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January 03, 2005

Alaska

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Worldwide Destinations: Alaska

Breathtaking scenery, gleaming glaciers, abundant wildlife, and Native American culture are only a few of the spectacular attractions that draw cruise vacationers to Alaska. With so much to see and do in Alaska, it's no wonder the state's official flower is the alpine forget-me-not!

Ships that visit Alaska on a seven-day itinerary typically sail along the Inside Passage and visit Glacier Bay National Park or Hubbard Glacier, stopping at four ports along the way. Most cruise lines also offer a variety of extended cruise-tour package options which take passengers deeper into Alaska via train and include land stays at lodges and sightseeing in Denali National Park - making their trip to Alaska even more comprehensive.

For climate and sunlight purposes, cruises to Alaska sail strictly during the summer months, from early May to September. June, July and August can be classified as peak season when average daily high temperatures can reach 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so those looking for the best value should check sailing dates in May and September when temperatures hover around 50 degrees.

A variety of cruise ships sail to Alaska, including luxury vessels and midsize ships - most of which offer expanded kids programs for family vacationers. While the majority of ships sail from Vancouver, BC. Seattle is increasingly becoming a popular summer homeport for many lines. Both embarkation/disembarkation points allow ships to visit the most popular ports on an Alaska cruise, including Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway.

Ports of Call

Anchorage - Anchorage is a big city in a secluded state; it remains true to its heritage while forging ahead with revolutionary new sites and museums. Some of the facilities are top-notch establishments technologically, while others continue to provide an authentic look at the area's ancient past, and have remained unchanged for decades. Alaskans have a strong sense of culture, and they want to stay faithful to the traditions of their ancestors. And yet, this is a tourist area, and with tourism comes growth and expansion. The restaurants in Anchorage are extraordinary, and you can find all kinds of dining options that are sure to please even the most well-tuned plate. The wide array of public parks in Anchorage proves to be one of the best features of this diverse and gorgeous area. You don't have to go looking for breathtaking scenery in Anchorage; it is everywhere, and will surprise you at every turn ¯ the horizon is glorious, and the mountains and ocean create magnificent backdrops. Many of the regions in Alaska are quite populated. In fact, 40% of the inhabitants of Alaska live in Anchorage, making it by far the most populous city in Alaska. Many citizens living in other parts of the state accuse Anchorage of selling out to big business and consumerism, creating a feud of sorts between Anchorage and the rest of the state. Their disagreement need not concern tourists, as there is never a threat of political upheaval or instability, just in case you were worried. In general, everywhere you go you will feel comfortable with the friendly and helpful local residents.

While Anchorage may be rather built up, and sections of it are somewhat commercial, you do not have to go far to find yourself deep in the Alaskan wilderness. In fact, a tour on a floatplane will take you into regions that are remarkably remote, where the only life you will see is a bear hunting the Alaskan waters for a fresh salmon dinner.

Haines - If you are looking for an enjoyable and milder trip to Alaska, then Haines is the ideal spot for you. Haines is perhaps the most beautiful spot in the entire state, and the picturesque scenery of the snow-covered mountains will satisfy all of your visual desires. When you get close to docking in Haines you are certain to be mesmerized by the landscape, and its aesthetic brilliance is complemented by much better weather than the other regions of Southeast Alaska, with less than half of the annual rainfall of Juneau. The blue waters that encompass Haines are spectacular, and because of the comparatively pleasant weather, the area has become known as the sunny spot of the Southeast. This city is full of culture and tradition, and its citizens make every effort to remain true to their heritage. Many of the Tlingit people reside in Haines, natives whose ancestors lived here hundreds of years ago. Tourists to Alaska often remark that the Tlingits and the other locals in Haines are some of the most likeable people in all of Alaska, comfortable with themselves and with helping one another and visitors to their city. One of the most pleasant nighttime activities in Haines is to venture into one of the local bars and have a drink with someone who has lived in town their entire life. The stories, both contemporary and ancient tribal legends, are absolutely fascinating.

Haines may be a small town, but it's got a lot of energy and life. Its campgrounds are perfect for an afternoon hike, and if photography interests you, you're always in luck. No matter what time of year you visit Haines, you can be sure that you will be snapping some splendid shots. Some fine museums and great restaurants complete a wonderful selection of memorable experiences in Haines.

