Alaska is a region of immense natural charms, wildlife and a surprising amount of history.
But it remains something of an uncertain proposition to those who have never been; the weather can be off-putting and the journey – an 11-hour flight from London to either Vancouver or Seattle – is distinctly tiring for a voyage that, at first glance, has a lot of scenic similarities to Norway and the fjords, which are much closer for European travel sensibilities.
Therefore, we have decided to take a whole new look at this vast and rugged area, making it our first theme for 2009.
Starting with a classic 7-day voyage in the company of Holland America Line – Alaska’s first mainstream specialist to the region back in 1971 – we unveil the wonders and attractions of the typical Inside Passage cruise, the standard route along the coast of British Columbia and up to the outposts of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway.
The standard voyage either returns to its original starting point or continues up to Seward, the southern gateway to the real immensity that is mainland Alaska – a state so vast it would cover more than half of Western Europe.
From Seward, we feature Part Two of our Alaskan Adventure, a five-day post-cruise excursion to the likes of Kenai Fjords National Park and the stunning vistas of Denali State Park, crowned by the 20,320ft jewel of Mt McKinley.
Truly, this is the stuff of travel legend; a realm of such utter beauty and awe-inspiring simplicity that it staggers the imagination.
It features a wide variety of pursuits that appeal to a broad range of interests, ages and activity levels, from gentle hiking and sight-seeing to white-water rafting and mountain-biking. It appeals most to those of an outdoorsy mentality but there is genuinely something for everyone, from enjoying a typical salmon bake to a unique range of shopping.
Above all, it offers a taste of adventure and experience the like of which you will find nowhere else on earth. Ultimately, it is nothing like Norway – this is true, edge-of-the-world wilderness territory.
At sea, look for beluga whales, humpbacks, killer whales (orca), seals, sea lions, playful sea otters, cormorants, puffins and eagles; on land, there are grizzly and black bears, moose (aplenty!), caribou and Dall sheep. Alaska is home to more than 445 species of birds, and as many as 140 million seabirds feed in its fish-rich waters.
This is also glacier territory (some 100,000 in all, or 5 per cent of the state’s surface area), with world famous Glacier Bay National Park boasting 12 major tidewater glaciers and College Fjord another five. The Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park covers a stunning 300 square miles.
Your choice for visiting Alaska in 2009 has also never been broader, from the massive 2,000-plus passenger vessels of Carnival and NCL, through the more mid-size of Holland America, Regent Seven Seas and the Pacific Princess of Princess Cruises, to the true small-scale boutique boats of the likes of Cruise West, American Safari Cruises and the 9-passenger Maple Leaf.
Holland America and Princess Cruises are the two most experienced of the big cruise lines, while Cruise West are the longest-serving local specialists, with eight ships from 78 to 138 passengers. The luxury market can also be found here, with the likes of Regent Seven Seas, Silversea Cruises and even the unique deluxe style of The World of Residensea, which will be making its second visit to the region.
But however you decide to see it, we believe this is still THE place to see by cruise ship. In the fabled list of ‘1,000 Places To See Before You Die,’ Alaska would easily rate in our Top Five; in fact, it might even be our No. 1……
WHO GOES THERE: in 2009, American Safari Cruises (Safari Escape, Explorer, Quest, Spirit); Carnival Cruise Lines (Carnival Spirit); Celebrity Cruises (Infinity, Mercury, Millennium); Cruise West (Spirit of ’98, Alaska, Columbia, Discovery, Endeavor, Glacier Bay, Yorktown, Oceanus); Discovery Voyages (Discovery); Holland America Line (Amsterdam, Statendam, Ryndam, Westerdam, Veendam, Volendam, Zaandam, Zuiderdam); Lindblad Expeditions (National Geographic Sea Lion, Sea Bird); Maple Leaf Adventures (Maple Leaf); NCL (Norwegian Pearl, Star, Sun); Princess Cruises (Coral, Diamond, Golden, Island, Pacific, Sapphire, Sea, Star Princess); Regent Seven Seas Cruises (Seven Seas Mariner); Residensea (The World); Royal Caribbean (Radiance, Rhapsody, Serenade of the Seas); Silversea Cruises (Silver Wind); The Boat Company (Liseron, Mist Cove);
TIME DIFFERENCE: GMT -9 hours; -10 hours in Aleutian Islands.
WEATHER: Ave. temp Jun-Aug 17.5