Few places leave as strong an impression as Alaska. The sheer beauty of its immense wilderness and icy crags is like nothing else on Earth. A land of endless sights and adventures, Alaska is too vast to experience all in one trip.
In order to get the most out of your (first) Alaskan journey, our Atlas Travel vacation specialists suggest a cruisetour. Alaska by land is a completely different experience than Alaska by sea, and you won’t want to miss out on either! Booking a cruisetour allows you to arrange both legs through a cruise line, simplifying your trip by having all excursions managed by one provider. By combining the two, you’ll get to travel Alaska as a whole and experience some of its top sights, all in one trip.
There are nearly as many ways to travel Alaska as there are sights in the state. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve chosen one of our most popular land-sea routes as a preview of what your cruisetour experience could be like.
In addition, we’ll be starting with the land portion. However, this and any other itinerary can begin with the cruise and end with land excursions. Trip structure depends on personal preference: many travelers prefer jumping directly into exploration and then relaxing on the cruise before the journey home. Others prefer to start with the cruise and experience the state’s gradual reveal as they travel Alaska’s coast. There is no best order to experiencing Alaska, only that you experience it!
If you’re planning to travel Alaska, give our vacation specialists a call! We’ll work with you one-on-one to chart your ideal trip, from travel preferences to exhilarating excursion options you may or may not have thought of! With so many options to choose from, our team will help you narrow the options down to your perfect itinerary!
Fairbanks – Denali National Park – Southcentral Coastline
Your trip begins when you land in Fairbanks, the northernmost point of your itinerary. Starting your journey here offers a unique advantage: the ability to see more of the countryside as you traverse down to Denali. Other itineraries loop up to Denali National Park and back down through areas you’ve already been. By starting in Fairbanks, you have the opportunity to soak in more of Alaska’s wild lands.
Fairbanks itself is also worth exploring. Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks was originally a humble trading post. When gold was discovered in the area at the beginning of the 20th century, the trading post transformed into a vibrant town that continues to thrive long after the gold boom.
Your cruisetour will most likely include a day in Fairbanks, and you’ll have the opportunity to participate in several excursions. Cruise lines including Holland America, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean offer sternwheeler trips down the Chena River, which provide excellent views of the town and surrounding landscapes. Afterwards, enjoy views of the river and some local cuisine by stopping at an outdoor dining facility along the river!
Denali National Park and Preserve
Your next stop is Denali National Park, Alaska’s most popular land destination. The park covers six million acres of various landscapes, including North America’s highest peak, Denali the Mountain (formerly Mt. McKinley). This land diversity supports a wide array of Alaskan wildlife and makes Denali one of the best places to see Alaska’s Big Five: caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, moose, and wolves.
When you book a cruisetour, your transportation between all itinerary points is included and pre-arranged. For the land portion, you’ll travel either by motorcoach or Alaska’s Wilderness Express train, or both! The Wilderness Express is a special treat; with glass-domed railcars, you can enjoy a 360° view of the countryside you’re traveling through. On your trip down to Denali, you’ll pass through the Nenana River canyon gorge – an especially scenic area that signals that you’ve nearly arrived at the park.
There’s so much to see and do in the park that we recommend choosing a cruisetour offering at least two days in Denali. If you’re looking for more time in the park, here’s a bit of insider knowledge direct from our recent interview with Bill Fletcher, Holland America’s Senior Director of Destination Marketing & Engagement: Holland America is the only cruisetour company that offers three days in Denali!
Regardless of which you choose, most itineraries include a park tour – typically the Natural History or Tundra Wilderness Tour. For the wildlife enthusiast or photographer, we recommend an itinerary that includes the Tundra Wilderness Tour, especially if your lodging’s located by the park’s entrance. While it’s a bigger time commitment, the Tundra Wilderness Tour takes you further down Denali’s only road; the further into the park you get, the better your odds of seeing its wildlife.
Beyond the pre-arranged tours, your time in Denali is your own! There are options for any type of traveler. Prefer slower-paced, relaxing excursions? Take advantage of the lodge’s amenities, stroll along nearby hiking trails, or visit a local husky homestead! In the mood for adventure? Choose from a wide array of heart-pounding excursions, like helicopter tours (with or without glacier landings), ATV rides, whitewater rafting, and so much more!
The Last Leg of your Land Journey
Though you might be reluctant to leave Denali, your journey continues down to the coast where your seafaring venture awaits. For travelers eager to begin the cruise, Princess Cruises’ exclusive Direct-to-the-Wilderness® rail service is for you! You’ll be whisked from your Denali lodging straight to the cruise port, enjoyed uninterrupted views of Alaska’s beauty as you speed towards the next leg of your journey.
However, for those that would like more time on land, other itineraries can provide the opportunity to visit several additional towns:
Depending on your route, your journey south might include a stop at Talkeetna. This funky little town is ground zero for many adventurers. Climbers seeking to conquer Mt. Denali start their preparations here due to the town’s proximity to the peak. On a clear day, visitors have nearly panoramic views of the mountain and the surrounding Alaskan Range.
Positioned at the junction of three rivers, Talkeetna is perfect for water sports or simply strolling along the waterfront. When you’re done for the day, unwind at one of the many restaurants and pubs lining Main Street. There you’ll rub elbows with locals, bush pilots, artists, and fellow travelers.
Further south, you’ll come across Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Home to approximately half the state’s residents, Anchorage is as urban as it gets. But don’t let its size and modern buildings fool you – you can’t remove the wild from Alaska, even in Anchorage. Nearly 250 miles of trails extend throughout the city, and bear and moose sightings are common.
Your stop in Anchorage most likely includes a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. A cultural epicenter, the ANHC’s mission is to cultivate and preserve the languages and traditions of Alaska’s Native Peoples. Experience first-hand the history and evolution of Alaska’s eleven major cultural groups through both static and interactive exhibits and performances.
Travel Alaska by Sea: Your Oceanic Journey Begins
Once you depart Anchorage, it’s only a short journey to the port (typically Seward or Whittier) where your cruise embarks. With seven nights at sea, you’re bound on the experience of a lifetime.
We’ll be offering insight into popular ports and their top excursions along your route – stay tuned for part two!