Imagine a place where the sun shines at midnight, natural beauty sweeps the land and where wildlife is king. Cruising along Alaska’s coast is an experience that quite simply takes your breath away. With snow-capped mountain peaks, awe-inspiring glaciers, immense icebergs and majestic wildlife greeting you at every turn, it’s not hard to see why Alaska has become one of the most sought after cruise destinations.
Exploring the regions…
Alaska is America’s largest state and is made up of five main regions; the Inside Passage, Interior, South Central, South West and the Far Arctic North.
The Inside Passage was sculpted by the force of glaciers millions of years ago and extends close to land from northwestern Washington state, through western British Columbia, to southeastern Alaska. This part of Alaska is historically known for gold mining, timber cutting and salmon fishing. The main towns here are Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka and it is here that you can find onion-domed churches and lush rainforests scattered below the snow topped mountains.
The Interior region is the heart of Alaska and home to Denali National Park. Attracting more than a million visitors a year who come to marvel at the park’s scenic splendour, Denali National Park is a massive six million acre wilderness and the world’s largest protected ecosystem. It is also famous for being home to North America’s tallest mountain, Mount McKinley. Visitors come from all over to climb the 20,320ft mountain and witness once in a lifetime panoramic views. Fairbanks is the Interior’s largest city and gateway to the Arctic Coastal Plain. It isn’t uncommon to witness the dazzling spectacle of the Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) from Fairbanks.
The South Central region is the most populated area in Alaska and boasts mountains, rugged coasts, forests and winding rivers. Anchorage is the largest city and it is here that you can take part in a whole host of activities including; fishing, hiking and viewing Alaskan wildlife such as bears, whales and bald eagles. Seward just south of Anchorage acts as the principal embarkation and disembarkation point for most Gulf of Alaska cruises.
The South West region offers a rugged volcanic landscape, national parks, the Aleutian Islands and of course the magnificent Alaskan wildlife. Known as one of the richest Salmon areas in the world, it is a key area to see brown bears and sleepy fishing villages.
In the Far Arctic North you are sure to come across picture-perfect landscapes, humpback whales, Caribou, polar bears and Eskimos who still obtain their substance lifestyle. It is here that the sun is a permanent fixture during summer, whilst the winter brings in a two month long night.
The wildlife is one of the main reasons that so many people visit this incredible place. With bears fishing for salmon, white sided dolphins playfully jumping alongside your ship and friendly sea-lions lazing around on the docks, Alaska really is something else. More than 300 species of bird can be found here, making Alaska a bird-watchers paradise. In the southern corner of Alaska you can find horned and tufted puffins and the red-tailed hawk, whilst the tame Kittiwake bird nest along Glacier Bay in the Inside Passage. As you sail through the plankton rich waters of the Far North region you may be able to spot a few giants of the seas, as more than 2,000 humpback whales are proud to call this place their home.
Off the beaten track…
Alaska is a giant playground full of once in a lifetime experiences, so shore excursions are an absolute must. With so much to choose from, it is hard to narrow down the best. Here are just a few of the excursions that you can experience during your cruise…
Glacier Trekking in Alaska is perfect for those who want to explore Mother Nature’s ice sculptures. Your adventure starts with a helicopter flight to the Juneau ice-field and with the help of your ice axe, you can walk around this surreal, yet beautiful environment.
Bear Watching is a firm favourite with cruise ship passengers. In the summer cruise months the bears are extremely active and you don’t have to rely on chance to see them. There are numerous locations such as world-famous Brooks River Falls in Katmai National Park, where you can watch the bears in their natural habitat, fishing for salmon, whilst the bald eagles fly above in the hope of some leftovers.
Panning for gold. The lure of gold touched almost every corner of Alaska and there’s still gold in Alaska´s hills and streams. Take a tour through the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway; pan for gold in Juneau and Fairbanks or take a day-trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway to experience gold-rush era travel.
Flightseeing is an unforgettable way to see the Alaskan Fjords. With dramatic tumbling waterfalls, lush rainforests and jaw-dropping mountains, flightseeing gives you a real taste of Alaska’s inspiring beauty.
Rock Climbing in Skagway is perfect for the adventurous type. With the help of professional mountain guides you can climb up the granite walls of Skagway’s White Pass with the ultimate reward being the panoramic views that greet you at the top.
And for a truly traditional Alaskan excursion then the Sled Dog Experience is for you. Brace yourself as a powerful team of huskies whisk you along on a sled through forests, around flowing waterfalls and along some of the toughest terrain on earth.
The all-encompassing cruisetour…
If you’re going to the trouble of travelling all that way, why not make the most of your trip, and add a land tour extension to your cruise? A Cruisetour, as they’re called, combines all the luxury and excitement of your glacier cruise with a 3 to 12-day land tour adventure into the magnificent Alaskan interior, the Canadian Rockies, the extreme Arctic north of Alaska or Canada’s majestic Yukon Territory. Available before or after your cruise, these land tours take you to wilderness regions rarely seen by others, travelling by luxury motor coach and aboard custom-designed, glass-domed train cars with overnight stays in top city hotels or wonderful wilderness lodges.
Choosing the ship that’s right for you…
More than 30 ships from 12 cruise lines explore Alaska’s waters, giving you a full range of options for choosing the ship that best for you. The larger ships have all the extra amenities that you could wish for during your cruise including superb balcony views, indoor heated swimming pools and world-class entertainment facilities, where-as the smaller ships allow for the more intimate approach, sailing through some places that the larger ships cannot, allowing you a closer look at the Alaskan wildlife.
By Ian Lewis