ALASKA Port, City, Town and Village Guide

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Since 1999 we have returned to Alaska a number of times. And each and every time this Great Land continues to amaze. We've cruised the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska before. This time we chose to visit the interior of Alaska, at the end of Summer , in September. This is the time of the year, when the kids are back in school, the weather is mild and many cruise travelers take advantage of reduced rates just before every hotel, lodge, restaurant and gift shop shuts down for the winter.
On this trip we visit Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Denali National Park. We also chose both Princess Rail and the Alaska Railroad's 'Gold Star" service and coach transportation to get us from place to place. We chose Princess Wilderness lodge accommodations as Princess offers over 26 land tours designed around its own custom-built lodges. We included the most popular sightseeing tours, including the more in-depth Tundra Wilderness Tour of the six million acre, Denali National Park and the Gold Dredge 8 and Discovery River Boat cruise in Fairbanks. Thus, giving our fellow travelers a well-rounded look at what they can expect when they visit Alaska.

This is a trip report of our land portion of a cruise tour that would involve a 7 day North or Southbound Alaska Cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage or from Anchorage to Vancouver, plus a 7 day land tour. Princess Cruise Ships that tie into this land tour are Island Princess, Coral Princess or Star Princess. Read full review: at AFAR http://goo.gl/6QaG6N

AFAR is the multi-platform travel media brand that inspires and Port Guides those who travel the world to connect with its people, experience their cultures, and understand their perspectives. Its platforms include the award-winning AFAR magazine; AFAR.com, recently named a Top 10 site That Makes Travel Easier; the non profit foundation Learning AFAR; and immersive travel series AFAR Experiences.

ALASKA PORT & CITY GUIDE

Holland America has partnered with AFAR, the leaders in experiential travel Port Guides. Written and recommended by local experts, these Port Guides highlight the things to see and do in each port. As you explore, use the personalization sliders to see the points of interest relevant to you. Excerpts below...

 

Fairbanks City Guide

Bearing the nickname the Golden Heart, Alaska’s second-largest city was born of gold rush fever, thanks to Italian immigrant Felix Pedro who found the precious metal in 1902 near where Captain E.T. Barnette decided to build a trading post on the banks of the Chena River. Though much of Fairbanks today is an amalgam of modern shops and malls, its history is celebrated at the 18-hectare (44-acre) Pioneer Park, which includes a Gold Rush Town with 35 restored buildings. Fairbanks also preserved its City Hall, which now houses the Fairbanks Community Museum. The city’s location in Alaska’s interior makes it a gateway to the arctic, and in summer tourist boats run cruises along the Chena and Tanana rivers. Fairbanks is a city of festivals, from July’s Golden Days commemorating its past, to Ice Alaska in February and March, when residents make the best of its brutal winters by playing host to a slew of international ice sculptors who descend on the city for the World Ice Art Championships. The city is one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis, which appears on average 243 nights of the year. For more insight into Fairbanks, the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center is a good place to start.

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In 1950 Captain Jim Binkley, Sr. and his wife, Mary, launched a riverboat-excursion tourism business, which eventually grew from one 25-person boat to the current 900-passenger Discovery III sternwheeler. Three-hour tours with Riverboat Discovery visit the home and kennels of the late four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher and include a tour of a Chena Athabascan Indian village led by a Native Alaskan—as well as time to shop for souvenirs at the Steamboat Landing trading post.

 

Anchorage City Guide

After long and dark winters, Alaskans love their summers and the residents of Anchorage are no exception. The city plants thousands of flowers to celebrate the arrival of warmer months and days that last as long as 19 hours from dawn to dusk. Approximately 40 percent of Alaska’s population lives in Anchorage. This diverse city of 300,000 includes a large military population, Native Alaskans, individuals who work for the oil industry and adventure-seeking types who want to get away from “the lower 48.” Much like Seattle, this is a place where you can find a coffee shop (or espresso shack) anywhere. Locals enjoy skijoring, a winter sport where a person is pulled on skis by one or more dogs or sometimes a horse. While some cities have deer, Anchorage has lots of moose, known for being a bit rambunctious (and should be steered clear of if seen wandering down a street).This is a city where you can see the northern lights—the aurora borealis—on a clear dark night, typically during colder months. There are also plenty of places to hike, bike and see wildlife such as the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or Flattop Mountain Trail inside Chugach State Park.

