Alaska is so vast, so raw and so wild that it immediately evokes an emotional response. To hear the word “Alaska” is to hark back to the days when America was not yet settled, to a time when boundless opportunity was a way of life and the future was a brilliant blur of limitless vistas and extraordinary moments. Oceania Cruises’ Alaska voyages aboard the intimate Regatta honor this vision, but bring a subtle and most welcome refinement to the surroundings in which Alaska weaves her fascinating tale. Those who travel with us to America’s Last Frontier do so with an expectation of experiences which are wholly unique and utterly Alaskan. We’ve culled through dozens of shore excursions to offer our suggestions for the nine most unforgettable ways to explore Alaska like a native.
Go Whale-Watching and Ride a Rainforest Zip Line
Whale watching and Alaska are synonymous, with few better places to catch a glimpse of the world’s biggest mammals than Icy Strait Point, home to one of Alaska’s largest whale populations. Join just 24 other lucky fellow travelers on a dedicated excursion vessel specially designed to place you near water level to maximize the ease of viewing. In addition to whales, you might also see harbor seals, sea lions and even an eagle circling overhead or a brown bear ambling along the coast. Follow Your sublime immersion in nature with a supercharged journey through the treetops of an Alaskan rainforest on a zip line that begins 1,550 feet up a lush mountainside. Dash above the rainforest canopy back to water’s edge at highway speeds, taking in spectacular views of Icy Strait and, in the distance, Glacier Bay.
Explore a Glacier on Foot and by Helicopter
Majestic and impressive Mendenhall Glacier, just outside Alaska’s capital city of Juneau, is a slow-moving river of ice that has enchanted naturalists such as John Muir since the late 19th century. Board a modern five to six passenger turbine helicopter and lift off for adventure, flying high above rugged terrain as you quickly approach the glacier. Soar over indigo blue crevasses, fanciful ice spires, intriguing icefalls and jagged rock sentinels such as Mendenhall Towers, which rise thousands of feet into the sky like daggers. Upon landing, walk the surface of the glacier with boots specially designed for comfort and traction. Hike to nearby fascinating features, accompanied by a guide who will steer you along the safest and most interesting path, providing enlightening information on glacial formation, life cycles and the impact of glaciers on the landscape. Where else but Alaska can you hike a glacier from your helicopter?
Savor an Authentic Alaskan Salmon Bake
Juneau holds more surprises than just helicopter rides and glacial hikes, however. Alaska is inextricably associated with salmon, and the Gold Creek Salmon Bake is an authentic experience that offers a taste of life in a Klondike-era gold rush camp yet with distinctly modern touches, such as translucent domes rather than canvas tents and a menu that would make any prospector jealous. As you approach, you’ll relish the aroma of wild Alaskan-caught salmon grilling over an open alder wood fire, crackling flames providing a rustic serenade. Amid a pristine forest, dine on salmon cooked to perfection as well as succulent chicken, Gold Rush-style potatoes, baked beans, a wild rice pilaf, clam chowder, cornbread and lighter fare such as fresh salads. Blueberry cake tops off a memorable meal served beside Salmon Creek, the melodies of a local musician and the sounds of a nearby waterfall as a soothing backdrop. Be sure to follow the short trail to the Salmon Creek waterfall and roast marshmallows over the comforting campfire. A salmon bake is a quintessential taste of Alaska that will linger in your memory for years.
Go Crabbing in the Bering Sea
From Ketchikan, embark on the Aleutian Ballad, one of the legendary crab boats featured on the Discovery Channel series Deadliest Catch. Unlike the tribulations of the show, you’ll sail only in calm, protected coastal waters, taking in the stunning scenery of southeastern Alaska, tiny islands dotting the straits, mountains soaring from sea to clouds and the light dancing across the primeval waters. In a comfortable and heated on-deck amphitheater, hear stories of the men who have plied these seas and given their lives. Below, the crew haul up crab pots and long lines from deep beneath the waves, bringing to light not just crab but shark, octopus, prawns and rock fish. The bounty is carefully placed into an on-deck aquarium so you can view and interact with these creatures of the deep before they are returned, unharmed, to their natural habitat.
