Kayakers paddle in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The preservation area comprises 1.3 million hectares of mountains, glaciers, forests and waterways.
Kayakers paddle in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The preservation area comprises 1.3 million hectares of mountains, glaciers, forests and waterways. Andy Newman

Jaw-dropping beauty in Alaska

I WANT bears, moose, mountains, glaciers, eagles, whales, salmon...and a gold nugget if possible, please."

These were my words as I approached the shore-excursion desk on board the graceful mid-sized ship Nieuw Amsterdam on my first trip to Alaska.

Unless you are a rugged type who considers hiking tall mountains and untamed tracks a pleasure (and if you like your bears and moose at a safe viewing-only distance), a cruise is the best way to visit Alaska, in my opinion. You have luxury and comfort on board, and safe fully guided adventures on shore.

Alaska is wonderful, glorious, enthralling - a scenic wonderland - and I wanted to experience all its harsh beauty (mixed with unashamed luxury.)

It was all so vivid, so enlightening, so memorable.

Departing from and returning to Vancouver over seven days, Nieuw Amsterdam's Alaskan cruise sails the Inside Passage, calling into the ports of Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, which are so frontier-real you feel like a gold-rusher and want to sing: "North to Alaska, They're goin' North, the rush is on."

As well as these vivid ports, there was the unforgettable day cruising in Glacier Bay, a visually stunning place of mountains, fjords, glaciers, rainforest, wildlife and coastline, and, the highlight, the massive ice-blue, 34 kilometre-long Margerie Glacier.

"I'm going to stop talking now," the cruise director said over the microphone system as we stood on the deck in Glacier Bay before the splendid vision of ice, snow, mountains, sky. "You need silence in this place," he said and then turned off the sound.

Glacier Bay's untainted and remote majesty silenced every one of the 2000 passengers on the decks, even when several kayakers came into view, tiny and gliding silently and reverently along the base of the mighty Margerie Glacier, portraying the true picture of the enormous size of the giant block of moving ice.

Then, an almighty crack pierced the solitude as the glacier calved an iceberg and it crashed dramatically into the sea. What a spectacle.

Glacier Bay, with its 3.3 million World Heritage protected acres, is referred to as a living laboratory, a place to study the ecosystem through the ages.

Cruise ship visits are limited in the summer to just two a day. You understand that. It is a hallowed place.

The jaw-dropping, raw beauty out on the cold decks with chunks of ice floating in the freezing water and the poetic call of seabirds in the sky was marvellous, as was the warmth back inside, up in the Crow's Nest lounge where the spectacular views from wall-to-ceiling windows could be enjoyed over a warming martini.

Nieuw Amsterdam is a moving luxury hotel with so much to do in between ports and scenic cruising you need to consult your daily newsletter and plan with military precision. What could you get through in a day? A premium wine tasting? A cooking demonstration, art auctions, technology lessons? A massage?


So, that's the Alaskan glaciers...next week, bears, moose, mountains, frontier saloons...and plenty more.

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