if you go...alaska

Sunday, May 26, 2002

WANT TO GO?

GETTING THEREBookings are still available for the 2002 summer season on the major cruise lines, a popular way to reach the southeast Alaska ports of call from which shore excursions originate. Passengers first fly into Vancouver, B. C., or Anchorage, traveling to or from the northern terminus of cruises at Seward, Alaska, by bus.

In addition to the ports of call, cruise lines visit two spectacular venues, Glacier Bay National Park north of Skagway and College Fjord near Valdez without stopping. Other concessionaires carry sightseers there in smaller vessels and, for the truly courageous, camping is permitted in Glacier Bay.

If you want the shore excursion experience without the inflexibility of a cruise ship's schedule, an alternative is flying to the Alaskan capital of Juneau from Seattle or Anchorage and traveling to other ports of calls via the ferry system known as the Alaska Marine Highway.

Only Skagway and Haines are directly accessible by car via the South Klondike Highway connecting to highway system in the Yukon. Cars are mostly a liability, but the ferries can take your vehicle if you insist, departing from Haines, Skagway or even Bellingham, Washington, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

COSTSAN ADVANCE-FARE ROUND-TRIP BY AIR FROM CHICAGO TO JUNEAU CAN BE PURCHASED FOR UNDER $500. THE FERRY FROM KETCHIKAN TO JUNEAU COSTS $83; JUNEAU TO SKAGWAY, $35. A "DELUXE" ROOM AT THE RUSTIC GOLDEN NORTH HOTEL IN SKAGWAY IS ABOUT $120 NIGHTLY.

AN ADVANTAGE OF COBBLING TOGETHER SUCH A TRIP WOULD BE SO-CALLED SMALL SHIP CRUISING, WITH CLOSER VIEWS OF SHORES, THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE ON A MAJOR CRUISE LINE. A TWO-DAY EXCURSION FROM JUNEAU TO GLACIER BAY, WITH AN OVERNIGHT AT THE PARK'S LODGE, STARTS AT ABOUT $500.

SEVEN-DAY PACKAGES ON THE MAJOR CRUISE LINES START AT ABOUT $600 PER PERSON FOR INSIDE CABINS, UPWARD TO ALMOST $5,000 FOR A TWO-PERSON STATEROOM WITH A PRIVATE BALCONY, NOT INCLUDING AIRFARE TO VANCOUVER OR ANCHORAGE. UNLIMITED DINING IS INCLUDED, PLUS YOU DON'T HAVE TO PACK AND UNPACK LUGGAGE EVERY NIGHT.

ADVANCE RESERVATIONS INDICATE A CROWDED CRUISE SEASON, DESPITE PREDICTIONS OF FALLOUT FROM THE TERRORISM ATTACKS OF 2001.

MORE TO DOAT THE BEGINNING OR END OF INSIDE PASSAGE CRUISES ARE THE UNIQUE CITIES OF ANCHORAGE OR VANCOUVER, WHICH COULD BE VACATION DESTINATIONS UNTO THEMSELVES. EN ROUTE TO THE AIRPORT IN ANCHORAGE FROM THE CRUISE LINE TERMINAL AT SEWARD ARE CASUAL OPPORTUNITIES TO VIEW WILDLIFE LIKE A MOOSE FEEDING IN A POND OF LILIES BESIDE THE ROAD.

NO BEAR SIGHTINGS? BUSES FROM SEWARD STOP AT BIG GAME ALASKA, A PRIVATELY OWNED WILDLIFE CENTER, FOR REFRESHMENTS. AT LEAST ONE YOUNG BEAR RESIDES THERE, ALONG WITH REINDEER, MUSKOX, CARIBOU AND ELK. IRONICALLY, THAT MAY BE THE CLOSEST WILDLIFE ENCOUNTER FOR SOME VISITORS WHO DECIDED AGAINST SHORE EXCURSIONS WHILE CRUISING.

ON THE NETTHE MAJOR CRUISE LINES HAVE THEIR OWN WEB SITES, WITH FULL DESCRIPTIONS OF SHORE EXCURSIONS THAT COINCIDE WITH THE TIMES THAT THE SHIPS ARE IN THE SOUTHEAST ALASKA PORTS OF CALL. AN EXAMPLE: WWW.PRINCESSCRUISES.COM.

  • WWW.ALASKAINFO.ORG, THE STATE OF ALASKA'S WEB SITE FOR VACATION INFORMATION ABOUT THE INSIDE PASSAGE.

  • WWW.DOT.STATE.AK.US/AMHS/, THE WEB SITE OF THE ALASKA MARINE HIGHWAY, WITH SCHEDULES AND FARES.

  • WWW.GLACIERBAYTOURS.COM, INFORMATION ABOUT CONCESSIONAIRES FOR GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK (NOT AN OPTION FOR PASSENGERS OF MAJOR CRUISE LINES, DUE TO SCHEDULE CONFLICTS).

  • WWW.TRAVELJUNEAU.COM, THE SITE OF THE JUNEAU CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU.

  • WWW.ALASKAPASS.COM, THE SITE FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE ALASKA PASS, WHICH ALLOWS TRAVEL ON FERRIES, THE ALASKA RAILROAD AND OTHER CONVEYANCES. THIS OPTION WOULD BE COST-EFFECTIVE IF TRAVEL TO ALASKA'S INTERIOR IS ADDED TO EXCURSIONS FROM PORTS OF CALL ON THE INSIDE PASSAGE.

    --THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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