They call it the Last Frontier for a reason. Much of Alaska’s wild and expansive beauty remains untouched. She’s a precious gemstone, with no one else in her class. One of the loveliest ways to soak up the beauty of Alaska is on board a cruise ship. There are three particular cruise lines that set the bar very high: the Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and the Norwegian Cruise Line.
Specifically, I’d like to highlight the Holland America Cruise Line. In all my travels, my cruise to Alaska aboard the Holland America still whisks across my dreams from time to time. I’m fishing for a word that supersedes spectacular. No matter your preferred cruise line, there are a few must-see ports of call. I hope you’ll check off as many of these cities as possible. If you’re anything like me, you’ll never want to come back home.
Juneau is every bit as spectacular as you might imagine. Bright shops color outside the shorelines while the streets pack themselves full of culture. Your options in this lovely port of call are endless. Many of the residents here are fishermen. So, how about pulling up a patio chair to splendor over the freshest catch you’ll ever taste?
If your adventure-meter is running high, how about hopping aboard a floatplane so you can get in on a game of hide and seek with some baby cubs? Juneau is a great city for walking, feasting, and hopping aboard any means of transportation as you revel in some of the wildest, purest expanses in mother nature’s backyard.
Read our article on the best things to do Juneau.
Juneau Port Planner
All you have to do here is strut down that gangway and hop onto the antique streets of Ketchikan. It’s lovingly referred to as Alaska’s First City. Artful shops abound and, best of all, locals are happy to engage in tales of local lore. There’s one street you have to aim for - Creek Street. It’s a pretty little boardwalk that halos the hymns of Ketchikan Creek. Pick up a nice piece of local art while you’re there. If time allows, this is a great port of call to hire a sea kayak because it kisses right up to the Inside Passage.
Ketchikan Port Planner
While in Sitka, you simply must arrange a nature walk. Here, you’ll stroll across moss-coated bridges and step into rivers guarded by ancient totem poles. Bald eagles will perch on branches so close to you, you’ll swear you felt the swoosh of their soaring wings. If you have time to wander through the actual town of Sitka, you might wonder if you’ve sailed too far and ended up in Russia. Even though the US purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, Sitka maintains a few Russian flares. A great example of this is St. Michael’s Cathedral standing proudly in the heart of it all.
Sitka Port Planner
St. Michael's Cathedral
Address: 240 Lincoln St, Sitka, AK 99835
Website: St. Michael’s Cathedral
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4. Glacier Bay
You know that 9-5 job that’s waiting for you back home? You can completely forget about it as you sail through the passageways of Glacier Bay. You’ll be safe and sound inside a magical snow globe that knows nothing about e-mail and press releases. Once your ship starts sailing again, don’t be surprised if you see a few whales popping in and out of those glistening waters.
Glacier Bay Port Planner
Website: Glacier Bay
Grab your panhandle; it’s time to gold rush. Skagway was once a gateway to some really plush gold fields and, as such, quickly became a boomtown. Trading posts, saloons, and guesthouses popped up like baby chicks on Easter morning.
Make sure you visit the Red Onion Saloon so you can travel back in time to this golden era. The key to starting the engine to that time machine is a glance at one of Wyatt Earp’s very own pistols. If you haven’t hopped on any walking tours yet, this is the town to do so. Splashed in rich history, you’ll enjoy a very pleasant afternoon accompanied by your own storyteller.
Skagway Port Planner
Red Onion Saloon
Address: 205 Broadway, Skagway, AK 99840
Website: Red Onion Saloon
Sitka is crowned in nature; Ketchikan glistens in embers of artwork; but Haines is a whole different story. Apparently, it doesn’t even have any stoplights. In a state full of adventure - Last Frontier and all - it definitely says something when Haines is dubbed the adventure capital of Alaska. Rafting, hiking, fishing - what’s your pleasure? If you haven’t checked any of those off your list yet, now’s the time.
Best of all, if you travel here during the late fall, you’ll be in the company of thousands - that’s right, thousands - of bald eagles looking to chow down on some salmon. Much of Alaska is such a welcomed departure from day-to-day living, but Haines really nips it in the “worlds away” bud.
Haines Port Planner
Do you have any friends that live on an acre or two of land (0.4 - 0.8 hectares)? That’s a nice-sized plot. Would you like to befriend someone who lives on six million acres (2.42 million hectares) of land? Well, head on up to Denali National Park and make the acquaintance of any ‘ol moose, wolf, caribou, or grizzly bear. They’ll show you what it’s like to live on six million acres of land below North America’s tallest peak. Actually, don’t try to talk to any of the moose. Why are they so cranky anyway?
Remember Mount McKinley? Well, she’s lovingly referred to as Denali now and well worth the gander. There’s a well-organized Visitor Transportation System that will shuttle you to all these enchanted lands. At least one of those stops is guaranteed to make you smile - Husky Homestead. Go shake the paw of a rough and tumble sled dog. They’ll show you what it takes to survive in America’s Last Frontier.
Denali Port Planner
Address: Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755
Website: Husky Homestead
8. The Holland America Line
I’d like to personally and wholeheartedly recommend The Holland America Cruise Line. This is a luxury cruise liner that boasts exquisite décor and high-class touches. During my time aboard, every single crew member flashed winning smiles and offered first-rate customer service. With over 27 seven-day cruise options, you can decide which ports of call will fit your bill.
There’s one round trip itinerary that sails out of Seattle and into Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Another travels to Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, B.C. Victoria, B.C. is a beautiful city. If that’s the itinerary you choose, make absolutely sure you plan an excursion to Butchart Gardens. With some of the most expansive gardens and glorious harbor views, I can only say that I hope you don’t miss your call back to port!
Holland America Cruise Line
Website: Holland America Cruise Line
Address: 800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1J8, Canada
Website: Butchart Gardens
9. Princess Cruises
Princess Cruises offers a nice round trip cruise from Seattle. This cruise liner will cover Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. As the captain makes way from Seattle to Alaska, there’s usually one day spent entirely at sea. In that case, there are plenty of activities aboard the ship to keep you relaxed and entertained including Movies Under the Stars® and the Lotus Spa®. Did I mention the heated pools or the rooftop bars? Indeed, pleasure can be found in the tiny slice of heaven just under the southwest corridor of Alaska.
Princess Cruise Line
Website: Princess Cruise Line
10. Norwegian Cruise Line
The Norwegian Cruise Line will start charting the seas with you in Seattle, and then head on up to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria, B.C. That’s a very nice selection. Norwegian is another world-class cruise line that’s going to offer something for everyone. Their dining selections are top shelf, and their offshore activities cover every little nook and cranny. You can’t go wrong with a luxurious week away, Norwegian style.
The Norwegian Cruise Line
Website: Norwegian Cruise Line
A glacial gemstone
The glistening waters of Glacier Bay can outshine any diamond. The colorful quirks in Ketchikan could tickle even a moose’s heart. Listen carefully when Ketchikan Creek whispers in your ear. If you allow it, this trip will change the way you look at the world. And, let’s face it. We can all use a tune-up from time to time. Happy sails to you! What a wonder it would be if we should meet amidst the starry skies of Sitka.
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