The Alaska Experience
Exploring America’s Magical Last Frontier
Total Area: 586,412 square miles
State Nickname: The Last Frontier
State Motto: North to the Future
Time Zone: Alaska Standard Time, one hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time
State Capital: Juneau
Largest City: Anchorage
For more than twenty-seven years Royal Caribbean has been traversing the waters of America’s most unspoiled region, introducing adventure-loving travelers from around the globe to some of the wonders of Southeast Alaska. In 2016, Radiance of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas continue the cruise line’s tradition, visiting towns and communities in regions so remote they can’t be reached by road. In this part of the country, ships, boats, and ferries are the main modes of transportation and the Inside Passage is the highway. The remarkable route has been designated one of America’s National Scenic Byways by the US Department of Transportation. This cruise is your chance to enjoy the ride.
The Inside Passage
A scenic coastal route, the Inside Passage stretches for five hundred miles along the western border of Southeast Alaska, a region also known as the Alaska Panhandle. It’s a mix of remote islands, fjords, tidal pools, and narrow waterways that formed millions of years ago as southbound glaciers carved out the land. Today, that land is blanketed by old-growth forests of hemlock, spruce, and cedar trees that are part of the world’s largest temperate rainforest. The islands to the west protect the passage from the rough waters of the open sea, creating ideal conditions for smooth sailing. Some seventy thousand people live in the thirty-three communities along the Inside Passage, and the locals rely on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system to get around.
Any voyage through the Inside Passage is a journey through the Tongass National Forest, which covers about eighty percent of Southeast Alaska. At 16.9 million acres, it’s the largest forest in the US National Forest System. It’s also the largest temperate rainforest in the world.
As the largest tidewater glacier in North America, Hubbard Glacier is also one of the most active, so visiting here is always exciting. All glaciers are technically flowing rivers of ice, and this particular one flows for seventy-six miles before meeting the sea in Disenchantment Bay, located at the head of Yakutat Bay. It’s almost eight miles wide at its widest point, making for a total of 1,350 square miles of bright-blue ice surging toward the Gulf of Alaska. When it meets the shoreline, apartment-building-sized chunks of ice calve and tumble to the sea—a glorious moment that Alaska Natives referred to as “white thunder.” Such an event might disturb the seals or seabirds resting on the small icebergs floating in the bay, adding even more excitement to the spectacle. The best spot to witness the glacier in action is on the helipad at the front of the ship. Wave to the captain in the bridge, where he and a team of officers are monitoring the waters and firing the engines to keep the ship positioned for optimal views. Bundle up, bring a camera, and prepare to be awed by one of the most amazing sights on the planet.
Pods of orcas (killer whales) and humpback whales migrate to the cooler waters of Southeast Alaska to feed off the fish and marine life that abound here in the summer months.
Tracy Arm Fjord and Sawyer Glaciers
On itineraries sailing from Seattle, ships pass through the pristine tidewater of Tracy Arm Fjord about fifty miles south of Juneau. Nestled between dramatic three thousand-foot-tall granite walls framed by massive snowcapped mountains, the twisting waterway weaves through the Tongass National Forest for twenty-five miles. Step out onto the deck for an almost mythical experience. It’s nearly silent, save for the melody created by waterfalls cascading down the granite walls into the emerald-green waters dotted with chunks of floating ice. From rocky outcroppings, trees sprout at odd angles, growing to a timberline that reaches almost fifteen hundred feet. Toward the end of the fjord, the ship encounters the twin Sawyer Glaciers—massive rivers of ice in a brilliant shade of blue. Photos of these marvels promise to be a highlight of any vacation photo album.
Alaska was a US territory for almost a century before it was admitted to the Union as the forty-ninth state in 1959.
The word “Alaska” comes from the Native word aleyska, meaning “great land.”
If Alaska were divided into two states of equal size, Texas would become the third-largest state.
Five percent of the state is covered by glaciers—that’s about 29,000 square miles of land blanketed by 100,000 glaciers.
Glaciers may appear to be still, but they actually are flowing downhill out of mountains like rivers. This constant movement gives glaciers the power to shape landscapes—at glacial speeds, of course.
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