Alaska Port, City & Town Guides

Alaska is a land shaped by epic geologic forces—one of the world’s last true wildernesses. Here you can still escape civilization and witness the grandeur of nature unfolding around you. Twisting, narrow fjords carved over eons serve as scenic highways for great ships—highways that eventually lead to magical destinations like Glacier Bay National Park where the glaciers tower over the sea and where you’ll hear the crack and crash of new icebergs as they calve off in blocks the size of houses. In the waters below, whales gulp vast mouthfuls of tiny plankton before coming to the surface to exhale blasts of spray, or to catch a glimpse of the distant land. Scattered, remote outposts sit along the lushly forested coast, each reflecting a chapter of Alaska’s hardscrabble history. Sitka bears traces of the days when Russia ruled these shores, while Ketchikan is studded with the totem poles of native tribes that maintain their ancient traditions to this day. In Skagway, swinging-door saloons and trading posts persist from the gold-rush glory days when the town was “the Gateway of the Klondike.” You can still board the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad which navigates steep mountains and deep gorges on its way into the famed Yukon Territory. After passing through any of these towns, you’ll reach the vast wilderness of the state’s interior where you can pan for gold, cast a line into icy lakes and rivers, or spot moose, bald eagles and bears on a mountain hike.

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Anchorage Guide

After long and dark winters, Alaskans love their summers and the residents of Anchorage, Alaska 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, Anchorage 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). Anchorage 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 active things to do and attractions 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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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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Ketchikan 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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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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Fairbanks 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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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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Seattle 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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Vancouver 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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Source: Holland America

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Why Take an Alaska Cruise Vacation? Breathtaking Alaska is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Spectacular wildlife, jaw-dropping glaciers, untouched wilderness and the state's undisputed star attractions. Glacier Bay and Denali National Parks are just some of the wonders you will experience on an Alaska cruise or Alaska cruise tour.