Alaska, a land of towering mountains bathed in forests of spruce, hemlock and cedar and crowned with the frozen white powder. The glacial waterways create a meandering pathway alongside these towering mountains and offer a magnificent perspective in which to soak up their beauty. The popular towns visited by thousands of people during the warmer months via cruise ship reminder me more of villages; but, they seem to cope well with the daily arrival of eager tourists to see this spectacular country from as many angles as possible. And which ever angle is your favourite these villages have it covered with either fishing charter, river cruises on the ferry system, float plane or helicopter rides, cable car, bicycles, motor bikes, river rafting, zip lining, hiking, self-guided historical tours, museum’s and coach tours just to name a few.
We took the Alaska Railroad journey from Anchorage down to Seward, though not the quickest and cheapest way to travel, it was very enjoyable and the train driver knew exactly where to slow down so everyone could get a look at some of the spectacular scenery passing us by. The viewing platform in the Goldstar area is worth braving the rush of cold air to get those perfect photos without the glare off the windows. There is a smaller viewing dome in the Adventure class with limited seating and times it’s very busy. If you walk to the very end of the train, there is a tiny outdoor area where you can watch the disappearing landscape.
Our home away from home for 9 nights was the Azamara Club Cruises Quest and our balcony room came into its own when we spent the first day cruising near Hubbard Glacier, taking far too many photo’s and trying desperately to film some video of the ice carving, a sound full of strength and destruction. As our ship has a capacity of just 690 passengers, it is somewhat dwarfed by the larger ships that dock next to her. But, she still has all the amenities that the larger ships have minus the children factor as they don’t cater for the younger generation with kids’ clubs and activities, this is a company that focuses on adults.
Icy Strait Point is a destination right on the coast and only a short walk along the jetty to the main tourist precinct from where all the excursions depart from. The locals have a great system set up and there should be no reason anyone would miss their excursion meeting location. There are restaurants and a museum of the old cannery, which is well worth a walk through (free of charge) and on the other side of this museum is a lovely paved walk following the coast around to the main village, we took a slow walk there and it was about 30 minutes duration. If you keep an eagle eye on the waters you may see whales or dolphins.
Haines is a village that is very easy to walk around and it has great views of the inlet. As the ship docked out in the inlet the tenders were utilized; but, it didn’t take too long to arrive at the pier. For those interested in cemeteries there are a couple here that may pique your interest.
Skagway is nothing more than a tourist commercial village built to replicate the late 1800’s style buildings. Every business was either jewellery, gifts, brothel museum/show, yarn shops, lolly shops, saloons, food service or tour companies. I did see a museum and a post office; but, where the locals do their shopping I could not see. Allow 1hour to leisurely walk around.
The town of Sitka pride themselves on the fact that they have 47 less jewellery shops than any other town. The ship docks too far from the centre therefore offer a shuttle bus service to ferry passengers to and from the ship.
Juneau the capital of Alaska, seems like a small town to me. It is easy to walk to the centre of town via the lovely wide boardwalk. At the top of the mountain the cable car is attached to, there is a small walk which affords great views of the Gastineau Channel. Be careful though the path is undulating and those with walking difficulties may find it a bit tough. Back down on ground level, take time to walk 20 minutes out of town around the coast and come across another boardwalk. At the end of this boardwalk is Overstreet Park home to a magnificent whale sculpture which spurts water every 5 minutes.
Ketchikan is another easy small town to walk around, grab a self-guided town walking tour map and spend the next couple of hours learning some of the areas history with Creek Street being the most ‘entertaining’.
I am unable to report on Victoria as our ship was prevented from docking into James Bay due to the extremely high winds. Which is a timely reminder to anyone thinking about taking a cruise – nature will do what it wants to do whether that’s water levels to high or low, wind too strong, rain too severe and the captain nor the cruise company can control these factors and will make decisions with the safety of their crew, passengers and the ship in mind. It’s a risk you take when you sign up for cruising. But, boy! what a way to travel – I love it (once the sea sickness abates!!).