Alaska is such a diverse destination that it requires views from many angles in order to fully appreciate all the natural beauty of its rugged landscapes and vibrant wildlife.
Alaska cruises are special ways to see the coastline, waterways, fjords, glaciers, whales, seabirds and so much more. You also can come ashore in quirky port cities and villages to learn about the state frontier history and delve into the native culture and seafood delicacies.
To expand your journey, add on a land tour either before or after your sailing so that you can also see incredible attractions in the interior of the state — such as Denali National Park and Preserve — to fully round out your Alaska cruise experience.
Some cruise lines offer cruise and land packages. The big cruise ships sail itineraries that typically visit ports in southeastern Alaska, plying the waters of the Inside Passage and Outside Passage. These voyages include destinations like Juneau, Sitka, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Glacier Bay National Park and Victoria, British Columbia (Canada).
These are great ways to enjoy whale-watching and spot glaciers, as well as try excursions like salmon bakes, helicopter tours and dogsledding and ice climbing. Passengers also enjoy time in the port towns to take historical tours, spend time in the old saloons and do a little shopping.
An Alaska land tour allows you to explore the interior destinations and will take place either before or after your cruise. Several cruise lines make this easy by packaging a cruise and tour program so that you can also get to Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and Denali. You can book cruise and land packages with Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.
The land extensions can range from three to 10 days, and Princess Cruises and Holland America Line (these two lines have long been the leaders in the Alaska cruise experience) have designed their own lodges to give cruisers a him base with rugged and rustic comforts when in the wilderness areas. The cruise lines use hotels for accommodations when you are staying in cities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Princess offers the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge, Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge and the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge.
Holland America features Alaska Land + Sea Journeys using its McKinley Chalet Resort at the entrance of Denali National Park.
These lodges feature restaurants, lounges, outdoor decks, fireplaces, tour desks and guides who help you make the most of your stay while visiting the parks.
You can book also your own cruise and land tours through independent operators. Online operators can help you match an Alaska cruise style, whether you want a big ship, expedition voyage or luxury sailing with your choices of activities and destinations before or after your cruise. Alaska Tours, for example, offers a broad range of packages.
Tour directors lead the way, and buses and train rides will be your transportation on your land journey. The rail portion of these tours can be a highlight, as passengers travel by train from Anchorage or Fairbanks to Denali. Be on the lookout for the Big 5 of Alaska (grizzly bear, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and moose) as you look out onto the passing wilderness. Some lines offer rail experiences with glass-domed train cars that allow 360-degree views.
You should know that the pace can be hectic for these land tours as days are long and packed with activities. You might unpack, repack and move from hotel to hotel to lodge – in order to see as much as possible. Also, many packages don’t cover all of your meals. This is to allow you time to explore local restaurants, but it might disappoint travelers who like the more inclusive nature of a cruise.
Like a cruise in Alaska, the land tours are all about viewing wildlife and the spectacular landscape scenes, with snow-capped peaks and lush, expansive forests. You also get a nice mix of cultural enrichment options to learn about the indigenous people of Alaska through educational talks or museum visits.