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Alaska & Yukon Territory Cruise Tour

ALASKA & YUKON TERRITORY CRUISE & TOUR
FEATURING DENALI, THE YUKON & GLACIER BAY

 

 

Holland America McKinley Explorer Dome Car

 

 

This is our review of Holland America Line CruiseTour 2, a 12-Day combination of 8-days land tour beginning in Anchorage, luxury rail to Denali National Park, and Fairbanks, motor coach to Tok and Eagle, Alaska; Dawson City and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; and Skagway, Alaska via the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to begin a 4-night southbound cruise through Glacier Bay, and to Ketchikan before terminating in Vancouver.

Like many travel enthusiasts we had dreamed of visiting the upper Yukon Territory, had taken previous Alaska Inside Passage cruises, and always yearned to experience more of Alaska’s true interior beauty. But there are relevant decisions to make when considering an Alaska vacation; cost, weather, time of year to travel (there are so many opinions on this subject), where to go and what to omit. After you can’t do it all.

Well, when we had the opportunity to participate in this 12-day CruiseTour that covered so much ground, including the little know but mysterious sub arctic landscape of Tombstone Park (an optional tour from Dawson City), which I have craved for years, there was little left to consider. Yes, how fast can we sign-up?

Let’s just say this tour far exceeded even our wildest expectations despite how stoked we were to begin with. Sure, all the places we expected to fall in love with, we did; but it was all of the many unexpected activities and sites we experienced that put this trip over the top. Plus, we learned so much more about the gold rush days and the history of these far away, physically challenging lands than we ever expected to.

Former White Pass Railroad bridgeWe have pictures of snow capped mountains captured in perfectly still reflective waters; broke early season ice on a glacier lake; viewed more sought after wildlife in one tour of Denali Park than our driver of seven years ever witnessed in a single tour; panned for gold at a gold dredge; experienced Chicken, Alaska (no, we’re not kidding – we have the pictures and shirts to prove it); crossed over from Alaska to Canada into the Yukon by way of a river boat; walked the cobble streets of Dawson City under the midnight sun (what a strange sensation); had Eagles fly overhead while standing in the amazing sub arctic Tombstone Park; lunched on the shores of the Yukon River; stood under the famed Alaska Pipeline; walked in the “smallest desert in the world” in the Yukon; rode the breathtaking White Pass Railroad with fresh snow piled high next to the tracks, yet under a brilliant sun, and saw our ship awaiting in Skagway some seven miles below our mountain descent; marveled at Glacier Bay (which we never tire of); and had a cab driver explain the ‘bridge to nowhere’ in Ketchikan a couple of months before it became a nightly news topic. Wow.

Even for experienced travelers who have cruised and been to Alaska before, as we had – this was a trip of a lifetime!

Jay in Tombstone Park, Yukon. No jacket neededBefore we get into the day by day review let me address the time of year we went and what my thoughts on that are. No matter who you listen to and how many years they claimed to have lived in Alaska you will rarely get the same answer. We arrived in Anchorage on May 19th and returned home on May 31. We could not have asked for much better weather. Consider this. Late May is roughly one month before solstice (June 21), so we had the same amount of daylight as someone traveling in late July. We had beautiful snow capped mountains surrounding us, but it had already melted from the roads and lower elevations. We viewed more wildlife than you would during the peak of summer because they remained in lower elevations in May. We never used the parkas we took. We dressed in layers and shed or added according to the changes each day, or even each hour. The staff in the hotels and in shops were excited to begin the new season and were friendly and eager to welcome visitors; unlike they become as the season wears on. We were completely pleased to have traveled at this time. If possible we will try to visit Alaska during the fall next time to experience the difference.

Here is our take on the Alaska seasons:

May – early June: Fewer crowds; eager service staff; snow capped mountains; comfortable weather; more visible wildlife; and better rates. On the negative side, few leaves on trees; more chance of staff being inexperienced or equipment like busses not being ready; not as warm as summer.

Summer: Longest days; warmest temperatures; all roads are open and all attractions operate; on the other hand, rates are at their highest; crowds are at their max; people in the service industry are worn out and getting testy with tourists; wildlife is generally out of view except for dawn and dusk

Fall (mid Aug – mid-Sep): The crowds have thinned; rates are lower; leaves are beginning the change to brilliant colors; workers are rejuvenated with less tourist and realize there is light at the end of the tunnel and soon they will be going home; wildlife is more visible in lower elevations again as they store food for the winter. Snow begins to fall on the mountains adding to the scenic beauty. Temperatures drop; facilities and attractions begin to close after Labor Day; and you never know about the rain or early snow.

 

We have broken our tour review down to a day-by-day basis.

 

Pre-Tour Day

Day 1, Anchorage

Day 2, Luxury Rail to Denali

Day 3, Denali Park Tour / Luxury Rail to Fairbanks

Day 4, Gold Panning / Pipe Line / Alaska Hwy to Tok

Day 5, Eagle / Yukon River Cruise to Dawson City

Day 6, Tombstone Park & Dawson City

Day 7, Klondike Hwy / Beautiful Lakes / Whitehorse

Day 8, A Desert / White Pass Rail to Skagway / Board Ship

Day 9, Scenic Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park

Day 10, Ketchikan, Alaska & Totem Poles

Day 11, Cuising the Inside Passage

Day 12, Terminate in Vancouver




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