Alaska is a wild and intriguing land. It’s a big place, stretching from southwest Canada north to the Arctic Circle and west almost to Russia. It is frequently called the last frontier--with good reason!
Alaska is where the glacier-clad mountains plunge directly into bays, shedding break-off ice calves into the crystalline sea. Cruise ships ply the waters of Glacier Bay at a safe distance, and the people aboard marvel at the spectacular wonders of nature.
Cruise ships come in different sizes. Some are huge floating hotels. Others are smaller, adventure type cruise lines. But the ships are your home away from home, where you unpack only once. They sail the coastline, putting in at picturesque shore towns. (Enjoy the CruiseOne Kethikan video!)
The big cruise ships generally sail from mid-May to early September. Some of the smaller adventure type cruise lines offer other dates as well. An inside passage cruise offers convenient airfare pricing as you depart and return from the same port, while a northbound or southbound cruise gives you an opportunity to see inland areas.
Whatever your choice, every day you can awake to a new adventure, sailing from one town to the next. Meals are included, and many are themed to capture the sights, sounds, and tastes of Alaska. Most cruise lines feature onboard experts who answer questions and offer informative talks on the region’s natural history and culture.
Be sure to dress appropriately when you go glacier viewing. With that much ice around, the temperature can be chilly. It might only rise into the sixties in the daytime. Grab a cup of hot chocolate on the open deck, and watch for whales breaking the waves in the distance.
When your cruise ship puts in at a coastal town, take this opportunity to explore the inland areas. This is where caribou and moose and grizzly bears roam. Watch the flights of numerous bald eagles. Wildlife is everywhere--you might spot birds you’ve never seen before, along with wolves, foxes and those famous Dall sheep. And be prepared for the unofficial bird of Alaska--the mosquito.
Arrange a helicopter tour to land on a glacier. Take in The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Visit the Totem Bight in Ketchikan. Ride the rails to the summit of the White Pass in Skagway or pan for gold in Juneau.
Where there are no roads, take a dog sled. Board a bus to visit Denali National Park and Preserve, go on the Tundra Wilderness Tour, visit an Eskimo village beyond the Arctic Circle. Once you are in Alaska, the possibilities are endless.
The Denali National Park and Preserve are 6 million acres of tundra, forests, glaciers and the tallest peak in North America. Now called Denali, this 20,310-foot monster was formerly known as Mt. McKinley. Marvel at the beauty of the mountain against the panoramic views of the park. A trip here is not a quickie. Most visitors plan to stay a day or more.
There is only one road in this magnificent park. It is 92 miles long and mostly closed to traffic except for the privately-operated shuttle buses. There are two visitor centers. Shuttle buses can get you around the park to a limited extent during the summer months. Some trails exist in this pristine wilderness, providing for biking, backpacking, hiking, sightseeing, and mountaineering.
Head to Ketchikan. Take a bus and visit the Totem Bight. This is a 33-acre park populated with Native American totem poles and an authentic Clan House. Guides tell the stories while you snap pictures of the totems.
Another bus out of Ketchikan will bring you to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. This is an extravaganza of log rolling, speed chopping and sawing, relay races, and ax throwing, climaxing with a 50-foot speed climb and free fall.
Other inland attractions include the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage. A complimentary shuttle takes you from one to the other. In Fairbanks, arrange to fly over the Yukon River Valley and cross the Arctic Circle. This is where you’ll receive your Arctic Circle Certificate documenting your visit to the top of the world.
Remember, Alaska is known as the last frontier. Dress is casual, but you will need a range of clothing. Coats and sweaters can be comforting in chilly temperatures, and you will need swimwear for the hot tubs and spas on cruise ships. Round it out with comfortable shoes and raingear--just in case. When packing for your Alaskan adventure, think in terms of layers of clothing.
Cruising the wild and intriguing land of Alaska can be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Bring home the gold nuggets you’ve panned, frame the certificate that you’ve been to the Arctic Circle, and wander again through all those pictures you took and brought back with you.
By Al Warr