Alaska Cruise and Scenic Drive
By Candyce H. Stapen
Alaska offers America's last great wilderness. The stateís natural wonders delight even the most jaded of travelers. Combining a cruise with a scenic drive enables you to see icy blue glaciers, pristine lakes and panoramas of snow-capped mountains as well as whales and Steller sea lions.
Since most of this scenery is in roadless areas, the easiest way to see much of this spectacular terrain is to book a Gulf of Alaska cruise that travels between Ketchikan in the south through the Inside Passage to Anchorage in Prince William Sound. Whether you hop aboard a float plane for a bird's eye view of Misty Fjords National Monument, a thirty-six hundred acre wilderness of granite cliffs, spruce tree forests and glacier carved fjords or take a raft through narrow inlets and coastal waterways in search of eagles, moose and brown bear, you will be impressed by Alaska=s expansive landscape.
Each day brings you to a different port for a new adventure. Ride a train that follows the steep route of the Yukon gold rush, take a helicopter ride over a glacier, kayak through bays populated with porpoises and seals and fish for king and coho salmon.
Since most large cruise ships plying the Inside Passage depart from Seward, about 127 miles south of Anchorage, itís worth taking the time to rent a car and drive the Seward Highway, one of the U.S. most scenic routes. This gently winding National Forest Scenic Byway cuts through Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest.
Snow-capped mountains loom across the silty waters of Turnagain Arm, gray clouds float low over the rugged mountain peaks in the distance and alongside the road the slopes are green with tall spruce trees and dotted with purple wildflowers. Arctic terns swoop across the inlet, their white wings bright against the mist.
From the marsh boardwalk at Potter Point State Game Refuge, milepost 117.4, you can view Canada geese, trumpeter swans and many species of ducks. McHugh Creek, milepost 111.8, has picnic tables near a waterfall. At Beluga Point, milepost 110.3, named for the whales who frequent this spot, you may also be witness to Alaska=s fearsome bore tide, a breaking wave of water up to 6-feet high caused by the merging of two tides in an inlet.
At the Hotel Alyeska, near milepost 100, ride the tram to the mountaintop for a panoramic view, hike the trails and swim in the indoor pool. At Big Game Alaska, a drive through game park at milepost 84, there are moose, eagles, caribou, elk, ox and bison. The road ends in Seward, home to the Alaska SeaLife Center. At this facility located on scenic Resurrection Bay, view puffins, Giant Pacific octopus plus 2000 pound Stellar sea lions.
Carnival Cruises, Princess, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America are among the lines sailing Alaskan waters. Book these popular cruises in advance.