During my several years onboard cruise ships, Alaska is the area where I have cruised most frequently. I have spent at least four cruising seasons in Alaska. At that time I was a hard working crew member in my early twenties who would have much preferred to have been in a sunnier destination, such as the Mediterranean etc., spending my day off each week lazing on a beach. However, when I look back on that period of my life, I now realise just how fortunate I was to be able to spend so much time in beautiful Alaska.
During one particular season, I had just switched from working in the spa to working in the Shore Excursions office. This is where we would sell shore excursions (land tours) to passengers for each of the upcoming ports of call that our ship would visit. My manager informed me that in order for me to be able to sell the tours well, I would need to experience as many of them as I could. This would then enable me to answer any passenger questions and/or make appropriate suggestions when they needed advice. From then on in every port, I was sent off to join one of the tours we offered, free of charge! So began my incredible Alaskan adventures!
During my time onboard, we visited the following ports and I was lucky enough to experience these once in a lifetime tour experiences…
Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer
This was one of my favourite tours in Alaska. We boarded a fast, sightseeing boat in Ketchikan harbour and went out to explore the Misty Fjords National Monument, one of nature’s most spectacular creations. Absolutely magnificent!
The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
An entertaining show just a short walk from the pier, where the world’s best lumberjacks go head-to-head in more than a dozen exciting events such as chopping, sawing, relay races, axe throwing, log rolling and a 50-foot speed climb.
Wilderness Exploration & Crab Feast
During this Alaskan experience, we first pulled Dungeness crab pots from a wilderness estuary and I was able to pick one up and look at it closely. We then went to the George Inlet Lodge (a historic cannery building converted to an elegant oceanside lodge) for lunch. After a quick lesson in the art of crab cracking, I enjoyed an all-you-can-eat crab feast, followed by cheesecake smothered in Alaskan blueberries whilst watching the cute little humming birds just outside my window.
During this boat tour we observed sea otters, whales, sea lions, porpoise, harbor seals, brown bears, black-tail deer, bald eagles and a variety of marine birds.
Sitka National Historic Totem Park
A visit to this magical forest is a must when in Sitka, and as it is just a short walk from the town centre, I visited often. I really enjoyed walking along the trails through this forest, littered with historical totem poles, with amazing views over the harbour and mountainside.
Alaskan Salmon Bake
During this tour we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat salmon bake feast. The Alaskan wild salmon was barbecued to perfection over an open fire. We then went for a stroll through the nearby woods and along Salmon Creek, then roasted marshmallows over the campfire for dessert.
Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration
What an unforgettable experience! Boarding a floatplane for the first time, knowing that we would need to land back down on water was a little nerve wracking. My adrenaline was pumping as we flew over the five distinctly different, absolutely majestic glaciers making up a section of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field. Seeing these glaciers from the air was such an amazing experience!!
Mendenhall River Trip
At the edge of the beautiful Mendenhall Lake, we hopped into a large canoe and took off on an unforgettable adventure where we got up close and personal with nature, the glacier, icebergs, waterfalls and wildlife. The Mendenhall glacier is a half-mile wide and more than one hundred feet tall at the face.
This was a crew member favourite, along with a visit to the good old Viking bar! From the centre of town, you can board the Mount Roberts Tramway, which takes you to the top of Mount Roberts overlooking the beautiful town of Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Here you can take in the beautiful views with the Chilkat Mountains to the north, Stephens Passage to the south, Douglas Island to the west and, in the east, Silver Bow Basin. Watch for wildlife and birds on your way to the bear-viewing platforms. I spotted a bear on my way up the mountain on multiple occasions. At the top you will find many amazing walking tracks, a gallery and a restaurant.
Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest
This sightseeing cruise guaranteed whale watching. I boarded a catamaran and cruised through the picturesque waters of Stephens Passage. This area is world-renowned as a favoured summer feeding ground for humpback whales. We were able to get up very close to humpback whales, killer whales, sea lions, otters, seals and bald eagles.
A visit to Alaska is not complete without a ride on a dog sled, a visit to a musher’s camp, or ideally both!. This is how you will experience a true Alaskan adventure whilst supporting the state sport of dog mushing. We drove deep into the Tongass National Rain Forest to visit this musher camp. Here we had a blast on an authentic dog sled ride, we met knowledgeable mushers and dog handlers, and playing with the husky puppies.
The world-famous Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve boasts the largest gathering of bald eagles anywhere. It is also home to moose, bears, wolves, and a host of other animals. We boarded an 18-foot inflatable raft and 7,000-foot peaks towered above us as we floated down the river, spotting many impressively large bald eagles perched on branches right alongside the river.
The Red Onion Saloon
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad
Riding the train along the antique White Pass & Yukon narrow-gauge railway was such a great experience. The White Pass & Yukon Route itself is unlike any other railroad. Against all odds, the iron trail was carved through some of the North’s most rugged terrain in 1898. Built during the Klondike Gold Rush, this engineering wonder is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark — an honor shared with the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty. This vintage train climbs up the mountain and around cliff-hanging turns offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites from the Gold Rush era.
Icy Strait Point
Icy Strait Point adorns the north end of Chichagof Island and Glacier Bay is just across Icy Strait to the north. Icy Strait Point gives you the perfect chance to explore old forests, or kayak along rich coastal waters. If your adrenaline stores are low, you can take a ride on the world’s longest zip line. A very picturesque area where simply going for a walk was breathtaking enough.
Cruise ships typically spend a full day (9-10 hours) cruising through Glacier Bay, including a stop at a major glacier. For most passengers, this day will be the highlight of their Alaskian Inside Passage Cruise. From the decks of the ship, you can view several glaciers and breathtaking mountains. The ship will then get up as close as possible to a glacier so that you can see enormous chunks of ice splitting off and thundering into the sea below. This impact then causes large waves of water, which can rock even the largest of cruise ships. Very impressive! If you are lucky enough, you can catch the moment on film; however at that time, i did not own a video camera (or a mobile phone). So my photos do not do this whole experience justice. However, you can see and hear the “white thunder” on YouTube! Another great video I found which really captures the beauty of sailing into Glacier Bay is this one.
Traditional Crew Tug-of-War Challenge
As you can see by the above photos, Alaska is simply stunning. Nature at it’s best. So next time you are looking for a unique holiday destination, don’t dismiss this amazing wilderness, bursting with outdoor adventure.