Carolina Dreamin’ – In Alaska

The “Bucket List”, Starring Morgan Freeman & Jack Nicholson, has become almost an iconic mantra for folks heading towards retirement. Often I hear clients say that they have compiled a semi-formal list of places to visit or personal achievements to accomplish.

This past week I was fortunate enough to check off a line item that appears on many bucket lists – an Alaskan Cruise. Although a veteran cruiser since the late 70s, cruising the icy cold clear waters of the Pacific after the summer of oppressive heat most all of America has endured this past summer, seemed ‘refreshing’.

The first step, if in fact you are considering an Alaskan voyage, is to research the different itineraries offered by the cruise ship lines. Here are a few very basic tips about your choice of itineraries:

1. You can do an Inside Passage Northbound from Seattle or Vancouver and wind up getting off the ship in Anchorage 7-10 days later. This itinerary will stay out of open waters the majority of the trip and visit ports like Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, Sitka and usually a day at a glacier

2. You can also consider a Southbound Inside Passage, which departs from Anchorage/Seward and heads south for 7-10 days.

3. Or, you can do a 7 day up and back cruise out of Seattle or Vancouver. On this journey, you will have to hit open seas (which were relatively calm on my trip) in order to cover all the necessary nautical miles between Seattle and Alaska, which is about 850 miles. This equates to a good day and a half at sea in both directions and yet still covers ports like Skagway, Juneau and Tracy Arm – which is a Fjord that leads you to Sawyer Glacier.

We flew into Seattle a day prior to our departure and had a spectacular day there considering its rainy reputation. Mt. Ranier was clearly visible and we took the obligatory Seattle Space Needle ride for a panoramic view of Puget Sound and the city skyline. If you are not a regular visitor of this part of the country, what will surprise the average visitor is the sheer number of coffee shops. My heavens, no wonder everyone is sleepless in Seattle!

As for our cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, it was smooth sailing and nearly perfect weather. In fact, the Captain said our day in Juneau was the clearest of the entire summer, and so I donned shorts virtually the entire trip – except to the specialty restaurants on board. Skagway and Juneau are rather interesting ports of call especially if you live on the coast of Brunswick County, NC and Victoria BC was far more inviting and attractive than I had been led to believe.

Several highlights of the trip included seeing whales spouting water high into the air and even seeing one Humpback breach off our port side of the ship. We also saw seals, dolphin, mountain goats and a bald eagle and all in their natural environment. The most impressive ensory spectacular is traveling up Tracy Arm Fjord towards the Sawyer Glacier. Here the ship is wedged in between two steep snow covered cliffs with waterfalls everywhere and the water below us reaching depths of 300’ – 900’ per our Captain. As you approach the glacier, the number of iceburgs floating by increase and what is amazing, so do their impressive blue hues.

With respect to your outlay for the cruise, it is not nearly as bad as one might think. I was fortunate enough to use some frequent flier miles for my airfare and hotel, so the basic cost of the cruise was merely $100/day (per person), which is an incredible value given what you are experiencing. Plus, I came in second on the ship wide Black Jack tournament in the casino, so that helped ease the pain of the jewelry I purchased for my girlfriend.

So if you are thinking of booking an Alaskan cruise or checking off another Bucket List To Do item, do your research and enjoy yourselves because heaven only knows that you deserve it! (PS Back in the 1990s when only 5% of all Americans had experienced cruising, this author was a columnist for the largest cruising website in America. Today, nearly 20% of Americans have fallen in love with cruising)

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