It’s high noon and while much of the ship is congregating in the Lido Market for lunch, or out on the crowded observation deck, we’re perched on our private verandah, cameras in hand, trying to catch our breath with every passing spectacle. The sun affectionately bathes the jagged shorelines of Glacier Bay, emphasizing glistening, snow-packed crevices high above and turquoise, iceberg riddled waters below. Seabirds effortlessly ride the arctic thermals at eye level, and in our gentle wake, small fish leap from the depths to catch levitating insects on the ocean surface. What is almost as impressive as the scenery, is how 82,500 tonnes of steel can navigate its way through such narrow passages, and making about as much noise as a small canoe. And then you see it. The Marjerie Glacier; An impressive twenty-one mile long, twenty-five story high wall of vibrant blue glacial ice. This is what a bucketlist Alaskan cruise is all about, and it’s not a trip you want to put off any longer.
This wasn’t my first trip to Alaska. I flew up to Anchorage from Vancouver in the dead of winter back in 2013 to visit a friend and experience the fabled Alaskan wildlife. I was land-bound for the entire duration of my trip, but had the opportunity to see a few local glaciers from afar. They were beautiful, but had already substantially receded. I knew I had to get myself on an Alaskan cruise to get up close to one of Earth’s most impressive phenomena, and I had to do it before they melted away until for good.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, Alaska’s glaciers are disappearing at a rate of 75 billion tonnes per year. And before you protest, it’s not fake news, it’s not hysteria, and no, you didn’t misread that startling number; 75 billion tonnes. Scientists, climatologists and glaciologists have confirmed through countless studies, that glaciers in this region are retreating faster now than they have been in the last 400 years. And once they’re gone, it’s over. Unless you plan on living long enough to see another Ice Age. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence about booking that bucketlist Alaskan cruise, NOW is the time to do it.
There are more choices than ever when it comes to booking your Alaskan cruise. From small ship experiences like UnCruise, to larger vessels like Holland America, Princess, Celebrity and Norwegian (and others). There are also varying itinerary options and departure points, which is why chatting with a travel agent like myself will help you narrow down what it is you want and what will work best for you. I was travelling with my infant son and mom, so we chose Holland America and because of the itinerary, we went with the Noordam.
Choosing Your Itinerary
There are various itinerary options when it comes to Alaskan cruises. Some cruises are northbound, some southbound, some are roundtrip out of Canada and others Seattle or San Francisco. Some are more port-intensive, and some focus more on scenic cruising. My family has long enjoyed activity-intensive vacations, even with our new addition, so we like to strike a balance cruising and time on land. Our round trip, eight-day cruise departed from Vancouver and visited four different Alaskan ports of call including Juneau, Haines, Icy Strait Point and Ketchikan. The rest of the time was spent cruising Glacier Bay National Park and the Inside Passage.
How Do I Know What Cruise Line is Right for Me?
Choosing the right cruise line can be daunting, but that’s where I come in! Food, price, ship size, room categories, demographic, itinerary, selection of entertainment, there are so many factors to consider when booking a cruise, and not only can I help you wade through the choices, I can help you consider all factors. Holland America was ideal for us not only because of its itinerary and reputation for fabulous food, but because we knew it would be a quieter cruise (the demographic for an Alaskan itinerary is generally 60+). This meant we were less likely to be dealing with rowdy younger folks which was essential when trying to keep an eight month old on a strict napping/sleep schedule!
Which Ports of Call Should I Visit?
All of them! In all seriousness, every port is worth visiting, but let’s face it, we only have so much time! And all the ports have something unique to offer guests. If you have a hankering for small town charm, Haines has a population of about 1,300 people, an internationally recognized and award winning Gin (and tasting distillery), an old fort to explore complete with a Native American totem carving studio and gallery, and an aviary with a number of rescued birds of prey. Not bad for a teeny little port town.
Icy Strait Point, a privately owned and Indigenous run port, offered up some of the best authentically Alaskan shopping experiences in the beautifully restored cannery; A rainforest walk and the unique experience to chat with local Tlingit peoples.
Juneau, Alaska’s isolated, action-packed adventure capital is worth more than one visit. Like sleeping giants, the impressive Juneau Icefield hovers above the town, including the Mendenhall and Lemon Creek Glaciers. This is an excellent jumping off point for heli-tours to nearby glaciers, hikes through wildflower laden alpine meadows and wildlife viewing. But if you’re feeling less adventurous, or have a family member in tow who isn’t quite ready for the thrill of soaring over ice-capped mountain ranges, there is still plenty to do. Wander the historic town, or take the Mount Roberts Tramway 1800 feet above the cruise port and enjoy a live Indigenous performance and take in breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain ranges.
A photographer’s dream, Ketchikan is a must-see on any Alaskan cruise itinerary if you ask me. From the salacious history of Creek Street, to the one-of-kind handicraft specialty shops, to the vibrantly painted hills, this San Francisco-meets-pioneer wild west port town was my favourite port of call. And in a post I’ll throw up later this week, you’ll see why. I loved it so much that I’m working on a custom made, long-weekend getaway for anyone who wants to experience Alaska outside of the cruise season. Stay tuned for my “Uniquely Alaskan Gifts” post later this week and my “Ketchikan Weekender Package”.
Your bucketlist Alaskan cruise is whatever you want to make it. Adrenaline-pumping flights, awe-inspiring wildlife viewing, challenging hikes, or meanderings through small towns, meaningful cultural encounters and the opportunity to view one of Mother Nature’s most impressive phenomena, whatever it is you want to experience in Alaska, no matter the cruise line, I am here to help make it happen.