Journey Through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Journey Through Alaska’s Inside Passage

Although it is rarely represented properly on a U.S. map, Alaska looms large over North America – it’s actually twice the size of Texas. For the traveler, this means you could spend months exploring “The Last Frontier”—mountain climbing in Denali National Park, biking in Fairbanks, fishing for Sockeye, and exploring Juneau, the state capital. With a coastline longer than all other states combined, many people choose to cruise Alaska on their first visit in order to cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time.

Home to Mt. McKinley (North America’s highest peak), massive fjords, glaciers the size of Rhode Island, the northernmost rain forest, and the treacherous Chilkoot Trail, Alaska combines geography, earth science, and history lessons all rolled up in one unique vacation. An Alaskan cruise usually means a trip through the Inside Passage—the coastal route that weaves through the thousands of islands, coves, and bays that dot the Pacific Coast.

We chose a one-week cruise with Regent in order to minimize days at sea and also to make time for both a pre- and a post-trip. And, a smaller ship allowed for more stops and excursions. Before flying to Anchorage and embarking on our cruise in Seward, we spent several days in Seattle, which I covered in previous posts, “Seattle Top Spots” and “Four Days in Seattle.”

Seward, Alaska

Our cruise began in Seward, a busy fishing port on the Gulf of Alaska’s coast

At the conclusion of our cruise, we spent a few days in Vancouver (the subject of my “Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis” post). Many cruise lines follow this same route, from Northwest to Southeast and in reverse. Other ships embark from Seattle and can last 10 to 14 days. To take advantage of the most outdoor activities, the best time to cruise Alaska is summertime, when days are longest and temperatures are warmest. But, definitely pack lots of layers, a waterproof jacket, boots, hats and gloves, because the weather can change rapidly.

Regent Cruise

To reach Hubbard Glacier, we sailed through Yakutat Bay

Our days were exciting and included a JetCat Sitka wildlife tour, a scenic helicopter tour, a hike through Juneau’s rain forest and a walk to Mendenhall Glacier, and a trip back in time at the Skagway Gold Rush Museum. Our ship offered a wide range of active excursions: kayaking, biking, and dog sled adventures. In the summer, the fog can roll in quickly, so excursions can be cancelled at a moment’s notice, so backup plans are necessary.

Early one morning, we gathered on deck to watch as the ship approached one of the highlights of the cruise—Hubbard Glacier. This “river of ice” measures 76 miles long and 7 miles wide and it is the state’s most active glacier. It is very common to see sheets of ice separate themselves from the glacier, and crash into the sea with a loud crack that can be heard for miles. These pieces, christened icebergs, filled the bay and we watched in awe as these icy-blue splendors floated past the ship.

Disenchantment Bay

Pristine Disenchantment Bay

Hubbard Glacier

From a distance, Hubbard Glacier’s size is deceiving –it’s actually more than 30 stories high!

The one-week cruise made stops in several ports: Seward, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan (covered in my post “Fish & Feast”). The scenery and wildlife viewing in between ports was equally magnificent and kept us up on deck with camera and binoculars in hand as we scanned the horizon for humpback whales and porpoises.

Although this was a long journey, we look back on our visit to the 49th state grateful for our eye-opening experiences and reassured that the wilderness does still exist. And, even though Alaska is so large and so far away, upon our return, we felt a little bit closer to it.

Alaska iceberg

Although they got a bad rap in “Titanic,” icebergs are quite beautiful

Juneau

Tongass National Forest, the heart of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest

Mendenhall Glacier

Easily accessible, Mendenhall Glacier is located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau

Skagway, Alaska

In Skagway we took off on a helicopter tour

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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Vancouver: Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis

Vancouver: Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis

After a week-long Alaskan cruise, which included journeys on a plane, bus, skiff, helicopter, and JetCat boat, it was gratifying to reach dry land in Vancouver and finally explore on foot. As our ship, Regent Navigator, docked, the breezy promenade and massive sail-like rooftop structures of Canada Place came into view. This relatively young, international city with a distinct Asian flair has a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe. Filled with a delightful mix of traditional and modern architecture, Vancouver is surrounded by water on three sides and ringed by lovely, sandy beaches. British Columbia’s “west coast wonder”offers visitors the perfect mix of history, culture and outdoor pursuits all wrapped up in a pleasing, temperate climate.

