Alaska is a destination worthy of multiple visits
There are tourists who travel the world just to check off destinations, “Been there, done that”. And there are travelers who know that some destinations are constantly changing and that the highlight of any visit is interacting with the host community. And of course, experiencing a destination in summer is very different than visiting in winter.
Early in my career, I worked as a tour manager taking groups to Alaska, so I was able to visit the 49th state five times over three years. It was only on the fifth visit that I was rewarded with a full view of Denali.
I should mention here, but in my mind, one does not “see Alaska” by just cruising the Inside Passage… one must visit the interior of this magnificent state to really say that you have been to Alaska!
This year, I returned to Alaska -19 years since my last visit. I was pleasantly surprised by the changes along our travel route. While Anchorage has grown, I found the city to still have a sense of place and maintain a small town feel in the city center. Seward has also grown up and provides more travel services than just the busy port.
The cruise portion of the journey took us to Sitka – a port of call I had never visited! The port town has invested in a lovely new visitor’s center next to the cruise dock. A nice selection of tours and wildlife activities is being offered by local suppliers… whom, I might add, are very eco-friendly and conscious of sustainability.
My biggest surprise was discovering that a new port of call has appeared within the Inside Passage – Icy Strait Point. While the village of Honnah has always been located near Icy Strait Point, cruise ships
could not stop for lack of a dock. Now you can disembark at their new dock and enjoy a wide choice of activities – from a hands-on cooking class to more ambitious adventures including ziplines, hiking, biking, kayaking, jeeping… and wildlife expeditions. In addition to the new Adventure Center, there is also a wonderful Cultural Heritage and Tribal Dance Theatre for cultural presentations. The old Hoonah Cannery and warehouse now house a beautiful selection of shops and visitor services including an interesting museum exhibiting the original fish canning and packing process.
Of course, visiting Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan are always popular, but I was pleased to see that each town has invested in new waterfronts with better visitor facilities. The small fishing village of Wrangell had made some major improvements since 1999. Not only has the waterfront been updated, but they now offer a cultural tour that is one of the best along the Inside Passage. Central to this tour is a new
museum which is cram-packed with historic photos and local heritage exhibits. And the indigenous tribes have built a new Shakes Bear Tribal House for special events. Our local guide was Tlingit and told us about growing up on Wrangell Island, explaining the heritage and shared family photos. Well done!
Another reason to revisit Alaska is to make your next cruise a smaller ship. It is a different experience to be one of 500 or 700 passengers vs. 3,000 passengers disembarking in a small town. I love the Regent Seven Seas Cruise line because of their small size and all the excursions are included in the fare. This means that you are in small tour groups where you can actually see and hear the guide! Even the specialty tour (helicopter, etc.) are priced at a reduced rate.
Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage starts in May and continues through the middle of September. The ports of call may vary somewhat, but they all operate between Seward and Vancouver. I highly recommend starting with a land tour to see Denali and Fairbanks before your cruise. Alaska will always be a delightful destination.