If our sweltering summer has you fantasising about snow-capped mountains and icy glaciers, a look at what's on offer in the way of Alaska cruises this year might have a cooling effect.
Alaska's cruising season runs from late April to September and most mainstream cruise lines as well as some luxury and adventure lines send one or more ships there. The biggest operators are Princess Cruises, which has six ships in Alaska in 2017 and Holland America Line, which has seven. Other lines operating mid-size to large ships there are Carnival Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.
Luxury lines sending smaller ships to Alaska, although not for the whole season, include Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Seabourn and Silversea. And if you're after a more off-the-beaten-track experience, check out Lindblad Expeditions and UnCruise Adventures, whose much smaller vessels sail where the big ones can't go. So you'll have plenty of ships to choose from – the question is, when is the best time to go?
For a start, the weather varies considerably. The peak months of the season, June to August, are the warmest with long hours of daylight, but they are also the wettest and most crowded – it's not unusual for the popular ports along the Inside Passage to have up to six big ships in on the same day. However, summer is the best time for spotting bears.
Fares also vary according to when you go and are generally cheaper in late-April and May and September. For example, a seven-day round-trip Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver on HAL's Nieuw Amsterdam costs $1569 in April, $2109 in June and $1549 in September. The disadvantages of shoulder season cruises are cooler temperatures and in April to May, the possibility of late snowfalls – however the Northern Lights are sometimes spotted in September and the autumn colours of the trees and tundra are quite spectacular.
While there is a host of highly attractive cruise-land packages that combine a cruise with rail trips and stays in wilderness lodges in Denali National Park, most Alaska cruise-only itineraries are between seven and 10 days and are one-way or round-trip from Vancouver or Seattle; or one-way between Vancouver or Seattle and Anchorage. These take in the Inside Passage, the magnificent sheltered waterway that's surrounded by steep mountain walls, massive glaciers, dramatic fjords and vast tracts of rainforest. Ships typically call at ports such as Juneau (Alaska's capital), Ketchikan, Haines and Skagway and spend a day cruising in Glacier Bay National Park.
MEET THE CREW
NAME Jeffrey Jack, from St Vincent, living in Belgrade.
POSITION Hotel Manager, Windstar's Wind Spirit.
MY JOB is to make sure Windstar's culture and standards are displayed on every sailing we do. We are all about small-ship cruising, less travelled destinations and laid-back luxury. I am responsible for crew training and I lead the services team, working closely with the captain to provide these services to all our guests by setting the tone and creating a fun working environment in all departments.
A TYPICAL DAY starts about 5.30am with a walk around all areas to check they're ready to receive guests. I meet the chef and dining room manager to make sure all items for the day's menu are in place and whether we need to buy anything locally to add to the menus. The bridge team and I address issues that might affect guests during the day, for example whether we can open the marina platform or not (it depends on wind and sea conditions). Before lunch and dinner I join the chef for tastings and during service I chat with guests and invite those who are interested in star-gazing up to the bridge for an informal Q&A with the officers. And every day I Facetime my children.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT There are so many! When I first stepped onboard Wind Spirit I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! But meeting my wife on board Wind Surf is the standout.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORT In French Polynesia, it's Fakarava, an unspoilt island we visit on our Tuamotu itinerary. Its reef system has been classified as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve so the diving is incredible. In Europe, I love Istanbul and Ephesus and hope the geopolitics improve so we can sail there again.
INSIDER TIPS If you love being at sea, take a Transatlantic crossing. There are sunrises and sunsets to die for – seeing the green flash at sunset is often a highlight.
Take a photo of your luggage in case it gets lost at an airport – much easier than trying to describe it to officials.
Revel in the glamour of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and Monaco Grand Prix with Latitude 33's new fly/stay/cruise package. The 14-night trip features an all-inclusive cruise on board Silver Spirit from Barcelona to Rome and leaves Australia on May 19. After two nights at Raffles Dubai you fly to Barcelona for a night in the elegant El Palace before boarding Silver Spirit. The ship will be in Cannes for two days during the famous film festival but the highlight is spending the weekend in Monaco for The Grand Prix. Tickets to view the thrilling race are included in the fare. Other ports of call include Sète in France, Ajaccio in Corsica and Portofino and Livorno in Italy. Two nights at the historic Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese in Rome is a suitably grand finale to the trip. See latitude33.travel
Cruise Express' 15-night 'Journey to the Northern Lights' fly/cruise/tour itinerary traces the fjord-studded coastline of Norway north above the Arctic Circle all the way to the Russian border. The cruise tour offers the chance to witness the Aurora Borealis – magical swirls of light that illuminate Norway's night sky in winter. The package includes two nights in Oslo with city tours, rail journeys to Voss and Bergen, 'Norway in a Nutshell' Flåm Railway and fjord cruise, and a six-night cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes onboard Hurtigruten's 691-passenger ship, MS Kong Harald. At Kirkenes you stay at the SnowHotel, where the rooms are carved from ice, and take a dog sled ride through the forest, before returning to Oslo for a night and flying back to Australia. The tour departs on February 9, 2018; see cruiseexpress.com.au
Free flights to Europe
For the first time, Silversea Cruises is offering Australian travellers complimentary flights to Europe for select voyages in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, departing from April to November 2017. The new program offers passengers a choice of the following flight options aboard an appropriate Emirates or Silversea partner airline flight added to their cruise: an economy class air round-trip from within Australia; an option to upgrade to business class for $4998 a person; or a credit of $1000 a person if the flight options are not used. All-inclusive cruise fares start from $4275, for Silver Spirit's eight-day cruise from Barcelona to Rome departing on November 3. Additional bonuses also apply when you book by February 28; see silversea.com
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Take a Lindblad Expeditions voyage in 2018 at 2017 prices when you book by March 31, 2017. A 10-day Galapagos Islands cruise package includes two nights in Guayaquil, flights to the Galapagos, the seven-night cruise and all guided excursions. Fares start from $8700 for departures on select dates between January 1 and December 31, 2018. Phone Adventure World on 1300 295 049, see adventureworld.com
UTracks, a division of World Expeditions, is celebrating its 10th birthday by offering 10 classic European trips at their original 2007 brochure price. One for cruise fans is France's Loire Valley Bike & Barge trip, which is on sale for $1490 until March 3. Phone 1300 303 368, see utracks.com
UNIWORLD Save $980 a person when you book the seven-night Enchanting Danube river cruise on SS Maria Theresa by February 28, 2017. Fares start at $3919 and include unlimited beverages on board and hosted excursions. The offer is available on select itineraries between Budapest and Passau from April to November 2017. Phone 1300 780 231, see uniworld.com