Partake in Russian Tea Time
Alaska seems to be a thoroughly American destination today, yet it was once part of Russia before its purchase in 1867, and though Sitka was the former Russian capital, the Russian influence extends throughout the state in both architecture and traditions. In Kodiak, the Russian legacy lives on at the Kodiak Inn, where traditional Russian tea, a variation on the English classic, is a beloved staple. Rather than scones and finger sandwiches, enjoy borscht, Russian teacakes and pirozhkis while entertained by the Balalaika Players, a local band performing traditional music from the mother country. While the tour includes visits to Cannery Row, the heart of Kodiak’s fishing economy, as well as a Russian Orthodox Church and local art gallery, Russian tea time is the undisputed highlight.
Observe Sea Otters, Raptors and Bears
Alaska’s diversity of flora and fauna is a draw for most of those who choose to journey through the 49th State. But the chance to both see animals in the wild as well as in rehabilitation facilities is a unique opportunity to understand the Alaskan commitment to the creatures that share the land, sea and sky. Spend a few hours aboard a catamaran cruising the waters around Sitka, looking for stately whales and, nearer the coast, sea otters, sea lions and seals frolicking with childlike abandon. Eagles soar overhead and you might even catch a glimpse of brown bears and black-tailed deer near the water’s edge. After experiencing the essence of nature, visit the nearby Alaska Raptor Center and learn how injured birds of prey such as bald eagles are lovingly treated with hopes of returning them to the wild. From a raised platform at the Fortress of the Bear rescue facility at Silver Bay, view and photograph brown bears that have been caught in conflict with their human neighbors and rather than be euthanized, have been provided a place to live out their days, roaming at peace.
Mush a Dogsled and Soar Over an Icefield
Discover Alaska’s untouched wilderness with a helicopter flightseeing tour and then dive into the world of dogsledding with the chance to go on a memorable ride. See Skagway from the air, appreciating its isolated location nestled among soaring peaks and expansive glaciers. Next, visit a dog camp on Denver Glacier and meet the professional mushers and adorable, friendly dogs that symbolize the rugged majesty of the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an epic 938-mile adventure undertaken every year in early March. Learn the captivating, surprisingly difficult art of dogsledding and see how the dogs become part of the mushers’ families. You’re free to observe the process or try your hand at standing on the sled and mushing. Enjoy approximately a half hour darting across the glacier, pulled by a team of up to 16 dogs who seem to be having just as much fun as those riding the sleds.
Jetboat Glacial Lakes and Rivers
While Wrangell provides a slice of traditional Alaskan life, a jetboat ride through the surrounding 500,000-acre Stikine-LeConte Wilderness is a distinctly contemporary escapade deep into an area revered by famed American naturalist John Muir. The Stikine River is the fastest flowing navigable river in the United States and your customized, purpose-built jetboat, thoughtfully heated and covered, is the perfect vehicle for exploration. Look for passing moose, bear or deer as you enjoy spectacular views of distant mountain peaks, spy on spawning salmon and listen to thundering waterfalls. Follow the river to Shakes Lake, a narrow strip of water cradled by soaring granite crests featuring diamond-bright icebergs dotting its sparkling topaz waters. Come ashore at a specially selected wilderness location and absorb the true grandeur of your surroundings before reboarding your jetboat for a jubilant wine and cheese interlude and an exhilarating return to Wrangell.
Kayak Icy Strait Point
Push off from the beach along Icy Strait Point in a two-person kayak and paddle the protected waters around Port Fredrick. Float along for two hours in bays and coves so unspoiled that you’ll feel as if you’re the first to ever explore the region. From a kayak in Alaska, the air is purer, the shoreline greener, the sea more soothing and the profusion of wildlife more thrilling. As you kayak the calm waters accompanied by a guide, you’ll discover the secret to finding the humpback whales that feed along the same route you’ll be traversing. Search for a whale’s fluke as it begins its dive or catch one in the act of spy-hopping, which is when a whale pokes just its head out of the water to look around. The nutrient-rich waters of Icy Strait are also home to orcas, sea lions, porpoises, sea otters and seals. During your excursion, you’ll also paddle to an even more serene area frequented by bald eagles. There are few sights more visually arresting than following the flight of one of these majestic creatures as it rides the wind until swooping down to catch a fish with its talons.