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Alaska...In Three Parts

Because it'll take me that many. Why am I writing this series?  To inspire you to go see things you may only have seen on TV: whales, orcas, brown bears, lumberjacks, glaciers, totem poles, dog sleds, the midnight sun, bald eagles galore, caribou, wolves, native Alaskan people, and Mt. Denali (omg, Mt. Denali!).  Frankly, even a National Geographic documentary or a massive coffee-table book barely capture Alaska and its wonders. You do see the size of the landmass it takes to encompass its whole story, right? Only going there will make it come alive for you.  For those of who have asked about taking a trip, and for those of you who haven't, I'd like to give you a glimpse of what your experience might be. I hope your imagination is better than my writing; if either falls short of fascinating, then I guess you will have to make the journey to see for yourself.

I'm dividing the series into three parts - the sea (cruise) portion, the land excursion add-ons, and adventure expeditions; parts 1,2 and 3, respectively. To avoid a super-long newsletter, given the expansive subject matter, I MUST omit MUCH about Alaska - the geography, the novelty of sunset at 10:30pm, the compressed summer climate, etc., and lean towards inspiration and explanation of what you can expect, what's available, and how to make the best of your trip there.

Most people have or eventually put an Alaska trip on their life list, a.k.a. 'bucket list'; it's a wonderful way to take a multi-generational journey with the family, and a momentous way to celebrate a milestone or family event. You'll see all the things I listed in the first paragraph (and more), AND be able to share the awe with your parents, grandkids, friends.

If you didn't realize it, most of Alaska's tourism is by cruise ship. Many sailings traverse the Inland Passage, the channel between the mainland and the coastal islands. This is to your advantage. Why? One: minimal seasickness for the motion sensitive, as your ship is not bobbing on the open ocean. Two: there is always something to see (wildlife, scenery) because your vessel remains within sight of the shoreline. Hint #1 - bring a good pair of binoculars. Your ship will likely visit Glacier Bay National Park, one of the few places you'll see several glaciers in one go. Refer to Hint #1. I was able to get a National Park stamp in my Park Passport because park staff come aboard as guides during the ship's time in the Bay. Other glaciers outside of the park may also be on the itinerary.

From my own trip to Alaska. Clockwise from top left: Tlingit dancers, Juneau; me and my guy; a glaciated valley, seen from our stateroom verandah; full frontal glacier.

For many people, an Alaska cruise is their first cruise, and the first of many cruises. Different interests can be satisfied - for the foodie, the history/native culture seeker, the adventurer, and the wildlife/nature enthusiast, there is much to experience.  The majority of cruise lines have an Alaska route. Within my own arsenal, 16 of my cruise partners have several Alaska routes each, so it's likely I have one to match your taste and budget. Every line has tours, sightseeing, and excursions in each port of call to match your interests, and every port has it's own fascinating characteristics: for example, Ketchikan, the rainiest city in the US (no, it did not disappoint when I was there); Juneau, the state capital, has no roads to anywhere else, and is accessible only by water or air. It also has about 20,000 bald eagles - they are as commonplace as sparrows on a utility line; and Skagway, launch pad for the Yukon Gold Rush, has a fascinating history.

Itineraries of varying duration are available. Ships depart from either the US (usually Seattle, WA), or Canada (Vancouver, B.C.), and some excursions enter Canada via the Yukon. Hint #2 - you will need a passport, depending on your itinerary. I can think of at least six cruise lines that are currently running specials for Alaska in 2020; by specials, I mean reduced pricing, additional incentives for early booking, and upgrades; so booking before year's end brings bonuses for you.

Next week I'll discuss the land-based 'add-ons' for extending your time beyond your cruise; they are a wonderful way to see some of the interior, and maximize your opportunity for wildlife viewing.

'til next week.

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