Alaska has once again climbed the charts as one of the most sought-after travel destinations. It’s adventurous, with a myriad of activities to take part in, from glacier tours up close and personal by kayak or aerial by helicopter; it’s luxurious, with cruise, land and rail accommodations designed to highlight the landscape, and fresh local cuisine unique to the region; and it’s breathtakingly scenic as one of America’s last frontiers, with glaciers, mountains, and wildlife surrounding you at every turn.
With the number of American travelers choosing to explore their home country recently, it’s no wonder Alaskan vacations are on the rise. There are options to tour the majestic state by cruise, by land or by rail, or a combination of two or even all three. But this is, after all, an “Insider’s Guide,” so our “Perfect Alaskan Vacation” is going to take you away from the places popular with tourists, and into villages and waterways that are often inaccessible to visitors, to get a taste of what Alaska is really like from the inside out.
Begin your journey in Seward, one of Alaska’s oldest communities, and the gateway to Anchorage, the largest city in the state. You will be setting sail on your cruise in the evening, so spend the day strolling the charming downtown area with plenty of shops and cafes, and walking along Seward Waterfront Park with its multiple monuments and landmarks, and quintessential views of the city backed by snow-draped mountains. And, of course, before the end of the day, step aboard your home for the next twelve days, a luxuriously intimate ship designed to dock in the most quaint and charming Alaskan villages.
Start your exploration of Prince William Sound at College Fjord, with five tidewater glaciers, five large valley glaciers, and dozens of smaller glaciers, named after some of the original men’s and women’s Ivy League colleges across the continent on the East Coast (Barnard, Holyoke, Harvard and Yale, to name a few). Get even more up close and personal with the glaciers by going on optional excursions, either kayaking or taking a smaller boat tour of the Fjord, both led by expert guides.
Sail to the rarely visited town of Valdez, at the mouth of the Port Valdez Fjord, and surrounded by the Chugach Mountains and numerous glaciers. Take advantage of the incredible landscape by opting to take one of the many available excursions: a city tour of Valdez and visit to a local fish hatchery, see the glaciers from an unparalleled vantage point on a helicopter tour (choose from a tour with or without a landing stop on one of the glaciers), take an ATV tour of a canyon with multiple waterfalls and vistas, visit the local college campus and tour museums with local artifacts and wildlife displays. You can’t go wrong no matter what activity you choose!
Today you will visit Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America, covering a distance 76 miles long and 7 miles wide, with a towering face 30 stories high. Hubbard Glacier was named after Gardiner Hubbard, the founder of the National Geographic Society, and has been known to calve as much as every 15 minutes, giving visitors an impressive show no matter when you visit. Similarly, whether you choose to stay on board your home ship, or take a smaller boat ride excursion out to get a closer view, the scenery from any vantage point around this famed glacier will be fantastic.
As your journey of Alaska’s best kept secrets continues, today your captain will sail you through Point Adolphus, where humpback whales come in droves to feed using their unique method of bubble-net feeding, and often breach from the water. Seeing whales, multiple times and many of them, is as close to guaranteed as you can get. From Point Adolphus, you will continue on to Icy Straight Point (Hoonah), an area owned privately by 1,350 Alaskan natives, who will educate you on the natural history of the region, share with you their cultural traditions, and give you a chance to enjoy some experiences yourself!
Today’s sail brings you through the gorgeous fjords of Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm, where the wildlife sightings will be plentiful and unparalleled, from brown bears and wolves on land, to seals in the sea and a variety of birds in the air, these narrow fjords offer spectacular opportunities for sharing space with creatures you don’t often see. And if you want to be even closer to nature, perhaps even paddling in stride with a seal, if you can keep up, consider a kayaking excursion, or even a small boat excursion with a local guide specializing in the area.
Although Haines is one of the more popular-with-tourists stops on our “Insider” itinerary, it is for good reason because there is so much to do; and while the port may be bustling, the opportunities to get off the beaten path for some Insider experience are abounding. With almost a dozen excursion choices, you’ll be sure to find the perfect activity to peak your interest. Here are just some of the opportunities available to you: an ATV adventure to remote mountain areas, rafting quietly down a river to spot bald eagles above, a lakeside day trip, a Gold Rush-inspired drive, a Photographer-centric wildlife expedition, a day at Skagway Adventure Park and Zip-lines, a railroad excursion to a mountain summit, and more; truly, there is something for everyone.
No visit to Alaska would be complete without a stop at its capital, Juneau. Situated within the Gastineau Channel of the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau sits comfortably at sea level while steep mountains rise up around it to heights of 4,000 feet. And of course, there is no shortage of things to do in Alaska’s capital, from experiencing a glacier from the seat of a dogsled, to panning for gold like the Gold Rushers did, to exploring local museums, shops and cafes, Juneau is sure to be a delight on your Alaskan journey.
After two days in some of the more popular Alaskan destinations, get back on track with your “Insider” status as you head to Petersburg, located on Frederick Sound, teeming with marine life and beautiful harbors. This quaint, Norwegian influenced, fishing community will be a welcome change of pace from the busy activities and bustling cities of the previous days, as you immerse yourself in the tranquility of living on the sea like a local.
Today your captain will bring you to Wrangell, one of the oldest towns in Alaska, located near the mouth of the Stikine River. Here you can take in the rich native Alaskan history through studying the totems found all over town, and visiting the incredible Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park where primitive carvings can still be seen on rocks throughout the park. If you choose, you can delve even further into local history with excursion tours that focus on the town’s highlights or heritage, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, consider fishing the inside passage, taking a jet boat down the Stikine River, or even hiking in the path of John Muir.
Continue your sail to Kaien Island, where you will stop at picturesque Prince Rupert, sister-city to Alaska’s Ketchikan, but located in British Columbia, Canada. Although Prince Rupert was founded in 1910, it is a site where First Nations people have lived for over 10,000 years. Explore the area, steeped in culture and heritage, even deeper by going on one of the following excursions: a hike into the rainforest (yes a real official rainforest), a museum visit and traditional Feast celebration, or even a tour from above on a seaplane.
Spend your last full day onboard completely at sea as you traverse the unforgettably scenic Canadian Inside Passage. Cruise by centuries-old coastal rainforests, beaches, waterfalls and mountains, of course keeping a lookout for celebrated marine life such as orcas, porpoises and bald eagles. Nestled along the rugged coastline, you can even see the longhouses and proud totems of First Nations people. Relaxing in the comfort of your ship, but still being awed by the breathtaking surroundings as you sail, this is the perfect way to seal what will have undoubtedly been one of the most spectacular journeys of your life.
Arrive in Vancouver, where you will disembark, and head to either the airport or hotel. But before you do, there are a few more excursion opportunities for a tour around the city! Take advantage of a motor coach tour of Vancouver’s most memorable sites, or even ride along the famed Sea to Sky Highway, then float in a gondola above the city and surrounding areas with incredible views of Howe Sound. Each excursion will end at either the airport or hotel, depending on your plans.
After your journey as an Alaskan “Insider,” you will likely feel an overwhelming sense of connection to nature, as well as gratitude for the pristine frontier you immersed yourself in for twelve days, and although it will certainly have felt like a once in a lifetime adventure, I’m sure you’ll end it wondering when you can go back!
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