Explore the wild waters and lands of The Last Frontier with Celebrity Cruises.
By Amity Moore Joyce
With its pristine scenery, colorful Indigenous culture and amazing wildlife, Alaska ranks high on many travelers’ bucket lists. But vacationers struggle with how to best take it all in. Should you watch migrating humpbacks from a ship’s bow or spy brown bears from an overlook in Denali National Park & Reserve? The fact is — you don’t have to choose!
Cruisetours, which pair at-sea journeys with land adventures, bring together the best of both worlds in a single getaway. Although several cruise lines offer these types of journeys, Celebrity Cruises presents more than 25 different itineraries that see passengers disembarking at ports along the Inside Passage and across the Gulf of Alaska to explore the state’s scenic interior.
On most of the land and sea packages, passengers sail between Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada and Seward, Alaska. The typical voyage takes seven days, as the Millennium, revolutionized in early 2019 and the primary Celebrity ship that plies Alaska’s waters, calls in five towns after leaving her port of origin, whether she is headed northbound or southbound. The shortest cruisetour, Denali Express, lasts nine nights, meaning you enjoy seven days of cruising and three days of touring.
The difference between the shortest cruisetour, the longest one and those with lengths in between, which span from 10 to 13 nights, lies in how many days you spend on land. When choosing the best itinerary for you, look closely at the land tour portion because there is where the distinctions are found. Be sure your visit will include the stops you want and the length of stay you desire in those favored places. Ask your AAA Travel Agent for recommendations when you book your trip.
WHERE LAND MEETS SEA
In Alaska, the overnight land tours include some blend of Anchorage, Alyeska, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks. Each itinerary is different in terms of where it goes, for how long and even how visitors travel between destinations (by rail or road). That said, almost all of Celebrity’s Alaska cruisetours visit Anchorage. It’s an easy jaunt via motor coach from Seward, the port that either introduces or concludes the at-sea portion of a cruisetour, to the state’s largest city, which serves as both a hub for urban fun and a basecamp for wilderness adventures. On some itineraries, such as Talkeetna Treasures, Anchorage is also where travelers fly to start or end their cruisetours.
Sandwiched between Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains, Anchorage offers almost immediate access to nature and wildlife via boat tours, hikes, flightseeing tours or fishing excursions. Your time here usually totals one full day — just long enough to appreciate the views of snow-kissed peaks and sparkling waters while dining on fresh-as-it-gets seafood or delving into Alaska’s First Nations at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
“THE GREAT ONE”
All land-and-sea packages always include Denali, a 6-million-acre national park that is home to the state’s “big five” (wolves, grizzly bears, moose, caribou and Dall sheep) and the tallest mountain in North America. On a clear day, the park’s namesake, 20,310-foot tall Denali peak, can be seen from Anchorage. The perpetually snow-cloaked “Great One,” playing peekaboo with the heavens, holds your gaze as you approach it.
Of course, the longer you stay in Denali National Park, the more you’re able to explore. The trails seem endless and are free to hike, or you could book an optional excursion, such as a flightseeing tour or a rafting trip down the Nenana River. One of the most unique opportunities, however, is meeting the sled dogs that help patrol the park in the winter. Visits to the kennels are free as are summer demonstrations of the huskies’ abilities. You won’t soon forget fluffy pups yapping in excitement or the vocal enthusiasm of their older kin as they’re harnessed to a sled.
Two 13-night cruisetours, Grand Heartland Adventure and The Great Frontier Expedition, cover quite a bit of ground, offering overnights in Anchorage and Denali, but also in Talkeetna and Fairbanks. Talkeetna, with a population of less than 1,000 people, features a single historic main street lined with a handful of 100-year-old buildings that now house boutiques and restaurants. Its highlight? A view of Denali that residents claim is better than the one admired from the national park. Fairbanks, meanwhile, got its start thanks to a different treasure: gold. Contemporary visitors bide their time in this former mining town by panning for gold flakes or relaxing in hot springs. The nightlife is good, too. After all, Fairbanks is truly the land of the midnight sun.
In 2021, for the first time, Celebrity will visit Homer, Alaska, on the rugged Kenai Peninsula as part of its new 13-night Homer Discovery and Heartland Wildlife Cruisetour. Walk the docks with a local expert to learn how Homer became known as the halibut fishing capital of the world, then consider booking a guided trip to hook your own large, toothy flatfish. This new package also overnights in Alyeska (aka Girdwood), a mountain village found on other itineraries as well. Ride the aerial tram to the top of Mount Alyeska or succumb to the call of the wild and follow trails to breathtaking hanging glaciers. Or, step into the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to ensure you see some local wildlife.
A BEAUTIFUL PASSAGE
The anchor to a cruisetour is the cruise portion. Without it, visitors to Alaska would miss the amazing marine life and the astonishing beauty of the coast. To take it all in, find a spot on the ship’s deck and keep your eyes focused on the water and shore. A day in the Inside Passage seems to encapsulate the best of Alaska — steep fjords, unexpected waterfalls and possible wildlife sightings. Here and in the waters around Seward, Juneau and Icy Strait, watch for tell-tale spouts or tail fins to reveal pods of orcas or humpbacks. If you’re lucky, you might catch a breach. For glaciers, Hubbard is one of the best. It wows with its 400-foot-tall wall of ice and snow. It calves regularly and vast chunks of ice thunder into Disenchantment Bay, revealing another ice-blue layer. Be sure to disembark in ports, notably Ketichkan, for its collection of Native American totem poles, and Skagway, where colorful gold rush-era buildings line the streets. Whichever cruisetour you choose, know that each itinerary has been carefully curated to reveal the uniqueness of Alaska’s wild seas and lands.
Delve deeper into Alaska with a Celebrity Cruises cruisetour! Call your local AAA Travel Agent!
Visit your local AAA office.
(Traveler Fall 2020)