There are few places in the world quite as majestic as Alaska. Its pristine landscape captivates the senses while its rich history captures the imagination. Ports of call are nestled within the coves and bases of the mountainsides, and you’re literally transported right in the middle of it. You’re free to explore the great land as comfortably or adventurously as you’d like, from staying aboard the ship and simply gazing at the breathtaking scenery to getting up close and personal with nature and its wild inhabitants.
The Alaska cruising season only lasts for the summer but the memories of the sights, sounds and smells will forever be with you. Here are photos from cruise journeys to Southeast Alaska.
Cruise ships like Holland America Line’s Westerdam take travelers through the tree-lined Inside Passage all the way to the silty turquoise waters of Glacier Bay National Park. Here, guests enjoy a day of sailing past several glaciers, each individually unique and breathtakingly beautiful.
Similarly, cruise ships like Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas explore the singular but much grander Hubbard Glacier via Disenchantment Bay. Vessels navigate cautiously through fields of floating ice in order to position you at the face of the towering glacier, seen out on deck or warmly through the ship’s panoramic windows.
With a loud boom and crackle, we heard and saw massive chunks of ice – sometimes the size of skyscrapers – topple from the face of Hubbard Glacier and crash into the water below. Glaciers are constantly in flux, and such ice calving is a natural part of the process, best captured through a powerful telephoto lens.
Skagway is a town seemingly frozen in time since the Gold Rush. It’s many historic buildings are enchanting, as it’s the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route railway that conveniently stretches from the cruise ship dock all the way into neighboring British Columbia. Several train trips of varying length are available and the best photo opportunities appear just before the train bends around the corners.
Ketchikan is home to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, a white-knuckled attraction located right along the cruise pier. The fast-paced competition pegs two teams against each other in manual and mechanical challenges of skill and other playful lumberjack hijinks. Once a winner is crowned, the adjacent Alaska Fish House serves tasty salmon chowder and fish and chips to hungry spectators.
Look up! The highlight of Alaska’s capital city of Juneau is often the atmospheric cloud cover and timberline that cradles the municipality. In fact, the dense forest has almost entirely overtaken the remains of the former AJ Mine Gastineau Mill facility, still available to tour.
Icy Straight Point located at Hoonah is the newest Alaskan port destination available to ships like Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Millennium. The immediate focal point is the Hoonah Packing Company facility where we tendered in among laid up fishing boats and explored the restored cannery line and exhibits inside. Outside, the world’s largest 5,330-foot-long ZipRider thrillingly descends riders along a cable at a maximum of 60mph.
Mega cruise ships get very close to the Alaskan scenery, but expedition vessels like Un-Cruise Adventures’ Safari Endeavour get travelers even closer to the tightest coves. For a bit of a man or woman versus nature experience, kayak outings take explorers to the waterline and coastline, rain (as here) or shine, for a rugged adventure that reveals the true flora and fauna (and often weather) of Alaska.
Some of the most popular shore excursions in Alaska feature dogsledding. A scenic helicopter ride whisks animal lovers from Skagway to a glacial landing where they are taken to a genuine musher’s camp, home to dozens of friendly Alaskan huskies. Once on site, they strap in for an exhilarating sled ride pulled by the boundlessly energetic dogs.
Even the “locals” like to show up for the famed Taku Glacier Lodge excursion. Tourists are taken on a sight-seeing seaplane ride over rugged mountains before landing for a nature walk and tasty salmon bake. While humans enjoy the warmth of the lodge and their Alaskan meal indoors, resident bears lap up the hot fish-flavored embers straight from the outdoor grill.