During the month of September, I was lucky enough to be invited to a professional conference that took place on a cruise ship that spent 10 days sailing between Seattle and Alaska. I had gone on a cruise once before when I was a child, but this was my first cruising experience as an adult. Due to my work, I spend half the year on offshore ships, so this one of the reasons cruises had not appealed to me in the past. I had grown so accustomed to seeing water during my work life, that I did not have the same motivation to see more seas during my time away from work. This cruise though presented me with an opportunity that I could not pass up. While my primary goal of attending was the networking opportunity that was afforded to me by other professionals in my industry; cruising through the Alaskan inner passage was already an item on my bucket list so I felt this was an amazing opportunity to accomplish multiple goals at once. While the conference was incredibly productive, this article is meant to focus on the cruising experience, the activities that I enjoyed on the ship, and the various sites I saw at the ports of call along the cruise. Throughout the cruise we stopped in the Alaskan towns of Sitka, Skagway, and Juneau.
The first port of call on this Alaskan adventure was the small town of Sitka. I'm always drawn to trying out new food anywhere I travel, and this town was no exception. Like many towns in Alaska, there is a strong influence here of Russian culture. This is due to this region formerly being owned by Russia prior to it’s purchase by the United States. This is reflective in the Russian product shops in each town as well as the architecture and food in the area. Within Sitka, I enjoyed Russian dumplings from a small restaurant on main street (Russian dumplings were literally their only menu item) In addition to the Russian culinary influence, there is also a lot of seafood within Alaska due to its proximity to the major fisheries within the waters surrounding the state. Because of this, finding seafood in most Alaskan towns is very easy to accomplish and the seafood itself is always fresh. After exploring the main street of Sitka for a bit, I chowed down on a Dungeness crab roll from a street vendor that was amazing. After lunch, I continued wandering through the town. Sitka is filled with totem poles and mountain scenery. I was also lucky enough to arrive here during the annual salmon run. Seeing the massive number of salmon migrating their way upriver was incredible to see; with rivers completely overflowing with sockeye. Sitka Totem State Park is one of the towns major highlights and was very fun to walk through. The park was filled with 50-foot colorful totems lining the trails throughout this historic site; show casing the history of the ingenious culture that used to reside within this region.
The next port of call along the cruise was the town of Skagway, Alaska. This coastal Alaskan town grew because of the Klondike gold rush. While the prospect days are over, the town has transitioned into a tourist town that is a popular port of call for cruise ships. Like many towns in Alaska, seafood is the star culinary attraction here and I was lucky enough to find a local restaurant off main street where I enjoyed locally sourced oysters from the Salt Lady Food Company and a round of Dungeness crab chowder. After lunch, I headed around the former gold mining to explore the town and surrounding mountains. One of the highlights of this town is the White Pass railroad loop that takes riders through a winding trip through the Yukon Mountains that surround the town of Skagway, allowing them to take in the sweeping mountain vistas, abundance of waterfalls, and the occasional Grizzly bear siting. Much like Sitka, Skagway is a relatively small town with main street taking up 5 city blocks. Walking from one side of town to the other was accomplished within 30 minutes with main street within the town mainly consisting of a series of souvenir shops, restaurants, and jewelry shops that were designed to cater to the frequent cruise ships visitors that travel through Skagway.
The final port of call along that I was able to explore on my 2023 Alaskan adventures was the state capital of Alaska, Juneau. I spent the day hiking along the West Glacier Trail. This quick 5-hour trail took me through temperate rainforests with carpets of moss before I descended up into the mountains towards a scenic vista overlooking the Mendenhall Glacier, the region’s largest glacier. This was a great way to stretch legs, get in a good workout, and enjoy some breathtaking scenery within Alaska. This was also an excellent change of pace from the entertainment options that were offered on the cruise ship itself. Like many of my port of call excursions, the cruise ship arranged the logistics with their port of call ventures programs. The cruise ship had travel oriented vendors and partners that transported people from the cruise ship to the many options offered at each port. The variety of activities ensured that anyone was able to find something that interested them at each stop. There are low energy activity options such as attending a local salmon bake to more intense options such as hiking on top of glaciers or sea kayaking among whales. Whale’s tours were offered at every port of call with whale siting’s being very common. This is since many humpback whales migrate to Alaska during summer months for feeding. Whales were often spotted around the cruise ship itself while we were sailing along our route. One of the most unique ventures that were offered were helicopter tours of the glaciers that landed on top of the various glaciers on the route and allowed riders to disembark and hike around on top of the glaciers.
Juneau, Alaska had been the largest port of call on the cruise so offered more culinary options that the previous cities. One of the major dishes within Alaska are fish and chips and I was finally had the chance to try one this within Juneau. I found a town square that had been converted into a permanent food truck park and the food there did not disappoint. The fish was incredibly fresh, and I was able to try a variety platter of salmon, halibut, and cod. You can really taste the difference when the fish is brought up from the docks a few miles from where they are served. Hard to get fresher than that.
There are several days at sea on the cruise and the ship is happy to provide entertainment options to keep those on board happy while they are on the ship. Whether it’s soaking up the mountain’s views in the hot tub, cutting up the dance floor at 70s night, or singing along all night with one of the ships many entertainers; there was never a shortage of activities to enjoy onboard the ship. Providing an amazing opportunity to let loose, have some fun, and get to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories, creating great friendships along the way. There is often a play or two available at the theaters each night, a variety show at one dance floor or another, and a dance party that can be found somewhere on the ship that stays active until 2am each day.
There are also a lot of options offered on board during every meal of the day. To really enhance the experience of each meal, I frequented the buffet on the top deck for many meals and was sure to sit by the window to enjoy breath taking ocean and mountain views at each meal. There was also a formal dining room available for dinner in another section of the ship where I ate dinner most days. The staff made sure that the meals never got stagnate by offering different themed meals each day. One day, I was enjoying a French inspired dinner filled with escargot and a charcuterie board while the next day could be an Asian inspired dinner made up of chicken curry and dumplings. This change of pace made each meal feel unique and something to look forward to.
Overall, I enjoyed my time on the cruise ship greatly and it has inspired me to investigate other global cruise options in the future. This is an excellent way to have enjoy a luxury experience on the ship while being able to see multiple towns and cities along the way. Whether it’s a local cruise from the Caribbean or an international cruise through Southeast Asia; I look forward to the adventures that may come and sharing my experiences with others. But that is a story for another day…