Breathtaking scenery, gleaming glaciers, abundant wildlife, and Native American culture are only a few of the spectacular attractions that draw cruise vacationers to Alaska. With so much to see and do in Alaska, it's no wonder the state's official flower is the alpine forget-me-not!
Ships that visit Alaska on a seven-day itinerary typically sail along the Inside Passage and visit Glacier Bay National Park or Hubbard Glacier, stopping at four ports along the way. Most cruise lines also offer a variety of extended cruise-tour package options which take passengers deeper into Alaska via train and include land stays at lodges and sightseeing in Denali National Park - making their trip to Alaska even more comprehensive.
For climate and sunlight purposes, cruises to Alaska sail strictly during the summer months, from early May to mid-September. June, July and August can be classified as peak season when average daily high temperatures can reach 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so those looking for the best value should check sailing dates in May and September when temperatures hover around 50 degrees.
A variety of cruise ships sail to Alaska, including luxury vessels and midsize ships - most of which offer expanded kids programs for family vacationers. While the majority of ships sail from Vancouver, BC, Seattle is increasingly becoming a popular summer homeport for many lines. Both embarkation/disembarkation points allow ships to visit the most popular ports on an Alaska cruise, including Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway.
Ports of Call
Alaska's capital city, Juneau, has a population of about 30,000 and one of the country's highest costs of living. It also houses many attractions, including the famed Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska State Museum, the Alaska Brewing and Bottling Co., St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and the Red Dog Saloon, a famed Juneau bar/restaurant with swinging doors, sawdust floors and a display of Alaskan history.
Described by John Muir as "one of the most beautiful coastal glaciers," the world-famous Mendenhall Glacier attracts curious vacationers who want to enjoy the rush of a helicopter ride and set foot on the surface of this massive piece of ice. Others can see the glacier from afar during a tour of Juneau or come face to face with it by during a kayaking or rafting adventure.
Sportfishing and fly-fishing are two popular fishing options offered by cruise lines. Vacationers can choose to head out to troll for salmon on a private sportfishing boat fully equipped with all the necessary fishing gear and a licensed U.S. Coast Guard approved captain in one of the best fishing grounds in Southeast Alaska, or opt to take a short plane ride to a fly fishing hot spot to search out salmon and trout.
Those who prefer not to be too active in Juneau can attend an authentic Alaskan salmon bake complete with a hefty barbeque meal of salmon (of course), chicken, baked beans, salads, cornbread and roasted marshmallows; explore historic Juneau by land and visit the Macauley Salmon Hatchery and witness spawning salmon; or tour Juneau's award-winning brewery.
This "salmon capital of the world," is a quaint Alaskan town with a population of 7,922. The largest collection of totem poles in the world resides in Ketchikan at Totem Bight State Historical Park, Saxman Native Village and the Totem Heritage Center Museum. It's also popular for Creek Street - a former brothel district that is now lined with shops and offices.
The waters are filled with salmon, halibut, rainbow trout, Dungeness crab and more. Most cruise lines offer shore excursions involving fishing in Alaska. Guests purchase fishing licenses for a minimal charge and head out to sea with a proper captain.
Visitors can rent bikes, take walking tours or hop in a canoe or kayak and paddle along the waterfront town. Creek Street is lined with many shops for browsing or making souvenir purchases; Totem Heritage Center features the nation's largest collection of totem poles; and Tongass Historical Museum exhibits the life of Native Americans in the area and the history of Ketchikan.
Another popular activity is a flightseeing adventure over Misty Fjords National Monument. Encompassing an area of more than two million acres, this protected wilderness area boasts granite cliffs, waterfalls, crystalline lakes, and snowcapped mountains.
Back in the late 1890s, thousands of prospectors rushed through Skagway en route to the Klondike gold fields of Canada. Now the small town marks the beginning of the Chilkoot Trail - a 33-mile hike that takes three to five days - which begins in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and ends at Bennett Lake in British Columbia.
Bike adventures, bus tours, horse back rides and train rides take visitors along the trail to the White Pass summit and through the route that gold stampeders once traveled.
Lush gardens, glacier-filled valleys, eagle preserves, and wilderness safaris are only a few of the attractions cruise visitors can explore during a day at Skagway. Boat and raft rides take visitors down Lynn Fjord and helicopters fly guests over glaciers and waterfalls.
History by Foot
Skagway houses two museums within easy walking distance of the cruise ship pier: The Corrington Museum of Alaska History and The Skagway Museum & Archives. Walking tours of the area also take guests through the small alleys and districts of Skagway and feature stories of Klondike Kate as well as a stop at a restored brothel museum.