Every year, I swear I’m not going to do it again. And every year, despite what I said the last year, I set sail for Alaska.

The fun and vibrant Norwegian Pearl docked at the AJ berth in Juneau, Alaska on June 4, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The fun and vibrant Norwegian Pearl docked at the AJ berth in Juneau, Alaska on June 4, 2013. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Because I live in Vancouver – and not too far from Seattle – Alaskan cruises are both convenient and economical. There’s no need for sky-high airfares, multiple connections, and lost luggage like when I get the itch to visit the Caribbean. But even if you need to take a flight or two, Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Sure, Alaska suffers from the same horrifying case of “trinket-itis” that inflicts the Caribbean. Diamond and jewelry stores are threatening to push out local shops run by local retailers, and there’s more than enough tacky crap in every gift shop to really give your gag reflex a workout.

But in many areas, a cruise to Alaska remains unparalleled, even if it pours rain for the entire week.

Here’s what I love most about cruising to the 49th State:

The Scenic Cruising

Holland America's Zaandam traveling back down the inlet. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Holland America’s Zaandam traveling back Glacier Bay National Park. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Except for the magnificent fjords of Norway, you’d be hard-pressed to find more scenic cruising experiences than the fjords and inlets of Alaska. Not to mention, of course, the fabulous Inside Passage that spans the distance between British Columbia in Canada and Alaska.

Clouds hang perilously low on mountains and at the start of the season, don’t be shocked if the odd growler or ice berg drifts by. In the summer, you could be rained out or work on your tan up on deck. I’ve seen both, and there’s no rhyme or reason to either.

But there’s nothing like seeing eagles and bears on the shoreline, or standing watch through the straits leading in to Ketchikan and Juneau as a small procession of stark-white cruise ships steam in, their superstructures gleaming against the navy-green and blue landscape that surrounds them.

The Beer

Alaskan Beer Tasting up on the Lido Deck poolside. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Alaskan Beer Tasting up on the Lido Deck poolside aboard Holland America’s Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I like to joke I never enjoyed beer until I went to Alaska and tried the Alaskan Amber Ale that Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing Co. puts out. If your cruise line is any good, they’ll have the stuff onboard. If not, head ashore for a fresh draft pint. In fact, it took me years to finally eat and drink like the locals in Alaska, and I’d recommend anyone heading North, To Alaska should enjoy at least a beer or two on shore with the locals. Ask them about life up north; you’ll find they’re far more insightful than the folks working the diamond shops who simply migrate north after the Caribbean season ends.

The People

Lindy (left) and Cam (right). Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Lindy (left) and Cam (right); guides on my Cruise Experts Travel “Best of Alaska” tour last summer. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

As alluded to above, it’s the people I like most about Alaska. They’re nice, inquisitive, and self-sufficient. That being said, they’re nobody’s fool, and they love their State fiercely. Don’t come asking stupid questions, or you’re liable to get a stupid answer. My favorite, overheard in a bar in Skagway, was from a man who hailed from the Midwest: “Skagway is awful. I don’t know how you live here. I’ll bet you guys drink a lot up here, dontcha?” The fortysomething woman manning the bar replied, “Only when you folks are here.”

The Towns

How busy is it in Skagway? Busy enough that this was the best street scene I could catch. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Skagway, Alaska during a visit aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

I like to complain about the trinket shops and stores hawking T-shirts with stupid sayings, of which there are plenty, but I do love Alaskan towns. No two are alike, and each has their own distinctive rhythm and way of life. I love Skagway for its remoteness, but my all-time-favorite town is still Ketchikan.

The Glaciers

This should say everything.

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Join us in three weeks as we sail aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow on a spectacular 11-night itinerary that includes stops in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell, and the British Columbian ports of Prince Rupert and Victoria. In late August, we’ll return again, this time aboard Un-Cruise AdventuresSafari Endeavour for a weeklong Expedition Cruise that explores the far reaches of Glacier Bay roundtrip from Juneau!

Night falls aboard the Coral Princess as we speed towards Ketchikan, Alaska. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Click here to read our Live Voyage Report to Alaska from onboard Holland America’s Zuiderdam!

Click here to read our Live Voyage Report onboard Norwegian Pearl to Alaska from Seattle!

Click here to read our Live Voyage Report with Princess Cruises and Cruise Experts Travel “Best of Alaska”!

From the Deck Chair returns tomorrow.

 

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