Vancouver

Canada Place and its sail-like rooftop structures, echo the country’s nautical roots

A quick taxi ride brought us from the terminal to The Fairmont Pacific Rim, home base for our three-day visit. The hotel is sophisticated, but casual, and its soaring lobby offers cozy seating areas where we relaxed and enjoyed a drink. Our family of four met up with our guide and embarked on a three-hour private walking tour with a lovely young woman from Tour Guys. A graduate student with a wealth of knowledge, she engaged the boys with stories of the city’s roots. We spotted the ubiquitous floatplanes hovering in and out of the harbor, and stopped to admire the majestic Olympic Cauldron, lit during the 2010 Winter Games. We wound our way through the distinctive neighborhoods, Gastown and Chinatown, where we jumped into a taxi and continued our tour on Granville Island, the city’s creative center. After saying goodbye to our guide, we wandered around Granville, enjoying the galleries, a seafood lunch, and dessert at the Public Market.

Granville Island

Granville Island Public Market offers an endless mix of edibles

During our three days, we visited the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park, and enjoyed the diverse cuisine and the views from the outdoor restaurants that dot the perimeter of the peninsula-shaped downtown area. Our last morning, we picked up boxed lunches from the Fairmont’s  Italian-inspired lobby café, Giovane, and then joined a fishing excursion at Coal Harbor marina. At the end of our long, but satisfying days, we relaxed at the Fairmont’s outdoor pool, and daydreamed about our next trip to Vancouver.

If you have only a few days to explore Vancouver, here are my recommendations:

Tour Guys: A great company that gives you a local’s perspective. They offer small group and private tours (as well a free public tours) that cover all the popular areas while getting into the “nooks and crannies regular sightseeing tours don’t go.”

Chinatown: North America’s third largest Chinatown — visit the summertime weekend night market and the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park.

Gastown: The starting point of modern-day Vancouver, its handsome brick and stone buildings house the best bars, restaurants and unique independent shops. Stop for a photo-op by the statue of “Gassy” Jack Deighton and the famous Steam Clock on Water Street.

Stanley Park: One of North America’s largest urban green spaces, it’s surrounded on three sides by stunning ocean views. Stroll or bike along the 8.8 km seawall, making stops along the way for a picnic lunch at one of the sandy beaches. Bikes can be rented at Spokes, near the park’s entrance.

Granville Island: A favorite urban hangout featuring plenty of waterfront shops and galleries, and an indoor Public Market with rows and rows of delicacies.

Vancouver Aquarium: Located in Stanley Park, my kids were mesmerized by the stunning iridescent, jellyfish displays, Beluga whales, and adorable sea otters and penguins.

 

Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium, home to 9,000 critters including these enchanting jellyfish

A sampling of our favorite restaurants:

Simply Thai: Located in hip Yaletown, Vancouver’s “little SOHO,” it offers authentic Thai in a warm and inviting setting. My kids devoured the delicious and beautiful steamed, violet-colored flower dumplings stuffed with minced chicken.

Coast: Fresh British Columbia seafood at its best, in a dramatic, high-ceilinged setting. The extremely professional and knowledgeable staff guided us through the menu, which also features a unique sushi selection.

The Sandbar: The perfect spot for lunch on Granville Island, with dramatic views of False Creek from its outdoor dining area.

Teahouse in Stanley Park: Set on a bluff overlooking the ocean, it features Pacific Northwest cuisine. Try to get a seat outside on the lovely patio.

Bella Gelateria: All natural, award-winning gelato, ice cream and sorbet — worth the wait in the line that forms outside its door. Located right around the corner from the Fairmont Pacific Rim, so of course we went … EVERY night.

IMG_2207

Smoked-salmon flatbread at the Teahouse in Stanley Park

Simply Thai Vancouver

Delicious and beautiful steamed, violet-colored flower dumplings at Simply Thai

Vancouver

A stunning view of downtown Vancouver and False Creek from the Sandbar restaurant on Granville Island

Stanley Park

Our walk around Stanley Park started with a view of Coal Harbor

Stanley Park

Gorgeous views from the grounds of Tea House restaurant in Stanley Park

Bella Gelateria

One of many visits to Gella Gelateria for the freshest and creamiest gelato

Vancouver

Vancouver’s proverbial picture-postcard views don’t disappoint

Herricks Travel American ExpressReady to plan a unique trip for you or your family? Contact me at mollie@herrickstravel.com. For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.