ALASKA: Cruising Alaska is time travel by ship. If ever there was an ideal cruise, the 7-day itinerary from Seattle through Alaska aboard Celebrity Solstice has to be a top contender. First, the sailing combines a perfect number of days at sea with plenty of time in port to keep passengers on the go in anticipation of new adventures.
Another major factor, which is unusual for large cruise vessels, is the close proximity of the ship’s docks to their disembarkation sites.
Third, thanks to Alaska’s geography, when sailing through the northwestern wilderness of the nation’s 49th state passengers are rarely out of sight of land, thus providing a sense of womb-like security.
And finally, Alaska’s frontier ambiance seems to step back in time where wildlife and the environment respectfully interact in abundance with humanity.
Among the best features of the Celebrity experience is the lecture series that is part of each cruise itinerary. On current Alaskan sailings with Solstice, naturalist and National Geographic contributor Brent Nixon offers four lectures (Alaska, whales, bears and bald eagles) plus a personal narrative filled with quotes from other conservationists as Solstice sails into Tracy Arm Fjord to the edge of Dawes Glacier.
Brisk temperatures pervade primeval surroundings of snow-capped peaks, blue tinged chunks of ice, waterfalls and Mother Nature’s craftsmanship, all enhanced by the silence of calm blue-green waters amid echoes of the past.
The Solstice itinerary from and to Seattle includes stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, with time at sea through Tracy Arm Fjord and the famed Alaskan Inside Passage.
As the largest state in the union with one of the smallest populations, Alaska conveys the sensation of infinite space. As one excursion guide commented while driving through Juneau, “to your right is the state capitol. It’s the tallest building in town…except when cruise ships are in port.”
At first Solstice has so many off-ship excursions that the list may seem overwhelming. The best thing to do is to carefully scrutinize the tours, select the tours that are most personally appealing and then choose the ones that best suit your lifestyle.
As the most southeastern city in Alaska with a population of less than 10,000, Ketchikan is the fifth largest community in Alaska. Located on Revillagigedo Island, Ketchikan was named by Captain George Vancouver in 1793.
Vancouver named the community after Ketchikan Creek which flows through the town and empties into the Tongass Narrows just outside of downtown.
Natives lovingly call Ketchikan “the salmon capital of the world” which promises that during spawning season the opportunity for spotting hungry post-hibernating bears is at its peak.
Among the favorite attractions are Misty Fjords National Monument and the Saxman Totem Park where visitors will discover the largest collection of standing totem poles in the world.
Just for fun, the U.S. Postal Service states that one of Ketchikan’s two zip codes, 99950, is the highest-numbered code in the country.
The capital city of Alaska is a bit of an enigma. As the second largest city, by area, in the United States, Juneau is actually bigger than both Rhode Island and Delaware.
Oddly, enough, however, due to its geographical location in the rugged terrain of the Alaskan panhandle, there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or North America.
Thus, in Juneau in general and Alaska specifically, when you call for UBER, you might just get a seaplane. Float planes are one of the best ways to navigate the vast wilderness frontier of the state.
Named after Joe Juneau, a gold prospector from Quebec, the city lies about 12 miles from Mendenhall Valley and its famous glacier which has receded more than 2.5 miles since the year 1500.
For visitors, Juneau offers some of the best whale watching in the state. Outfitters guarantee sightings of humpbacks and/or orcas or they will refund $100 at the end of the trip. It’s a promise yet to be broken.
If time permits, visit the famous Red Dog Saloon, which has been a gathering spot since the days of Juneau’s mining era. The earliest owners, Earl and Thelma Forsythe provided dancing while longtime entertainer “Ragtime Hattie” played the piano in white gloves and a silver dollar halter top.
Thanks to the need to link the railway close to the port during construction, cruise ship passengers get the benefit of only having to walk about 200 yards to reach the train.
The isolated rail system linking Skagway with the capital of Yukon, Whitehorse, was completed in 1900 to provide miners access to the goldfields during the Klondike Gold Rush.
When finished, it became the primary route to the interior of the Yukon, replacing the treacherous Chilkoot Trail and other overland routes.
With no direct connection to any other railroad, today the purely touristic vintage train travels approximately 20 miles into untamed wilderness past historic landmarks that pay tribute to man’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Adding to the folkloric image of Skagway, it is part of the setting for Jack London’s book “The Call of the Wild” while the film “North to Alaska” was also filmed nearby.
Combining the diversity of Celebrity Solstice’s onboard activities with a feast of off-ship excursions, top-notch entertainment, delectable cuisine and first-rate service makes for a cruise itinerary that is tough to beat.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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