Sunday, May 12, 2019

Alaska Cruise Highlights

One of my favorite things in the world is cruising to Alaska.  The nature is gorgeous.  The history is interesting.  And cruising allows you to approach it all from the water…with a minimum of fuss.  Here are some of my highlights. 

1)  Watching for Wildlife

Most Alaska cruises have one or two at-sea days and a glacier day.  Plus, summer light lasts long into the evening and the sun rises early.  All this gives you a lot of time to hang out on deck or by a window and watch for wildlife.  How much wildlife you see depends a lot on luck, but it also depends on how good your eye is and how much time you spend watching. 

Some amazing animals you have a good chance of seeing from the deck of your ship:
Humpback whales
White-sided dolphins
Dall's porpoises
Sea lions
Harbor seals
Bald eagles 

You might also see more elusive creatures like these:
Mountain goats
Bears (yes, I saw one swimming across Glacier Bay once, and a mama with cubs on a distant shore)

Others you may see while you're on shore:
Pretty much all of the above, plus

Obviously you're not going to see all of these in a week (unless you're very, very lucky and eagle-eyed), but through my various cruises I've seen most of them, and on some cruises I've seen at least glimpses of all of the major marine mammals listed above.

2)  Hiking

I love hiking anywhere.  It's one of my favorite hobbies.  But Alaska is a particularly spectacular place to do it.  You can hike through old-growth forest or across streams jumping with salmon or up to ridges above the treeline with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, water, and wilderness.  You can walk to a glacier.  You may even be able to walk ON a glacier.  It's paradise for hikers (both for casual walkers and hard-core enthusiasts…and people like me who are somewhere in between).  Many trailheads are easily accessible right from the ship, and plenty of others are possible with public transport.
Some of my favorites:
-Deer Mountain in Ketchikan
-Perseverance Trail in Juneau
-Upper Dewey Lake in Skagway
-Portage Pass in Whittier
-Harding IceField in Seward

For more on these an many more trails, check out my book, Hiking Alaska from Cruise Ports

3)  Glaciers

I love the miniature icebergs floating in the water as you approach a glacier.  I love the seals that rest on those bergy bits.  I love the massive walls of ice.  I love the sound of "white thunder" as the glacier calves.  I love the bright blue that peaks out of the crevasses.  I love the sound of growlers squeaking against the prow of the boat as you steam slowly through the ice.  I love thinking about how many years it has taken this ice to make its slow-motion journey from the place it fell as snow, miles away.  Glaciers are a magical thing.  Whichever glacier/s you go to on your cruise, be sure to bundle up and spend a lot of time on the deck absorbing the grandeur of nature.

4)  Skagway

 Skagway is touristy, no doubt, but there's a reason:  it's a darling town with a fascinating history you can explore for free through the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park's various free museums and sites. They also give free walking tours full of stories of Soapy Smith, Skagway's most notorious con man and criminal.  Add to that the gorgeous surrounding and top-notch hiking, and you have one of my favorite ports

5)  Salmon

These tenacious fish amaze me.  How do they know how to return to their place of birth when it's time to spawn?  How do they find the strength to make such journeys, often long distance upstream or over waterfalls and through rapids?  Do they realize that the only thing that awaits them after this long journey is the chance to procreate…and then die?  Yes, salmon are amazing.  So is the lifestyle people have built around them.  So is seeing Ketchikan's Creek Street or Juneau's Steep Creek or Sitka's coastline or many other places boiling with the homeward-bound fish.  If you want to see them in action, consider planning your trip late in July or August. 

Alaskan cruising is an awesome thing.  To read more about how to discover (or rediscover) it for yourself, check out my book, Cruising Alaska on a Budget.  

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