From cuddling sled-dog puppies to hiking Denali National Park, cruising is the best way to see Alaska right now.
As more Americans choose closer-to-home vacations, Alaska is this summer’s hottest cruise destination: Almost three-quarters of the 700 travel agents polled by Cruise Lines International Association reported an uptick in Alaska summer bookings. Lines say the 49th state satisfies current cravings for an adventurous, scenic, family-friendly, and safe destination.
By ship, you can glide through the Inside Passage and watch humpback whales breach and glaciers calve in spectacular settings like Glacier Bay National Park. Strike out on adventures like heli-hiking and dogsled mushing in port, or catch your own salmon in a mountain stream. Many lines offer add-on land tours that take travelers deep into Denali National Park or through Yukon gold-rush country in northern Canada.
Here are six new ways to experience the Great Land by cruise in 2016:
1. Cook your catch. If you land a salmon or halibut during certain Princess Cruises shore excursions, the ship’s chefs will prepare it to your specifications to enjoy onboard. The new “Cook My Catch” offering is available during calls at Juneau and Ketchikan. As passengers return from their tour, they select their preferred fish preparation and accompaniments, and then the culinary team takes it from there.
And if the fish aren’t biting? You can still dine on fresh Alaskan king crab, king salmon, and halibut in Princess ships’ main dining rooms. Plus, this summer their deck grills feature specialties from popular shore-side eateries, including crab cakes from Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau, fish tacos from Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan, and halibut burgers from Skagway Fish Company.
2. More to do at Denali. Travelers on Holland America Line’s Land+Sea Journeys can experience more culture and scenery at the company’s gateway to Denali National Park. In the 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort, the newly inaugurated Denali Square serves as a gathering area to relax, dine, hear music, and delve into Alaskan culture. An amphitheater provides a covered performance stage for local shows, ranger talks, and demonstrations. The Gold Nugget Saloon is a choice spot for live music, and a new restaurant offers mountain views from an outdoor deck. You can gather ’round fire pits on cool evenings and toast marshmallows for s’mores, visit an artist-in-residence cabin where Alaskan native and local artists display and discuss their works, and hike paths through mountainous landscapes and along the Nenana River.
3. Explore more at Icy Strait Point, Alaska’s native-owned and operated cruise port. A new floating dock means ships no longer have to anchor. This gives passengers more time to explore Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tlingit town, with its restored 1912 salmon cannery and museum, nature trails, and 100 percent Alaskan-owned shops. Passengers step ashore at a new Adventure Center, where they can join many different tours, from exploring Glacier Bay to searching for humpbacks at Point Adolphus, one of Alaska’s richest whale grounds. Those who stick around Hoonah can see bald eagles wheel overhead, sip a local beer at the Duck Point Smokehouse, or fly down North America’s longest and highest zip line.
5. Get active in the wilderness. Small-ship specialist Un-Cruise Adventures has two new routes: “Exploring Muir’s Wilderness” and “Yachters’ Alaskan Frontier,” both featuring hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff excursions, and whale watching in remote wilderness. With few or no port calls and flexible itineraries, the week-long programs, round-trip from Juneau, focus on exploration and wildlife. The best part? Each trip is different.
6. Trek the Northwest Passage, linking the Pacific and Atlantic via the Arctic Ocean. In August the luxurious, 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity will become the largest cruise ship to navigate the route, maneuvering through 900 miles of waterways lined with glaciers, fjords, and vast, unspoiled landscapes north of mainland Canada. The expedition begins in Seward, Alaska, and ends 32 days later in New York City. Onboard, speakers will address climate change and how the retreat of polar ice has enabled Crystal Cruises and others to undertake this expedition. The cruise currently has a waiting list; however, Crystal plans a second voyage in August 2017. And next year, fellow luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises will be transiting the Northwest Passage, too.
Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.