• Dean Nelson

Alaska - a destination focus

Untouched. Untamed. Unforgettable. Filled with icy fjords that tower over the Pacific Ocean while snowy peaks stretch toward the horizon, Alaska feels boundless.

You can explore The Last Frontier as intimately as the locals do. Or you can book an Alaska Cruisetour, which combines your cruise with an immersive land vacation, and head deeper into the frozen wilderness. You can feel the excitement of a 30-ton whale gliding under your catamaran. Take the family to meet a friendly pack of huskies at a musher’s kennel. Or kick off your hiking shoes, grab a hot chocolate and enjoy the spectacular views from your private balcony. Sail from Seattle, Vancouver or Seward, with one of our preferred cruise partners.


For a long time the mystery of Alaska was just that. Positioned so far north it appeared untouchable except for true adventures. The truth is, Alaska is easily accessible. While Alaska’s cruise industry technically started back in 1875, the industry and experience has certainly changed. The mystique is still alive and the scenery is as splendid.


Gleaming glaciers, abundant wildlife, and Native American culture are only a few of the spectacular attractions that draw cruise vacationers to Alaska.


FUN FACT: Alaska is the most northern, western and eastern state in the U.S. Why the most eastern? Alaska’s Aleutian Island chain crosses the 180th longitudinal meridian (in the middle of the Pacific Ocean), placing part of Alaska in the Eastern Hemisphere (where the “East” begins).

GEOGRAPHY OF ALASKA

Alaska is separated from the lower 48 states by Canada. Though it’s the largest U.S. state, Alaska has one of the smallest populations, with only a little more than 600,000 residents. Alaska boasts the highest mountain in North America—Mt. McKinley (also called Denali), located in Denali National Park in the Interior region.

Alaska is bordered in the north by the Arctic Ocean, in the west by the Bering Sea, in the south by the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska, and in the east by Canada. A long coastal strip of islands and beautiful fjords make up the Southeast “panhandle” region of Alaska, bordering on northwest Canada. The Southeast region, which includes the ports Juneau and Ketchikan, experiences a relatively mild climate, with summer temperatures often reaching the mid-80s. A surprise to many: Alaska has more than 6,600 miles of coastline, more than all the other states combined.

Alaska’s Inside Passage region is the most common route for cruising and consists of a narrow strip of mainland adjacent to Canada, with hundreds of picturesque islands sprinkled throughout the coastline among many scenic waterways. The majority of Alaska cruise itineraries are 7-14 days departing from both Seattle and Vancouver with options of round-trip and one-way.

The largest cities in Alaska are Anchorage in the south central region; Fairbanks, in the Interior region; and Juneau and Sitka in the Inside Passage. Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is the only U.S. state capital that cannot be reached by road. Like many towns and villages in Alaska, Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane.


Alaskan history has a long backstory dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period (around 14,000 BC). Flip through your history books and you will read stories of Russian voyages, Captain Cook and other sailors, like George Vancouver (the source of several key place names) and the infamous William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame), visited the region. You will also find that Russia ruled Alaska from 1799 to 1867 before selling the region to the United States for a very low price. This transaction was ridiculed in the U.S. as “Seward’s Folly,” named after William Seward, the Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase.


If the Russians had only known... Gold was discovered in Alaska in the 1870s. The first big discovery, though, came in 1880 in Juneau (co-founded by prospector Joseph Juneau). These discoveries brought thousands of treasure-seeking prospectors to Alaska. Many of the towns you will visit on your cruise (especially Skagway) owe their existence to the gold rush. Seward’s Folly wasn’t such a folly after all.


In January 1959, the “territory” of Alaska became the 49th U.S. state. Today, the history and culture of the people native to Alaska is a major part of the charm of an Alaska cruise. Alaska has a variety of native tribes, each quite different from the others. Approximately 15% of current residents of Alaska are descendants of these indigenous people.


HOW DOES AN ALASKA CRUISE DIFFER FROM OTHER CRUISES?

If you have taken only one or two cruises, it’s statistically probable that it was to The Caribbean. Most tourists take a Caribbean cruise for a relaxing sun- and water-oriented experience. They expect to be able to sit out in the sun, go swimming, walk on a beach and shop. Although there are some educational and cultural experiences available on a Caribbean cruise, that’s not the focus for most guests.


When people sit around the pool on an Alaska cruise, they’re more likely to be relaxing under a comfortable blanket than in a bathing suit. People choose to cruise Alaska to view majestic glaciers up close, to learn more about the environment and nature, to see wildlife and to learn about some cultures very different from their own. While wildlife sightings are never guaranteed, July - September is when it's most likely to see whales during a cruise to Alaska. 