Juneau - Juneau is the third most populated city in Alaska, and it is the capital of this great state. Located in the Southeast region of Alaska, Juneau is a wonderful vacation spot full of fun activities, fascinating sites, extraordinary museums, and tasty eateries. The shopping in Juneau is fantastic, and the layout of the city is one of interesting complexity. Juneau combines ancient Alaskan traditions with Western commercialism and bustling city life. This is a very popular area, especially during peak ski and fishing seasons. The hiking in Juneau is terrific, as is the shopping. The wide array of stores offer unique-to-Juneau artwork and handicrafts of particularly high quality. In the summer this city is definitely the most popular destination in Alaska for cruise passengers from the United States mainland. There are a number of spectacular art galleries and specialty stores very much like those in many big cities. But, if it is remote and isolated wilderness you are in search of, Juneau will be more than happy to comply. There are great hiking areas, plenty of ocean for sea kayaking expeditions, and wonderful trails for mountain biking and other outdoor activities.

The population here is 300,000, but during the off-peak season, Juneau seems like a quaint little town with limited growth potential because of the area's geography, comprised of impenetrable natural barriers. Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau surround the small city, and avalanche threats have prevented any true expansion. The Juneau Ice field is a site that demands a visit; it too has hindered the growth of Juneau. Efforts to brave the mountains or forge the Ice field in hopes of expanding the city are just not feasible. Perhaps this is nature's way of telling the local government to leave this exquisite town just as it is.

Ketchikan - Ketchikan is an ancient city that is both fascinating and enjoyable. Even though there are some American restaurants and stores, (and it is part of the States, of course), it is certainly not your typical American town. If Anchorage is at one end of the Alaskan spectrum, you will definitely find Ketchikan at the other end. This small city contains more totem poles than anywhere in the world, and is set at the base of Deer Mountain. Back in the 1930?s, Ketchikan was fondly known as the salmon-canning capital of the world. While this may no longer be true, the salmon fishing remains outstanding. Just before the beginning of the 20th century, a series of gold discoveries brought vast numbers of immigrants to the area. This created two important industries that strengthened the economy in Ketchikan: commercial fishing and lumber. The region prospered for a while, but suffered an economic depression after the gold dried up, and the immigrants were left with no more than when they came. Many of them left and went to other parts of Alaska where they could find work.

The city is quite compact and you can see most of it on foot. There are numerous stores that offer unique arts and crafts, jewelry, and other specialty items that are made by hand in Ketchikan. There are great trails for hiking and exploring, and a wide array of outdoor sports and activities is offered as well. A few restaurants will fill you up with hearty, quality food, but your options are definitely limited. While the nightlife and eating facilities are not bustling, it doesn't really matter, because Ketchikan is charming enough that its visitors don't need to be wined and dined. Ketchikan's charm is complemented by Mother Nature, who relies on the intrinsic beauty of the region to captivate tourists.

Seward - Seward is a fascinating place to visit, and even if you are only here for a day or so, the region demands a look around. Many tourists traveling through Alaska will be familiar with Seward due to its popularity as a central port from which travelers take off to many Alaskan destinations. It is located conveniently in the Prince William Sound and acts as a gateway to the Kenai Peninsula and the rest of Alaska. Therefore, if only for a couple of hours or a couple of days, many people who have visited Alaska have seen Seward at one time or another. Only the lucky ones have visited Seward for days at a time, a region with some outstanding fishing sites, great sea kayaking opportunities, and wonderful hiking trails. The Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the top destinations in all of Alaska, and it is as diverse as it is majestic. You can see a multitude of landscapes, an abundance of wildlife, and breathtaking scenery that you thought only possible in your dreams. Recently, tourism in Seward has exploded, which has come as a bit of a shock to the citizens of this once small town. It's a bit of a mystery why travelers all over the world are showing such universal interest in this remote location, but perhaps Seward business proprietors and visitors like myself have plugged the city so much that our advertising has paid off.

Seward is one of the oldest cities in Alaska, and the area was first recognized in 1793, when the governor of Russia, Alexander Baranof, stopped here and named Resurrection Bay. He then built a ship which unfortunately sank, and not too much was heard about Seward until 1903. At this time the town evolved into a big Alaskan port city because companies were interested in building a railroad here that would run north and south for miles. This venture failed, but all of the talk brought gold prospectors, settlers, and workers whose families and kin would stay here for good.

