Top Tips from a former ships officer when cruising to Alaska from Vancouver:

There is nothing quite as special, majestic or humbling as cruising through the inside passage to Alaska.  Take it from me- over the past 15 years I have had the pleasure of sailing around the world with one of the biggest cruise lines in the business- but my favorite itinerary has to be hands down, the Alaskan run from Vancouver out of Canada Place.   For those of you who are about to embark on your first journey to the Last Frontier from Vancouver,  here are some essential packing tips I wish my guests would have known.

1.Pack Accordingly

When you arrive at Canada Place you will drop off your big pieces of luggage before going inside for check in.  If your cruise line has already given you luggage tags, make sure that each piece of luggage has a tag firmly attached to it.  If not, make sure you get a ships luggage tag with your room number and name put on it from the luggage handlers at the luggage drop off point in Canada Place. The last thing you should check before letting go of your luggage to the luggage handlers is that each bag you leave with them has your name, ship and sail date on it- if you don’t see a luggage tag on your bag, don’t assume one will be put on it later.  Also, Canada Place will frequently have more than one ship from the same cruise line sailing out on the same day.  If this is the case make sure your luggage tag has the correct ship name on it as well.  Keep in mind that once you leave your luggage with the luggage handlers it will go into the system with thousands of other bags until it is eventually dropped off in front of your stateroom door.  This can take anywhere from an hour to several  hours.  It is not uncommon for your luggage to be delivered to your room even after the ship has sailed.  This means it is very important to keep a few things with you in a carry on bag.  

2.How To Pack The Best Carry-On

Do not pack your passport in your big pieces of luggage and then give them to the luggage handlers to put on the ship as you will have to clear United States Immigration and check in prior to getting on the ship.  You will need your identification and documents such as your passport before getting on the ship.  Nothing frustrates the ships staff more on turnaround day than having to stop everything to look for one guests black suitcase amount thousands because they left their passport in it and are stuck outside the ship at check in with no identification.   

In addition to any necessary documentation, keep any essential medications you might have with you.  With thousands of bags moving throughout the pier and multiple ships, bags can still get lost. Clothing can be easily replaced but your medications are not always available when travelling and even if the ship’s doctor has them, you will have to pay for them up front and they will be very expensive. A good rule of thumb is If you can’t live without it for a few days, keep it with you.  I once had a guest who didn’t bother to check if his dialysis equipment and chemicals made it onboard the ship before we sailed, and 3 hours after we left Vancouver he came to check at guest relations where it was.  It turned out that the courier company hadn’t dropped it off at all and no one was expecting it.  The Captain was not amused.

3.How To Speed Up The Arrival of Your Luggage To Your Room

Something else to remember is that one hundred percent of the luggage is screened and X-rayed prior to being delivered to your room onboard.  If you have packed a prohibited item in your luggage, it will more than likely be held by the ship or shoreside security, and you will be waiting by your stateroom door wondering where it is.  The top offenders that I’ve seen which are usually prohibited items onboard but always manage to get into packed luggage are power bars, travel irons, hair curling irons, alcohol and small knives or scissors.  These items will almost always have your luggage flagged by security and you will have to go personally collect your things with them so they can confiscate whatever item you packed, then give you a ticket for the item to be collected at the end of the cruise.  Only after all that will you be able to receive your piece of luggage.  You might think your tiny knife you use to cut your pills, or the miniscule manicuring scissors you always use are small enough to slide through the security net but think again. Each cruise line has a full list of prohibited items somewhere on their website if you are unsure, and it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with it.  Another thing to note, is that for all of you out there who think you are the first one to try and smuggle spirits onboard the ship disguised as water, trust me the shipboard security has seen it before a thousand times and will know.  

About the Author

Jeff Potts is the co-founder of Cherry Tours, a luxury boutique tour company in Vancouver, Canada that specializes in pre and post cruise tours and packages.

As a ship's officer Jeff specialized in Alaska, Hawaii and California cruises and has extensive experience in Australian, South American, Caribbean, Trans Pacific, Trans Atlantic, European and Baltic itineraries.

"Over the years I've worked my way through the ranks so to speak and was fortunate enough to hold positions such as Shore Excursions Manager, Guest Relations Manager and Cruise Director. Recently my wife and I (who I proposed to from the bow of our vessel while sailing through the Inside Passage) retired from working on ships to pursue our new careers on land in Vancouver which I was lucky enough to be born and raised in."