When Cruise Experts Travel first asked me to host their 12-night Ultimate Alaska CruiseTour last June, I thought about it for all of 30 seconds before saying yes. The primary reason was that I had worked with them before, and I knew I could trust them to deliver a product that would be well put-together and go above and beyond the norm.

The second reason was that I thought the itinerary was jaw-dropping.

Our 12-day Alaskan Adventure with Cruise Experts Travel took us from Fairbanks back to Vancouver. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our 12-day Alaskan Adventure with Cruise Experts Travel took us from Fairbanks back to Vancouver. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

It’s hard to believe that I met the first of 24 guests on this Ultimate Alaska CruiseTour just two weeks ago today at Fairbanks International Airport. More would arrive over the next two days until we began our touring in full force on Sunday, July 7.

The full day-by-day reports:

What struck me about this trip was just how different cities like Fairbanks and Anchorage are from the more commonly-visited cruise ports of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. There’s a sense of remoteness in Fairbanks that is not unlike some of the towns I have visited in Iceland and Norway’s North Cape. So far removed from the nation’s capital of Washington D.C., they may as well be on the other side of the planet.

The stark beauty of Denali National Park. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The stark beauty of Denali National Park. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The people, on the other hand, were fantastically friendly. I didn’t feel unwelcome at any point in Fairbanks, Anchorage or Denali. When folks would ask where I was from and I replied, “Vancouver”, they knew I meant Canada and not Washington State.

People my age were employed everywhere I went, which stands in stark contrast to some of my recent travels throughout the United States and Canada, where people in their 20’s and 30’s seem to have a rough go on the employment front.

Learning about Native Alaskan culture during a shore stop onboard the Riverboat Discovery. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Learning about Native Alaskan culture during a shore stop onboard the Riverboat Discovery. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

In Fairbanks, there was a stark beauty to the city that makes me want to return in winter to experience the Polar Night. People here seemed to be more in-touch with their surroundings, acutely aware that, in effect, they are mainly on their own and cannot afford to be overly-reliant on others.

The Riverboat Discovery plies the Chena River in Fairbanks. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Riverboat Discovery plies the Chena River in Fairbanks. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But the near-constant daylight during the summer and encompassing darkness in winter can take their toll. On a trip to the local Safeway in Fairbanks, a man my age was walking haphazardly across the parking lot, picking fights with anyone he came in contact with. He was drunk, taking swipes at parked cars and trying to lift shopping carts up.

He wandered off, into the blazing heat of the sun, ranting and raving, before disappearing from sight.

Our journey to Denali, via glass-domed rail cars. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our journey to Denali, via glass-domed rail cars. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The flat, almost desert-style landscape of Fairbanks gave way to the lush mountains of Denali National Park, which has to be one of the most breathtaking pieces of nature I’ve seen in North America. Photographs of Denali don’t do it justice; this is a spot that should be on any Alaskan traveller’s bucket list.

The fact that we arrived in Denali by train only made the journey more spectacular; it felt as though we were descending into a valley when in fact it was the mountains around us that were growing in size with every passing mile.

One of the very few outposts in Denali. Note the constantly-changing lighting conditions. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One of the very few outposts in Denali. Note the constantly-changing lighting conditions. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

A few of my guests had been to Alaska before on fishing, hunting and motorcycling trips, but for most, this was a brand new adventure unlike any other. We certainly lucked out with the weather; the only rain we experienced on the entire trip was a slightly drizzly afternoon at Denali National Park.

The trip was a revelation for me on two fronts. As an unabashed ‘cruise guy’, I’d never really seen the point to taking a land tour to Alaska. Wasn’t it just more of the same? The answer is no. After numerous voyages to Alaska, I simply can’t believe what I had been missing out on. Sure, the roundtrip Alaska cruises are great – no doubt about it – but to really get to know Alaska, you have to go further north.

One of our guests holds a future Iditarod racing puppy, barely a week old. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One of our guests holds a future Iditarod racing puppy, barely a week old. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

On this trip, I also witnessed more wildlife than I ever have before, from bears roaming the wilderness of Denali to killer whales, schools of salmon, sea lions, seals, and majestic eagles, all out in full force.

But besides the raw power of nature, I was struck by the fact that I relished my role as Host of this group. The more I saw my guests have a good time, the more I wanted to go the extra mile to ensure everyone was looked after and taken care of. I can only hope I succeeded.

We were graced with some of the most unimaginably good weather, as seen here in Glacier Bay. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

We were graced with some of the most unimaginably good weather, as seen here in Glacier Bay. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Long after you and I are gone, the bears will still roam Denali. Hikers will try to ascend its peaks and ships will still ply the coastal waters of Alaska.

Here’s to hoping those a century from now can still experience the majesty and wonder that John Muir wrote so passionately about a century ago.

Onboard Coral Princess, we sailed from Whittier back to Vancouver. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Onboard Coral Princess, we sailed from Whittier back to Vancouver. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

As I look back on the past two weeks, I see that chance lunch meeting in June 2012 as one of the best things I’ve ever said ‘yes’ to. Because as far as Alaska is concerned, I never knew what I was missing until I ventured further afar.

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report from Cruise Experts Travel’s Ultimate Alaska CruiseTour has sadly come to a close, but we have an entire summer – and fall – of Live Voyage Reports still to come, including our Mediterranean voyage from Rome to Nice aboard Windstar Cruises’ Wind Star that kicks off August 8, 2013!  

 

2 Responses to Ultimate Alaska Live Voyage Report – Recap

  1. […] Ultimate Alaska Live Voyage Report – Recap […]

  2. […] What’s a hosted cruise with Cruise Experts Travel like? This summer, I had the opportunity to host the line’s “Ultimate Alaska” CruiseTour from Fairbanks to Vancouver. You can read more about the experience here. […]

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