A mama grizzly bear and her two cubs meandered along the shoreline, the cubs playing a bit of hiding and seek (and tumble) as they retreated into the tall grass. Half a dozen mountain goats perched precariously on the cliffs that lined the rocky coastline. Humpback whales, orcas, sea otters and puffins, both horned and tufted. I saw them all sailing through Glacier Bay on a cruise aboard Alaska Dream Cruises’ 76-passenger Chichagof Dream. It was one of many spectacular days in Alaska.
If Alaska is on your travel bucket list, as it was mine, you’re not alone: It’s a hot destination. In 2017's tourism season, which runs May to September, more than 1.9 million people traveled to the state by air, cruise ship, or highway and ferry, up from 1.8 million the year before.
But planning a trip to Alaska can be a bit daunting. More than 586,000 square miles, the state is one-fifth the size of the entire lower 48 states — two and a half times larger than Texas. Don’t let its magnitude intimidate you, however. There are a variety of ways to experience Alaska, and once you decide which one suits you and your travel style best, you can better focus your planning. Here are four of them.
More than 1 million of the state’s 1.9 million visitors in 2017 traveled there on cruise ships, and even more ships are sailing Alaskan waters. In 2019, three cruise lines will enter the Alaska market: Azamara Club Cruises, Viking Cruises and Cunard Line.
There are different kinds of cruises, of course, from megaships such as Norwegian Cruise Line’s 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss that debuted this year to the intimate 10-passenger Misty Fjord, part of the Alaska Dream Cruises fleet.
Keep in mind that larger ships are not able to travel into the little bays and coves or stop in at some less-visited communities that the smaller boats can access. For example, the Chichagof Dream docks in Kake, a community of just 500 residents. But the smaller boats may be more prone to rough waters — something to consider if you’re susceptible to motion sickness.
If the cruise decision-making becomes too complicated, consider working with a travel agent. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) offers a Cruise Agent Finder tool to help with the selection process.