Alaska is the first place that I can remember thinking “I want to go there”. When I was young, my parents traveled to Alaska and told us wonderful stories about bears, whales, and eagles. When my cousins visited Alaska, they brought back enough halibut for the whole family to enjoy at the reunion.
I knew we would get there one day. I just didn’t know when. It’s a pricier cruise than the Caribbean, and James and I had just moved to Michigan from New Zealand. We had bought a house, a dog…. the Alaska dream was set aside. But then my grandmother decided to take the whole family on an Alaskan cruise! And let me tell you, after dreaming about it my whole life, it did not disappoint.
Here are the highlights and the adventures we recommend when cruising through Alaska’s inner passage:
We flew to Vancouver to embark on Holland America’s Noordam. James has family here, and it was bonus to see them. Double bonus was it was Canada’s 150th birthday, so the city was buzzing. We stated at the Pan Pacific Hotel which is located on the waterfront and in the heart of downtown. It’s a beautiful luxury hotel, with a great restaurant overlooking Vancouver’s harbor. It’s also walking distance to the Olympic Torch.
- Pro tip: When cruising, I definitely suggest flying into the port a day before. This gives you a chance to explore the city, but also leaves room for error like flight delays, cancellations, etc. Also, many cruise lines allow you to bring a bottle of wine per person, as well as cans of mixers onto the ship. Give yourself time to get to the local liquor shop! (Check with your cruise line on their rules & regulations about bringing alcohol on board).
- After a day at sea, we arrived into our first port, Ketchikan. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city and the “Salmon Capitol of the Word”. If you’re into fishing, this is the place to go. It is a more pricey excursion, but my family found it cheaper to find a charter on our own, rather than booking through the cruise line. You will want to call months ahead rather than finding one on the day, and do your research.
- While the boys went fishing, the girls went kayaking. This was such a great experience being ON the water. We saw eagles, starfish, and seals up close and personal.
- After kayaking, we sampled smoked salmon at the Salmon Market, and then grabbed fried halibut and chips while waiting for the boys to return. There are so many restaurants and I’m sure many are great, but I’d ask a local where to get the best fish!
- Bring a raincoat, as the fisherman said, “We use this mountain to predict the weather. If you can see the mountain, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see the mountain, it’s raining”.
- Next stop was Juneau. This was our favorite port. We took a whale watching tour and saw humpback whales “bubble netting” which we were told only happens a few times a season. The whales work together and blow bubbles to essentially ‘net’ the fish into one area. The leader whale then lets out a call which signals the whales to come up through the net – all at the same time! It was an amazing thing to watch.
- Once back on land, the guides took us on about a mile hike to the Mendenhall Glacier. We were told the water was about 34-degrees F. As you follow our adventures, you’ll learn that James is never one to say no to plunging in cold water.
We asked our tour guides about other local hikes we could complete in an afternoon. They sent us to Mt Roberts. From the start of the trail, it is about a 2 mile hike to the Mountain House where the tramway arrives. When we were there, the trail started at Basin Road. Ask a local to point you in the right direction. It’s a MUDDY, steep hike. But once at the Mountain House, you can spend $10 at the gift shop and ride the tram down for free (which is totally what we did).
At the Mountain House though, this is where the hike through the mud paid off. The trees open up and there are a series of hikes and tracks above the mountain house with breathtaking views. I believe you can Summit Mt Roberts here too, but we ran out of time. Definitely bring a map!
- Our last port was Skagway. We did our research before hand, and were told Grizzly Falls is THE place to zipline. I’ve zip lined in a few different countries, but I think this was my favorite! First, they take you to the start of the ziplines on a monster truck! Which was as much fun as at looks.
- After getting all geared up, we zip lined over falls, rivers, and valleys. The guides taught us different ways to jump or flip off the landing to send us spinning or upside down through the forest. Highly recommend this excursion.
- After, we asked the guides to send us in the direction of hikes that were accessible from the cruise port. They pointed us to Lower Dewey Lake and Upper Dewey Lake. We make it Lower Dewey Lake pretty easily. It’s a steep hike, again, but well worth the reward. James couldn’t resist the water and went for a swim to cool off.
- We continued on towards Upper Dewey Lake. The views only got better. The terrain only got steeper. This was a grueling hike. My sisters and I pretty much made it as far as our legs could take us. We were still recovering from the 7 mile hike the day before, and we had to be back on the ship 30-minutes before it left. The guys set out on a run to the summit. The pictures were pretty phenomenal. We ran down the mountain and made it back to board the boat just in time.
Glacier Bay National Park
- So this wasn’t a port, but the cruise ship sailed slowly through Glacier Bay and we got up close and personal to Lamplugh Glacier, Johns Hopkins Glacier, and Margerie Glacier. The huge ship literally spun in circles so everyone could see from the port or starboard side.
- Our disembarkation port was Seward. We took about a three hour bus to Anchorage to catch our plane. The drive on Seward Highway is a trip in itself, and I got to check “see a moose” off my Alaska bucketlist.
Once in Anchorage, we stopped at the 49th State Brewing Co which has top notch views and craft brews. This was recommended by our bus driver, and once again the locals in Alaska did not steer us wrong.
What to Pack
- We were SUPER lucky with the weather. We went early July, and had only about a day of rain. This is RARE! At every port, the locals would say “This is the first day of sun we’ve had in weeks!” or “It has been raining sideways for three days!” Even the crew said to us “You guys are lucky – last week it rained every day”. We had a high of 66-degrees F in Juneau, and the other days about 57-degrees.
- Here are a few things you don’t want to forget when packing:
- hiking boots and hiking socks
- good rain coat
- gloves and beanie (I also love my Buff)
- lightweight, packable down coat
- Dress in layers! I think everyday I started in my fleece, down coat, and rain jacket but my mid-day was in my leggings and a tank top. A few days I even changed into shorts!
Alaska was all I ever dreamed it would be and more. I can’t wait to return and do an inland trip to Mt Denali and explore more of what there is to offer. We have been back from Alaska for about two months, and this majestic state has left me feeling so refreshed and inspired.