Alaska log – cool cruising

By on June 30, 2008

Soon Japan’s rainy season will end and give way to balmy weather, prompting allergy sufferers and perspirers dreading the next three months to daydream of cooler temperatures and escape the wrath of another Tokyo summer.  To beat the heat, and at the same time fulfill a dream I’ve had since childhood, I decided to take my wife and kids on an Alaskan cruise vacation.

A number of cruise lines reposition their flagship vessels in Alaska between May and September to take advantage of the mild weather in the region, granting travelers wanting to experience a breathtaking Alaskan excursion when the weather provides the best opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. Most ships leave from Seattle on a roundtrip itinerary, while others continue on to Anchorage.  We selected the latter schedule because of the many direct flights from Japan.

Alaska was purchased from Russia at the end of the American Civil War for two cents per acre, or a total of $7.2 million. It gained statehood in January 1959. The transaction was one of the best investments made, given the amount of gold and oil reserves the land still holds.

Our ship Norwegian Pearl, the newest of the fleet, is a massive 95.5 thousand tons of floating city. It has staterooms for nearly 2,400 passengers and a crew of 1,000, no less than twenty restaurants and bars that support free-style dining, sports areas for soccer/tennis/basketball/rockclimbing, pools, bowling alleys, seminar halls, stage shows, theatres, a library, and a casino. For families traveling with kids ages 2-17, there is a kid’s zone that has daily age-appropriate activities. Between ports of call, the activities on board keep all passengers, from one -year-old tots to 80-year-old great grandmothers, smiling.


Juneau–This sleepy town of 30,000 residents is the capital of Alaska, and one of the United States’ largest cities (acreage-wise).  Tlingit Indians were the initial settlers here and assisted in the first discovery of gold in Alaksa in 1880, leading to the founding of the town in 1906. Eventually Juneau became the location of three of the world’s largest gold mines before they closed during WWII. Interestingly, Juneau is only accessible by air or sea, as there is no US highway system connecting this town to civilization.  Arriving in the early morning allowed us to disembark right after breakfast and beat the crowds to board the bus to Mendenhall Glacier. Roughly 12 miles long but slowly retreating due to a warming climate, this glacier is almost too grand to take in. Back in town, we hit the souvenir shops down Main Street, before getting back on board by 10pm.


Meaning “windy place” in Tlingit, is the location where many gold prospectors landed to pick up supplies during the Klondike Gold Rush that started in 1897. Most landmarks are located in a seven-block district surrounding Broadway Street, and the town still retains its wild frontier feel. We arrived at 7 am, disembarked to find a light drizzle of rain. After looking around town, we took advantage of the White Pass and Yukon Route scenic railway tour, allowing us to travel the same route that Klondike gold seekers did 110 years ago. We were back on the ship by 9PM.


We spent the entire day cruising Glacier Bay, home to absolutely breathtaking passages with tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, and serene ocean coastlines. Observers, in single person kayaks and charter boats, joined our ship in experiencing the beauty of this majestic backdrop. National Park guides were on board to narrate in real-time what we were witnessing. The scale of the wilderness was hard to comprehend.

It was time to turn around and head back south when we encountered an incredible number of whales. We witnessed so many blowhole sprays and tail sightings, we lost count.


Pulling out our binoculars in this town, meaning “eagle wing river,” gave us the rare opportunity to see skies filled with bald eagles, the fierce, independent, and proud symbol of the United States. In season, the nearby river is filled with salmon, convincing the first Ketchikan settlers to build a fish saltery and later more than a dozen canneries, giving birth to the Salmon Capital of the World. Many hungry black and brown bears coming out of hibernation await the millions of salmon spawning upstream.


After an idyllic, almost surreal week, we stop for a few hours in this protected harbor on Vancouver Island, filled with heritage buildings.  This town of elegant charm slowly reintroduced us back to civilization awaiting us in Seattle where we had left eight days prior.

After a final breakfast aboard the floating city, we disembarked and headed to the airport for the flight home. This memorable experience will be a tough one to beat.


Take the kids. Cruises are a wonderful way to combine a fun adventure along with an educational experience. There is plenty of time at each port of call to take part in shore excursions, wilderness train rides, nature discovery hikes, bus tours, and more. The kids are guaranteed to have tons to tell the classmates upon returning to school.


Cruise Lines:  From May to September, Norwegian Cruise Line ( and Princess Cruises ( offer eight, ten, and fourteen day cruises departing from San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver.


About Kevin Williams