There are certain images of Alaska that are embedded deeply within the American consciousness—images of sentinel pine trees frozen in time; of glaciers blanketing the peripherals with giant walls of white; of huskies hopping through a snow drift, the tips of their fur crystallized and glistening. But when it comes to the authentic Alaska, these icons are merely the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
Bald eagles don't just flirt with the treetops—they swoop through the air on crisp cushions of frost, their eyes afire with life. Glaciers don't just protect the shorelines—they reach out and embrace the waters, merging with the sea in a million different angles, each one ablaze with the sun's shimmering touch. Around every bend, Alaska unleashes the kind of beauty that will remain as vivid in your memories as your grandchild's first step.
Immense in size and landscape, Alaska is best experienced from the calm waters that hug its striking coastline. Cruise ships provide the vacation essentials—luxurious rooms, scrumptious dining, relaxing spas, first-class entertainment for adults and children alike—and Alaska provides the scenery—picturesque villages bursting with culture, humpback whales swimming alongside, dense forestland engulfing the distance.
All you need to provide is the entire family. Cruise lines host a bevy of entertaining activities to keep all generations smiling wide and laughing loud during the voyage. And with Alaska and its coastal towns as the backdrop, the trip will provide ample time and opportunity to bring your children and grandchildren closer to your heart.
From May to September, premier cruise lines—such as Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises—set sail from Seattle or Vancouver with their compasses pinned on North. With each ship offering unique services while touching base at numerous historic ports, your best bet is to contact your local travel agent to find the right itinerary for you and your family.
Most ocean liners voyage along the great Alaskan shores by one of two routes: the Inside Passage or the Glacier Route. Vessels traveling the Inside Passage meander through the channels and fjords of Alaska's panhandle to hidden villages only gold miners know. The Glacier Route bypasses the inner channels and follows the coastline further north, visiting unsurpassed glaciers and seaports en route to Seward, a stepping-stone to Anchorage and the interior.
The ports of call along either route rival the majestic scenery, beginning with your ship's likely starting point—Vancouver—considered by travel agents as one of the great cities of the western world. Picturesque and multicultural, Vancouver is worth an extra day before or after your cruise to explore a true Canadian gem.
Leaving Canadian waters, your first stop will be Ketchikan, Alaska's southernmost port. Originally a rugged town for loggers and fisherman to blow off steam, this "Salmon Capital of Alaska" has since renovated its unique waterfront area to welcome its many visitors. Hop off the boat and visit the Totem Heritage, which houses the world's largest collection of totem poles.
Further north up Stephens Passage, your ship will port in Juneau, Alaska's capital. Gold put this city on the map, but today Juneau relishes its cosmopolitan feel while still embracing its wilderness suburbs. While docked, strike it rich at the Gold Rush Historic District or take a bus tour of the Mendenhall Glacier for a truly eye-opening experience.
The next stop is Skagway, a small town with major appeal. Skagway exploded overnight in 1898, when the town absorbed 20,000 prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, Skagway is home to an old-fashioned Main Street with shopping you just won't find in the lower 48, while enchanting visitors with organized tours to the Trail of '98 Museum and the Gold Rush Cemetery where fool's gold glimmers in the headstones. Just a brown bear's jog from Skagway is Glacier Bay National Park, where 13 glaciers combine to create a sight that will send your heart soaring to heights only eagles dare venture. From the ship you may witness the incredible sight of calving, when chunks of ice detach from a glacier and plummet to the sea, creating a sound so unique you will never forget it.
The last destination for many cruises is Seward, perched at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula. One of Alaska's oldest and most scenic communities, Seward provides an ideal launching point to Anchorage, where, on a clear day, you can peer past the moose traipsing through the streets and see North America's tallest mountain, Mount McKinley (20,320 ft.), 130 miles away in the heart of Denali National Park.
For those who prefer a more intimate inspection of the natural wonders of Alaska, then climb aboard a small ship. With cabins for around 100 guests, small ships, like those offered by Cruise West, can navigate narrow channels to explore off-the-beaten track. With more time between ports, boat captains often choose to linger while sea otters put on a show or to search for a pod of humpbacks after a nearby fisherman radios their location.
Discover the Alaska of legend from the comfort of the waters. Cruise ships allow you to relax in luxury and feast on the finest cuisine as your grandchildren play under the supervision of a cruise counselor. Cruising this wild coastline is a soothing vacation full of scenic adventure for the entire family. Contact Alaska Cruise Tours Online ( http://www.alaskacruisetoursonline.com/ ) to uncover the Alaska within yourself.