Floatplane expeditions take off from Ketchikan Harbor, Alaska

Travel by boat, plane, train & dogsled

North to Alaska

Last August, my wife, Carolyn, and I boarded the 594-foot Tahitian Princess in Vancouver, British Columbia, for a two-week cruise to Southeast Alaska and Kodiak Island.

We took shore excursions in each port of call from Ketchikan to Kodiak Island. Besides the rugged, beautiful scenery, we saw orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, bald eagles, puffins, sea otters and seals.

During a floatplane expedition to a salmon hatchery at Neets Bay near Ketchikan, I saw large black bears feeding in a stream. That day, Carolyn went on a small-boat wilderness exploration. She learned to pull crab pots and feasted on Dungeness crabs.

We saw astounding glaciers during a daylong cruise on Glacier Bay. We also took an excursion boat from Valdez to the rapidly disintegrating Columbia Glacier. So many icebergs had filled the bay that our boat couldn’t get closer than 8 miles to the glacier. Near Juneau, we visited Mendenhall Glacier and went on an amazing small-boat excursion where we saw humpback whales, seals and sea lions.

In Skagway, we took a bus to Carcross, Yukon, and rode the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway back to Skagway, passing Dead Horse Gulch, where thousands of horses and stampeders perished during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s.

After lunch at Carcross, I took a trail ride through the woods on a four-passenger buggy pulled by sled dogs. My appetite whetted for the real thing, I took a small helicopter to the top of a 3,600-foot-high glacier in the mountains near Seward for a 2½-mile dogsled ride with two middle-aged women.

A musher drove the lead sled, and I steered the rear sled, which he was towing. Fifteen friendly huskies pulled us, unfazed by the fog and the 20-degree wind chill. The excursion company gave us outer pants, parkas and booties to wear.

While off shore in the Gulf of Alaska on the next-to-last day of the cruise, we found ourselves in a force 10 gale with 15- to 20-foot waves and 55-knot winds. Some of the passengers and crew became seasick. The ship pitched and the hull shuddered after hitting larger waves, but fortunately it didn’t roll too much.

Our captain had to slow from the normal cruising speed of 18 knots to 6 knots. The last day of the cruise, he took the Inside Passage east of Vancouver Island, and we experienced much calmer seas.

Our port call at Victoria, British Columbia, was cancelled, so we spent two days at sea before finally arriving at Vancouver for that long trip home to North Carolina. All in all, it was a wonderful trip.