As a Vancouverite, every year, I swear I’m not going to do it again. And every year, despite what I said the last year, I set sail for Alaska.
Coming from the Pacific Nothwest, Alaskan cruises are both convenient and economical. There’s no need for sky-high airfares, multiple connections, and lost luggage like when I get the itch to visit the Caribbean. But even if you need to take a flight or two, Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Sure, Alaska suffers from the same horrifying case of “trinket-itis” that inflicts the Caribbean. Diamond and jewelry stores are threatening to push out local shops run by local retailers, and there’s more than enough tacky crap in every gift shop to really give your gag reflex a workout.
But in many areas, a cruise to Alaska remains unparalleled, even if it pours rain for the entire week.
Here’s what I love most about cruising to the 49th State:
The Scenic Cruising
Except for the magnificent fjords of Norway, you’d be hard-pressed to find more scenic cruising experiences than the fjords and inlets of Alaska. Not to mention, of course, the fabulous Inside Passage that spans the distance between British Columbia in Canada and Alaska.
Clouds hang perilously low on mountains and at the start of the season, don’t be shocked if the odd growler or ice berg drifts by. In the summer, you could be rained out or work on your tan up on deck. I’ve seen both, and there’s no rhyme or reason to either.
But there’s nothing like seeing eagles and bears on the shoreline, or standing watch through the straits leading in to Ketchikan and Juneau as a small procession of stark-white cruise ships steam in, their superstructures gleaming against the navy-green and blue landscape that surrounds them.
I like to joke I never enjoyed beer until I went to Alaska and tried the Alaskan Amber Ale that Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing Co. puts out. If your cruise line is any good, they’ll have the stuff onboard. If not, head ashore for a fresh draft pint. In fact, it took me years to finally eat and drink like the locals in Alaska, and I’d recommend anyone heading North, To Alaska should enjoy at least a beer or two on shore with the locals. Ask them about life up north; you’ll find they’re far more insightful than the folks working the diamond shops who simply migrate north after the Caribbean season ends.
As alluded to above, it’s the people I like most about Alaska. They’re nice, inquisitive, and self-sufficient. That being said, they’re nobody’s fool, and they love their State fiercely. Don’t come asking stupid questions, or you’re liable to get a stupid answer. My favorite, overheard in a bar in Skagway, was from a man who hailed from the Midwest: “Skagway is awful. I don’t know how you live here. I’ll bet you guys drink a lot up here, dontcha?” The fortysomething woman manning the bar replied, “Only when you folks are here.”
I like to complain about the trinket shops and stores hawking T-shirts with stupid sayings, of which there are plenty, but I do love Alaskan towns. No two are alike, and each has their own distinctive rhythm and way of life. I love Skagway for its remoteness, but my all-time-favorite town is still Ketchikan.
This should say everything.
The biggest misconception about Alaska, however, is the idea that all cruises to the Last Frontier are created equal. They’re not. There are big-ship cruises that offer more entertainment, dining and options for amenities than you can shake a stick at.
There are small-ship ultra-luxury cruises on lines like Regent and Silversea. Un-Cruise Adventures offers small-ship journeys dedicated to those who want to see the side of Alaska less explored; who eschew the tourist stores in favor of Alaska’s wide-open spaces.
There are Cruise Tours that combine overland journeys with a weeklong voyage from Alaska to Vancouver. There are cruises that sail roundtrip from Vancouver, and roundtrip from Seattle.
In fact, there’s so much diversity, we created a special website dedicated soeley to Alaska: Alaska Cruise Experts.
In the end, maybe that’s what we love most about Alaska: the variety. Both on-land, and at sea.