Written By: Stacey Hafner
Most people associate cruises with warm weather, sunburns, and beaches, but sticking to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or the South Pacific would significantly limit one’s cruising options. Why not trade those beaches for glaciers, seagulls for puffins, and ocean views for a volcano or two? That’s right. Why not take a cruise to Alaska?
As the largest state in the country and the 4th least populated, Alaska is said to have more animals than humans. But the abundant wildlife is only one reason to book a cruise to this northern wilderness. In Alaska, the sun can shine at midnight, travelers will find nearly half of all the US National Park land, and the scenery is epic.
Despite the fact that Alaska is nearly 1,400 miles north to south and 2,400 miles east to west, cruising along the coast is still an excellent way to see all this area. That’s because most cruise lines with Alaskan itineraries include not just sea adventures but overland travel as well. With a unique blend of land and sea options, cruise passengers can piece together an awesome Alaska tour.
Why Cruise Alaska?
1) The Scenery
One stop that is on nearly all Alaskan cruise itineraries is Glacier Bay. Glacier Bay is over three million acres of wilderness and wildlife and has fifteen active glaciers. Even though guests won’t see much action”most glaciers move less than three feet a day”the awe-inspiring view is worth it.
Another highlight for Alaska cruise passengers is the sail through the Inside Passage, the longest sheltered inland waterway in the world. The Tracey Arm Fjord, actually two separate fjords both over 30 miles long, is a must-see. One-fifth of the area is covered in ice, and passengers will see countless waterfalls as they meander through.
Traveling in the summertime gives tourists endless hours to take in sites like Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park, Hubbard Glacier, and College Fjord as the sun shines even at midnight.
2) The Wildlife
Cruise passengers are not likely to forget the amazement of watching 40-ton humpback whales launch gracefully into the air or the giddiness of witnessing sea lions frolic on the ice. Many cruise lines will bring rangers from the National Park Service or Alaskan naturalists onboard to tutor guests on all the local animals to ensure no one misses a thing. Learn fun facts, like salmon have a keener sense of smell than most dogs, or grizzlies don’t eat or drink anything during their six months of hibernation. Land tours will feature moose, caribou, and mountain goat sightings.
3) The History and Culture
Tour the carefully preserved buildings of Skagway, and be taken back to the last frontier of the Wild West, complete with gold seekers, saloons, and brothels”historic brothels, not currently functioning. Visit Juneau, Alaska’s state capital. Wander along the historic waterfront in Ketchikan and take in a lumberjack demonstration. Some overland tours include a stop at an honest to goodness Iditarod sled dog musher’s house. Other towns tourists can visit include Anchorage, Fairbanks, Whitehorse, Dawson City, and the artist community of Homer.
Alaska Cruises: Things To Know
1) Shore and Land Excursions
While Alaska cruises offer shore excursion options at their ports of call, just like other cruise destinations, because of the sheer size of Alaska these cruises will also offer land excursions. Land excursions are an opportunity for passengers to get farther inland and experience the Alaskan railways. Typically, people will spend several days traveling the state by train making frequent stops and staying overnight in wilderness lodges along the way.
Traveling by train allows tourists to take in additional majestic scenery like Hurricane Gulch as the train crosses a bridge some 300 feet above the creek below. The scenery isn’t to be missed, but passengers should be prepared; these accommodations aren’t likely to be as convenient or luxurious as the cruise ship itself.
2) Food – Good News and Bad News
The good news is passengers onboard an Alaskan cruise can expect some delicious local cuisine like fresh Alaskan seafood or Reindeer chili. The bad news is that for most of the overland portion of the trip, meals are not included.
3) Unique Opportunities
Depending on the cruise lines passengers are traveling with, they may have the opportunity to hear Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod sled dog race, talk about her experiences or listen to native Alaskan storytellers speak on the region.
During stays on land, tourists should check with their lodging establishment, as many will offer wake-up calls in the middle of the night if the Northern Lights are particularly breathtaking, or the sky clears for views of Mt. McKinley.
With average highs in July of 63 degrees, no one will mistake Alaska as a beachfront getaway, but with memories of walking on glaciers, witnessing humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska, and panning for gold, who is going to care about the beach?