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10 Things To Do On An Alaska Cruisetour

By:
Joanna Hall
 

Cruising Alaska is an experience everyone should have on their bucket list. Travelling northbound from either San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver, or southbound from Seward or Whittier, hundreds of cruise ships ply the waters of the last great frontier during the short northern hemisphere summer. Shaped by the incredible force of massive glaciers millions of years ago, the forty-ninth state’s Inside Passage provides travellers with a unique cruising experience; a dramatic landscape draped with lush scenery, towering peaks, deep fjords, remote islands, and abundant wildlife. On our third visit we travelled with Princess Cruises on a Cruisetour, combining a seven-day cruise from Whittier to Vancouver with a five-night land tour venturing as far as Denali National Park. And what we discovered is that what you see from the water is only half of Alaska’s beauty.

Wilderness Lodge Stays 

Our land tour began in Anchorage, and continued with travel on a private motor coach and stays at three of Princess’s five wilderness lodges; it’s a seamless experience without any fuss. The day starts early, but all you have to do is put your bags outside your hotel room door every night, and turn up at the bus each morning. Each lodge has a different personality, and they range in size from boutique to imposing. What they all offer, however, is a comfortable stay in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness, and proximity to all the major natural sites.

Hiking Kenai’s Trails 

The first stop on the land tour was Kenai, the smallest lodge tucked away in Cooper Landing. Here we opted to venture out solo to acclimatise to our new environment gently. We started with a relatively easy hike down to the Kenai River, which was abundant with spawning salmon, then navigated one of the 43-acre property’s trails. It was here we first realised we were truly in the wilderness, and took the prominent bear warning signs seriously; keep your eyes open, make plenty of noise as you walk, and if you see a bear, don’t run.

Exploring Denali National Park 

There are many ways to see Denali National Park, and over two days we enjoyed three of the best. First was an early morning trail ride, a highlight of which was a glimpse of North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley. That afternoon we took to the air in a small plane to circumnavigate the famous mountain’s snowcapped peak, and view the surrounding valleys and glaciers. The next day, we ventured deep into the park by road; a vast sub-arctic wilderness ablaze with intense autumn colours, it’s home to more than 650 species of flowering plants, and wildlife including moose, bears, and wolverines.

The Denali Express To Whittier 

Hopping aboard this private train may signify the end of your land touring, but the nine-hour southbound ride offers yet more scenic highlights. Among them are Hurricane Gulch, famous for a lofty arch bridge crossing Hurricane Creek, the quaint town of Talkeetna, and Anchorage. The train is spacious, comfortable, and passenger carriages have glass roofs for ultimate sightseeing; you don’t have to move from your seat to enjoy the view. If you fancy stretching your legs, however, there are open air viewing platforms, a casual club car offering snacks and drinks, and a dining salon serving Alaskan specialties.

Cruising Kenai Fjords National Park 

Seward is a sleepy spot straddling the Kenai Peninsula, and famous for being mile 0 of the historic Iditarod Trail. An experience to remember here is taking a day cruise to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Abundant with curious limestone formations, and wildlife including bald eagles, puffins and sea lions, it’s an idyllic, if spooky place shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and ocean storms. The small catamaran you cruise on is extremely comfortable with big windows and spacious outdoor viewing spots; a highlight is inching close to the impressive tidewater Aialik Glacier, which flows into Aialik Bay. 

Flying and Hiking Tongass National Forest 

Our first cruise port of call was the small Gold Rush outpost of Skagway. A “must-do” here combines three of the best ways to take in the surrounding landscape; a scenic flight along the Sawtooth Mountains, an eight kilometre guided hike through the Tongass National Forest, and a ride back to town on the White Pass train. The largest national forest in the USA, Tongass is a remote sub-alpine valley possessing an alluring combination of flora and fauna; there are stunning photo ops at almost every turn, and on foot there’s a good chance of spotting bears and bald eagles. 

Bear Watching 

If there’s one place where you’re almost guaranteed to see wild black bears, it’s Neets Bay. Around 65 kilometres from Ketchikan, the place is so remote you can only get access it by boat, or as cruise passengers do, by floatplane. The flight to Neets Bay over Ketchikan’s surrounding waterways is impressive enough. Once there, however, you’re lead by an expert guide on a short hike; on the way you learn about bear habits and habitats, and the lifecycle of the Alaskan salmon, their favourite meal. Bears aren’t the only attraction, however, as you may also spot eagles, Sitka black-tailed deer, mink, martens and seals.

Dog Sledding  

Every Alaska cruise stops at Juneau, the state capital and one of the best places to go dog sledding. The tour begins with a breathtaking helicopter flight over lush rainforest and glacier carved peaks, setting you down on top of the 3,000 year old Mendenhall Glacier at a dogsled camp. The stars of this show, however, are undoubtedly the Alaskan huskies; they’re hitched up to a sled, and all you have to do is climb aboard, and enjoy an exhilarating ride through the ice and snow. At the end you’ll even get time to pet some puppies, before climbing back on the helicopter for the flight back to town.

Climbing Mount Roberts, Juneau 

Although many experiences in Alaska are best enjoyed on an organised tour, there are plenty of things you can do independently. One is heading up Mount Roberts. The best way to go is up on the Tramway in an enclosed gondola from the base of the mountain, close to where most cruise ships dock. At the top, options abound. Besides enjoying panoramic views of the harbour, waterways and mountains, you can walk the summit on one of several hiking trails, spend time at the Juneau Raptor Center Bald Eagle Display, or chill out with some Alaskan beer and seafood.

Eagles and Salmon 

Ketchikan is one of those ports of call where you can grab a walking tour map, and enjoy some of the local sights at your own leisure. Start with a meander along Creek Street’s famous wooden boardwalk to see its interesting buildings, located on Ketchikan Creek’s shoreline, then head to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center. An educational centre, it takes a look at Alaska’s salmon hatchery program, and features raptors and other birds that have been rescued and are being rehabilitated. If you have time, the Saxman Native Village south of town offers a glimpse into the traditions of the Tlingit culture.  

Princess Cruisetours

Princess Cruises offers a wide range of cruisetours in Alaska, for more information call 13 24 88, www.princess.com.

 

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