Travel Tip: If you choose to sail on one of the first sailings of the Alaska cruise season in late spring, there's a chance you can see the Northern Lights.

Since daylight during the cruise season can last well into the evening and even into the night, you may want to stay in port longer. You will be less likely to return to the ship for an early dinner. On some cruises, there is no need to rush back for a set dining time. With the wide choice of restaurants, you can choose whether you want a full meal or just a light one after a day of activity in the port.


In fact, many of the ships sailing to Alaska feature more dining venues than some of the ports visited! On board, you can select from a multi-course gourmet meal, pasta, pizza, sushi, seafood, a salad, a steak or you can just relax with room service in your stateroom. The choice is yours.

When you return to the ship from your day’s excursion, there are plenty of activities you can enjoy as well, with the wide variety of lounges and entertainment available throughout the ship.


If you want to explore beyond the shore of this beautiful state, we recommend our expertly guided Cruisetours into the heart of the Denali National Park. Cruisetours are an authentic Alaskan adventure you will never forget. Cruisetours are offered on the cruises departing from Vancouver or Seward. 


You will enjoy options like traveling along the rails of the Alaska Railroad, extensive tours and overnights in places like Denali, Anchorage, Alyeska, Fairbanks and Homer. There are opportunities to explore Denali with a Tundra Wilderness Tour, stop at an Iditarod Sled Dog musher’s house, enjoy a Halibut and Salmon fishing excursion, visit Talkeetna to get one of the best vantage points of Mt. McKinley. And these excellent tours are all escorted by local Alaskan guides offering their distinct and authentic perspectives.


ALASKA PORTS OF CALL & SHORE EXCURSION

Juneau. 

Alaska’s capital sits on the shores of the Gastineau Channel and is surrounded by towering mountains – it may be the most dramatic setting of any U.S. state capital. The Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway is a short jaunt from the ship and offers spectacular views. A famous Juneau landmark is the Red Dog Saloon, with its honky-tonk atmosphere and Alaska draft beer. Abundant shopping is available in downtown Juneau. Boat tours are offered for whale watching. Depending upon the season, you may also see dolphins, seals, bald eagles, and sea lions. About 12 miles from downtown is Mendenhall Glacier, known as the river of ice.


Ketchikan. 

One of the larger cities in Alaska, it lies on the border between Alaska and British Columbia. Known as Alaska’s “First City,” it’s the southernmost city on the Inside Passage, making it the first one that many of our vessels reach. Ketchikan was founded in the 1880s as a fishing village and became a major center for salmon processing. It is the salmon capital of the world. Over the years, the fishing and timber industries grew, making Ketchikan a major city. The wooden boardwalk in the center of town, near where cruise ships dock, is one of the most photogenic spots in Alaska.


Sitka.

Located on Baranof Island in Alaska's panhandle, Sitka is said to be the oldest town, some say 10,000 years old. It’s also the fourth largest city by population, and has a rich Russian history. Whale watching, bear sightings, totem poles, and the Tongass National Forest are a few of the attractions you can experience in Sitka.


Skagway

After gold was discovered in 1896, Skagway, the Gateway to the Klondike, quickly grew to a town of more than 20,000 residents. However, today the town has fewer than 1,000 permanent residents—although the population doubles during the cruise season to serve the needs of passengers arriving in Skagway. Walking along the main street in Skagway, you feel as if you’re in an old-time Western frontier town. Looking down the street and seeing the snow-capped mountains in the background, it’s easy to believe you’ve entered a very different time and place.


Icy Point Strait

Located 22 miles southeast of Glacier Bay National Park and just down the road from Hoonah, it's Alaska’s largest Huna Tlingit village. Icy Strait Point is a relatively new port for cruisers. Thanks to its cultural ties to the Tlingit population, this port welcomes only one cruise ship at a time, preserving its natural beauty and offering an authentic “wilderness experience.” A cruise through Icy Strait will prove to be one of the most memorable of your vacation. The town is built around the restored Hoonah Packing Cannery. You can expect to enjoy the beaches, nature trails, shopping and biking, or opt for the many excursions including ATV rides, zip lining, whale watching, kayaking, and tribal dances.


BRITISH COLUMBIA PORTS OF CALL

Victoria

British Columbia’s capital is on the southern tip of Vancouver Island that retains its British colonial atmosphere. Despite its northern location, Victoria’s climate is quite temperate and the frequent light rain nurtures its beautiful flowers.


Vancouver

Positioned between the snow-dusted North Shore Mountains and the rich, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver blends big-city sophistication with small-town charm. You will want to visit Queen Elizabeth Park, a 130-acre civic arboretum accented with sculptures.


Prince Rupert