I had many excuses for never having visited our 49th state, but ultimately the real reason why my first visit to Alaska happened just a few months ago was because I didn’t make it a priority. It wasn’t from a lack of desire; I’ve only ever heard great things about traveling around the state and, given my own love of remote destinations, it seemed like the perfect fit for me and my travel style. Earlier this year, the stars finally aligned and I had my first opportunity to visit America’s Last Frontier in a way that I think is the perfect first introduction – on a cruise with Holland America. There’s a lot to love about Alaska, all of which is highlighted on a cruise but today I want to share exactly why I think all first time visitors to the state should try a cruise for that all important initial introduction.
Intellectually, I think we all understand that Alaska is enormous, but experiencing it firsthand truly brings it into focus. Roughly one-fifth the size of the Lower 48, it’s a rugged land that is hard to get around and experience without a lot of help. That’s why cruising along the Alaskan coast is one of the most popular ways to experience the state, first time or not. Rather than having to negotiate a whole host of boats and planes, the cruise ship is convenient and visits a variety of key stops in the state. I couldn’t even imagine trying to cobble together a similar trip on my own, the logistics and cost would just be too daunting.
Diversity of experiences
There are a variety of different itineraries available to would-be cruisers in Alaska, but from my experience with Holland America the ports of call and experiences offered at each stop were each very unique and together offered a fantastic view into life in Alaska. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing. Different from most other cruises, every second onboard the Westerdam featured incredible views and stunning scenery. Unlike the Caribbean or the Mediterranean where it’s common to lose sight of land for long spans of time, throughout the sailing adventure in Alaska, getting there was as incredible as the featured stops. Once we did arrive in port, we were met by even more opportunities to get out and explore the wild expanses of the state. Whether it was taking an old train through scenic mountain passes or soaring high above the trees on a floatplane adventure, the experiences shared the enormity and beauty of the state in stunning detail. While you can easily sail around Alaska on a larger ship with all of the amenities it affords, it very much feels like an expeditionary experience and that is all too rare.
Cruises offer something special
The perennial complaint about cruises, usually by people who have never taken one, is that they don’t offer enough time in port; that they don’t offer enough insight into new destinations. To be honest, sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. I’ve cruised to places where a day was more than enough time and other spots where I wish I had a week to explore. I have always seen cruises as a great way to see if I like new places and, if I do, then I can plan my own return trip. On cruises I have visited many cities that I thought I would love, but ended up not liking at all and vice versa. Cruises enable me to experiment with new destinations before committing to a longer trip. In Alaska, that sort of trip is critical I think. The diversity of towns and experiences are incredible, and no doubt they don’t appeal to all people. It was important for me to see which places I liked the most and what sorts of activities I most enjoyed. As an example, Anchorage was ok but not my favorite, however I absolutely loved both Juneau and Ketchikan. If I return to Alaska, I would try to mimic those experiences that I know I liked. More than tourism experimentation, taking a cruise in Alaska is just a lot of fun. Spending the day sailing through Glacier Bay National Park is something I know that I’ll never forget, as was admiring the varying landscapes from the balcony of my cabin. Add to that all of the amenities a cruise line like Holland America offers, from incredible food to engaging entertainment and more, and the trip is well rounded and just plain fun. This is vacation, it should be enjoyable and for my money, spending a week or more sailing through the chilly waters of Alaska is one of the best vacation options out there.
Alaska is amazing
The state doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves and now ranks as one of my favorite destinations on the planet. It has everything I love: it’s a little remote, it’s incredibly gorgeous and interesting in a way that is very unique. While I’d love to visit and do a land-based journey, cruising is the perfect way to experience as much as possible in a short time frame. Alaska is immense and seeing it from a ship enables visitors to experience a variety of different towns and remote outposts. Sailing with Holland America was also surprisingly fun and I quickly found myself falling for the cruise line. Holland America also has a very long history with Alaska, enabling them special access to certain sights that other cruise lines don’t enjoy. All together, that makes cruising around Alaska the ideal first introduction to the state.