An adventure to Canada and The Last Frontier is high on many people’s bucket lists, but have you ever considered exploring them via cruise? With so many of Alaska’s remote towns and settlements being fairly inaccessible by road, and Canada’s smaller islands being easily accessible by boat, cruising the West Coast makes a lot of sense.
“Alaska is an intriguing, culturally-diverse destination with thousands of miles of scenic coastline that make it a natural draw for cruise ships”
We asked the editor of Cruise Critic, Ashley Kosciolek, about why a cruise is often the best way to explore remote parts of the world: “Cruising means you don’t have to work out the confusing logistics of travelling from point A to point B once your trip has begun, allowing you to see multiple places in one go with much less hassle.
“With remote places, in particular, cruising is smart because other transportation options can be scarce (read: incredibly cost prohibitive) or completely unavailable. Plus, your accommodation doesn’t change on a cruise, so you can unpack once and settle in without having to adjust to a new hotel every couple of nights.”
Alaska is one of the most remote places in the world, so a cruise is highly recommended to traverse the fjords and visit the state’s isolated communities. Ashley added: “Alaska is an intriguing, culturally diverse destination with thousands of miles of scenic coastline that make it a natural draw for cruise ships. Each of the ports offers a different perspective on life in the most-northerly U.S state.
“Ketchikan is a centre for several Alaska Native cultures, Skagway is Gold Rush-era oriented, and Petersburg reflects its Norwegian heritage, while Sitka touts Russian and Alaska Native ties. Alaska’s Inside Passage and Glacier Bay (the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park) are certainly best seen by cruise, given that they generally consist of scenic sailing through areas where passengers can spot wildlife, and if they’re lucky calving glaciers.
“Plus, since park rangers are required to be on board during sailings through Glacier Bay, passengers are often treated to expert narratives as they glide along. Unsurprisingly, Glacier Bay recently won the number one destination award in Cruise Critic’s Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards in July. Hubbard Glacier is another exciting option that’s best seen by cruise, but readers should keep in mind that the area can be difficult to access, even by ship, during extra-cold months when ice prevents vessels from getting too close.”
“If you truly want to disconnect and immerse yourself in nature and Gold Rush history, Alaska is the place to do it”
So, why should people consider a cruise to The Last Frontier? “Alaska is a bucket-list destination,” said Ashley, “where the sheer vastness of the wilderness can really put nature’s might into perspective. Although Alaska sailings are only available from mid-May to mid-September, high demand means there is room for plenty of ships to fill to capacity during those four summer months.
“If you truly want to disconnect and immerse yourself in nature and gold rush history, Alaska is the place to do it. It’s also well-known for its seafood, breath-taking scenery and wildlife encounters, many of which are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Plus, it’s more of a laid-back and active destination, so if you enjoy wearing jeans and hiking boots, you’ll fit right in.”
It’s impossible to drive to Alaska’s capital
One excellent reason to embark on a cruise to Alaska is that many of its towns, and even its capital city, aren’t accessible at all by road. The vibrant city of Juneau can only be reached by boat or plane, so a cruise is an excellent way to guarantee a visit. Juneau sits at the base of Mount Roberts, which rises more than 3,800 feet behind it. Surrounded by picturesque hiking trails, the city is popular with nature lovers, but it’s also an excellent stop to soak up the state’s culture. Don’t be fooled by Juneau’s small population (roughly 100,000), there’s plenty to see in this remote waterfront city.
If you’re hoping to do some wildlife-spotting during your cruise stopover in Juneau, there are plenty of whale watching tours on offer, and almost all operators guarantee whale sightings. Juneau’s most popular attraction, Mendenhall Glacier, is also worth a trip. Stretching for half a mile, with ice 300-1,800 feet deep, the glacier is truly spectacular and can be viewed from the visitor centre within the city.
To catch a glimpse of the area’s thriving brown bear community, take a floatplane to nearby Admiralty Island. The island is home to an estimated 1,600 grizzlies – one of the world’s highest density of brown bear populations. The flight takes just 30 minutes and during the summer, you may be fortunate enough to see the bears feasting on salmon.
For a true taste of Alaska, you’ll want to try some exquisite seafood. Head to Tracy’s King Crab Shack for the finest king crab in the state or a tasty crab bisque. Alternatively, local favourite The Rookery Café has been voted the number one restaurant in the city in the Juneau Empire’s Readers’ Choice Poll. The restaurant’s fresh, eclectic menu is guaranteed to please. For fusion food, V’s Cellar Door comes highly recommended, serving a unique blend of Mexican and Asian cuisines. Craft beer enthusiasts should pay a visit to the Alaskan Brewing Company. This fine brewery produces award-winning beers, ranging from deep, flavourful porters to seasonal beers flavoured with the tips from local Sitka spruce trees. The brewery’s tasting room and gift shop are open from May to September, 11 am to 7 pm, and from October to April at varying hours.
There’s no need to sacrifice your time in the city
While one of the most appealing aspects of cruising to Canada and Alaska is undoubtedly seeing the raw beauty of the wilderness, but you don’t have to sacrifice your time in the city. Vancouver is the most common starting point for any cruise along the West Coast, giving you time to explore one of Canada’s most vibrant cities. A popular filming location, Vancouver is recognised worldwide for its stunning scenery and is a hub for arts and culture. Visit the picturesque Stanley Park, head over to Granville Island for some delicious food or simply wander along the waterfront to take in the views. Many cruises also stop at Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. Famous for its abundance of green space and grand architecture, Victoria is a worthy stop on your cruise before you head out into the wilderness.
There’s no better way to explore the remote Inside Passage
Alaska’s Inside Passage is much more than just a route for ships and boats; it’s one of the most spectacular parts of the state. Navigating south-eastern Alaska, the Inside Passage passes the remote islands and mountains of the region for 500 miles north to south and 100 miles east to west. Being able to sit back and relax on the deck or your private balcony on a ship is surely a top reason why a cruise is a great way to see Canada and Alaska. Look out for imposing glaciers, whales and stop at some of the area’s most remote towns and villages.
After a day in the wilderness, you have the comforts of home
Alaska and the West Coast of Canada are home to some of the most remote towns and cities in the world. When visiting the likes of British Columbia and Alaska’s Inside Passage, you’ll undoubtedly be spending a lot of time in the wild, whether out searching for bears or hiking mountain trails. But on an Alaskan cruise holiday, knowing you have all the comforts of home waiting for you is bliss. Kick off your walking boots and warm up with a coffee or hot chocolate, without missing any of the amazing views from your private balcony. Then get a good night’s sleep before you start all over again the next day.