The US paid 7.2 million for Alaska in 1867, buying it from the Russians. Twice the size of Texas, it is USA’s largest state, but sparsely populated. On our Princess cruise-tour of SW Alaska, many of the people that served, drove, rowed, flew or guided us through this precious place, called it home between Apr and Oct and at the end of the season were planning to transfer to ski lodges or beach holidays.
We joined our cruise-tour in Vancouver flying Air New Zealand from Brisbane via Auckland. The Air NZ food and service and the decision to fly premium economy was a wise choice!
The inside passage in South East Alaska – a narrow strip of water bounded by the Pacific Ocean and Coastal mountain ranges is often cloaked in mist and rain. Remarkably, aboard the Sapphire Princess we experienced mostly clear and mild blue sky days, providing the most remarkable contrasts between the shoreline, the green sea coloured by the glacial minerals and the blue/white glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park. Our balcony cabin allowed many moments of silence, soaking in the incredible beauty of Glacier Bay which was at the end of a seven day visit preceded by stops at Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway. It was hard not to watch most of the view through the view finder of the camera.
The topic of global warning was never far from discussion as we witnessed the glaciers calving, with an almighty crack followed by a thunderous roar of ice hurtling into the sea and breaking into small pieces leaving the ship rolling from the wave it created.
For me there is nothing that beats cruising for holidays. I love the anticipation that comes with opening the curtains each morning not knowing what view awaits you on the other side. On the inside passage of Alaska, every sunrise illuminated more majesty than the day before.
Little did we know that when we disembarked in Whittier to join the Denali Express in its Glass Dome carriage to travel overland to Denali, that the scenery although different, was going to be just as impressive. The train driver stopped when he sighted white Beluga whales feeding in the bay alongside the tracks. We had expected to see black bears, moose, dall sheep, caribou, orcas and humpbacks which we did, but belugas in the wild we didn’t expect.
In the North, Denali and Mt McKinley didn’t disappoint. The carpet of copper coloured Tundra in Denali National Park against the white peaks of Mt Mckinley interspersed with bear sightings, will stay with me forever. Princess hosted us in their wilderness cabins which were good launching points for more excursions – white water rafting, salmon fishing, and hiking through the forest to capture photos of micro flora- amazing miniature gardens that came to life with the education of our local naturalist guide. If Alaska is on your list make sure you include a land component to make the most of this incredible place.