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Denali National Park Guide

Almost as large as the state of Massachusetts, Denali National Park is the first and last stop on any adventure into Alaska’s wild. At some 24,500 square kilometers (or 6 million acres) including the surrounding preserve, it is the third-largest national park in the United States, after two other Alaska parks: Wrangell-St. Elias and the Gates of the Arctic. The park offers excellent chances for seeing wildlife, including moose, wolves, caribou, Dall sheep and grizzly bears. Presiding over it is the tallest peak in North America, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), which means “the tall one” in a name derived from Koyukon, a language traditionally spoken by the Athabascan people of Alaska. The soaring mountain divides the park into north and south sides. The south side is most popular with mountain climbers and those on flightseeing tours, while the north is where the bulk of visitors go, traveling along Park Road, which winds for 148 kilometers (92 miles) through Denali National Park. Visitors can sightsee the entire way via the green Visitor Transportation System shuttle buses, which stop at various hiking trails.The mighty mountain is actually not visible from the entrance of the park that bears its name; some of the best vantage points from which to see it are between miles 9 and 11 on Park Road. Other notable sites include the Husky Homestead, an Iditarod-training center for husky sled dogs, while the kid-friendly Murie Science and Learning Center showcases a fossilized footprint of a three-toed Cretaceous-era theropod dinosaur, found in the park in 2005.

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At Sea/Inside Passage Cruising Guide

Alaska’s Inside Passage is a protected network of waterways that wind through glacier-cut fjords and lush temperate rain forests along the rugged coast of Southeast Alaska. Arguably one of the greatest cruising routes in the world, the Inside Passage stretches through stunning landscapes, from Misty Fjords National Monument to famed Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.Sailing the Inside Passage offers opportunities to spot some of Alaska’s most iconic wildlife, with humpback whales and orca plying the bountiful waters alongside the ships, bald eagles soaring overhead and brown bears lumbering on the shoreline. Numerous ports along the way recount Alaska’s colorful history. In Sitka, an onion-domed church marks Russia’s onetime foothold in the Americas; Ketchikan provides a glimpse of the Native Alaskan experience, with historic totem poles and native-arts galleries; and the legendary town center of Skagway bustles as it did at the turn of the 19th century, when it served as the rowdy Wild West gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush.

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Ketchikan Port Guide

Alaska’s “First City” of Ketchikan is so named because it’s the first major landfall for most cruisers as they enter the picturesque fjords of the Inside Passage, where the town clings to the banks of the Tongass Narrows, flanked by green forests nurtured by abundant rain.Ketchikan has long been an important hub of the salmon-fishing and –packing industries—visitors can try their luck on a sportfishing excursion or simply savor the fresh seafood at one of the local restaurants. It is also one of the best spots along the Inside Passage to explore the rich cultures of Native Alaskan nations like the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. You can see intricately carved totem poles at the Totem Heritage Center and Totem Bight State Park, while Saxman Village just outside of town offers the chance to see Tlingit culture in action, with working carvers and a dance show in the clan house. And leave time to explore the town itself, including historic Creek Street, a boardwalk built over the Ketchikan Creek, where you can shop for souvenirs, smoked salmon and local art, while exploring gold rush­–era attractions like Dolly’s House Museum.

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At Sea/Glacier Bay Cruising Guide

Frosted crags descend into mossy forests and a 457-meter-deep fjord at this World Heritage Site, which is also one of the planet’s largest biosphere reserves. Stone, ice and water continue to collide, sculpting a dramatic landscape that is the crown jewel of southeastern Alaska’s natural wonders.The area’s first European explorer missed it all—but with good reason. When Captain George Vancouver sailed here in 1794, a vast shield of ice, more than 1,200 meters thick, dominated the area. In one of the fastest retreats on record, the glaciers shrank back 105 kilometers (65 miles) by 1916. The formerly glacier-squashed land is rebounding now, rising 30 millimeters each year. Visitors can observe this rebirth: A spruce-hemlock rain forest has sprouted near the mouth of Glacier Bay. Farther north, the more recently exposed land shows sharper edges and thinner vegetation. Still, it’s enough to encourage the return of wildlife, from bald eagles to bears, moose and humpback whales.While the national park is open year round, most travelers prefer the warmth of late May to early September. Even in summer, be prepared for any weather—especially rain! Pack a hat, gloves, wool or fleece layers, a warm coat and waterproof gear if you want to admire the landscape from the open deck of your ship.

