It’s the largest of the United States by area, but also the least densely populated, meaning much of this great state remains as it always has been: a land of immense natural beauty, untouched by the ravages of time and modern civilization. Towns like Skagway recall the former thrill of the Gold Rush era, while many of Alaska’s cities and towns lie nestled along mist-covered inlets, teeming with wildlife, charm and personality.
Let’s face it: Alaska is also notable for its average annual precipitation. In fact, the town of Ketchikan is known as the “Rain Capital of Alaska,” with roughly 230 days of precipitation per year. But this is one destination where you actually want it to rain. Alaska under sunny skies is breathtaking, but nowhere as beautiful as on a cloudy day, with the mist and fog rolling in off the mountains.
Alaska is also one of the quintessential cruise destinations. Along with the Caribbean, Alaskan cruising helped give birth to the modern cruise industry as it exists today, with ships plying these waters since the turn of the last century. And no itinerary is perhaps more emblematic of the Alaskan cruise experience than the Inside Passage, Roundtrip from Vancouver.
Departing from Vancouver’s Canada Place Cruise Terminal, with its iconic white sails and extensive promenades, your sail-away is a memorable event. Onlookers gather along the viewing areas to see the ships off, waving and cheering as each ship sounds its horn and backs slowly into Burrard Inlet. Even though Vancouver sees cruise ships from April to October each year, big departure days are such an event that businesspeople will stop at Canada Place on their way home to watch the sail-aways, mingling with tourists who have come to see the great ships off.
The send-off pierside is matched as each ship sails past Stanley Park, Vancouver’s trademark attraction. This gives way to the impressive Lions Gate Bridge, which all ships entering or leaving Vancouver must sail under. Even after dozens of sailings, passing under this bridge never gets old for us, and remains one of cruising’s most photographically amazing departures, as your ship clears the bridge with just feet to spare and sails off into the setting sun, bound for the magnificent Inside Passage.
The hallmark of the traditional Alaskan cruise experience, the days spent transiting the Inside Passage will stay with you forever. The gateway to Alaska, the Inside Passage covers over 25,000 miles of coastline in British Columbia, and 500 miles of Alaskan coastline. Extreme tidal fluctuations and narrow passages necessitate on-board pilots, who assist the ship’s officers in navigating at all times.
The upshot of this for passengers is an ever-changing cruising experience. Even if you’ve sailed the Inside Passage before, you’ll find that no two cruises through this exquisite region are alike. During our sailings, we’ve had everything from crisp sunshine framed by flawless blue skies to moody and ethereal clouds that hang so close to sea level that you feel you might be able to reach out and touch them.
But all of this is merely a prelude of what’s to come.