It was our last evening in Alaska. After 12 adventure-filled days of up-close photo encounters with calving glaciers, grizzly bears, moose, singing whales, bald eagles, Dall sheep, and that mellow, neighborly creature known as “The Local,” our Celebrity Alaska Cruise tour was already the vacation of a lifetime. Here are the story and our tips for the best Alaska tours for seniors.
Grizzly bear cub in Denali National Park
At bedtime that last night, with the summer sun still bright in the Anchorage sky, I had but one regret: I’d gotten no photograph of magnificent Mt. McKinley, known locally as Denali – “the high one.” Carolyn and I had gazed down on her during what was clearly the most spectacular flight we’ve ever experienced – from Anchorage to Fairbanks. But I’d had no camera.
Alaska Vacation Keeps Its Promise
Next day, at 5:18 a.m. our bed shuddered. Curtains rattled. Guidebooks fell to the floor.
“Frank! Frank!” Carolyn yelled. “Did you feel the earthquake?”
But I had slept right through what was to be the talk of Anchorage that day. Yawning, I got up and looked out the window.
Mt. McKinley aka Denali
A mile taller than California’s Mt. Whitney, Denali is 120 miles away from our Anchorage hotel window. It is so grand and majestic, the mountain creates its own weather.
It’s a wonder of wonders, there was Denali across the bay in all its glory, smiling and ready for my 400mm lens.
Not only had the Alaska vacation lived up to every superlative promise – remarkable in this age of unredeemed hype and razzmatazz – it threw in an earthquake at no extra cost.
As a dedicated world traveler, the promise of an Alaska vacation had never charmed me. Mosquitoes the size of vultures always came to mind. But when reader after reader wrote to us about their unforgettable adventures in our 49th state, we decided to take a look.
Celebrity’s Alaskan cruises, much like those of Princess, Holland American and others, combine a traditional seven-day cruise through Alaska’s scenic Inside Passage between Vancouver and Seward (near Anchorage), either north to south or vice-versa, with a five-day land “cruise” – ours was by glass-domed, luxury railroad coaches – from Fairbanks through Denali Park to Anchorage.
New Alaska Vacation Discoveries Daily
Most every day we have abundant free time for whale watching, kayaking, gold mining, sport fishing, glacier ventures by helicopter or floatplane, bike rides or hiking to glaciers, dogsled rides, glacial treks, fly fishing for salmon and trout, salmon bakes, canoeing among icebergs, wildlife cruises, photo safaris, glacier jet-boat expeditions, even canopy explorations by ATVs, not to mention just strolling around town.
And that was just for the first port, Juneau, home to 30,000, and most likely the only capital city in the US without roads in to or out of the city.
Not that there’s nothing to do at sea between ports.
Polychrome mountains, Denali National Park
Besides the usual orgy of cuisine – with its dawn to midnight delights and diet-breaking extravagances – sailing these waters just off the largest temperate rainforest left on earth is much like living surrounded by a very fancy IMAX screen. Whether on the decks taking sun or watching from the privacy of your stateroom’s balcony, every view is an eyeful of the picture-perfect postcard.
Unlike the nothing-but-water Caribbean cruises, you’re passing an ever-changing panorama of unspoiled beauty. Glacier-carved fjords and primeval virgin forests. Turn around and see eagles, working fishing boats, orcas, and humpback whales.
And it’s not like you’re rushed.
One morning our ship, Summit, hung out – carefully, as the captain must balance passengers’ desire for an up-close view and new career options – within several hundred yards of the 300-foot-high face of the blue and mighty Hubbard Glacier, just north of Skagway.
Surrounded by mini-icebergs, popping and hissing, recently calved to the sound of white thunder off the 90-mile long glacier’s face, we watched as the river of ice performed its awesome and unpredictable spectacle using an 18,000-foot high mountain range as the backdrop.
While Whitewater Rafting in Alaska, Hang On
Along the way, we made leisurely stops at Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, Seward, and the tiny Tlingit coastal village of Hoonah, Alaska. Russian-influenced Sitka – with its unique architecture, history, beauty, and typical Alaskan geniality – by itself is worth the price of the entire trip.
No way can 900 words here describe the abundance of magical moments that made up our 12-day Alaska tour. Here are three snapshots:
- While photographing from a 30-foot inflatable, six huge humpback whales got within mere feet of us, sing-songing squeaky greetings through an underwater mike. Such close-up encounters are not recommended for the faint of smell.
- In Denali National Park, a wild place larger than Massachusetts – often called “America’s Serengeti,” Carolyn thought that she’d lost me as we whitewater rafted for our first time. No paddling required. You simply hang on and enjoy the ride and occasional glimpse of moose and eagle. I’d forgotten the “hang on” part.
- Everywhere we saw wildflowers, big as your head during a hangover, and twice as colorful. This is the land of 100-pound cabbages, remember. And with almost 24/7 summer sunshine, everything grows big as the state itself.