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At Sea/Gulf of Alaska Cruising Guide

Seattle’s skyline quickly gives way to mist-shrouded islands, towering Douglas firs and rank upon rank of snow-gilded mountains. Eagles skim low over the water, competing with humpbacks and killer whales for the area’s abundant fish.The truly deep tangle of trees begins in British Columbia: The world’s largest coastal temperate rain forest stretches from Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland here up through Alaska’s panhandle. Glaciers sculpted this stunning wilderness; in fact, their high-water marks remain visible. The massive sheets of ice smoothed and rounded any terrain under a mile high. The peaks, sharp and craggy, slice the air at over 1,370 meters in height, give or take.Glaciers remain a huge draw, of course, frosting mountain ranges and shearing icebergs into the ocean—watch for baby seals resting on them from May to early July! And don’t forget to survey beaches for coastal brown bears, which can grow up to three times bigger than inland grizzlies, thanks to all the available salmon.Make sure to pack warm and waterproof gear, along with binoculars, so you can belly up to a railing and enjoy this magnificent beauty.

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Haines Port Guide

There’s a reason Haines is known as the adventure capital of Alaska. Although many cities in Alaska feel different than those in “the lower 48,” Haines is more unusual than most with its unique rustic feel. It’s almost as if time has stopped and chain stores, and even stoplights, haven’t infiltrated this town of 1,300 that once topped Outside magazine’s list of “20 Best Places to Live and Play.” In the late 1890s, when Jack Dalton turned an Indian trail into a tollway ($10 for four horses with an unloaded sled or wagon), the town emerged as a stop for prospectors headed to the Yukon for the Klondike Gold Rush. Decades later it became a logging town, before turning to tourism beginning in the 1970s. These days, Haines is known as a haven for artists and nature lovers and is visited by far fewer cruise ships than other Alaskan coastal cities.Haines is a hotspot for rafting and hiking, salmon-, halibut- and trout-fishing in the Chilkat River or kayaking on Chilkoot Lake—as well as heli-skiing in the winter. During the late fall and early winter, thousands of bald eagles migrate through this area to feed on the salmon, an event celebrated by the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival in November. The memory of prospector days lingers on with opportunities to pan for gold, while the Indian Arts gallery, with its totem pole carving studio, offers a glimpse of an even older Haines.

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At Sea/Hubbard Glacier Cruising Guide

Sailors used to worry about falling off the edge of the world. Surely somewhere out there, it all simply stopped, and the only thing left to do would be to fall. But what if you discover that you’ve already fallen, and now you’re trying to get back up? That’s what sailing towards Hubbard Glacier feels like.The glacier is up to 65 meters wide at its face and 50 meters tall, but that’s only the tiniest piece of the ice: The main channel of this frozen river begins 122 kilometers back, pouring down from around the 3,400-meter mark off the shoulder of Mt. Walsh.Hubbard is the longest tidewater glacier (meaning it ends at the ocean) in North America. But unlike nearly every other tidewater glacier on the continent, Hubbard is advancing, not retreating; it’s forever pushing a little further into the bay. Chunks of ice that break off become floaties for seals, who like the bergs because orca sonar doesn’t work well among them.The deep blue of the face of the glacier on a sunny day—the color made by compression of ice crystals that can be a foot or more long—is the blue of the furthest stars. The glacier is on the move.

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Icy Strait Point Port Guide

Back in the old days when a freezer was a piece of ice, fishermen in Alaska had two problems. The first one was finding the fish, although that wasn’t too complicated, the ocean was chock-full of fins; but the second problem was a little harder. The government regulated how long you could keep your catch on the boat, and it wasn’t very long. Canneries were the answer. Owning a cannery was having a license to print money. Really. As operations spread up and down Southeast Alaska, each cannery had its own currency. True company towns, canneries had their own workforce, their own laws. A big cannery needed a couple hundred workers, for everything from keeping books to making the millions of cans needed to ship all that fish, as well as the actual cleaning and prepping of fish on the line, called "slime row."


