Cruise-Tour of Alaska Must-Do Attractions and Experiences
Alaska Cruise – Tour
Do you wish to experience the beauty and majesty of Alaska? If your reasons for visiting Alaska are to experience stunning mountain vistas, age old glaciers and incredibly beautiful wildlife, an Alaska cruise-tour is your best choice!
Making the most of your trip to Alaska
Only an Alaska Cruise-tour gives you the best of everything Alaska has to offer that is glaciers, mountains and wildlife! Your cruise allows for viewing glaciers and visiting areas that are best seen and often only accessible by ship. And your land journey allows for the best opportunities for viewing wildlife and the spectacular mountain vistas of the Last Frontier. Moreover your land journey will provide a taste of local life that is not easily experienced in the standard ports of call. Would you visit London without seeing Buckingham Palace or India without visiting the Taj Mahal? One might say that this is akin to visiting Alaska without seeing Denali National Park and Mount McKinley.
An experience that is value for money
Celebrity’s Alaska Cruise-tours include a seven-night Inside Passage cruise which is considered one of the most scenic cruises in the world. The wonders of this coast include temperate rainforest, mountain vistas, and imposing glaciers whose dramatic beauty will leave you breathless. Your cruise itinerary will begin or end in Seward, Alaska or Vancouver, BC and typically includes Hubbard Glacier, Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and Icy Strait Point.
Although an Alaska cruise-tour is approximately twice the price point of a cruise-only vacation if your budget allows, choose a cruise-tour for memorable experiences that will last a lifetime. Ideally one that includes two or more nights in Denali National Park to provide for the best opportunity to see wildlife and increase your odds of seeing and capturing the beauty of Mount McKinley on a clear dy.
I recently enjoyed the land-portion of an Alaska Cruise-tour with Celebrity Cruises. The highpoints of the land tour with Celebrity are that their tours are fully guided by local tour directors who live, love and breathe Alaska. Their guides have a wealth of knowledge to share which adds immensely to ones’ experience and they are also available to assist you with your travel needs. I appreciated the continuity of the services which including having a designated tour director and coach driver throughout our trip which resulted in a first class service experience and added a warm and cozy feel to our vacation.
Our land accommodation throughout our cruise-tour with Celebrity were of exceptional quality and situated in locales that allow one to experience a taste of local life. All were beyond comfortable, and situated in areas where the opportunity to explore was within a reasonable walking distance or quick shuttle bus away! The locations are a major plus in my books.
Day 1 Fairbanks: Culture, History and Beautiful Skies
We stayed at the Pikes Place Lodge which I found absolutely delightful for the homey touches and also because I was fortunate enough to stay in one of their cabins. The beds were five stars only to be outdone by the soft dreamy pillows. I especially enjoyed our stay here because they were very thoughtful of guests needs. Fresh brewed hot coffee and ice cold water were available to guest twenty four hours. An on-site shop offered all the basic necessities; umbrellas, rain jackets, snacks and beverages and even mini meals which guests could warm up using the microwave provided in every room. The lodge includes a fitness center and a laundry room is also available to guests. They serve a spectacular buffet breakfast at their on-site restaurant. The breakfast cookies were especially scrumptious, so much so that I snitched one to enjoy as a snack on the motor coach. Guests also received complimentary ice cream each evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm.
The location on the river was idyllic and a restaurant called Pikes Landing which is just next door is a great spot to dine serving tasty meals with more than ample portions. It is also a great spot to simply enjoy a tall cool one. Pikes Lodge also offers guests an array of activities to choose from which include Bocce Ball, a games room, and a cozy on site theatre which features the movie North to Alaska throughout the day. Guests may also enjoy hanging about in the large and comfortable lounging area which features some beautiful local art or gathering around the outdoor fire pits found throughout grounds and in the cabin areas.
Excursions included an outdoor Alaska Salmon Bake dinner serving hearty old fashioned fare which included a salad bar, salmon, roast beef, chocolate brownies, and fresh berries. All you can eat so you’re ready to sit down for a while and enjoy a humorous show at the Palace Theater. A tour of Gold Dredge #8 included a ride on a replica of the Tanana Valley Railroad which was hosted and included a narrative sharing the history of the gold mining days. The tour culminated with everyone partaking in panning for gold. It was clear that everyone was having a great time and even the most inept of us came away with a few flecks of gold.
Another highlight of Fairbanks is the Riverboat Discovery Tour along the Chena River which received excellent reviews from my peers. I missed this as I choose to visit Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge and hike the local trails through a Boreal forest found in this area. Fairbanks is a place for those who appreciate culture and the history of the gold rush area but it is also a land of big gorgeous skies and the Northern lights which are seen in late fall and winter months. On my last visit here which was in September I saw these beautiful lights which is why Fairbanks will always hold a special place in my heart.
Day 2: Wild Alaska
Off to Denali National Park! We only had time for an extended version of the Natural History Tour which only took us into the park to mile 72. Along the way we sighted spotted caribou (another word for wild reindeer), moose, rock ptarmigan, hare and Dall sheep. This is also the place to sight fox, wolf and Grizzly bears. The tour is narrated by the driver and the journey is on an old style school bus which is comfortable enough for a day’s outing. When wildlife is sighted the driver stops and one can open the windows on the bus to take advantage of photo ops. I met some folks who did the full Tundra tour which takes one to mile 92. All shared that they sighted Brown Bears, and one couple were fortunate enough to see a lone wolf. For that reason alone I say the Tundra Wilderness Tour is the way to go. It is also the best opportunity for close up views of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America at 20,337 feet.
