Time to slow down when life gets a bit hectic? Need a change of scenery? The Alaska cruise can be a breathtaking adventure: Giant snowcapped mountains, sparkling glaciers, thick pine forests rising up from the shoreline, and abundant wildlife all vie for your attention in this dramatic landscape.
Towns and villages simply brimming with history tell a distinctive story of the Great Land.
An Alaska cruise typically departs from Seattle in Washington state or from Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Winters are very harsh in Alaska, so the main cruising season is confined to the summer months, typically between now and the end of September.
Where to go in the 49th state?
The most popular route takes passengers on a one-week round-trip up the Alaskan coastline and through the Inside Passage. This takes in the ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka in the extreme southeast of Alaska.
A totem pole in Ketchikan
Other cruise routes run to Prince William Sound, near the city of Anchorage -- where a possible stop is the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Cultural Center -- and also along the Alaska Peninsula and into the Bering Sea. These longer trips are often one-way, requiring passengers to make their return journey by train or plane.
Ketchikan is well worth a visit alone for the Tongass National Forest -- the most northerly rainforest on the North American continent. It is more than eight times the size of Yellowstone National Park, and offers the ultimate in adventure tours, where you'll find rich salmon runs and even grizzly bears.
Ketchikan is also home to the world's largest collection of totem poles; these can be found at the Totem Heritage Center Museum.
Juneau -- often referred to as "Little San Francisco" -- is Alaska's capital. Here, you can experience life in a true northern city. The Mendenhall Glacier is surely worth a visit, as is the Sawyer Glacier a little farther to the South.
What's the Rush?
Skagway represents Alaska's gold-rush town. It is very well-preserved, and offers access to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Disembark at this port and view the way of the world-famous White Pass railroad, before panning for gold in this northern outpost. And when you're done with the gold, take some time to watch the whales near Sitka -- a haven for these beautiful creatures all year round.
(It is also, it should be pointed out, the mythical home for post-Holocaust survivors in Michael Chabon's best-seller, The Yiddish Policeman's Union.)
For the more adventurous, an Alaska cruise can take in Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Known as Alaska's "Emerald Isle," this gem takes visitors back to the time when the first inhabitants settled there -- more than 7,500 years ago.
John Metcalfe is the Webmaster of: www.atozcruises.com .