By Maxine Albert
Let me start by saying that I am not a cruise person, never have been. However, after many years and countless pleas from my boyfriend about ‘seeing those iconic Alaska glaciers’ I begrudgingly gave in. Being that most of these towering wonders are in remote areas accessible only by sea, we decided to take a ship small enough to navigate the narrow passageways and inlets that are not accessible by larger vessels. We chose American Cruise Lines American Spirit seven day journey starting at Juneau, cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage to Glacier Bay National Park and points south.
The first excursion American Spirit offers before you even board the ship is to the Mendenhall Glacier, just outside town in Juneau. Twelve miles long, a mile and a half wide, I was struck by this white and electric blue statuesque beauty. Trails take you to photogenic spots where you can gaze up, take in its grandeur and feel the cool droplets from the splash of water thundering down the mountain into the lake. It was spectacular.
I was smitten and wanted more. We took a helicopter to the very top where a hundred feet of snow covered three thousand feet of ice. Alaskan huskies and their mushers awaited, providing thrilling sled rides. Boundless white flakes and dazzling peaks amid the clouds seemed very Shangri-La. Needless to say when I found out that there were also helicopter tours of the lower level of the glacier, where you walk on the icy terrain amid blue crevasses and meltwater ponds, I was a taker. I couldn’t get enough. Temsco Helicopters, Inc. www.temscoair.com
Cruising the Inside Passage
We cruised past many memorable spots and also saw some striking creatures of the sea. I loved Glacier Bay with its majestic Margerie Glacier. Everyone was on top deck for best viewing, ogling the massive wall of blue ice and white snow at waters edge. Then the rumble came and we all cheered as the glacier calved and cast big chunks into the sea. Our onboard naturalist, Tom, explained the constant process of snow landing on top, turning into ice below, a steady stream of water running down the mountain, and finally – the melting. It was hypnotic, like watching creation.
What was really cushy was that you could sit on your own private balcony and take this in. Perhaps the most stunning scenery was Tracy Arm, a picturesque fjord with dramatic icebergs, granite cliffs and the remarkable Sawyer Glacier. To experience nature’s majesty was something. It was both serene and exhilarating. It was so captivating there were times it was hard to go indoors. Boyfriend suggested that I might be getting addicted to the glaciers. Additionally, we saw humpback whales spouting, diving and breaching, pods of orca swimming beside us, eagles, puffins and cormorants flying.
Of the many excursions, these two were my favorites: A scenic ride on the White Pass Railway from Skagway to Canada passes inspiring landscapes and majestic mountains. The tiny town of Kake offers not only the world’s largest totem pole, but also adorable black bears with their cubs feasting on salmon at Gunnuk Creek. Bring your camera.
The First Alaskans
A highlight was having Faith Grant from the Tlingit Tribe onboard. American Spirit is one of the few ships that provides a Native American guide in addition to a naturalist. Her impressive insights and perspective proved indispensable. The Tlingit were the first Alaskans, who shaped the environment as Glacier Bay was their ancestral home. “ Welcome to my grandfather’s land, ” Faith, aka Naa Kis Ti, began and proceeded to give us a fascinating window into the heart, culture and wisdom of the region’s first inhabitants who were pushed out of their land by an advancing glacier. Everyone agreed that she greatly enriched our experience.
The American Spirit, a small modern ship with a 100 passenger capacity is the ideal way to experience the region’s beauty and get up close to those gorgeous glaciers. My floating hotel offered spacious, comfy staterooms. The private balconies, though pricier, are worth it. Dining options include duck, lobster and filet mignon with complimentary wine and beer at meals. There’s a friendly, clubby atmosphere. I met interesting people, many celebrating special occasions with family and friends, at cocktail hour where top shelf liquor and hors d'oeuvres are served, again complimentary. When we weren’t gaping at glaciers or cooing at humpbacks, the naturalist gave lectures in the spacious lounge and pointed out wildlife on either the observation deck or large open-air fourth deck. Or you could loll in a lounge chair on deck, or on your balcony, and immerse yourself in nature’s splendor.
American Cruise Lines www.americancruiselines.com
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