We overnighted at the Denali Park Lodge a log cabin style complex which I adored for the river side location on the Nenana River and the pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of the rushing river. The accommodations being set amidst a forest of spruce trees reinforces ones sense of being in a vast wilderness. The resort offers a courtesy shuttle to the Denali Visitor Center and Glitter Gulch where one can shop and indulge in a bite to eat. The on-site restaurant offered fine dining and is a tad pricey but this to be expected at a remote wilderness lodge. Less expensive options are available and coffee is available from 5am. Optional tours included the all-time favorite Jeff King Husky Homestead Tour, a fun evening with a Cabin Nite dinner show, zip-lining and river rafting for thrill seekers.
Day 3: Rail Journey from Denali to Talkeetna
Perhaps the most memorable part of our cruise-tour was the rail journey on the Wilderness Express which took us from Denali to Talkeetna. I will second Celebrity Cruise’s claim that they offer the best rail experience primarily because their glassed domed rail cars have the highest domes and largest windows allowing for the best views. The outdoor viewing area situated at the back of the rail cars allow for a breath of fresh mountain air and a sense of adventure. The setting of their rail cars is definitely five stars, as is the service, providing a most luxurious rail experience. Dining on the Wilderness Express was most enjoyable with the menu offering something for everyone’s taste and the dessert of an Alaskan berry pie the favorite of most passengers. More adventurous souls tried a local dish of reindeer which they rated highly.
We stayed at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge which was my favorite location for the dreamy views of the Alaska Mountain range and Mount Denali seem from the hotel grounds and also for a taste of local life in this small town. This charming town offers shopping and dining which feels just a little more local than most places. A group of us indulged in a feast at a place called Mountain High Pizza Pie. It is just a little over a mile walk to town with the option of taking a hotels complimentary shuttle also being available. The accommodations were rustic but exceptionally comfortable. Excursions offered include paddling or jet boating down the Talkeetna River, zip-lining and flightseeing. I choose a flightseeing tour over Denali with K2 Aviation which was spectacular and one of the highlights of the trip.
Day 4: Seward and Girdwood – Back to Nature
We departed for Seward and traversed the scenic highway of Turnagain Pass which is surely named for the windy road with beckoning views around every corner, eventually leading to Resurrection Bay. On this day we visited the Alaska Sea Life Center, a research and educational center which provides rehabilitation for injured marine animals. Highlights included a tide pool touch tank which included sea anemones and starfish, sea lions, seals, and local birds with the Puffins stealing the show. During a boat ride through Kenai Fjords National Park we spotted humpback whales, seals and enjoyed the company of some Dall porpoises following our wake. Our journey culminated with a stop at Fox Island to partake in a memorable feast at a restaurant which included Alaska King Crab legs!
Along the way we stopped by the Alaska Wildlife Conversation Center and saw Bison, Brown bears and black bears, and wolf. Celebrity Cruises more often than not will include interesting stops on days which involve more travel time making for a more enjoyable day on the road. We stayed at the Windsong Lodge which was the most basic of all our accommodations during our cruise tour but all in all very comfortable and very well located due to its proximity to Exit glacier, a comfortable one hour hike from the lodge.
Day 5: Luxurious Wilderness
On this day we toured the Alyeska Resort which like Talkeetna is a mountain town. The resort is located in Girdwood and situated in a glacier carved valley offering spectacular mountain views best seen by taking the tram up the mountain. This is a year round destination where one can downhill ski and mountain bike and finish the day by relaxing in the pool and dining at the mountain lodge accessed by a tram ride.
Alyeska brings to mind Whistler-Blackcomb area of 30 years ago and for those seeking the luxury of five star accommodations set in true wilderness I recommend choosing a cruise-tour with Alyeska in the itinerary. During the summer one can enjoy hiking and mountain biking and in the winter five star skiing, and end the day enjoying with a dip in the swimming pool or hot tub, and five star dining at the Seven Glaciers restaurant. On the way here we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center a non-profit wildlife refuge where we were able to see black bears, brown bears, wolves, wood bison, caribou and elk. A place that is special because it allows one to get up close and personal with wildlife, and support a great cause.
Final Day: Anchorage – A Livable City with Culture
A visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center a museum located in Anchorage which shares the culture and history of Alaska’s Indigenous people. There are six authentic life-sized Native dwellings to be discovered on Lake Tiulana and performances featuring Alaska native dancing. The highlight for me was a presentation by a local lady with a wicked sense of humour who shared her story of growing up on sustenance living and learning how to live off the land.
We visited a shop called Oomingmak Musk Ox which is a cooperative business owned by approximately 250 Native Alaskan women from remote coastal villages of Alaska who knit each item by hand. This shop offers for sale clothing items of artic musk-ox wool which is the downy-soft under-wool from the Arctic musk ox, which is shed naturally each year during the spring months. It is soft as cashmere, warm as wool, light weight and as one might expect a tad pricey!
Our last night was at the Marriot Hotel in Anchorage which ended our trip with a nice touch of luxury. My only regret is being too tired to take a shower in the five-star bathroom before departing at 4am for my flight home. I did snitch the hotel soap. I hope you agree that if one wishes to experience glaciers, mountains and wildlife and true Alaskan hospitality, an Alaska cruise-tour is your best choice!
Written by Christina Stobbs
June 12, 2018