Canneries were usually somewhere beautiful, someplace you could see from far off and aim your boat towards. But canneries didn’t survive the advent of refrigeration. Most were taken back by the forest or simply left to rot. With one exception: Icy Strait Point, beautifully restored. Just opposite Glacier Bay, Icy Strait Point stretches for a few hundred meters along the beach; the old wooden buildings, bright red in the endless green of the Tongass, now offer a museum and a cannery demo. But more interesting is simply the madness of scale. Icy Strait Point gives a chance to look into history to see where Alaska’s money came from, all in a ghost town of millions of fish.

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Juneau Port Guide

Juneau may well be the most remote, most beautiful and strangest state capital in the United States. Surrounded by water, forests and mountains, visitors can hike a glacier, eat fresh-caught fish on a seaside patio and tour a grand capitol building all in one day.The city itself is pleasant, but the real highlight of a visit to Juneau is tracking down some wildlife. You can hike up Mount Roberts to chance upon wild deer and bald eagles. Most whale-watching tours head north to Auke Bay—bring a good pair of binoculars to get the best view of these majestic and surprisingly graceful creatures. If you prefer land mammals, catch a floatplane to a nearby wildlife reserve such as Chichagof or Admiralty Island to spy some bears lolling around. The sleepy, misty city of around 32,000—mostly fishermen and small-business owners—has a frontier town vibe, but welcomes more than a million visitors each summer, cementing Juneau as Alaska’s number-one tourist destination.

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Seattle Port Guide

Bounded by the Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east, and surrounded by forests and mountains, Seattle boasts a stunning location.But the largest city in the Pacific Northwest is as much an homage to human ingenuity as it is to natural beauty. From logging to shipbuilding to aircraft manufacturing to modern-day software and biotech development, the Emerald City has worn a succession of industrial hats, birthing the likes of Amazon and Starbucks—not to mention music legends Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana—along the way.Visitors are spoiled for choice, with iconic attractions like the waterfront, Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass and Pike Place Market all easily accessible. "Local" and "sustainable" are words to live by in Seattle, an ethos reflected in the profusion of fresh-seafood restaurants, independent coffee roasters and quirky boutiques that are dotted around the city, awaiting exploration.

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Sitka Port Guide

The ports of Alaska inspire visions of remote wilderness outposts, legendary gold-rush towns and Native Alaskan villages, all set amid lush forests and frigid, glacier-flanked waters. And while you’ll certainly find these things in and around Sitka, you’ll witness a unique slice of Alaskan history not found anywhere else. Russia controlled Alaska from the mid-1700s until the United States purchased it in 1867, and Sitka was settled as the capital of Russian America under the name New Archangel.Sailing into Sitka today, you’ll still see vestiges of Russia’s influence, including the unmistakable onion dome of St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Russian Bishop’s House, both National Historic Landmarks. Stop by the visitor center of the Sitka National Historical Park to peruse its interesting collections of Russian and Native Alaskan artifacts, and then join a ranger-led tour of the battlefield where Russia defeated the native Tlingit people.Sitka also boasts an abundance of epic natural scenery and wildlife. Take a walk up Castle Hill to enjoy an ideal vantage point across the water to the dormant volcano Mount Edgecumbe, and trips to the nearby Fortress of the Bear and the Alaska Raptor Center offer up-close encounters with some of Alaska’s most captivating creatures.

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Skagway Port Guide

At the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, the port town of Skagway served as the primary gateway to the legendary gold fields, and quickly grew into Alaska’s largest settlement. It was then a raucous frontier hub packed with trading posts, saloons and guesthouses. As the gold rush faded into the 1900s, so did Skagway—but today it has been reinvigorated as a gateway for a new kind of visitor: those looking to explore Alaska’s colorful history, pristine wildlife and unrivaled natural beauty.At every turn, you’ll find yourself immersed in gold rush lore, from the infamous Red Onion Saloon that still keeps a pistol that Wyatt Earp left behind en route to the Klondike, to the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, a classic narrow-gauge railway that traverses rugged mountains and passes cascading waterfalls and towering glaciers as it connects Skagway to Whitehorse deep in the Yukon. Much of the town has been preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, where rangers offer free walking tours around the historic district. Here you’ll also find a vibrant local community, home to a rich collection of local galleries, curio shops and restaurants serving seafood plucked fresh from nearby waters.

