It's not often that you set down your fork to watch a whale arch out of the water at sunset. Unless you're on a cruise in Alaska, in which case the postcard-worthy moment is just part of the decor. There is a lot of wild and astounding beauty in Alaska -- crystalline blue glaciers, snowy mountains skirted in lush greenery -- and it's a lot easier to see it surrounded by the creature comforts of a cruise ship.
It's no mistake that cruising is a common way for travelers to visit Alaska. Ships like Royal Caribbean's newly renovated Rhapsody of the Seas have the kinds of amenities that can adapt to a wide array of travelers. Newly refurbished rooms mean that cabin time is truly relaxing (room service is no extra charge) -- and for those who prefer to kick back with a cocktail, the retro-inspired
R-bar makes first-rate mixology a priority.
YOLO day trips
Excursions can seem like a pricey addition to a cruise vacation, but they are the easiest way to fit a few more spectacular vistas into a trip. In Juneau, the sea plane trip to the Taku Lodge takes passengers over ice fields that are raked with pools of fluorescent blue ice. At the lodge, signs warn against bears who, like the humans, are drawn to the open-fire grills of fresh-caught Alaskan salmon.
Further north in Skagway, the town’s few streets are set at the foot of mountains that catch the morning sunlight like the Paramount logo (minus the circle of stars). The steam railroad trips that spiral down the mountains have breathtaking views of the area’s mountains that go from solid snow at the top, passing by waterfalls until arriving at the lush green that surrounds Skagway.
White Pass and Yukon Railway
Built for the gold-hungry adventurers during the Yukon gold rush at the end of the 19th century, the White Pass and Yukon Railway snakes through 110 miles of granite mountains, though only 67.5 miles are used for tourism today. The rails are officially a civil engineering landmark, for good reason — the train slides over cantilever bridges and skates the edge of mountain curves. Travelers who want to see the icicles, steep hills and hypnotizing snowy vistas up close can hang out between cars as long as they remember to protect the camera from the blue-tinged waterfalls.
All-inclusive is very inclusive
Possibly the best thing about floating around a beautiful place on a ship the size of an apartment building (the Rhapsody is considered small with nearly 2,000 passengers) is the versatility that’s available for each traveler to choose his or her own trip. Families with small children can make use of day care to see sights while the tots are entertained. And travelers of all ages (and all skill levels) can access rugged Alaskan nature unburdened by luggage. Food ranging from cafe-style paninis to pad thai is available, too, so picky eaters will not go hungry.
The things you can see in Alaska you can’t see anywhere else. So you might as well get comfortable while you’re seeing it, because it might be a while.