Alaska without the Cruise Ship Part 1

For most people, “Alaska” is synonymous with “cruise ship.” In fact, of the 1.6 million tourists who visited Alaska last year, 1 million did so by cruise ship. For whatever reason, it has been drilled into our heads that there is no other way to see the 49th state.

This is absolutely not true.

While cruise ships certainly have their advantages, there is so much more to gain by traveling without one.

To the novice who has never been to Alaska, non-cruise ship travel may conjure up images of fighting off bears, sleeping in igloos, and otherwise enduring Survivor–like ordeals. Sure, such a vacation is certainly doable if you want to fly into the middle of the interior, but the reality is that one can easily enjoy Alaska on their own with all the comforts, safety, and ease of traveling by cruise ship, but without all the accompanying passengers and tight itinerary. The trick is to shadow the same route of the cruise ships, but to do so on your own steam. I call this, the Land Cruise.

Last June I headed out with four friends to do just that. None of us had been to Alaska before and so we decided to mirror a popular cruise ship itinerary through the southeastern part of the state. The week long trip through Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway proved a wonderful sampler of what Alaska has to offer.

In addition, the Land Cruise gave us the freedom to leisurely enjoy all the adventures we wanted to explore without rushing back to a departing ship. Sure, we missed out on the all-you-can-eat buffets, but nothing quite beats the experience of dining on local food in local restaurants and then washing it all down with a local beer in some 100-year-old bar. Most importantly, we were able to experience Alaska in the off-hours, when the cruise ships have left port and an entirely different atmosphere settles over the small towns as they revert back to their mellow, ambient selves.

Exploring Alaska without the Cruise Ship is a 17-part daily series here on Gadling. Over the next two weeks we will take you with us on the Land Cruise, share its rewards and highlights, and walk you through the surprisingly easy way of doing it yourself–even if you’re the type of person who would normally never do such a thing.

Tomorrow: Quaint Ketchikan