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Talkeetna Town Guide

A hand-painted sign—Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna—on the main road sets the stage for what is one of Alaska’s most iconic small towns. Translating to “Where Three Rivers Meet,” Talkeetna sits at the confluence of the Talkeetna, Chulitna and Susitna rivers, halfway between Anchorage and Denali National Park & Preserve in the Mat-Su Valley. With a population of about 800, this former gold-mining town personifies all that is rural Alaska.Talkeetna’s current setting is remarkably similar to its early years. In 1916 it was tagged as district headquarters for the Alaska Railroad and featured a cigar store, roadhouse, trading post and dirt roads, as well as Nagley’s General Store, Talkeetna’s first store which is still in business.Talkeetna is thought to have inspired the fictional community of Cicely in the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. Today Talkeetna is one of the state’s best spots from which to view Denali, or Mount McKinley, and is a jumping-off point for flightseeing trips over the mountain as well as for climbers setting out on mountain treks. It is also an arts enclave, with the support of the Denali Arts Council, and offers galleries, crafts boutiques and infinite opportunities for people-watching.

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At Sea/Tracy Arm Cruising Guide

Steep cliffs and glacier-covered mountains flank this fjord, fringed by the largest intact coastal temperate rain forest in the United States. Old-growth trees colonized Tracy Arm’s mouth long ago as the Ice Age retreated. But further up the sinuous 48-kilometer waterway, its icy grip lingers a little. There, the twin Sawyer Glaciers flow from the peaks down to the sea, sloughing off stories-high chunks of water frozen decades or even centuries before. Even more glorious than nearby Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm is part of the 5.7 million acres (or around 23,000 square kilometers) of pure wilderness sheltered by the Tongass National Forest (America’s biggest). Visitors often see bears, whales and mountain goats roaming across various corners of this pristine area—not to mention chubby baby seals resting on the ice floes.Summer temperatures average 35 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 16 degrees Celsius), so pack warm clothing. And don’t forget waterproof gear, even when traveling by cruise ship: More than a meter and a half of rain falls here each year! We also recommend a water bottle, thermos or reusable coffee cup: On scenic cruising days, cruise ships ban paper and disposable plastic products that could litter this unsullied environment.

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Vancouver Port Guide

Once a trading post and a rough-and-tumble sawmilling settlement, today modern Vancouver is many things. It’s a bustling seaport, a hub for outdoor enthusiasts, an ethnically diverse metropolis and Hollywood of the North. Hemmed in by mountains and sea, it seduces visitors with its combination of urban sophistication and laid-back attitude against a backdrop of glass towers and plentiful green spaces.Its culinary and cocktail scene is on the rise—and its excellent restaurants and hopping bars have a distinctively local stamp on them. Meanwhile music, theater and the arts thrive in the city’s many museums, galleries and performance venues. Beyond downtown, days of exploration await among the colorful suburbs, unspoiled islands and the vast, rugged wilderness.

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Victoria, British Columbia Port Guide

Of all the cities in Canada, Victoria may be the furthest from Great Britain, but it has the most British vibe. Between sipping afternoon tea, visiting flower gardens and castles and stopping in at pubs, one could easily forget about the Pacific Ocean lapping at the other side of Vancouver Island. The influence of the First Nations culture is also strong here, with totem poles taking a front-and-center position on the Inner Harbour and in Beacon Hill Park. Extensive galleries are devoted to the history of the First People at the Royal British Columbia Museum, too. Other waves of immigration besides that of the English are evident in the streets of Canada’s oldest Chinatown here, as well as on the menus of the city’s many restaurants, pizzerias and tavernas.Start your visit at the Inner Harbour. Whale-watching cruises and floatplanes take off and return from their excursions here and government buildings, museums, the Visitor Centre and the grand Fairmont Empress provide a dignified welcome. Just around the point, Fisherman’s Wharf offers a lively contrast with working fishing boats, barking harbor seals and busy seafood restaurants serving up the catch of the day. Take time for a jaunt to the famous Butchart Gardens, a truly stunning show garden developed on the site of a depleted quarry. Enjoy afternoon tea or a walk in the park or a shopping trip to Market Square or along Government Street. However you choose to spend your day here, Victoria’s civilized delights will charm you.

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 Source: Holland America


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