May - Sep 2024
Alaska, known as America's Last Frontier, is one of the world's top cruise destinations, with thousands of miles of incredibly scenic coastline. One of the chief draws for cruise passengers is the allure of the utterly unspoiled landscapes, with emerald forests, lofty snow-capped mountains, mighty glaciers and dramatic fjords, but an extra incentive is that the country's shortage of roads means that much of this amazing scenery can only be viewed from the water. An Alaska cruise brings you face to face with panoramic vistas that cannot be experienced any other way.
Most Alaska cruise itineraries include the Inside Passage, a majestic waterway that stretches between the south-east coast and the inner islands, allowing views of many glaciers including the renowned Hubbard Glacier, as well as a wealth of wildlife. A longer cruise, the Gulf Itinerary, includes the Inside Passage but continues on through the beautiful Prince William Sound, and the ports that provide access to the Anchorage area. The main Gulf ports include Seward on the Kenai peninsula, and tiny Whittier, right on Prince William Sound and just a scenic two-hour train ride from Anchorage -- and some Gulf cruises go on as far as Sitka, on the Pacific coast of Baranol Island.
The main ports of call through the Inside Passage are Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, Juneau being the state capital, where you can take a tram ride 1,800 feet to the peak, for hiking trails and fantastic views. Ketchikan is the gateway port for fishing trips and scenic tours of Misty Fjords and the Tongass National Park, while Skagway transports visitors back to the Gold Rush era, with the exceptionally scenic Whale Pass and Yukon narrow-gauge railway following the gold-seekers' route over the pass. The true "wilderness port" is Icy Strait, providing opportunities for brown bear expeditions and glacier flyovers, and not to be missed is Glacier Bay, with its towering glaciers, and humpback whales and sea-otters frolicking amongst them.
Because some spectacular parts of Alaska are land-based, most cruise lines offer land-cruise, or land-and-sea, packages, that combine all the adventure of a sea cruise with two or three days of deeper exploration. One of the most popular trips is magnificent Denali National Park, including a stay in picturesque Talkeetna, and the chance to climb Denali, at 20,000 feet North America's highest peak. Tours are also available to Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City, Yukon Territory and the Canadian Rockies.
Cruises to Alaska are available from the end of April to the beginning of October, with June-August the peak months, though also the rainiest. September offers the best chance of catching the Northern Lights, although the Gulf is at its choppiest then. The weather can be unpredictable at any time, but you are always guaranteed to be amazed by the sheer vastness and majesty of this pristine wilderness.