The dark blue part of the above map defines the Inside Passage of Alaska. It traces the coast of Alaska, and parts of Canada, and is sheltered by a string of islands which fend off many Pacific storms. For the most part, there is no other way to reach the cities of the Passage other than by air.
The typical places you port are Seattle, Ketchican, Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, as well as Victoria and Vancouver, BC. The timing and destinations will very by the cruise line. Along the way you may get up close and personal with wildlife as well as glaciers of the fjords. Which glacier you visit will depend, in large part, on safety factors when you get close. If mother nature decides to calf off a great sheet of ice from a glacier, and it may be a hazard to get close to it, the captain will choose another glacier to visit; along with all the other cruise ships scheduled that day.
Seattle one point of departure, is a beautiful city. It is filled with things to do and see, so plan to be there for at least a day. There are amphibious boat rides www.ridetheducksofseattle.com in the port, lunch at the Space Needle www.spaceneedle.com/home/ or the waterfront, and a visit to Pikes Market pikeplacemarket.org/explore-the-market to see them throw fish around and much more. http://www.visitseattle.org/things-to-do/
Vancouver, B.C. is also an alternative departure point. Since it is in Canada, you will need your passport, but you may also need it later in the cruise too.
Take a few extra days to explore this magnificent city. For the most part it is easy going for scooters and electric mobility chairs, but you need to check as anyplace you go. Tap here http://www.tourismvancouver.com/activities/ to investigate the possibilities.
Inside passage cruises also leave from Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as Anchorage. Because there are so many possibilities, I have chosen to start this trip in Seattle.
Departing Seattle in the afternoon, you may realize that the weather is great, but, for the most part there are no clouds and the sun is rather warm, if not downright hot on the top of your head as you stand on the deck and watch Seattle fade into the distance. If you didn’t bring one, go right down to the gift shop, before everyone beats you to it, and get a wide brim hat, it will protect your ears too. At the peak of the season there are not many overcast or cloudy days, so make sure to have a high SPF sunblock for legs and other exposed body parts.
However, that doesn’t mean that he winds don’t blow cold off the ice and snow, because they do. Take a warm jacket and something to cover your legs too
Your first port is Ketchican. http://www.visit-ketchikan.com/ this beautiful “village” has plenty to see and do. The ship has a gangway well suited to mobility vehicles, so this and all ports on your itinerary are accessible.
Ketchican BBB says: “Ketchikan does have handicap accessible public transit. In addition, there are a number of tour operators in Ketchikan that do accommodate wheel chairs, and possibly scooters. You can find handicap accessible tour operators by looking for the universal handicap sign included on accommodating tours, etc., by going to our website www.visit-ketchikan.com .”
You don’t have to stay around town just because you have a mobility issues, it is just more difficult; but you knew that. In any of these Inside Passage ports, one thing is true. If there is a vehicle, it had to come by sea, since there are no roads between most towns and villages. This is expensive. Since they cost so much, and get only short seasonal use, there are fewer of them than in the lower 48.
There are tour vans in some towns and can be hired for regular or custom tours. If you are going to do it by yourself, and you certainly can, you need to make sure of the time constraints. Most cruise lines will get you to your next port IF for some reason you miss the scheduled departure due to a tour problem. This covers the tours and on-shore activities that you can book through the cruise line. If you do it yourself, you are on your own.
One thing about getting a tour booked, once you get aboard. If it is popular tour/activity, you might have a problem. Here is the trick, don’t book when you get on the ship. Once you are booked for the cruise, make reservations and/or pay for your onshore activities. Be sure and check cancellation restrictions so you know what your looking at in case you can’t go for some reason.
Your next port may be Sitka https://www.travelalaska.com/destinations/communities/sitka.aspx , a small city on the Pacific coast. The city is Russian in origin and has many, many historical sites hearkening back to that era. There are Russian dance troupes and more in the city. It is a pleasant walking tour.
Sitka has the Alaska Raptor Center as well as the Fortress of the Bear. The Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds and releases them back into the wild. The few who don’t regain flight remain housed at the center and visible to guests. Fortress of the Bear features a ¾ acre habitat for orphaned brown bear cubs, complete with covered viewing areas.
