Exploring Alaska; Cruise Vs. RV

Alaska is truly an incredible place to visit! It's home to the highest mountain peak in North America, more than 600 glaciers, and some of the best salmon fishing in the world. That's not to mention their wildlife, eight different National Parks, rich gold mining history (ha, see what I did there?), and the miles and miles of untouched wilderness. Needless to say, Alaska should be pretty high on your bucket list of places to visit.

We've been able to visit Alaska twice now but both trips were very different and held completely different experiences. Our first trip to Alaska took us through the mountain highways exploring lakes, rivers, dense forest, and ocean coast lines through the window of and double large RV. Our second trip visited secluded towns on Alaska's coast while whale watching, glacier viewing, and fine dining on an Alaska Cruise. It's hard to choose which experienced we liked more since both had their pros and cons. Through this post we'll talk about what we liked about each way of visiting Alaska, compare the prices of both, and what we'll do differently when we go back again.

Cruise vs. RV

Although we'll try to stay as unbiased as possible, we definitely have a preference over the other so it's best to keep in mind that this is based off of personal opinion and our personal experiences with both. Our kids came with us on our RV trip to Alaska but our cruise was just Andrew and I and other adults. 

Food:

Everyone knows that cruises are great because all of your dining is included! This means that you won't have to plan, cook, or even clean up your meals. Cruises usually have a good selection of different foods so if your husband wants to have a burger every night but you'd rather have curry (not speaking from personal experience or anything) then you can both be happy and satisfied! With that said, the food on every cruise line we've been on is...well...not that good. It's good enough to keep you full and content but as far as a fabulous culinary experience goes you're likely to be disappointed. We also spent a lot of time just not feeling great. I think this is because we were eating foods that we wouldn't normally eat and eating way too much of it!

Our RV came with a kitchen so we ended up cooking about half of our dinners and eating the other have at a restaurant. As soon as we got off the plane and into our RV (more about those details later) we found a grocery store and went shopping. We'd recommend having your meals planned and a list BEFORE you go so that this process is as quick and painless as possible. There were days on our trip where we were so remote that we had to cook our own food. These were definitely not fancy dinners but were familiar to the kids and our bodies. For our other dinners we chose to try out local restaurants and get a taste of some of the best local dishes. We chose these spots either from recommendation of someone we knew or through Yelp reviews. Each place we ended up eating at was really yummy and we left them with more raving reviews. Breakfast and lunches in the RV were simple and packable, like sandwiches and chips, so we could take them along with us on our hikes and adventures but definitely not something to write home about. 

Accommodations: 

I'm sorry, but who doesn't want someone else to make their bed for them and leave cute little animal shaped towels on their bed? When cruising you pay extra for tips and taxes and those tips go to your dining staff and cabin attendants. These folks are there to help you with your every need and basically make you feel like royalty. We've been on 3 different cruises now and by the end of every trip we felt like the staff became our family. 

Although we stayed in an inside stateroom we would totally recommend spending the extra cash for a balcony. This isn't a recommendation we would give for ALL cruises since most of the time your views are of just the vast blue ocean. If you're goin on an Alaskan cruise, especially one that travels up the inside passage, then you will definitely be seeing way more than just endless ocean. You'll have views of waterfalls, glaciers, the beautiful coast, and maybe even some wildlife (we saw the most whales we've ever seen while cruising on the ship).

Whether on a cruise or traveling by RV your accommodations are going to be a bit cramped.  Since we were traveling with Laura's parents and her Sister's family we decided to rent two large RV's that could fit all of us and we split the cost between the 3 families. Driving and parking the RV was definitely no simple feet and there were times it was difficult to find a place to park it in town. We rented our RV's from Great Alaskan Holidays because they had a great selection, great price, and a shuttle to and from the airport. They also had additional camping gear that you could rent like camping chairs, coolers, and firewood. It's good to keep in mind that if you're planning on going to Alaska during the busy season like we were, you'll want to plan months in advance. Hotels, Air B&Bs, and RV's book up quick and become very expensive the longer you wait.

Both the views from the cruise and the RV were incredible. While we could see whales from the ship, we could see bears from the RV. We saw waterfalls and coastal cliffs on our cruise, and towering mountain peaks and lakes from the window of our house on wheels. 

Check out our RV trip to Alaska!

Itineraries and Cost:

Our Alaskan cruise was a total of 7 days + one extra day for travel. Our RV trip was also a total of 8 days. Each one jam packed with as much fun as we could possibly have! 

Cruise

RV

Flight from Salt Lake to Seattle $373/ ticket
Cheap hotel near airport $100
Dinner and bed $30
Flight from Salt Lake to Anchorage $460/ ticket
Free shuttle ride from airport to Great Alaskan Holiday's
Pick up RV $1800/ RV or $1,200/ family
Grocery shop and dinner in Anchorage $200
Camp near Eklutna Lake

Drive to Port (some of our family had driven to Seattle rather than fly so we hitched a ride with them, otherwise we would have needed to catch an Uber or something)
Board, check out staterooms, and RELAX! For an inside stateroom we paid a total of $2,709 for just us two, not including gratuities or excursions.

