The 49th State, the largest in the U.S., is perfect for cruisers, with numerous opportunities to appreciate its vast natural beauty. Sail along the Inside Passage to visit the immense ice formations of Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, as well popular ports such as Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau, the only U.S. state capital that's not accessible by car. Or travel further north to the Kenai Peninsula and nearby Anchorage, a perfect jumping-off point for cruise tours to Denali, Fairbanks and Canada's Yukon. Maybe you'll see a bear!
A voyage along Alaska's Inside Passage is a must-do for most cruisers -- but what about the rest of the state? The 49th State is so vast and so beautiful in its varied geography that a typical seven-night sailing just isn't enough to take it all in. Enter the cruise tour. These itineraries tack an overland trip onto the usual cruise, allowing passengers to leave the coast behind to explore Alaska's Interior. Central to all of these trips is Denali National Park, home of Denali -- North America's highest peak -- and numerous species of wildlife, including grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep and moose. Longer cruise tours not only take in Alaska wilderness gateways, such as Anchorage, Talkeetna and Fairbanks, but might also venture into Canada's Yukon Territory. There, towns like historic Dawson City, the epicenter of the Klondike Gold Rush, bring the story of the "Sourdoughs" to life. Another option is to travel through the Canadian Rockies, visiting natural wonders like Banff and Jasper (partially by train), and typically connecting with the ship in Vancouver. Still others take people south of Anchorage into the Kenai Peninsula, home to Seward (an active cruise port and access point for Kenai Fjords National Park) and Homer (a regional cultural capital); the peninsula is a sportsman's paradise for fishing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. The distances between towns in Alaska, Yukon and throughout the Canadian Rockies might look manageable on a map, but the sheer size of the area involved is deceiving. It takes eight hours on a train to get to Denali from Anchorage and another seven hours (or more) by bus from Dawson City to Whitehorse in the Yukon; a decent portion of a cruise tour is spent in transit. Yet the cruise lines do their best to make the hours pleasant. Operators such as Holland America and Princess have been providing these tours for many decades now, and their operations are well organized, with plenty of excursion options for all levels of fitness. Bags are spirited from hotel to hotel with ease, and you can even send suitcases ahead to the ship, in some cases. Even the longest of cruise tours won't get you through all of Alaska, though; the state could easily take a lifetime to explore. But a few days in the Interior will certainly give you a better perspective on what Alaska is all about, and you'll return with a new appreciation for what is still America's last frontier.