By Mimi Kmet
Majestic glaciers and endless wilderness. Breathtaking whales and imposing brown bears. These images make Alaska unique among the 50 states and a must-visit destination. And for those who want to experience it via luxury cruise, Crystal Cruises is heading there in summer 2016.
Crystal Serenity will sail nine voyages with visits to Alaska, practically beckoning intrepid travelers to get out and explore this spectacular land. It doesn’t matter if you favor rigorous climbs over rough,icy terrain, or soaring over said terrain in a helicopter; or whether your style is kayaking across water you share with some of the world’s most impressive sea life, or leisurely admiring orcas while sipping spritzers on your veranda. Whatever your individual propensity for adventure and beauty, Crystal has an experience of a lifetime in store for you. Here’s just a glimpse of what Alaska offers Crystal guests in 2016…
New, wild acquaintances. Bears, moose, bald eagles, sea otters, puffins, and of course, a variety of whale species, are among the wildlife that make Alaska their home. And, while you’re bound to see wildlife on almost any Crystal Adventure, Crystal helps increase your chances by allowing you to embark on a Kenai Fjords cruise out of Anchorage to spot gray whales and maybe even humpback and orca whales. Or, visit the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines via jet boat from Skagway. Venture (with a guide) into brown bear territory or check out the numerous bird species in Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest temperate rainforest.
Glaciers. Everywhere. Alaska is well-known for its glaciers, including Chilkat, Meade, Mendenhall, Hole-in-the-Wall, Taku, Norris, Beloit, and Blackstone. There are 36 named glaciers in the Juneau Ice Field alone. So, how can you experience these colossal rivers of ice? Let us count the ways: Among other glacier-centric excursions (mostly in Juneau, Skagway and Anchorage), you can trek across the top of a glacier; mush on a glacier with friendly pooches who train for the annual Iditarod dogsled race; paddle across a glacial lake in a pristine wilderness; fly over the Juneau Ice Field in a float plane or helicopter; and board a small boat for a bay cruise to get an up-close view of two tidewater glaciers.
Heritage and History. Alaska’s cultural diversity is unmistakable, from native roots to Russian lore and frontier legacy. In Kodiak, visit the Russian Orthodox Church and Seminary and stop for Russian tea. Take in a Russian folk dance performance and visit St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka. Sitka National Historical Park boasts an array of Russian and native Tlingit cultural exhibits, as well as totem poles and local craftsmen working their traditional totemic art forms. Rail aficionados will want to ride the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, built more than a century ago to link the boomtown of Skagway to the goldfields. And you can commemorate the Klondike Gold Rush with a tour of historic Skagway, starting and ending in a saloon that was built in 1897.
Alaska Aloft. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t miss any part of the vastness of Alaska’s splendor is to take to the skies. Taking in the lush wilderness, massive glaciers and incredible wildlife from a helicopter or floatplane offers perspective one cannot experience on land…or water. Particularly given the fact that much of Alaska can only be reached via aircraft, which means you’ll see things you wouldn’t otherwise. Land on a remote glacier for an “extreme” hike, kayak on a glacial lake, or simply relax and enjoy the spectacular views from above (think: a seaplane ride over twisting fjords, crystalline lakes, cascading waterfalls, and granite cliffs before landing for a crab feast at a local lodge).
Adventures to get your blood pumping. Take your pick. You can hike, kayak, rappel, snowshoe and bike through some of Alaska’s treasured topography and crystalline waters. Besides trekking across a glacier, active adventures include ziplining over rainforests in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan; heli-hiking (hiking through wilderness reached via helicopter) in White Pass; snowshoeing through Tormented Valley; rock climbing and rappelling the smooth granite walls of White Pass; sport fishing in Sitka; sea kayaking in Juneau and on Prince William Sound; and bicycling through town and along the highways of Skagway, Juneau and Sitka.
Voluntourism: A complimentary excursion through Crystal’s “You Care. We Care.” program allows you to be part of the destination in a helpful way, by contributing to the operation or maintenance of the salmon hatchery or marine-life exhibits at the Sitka Sound Science Center. The non-profit facility is dedicated to attaining a better understanding of Alaska’s unique aquatic ecosystems.
These experiences are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Culinary-focused excursions, city tours, off-road rides, photo safaris, and horseback riding are some of the other opportunities in store next summer. Of course, if you can’t decide which excursion to take — hiking or bicycling, flightseeing or whale watching, kayaking or White Pass Railroad — several excursions combine activities for a double dose of adventure.
Crystal’s 2016 Alaska season includes a trans-Pacific cruise from Tokyo to San Francisco that calls at several ports along Alaska’s southern coast and Southeast Passage; and the first-ever Northwest Passage expedition cruise by a luxury line, which starts in Anchorage (Seward) and calls at Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, and Nome before traversing the waters north of Canada.Besides the trans-Pacific and Northwest Passage cruises, you can experience Alaska on these itineraries in 2016:
June 19: “Alaskan Inspirations,” Vancouver to Anchorage (7 days)
June 26: “Alaska Discovery,” Anchorage to Vancouver (7 days)
July 3: “Glacier Splendors,” Vancouver to Anchorage (7 days)
July 10: “Alaskan Vistas,” Anchorage to Vancouver (7 days)
July 17: “Grandeur of Alaska,” round-trip Vancouver (10 days)
July 27: “Alaskan Frontiers,” round-trip Vancouver (10 days)
August 6: “Majestic Alaska,” Vancouver to Anchorage (10 days)
Additional savings with “Book Now” fares are available through December 30.