Recently my husband and I visited many ports of Alaska’s fascinating Inside Passage from our Holland America Line Alaska Cruise. We were amazed by the sheer rugged beauty of this untamed wilderness that surrounds these small port towns, some only accessible by sea plane or boat.
Juneau, Alaska –Although there aren’t any roads leading to this capitol it still has about 20,000 year-round residents. The quaint downtown is filled with tourist shops and restaurants. Of course you can always visit the rustic and fun Red Dog Saloon, this little place features sawdust covered floors, a friendly atmosphere and a handgun once turned in (but never picked up) by Wyatt Earp. The downtown is full of history and life however, if nature is what you crave there is plenty of time to see town and to explore the great outdoors in just one day. We decided to venture out on our own, at the end of the cruise pier we purchased roundtrip shuttle transfers to Mendenhall Glacier National Park. The shuttle drops you right by the main entrance of the park at the base of the hill leading up to a very nice visitor’s center (many steps). The park consists of several clearly marked paths leading away from the main entrance. We first took the path leading down to the best glacier viewing point; many fantastic picture opportunities are available from here. Although this is the only paved path on this side of the park’s entrance it is worth the visit. We then meandered around many of the other paved paths on the opposite side of the entrance. Several paths cross over streams that carry salmon down them, house beavers and many types of birds were flying all around us. Don’t forget to look up – throughout Juneau we saw many Bald Eagles atop the trees, buildings and flying around.
Skagway, Alaska – Skagway was by far my favorite port of call. This tiny one street town of 1,000 year-round residents sits beneath two beautiful mountain ranges and at the end of a large bay. The town of Skagway itself wouldn’t take long to walk through, but there are nice shops and restaurants along the one main street, including an interesting (and free) museum/store that had a very nice walkthrough museum with a lot of artifacts. In Skagway, we opted to take a ships tour to the Sled Dog Camp. For those of you wishing to take the White Pass Railroad tour, the train pulls right alongside the ship on the main pier. Our tour picked us up at the end of the pier and drove us up over the mountain (onto a dirt road) to a very small town called Dyea (a common place to spot bears ). The area in Dyea is just as I’ve always pictured Alaska – fields of grass and flowers with streams flowing out to the nearby bay flanked by snow capped mountains. In Dyea there is a National Park that can be visited as well. At the Sled Dog camp we first learned about what sled dogs actually do. There are a hundred or so dogs at the camp and all are working dogs in the winter time. Next we were taken up the mountain for an actual ride on a uniquely fashioned sled. Since there isn’t any snow this time of year, the sled resembles more of a little car, manned by a 16 dog team. Although the ride was short, it was a thrilling and fun experience. The conclusion of our tour we had the chance to meet some of these friendly dogs and the adorable little puppies – everyone’s favorite.
Ketchikan, Alaska – Ketchikan is a slightly larger town with a lot of shopping and smoked salmon to boot. Our morning began sort of overcast and cold and ended up being almost 80 degrees. We opted to take the town’s walking tour on our own. Walking tour maps can be found in the blue building marked “Ketchikan Visitor Bureau” right on the pier. The walking tour takes you up the main street, around the library (which has a museum for $3) and back into the neighborhoods along the towns river, through the main park which houses a bald eagle sanctuary and salmon hatchery, as well as the Totem Heritage Center, before concluding back by downtown along Creek Street. Again Bald Eagles were abundant and had it been a few weeks later we would have seen many salmon coming down the river. Instead we were surrounded by homes, towering trees, many berry bushes and a few totem poles. Creek street is a short cute line of shops. If you are looking for a good place to souvenir shop Ketchikan is it, with streets and streets of shops to choose from.
Scenic Cruising Tracy Arm Fjord – Although scenic cruising started very early in the morning it was well worth it to get up and head out of our cabin. We made our way out to the bow of the ship, which was very cold and windy. The scenery was breathtaking, icebergs, waterfalls, orcas and seals were presented to us in an amazing display all morning long. The Captain was fabulous at pointing out highlights including the Orcas who paraded around us. The stunning cliffs jetting down into the fjord were magnificent. As we made our way back out into the open ocean we went back to our room and watched the return view from our Verandah.
Scenic Cruising Glacier Bay National Park – Another very early morning and lasting all day, Glacier Bay was a major highlight of our trip. While enjoying a lovely room service breakfast we were already spotting whales and the sought after whale tails from our stateroom. As we entered Glacier Bay we cruised close to land along the starboard side of the ship – where we were lucky enough to have our Verandah stateroom. The stunning scenery was awe-inspiring and there were a couple bear sightings along the way. In the early afternoon we found ourselves circling our first glacier, Margerie Glacier – the most massive and stunning glacier we saw on our trip. While we were circling we heard a loud sound like thunder and a huge piece of ice fell off, also some kayakers came up, can you spot them in the photo? Just a little speck. Next up, Johns Hopkins Glacier – we had to view this glacier from a distance as the surrounding area had many harbor seal pups. As we started to make our way out of Glacier Bay, we had one glacier left to pass by Lamplugh Glacier; although not as big as the others it had a massive waterfall continuously flowing out of it. We were just leaving when two Oraca’s appeared and swam by right next to the ship. The remainder of our lovely sunny day was spent leaving the park.
I would highly recommend Alaska to anyone. Whether you are a great outdoorsman or prefer just a little taste of nature – there are a ton of activities to suit you.