I try to be helpful to readers here and in my Trip Advisor posts. So this post is mostly about Alaska and cruising the Inside Passage rather the SilverSea, the cruise line I was on (spoiler alert-they are nearly perfect). To cruise ... Read More
I try to be helpful to readers here and in my Trip Advisor posts. So this post is mostly about Alaska and cruising the Inside Passage rather the SilverSea, the cruise line I was on (spoiler alert-they are nearly perfect). To cruise Alaska is tricky and requires some insight. I will focus on the typical 7-day Anchorage to Vancouver trip.
To start with, begin your trip in Anchorage, not Vancouver. The port for Anchorage is Seward which is a 4 hour train ride from downtown Anchorage. Granted that some of the scenery is gorgeous but it is still a 4 hour train ride at the start of your journey. But I would much rather get this out of the way at the start. Doing it this way, you also end up in Vancouver, and not Anchorage, which is not a visually or culturally interesting city. It is a place to pass through on the way to somewhere. Vancouver on the otherhad is one of the most culturally vibrant and visually beautiful city in North America. A perfect place to add a few more days to your trip. So fly into Anchorage the day before, spend the night at the Thomas Cook Hotel, a mammoth hotel serving the cruise trade, and then Silversea or other cruise line staff will come and collect you in the morning for the ride to Seward.
The second MAJOR tip about cruising Alaska is that this trip is all about the excursions. The first majestic sight doesn’t require an excursion, because you will sail by the Hubbard Glacier and this is truly jaw dropping. Pray for good visibility. You will see this Glacier, a frozen aqua blue river, from miles away. As you near it, it keeps getting bigger and bigger, its nearly a mile high, one of the most majestic sights in North America.
Now for the tricky part. The main ports of call on the inside passage are Sitka, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. None, I repeat none, of these towns is worth simply getting off your boat and walking around to see the sights. There aren’t any. Sitka and Skagway are like Hollywood sets, all facades meant for the tourist trade. Most of the shops and restaurants close after cruise season and the owners head south. Ketchikan on the other hand is a working port town, with about 13,000 year round residents, a rough edged blue collar place, not a tourist attraction. The attraction of all of these places are the sea, the forests, the mountains and above all, the glaciers that surround them. This is where you should be, not having a beer in town at some fake gold rush saloon.
Just a few highlights. In Sitka we went whale watching on a small boat. Less than a half mile out of harbor we were in the middle of a whale orgy. Humpbacks were popping up everywhere around the boat. I stopped counting after 30 or so. A once in a lifetime thrill. Going in and out of the harbor, there were otters, mammoth sea lions cavorting on huge buoys and bald eagles soaring overhead. Away from the harbor there is the Raptor Recovery Center a worthwhile side trip where you get to see these magnificent birds up close and personal, the high point is when a staff member comes inside with a fully grown bald eagle perched on his arm-its more that half the height of the person. Jaw drops again.
In nearly all of these ports your cruise line will offer various sea plane or helicopter excursions that fly over or land on glaciers. Without question these are worth doing but they are deservedly expensive. We opted for a helicopter ride that landed on a glacier, where there was a dog sledding encampment, the dogs getting a little vacation from the Iditarod. There we got to go on a dog sled ride, through a perfect turquoise blue glacier field. Glacier ice turns a vivid blue. Taking the helicopter through mountainous passes and ravines is another awe inspiring experience. Costs of these excursions range from $200-$600 per person. Ours cost the later. It was worth every penny, really, you will never forget it.
There were a couple of other excusions I would like to single out. First is the Chilkoot Horseback tour, a 3 hour ride through the Tongass National Forest, which is believer or not a rainforest, friendly horses, good guides, bring bug spray. This is Skagway. And most of all the Tatoosh Islands sea kayaking tour, this run by Jared of Southeast Exposures. This in Ketchikan. Here just 5 of us paddled kayaks for 3 hours around these pristine islands, getting real close to bald eagle nests, see otters, and the occasional marine mammal. The quiet and beauty of this was sublime.
So in Alaska, get off the cruise ship and into the woods or ice or ocean. But be prepared to pay for it.
That said, I can’t imagine a better highend cruise line the Silversea. People can nitpick here forever, on he differences between Silversea and Seabourn for example. High end, all inclusive cruises are very similar. Stellar service, good food, free liquor, gorgeous comfortable cabins, all again at a price, but worth it. Read Less