Alaska, It’s Hot!
Cool Adventure Awaits in Cruises and Tours
By P.J. Thomas
Alaska is an alluring destination, especially “cruise tours” that combine a popular land vacation for people wanting to experience America’s wilderness beyond just viewing it from the balcony of the ship or through nearby ports of call.
Cruise lines such as Norweigan, Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean offer the combination cruise and land packages. Alaskan cruises typically sail from May through mid-September after which time the ships reposition to warmer waters.
Typically with a seven-day cruise, expect to choose from a three-to-eight day land tour available either prior to or after the cruise. Many elect to take the land portion first since days start as early as 6a.m. and twelve-hour days are common before you reach the next stop on the itinerary.
“People tend to like to go, go, go to see Alaska. Then get on the ship and relax” said tour guide, Roberta Warner from Royal Caribbean Cruisetours™.
On a cruise tour, the land portion of the itinerary is booked as a complete package. This provides a seamless transition from the land portion of the trip through the cruise portion of the vacation.
My husband and I cruised aboard Royal Caribbean where their Cruistour™ guide accompanied guests each day on the motor coach and day tours.
We never had to handle our luggage except to sit it outside of our hotel room early each morning prior to departure. Each evening we entered our room to find the luggage already there.
Most of the cruise tour guests were experienced cruisers, and seemed to be men and women “of a certain age” who longed to experience what many called their dream vacation.
A start in Fairbanks provided a quick immersion into the “Land of the Midnight Sun”.
In mid August the temperatures were a chilly 50 degrees and sunset didn’t occur until around 9:30 pm, so be sure to bring warm clothing including a jacket.
Tours included a riverboat excursion of an Athabascan Indian village where salmon fishing and other ways of life were demonstrated. Another day we visited Denali Park and were very disappointed when we didn’t spot any moose or bear as other groups bragged about seeing.
Athabascan Indian village where salmon fishing and other ways of life were demonstrated.
One of the favorite tours was to the Husky Homestead Tours and Goose Lake Kennels operated by Jeff King, a four-time Iditarod champion, who in 2006 at the age of 50 became the oldest ever to win.
Here visitors held newborn puppies, posed for pictures, watched a husky dogsled team in action, and heard a presentation by King, who has a future as a stand up comedian. His humorous presentation offered an insider’s view of the men and women who dedicate themselves to this grueling, 80-mile dogsled race though freezing snow and below zero temperatures which can take the winner between 6-8 days to cross the finish line. It’s called, called the Last Great Race.
“Men and women compete equally in the Iditarod,” King said. “We’re not the athletes, the dogs are.”
In addition to the scheduled tours, optional tours can include skiing, whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, touring glaciers by helicopter, and other adventures.
The Wilderness Express®, Royal Caribbean’s private train, is the highlight of the land portion of the Cruisetour™ traveling from Talkeetna to Anchorage. It has expansive dome windows for viewing, spacious tan, leather seats that recline and turn around to create a conversational grouping of four. The trip is fully narrated and the dining service is reminiscent of a time when white-linen service aboard trains was the norm in America. There is also an outdoor observational deck (where smokers also gather).
The Royal Caribbean Cruisetours™ are fully escorted and include admission prices, four-star accommodations mostly in lodges, rail transportation, motor coach or regional airlines, limited meals, luggage handling, and airport transfers.
Peak season for Alaska cruises are June and July. August is popular; however, it’s a rainy month.
Warner says, “Don’t let the weather stop you from visiting Alaska. You just never know what the day will hold.”
She’s right. After a day of being bundled up while visiting the Denali National Park, where we shivered and braced against the wind while listening to a native guide, we were greeted by a gloriously sunny morning and a spectacular view of Mt. Denali (often referred to as Mt. McKinley on some maps).
Royal Caribbean meets, and in many cases exceeds, the ADA standards for those needing special accommodations. During every part of the cruise tour experience, there were several travelers in scooters, wheelchairs, or walking with canes. There was even a city tour designed especially for those in scooters and wheelchairs. The Wilderness Express® has a special lift for wheelchair passengers or others requiring assistance and you can make those arrangements through your travel agent.
To book a cruise tour contact: Crystal Perkins Sykes at C&K Travel Tel. 864-372-6055.