Last month I wrote about a Holland America 14- night Alaskan cruise that is round trip from Seattle and has ports of call in several cities that are not on the usual seven-night Inside Passage cruise itineraries. We looked at Kodiak, Sitka, and Homer. Additionally, the cruise will visit Ketchikan, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord, and Victoria. This itinerary is available from May to September. Cruise Port Travel has reserved group space on the June 10, 2011 sailing. In addition to reduced group rates ($360 less per person on an ocean view cabin) the group offers $100 per cabin on- board credit and a complimentary dinner in the Pinnacle Grill.
Anchorage is another unique port of call on this sailing. If you take a seven-day north or southbound Inside Passage cruise, or a cruise tour, you will most likely fly in to or out of Alaska’s largest city. Unless you arrive a few days early, your exposure to Anchorage is limited to the airport and bus trip to Seward or Whittier for a cruise, or a hotel stay before setting out on a cruise tour. This is very unfortunate, since Anchorage has attractions to keep you busy for a week. The ship is scheduled to be in Anchorage from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., so you can take advantage of several excursions from Holland America, or you can plan independent sightseeing in Anchorage using local transportation.
The shore excursions offered through the cruise ship feature cultural and sightseeing tours, as well as adventure and wildlife viewing tours. There are sev- eral that are on my “bucket list” and if this is to be your only trip to Alaska, you might want to consider “doing it all” with a flight-seeing excursion. Your floatplane takes off from Lake Hood, the world’s largest floatplane base near the airport for an aerial view of Anchorage’s setting between mountains and sea. Depending on weather conditions, your pilot will soar over Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet in search of beluga whales. Captain Cook discovered this body of water while searching for a northwest passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. You could see glaciers, moose, and Dall sheep clinging to the mountainsides or you might fly over the Chugach Mountains, with stunning peaks and hemlock-spruce forests that extend for 300 miles.
A three-hour flight-seeing tour leaves from Lake Hood to fly along the Alaska Range to Mt. McKinley, the crown jewel of Denali National Park. See where climbers mount McKinley’s 20,320-foot south face, and Ruth Glacier, a 40-mile long finger of ice that flows through the world’s deepest granite trench, Great Gorge. A shorter 1-1/2 hour flight-seeing tour and wildlife adventure closer to Anchorage soars the 25-mile long and five-mile wide Knik Glacier. The Knik River valley is rich in vegetation, fish and wildlife. Moose are plentiful, and you might also see black and grizzly bear, wolves, lynx, and beaver from the air. Your pilot will customize the trip depending on weather conditions. A bear watching flight to Redoubt Bay Lodge is also available.
If flying isn’t your thing, you can explore Prince William Sound’s many tidewater glaciers on a six- hour cruise. Sailing along Harriman Fjord to Surprise Glacier, you will see rafts of sea otter and harbor seals hauled out on ice floes. This daylong tour includes an Alaskan crab lunch while onboard. A shorter tour with a cruise on Portage Lake to see Portage Glacier includes a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Here, rescued moose, musk ox, bear, caribou and birds can be observed in enclo- sures resembling their wild habitat.
Fans of the TV show Ice Road Truckers can enjoy a guided tour of Carlisle Transportation facilities, with its once in a lifetime highlight of driving the sim- ulator truck through the icy hills of Attigun Pass. A question and answer period with Carlisle represen- tatives, an Ice Road Trucker gift shop, and video clip viewing complete the tour.
An Anchorage city tour is combined with a visit to the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum. Here you can see vintage aircraft and explore the history of the Alaskan bush pilot, before taking a turn in the flight simulator.
Another city tour is combined with a visit to the Anchorage Zoo. Here you will have a behind the scenes tour with zoo staff to see how polar bears and wolves survive in the Arctic. Or you could experience the 26-acre Alaska Native Heritage Center where Alaska’s 11 native cultural groups provide story- telling, song and dance, and native artist demonstra- tions.
The Anchorage Museum, the state’s largest muse- um of art, history and science, is offered as another tour. Here you see the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, and the Imaginarium Discovery Center with its hands-on earthquake experience, sea life touch tanks and planetarium. With so many excursions available in this one port of call, it’s easy to see why I’m excited about returning to Alaska on this excep- tional cruise opportunity.
Firsthand knowledge of Alaska cruise lines, cruise-tours, ports of call and various itineraries are available at no cost from Cruise Port Travel at 900 W. Driftwood Dr. in Payson. Visit the Web site www.trav- elpayson.com for specials and previous articles on Alaska travel options. We can also help you plan independent self-drive vacations to Alaska. Stop by or call (928) 472-7878.