Alaska - World’s Last Frontier, which is all about icy wilderness, fjords and mountain peaks that almost touch the sky is undoubtedly mother nature’s most blessed revelation. This icy region used to be and still is the benchmark for nature explorers, mountaineers and glacial climbers. However, with the passage of time and stupendous human excellence in science and technology has meant that today we have been able to tame even the extreme icy contours of this rather secluded frozen zone.
Alaska is boundless and today it is not just through adventure that you can explore this frozen wilderness, you have the option to unravel the mysterious side of Alaska luxuriously, if not opulently, viz-a-viz a cruiseliner. Choosing to opt for a luxury cruise along Alaska’s coastline is like having a date with nature itself.
Mountains and glaciers aside, Alaska has an incredible native culture and visitors are mesmerized by the regions rich art and cultural heritage like totem carving, rituals like the blanket toss, harmonious music and festivals that are mind-blowing. In Alaska, the government has a unique way of identifying the Natives and it is based on regions - Iñupiaq & St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Athabascan, Yup’ik & Cup’ik, Unangax̂ and Sugpiaq (Alutiiq), and Eyak, Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit.
First time visitors to Alaska are amazed by the distinct Russian heritage that Alaska offers. Russian traders, particularly those dealing with Fur, have since the late 1700, considered Alaska as a trading basem due largely to the region’s immensely rich natural resources. At Three Saints Bay, which is located strategically on Kodiak Island, Grigory Shelikhov set up the first permanent outpost which was further consolidated by Catherine the Great ten years later who set up an Orthodox mission here.
Way back in 1799, the Aleksandr Baranov managed Russian-American Company was granted a trade licence and an authority to run a government. Since then, until Alaska was taken over by the United States, there was a thin dividing line between the church and the state. In Alaska, Orthodox Christianity is the major uniting force of Alaska Natives and places like Sitka, Juneau, Kenai and the Aleutian Islands are dotted with elegant churches and are renowned for their distinctive art.
Norwegian Cruise Line, one of the world’s most trusted cruise company, with a glittering 51 year old historical background, have over the past decades, not just revolutionised the cruise holiday segment but have also brought in many innovations like - redefining on-board entertainment, doing away with old concepts like adhering to set dining times and Dress Code etc...
From a purely military-style cruise experience, the Norwegian Cruise Line’s biggest contribution to contemporary cruising phenomenon has been the introduction of a truly “Resort Style” cruise experience, which is high on recreation and so, today when you step onboard a Norwegian Cruise Line operated ship, a whole new world of cruising opens up - bewildering array of luxurious accommodation/private spaces, private pool, variety of fine dining options and high octane entertainment.
For the tenth year running NCL has been rated as Europe’s Leading Cruise Line and the World’s Leading Large Ship Cruise Line for a record six consecutive years, which is enough of a testimony to justify its claim as a truly world class cruise line operator. NCL’s next big splash is going to be the much hyped Norwegian Bliss, which if all goes well, will be operational in April 2018 featuring some of “firsts-at-cruising” like the largest race track on sea, Broadway entertainment and two exclusive observation lounges offering breathtaking ocean and glacier views to name just a few. NCL also have plans to introduce Norwegian Encore in 2019 as part of the Breakaway Plus Class series.
A major milestone in the annals of NCL’s illustrious history took place on February 17, 2018, when the Norwegian Bliss came into view from Germany’s renowned Papenburg Meyer Werft dockyard. This outstanding vessel will be anchored in the port for the last phase of construction. And once ready, it will sail down the River Ems up to the North Sea, which might take place anytime in mid-March. Meanwhile, during this period, the ship’s first crew members will move on board for a rigorous training and familiarize themselves with the vessel.
NCL Bliss is the third ship in the Breakaway Plus class series and is all of 1,082 feet in length and 136 feet wide. It has a gross tonnage of 167,800 and can accommodate approximately 4,000 guests. The ship’s signature hull art-work has been designed by one of the world’s leading marine life conservationist and artist par excellence - Wyland, whose marine art-works, paintings and sculptures have captivated audiences the world over. The trademark NCL Bliss’ hull design has been innovatively named - “Cruising with the Whales” and the standout feature image of a mother whale and her calf is truly representative of the ethereal beauty of Alaska’s endangered wildlife.
Norwegian Bliss has many first’s to her credit - the first custom-built cruise ship for Alaska cruises, the first Norwegian ship to debut sailing from Seattle (USA) to name just a few. Weekly seven-day cruises to Alaska, will feature destinations like Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska, along with Victoria, British Columbia, which will kind of take cruising in Alaska to an incredible height, which is what the Industry watchers are predicting.
