Friday, January 22, 2010

Alaska Part 1

Alaska remains among the most desired of all cruise destinations. Majestic mountains, icy blue glaciers, coveted wildlife sightings, and incredible beauty at every turn. Ben and I love the area so much that we've already visited four times, either on a cruise, land tour, or both.

For 2010, most cruise lines pulled at least one ship from Alaska. Factors were complicated and a bit controversial. In 2006 Alaska voted in a $50 per person head tax for every visitor arriving by cruise ship. Cruise lines, of course, passed the fees on to passengers, interpreted by some as "Thank you for visiting us and spending money here. Now pay us more!"

Most of the money ($46) was supposed to help spiff up port facilities and other infrastructure impacted by the thousands of summer visitors, with the remainder going toward environmental control. In response last September, the Alaska Cruise Association filed a complaint in the US District Court in Alaska seeking a $46 relief for passengers who were already contributing to the economy there. We don't yet know the outcome.

Then, of course, came the economic downturn. Whether the slower-than-usual 2009 Alaska season was due to the extra $50 tax or to the economy in general is anyone's guess. Regardless, the end result was the ship pullout, fewer available berths, and somewhat higher rates for the 2010 season. All is not lost, however, if you book early for the best rates, best cabin choices, and your preferred dining time. Remember, when ships fill up, prices usually head up, too.

Does this mean you should delay YOUR dream cruise to Alaska? Absolutely not! Who's to know what the morrow will bring, as they say, so now is the time to lock in those rates.

What are our favorite things about Alaska? Where to begin? Heading into Glacier Bay National Park or to the Hubbard Glacier area and listening as chunks of ice calve off into the sea; eating salmon cooked over an open alder wood flame; boarding a whale watching excursion to follow a humpback's trail; soaring in a flight plane through the Misty Fjords (on a sunny day with no mist in sight); and walking up Creek Street in Ketchikan to browse the shops and buy another bag of Raven's Brew Wicked Wolf coffee.

And in the interior of Alaska? How about watching out the window of our train as Denali Park's glorious Mt. McKinley comes into view around the corner or boarding the River Boat Discovery for a lazy cruise down the Chena and Tanana Rivers to learn more about the Athabaskan Indians and those famed Alaskan Huskies.

Next week I'll write more about the cities and glaciers along the way.

Check out more of Ben's photos here!

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