With a coastline of nearly 34,000 miles, it is little wonder that Alaska offers a wealth of fascinating ports and harbours, towns and cities – and little wonder too that this state has become one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. Here are just a few of those towns...

A sleepy little town, and Alaska's first port of call for many cruise ships sailing north from Canada, Ketchikan is strung out for several miles along a pleasant waterfront. The fisheries are still very active, and the docks are a great place to watch the fishermen in action. Most of the tourists flock to the old houses of Creek Street, many of which are supported on pilings over Ketchikan Creek, to check out life in the past lane.

Dolly's House, where the fishermen once went to "spawn", is a particular favourite.
On a more serious note, the Totem Heritage Cultural Center, and Totem Bright Park, 10 miles to the north of Ketchikan are well worth a visit.

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Juneau is Alaska's capital city – and the largest state capital in the United States. A diverse city of contrasts, there is much for tourists to enjoy here, from the sleek government buildings to the famous, rough-and-tumble Red Dog Saloon and its sawdust covered floor and honky tonk music. But apart from the Gold Rush Historic District and the many fine museums, Juneau is perhaps best known to cruise travellers for the excursions away from the town, like helicopter rides to the ice fields and seaplane rides to the glaciers.

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This historic, seaside capital of Russian America, set against the backdrop of 3,201 foot-high Mt Edgecumbe, is one of Southeast Alaska's most scenic cities. The Architecture is fascinating. St Michael's Cathedral is one of the finest examples of rural Russian church architecture and though the original building was destroyed by fire in 1966, many priceless icons, some dating back to 1800 were saved and are on display. But Sitka was also the site of some of the bloodiest battles in Alaska's history. The Russians and the Tlinglits fought brutally for ownership of the land, and their struggles are convincingly related in various museums and visitors centres.

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Glacier Bay
Glaciers, as we all know, are massive rivers of ice, snow, rock, sediment and water originating on land and moving downslope under the forces of weight and gravity.

But what we don't all know is that one of the best places to see these glaciers is in Glacier Bay, Alaska, where 16 massive tidewater glaciers flow from the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Fairweather Range and plunge into the icy waters of the fjords below.

Part of Glacier Bay National Park, Glacier Bay is about 90 miles northwest of Juneau. Most cruise lines visit the area and budget sufficient time to enjoy the views and the sounds of nature in action.

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Situated at the northern end of the Inside passage, Skagway began life as "the port for the Yukon" when the mad Klondike Gold Rush began. Today visitors can stroll along the boardwalks through the historic downtown district where over 60 Gold Rush era buildings still stand. Saloons, hotels, museums and curio shops, buggy rides and other attractions create a carnival like atmosphere. Skagway is known as a party town where the people are fun loving and seem to bask in the attention of the tourists. The Gold Rush Cemetery, a pleasant stroll away from the town, is also popular, as is the train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route.

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The principal port of the Kenai Peninsula, Seward was originally used as a shipbuilding site for the Russia American Company. Russia's influence is still seen in the onion-domed churches and Russian place names, but today the city is principally a charming mix of Native Indian (the Peninsula was home to the Denai'na Indians), Russian and American cultures. In fact, a walking tour boasts more than 30 attractions including homes and businesses that date back to pioneer days. Other sites well worth seeing include The Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, and the Alaska sled dogs and husky puppies at the Van Deusen Homestead.

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Though for many years a town populated by gold diggers, oil entrepreneurs and others following dreams of riches, Homer actually began as a summer resort for Russian fur traders. Today, this beautiful town has come through an almost complete cycle to be once again a popular recreation scene for many, including a growing artists colony. The Pratt Museum is worth a visit, as is The Salty Dawg Saloon, the only building spared by the fire that destroyed the town in 1907, and, in fact, the only building left standing after the earthquake of 1964.

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Photos: Tuppence Keith


Anchorage International Airport

Customs Information

General Tourism Information – Alaska

Juneau International Airport

Taking the Train in Alaska

Taking the Ferry in Alaska – Alaska Marine Highway System

As most cruises to Alaska leave from Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, the following links may be useful.

Customs Information – Vancouver

General Tourism Information – Vancouver

Vancouver International Airport

at the cruise archives and enjoy a cruise to Alaska