If you’re bored of the beach, find cocktails a bit passé and you have horrible flashbacks to that time you sailed home looking like a lobster, Alaska is the cruise spot for you. As much as it’s a haven for those who’d rather sit in the shade than emulate the beach volleyball scene from Top Gun, Alaska is a wonderful place regardless of temperature. It’s a quaint mix of small town Americana and unique scenery makes for a brilliant cruise experience – and here’s the top 5 calling points you should be donning your winter wear for.
The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage is well known as a tourist trap by most, but beneath all the souvenir shops selling Alaska T-shirts is a youthful township packed with art galleries, chic coffee shops, and some astounding places to eat. High-brow restaurants might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to Alaska, but Anchorage has them in spades.
After all, this is the cultural centre of the entire state, and it shows. The incredible Anchorage museum has teamed up with the world-famous Smithsonian institute to present native Alaskan cultural artifacts such as ancient hunting equipment and ceremonial dress, perfectly preserved within its halls. Half the state’s residents might live in or around this massive city, but the outdoor spirit of the whole region is alive and well in Anchorage. Sitting just between the Chugach Mountains and the ocean, the Prince William Sound and dramatic glaciers are just a few miles away from this unique township.
Alaska’s capital has no roads leading in or out of the township proper, yet this unusually isolated state capital has flourished while being completely surrounded by nature. This might explain the appeal that Juneau has for hundreds of tourists every year, even if you can only reach the town by air or sea.
It’s no wonder as the towering mountains and the Gastineau channel make it nigh on impossible to reach the city by any normal route. But once you reach the main township itself, you can be assured that the effort will be well worth it. From the site of the Governor’s mansion, tourists can navigate to the hills not through tarmacked roads but upward through a series of steep stairways cut out of the slopes. None of them have names though, but that’s part of the isolated charm of a city unique to itself. As an added bonus to all this adventurous rarity, the state’s most accessible glacier, Mendenhall, is mere miles away from the centre of town.
During the height of the gold rush in North America, 40,000 people took up residency in a small harbour residing along Alaska’s inside passage. Skagway is the result of the fortunes of those intrepid prospectors reaching ridiculous levels as they levied precious metals from ice cold waters. Today, tourism is what keeps Skagway thriving, but don’t mistake this for your average souvenir trap.
The life and soul of Skagway is the amazing Broadway Avenue, a patchwork of seven blocks that comes alive with visitors during the height of the summer months. During that time, nearly 8,000 people, triple the town’s native population; fill the cosy cafes, waterfront bars and local mercantile stores of Skagway’s main streets. Not that the township is everything Skagway has to offer – especially when you have the Klondike Gold Rush National park just minutes away.
Ketchikan is located beside a rainforest. If that isn’t testament to the diversity of the Alaskan landscape, I don’t know what is. South-east Alaska is well known for its precipitation of rain, but it’s hardly worth complaining about a few grey clouds when you have a horizon as unbelievable green as the one surrounding Ketchikan. Some 14,000 souls reside in Ketchikan, so it has the wonderfully intimate feel of small-town America at its finest. Creek street in particular is an absolute dream if you’re looking for an utterly authentic slice of the iconic side of Alaska.
A small waterfront which is big on charm, Creek Street might as well be a fairy tale village. The heart of the historic downtown district, expect craft beers, ridiculously tempting bakeries, and more than a few seafood delicacies crafted from the freshest fish you’ll ever taste. Ketchikan is special in that the modern face of Alaska sits comfortable with their rugged traditions, all under the shadow of the magnificent Deer Mountain.
Seward might reside deep within an ice strait, that doesn’t stop it from the being the best connected port in the whole of Alaska. Air, rail and road transportation to reach this unique port is an absolute breeze compared to the rest of Alaska, which makes it a superb jumping off point for hundreds of travellers looking to enjoy the state’s abundant natural beauty every single year.