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ALASKA CRUISING: an Intimate Affair
Theresa Romero

Alaska is gliding through narrow straits while watching playful waterfalls tumble down craggy rocks. Alaska is the gasp of your fellow passengers as they witness a giant whale fluke its mighty tail. Alaska is hearing the echo of the roar made by huge slabs of ice calving into the sea from a retreating glacier. Alaska is the rich folklore and culture of the Tlingits of Angoon as they share with you the story of the Great Raven and how he created the Universe. Alaska is our great 49th State and itapostrophes waiting for you.

Many visitors to Alaska come by cruise ship. The Alaska cruise season of 1998 will see more cruise ships than ever in these northern waters. No fewer than a dozen cruise companies with more than 30 ships among them will have itineraries from May through September. How do you decide which ship or itinerary is best? How do you know which is the best travel value? Quite simply, you must decide whether it is the deluxe cruise experience or the special qualities of this destination that has drawn you to a cruise to Alaska. If the answer is the latter, then a cruise aboard a smaller ship is the best choice. The smaller ships can maneuver through narrow straits that will take your breath away and glide closer to shore for a better look at that grizzly bear.

There will be three companies offering quality itineraries on smaller vessels of fewer than 150 passengers: Clipper Cruise Line, Alaskaapostrophes Glacier Bay Tours and Cruises, and Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West. Weapostrophell look at each line separately and see what makes them special. Then weapostrophell compare itineraries, prices, and the shipboard ambience. Finally, weapostrophell go through a checklist and some valuable tips and recommendations.

CLIPPER CRUISE LINE

There wonapostrophet be very many departures of the Yorktown Clipper in the 1998 Alaska season, but they will be real gems. This ship line prides itself on being "the thoughtful alternative to conventional cruising." Embarking in Ketchikan, it will take 100 passengers each voyage to the Misty Fjords, through the Chatham Strait to Glacier Bay, visiting the Inian Island and Elfin Cove.

Entertainment will include local musicians and artisans as well as lectures by historians and naturalists who accompany each sailing. Shipboard life is casual; no sequins or black ties are ever required. Dining is thought to be part of the travel experience, so local flavors and specialties are incorporated into the menu. Your fellow passengers will be well-traveled and adventurous. They have made the decision to sail on Clipper Cruise Line based on the destination and not on the price. Of the three lines offering smaller vessels, Clipper is the most expensive. All cabins are outside and start at $2200.00 per person for a seven night cruise.

ALASKAapostropheS GLACIER BAY TOURS AND CRUISES

The MV Wilderness Adventurer is a small cruise vessel that has been equipped for recreational activities. There is a kayak launching platform and an extra long bow ramp. These unique features allow passengers to access the shore for nature hikes and the sea in stable two-person kayaks.

Another special feature is the glass bottom boat used to observe the underwater beauty of Alaskan waters.

The six night itinerary sails from Juneau to Admiralty Island, Glacier Bayapostrophes East Arm and West Arm, Point Adolphus, Icy Strait, Chichagof Island, Tracy Arm Fjord, and back to Juneau. Emphasis is on the wilderness experience and the pure enjoyment of Alaskaapostrophes natural beauty. The ship will pause to allow passengers to see a pod of whales and linger in sheltered coves to let those who want to explore the shoreline by kayak experience the solitude and wonder that is Alaska.

Shipboard ambience is definitely casual. They call themselves a wilderness "lodge at sea." Meals are served at one seating in a dining room with huge picture windows for a spectacular view. Your fellow passengers will share your enthusiasm for the great outdoors. There wonapostrophet be a stuffed shirt among them. Prices start at about $1700.00 per person.

ALASKA SIGHTSEEING/CRUISE WEST

This company has been a family owned and operated business for over 50 years. They call themselves a "friendly, casual company" that wants to share its love of Alaska with its passengers. The company has several modern ships with various itineraries. In the upcoming 1998 season, the highlight of its cruise itineraries is the Prince William Sound Cruise. The four night sailings on the Spirit of Alaska will fill fast. Departing from Whittier, youapostrophell sail to the spectacular College Fjord, past Barry Arm, through the narrow Esther Passage to Cordova, Valdez, and the glorious Columbia Glacier. For those who wish to see the vast interior of Alaska, an extension tour to Anchorage and Denali National Park can be easily arranged.

No casinos. No discos. No magicians or jugglers. The atmosphere is relaxed and intimate. Passengers gather in the lounge in the evening and share the dayapostrophes adventures. Those who choose to travel with Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West are looking for a ship that is small enough to be personal and a company with the experience to show them the Alaska they want to see, without the crowds and the "glitz" of a megaship. Prices start at $1115.00 per person for the four night cruise with early booking savings through January.

The above itineraries are just some samples of the cruises that will be offered this summer. There are cruises of only two nights and cruises that let you travel by water during the day, but let you disembark to stay the night in a hotel or lodge at night. Since this is the Centennial year for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, many visitors are planning to extend their visit to include Skagway, Whitehorse, and Dawson City. Sourdough anyone?

And now for some valuable hints…

Alaskaapostrophes summer is mild but cool. Highs wonapostrophet be past the mid 60apostrophes. Expect showers and pack a lightweight waterproof jacket or poncho. Itapostrophes best to dress in layers. Start with a cotton turtleneck, then a sweater, and finally the waterproof top layer. Comfortable shoes are a must. Light duty hikers are best because they provide both comfort and a sure step. Give them a shot of waterproofing for good measure. A good pair of binoculars will come in handy for watching wildlife. Donapostrophet forget to bring lots of film for the camera and plenty of tapes for the camcorder. Remember that you will be on the water and that the glare can be brutal. Bring sunglasses!

Since these are smaller ships, the cabins are also small. They will have two lower beds and private facilities. Very few can accommodate a third passenger in a pull down upper. Families will require more than one cabin.

If you are looking for bargains, the May and September departures can offer the best prices. All prices are per person and based on two people per cabin. The smaller ships will not have the additional costs incurred for "shore excursions" that the passengers of the large ships encounter. The activities like kayaking and nature hikes are included in the initial price of the cruise. Since the ships are smaller, there is no need to transfer to other boats in order to get a closer look. Youapostrophere already right there.

If it is the spirit of Alaska that is calling you, consider the smaller ships that sail through her more secluded bays and straits. The wild beauty and natural experience should be savored. You can make your cruise to Alaska a special and intimate affair.

 

Theresa Romero, CTC can be contacted at Travel Incorporated. Phone 303.292.6074 in the Denver metro area, or 1.800.441.2658. E-mail her at travelinc@yahoo.com. Visit the web site at http://www.eztn.com/travelinc<