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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Alaska by Land and Sea

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Appreciate the full, rich beauty of Alaska by pairing a cruise with a tour of the interior.

Seen from the deck of a cruise ship, Alaska unfolds in all its coastal grandeur. Here, walls of tidewater glaciers inching toward the sea and snow-patched mountains threaded by waterfalls dwarf cruise ships. Shoreside towns brim with culture and characters. In the water, whales and seals play their predator-prey version of hide-and-seek. A cruise makes all these marine riches accessible. But what about the interior of the Last Frontier? What lies on the other side of those gorgeous peaks? The answers are found on a cruisetour, which shows off Alaska by land and sea.

Holland America Line has perfected the blend of cruising and land touring in this wild frontier. After all, they’ve been bringing travelers here for more than 70 years — longer than Alaska has been a state! In addition to its six- to 14-night cruises, the veteran cruise line offers itineraries that include Denali National Park and Preserve or the national park and the Yukon territory. The land portion, on which a Journey Host accompanies you, can come before or after your cruise. Additionally, the amount of time spent in each place varies, from a single day in Denali up to three. Among the Yukon + Denali Land + Sea Journeys, five vacations are available and may be combined with a three-, four- or seven-day cruise. The itinerary choices expand when travel plans focus on Denali alone — to 16 different Land + Sea Journeys.  

In truth, Denali deserves all the attention you can give it. With more time comes more opportunities to immerse yourself in this truly wild country. Its mountain namesake and North America’s tallest peak rises 20,310 feet near the center of this six million-acre national park and preserve. Despite its height, Denali is not always visible. You’ll get the best views inside the park. Holland America Line increases your chances by including the Tundra Wilderness Tour as part of its packages. 

This seven- to eight-hour, narrated bus tour takes you 60 miles into the park, closer to both the majestic mountain and the animals that live in its shadow. Sure, you might spy grizzly bears on the cruise portion, but the likelihood of observing them here is greater. Plus, Dall sheep, moose and caribou are likely to wander into view. Even wolves might make an appearance deeper into the drive. 

As interesting as the animals, the landscape changes with the passing miles. Taiga forest, aka boreal forest, dominates the lower elevations. Spindly black spruce and white spruce form a canopy of evergreens, but aspen, poplar and willows add to the ecosystem’s texture. At higher elevations, the trees give way to alpine tundra, treeless expanses where gray-green lichen clings to the rocks and soil. Harsh winds and freezing temperatures prevent most other plants from surviving. And then, if you’re lucky and the clouds part, Denali reveals its snow-covered crown. 

Longer itineraries include a stay at the recently renovated McKinley Chalet Resort, a wood-and-stone, Swiss-style lodge located near the entrance to the park. Waking up here offers a true wilderness escape filled with fresh, pine-scented mountain air, gorgeous views, and evening campfires. Its new Denali Square features pub dining at Karstens Public House and entertainment at the Gold Nugget Saloon. An artist-in-residence program allows guests to meet local craftspeople and watch them as they weave baskets, carve wood or paint landscapes — whatever the surrounding scenery inspires. 

Denali also holds a spot among Holland America Line’s Yukon adventures, which travel beyond the national park and deeper into Alaska’s interior and the Yukon territory. The scenery is stunning, but history and culture find a place in the vacation dialogue as well. The search for gold drives much of the conversation as you do a little prospecting of your own in Fairbanks at historic Gold Dredge 8 or walk the boardwalks of Dawson City. It was the Yukon’s original capital and the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. Today, the 19th-century town looks much like it did 120 years ago — dirt roads, false-fronted buildings and folks dressed in period clothing — thanks to its preservation as a National Historic site. 

On their way to Dawson City, thousands of gold rushers, called stampeders, stopped in Whitehorse, the former terminus of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad which was completed in 1900. Here, they each loaded their more than 1,000 pounds of gear onto paddlewheelers to continue the journey on the north-flowing Yukon River to Dawson City. See one of the last such boats in Whitehorse at the SS Klondike National Historic Site of Canada. The SS Klondike, with her bright red-orange paddlewheel, was retired in 1955 and brought to her final resting place in 1966.   

The vintage, narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad still operates today, taking passengers along portions of the White Pass trail the stampeders followed in their quest to stake gold claims. A conductor narrates the entire rail journey, sharing tales of miners and interpreting sites with entertaining anecdotes. The journey proves as scenic as it is educational: your eyes never tire of the picturesque river-mountain combination.

The railroad runs out of Skagway, a port city that Holland America Line includes on its cruises. Like the Gold Rush towns of the Yukon, Skagway retains a vintage look. Enjoy its wooden boardwalks and historic buildings, including Skagway Brewing Co., which originated in 1897. 

Back on the coast, it’s time to explore Alaska’s waters. Large enough to let you find your own space but small enough to avoid feeling overwhelmed, Holland America Line’s elegant ships call in Anchorage, Seward, Ketchikan, Juneau, Haines, or Sitka, depending on the itinerary. Taken together, the maritime voyage with the inland adventure ensures you leave Alaska with a deeper appreciation of this great land. 

Delve deeper into Alaska with a Holland America Lines cruisetour. Call a AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 for more information.

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