Alaska is on many a vacation wish list. Cruising offers an easy way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. I could talk for hours about the long list of reasons you should visit Alaska.
Cruising Alaska with Windstar
Cruising is an incredibly popular way to do it, unpack once, and wake up in a new location every morning. Alaska is incredibly popular right now, and that high demand is leading to more choices for travelers to plan the trip that’s the best fit. After a 20-year hiatus, Windstar Cruise Line returned to Alaska last summer. With room for just a touch more than 200 passengers, it’s possible to have moments where you feel like you have the scenery to yourself.
Take a Zodiac Tour
It’s hard to take your eyes off of spots like Aialik Glacier, especially on active days when you can hear what sounds almost like constant thunder brewing, and watch as the glacier calves and a piece of ice the size of a house drops into the water.
Windstar runs what they call Signature Expeditions, putting zodiacs, or small power boats, into the water, and zipping around folks interested in getting a closer look. It’s also a popular spot for harbor seals and for sea otters to care for their young, making it hard to decide just which way to look at times.
For safety reasons, zodiacs stay a good quarter mile away from glacier. I was told twice distance of height of face of the glacier, is a good rule of thumb.
Kayaking offers yet another way to change an already incredible view. We hit the water at Tracy Arm before 9am, safely navigating our way through shining icebergs. Curious harbor seals would pop up from time to time to see what we were up to. Safety is a top priority. Along with a zodiac standing by, there were two guides in the water with us, constantly evaluating conditions and guests’ abilities. They made it work for all levels of paddlers. What we were able to do and see made it and enjoyable experience for seasoned pros and beginners.
Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Tour
No matter how you do it, seeing a glacier is impressive, but perspective really can change everything. Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau has always been a favorite of mine because it’s so easy to access. Park the car and in a 10 to 15-minute easy walk, there it is, right in front of you.
But you can also arrive by helicopter, and go for a walk on top of it. Layers are key on an adventure like this, but you don’t have to worry about shoes. They’ll give you special boots that fit right on top of your shoes, so you have better footing on the ice – that reaches about 300-feet down from where you land. If you’re thirsty, you can scoop up some tasty, clear water. Yes, it is cold, so be ready for the cold hands that come after. It took me a bit of time to get feeling back, but I’m a wimp when it comes to cold.
Ride the Rails
When you get to Skagway, the chosen mode of transportation should be the train. And you’ll need your passport for this one, so be prepared. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway offers a number of train trips to choose from. Most cruise guests roll across a nearly 28-mile stretch of track between Skagway and Fraser, British Columbia, Canada. Remember, I said you’d need your passport. You’ll see mountains, waterfalls, maybe even the occasional bear. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, it took tens of thousands of men and 450 tons of explosives to complete. It made the switch from carrying freight to carrying tourists in the late 1980s.
Watch for Whales
There are cruise ships of all sizes in Alaska these days. Some folks like big ships, some like small ships. With just about 200 folks on board the Star Legend, folks get to know each other. I developed a reputation for being late for dinner.
But I think I had a good excuse.
Because it seemed like dinner time was always when company came calling. Random appearances by Orcas and Humpback whales are a huge cruising perk.
I created the video below for The Saturday Evening Post. It highlights my time in Alaska.
Dana’s cruise was hosted by Windstar Cruise Line, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own.