At the beginning of this week, I learned that Russia sold Alaska to the USA in 1867 for US$7.2m. Ok, so even adjusting for relative values today, it works out a paltry US$80 per square km. Having now finished my week long exploration of just SE Alaska, I reckon they got a bargain!
My home for the week was the 74 passenger Chichagof Dream, in her inaugural season following an extensive refurb by local small ship specialist Alaskan Dream Cruises.
Named after one of the 3 ‘ABC’ islands of Alaska’s famed Inside Passage, I can honestly say I can’t imagine a better way of enjoying this stunning destination if you are looking relaxed, very ‘local’ experience with particular expertise of the indigenous Tlingit culture. We saw a few of the much faster big cruise ships docked in Juneau, and again in Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm and they certainly cater well to their market, but I think we enjoyed an ‘up close and personal’ version of Alaska on our small ship that was quite different.
We enjoyed some great wilderness experiences, including two kayak excursions in remote bays and two ‘up close’ forays with our DIBs (inflatable boats) to glacier fronts in the famed Glacier Bay and perhaps the even more dramatic Tracy Arm fjord. We also hiked in Petersburg, mindful always of the huge brown and black bear populations in this part of the world!
The newly presented ship is excellent, with surprisingly spacious cabins, extremely friendly and always accommodating local crew and truly fabulous food. Much of the food and drink on board is local to the region, with salmon, halibut and crab dishes my particular favourites. No one was going home hungry, particularly if they also indulged in the mid afternoon freshly baked cookies!
Our two expedition leaders Tim and Lee were great, both engaging in a very relaxed and funny way, with plenty of local insights, and this contributed to the very relaxed and markedly social ambience on board. With no wifi and limited cell coverage for much of the voyage, a convivial atmosphere in the lounge evolved quickly. After dinner presentations in the lounge rounded out the educational aspect of the voyage nicely and provided fascinating first hand insights into the local Tlingit culture.
The highlights of the voyage had to be the afternoon and evening we spent cruising in Frederick Sound surrounded by at least 40 feeding humpback whales and also witnessing porpoises playing just in front of a spectacular glacier calving in Endicott Arm.
Alaska’s a huge state, by far the biggest in the US and I’d certainly like to return one day to explore famed Denali National Park to the North and perhaps go fishing for salmon in the Kenai Peninsula. Judging by the huge numbers of fish boxes being loaded onto my Alaskan Airlines flight in Sitka, I’d say the fishing is pretty good up here! The crew warned that we’d all have to stash our hand luggage under the seat in front otherwise they might have to leave some of the fish behind. Cue much laughter and swift compliance with the request!
I never got to meet Sarah Palin or find out if you can see Russia from her house, but I can certainly see how Alaska attracts people who are unconventional! Alaska certainly has a frontier feel that’s pretty intoxicating.
When you’re sitting on the sundeck of the Chichagof Dream in the sunshine surrounded by humpbacks diving in glassy waters and backdropped by huge forested mountains and their glaciers I couldn’t help but think that $80 per sq km looked like a pretty good deal!