Juneau http://www.traveljuneau.com/cms/d/day_trips.php is the capitol city of this huge state. Its most celebrated attraction is the renown Mendenhall Glacier http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/about-forest/offices/?cid=stelprdb5400800 . There are tours all day that take you up the river to the glacier viewing area.
There are tours to see whales, bears and wildlife, and you can go fishing for a few hours for salmon or halibut. During the season, be sure to plan ahead and reserve your spot in advance. Catch some salmon and trade in the fresh catch for canned and smoked catches shipped directly home.
Skagway https://www.toursinalaska.com/skagway is where it all began as far as the gold rush is concerned. A walk or a ride through Skagway in a horse drawn carriage will open your eyes to the way of life in those days. As you walk the main street of Skagway, the White Pass, where the miners toiled for years, just to move their mandated supplies to the fields before they could start mining, looms off in the distance. To traverse this pass was a hardship that few were able to make, and many died trying, but you will be able to cover the hike in the comfort of a vintage passenger car on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad www.toursinalaska.com/skagway/white-pass-railway-city-tour/ .
If you go on the train or any tour out of Skagway, carry your passport. You will cross the Canadian border and you will need it.
Right around the corner from Skagway is Glacier Bay National Park https://www.nps.gov/glba/index.htm One of the nearly 60 sites set aside as a national treasure in the United States. This is a must see if at all possible.
There is no porting at Glacier Bay, but it will be the quickest 8-9 hours you will spend site seeing. This is magnificent wilderness that you can enjoy from your balcony or the upper deck of the ship. Just like everywhere else on this cruise, take a hat up to the decks with you and make sure you get plenty of sunscreen on your arms, face, and legs. If you have a problem with the bright sun, go to the pool deck or other deck that is covered; get there early though, rail space goes quickly. Go to the buffet for breakfast and lunch and just lounge around with ice tea (or something stronger) and nature. You should know that since you are going to see a giant ice cube, the chill winds might blow and you will need a jacket, so take one with you so you don’t have to go back to your cabin and miss something.
And speaking of missing something, if you have a DSLR camera and you don’t have a long lens, rent one for the trip (see my blog post Why Buy) AND a good sharp set of binoculars. If you have a video camera, that also works well for recording these once-in-a-lifetime memories, if you have a good long zoom. It will depend on the focal length of your lens, and other factors as to what you will be able to photograph, but if you don’t take a tripod or other stabilizing device you won’t get the best shots. There is always enough light for modern cameras, but, that can be a bad thing. A mildly overcast day is great, but Neutral Density and polarizing filters are something that will help make the pictures. There is nothing like white puffy clouds against a dark blue sky above a snowy white glacier to remember your passage with.
As you head up to the Glaciers at Glacier Bay National Park, a National Park Ranger will board your ship to give you a running narrative of where you are going and what you are seeing. And you could see almost anything up there depending on the time of year.
You had it yet? Well, hang in there, there is one more stop on this magnificent cruise. Have your passport in hand and visit Victoria, B.C. http://www.hellobc.com/victoria.aspx . Typically you port here in the early afternoon and you have the remainder of the day to go site seeing. There are bus tours around this Victorian city and a special treat, for those of us who enjoy botanical gardens, is the Butchart Gardens http://www.butchartgardens.com/visit . The bus is accessible to scooters, but not electric chairs. If you take a collapsible though, you won’t regret it. The tour is a pass through the city and on to the Gardens. There are no guided tours at the garden, but there are maps and suggested paths to follow. All areas are accessible with just a few inclines to slow you down.
The garden has some unique plantings found nowhere else. The volunteers and employees of the garden plant current blooming plants, so there are no blank spots to be seen. Google Butchart Gardens http://www.butchartgardens.com/ and tap the image menu at the top section for a good view of the park and it beauty.
This cruise ends where it started, at the Port of Seattle. If you didn’t tour the city when you got here a few days ago, take the time to check out some of the highlights before you go home.