Where did you go and when? Have you been there before?
In June I travelled to Southeast Alaska for the first time and joined a 7 night UnCruise voyage travelling from Sitka to Juneau.
Would you go at that time of year again, or a different time of year? How come?
Travelling anywhere in the US (or anywhere in the northern hemisphere really) in June requires patience – and a lot of it. Airports are packed and queues are long. This early part of summer however is a great time to visit SE Alaska as we enjoyed fabulous weather (apart from the Summer Solstice which was hilariously the only bleak and cold day of the entire trip) and enjoyed some spectacular whale action. Mother Nature is a fickle lady however, and in Southeast Alaska nothing can be taken for granted.
First impressions of destination? Sights, smells, people, traffic, customs agents?
We landed in Sitka close to midnight at one of the smallest airports I’ve ever been in, but with a warm, welcoming feel. It’s a great little town full of friendly people, easy to get around and a wonderful introduction to Alaska. Having said that, I get the feeling that this corner of the state is a little different to its mainland counterpart. It’s got me hooked though – Alaska is definitely a place I’ll be heading back to.
Did you have any expectations going in?
Cruising the Northern Passages and into Glacier Bay National Park had me expecting a lot more ice than what we saw. What surrounds you instead is temperate rainforest – the incredible Tongass National Forest. And what a forest it is. Mountains, fjords, bays, thick forest, glacial streams and more.
While I thought we would be lucky to see bears, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so challenging. The aim of the game is to never surprise a bear when on land so there’s a lot of noise made to alert bears to your presence and while you see lots of bear sign, this is not the trip to do if you want to see bears at a reasonably close proximity. That being said, several groups did have a close (some might say too close) encounter with a Brown Bear in Glacier Bay National Park when they were ridge hiking. Us kayakers were not so lucky ☹ There was a further (alleged) bear sighting later that day as we cruised the Bay’s waters and said bear was on shore some distance away (it strongly resembled a tree stump in my opinion).
Did it meet / exceed / underdeliver on your expectations?
While I didn’t see anywhere near as much ice as I expected, and the number and scale of the glaciers were less than I’ve seen elsewhere (small disclaimer here: visiting Antarctica and the Arctic does make one a little spoilt when it comes to ice – the glaciers of Alaska didn’t really stand a chance!), I wasn’t expecting the forest to be so enchanting and, quite simply, glorious. So, from that perspective, I loved every bit of it.
What did you really enjoy?
Kayaking through the inlets and around the smaller islands, bushwhacking through intense forest and coming across incredible glacial streams, meeting wonderful people on the small ship cruise, and being lucky enough to enjoy the whole experience with my son. Travelling with your adult children (and/or grandchildren) is a privilege and a joy I highly recommend!
What did you not like so much?
The only thing I can point to are the long waits at the airports – 2hrs MINIMUM is required for domestic flights in the US and I would say during the busy periods, 3hrs is necessary.
What did you think our travellers would think of the destination / product?
Back Track travellers will love the UnCruise experience – incredibly enthusiastic and experienced guides, well organised off-ship experiences, great food with drinks included and like-minded fellow travellers.
Southeast Alaska is beautiful and should be enjoyed for its stunning scenery, great marine wildlife but anyone keen on seeing bears will need to choose a different trip style or a bear lodge.
What tips would you pass on?
Definitely travel in the direction of Sitka to Juneau. You’ll end the trip in Glacier Bay NP and while it didn’t provide the ice I was expecting, it is still spectacular and is where you’ll do the “polar plunge” (not really polar but the water was chilly enough) which is a great way to bring the trip to a close.