Despite the rapidly growing competition and rapidly decreasing cruise fares in the popular corners of the world, every traveller is eager to save some money where an opportunity to do so presents itself. From finding cheaper shore excursions to buying onboard credit in advance, there are a number of ways you can make little trimmings here and there off the travel bill on your next voyage.
Alaska is one destination where cruising outside of the peak and busiest season can not only save you potentially thousands of dollars before you even board your ship but can also deliver some amazing perks not available to peak season travellers. Already one of the most popular international cruise destinations for Australian travellers, Alaska is home to an entirely different personality, which reveals itself only to the few who choose to cruise in the April/May and September/October shoulder seasons.
This hidden personality is most evident in the slightly cooler climates that Alaska offers at either end of the summer season. Guests embarking in late April / early May and October will generally experience average temperatures around 15-18° celsius, with some mornings dipping to about half that.
These cooler days see many guests donning thick jackets and beanies as opposed to light hoodies, which contributes to an enchanting and somewhat eerie feel to cruising the Inside Passage. One advantage to this cooler weather and low humidity is the notable lack of rain, with far less rain compared to the main summer months of June and July. The drier days also allow for more shore excursions to take place, with popular actives such as helicopter flights and fly fishing less likely to be cancelled due to weather.
One major consideration you must grapple with when cruising Alaska during this early and late-season is the potential for snow! Alaska will never be a tropical destination however the potential for snow in mid-May and late September can occur, depending on how far north you may be. Depending on your tolerance for the cold, the chance to see your ship’s lido deck covered in snow is certainly a sight to behold.
If the cooler days at the back end of the season and the potential for snow is no concern, you’ll be in a great position for spotting the Northern Lights. The natural phenomenon, which is easier to spot the further north you go, is a hugely popular attraction on late season cruises, as sailings during the peak summer period experience nearly round-the-clock daylight, making sightings impossible.
One of the greatest rewards for cruising in the off-season is the opportunity to witness the dramatic change of landscape that the autumn delivers. Passengers cruising in September will see the lush green landscape transform into a dramatic and multi-coloured wonderland, with hues of red, burgundy and pink changing the tundra landscape and the trees above.
Cruising outside of the peak season also does wonders for those uncomfortable in large crowds. With several ships able to berth in some ports on the same day, crowds are another natural occurrence which must be managed during the busy months.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, setting sail early or late in the season will have you appreciating the reduced number of fellow guests onboard with you during this time. Many of Alaska’s ports and towns see half as many passengers in May and September compared to the June and July peaks. However to counter this, you may find some of the smaller attractions run a reduced operation or don’t open at all in the shoulder season. One example is the Yukon and White Pass Railroad in Skagway, which is forced to operate a moderately slower and shorter route during the cooler months.
If you’re a wildlife spotter, cruising during the book-ending months of the season will all but guarantee you see all the animals on your spotting chart. The shorter, cooler days lead to a considerable spike in animal activity compared to the longer warmer days of the summer.
September will also see more daring activity by the local wildlife, with animals including moose and bears hastily scavenging for food stores in preparation for the coming months in hibernation. Eagles – one of Alaska’s signature animals, feast on the smaller animals in the chain and are more commonly spotted during these months as they take advantage of their prey being out and about.
All in all, cruising Alaska in the value months of April/May and September/October can yield some pretty amazing savings and benefits that are not to be sniffed at!
What time of the year did you take your Alaskan voyage? Tell us below in the comments!