The upbeat mood was very well reflected in NCL’s President & CEO Andy Stuart’s words thus - “We are counting down the days until her official debut in Seattle this summer, where guests will be able to race around the world’s largest two-level race track at sea against the backdrop of Alaska’s wild frontier, and enjoy other first-at-sea experiences.”
The catchy watchword that promotes Norwegian Bliss couldn’t be more appropriate - “Journey to Where the Wild Things Are”. And wild indeed is Alaska. From Dog Sledding to Whale Watching and awesome glacial views to Dolphin Watching, your voyage to Alaska promises to be stupendous in terms of visitor experience - all custom-built for discovering the Last Frontier.
The Race Track in particular is simply out of the world stuff, which is all of two levels and invites the adrenalin pumping spirit in you to truly test your driving dexterity. The Norwegian Bliss is the very epitome of all things luxurious and classy. The Mandara Spa for instance with its signature Thermal Suite is just too tempting to let go, while the Snow Room can chill you out no end.
The Observation Lounges have been custom built and designed for guests to truly soak in the spectacular Alaskan landscape. Yes, I am talking of the 180 - degree views on board the Bliss, which no other cruise line till date have been able to afford. This high tech and luxurious zone comes with interactive screens that magnifies the natural wonders of Alaska’s frozen wilderness and with a full service bar, you can enjoy surreal Alaskan sunsets with tipple of your choice.
When it comes to On-Sea entertainment, you can rest assured of the award-winning Casino on board the Bliss, irrespective of your gaming skills. Countless slot machines are so well arranged that the invitation seems too good to resist. For those who prefer exclusivity, the Bliss has earmarked hideaway spaces - The Haven, which simply oozes sophistication - impeccably appointed units that comes with round the clock butler and concierge service. And the best part is its proximity to ship’s sundeck.
The Haven rooms are inclusive of private balconies, shower bays and all affording breathtaking sea views. There are enough options to choose from - Balcony Staterooms, Mini Suite Staterooms, Oceanview Staterooms, Studios and Studio Lounges. The Bliss’ award-winning Studios feature virtual windows that perhaps for the first time in the history of cruise liners, offers accommodations tailor-made for the solo cruise traveller and comes with exclusive key-card access to the Studio Lounge. When it comes to Food & Dining, can the Bliss be far behind? The best fine dining possibilities are open for today’s discerning world traveller. The Haven Restaurant for instance offers signature dishes prepared by award-winning chefs.
For the sea food connoisseurs, the impeccably designed Ocean Blue is the ultimate in sea food delicacies and don’t be surprised to find the fresh Alaskan Salmon on your menu. All of Ocean Blue’s sea fishes are locally sourced and quality wise they are 10 out of 10. And Oh! for those Choco-freaks, the Coco’s on board the Bliss is the perfect place to sit back and savor the heavenly treats on offer ranging from an outstanding array of Pralines, Coffees and Crepes.
The Bienvenido Los Lobos, on the other hand is a first-rate Mexican speciality restaurant renowned for its handcrafted margaritas and tequilas. The trademark feature of Los Lobos is on innovative flavour mishmash. There is also the Margaritaville at Sea, with its standout piece - the Cheeseburger in Paradise.This a la carte dining venue draws inspiration from the lyrics of Jimmy Buffett. For Fusion-food, hop into Food Republic, the Bliss’ onboard global culinary hub that serves anything from Japanese Sushi to Peruvian Ceviche. At the Food Republic, you can embark on a gastronomic world tour on board.
Traveller’s Fact File:
The 7-Day Alaska Cruise with Glacier Bay from Seattle, covers Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan and Victoria (British Columbia). Please bear in mind that as of now there are no shore excursions available.
• Disembarkation typically commences 2 hours after docking.
• Its mandatory for guests to be on board 2 hours before the sailing time.
• Itineraries are subject to change without notice.
• All times are local to the port.
