By Fran Golden
Alaska is a “hot” cruising destination this year. More than a million cruise passengers are expected to visit during the April to September season, sailing on ships carrying from under 100 to more than 3,000 passengers. There are plenty of reasons the 49th state should be on everyone’s cruising Bucket List – Mother Nature is just one of them.
Here’s why you should book an Alaska cruise now.
It’s affordable. Due to the popularity, space is at a premium this year but the good news is there are still some fares of under $1,000 per person. Do your cruise round-trip from Seattle to save on airfare (flights to Vancouver or Anchorage are also cheaper than to Europe).
Scenic wonders abound. Massive glaciers roaring into the sea, snow-covered mountains, crystal-clear fjords and miles of emerald forests are just the some of the sights you’ll see from the calm waters of the Inside Passage.
The rustic lifestyle is awesome. In remote towns, you can mingle with real lumberjacks, hear talk of “the big one” from fishermen at the docks and chat with shopkeepers about their encounters with bears. Nearly everyone you meet will have stories to tell. The frontier spirit is amazing.
There are good eats. Alaskan King Crab is a worthwhile splurge in Juneau, fresh salmon cooked in the wilderness on an outdoor fire may be your new favorite fish, canned salmon is a cherished souvenir (get the recipe to make salmon dip!) and reindeer hot dogs… they go well with Alaskan craft beer.
Wildlife is everywhere. You may not see a grizzly (though keep your binoculars at the ready just in case) but you’re very likely to see humpback and orca and other whales, jumping salmon and more bald eagles than you ever imagined.
There’s opportunity for adventure. Skip the bus tour and go off on your own to hike a mountain or book such once-in-a-lifetime experiences as helicoptering to the top of a glacier for an ice hike or to lead a team on a dogsled ride. Fishing for salmon sound a little sedate? Get under the water on a cold-water snorkeling expedition in Sitka or Ketchikan.
You can learn about Native culture. In Southeast Alaska there is opportunity to experience Native culture in small villages such as Hoonah, museums and cultural centers. Learn, for instance, how totem poles are not just showcases of the artistry of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people, but document family and community stories and history.
There’s Gold Rush history. How crazy were the Klondike prospectors of 1898? See for yourself as you trace their steps, you on a comfortable train out of Skagway, them laden with a required year’s supplies and facing numerous hardships (most did not succeed).
You can stay remote. Big ships do Inside Passage or Gulf of Alaska itineraries that get you to glaciers, whether at Glacier Bay National Park or elsewhere, and visit the popular towns. Smaller ships afford opportunity to linger in the wilderness – on some itineraries you hardly see civilization at all.
There’s opportunity to linger. Whether you book a cruise-sponsored land tour or rent a car and explore on your own, if you have the time it just makes sense to see Denali, head up to Fairbanks, and otherwise further explore the “Last Frontier.”
Fran Golden is a well-known, award-winning cruise writer whose work appears in a variety of publications and websites. She is author of several cruise travel books including the upcoming Frommer’s EasyGuide to River Cruising, due out this spring. Connect with Fran on Twitter @FranGolden or Linkedin.