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Alaska, the 'last great frontier’ in the United States, is home to a rugged wilderness that has piqued the interest of adventurers for decades. Many of Alaska’s greatest natural treasures are concentrated in the southeast section of the state, referred to as the Alaskan panhandle. This coastal region is characterized by its icy-blue glaciers, pristine forests, snow-lined mountains and a cornucopia of wildlife. An Alaska cruise is a remarkable way to explore this final frontier and also sail to Canada and Russia.
Much of the astounding landscapes are inaccessible by car and can only be reached by ferry or plane. Fortunately, an Alaska cruise package can bring you face to face with this seldom-touched terrain and make you feel like a true pioneer.
Cruising near Alaska’s picturesque coastline is the ultimate nature escape for seafaring adventurers. From massive glaciers to rugged mountains, there are infinite natural wonders at each Alaska cruise destination.
- Tracy Arm: Located roughly 72-kilometers-south of Juneau, this dazzling fjord is decorated with enormous glaciers, beautiful mountains, and temperate forests.
- Hubbard Glacier: Measuring a remarkable 122-kilometers-long and 366-meters-deep, North America’s largest tidewater glacier is one of the rare glaciers advancing to the Gulf of Alaska through Disenchantment Bay, just north of Yakutat City.
- Juneau: Alaska’s gorgeous capital, nestled in the Gastineau Channel, offers a plethora of wildlife sightings, adventurous excursions and panoramic views atop Mount Roberts Tramway.
- Glacier Bay: A dramatic setting just west of Juneau on the Alaskan coastline that features over a dozen glaciers, soaring mountaintops and a multitude of sea creatures.
June to August (summer) are the warmest months with daytime highs ranging from 15° C to 27° C. Although July and August can be rainy, summer provides the greatest opportunity to spot wildlife. Late April to May (spring) and September (early fall) present fewer crowds and lower prices, but the weather can be more unpredictable.
Alaskan cruise routes can take you through jaw-dropping natural scenery that cannot be accessed by land. From one-way Gulf of Alaska itineraries that spend more time in Alaskan ports to convenient Inside Passage round trips that return to the same departure city, you have numerous options to choose from.
- Inside Passage: A legendary voyage for many Alaska cruise routes, this passageway from Puget Sound to the Gulf of Alaska is dotted with snow-capped peaks, enchanting fjords and majestic whales swimming alongside. Your vessel will navigate through scenic islands and mighty glaciers to see many of Alaska’s quaint communities. Most itineraries start in Seattle or Vancouver and make stops at charming towns like Skagway, Ketchikan or the capital city of Juneau. You have the flexibility of choosing a one-way itinerary to spend more time in Alaska or a round trip journey that returns to your port of departure.
- Gulf of Alaska: Those craving to see more of Alaska’s breathtaking landscapes are better suited for a Gulf of Alaska itinerary. Ports of call such as Anchorage, Seward and Valdez give you prime access to Alaska’s mighty glaciers. Many Gulf of Alaska routes sail through parts of the Inside Passage but are primarily one-way journeys.
- Bering Sea: Although, a much less common route, this life-changing expedition will take you to some of the most remote places on the planet. The absence of human activity allows the ecosystem to flourish and wildlife sightings are more than you could ever imagine. Stops on both the Alaskan and Russian side of the Bering will allow you to visit isolated communities such as Lorino village (Russia), home to the Chukchi people.
The duration of Alaska cruises can range anywhere from 6 to 30 days, depending on your personal preferences. If you’re pressed for time or simply want to see the main highlights, a 7-day cruise would be best for you. This can be done on a round trip Inside Passage cruise or a one-way itinerary through the Gulf of Alaska. Those seeking to explore more of Alaska’s interior wilderness would be wise to choose a minimum of 10 to 14 days itinerary. You’ll have enough time to arrange an Alaska land and cruise package to better appreciate the state’s natural beauty before returning to your vessel.
- Helicopter riding in Ketchikan: This charming town is the ideal location to get an aerial view of nearby snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. A helipad is perched atop one of the mountains and offers a stunning panorama of the Alaskan wilderness.
- Whitewater rafting in Juneau: The Mendenhall River gives you an up-close look at the impressive Mendenhall Glacier before catapulting you through class-III rapids. Navigate the icy river and admire the tranquil forest until you arrive back in Juneau.
- Dog sledding in Skagway: Cruise season may not coincide with this iconic winter activity, but you can still participate by hitching a helicopter ride to a dog sledding camp. Simply enjoy the ride or try to steer the dogs yourself for an unforgettable excursion.
- Fishing at Sitka: Seasoned anglers will be living a dream at one of Alaska’s top fishing destinations. Reel in five species of salmon, halibut and rockfish, and have your catch shipped back home to you.
- You may be cruising during the summer but pack your fall and winter clothes due to rainy, windy and chilly weather. Warm ski caps, gloves and rain jackets are essential for an Alaska cruise.
- It is common for cruise companies to nickel and dime you on anything not included in your Alaska cruise package.
- Shop wisely for souvenirs by sticking to locally owned stores. You can best support the Alaskan economy by keeping your eyes peeled for stores that say, ‘Alaska family-owned’ or ‘made in Alaska’.
An Alaska cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime journey that will transform the way you look at mother nature. This last piece of untouched American wilderness is vital to the survival of these cherished ecosystems and seeing them with your own eyes will heighten your awareness of their importance.
That being said, you’ll want to book your Alaska cruise packages sooner rather than later due to the resounding effects of climate change. Alaska’s landscapes are constantly changing, and they may not resemble the same mystique for future generations.