Sitka - Sitka is a small yet lively town in Southeast Alaska that is full of surprises. Just when you think that you have seen all there is to see in this remote city, you stumble upon something that will instantly catch your attention. This is the case for the best restaurants and a few of the premier shopping outlets. They simply spring up out of nowhere, making for an interesting and exciting stay. There are a couple of great museums, and the scuba diving and sea kayaking in Sitka is marvelous. The calm, protected waters make these two sports very popular among both tourists and locals. Much of the land in Sitka is protected, further adding to the glorious experience of touring the city. The Sitka National Historical Park is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon or even longer, and the scenery is wonderfully picturesque. The hiking trails are great. In Sitka, your eyes will be opened to one of the top wonders of the world.

From an historical point of view, Sitka is perhaps the richest city in all of Alaska. The struggles and battles between the native Alaskans and the invading Russians proved to be an incredible story that will never be forgotten by either side. In the 18th century, Russian soldiers enslaved the Aleut people, but it was the Tlingits who came to their aid and battled the Russians. Eventually, many of the Aleuts went free, and the citizens of Sitka were able to maintain their freedom and way of life. Soon after, cultures blended and created a more subtle conflict in the region. In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska and the Russians left the state, but many of their customs remained. Today Sitka is a warm and friendly place, full of aesthetic beauty and fun-filled sites. The inhabitants are typically a happy bunch, and are accustomed to treating tourists with the utmost respect and kindness. The old churches and cathedrals provide a glimpse into the past, and the rich heritage and fascinating sites add to the lure of this culturally diverse town.

Skagway - Skagway is a Southeast Alaskan paradise, full of culture and brimming with life. Parts of the city seem stuck in 1897, never progressing beyond the height of the Alaskan gold rush era. This is speaking in architectural terms though, as some of the restaurants and shopping facilities offer distinctly 21st century fare. This unique blend of old and new really enhances the atmosphere of Skagway. There is so much to see and so much fascinating history to soak up. The saloons and bars, some of which date back to 1898, are splendid, full of artifacts and local heritage. Because of Skagway's geographic set up, you will want to make sure that your cruise company has made all your traveling arrangements for you. Though Skagway is a small enough town that you can pleasantly travel around it on foot, side trips from Skagway to any of the neighboring cities can prove to be a difficult proposition. For example, the city of Haines is 14 miles away by ferry, but if you try and rent a car and drive to Haines, it is an unbelievable 359-mile trip to get there because of the poor or nonexistent access to roads around Skagway. In any event, lucky for you, downtown Skagway is quite compact and all of the best sights are reachable by foot.

In 1897, people from all over the world flocked to Skagway in search of a quick fortune. The gold rush gave thousands of men and women false hopes and dreams, and when the riches didn't pan out, the city really declined. By mid-1898, Skagway was not a pleasant place to be, as poverty and shantytowns had pretty much taken over. This bustling town of 200,000 shrank to a mere 700 when the gold rush ended. It took a while, but slowly people began to realize that there was much more to Skagway than an old gold rush town. In the last two decades, tourism has really kept the city afloat, and with the historic cemeteries, interesting museums, fantastic parks, and lively saloons, Skagway has entered the new millennium with a great deal of confidence.

Valdez - Gorgeous Valdez is set in the picturesque Prince William Sound in Southeast Alaska. It is a region bursting with life and filled with magnificent historical sights and museums. In 1989, an Exxon oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground on the Bligh Reef and lost 11 million gallons of oil in the Prince William Sound. Unfortunately, the Exxon Valdez oil spill still taints the image of Valdez. The entire area was affected; cities, animals, and shoreline suffered. In the years following the spill, tourists began to shy away from Valdez a bit, perhaps from fear of being exposed to harmful fumes or because of other residual effects of the spill. But the $2 billion dollar cleanup operation proved quite effective. The total cleanup took more than three years, and during this time, though tourism declined, the population of the city tripled, because of the thousands of workers hired for the reconstructive work along the shores of the Prince William Sound. On completion of the cleanup project, many of the workers who had temporarily moved to Valdez stayed after falling in love with this beautiful town. Since the early 1990?s, tourism has really come back strong in Valdez. Its resurgence is partly due to the great fishing, exceptional hiking trials, and the fact that more snow falls in Valdez than anywhere in Alaska, making for great skiing. The average annual snowfall is an unbelievable 330 inches. The campsites are simple but wonderful, and the scenery is spectacular.

Downtown Valdez is lively in a uniquely Alaskan way. The absence of clubs and casinos is offset by the area's relaxing atmosphere, wonderful weather, and breathtaking scenery. Valdez is a wholesome, old-fashioned town with happy-go-lucky residents and an exquisite landscape that combine to offer visitors a memorable time.

Information Taken From CLIA

More Information About Cruises To Alaska

Posted by Denise at January 3, 2005 08:06 AM
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