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Alaskan History

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

Around 15,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, Asian nomads crossed from Siberia into present-day Alaska. (At the time, the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska was largely iced over, forming a land bridge.) Entering from the west, these hunter-gatherers eventually spread throughout the vast region from the Aleutian Islands to the far north, and down into what is now central and southeastern Alaska and western Canada. They would eventually develop into three distinct native groups: Inuits, Aleuts, and Indians, with the Inuits occupying the north and west, the Aleuts on the Aleutian Islands, and the Indians (native Americans) settling the central and southeastern regions. The main Indian tribes were the Tlingits of the coastal panhandle and the Athabascans of central Alaska. Much later, two more tribes, the Haida and Tsimshian, migrated from Canada. They survived by hunting and fishing and the coastal tribes also became excellent seafarers and artisans. While spread out over vast areas, some of the tribes maintained contact - and mostly peaceful relations - with each other through trading. 

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Driving a Car

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

Driving around Alaska - at least in the relatively small portion where highways even exist, mostly the areas to the north, south and east of Anchorage - provides lots of flexibility since you can determine your own schedule and where you want to eat, sleep and spend your sightseeing time. Keep in mind that you'll have to make all your own hotel reservations and pay for everything separately, including rental car and gasoline, so you aren't likely to save money from what you'd spend on most group tours. But driving yourself can provide the ultimate in independence. You can rent cars just about anywhere there's a highway in Alaska, and most major national brands have offices in Anchorage. If you plan to drive one way to Fairbanks (or elsewhere) and fly back home from there, be sure to ask if there's a drop-off charge.    

The main roads leading north out of Anchorage are Highway 3 (George Parks Highway), which leads almost due north to Denali National Park and Fairbanks; and Highway 1 (Glenn Highway), which leads northeast through the Matanuska Valley past the Wrangell Mountains to the town of Tok. Highway 2 (combining the Alaska Highway with the Richardson Highway) then leads northwest from Tok to Fairbanks. If you want to make a big loop, you can follow highways 3, 2 and 1 from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back without retracing your steps; you can shorten the loop by following Highway 4 (Richardson Highway) from Delta Junction to Glenallen, eliminating the "Tok Triangle."   

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Alaska Cruising Itineraries

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

While it's true that most any Alaskan cruising itinerary will provide the opportunity to see glaciers, whales and interesting ports of call, it would be a mistake to think of all Alaskan itineraries as pretty much the same. When you take your cruise, are you looking to cover the "basics" - the most popular ports and scenic areas - or would you prefer to get off the beaten track a bit, perhaps in search of the "real" Alaska? Would you like to see as much of Alaska as possible, or concentrate on one small area and get to know it very well?  How much time, and money, do you have to spend? These are all factors that figure in consideration of which itinerary to pick. For many people, they may outweigh the factors of which cruise line or ship to take. 

While you might find an occasional Alaska cruise as short as four days or as long as 24 days, most itineraries are one week to 10 days in length. And almost all fall into one of the four categories below. The first two categories are the most common and are generally favored by big ships, while the second two tend to be favored by small ships, but you may find some crossover between the two. The good news is that settling on an Alaskan itinerary is somewhat easier than settling on, say, a Caribbean or Mediterranean cruising itinerary, where there are many more ports - as well as cultures, languages, and landscapes - to add to the mix. But you will have to make some basic choices. 

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Gulf of Alaska Ports

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

Cordova is served by daily ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway System coming from Whittier and Valdez, which dock at 201 Orca Ave., one mile north of city center at Copper River Highway. Small ship cruise lines dock at the harbor.  Frequent air service is available from Anchorage and Juneau.  

The small town of Seward, which has about 3,000 residents, was named after William H. Seward, who was U.S. of Secretary of State when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Dating from the early 20th century, Seward enjoys a gorgeous Kenai Mountain setting on Resurrection Bay, which does not ice over in winter. Today it's a haven for commercial fishermen, cannery workers and tourist outfitters, including charter boat operators and cruise line workers. If your cruise is departing from "Anchorage," chances are you'll actually be leaving from the port of Seward(or, alternatively, from Whittier), since Anchorage does not have a working cruise ship port. Cruise lines originating from the Port of Seward include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland-America and Regent Seven Seas.  



Sailing in Seward

Seward is the starting point for the Alaska Railroad, which runs northwest to Anchorage and beyond. If you head south, Seward serves as the gateway to the stunning Kenai Fords National Park (which is mostly viewable from the water or the air). This region is one of the favorite getaway destinations for folks from the Anchorage area; the city itself is just 130 miles north, and the views along scenic Seward Highway (state highways 1 and 9), a National Scenic Byway, are among the most beautiful of any U.S. roadway, with forests, waterfalls, mountains and glaciers. Bad weather, of course, can always intrude in Alaska, so come prepared for rain and cool temperatures even in the height of summer. 

Travel Information
 
Seward Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau
PO Box 749, Seward, AK 99664
tel. 907-224-8051
www.seward.com  

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Alaskan Wildlife

Norton, Clark Hunter Publishing ePub

One of the most exciting features of an Alaska cruise is the chance to view wildlife from the deck of your ship - or, if you take an expedition-style cruise or an adventurous shore excursion, from your own kayak or skiff. You might also spot a variety of animals on a land tour before or after your cruise. You'll be aided considerably in this if you carry a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars allow you not only to magnify your vision, but to keep a safe distance, which is good both for you and the animals. 

On water, whales top most passengers' wish lists. And it's a rare cruise that doesn't come across a sizeable number of them. Humpbacks are the most common, but you might also spot migrating gray whales in late spring and white Beluga whales if you venture into the more northerly waters lining the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. Alaska is the primary feeding ground for humpbacks, which can weigh 30 to 40 tons, grow to 40 feet in length, and migrate to Hawaii or Mexico in the colder months. They often travel in groups of six or eight, which makes it easier to see them, and they're quite acrobatic and playful, making them the whale-watchers' favorite. The best way to spot whales is to watch for their spouts, which resemble little puffs of smoke or mist rising from the sea as they surface. Keep your eyes or binoculars trained on that same general area, because they'll likely surface again near there within a few minutes. Seeing a whale breach - surging to the surface and then diving back headlong into the water, with their tails flipping high in the air before going under again - is one of the great thrills of any Alaskan cruise. Watching for spouts is also a good way to spot porpoises, also high on most passenger checklists. The most common varieties in Alaska are harbor porpoises and super-speedy Dall's porpoises. 

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