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Holland America's Oosterdam sails by the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska.

Courtesy of Holland America Cruise Line

Holland America's Oosterdam sails by the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska.

5 top reasons to take an Alaska cruise

I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying more than 100 cruises, and to this day my all-time favorite destination to sail to is Alaska.

There’s just something wonderful about a voyage through such a pristine landscape and seascape. After all, it’s one of the few places left in the world where you can wake up in the morning, head out on your balcony and take a clean deep breath of crisp fresh air. Now’s the perfect time to start thinking about it as the sailing season, from May to September, is fast approaching.

 

An aurora borealis over Anchorage, Alaska.
Roy Neese / Courtesy of Visit AnchorageAn aurora borealis over Anchorage, Alaska.

Convenience to U.S. travelers

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You’ve no doubt heard that Alaska is similar in some ways to Norway, and cruises head there, too. To be sure, the Norwegian fjords are breathtaking in their own right, but they are not as convenient for U.S. travelers to get to. As the 49th state in our Union, Alaska is right up the coast from Washington — albeit not contiguously — but that's not a problem when on a cruise ship. Most round-trip sailings depart from either Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia, and easily connect to the Last Frontier through the Inside Passage for itineraries of seven days or longer.

 

Half of all bald eagles in the world live in Alaska.
Courtesy of American Cruise LinesHalf of all bald eagles in the world live in Alaska.

Sheer beauty

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Whether a first-timer or veteran visitor, you'll be struck by the beauty of Alaska. The Inside Passage is usually the initial sight to behold with tree-lined mountains reaching for the sky in close proximity to either side of the vessel. Low cloud cover only adds to the atmospheric quality of the view as waterfalls cascade to the coastline and bald eagles fly overhead.

Along the way, the cities of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway are nestled within the dramatic topography and call for adventurers to explore even deeper. Shore excursions include anything from ATV riding and lake canoeing to salmon fishing and a lumberjack show. Of course, for those less inclined to vigorous activity, a stroll from the dock to the nearby shops and restaurants is a more relaxed means of taking it all in because everywhere you look, the scenery is stunning.

 

The Red Onion Saloon in Skagway, Alaska.
Brian Adams / Courtesy of State of AlaskaThe Red Onion Saloon in Skagway, Alaska.

Gold Rush time travel

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Alaskan cities have been somewhat commercialized over the years, but they still retain much of their Gold Rush era charm. Skagway, in particular, is a throwback to another time. Wooden boardwalks line establishments that have been in place for decades, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad still steams through the valleys above. Quite literally, on select days of the week, an old-school steam locomotive hauls historic passengers cars up the once treacherous path of now narrow-gauge tracks and back again.

 

Ice calving (where chunks of glacier fall into the water) in Alaska.
Courtesy of Princess CruisesIce calving (where chunks of glacier fall into the water) in Alaska.

Calving glaciers

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Alaska is one of those few cruise destinations that can be enjoyed on board as much as ashore. Most itineraries feature several hours at Hubbard Glacier or in Glacier Bay or Tracy Arm Fjord, where the ship takes passengers as close as safely possible to the face of calving ice flows. From a balcony, promenade deck or more warmly inside an observation lounge, guests can witness the majesty of glaciers within earshot of their crackling as massive chunks the size of buildings naturally fall into the silky waters below.

 

Wonder Lake in Denali National Park lives up to its name.
Courtesty of Aramark LeisureWonder Lake in Denali National Park lives up to its name.

Land extensions

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The cruise need not end there. In fact, there are lots of land packages that extend vacations from the sea well inland for additional tastes of Denali National Park & Preserve and more via modern dome-car train rides and overnight lodge stays. You can enjoy such land extensions before or after a sailing, but my recommendation is to do it ahead of a voyage as the cruise portion is a more relaxing end to shoreside adventures.

Jason Leppert
A San Diego-based cruise expert who's been on more than 85 sailings, I'm the founding editor of PopularCruising.com and a staff writer for TravelPulse.

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