Brief Notes on Port of Calls
Seattle Cruise Port
The Port of Seattle is the world’s top cruise ports and needless to say, the world’s leading cruise liners make a beeline to offer cruises from this bustling cruise hub. Most travellers associate Seattle with its rainy weather and lacklustre lifestyle. But if Met Reports are anything to go by, the city actually receives less rain than cities like Miami and New York. Located strategically in between Puget Sound and Washington Harbor, the city of Seattle has activities galore for outdoor freaks. Make it a point to sip a cuppa coffee, since this is the domain of Starbucks. The diversity on offer is incredible and Seattle’s seafood scene is simply top rate. Aquariums and zoos abound in Seattle and try to coincide your cruise holidays during the month long Seattle International Film Festival. Other festival occasions are - the Northwest Folklife, Bite of Seattle, Sea-fair Cup and the thrilling Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. Another good time to visit Seattle is during the incredible “24-day Ride”, that takes you on a nostalgic ride on a steam engine up to Mount Ranier and chances are that you will spot amazing wildlife species.
Ketchikan’s date with fame is courtesy being the most south-eastern city on the Inside Passage to Alaska and is popularly referred to as the Salmon Capital of the World. The city’s economy revolves around tourism and fishing, which is just perfect for a Cruise Port of Call. The Ketchikan Creek is the town’s major landmark and is blessed with a marine climate with mild summer months with temperatures hovering around the mid 60s. The city is ideally located on the periphery of the Inside Passage and is a riot of colours. The cultural landscape is distinctly Indian, which is reflective in the distinctive carved totem poles and the old-world wood-architecture edifices - the ones on Creek Street are truly outstanding. Make it a point to visit Saxman Village, Totem Bright and Totem Heritage Center while at Ketchikan. Another place worth visiting is the Misty Fjords National Monument. Being the Salmon Capital of the World, its only pertinent that you savor some Salmon based preparations cooked by an expert chef. The local Tourism authorities encourage visitors to embark on exciting boat rides and soak in the local culture. The Ultimate American thrill is sighting Eagles up close and a visit to The Eagle Center ensures just that.
Juneau, the stunning capital city of Alaska, is so large - equal to the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined together and the only way you can reach here is via a cruise ship, ferryboat or aeroplane The city of Juneau owes its origin to the Gold Rush of the 1880s. Mining still is pivotal to the city’s economic growth. No visit to Juneau is ever complete without a trip to one of the world’s most dramatic Glacier - The Mendenhall Glacier. You need to hire a shuttle or even better, a helicopter ride from Juneau. Also worth visiting is the one-of-its-kind Macaulay Salmon Hatchery where young Salmons are scientifically harvested.
For Eskimo enthusiasts, the Alaska State Museum will offer a peek into the unique lifestyle of the Eskimos:
Skagway shot into limelight in the late 1800s when traders made a beeline to explore the region’s gold reserves. The town’s sudden evolution as a habitable place from its barren past is the stuff of legends. Stores and food supply units emerged almost overnight to aid and assist these trading folks, who converged to Skagway in search of fortunes. Needless to say, Skagway was an anarchic town and a perfect specimen of the Wild Wild West. A leisurely trip along the town’s major alleyways, still offers vignettes of those unruly days. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad offers by far the best scenic views of the town’s chaotic past as the train passes through mountains, gorges and tunnels.
The neighbourhood of Liarsville is every bit interesting and it is an exclusive area earmarked for visitor education on the infamous Gold Rush. The nostalgic sight of street musicians playing traditional instruments reminds visitors of the Gold Rush period. Another fabulous place to be accustomed to Alaska’s Native lifestyle is a visit to the renowned Skagway Museum and Archives, where even the tools used by those adventurous tradesmen are impeccably preserved along with priceless artefacts of the era.
Most visitors to Skagway make it a point to buy souvenir items from - A Gathering of Spirits, a fashionable local outlet that sells native Alaskan jewellery.
Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia takes pride for her distinctive Victorian grandeur. This graceful city is dotted with countless Victorian era edifices and impeccably landscaped open spaces, so much so that Victoria city has earned the moniker of “City of Gardens”. The city’s temperate climate invites many a discerning world traveller to explore the region’s unparalleled scenic vistas. The landmark Butchart Gardens, which is all of 50-acres has earned worldwide recognition for its majestic layout and off course its floral spectacle. This 100 year old garden has had a magnetic pull with visitors and no wonder they can be seen lazing their hours in complete solitude inside the garden premise. A leisurely walk along Canada’s smallest road - Fan Tan Alley, which is located in close proximity to Chinatown is quite an experience and the speciality shops and restaurants bear testimony to Victoria’s cosmopolitan diversity. Don’t miss out on some spectacular whale watching tour in the harbour area. Be aware, the Orcas, Humpbacks and Grey Whales all come for dating in Victoria’s ideal fish-friendly waters.