The Great Land of Alaska and the Yukon
Cruising and touring to Alaska and the Yukon is unlike traveling to any other major cruise destination. All other cruises fall into two large categories: a) resort cruises, where the sun and warmth are more important than the destination, and b) sightseeing cruises, where the destination is paramount and the cruise is a great way to travel among several interesting places with fascinating things to see and experience. Trips to the Great Land fall into the second category, with one enormous distinction. Here you are coming to see and experience “natural wonders”, not cultural interests. This makes a huge difference in how and what you plan to do. Allow me to explain.
Consider the Mona Lisa. By some measures, the Mona Lisa is the most famous, recognizable, important painting in the world. Its value is incalculable. In an art world where every other famous painting is hanging on a wall, the Mona Lisa is kept in a free-standing glass, climate-controlled case with more alarms than Fort Knox. Virtually every traveler has heard of the Mona Lisa and wants to see it someday, in person.
As incredibly unique, valuable and well-guarded as this painting is, anybody who wants to see it can do so pretty easily. You fly to Paris. Buy your ticket to the Musee du Louvre. Elbow your way through the crowds of fellow tourists to the Denon Wing and into the Mona Lisa room. Stand on your tiptoes to see over the heads of the other tourists, and, “Voila!” there is the Mona Lisa. You can stand and stare at it all day, until they throw you out. It’s that easy.
Most of the major cultural sites of the world are like this. Hugely famous attractions like the Great Wall, The Kremlin, the Coliseum, and the Tower of London are also pretty easy to visit. You know where they are. You know how to find them. And you can do it whenever you want to.
Now, suppose you want to see a Grizzly bear in the wilderness. Your best bet is to fly to Anchorage, Alaska. For some of you, the air travel will be longer than it takes to get to Paris. Then, you travel in comfort on the Alaska Railroad, about 238 miles north to the entrance of Denali National Park. Bear viewing is best here because the vegetation is sub-arctic tundra, which is mostly knee high. So, you can see the darn things even if they are not very close. (One can be too close to a Grizzly bear.) The next morning, very early, you board a sightseeing bus into the Park, as this is the only sanctioned mode of entry for most people. Your bus will be in a caravan of busses. You will ride into the Park for sixty or so miles along the only road and hope to see a bear or two, among all the other possible wildlife. At this point, you are at the mercy of the bears and the collective eyesight of the bus driver, your companions and yourself. You will travel all day into the park and back. You might see a bear. You might also see moose, Dall sheep, caribou, wolves, and ptarmigan. If it’s clear, you’ll see the astonishing north face of Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, and one of the tallest vertical rises in the world.
Then, again, you might not see any of these things. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the mountain won’t show. The animals are not sitting by the side of the road waiting for your photo op. These are “natural wonders”. They appear on their own time table, without a concern for yours. If you are going to have a chance to see what you have come so far, at great expense, to see, you need to be in the right place at the right time.
The lesson here is that Time becomes a very important factor when planning a trip to Alaska and the Yukon. There are many beautiful, breath-taking sights of natural wonders. However, you will want to maximize the time you spend in the best places in order to improve your chances of seeing the animals and the vistas that have inspired you to come here in the first place. It is important for you to have a strong sense of the attractions that are important to you. Then, select itineraries that will take you to the best places for those activities and will give you the most time to maximize your experience. Our best advice: Take your time to see the natural wonders of Alaska and the Yukon.