Setting Sail to Alaska
Jan 02, 2016 04:48PM ● Published by Dia
Before you book your Alaskan cruise, join us on February 4 for an informational night about Southlake Style's upcoming Expedition Alaska cruise. Click here to register.
Cruising Alaska is an item that finds itself on many a family’s bucket list. The perfect way to tour the state’s waterways and port cities, a cruise allows you to get up close and personal with glaciers, wildlife, the Northern Lights and
more. However, not knowing much about the state or its climate might put potential travelers in a vacation conundrum. Paring down your cruise options to include the best time of year to travel, where to go and what to see will put your mind at ease.
While the first step is contacting a cruise line for your family adventure, it helps to know the basics. Cruise season begins in May and ends in September. However, some cruise lines will begin trips as early as April. Before you select the timing, though, it helps to know how each month’s weather conditions will affect your activities.
Best Time to Travel
One of the most popular Alaskan cruise routes is through the Inside Passage, known as the panhandle. Making your way through the islands of the passage that loosely connect the largest U.S. state to the rest, you’ll see bald eagles above, whales below and glaciers all around. You’ll be able to create lasting family memories that can only be made while cruising. The many ports of call along the passage are only accessible by air and by sea.
Cruising through the Inside Passage in April and May means you’ll be visiting during a drier month, and it’s a great time to see the state finest displays of wildflowers and foliage. It’s usually not until summer (June, July and August) that you’ll begin to catch sight of the wildlife. Land mammals such as bears, bison and moose inhabit the mountains and forests. But if whale watching is what your Alaskan cruise dreams are made of, during the warmer summer months you’re sure to see humpback and orca whales. Cruising in late fall definitely means colder temperatures and less daylight. This makes it the ideal time for catching starry nights on deck before Alaska’s cruise season concludes.
Ketchikan Wildlife and Heritage
The first Alaska port of call for northbound cruise ships, Ketchikan, is a place for families to venture inland for wildlife viewing. Located 680 miles northwest of Seattle, Ketchikan is on the Inside Passage waterway in the heart of the Tongass, the country’s largest national forest. Within the massive forest are some of the most intact regions of temperate rainforest remaining in the world. That’s right—a rainforest. The Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary is home to inhabitants that include black bears, wolves and bald eagles. Guided tours are recommended for families wishing to explore the forest.
Interested in more than just plants and animals? Treat the family to a dose of culture. The heritage of the three Native groups, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, is celebrated and documented by the town of Ketchikan in many ways. For example, the largest collection of totem poles in the world is located in the town, including some of the oldest ones still in existence. Outside of the ones in climate-controlled seclusion and private collections, totem poles can be seen scattered throughout town and at the Totem Heritage Center.
Considered by some to be Alaska’s most beautiful seaside town, Sitka sits on the western edge of the Inside Passage midway between Ketchikan and Juneau. It is a culturally diverse town, a melting pot of Russian, American and Native ancestry. The first thing to add to your Sitka agenda is exploring the sea. Sitka is an angler’s dream come true. Salmon fishing is tops in Sitka, and the town boasts the highest saltwater sport fishing catch rate for King Salmon in Alaska.
You can also join a freshwater guide—if you enjoy fly-fishing—as he or she takes you to untouched rivers and streams. It’s a great way for father and son to spend the day. Want the whole family involved? Spend the day at Sitka Sound, known for sea kayaking, ocean rafting, and diving and snorkeling.
Sitka’s proximity to open water on the western coast of the Inside Passage makes it a perfect venue to see the Northern Lights. While it may not be known as one of the best places to view the Aurora Borealis, you do have a good chance of catching a glimpse. In the later months of cruise season, September and early October, daylight is a commodity. The early arrival of dark skies in the evening ups your chances of stargazing aboard your cruise ship. But you might have to keep the kids up past their bedtime; the Northern Lights are more prevalent between midnight and the wee hours of the morning.
The Juneau Icefield
One of the most popular ports on an Inside Passage cruise is Juneau, the state’s capital. Located north of Sitka, this city is worth taking a day excursion to see the city and visit historical locations, not to mention to eat great crab legs. However, many families add a subcategory on their bucket list, right under “taking an Alaskan cruise,” and that is cruising through icefields of glaciers as far as the eye can see. While Glacier National Park is well worth visiting, you will be able to catch other icefields located throughout the Inside Passage.
Whether you are on your way to Juneau or heading to another port, you can’t miss the Juneau Icefield. The 1,500-square-mile expanse is the fifth largest icefield in North America. It contains 38 glaciers, but the most breathtaking one is the Mendenhall Glacier. Measuring 13 miles long, nearly half a mile wide and up to 1,800-feet deep, the Mendenhall is part of the Tongass National Forest.