Everyone really does need to visit Alaska at least once in a lifetime. And unless you’re made of very strong stuff, like “Running Wild” star Bear Grylls or “Expedition Wild” naturalist Casey Anderson, touring Alaska on a cruise ship is an easy way to go, at least for your first trip. There are a number of choices for cruising The Last Frontier, ranging from major cruise lines to smaller ones. Here are five reasons to see America’s 49th state from the sea.
1. Sometimes, you just can’t get there any other way.
Alaska is the biggest, wildest state in the U.S. Take a look at a map and the first thing that jumps out are the vast tracts of wilderness and the complete lack of roads. Juneau, the state capital, is easy to fly or sail to. To drive? Not so much. In fact, all of the vehicles you see in that scenic city have come there on a boat. Likewise, the best way besides flying to reach Sitka (the historic spot where Russia sold the Alaskan Territory to America in 1867), Ketchikan (the state's southeastern-most city), and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is by ship.
2. You can get up close and personal with massive glaciers.
Speaking of which, cruising into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is best way to experience this World Heritage Site. You'll see towering glaciers like the Lamplugh, Margerie, Johns Hopkins, and Grand Pacific that shed huge chunks of ice. Alongside the glaciers, humpback whales, sea otters, and other critters frolic happily in the water. Every ship that enters the bay takes on rangers from the National Park Service, so you can seek out the experts and geek out on scientific facts and wildlife stats.
3. There’s as much adventure as you can handle.
There are plenty of thrills to be had in every Alaskan cruise port port. Passengers can either book excursions directly through their cruise line or through local vendors (online or by the docks). Adventures include guided mountain hikes, dog sled runs, and ziplining. You can also go fishing, go sea kayaking, or scuba diving.
4. You can eat and drink locally, both on and off the ship.
In Talkeetna (at the base of Denali National Park), for example, you can pair a Denali Brewing Company Chinook Pale Ale or an award-winning Chuli Stout with a blackened Alaskan cod sandwich. There are local flavors on board many of the cruise lines, too. For example, Princess Cruises offers special Alaskan menus that highlight the region's signature dishes and cuisine.
5. It's easy to extend your trip and explore on land.
Most cruise lines offer passengers land-and-sea packages that combine all the sights and adventure of a cruise with a few days of deeper exploration in the state. A Denali package likely includes a stay in Talkeetna, the quaint town where adventurous climbers begin their ascension of Denali (the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet). Other extensions might include stops in Fairbanks or British Columbia, with some time on a riverboat or train. For our Denali package, Princess provided a choice of motor coach transport, or a train ride (complete with a scenic viewing car) to get from Anchorage to the national park and back. We found the experience to be especially seamless given that the line owns five lodges in Alaska.