I didn’t have many expectations for Alaska besides gorgeous scenery, abundant wildlife, and lots of soaking in the great outdoors with the boat, kayaks and any other means available. Okay, maybe that is a lot of expectations, whatever. Anyway, what I didn’t expect was to see cruise ship after cruise ship cluttering every major port in the southeast part of the state.
I’m all for people getting out and traveling and yes, cruises can be a hell of a lot of fun. But in Alaska? Really?
Here’s the thing: You’re on a cruise ship, it’s cold, so you’re probably inside while cruising between ports. But then you get to your destination and what do you find? Streets lined with touristy shops ALL OWNED BY THE CRUISE SHIPS. In fact, I’m told that most of them close for the winter during the off season, so what’s really “Alaskan” about that experience? You don’t go to Alaska to shop. You go for the wilderness and all it’s beauty. Of course, once in port you can go off on some advertised excursion to fly over a glacier or go on a bear tour, but then what’s the point of the cruise?
I have maybe five pictures from our week spent in Juneau. Why? Because almost the entire town is catered to the visiting cruise ship passengers. We are talking about the CAPITAL of the state of Alaska (which, by the way, makes up about 1/3 of the U.S. in terms of land mass) made up almost entirely of cheesy jewelry stores toting “free tanzanite stud earrings to all XXXX ship passengers”. It’s hard to hate on it too much since the city derives a major part of it’s income from these very tourists, but I can’t help but feel sad about it. It just feels like a cheap way to experience what is otherwise such a beautiful place. Plus, the hordes of tourists milling about like cattle doesn’t help the situation any.
The real “Alaska” is what you’ll find in all the minute details seen and experienced sailing along the coast, exploring in the remote lands and mingling with the small town locals who call this great state “home”. And here’s a secret: you can have the same experience without having your own private yacht (and it doesn’t involve Holland America). But more on that later…