Extraordinary cruise line excursions in Alaska - Page 2

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 13, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Alaska, cruise, destination, Fran Golden, Cruise Critic contributor, shore excursion.

The experience feels a lot like we'd imagine flying feels as a bird. You have a little (but not much) control of your speed and can more or less steer yourself into the platforms—we actually went into one backwards; it's not as easy as it may seem. Be aware that once you are above the trees, there is no getting off the track. And just when you think, "Wow, I've done it," you have to rappel down a rope to reach the ground.

Who Should Go: Those looking for a rush and willing to answer incessant questions from friends who have not tried zip-lining but really want to know what it's all about.

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Why: It's fun, and Alaska is all about new experiences.

Haines

The Tour: Wildlife River Adventure

Haines will remind you of the kind of small town featured on the TV show "Northern Exposure." After a bus ride through the one-horse town (with two stop signs and no traffic lights), you head to the world famous Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. The goal here is spotting as many bald eagles as you can and, if you're lucky, bears, moose and other wildlife as well—all in their natural habitat. Traverse the shallow and narrow channels of the glacier-fed Chilkat River in a specially designed, narrow-draft jet boat. Your guide will take you deep into the wilderness. Check the trees for eagles and eagle nests. And look in the river for otters and beaver. At the end of the trip, you'll be offered a hot beverage around a campfire or in a heated pavilion.

Who Should Go: Wildlife lovers looking for a relaxing viewing platform.

Why: It's the eagles, man.

Sitka

The Tour: Salmon & Halibut Fishing

There's good fishing off Sitka, and with this full-day excursion, you hit the waters in search of king, silver or chum salmon, as well as halibut. The captain will take you to known fishing spots with the salmon fishing done by trolling with downriggers or anchoring and mooching. Halibut fishing is done by anchoring and jigging. You should be aware that being on a small boat on the open sea subjects you to swells and wind chops. Lunch and snacks are provided. With a limit on the number of poles on the downrigger, a rotation order may be used to allow everyone time to fish.

Who Should Go: Fishermen who want to add Alaska to their portfolio.

Why: You may catch the "big one."

Note: You need to buy a one-day fishing license from the captain of the small boat for $20 cash, as required by Alaska law. Also, from May through June you need a $10 king salmon stamp. If you catch a fish, you can have it packaged and shipped home for an additional fee.

The Tour: Historic Russian America, Raptor Center & Russian Dancers

Sitka is noteworthy among Alaska towns for its strong Russian heritage. This tour gets you to key historical points as well as the best local attraction—the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center, where you get to view birds of prey, including bald eagles, close up. In Sitka, you'll also see the tiny one-room St. Michael's, the first Russian Orthodox cathedral in America; visit the Sitka National Historical Park, where in 1804 the Battle of Alaska was fought between the Russians and native Tlingits (today the park houses a collection of totem poles); drive to Castle Hill, where the post-Alaska Purchase flag was first flown by the U.S. in 1867; and enjoy a performance by the local Russian Folk Dance troupe.

Who Should Go: Those who appreciate history and like to watch those energetic kicks the Russian dancers do. And kids and nature-lovers who don't want to miss a visit to the Raptor Center.

Why: It's a good lesson in what Alaska was way back when—in the time of fur traders, missionaries, and Indians—and what it is today.

Skagway

The Tour: White Pass Scenic Railway

This is a must-do tour, especially on a clear day. Take a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Railroad, a narrow gauge railway built into amazingly rugged and beautiful terrain 100 years ago. It's the same Trail of '98 route taken in the late 19th century by a steady stream of gold prospectors looking for Yukon gold ... except they amazingly did it on foot and in temperatures that in winter go down as low as minus 50 degrees. You travel in the comfort of old-fashioned parlor cars, and the route takes you up the 2,800-foot summit of the White Pass, through tunnels and over sky-high trestles, past remote valleys and such sights as Bridal Veil Falls, Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch—so named because so many miners lost their horses there. The trip takes three hours round-trip, but you can also book one-way tours, with a ride back in a bus on the Klondike Highway.

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