhale the chips and banana and toss the damp bread. Our tour cost includes a ticket on the tram up the mountain. After touring the base grounds, I take the tram up the mountain to see snow and the resort. Though the ski runs are closed for the season, the restaurant and bar are open. I get a kid’s meal here ($13.50) and sit at the bar with a drink ($9). After I finish eating, I walk around in the snow a bit and enjoy the view from atop the mountain on this beautiful clear day before heading back to the bus. $22.50
4:30 p.m. – On the way to the airport, we take the scenic route, including a stop along the Turnagain Arm with a view of Anchorage from across Lake Hood. Then, we’re dropped off with our luggage at the Anchorage Airport!
5:00 p.m. – I am flying standby on this flight home, so I go to the ticket counter to check my bag. She lets me know that the flight still looks good for me and takes my bag, though I’ve still got several hours to wait. The flight back home is scheduled to be about six-and-a-half hours long, and since I am traveling on my flight benefits, there’s no guarantee I’ll get a meal (and since I’m a vegetarian, no guarantee that I’d be able to eat whatever option I was given!). So while waiting at the airport, I pick up a candy bar and some puffed pea faux Cheeto-type chips to eat onboard if I got hungry ($8.28). My phone is starting to die and I am sore from my terrible choice in footwear, so I also opt to sit in those airport massage chairs ($5). I get 30 minutes of massage and they also have power outlets to charge my phone; very relaxing after a long day. $13.28
6:30 p.m. – The gate agent shows up for my flight, so I go to the counter to make sure I’m on the standby list and triple-check that the flight is still open. He says it looks great and he’ll be waiting until closer to departure to clear the standbys. I tell him thank you and find a spot with an outlet out of his way, but where I can still see what’s going on. Over the next hour, I see a lot of people get very impatient! There are other standby people that insist on asking him constantly for their status and paying passengers that have way too many bags who get angry when asked to check one. He starts to clear some of the standby people that were constantly asking him, but I leave him alone since it hasn’t even started boarding and I know I’m at the bottom of the list.
7:45 p.m. – Just before boarding begins, the gate agent actually comes up to me with my boarding pass and tells me to thank you for being patient. Looks like it paid off because he gave me a seat in premium economy! I’m able to board with one of the earlier groups, and I have a bulkhead seat with tons of legroom and space. It looks like a business class seat with a recliner and personal (large!) TV! I’m so grateful for this for the long, red-eye flight home and get comfy.
8:20 p.m. – Flight takes off and I spend the next six hours watching a couple of movies and I am even able to eat the meal offered. Don’t get to sleep much, unfortunately, but I took the next day off of work for this reason alone!
5:00 a.m. – We end up landing a bit early at home. I head to baggage claim to pick up my bag and, considering the long travel day I had, decide to treat myself to an Uber home in 25 minutes instead of taking the train and then an Uber to the closest stop (which would be approximately $11 and take over an hour.) $27.06
6:00 a.m. – I walk into my apartment, exhausted, and crawl into bed with my cat. Another wonderful vacation in the books!
Daily Total: $68.79
How did you prepare for this trip?
A co-worker that I’ve previously cruised with has been on a couple of Alaskan cruises before, so she provided the recommendations for the excursions that I did in Juneau and Skagway. I did cross-reference her testimony with TripAdvisor reviews and rankings to validate that her great experience wasn’t a one-off before booking. I’d been on a couple of cruises with Norwegian before, so I was familiar with the booking process and general cruise experience, so just the location and ship were new to me!
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal? I booked the flight with miles the night before I left. All my planned flights and backups ended up being full and United had one flight for only 12,500 miles and $81 (including a $75 “late booking fee.”) I figured that was worth calming my nerves and already had 7,500 miles from a trip to Iceland last year. I use credit cards almost exclusively for the rewards, so I had 5,000 Chase points that I transferred to United to cover the difference. For the return, the standby ticket is definitely a major perk of the job and you work in this industry knowing that your base salary may be lower than other industries as a result. I’ve received offers from other companies for more money, but since I take advantage of the flight benefits, it ends up being more valuable for me to fly for free/cheap. (We also have an amazing retirement plan and healthcare, so that doesn’t hurt!)
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? No, I had been planning on taking a semi-pricey trip during this month for a while, so I had been putting a bit extra in my savings account as a result.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip?
I used points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to transfer to United to cover the difference between my accrued balance and what I needed to book the flight to Vancouver. It’s one of my favorite credit cards for people that travel frequently as there are no international fees and the points transfer to many major partners, both hotels and airlines.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
I think the sightseeing tour through the White Pass Mountains was my favorite part of the trip. I had a great tour guide on the van ride into Canada and the train ride back down was a very historical and fun experience. Skagway was definitely my favorite port so that the whole day was probably the best of the trip!
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Don’t book your excursions through the cruise ship! Norwegian offered excursions very similar to the ones that I took for a higher price and then you also usually have a more crowded boat or bus versus smaller, more intimate experiences. This is my general advice for any cruiser. Do your appropriate research with vendors and it will be worth your money and time. TripAdvisor is great for reviews and make sure to pick a company that guarantees you’ll be back on the boat and preferably has thousands of happy customers willing to support them online.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I don’t think I would go on an Alaska cruise by myself again. I have cruised and traveled solo before, but since it was Alaska, the demographic is vastly different than the Caribbean and island cruises and there was not much for me to do onboard. This ship, too, was one of my least favorites. The food was very unimpressive and there weren’t a ton of areas onboard to just relax and read in a comfortable setting. Since it was cold and windy out, that eliminated most of the deck areas, but nothing inside made up for it. Also, despite being an introvert (I joke about being a hermit with my friends!) if I had not run into my friend working onboard, I think I would have been very miserable for lack of contact with anyone around my age.
Would you stay at your hotel again?
If you’re interested in staying in downtown Vancouver or taking a cruise, the hotel was in a really great location. The employees were very nice, but not having free internet is a major red flag for me. If it’s not a deal-breaker for you, then definitely check out The Sutton Place! Walking distance to port was a great win, especially in a city without shared ride services.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do but didn’t?
I would definitely go on an Alaska cruise again, but with friend(s)! A lot of people I talked to were staying for a few days after the cruise ended to do some camping, hiking or sightseeing at Kenai Fjords National Park, and that’s something I would definitely be interested in doing. But, I was limited on time off, so it’s something to look forward to next time!
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