Alaska! You guys, there are no words. Seriously.
I knew Alaska would be beautiful, but I could not have imagined how unique and how incredible it would actually be. I can’t even begin to count how many times I paused, took in a view that existed nowhere else, breathed in the air, and tried to memorize the peace that can only be found when removed from everything normal.
My family’s week-long cruise through Southeastern Alaska was nearly a year in the making. We did our homework in deciding which cruise would get us the itinerary we wanted and I wouldn’t change a thing! We sailed with Norwegian Cruise Line–our first with NCL. And on the itinerary:
- Juneau, Alaska
- Skagway, Alaska
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Ketchikan, Alaska
- Victoria, Canada
PS – If you’re wondering what to pack for an Alaskan cruise, jump down to my packing list at the bottom!
Mendenhall Glacier. As soon as David and I read that we could strap on some crampons and *for reals* hike through some ice caves and out onto a glacier… SIGN US UP. NOW. Most peeps opt to visit the Mendenhall Glacier tourist center (which, side bar, my family says is also fantastic with a short hike to the waterfall). If you’re interested in hiking the glacier, your only way out is via canoe. (And FYI, it’s 5 miles roundtrip which isn’t too crazy but no walk in the park.)
After the guides determined that the ice caves were stable and in no danger of squishing us, we hiked through glacial blue caves melting onto our heads. I will seriously never use the term “glacial blue” again without thinking of those caves. When we came out of the caves, we strapped on crampons and hiked out onto the glacier. Where rivers melted through the glacier, there was the deepest, brightest blue you’ve ever seen. Time and time again, David and I asked ourselves how we would ever top that experience on the glacier.
Yukon, ho! We took the Yukon Railroad up to White Pass Summit. (Freezing. By the way.) And just because our trip hadn’t had enough adventure already, we biked down the mountain! I can’t even decide whether the Yukon ride or the bike down was more fun.
The railroad had spectacular views – particularly once we got out on top of the mountains towards White Pass. I have never seen terrain like the rocky meadows, low trees, and emerald water that we saw at White Pass. (And I’ve been in a lot of mountains.) Its uniqueness reminded me of the Alpine Tundra in the Rocky Mountains. Totally different of course, but similar in that I had never been anywhere before that had a landscape quite like we saw. Despite pulling out all my camera tricks in the book, I could not capture the striking color of the water. Some things you just can’t take home…
David and I are national park nerds so there was no way on God’s green earth that we were missing Glacier Bay National Park. This was definitely another highlight of the trip and should you consider an Alaskan cruise, be certain this is on the itinerary!
The ship sailed up into the fingers of the bay in order to reach a handful of different glaciers. Each time we reached one, the ship would halt and do 360 degree turns, so that everyone had plenty of time to see each glacier. I mentioned glacial blue ice – this was definitely glacial blue water. Little berglets floated around the ship. As we were surveying one of the glaciers, we heard the loudest sound–something between a crack and a boom. David was the first to spot the calving glacier and the rest of us nearly squished him against the railing in our excited rush to see it.
At one of the glaciers (pictured above), a large edge of the land could be seen peeking through the ice at the lower right-hand side. It struck me when one of the guides explained that we were the first people–maybe ever–to see that piece of land. Only now, when glaciers have begun to melt with increasing speed, are pieces of land being unearthed that were previously hidden by hundreds of meters of ice. Each ship sailing through Glacier Bay will get a different view because of the changing landscape.
Incredible. Oh and traveler’s tip. The park rangers board your boat early in the morning, before you sail up into the Bay. Get to their station on the ship STAT. They bring a limited amount of souvenirs and fun shtuff, so you want to be first in line if you’re a shopper. (Like me.)
Victoria was our last stop and a short one, too! Us “kids” (we are all above the age of 25, yet the cousins will always be the kids) walked around the adorable Fisherman’s Wharf. David knew I was ready to buy an old boat, fix it up, and start living on the water immediately. We did our historical duty and swung past the parliament building. Then . . . priorities. We headed out for Garrick’s Pub–one of the oldest pubs in Canada. (Which, PSA, is surrounded by chocolate shops. Praise the Lord.) THE POUTINE. As much as I love my humble little poutine recipe, I would still rather travel to Canada and get it at the source. 🙂
We made it back to the ship with approximately 20 minutes to spare. <tosses hair over shoulder casually> We had plenty of time.
Southeast Alaska easily made my list of top trips in my lifetime. And I am already willing to go back, just to continue exploring more of the state. (Denali, here I come!) Here is a link to the Alaska excursions site, which we used to book almost all of our adventures. And there were a few must-haves when we were figuring out what to pack for our Alaskan cruise, which made us feel super prepared and comfy:
What to Pack for an Alaskan Cruise
- water-proof raincoat – a good one. Mine is Northface.
- water-resistant pants – I enjoyed having these Wander Pants for our outdoor adventures.
- athletic pants – I layered these under my water resistant pants if it was really cold.
- water-proof backpack – got mine at Eddie Bauer.
- hood for your camera lens – i ended up using my iphone a lot simply because it is water resistant.
- binoculars – no, that’s not a suggestion. get some. you want to see the adorable bear cubs racing up the mountain, don’t you?
- LAYERS. – e.g., I packed long sleeve shirts and sweaters, down vests, a heavier hoodie, and my raincoat. Most of the time, I wore a sweater, vest, and raincoat if it was raining. But in Glacier Bay, I wore all of it.
- hat/gloves/thick socks
- shoes – I almost plunked down money for water-proof boots, but I’m glad I didn’t. (Shout out to Lindsay Ostrom for reassuring me that I wouldn’t need them, based on her experience.) I took my usual cold weather boots with good tread that are not water proof and I did just fine.
- ziploc bags or something else to protect valuables from water
Where to next?