|The Juneau Icefield spawns the area’s 38 major glaciers.|
Winter is almost here, which means it’s time to start thinking about the 2013 Alaska cruise season. Major lines such as Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas have their May-September itineraries in place, as does locally owned small-ship operator Alaskan Dream Cruises.
Most Alaska cruises call at or embark/disembark from the southeastern port of Juneau, the state’s capital, which is also a popular starting point for coach and rail operators such as Gray Line. Travel Agent had a chance to explore the city during an Alaskan Dream Cruises sailing in August and came up with a few ideas to recommend to clients for their trip next spring or summer.
We headed out early in the morning for Mendenhall Glacier and arrived before the major crowds from the cruise ships hit. Here, a viewing platform allows travelers to watch ice calving off the glacier, and a series of nearby wildlife trails provides a chance to spot bears during the salmon run, which usually starts around the end of July. Overlooking the area is the oldest visitor center in the National Park system, which has exhibits and a movie on the history of the park and local wildlife.
From there we drove to the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, where visitors can take a peek inside the world of Alaska’s wild-caught salmon. Here Alaskan wildlife experts catch salmon as they return to the place of their birth during the spawning season and artificially inseminate the salmon eggs in order to ensure a hearty catch for next season. An aquarium on the property offers the chance to view and even touch local sea life.
After that we rode the Mount Roberts Tramway, which is directly across from the main cruise ship dock and rises 1800 feet above the city. Atop the tram is a series of hiking trails, which go all the way up to Mount Roberts. While there are great views to be had at the start of the trails, travelers who want to make the climb all the way to the top should come prepared with enough food and camping gear for an overnight stay. The trail to the summit is two hours one-way, and the weather can change suddenly, forcing an unexpected stop.
We ended our day with a glacier helicopter tour with Temsco, which pays 10 percent commission to travel agents. Temsco offers helicopter tours over the top of Mendenhall Glacier as well as flights to the company’s guided dogsledding camp, where Temsco guarantees that visitors will see puppies. The company’s premium itinerary is Pilots Choice, which combines a 50-minute helicopter ride with two landings on glaciers determined by the pilot based on local weather conditions. We were able to fly all the way to the top of the Juneau Icefield, which spawns the area’s 38 major glaciers.
|The Mount Roberts Tramway rises 1800 feet above the city.|