My favorite guest poster, George, returned from a cruise to Alaska. I (Deb) used to live in Alaska, so the state holds a special and prominent place in my heart and it’s one of those destinations that I LOVE to help people plan to visit.
Having never been there before, George and his wife opted for a cruise through one of our favorite cruise partners: Regent Seven Seas. Smaller ships and high service levels make for a more intimate cruising experience in general, and intimate is definitely what you want when you visit The Last Frontier.
Here, George shares the experience and thoughts on their first visit to Alaska.
Alaska was not what we had expected. It was more…much more.
Alaska is immense, magnificent, still frontier and largely unpopulated. My wife and I cruised aboard the Regent Navigator on a trip arranged by our agent, Deborah Miller (who had somehow gotten us a concierge deck, starboard, veranda suite at the last-minute). Note: The starboard side is preferred on the north-only cruise. Our window looked out on mountains, whales, glaciers and forests. We had still-luminous evening skies at midnight and laser sunrises blasting our east-facing suite at four in the morning. Locals told us between yawns that sleep deprivation is common among Alaskans in the summer. Of course, we could have closed the black-out curtains, but we loved the view.
Regent Seven Seas Luxury Cruises and Edge of Wonder Travels made everything from the flights out, the pick-up at the airport, checking into the hotel at Vancouver, boarding the ship and all the other details click smoothly into place. They anticipated our every need and question. But, in Alaska, smooth is not the way things usually operate. During a day trip on a catamaran scheduled to go up Tracy Arm to see a glacier entering the sea, we made it through the swirling maelstrom guarding the entrance sandbar only to lose an engine not far beyond and have to return. We were disappointed, but pleased to have returned safely rather than going another 50 miles up the arm at risk of losing the remaining engines far beyond ready help. In our family, we call such unexpected occurrences an “expotition” in remembrance of Winnie the Pooh.
Two days later we’re expecting to cruise up a fjord to the Hubbard Glacier. I awoke at 3:30 in the morning to the sounds of bottled water crashing off of our dressing table. When I got up to see what was happening, I found our floor slanting down toward the bathroom. Later that morning the Captain announced that he’d had to change course because the 75 mile-per-hour winds and 30-foot seas to starboard were causing the boat to list and roll. A wise decision, for as soon as we turned west, putting the wind and waves on our stern, things calmed down with just a bit of pitching to remind us of the weather outside. So although we missed another glacier, we had the excitement of hurricane force winds and seas as high as a three-story building all expertly handled by the experienced, wise, hand of our captain. Oddly, we saw no one suffering from mal de mer. Regent Seven Seas Luxury Cruises attracts experienced travelers.
Those two “expotitions” were well compensated for by the string of gorgeous, sun-soaked days that were a summer rarity in the midst of the world’s largest temperate rain forest. We saw whales, brown bears, sea otters and more bald eagles than Manhattan has pigeons. We got close to icebergs, felt the air chill as it rolled off the massive Mendenhall glacier, and canoed a crystalline lake bounded by old growth spruce while eagles snatched up fish, and ubiquitous Alaskan float planes buzzed overhead. We saw totem poles, gingerly crossed a suspension foot bridge over plunging rapids hundreds of feet below, and walked the wood sidewalks that had once felt the trod of gold-rush hopefuls.
Alaska is big – really big, more than twice as big as Texas. Yet it is sparsely populated. In elementary school, the ports of Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Anchorage were imprinted on my mind in vivid mental images of the far northern frontier. It was a shock therefore to visit the bustling gold-rush Skagway of my mind to find a tiny village of only 900 year-around residents. Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska with 294,000 residents is home to nearly half of the state’s people. By comparison, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway seats 257,000. Juneau, the state capital, home to 31,000 people, is only accessible by boat or plane. Alaska is virtually empty, averaging only 1.26 people per square mile. When you figure that about two-thirds of Alaskans are “urbanites” clustered in the 10 biggest cities (Palmer, #10 has 5,937 people), the reality is that there are vast tracks of land where no one lives.
A cruise is a delightful, and almost certainly the least demanding, most comfortable, and best way to be introduced to Alaska. And a cruise on Regent’s 490 passenger Navigator avoids inundating Alaska’s smallish towns, as some of the mega ships do, with thousands of people apparently all wanting to buy Tanzanite. Our Alaskan cruise, a first peek, whetted our desire to return and boldly go onward into the immensity.
Interested in visiting Alaska? Send us a quote request – we’d love to send you!