Hike around Eklutna Lake.
Visit Reindeer Farm outside Palmer. ($9 adults/ $7 kids) A great stop for kids!
Hike "The Butte". I have no idea if the Butte has a name but it's right next to the Reindeer Farm.
Camp at Montana Creek Campground
Fishing in the "creek" which would be considered a river in Utah.

Day at sea. This day was super rough for Laura because she was really sea sick. Everyone else enjoyed the hot tubs, shows, buffets, and games on the ship. 

Fishing in the morning.
Dive into and explore Talkeetna. We were hoping to get a good view of Mt Denali but no luck!
Lunch in Talkeetna. We ate at the Wild Flower Cafe and loved it!
Drive to K'esugi Ken Campground. This is a brand new campground with fun pathways to explore and views of Mount Denali.
Sun bathe after putting the kids to bed at 9:30. The perks of going during the Summer Solstice.

Swim and sun bathe on the ship.
Make port at Juneau!
Rent car for the day. $200
Explore downtown Juneau.
Rent sea Kayaks and see the ocean up close and personal. $65 for double kayak, half day.
Hike to Mendenhall Glacier
Back to the ship for dinner and shows.

Drive to Williwaw campground
Hike to Byron Glacier
Play at camp and fish near by.

Make port in Skagway 
Buy iconic wolf t-shirts in town
Shuttle to Grizzly Falls Zipline Tour. We totally recommend this shore excursion, although it is only for ages 6 and up. $100/person
Relax onboard the ship.

Drive the tunnel to Whittier. 
Take a day cruise through Prince William Sound. We chose Phillips Cruises since a few people in our group are prone to sea sickness and they had a no sea sickness guarantee. No one got sick AND we had a fabulous time. The kids even got to earn a Jr Ranger Badge onboard! $400 for our family of 5
Drive back through the Whittier tunnel (a cool experience all on its own).
Late night fishing on the Russian River.
Camp at Trail Creek Campground

Cruise the Inside Passage. To be clear, this is not a port. but it is a beautiful day and not something to sleep through!  
Play miniature golf, eat yummy food, compete in the onboard speed climbing competition.

Drive to Seward and camped on the beach.
Lunch in town.
Hike to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords NP. The kids earned another Junior Ranger badge, of course.
Shopping and playing games.

Make port in Victoria Canada
Walk to bike rental. $60/person
Tour the city by bike



Head to Girdwood and hike The Winner Creek Trail. This trail has a fun hand tram across the river!
Stayed in Anchorage with family, ate salmon we caught on the Russian and the boys squeezed in one more fishing session.

Make port in Seattle and fly home.
Pack up, take RV back and took the shuttle to the airport.



Summary!

  • If your goal is to relax, eat, and see some of Alaska's iconic spots then a cruise would be a great option! If you're hoping to be immersed in Alaska's gorgeous scenery and experience it's rugged wilderness than traveling by RV is definitely the way to go. 
  • Traveling by RV was almost $900 less per person than taking a cruise, albeit a lot more work. 
  • Both options provide ample opportunity to spent lots of quality time together as a family. 
  • You have built in transportation and housing when it comes to RV camping in Alaska which saves you on the cost for your "excursions", you don't have to worry about a rental car or shuttle. If we go the RV route again, we'll rent a much smaller RV to making parking in town easier. Another perk is that you can pull your RV over basically anywhere in Alaska and call it a night!
  • We recommend trying to spend time inland and on the coast with either option. Both geographical locations hold different and unique experiences that you won't want to miss (like watching a glacier calve into the ocean)!
  • It takes A LONG time to drive anywhere in Alaska so if you plan on seeing a lot you'll also being driving a lot. This is also true for cruising but while onboard your ship you'll have tons of options for entertainment and fun. Although, it's not like there isn't anything to see from your RV window while doing all that driving.
  • We also totally recommend traveling to Alaska during the Summer Solstice! It was really fun to have SO much daylight to play all day. Be sure to bring some tape and cardboard to put in your windows of your RV though because it never gets dark! 


The Winner:

There really is not a BAD way to see Alaska! You can tell that Alaska has so much to offer by boat or by land. What's our personal favorite though? RV is the winner in our book! We loved being surrounded by thick forest and huge rivers ALL THE TIME. While our cruise was SO much fun, we did tire of being "stuck" on the boat. This is probably because both Andrew and I are active and adventurous people and the cruise is more of a relaxing, laid back, type of experience (it also doesn't help that I get really sea sick and felt only half functional the entire time). There's no right or wrong though, it's all up to what type of experience you're looking for, for your family. 




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We’re an adventurous family of five who think you should follow your wildest dreams! We’re doing just that by getting outdoors with our family and (hopefully) inspiring you to do the same! Follow us as we create a life of adventure with our three munchkins in tow!




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