Friday, October 31, 2008

Preferred Alaska Tours

20,320 foot Mount Denali
by Robert L. Gisel

 The cruise liner tours are so magnificent they are the main source of the roughly 12 million tourists that go through Alaska each year. These are graciously accommodated by the 670,000 total population of Alaska. We take them on 20 to 1!

 Princess Cruise Lines has the best assortment of cruises including one that goes to Whittier and combines with an overland train ride to Denali and even to Fairbanks. Here is their video on this which really says it well.

  The season goes through August and not much beyond, then after the winter will start running again. These tickets comparatively high, as liner tours go and furthermore they tend to be sold out quicker to sell out, all a tribute to Alaska's popularity. However the last minute tickets one can get can be considerable savings. always has good last minute bargains and will be showing good options later this year for the 2009 50th Alaskan anniversary tours. 50 years for the 50th state, one can bet it will be a good year to travel to Alaska.

 The tours will embark from Vancouver, B.C. or Seattle or occasionally from San Francisco. These are the tours that typically go the route up the beautiful Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage to Glacier Bay. This gives a good show of mountains and glaciers and marine life as well as stops in the historical cities of the panhandle of Alaska. Here are the remnants of the Alaska Native culture with it's carved canoes, totem poles and lodges. Add to that historic sites of the Russian occupation and the gold rush historic sites there is plenty to see.

 This is usually climaxed by cruising right into Icy Bay close in to walls of ice at the Muir Glacier or the Hubbard Glacier or any of the dozens of others. The glaciers in that area come out of a huge ice field that is itself a hundred miles or so of continuous ice field and vast glaciers. It's easy to see the fascination of this to so many tourists.

 There are a number of side tours in each of the cities of which are in the main unfamiliar to me except in my home town of Juneau. Here you can tour the now closed AJ Mine, raft down the Mendenhal River and can take flight over the glaciers in a helicopter or a Beaver float plane. Weather permitting this is the best, as the scene of flying across the top of the glacier is unforgettable. Some of the excursions will land on the ice field and you can walk on the glacier or get a ride in dog sled.

 Another popular stop along the way is Skagway from where you can catch the train over the gold-rush Chiloot Trail through the mountain pass into Canada. That is a pretty spectacular ride.

 My personal all-time favorite way of travelling to Alaska is up the Alcan highway through Prince George to Prince Rupert and catch the ferry there to Juneau. The higher costs of travel and transport on the Marine Highway System may make it cheaper to get a discount fare on a tour boat. Nevertheless the drive, especially the stretch of sometimes winding road out of Prince George through the Frazier River valley then over the pass to Prince Rupert is totally worth it. This way you get the best of Canada as well as the Inside Passage and can go all the way to Haines, from where you can drive to Anchorage or Fairbanks and, of course, Denali Park. The immensity of Mount Denali dominating the horizon is awe inspiring.

 If you're driving to Alaska the two routes are to go up past Prince George up and around through Tok Junction to Denali Park and up to Fairbanks or down to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. The Alcan has seen a lot of construction, is built up so as to be well above the permafrost thus it stays in pretty good shape now for a good drive that doesn't tear your vehicle up the way it used to.

 Then there is my favorite route on the Marine Highway via Prince Rupert which also gives you the pleasures of the inside passage, whale sightings, seals and porpoises.

  To travel in comfort let the tour boat Captain do the driving.


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