Alaska just beckons for exploration and a cruise is one of my favorite ways to travel there! Alaska travel is like visiting New York City – you can’t see it all in one trip! Making tough decisions about which amazing sites to visit on a cruise to Alaska is an enjoyable process and make planning a trip a pleasure. Here are a few of the things my travel partner and I explored on our trip there last summer:
The Gold Rush is on
Skagway is where the Gold Rush began; a bustling staging point for prospectors hell-bent on racing to the Klondike gold fields, and a vital stop on a cruise tour to Alaska. In 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike, and more than 100,000 prospective miners poured through towns like Skagway! We learned all about Skagway on a walking tour. Between 1897 and 1898, it was a violent and untamed town, described by a member of the Northwest Mounted Police as “little better than a hell on earth.” Fights, prostitutes and liquor were always present on Skagway’s streets. There is lot s to see there. We strolled along the weathered boardwalks, stopped by old-time saloons and shopped for gold nuggets. Our friendly tour guide told us all about the rise and fall of the infamous outlaw Soapy Smith- he was a notorious and sophisticated thief who swindled prospectors with cards, dice and the shell game. Smith was gunned down in the well known “Shootout on Juneau Wharf”.
Skagway was also one of the scenes for Jack London’s book The Call of The Wild. During an Alaska tour follow along historic paths by riding a railroad car up the historic White Horse Pass – the prospector’s quickest route to the gold fields – via the narrow gauge railway. On our tour, we stopped by Dawson City to enjoy an evening’s diversion at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling hall. The next evening we wne to the Gaslight Follies show at the Palace Grande Theatre. There’s so much to see, we didn’t even get to see it all. My travel partner and I are planning a return trip to aslaka in 2012 to visit miner’s cabins and the ghost town of Fortymile; they were notably featured in the novels and short stories of Jack London.
Fishing village and native culture
This distinctive fishing village was built on stilts over the water. You don’t have to ask me how nervous I was walking around on the boardwalk and weathered stairways that hug the granite cliff shores of Tongass Narrows! We also walked along the gorgeous waterfront district and stopped in to see the Tongass Historical Museum. The historic and former “Red Light” district is lined with gold shops, gift shops and amazing restaurants – what better place to eat salmon than the “Salmon Capital of the World”! Unfortunately we ran out of time to visit the Tongass Historical Museum. Native art and cultural influences are noticeably present in Ketchikan, as three indigenous Pacific Northwest Indian tribes lived and travelled extensively across Northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. Traditional Native dance performances are performed regularly at the Saxman Tribal House. Ketchikan is also home to the world’s largest group of Native American totem poles, which can be viewed at public facilities such as Saxman Native Village, and at various locations around town – even in front of local residences. We encounteed many carvers and their apprentices sculpting poles, canoes, paddles and masks in Saxman.
Mountains and glaciers – up close!
I never imagined myself on a cruise to Alaska, seeing the Inside Passage in a deep-draft vessel and sailing next to steep mountain walls. The scenery was awe-inspiring. Standing at the rail of the cruise ship, we were captivated by forests in a hundred shades of green, and by the amazing turquoise glaciers. Imagine seeing gorgeous 7,000 foot mountain peaks and nearly vertical rock cliffs! The Tracy Arm is a narrow 26 mile long fjord, 1,200 feet deep at its deepest point, and one of Alaska’s most spectacular glacier settings. Tucked away at the end of this incredible waterway are two very active reminders of the Ice Age – the twin Sawyer Glaciers, that calve icebergs into the jade-colored inland sea. As we cruised past we could hear the ice creaking as it thawed. We lost count of all of the kittiwakes, mountain goats and seals we crossed paths with on the trip. We even got to see a pod of whales but, unfortunately, no bears this time.
We’re looking forward to our next Alaska cruise!
Carol Atkins is a Group Travel Leader with YMT Vacations .