cruise ship in alaska

Exploring Alaska from a cruise ship

Scottish naturalist John Muir made the first of his three trips to Alaska’s Panhandle in 1879. Alaska may be America’s ‘Last Frontier’, but when it comes to untamed natural beauty its first without equals. A cruise isn’t just the best way to experience the rugged landscape of America’s 49th state; it’s practically the only way.

More than a million people take an Alaska cruise every year, making this US state one of the world’s most popular cruise destinations. It’s easy to see why. The dramatic scenery is some of the most awe-inspiring that can reached by cruise ship. Virtually all voyages navigate via the Inside Passage – the spectacular labyrinth of islands, inlets, fjords and mountains that starts north of Vancouver Island and runs to Juneau, the Alaskan state capital and beyond. With the scenery come countless opportunities for wildlife watching, a wide variety of outdoor activities and the chance to explore the cultures of the many indigenous peoples who have inhabited the region for thousands of years.

The summer-long cornucopia of voyages to this remote corner of North America includes popular 7 night sailings between Anchorage (Seward or Whittier) and Vancouver or vice-versa. There are also 10 and 14 night cruises, some of which begin or conclude in San Francisco and Seattle, as well as round-trip voyages from Seattle and Vancouver.

In Alaska, because of the remoteness and distances involved, the number of ports of call is small and the most impressive scenery is remote. Excursions can make or break any trip so to get the most out of these cruises it’s essential to dig deep and opt for seaplane and helicopter tours to the glaciers and ice fields. Other choices tend to be tame outdoor activities that are aimed at older or less mobile visitors.

The Inside Passage is a wildlife lover’s paradise, with bald eagles, bears and humpback whales offering some fantastic photo opportunities. Other great places to visit include Ketchikan Creek and Falls where there’s the chance to see moose and eagles in the beautiful wilderness that surrounds the area. The White Pass & Yukon Railroad’s narrow-gauge train is one of Alaska’s top tourist attractions in Skagway.

The Alaska cruise season runs from Mid-May to September, with the driest months being May and June when temperatures range from 10 to 18 degrees Celsius. Even at the height of the season (July and August) the mercury rarely goes above the low twenties and rainfall is frequent, so it’s wise to pack woollies and waterproofs. For more tips and advice call our cruise specialists now on 0141 242 1337 or click on www.barrheadtravel.co.uk.

Gary Buchanan

Gary Buchanan has been a specialist cruise writer for 22 years contributing to national newspapers and consumer publications. He is the author of five books about cruising and spends over seven months every year at sea sailing the world’s oceans. He’s a former chairman of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and in 2014 he won the Cruise Lines International Association Award for Best River Cruise Feature.