Pros: Lots! Gorgeous photos, things you really do need to know before you go.
Cons: Not a one.
This year, I decided that it was going to be the year that I was going to go cruising again, and the place to go was Alaska. Of course, once you get to my age, certain things become important, such as traveling in comfort and where roughing it, as they say, is distinctly out of the question. I booked my trip, and settled the itinerary, and then started to research where exactly I was going so that I could settle on my shore excursions. (For the uninitiated, shore excursions are tours arranged by the cruise line for various ports of call. It's good to book early, before you get onboard as the most popular excursions sell out fast.)
Which is why I picked up this book while recently browsing in the local bookstore. After a few pages, I murmured this is perfect, and it went into my basket. For several years, this book was only available on Princess Cruise Line ships, but with this recent edition, it has been made available to a wider market. And oh, is it worth every penny!
Author Joe Upton, a longtime resident and fisherman in Alaska has turned his attention to the journey known as the Inside Passage that wends its way up the many islands and inlets along the southeastern coast of Alaska. Most tour guides that talk about Alaska and cruising will mention the several ports of call along the way, provide a skimpy map, and make mention of a few historical facts. What makes this book so very different is the content.
For Mr. Upton takes the reader on a journey that is filled with history, personal anecdotes, some tall tales, a few tragedies, and plenty of humour and good common sense. He begins in Seattle, where many cruises bound for the north start, and takes the reader on an escorted tour that breaks the voyage down mile by mile. Not literally of course, but he does provide information about things you are going to want to see and know about, such as the best places to spot whales and other wildlife, little tidbits about local flora and fauna, and some of the stories that he has either heard about or experienced. These points are shown on maps scattered throughout the text, which are clear and vividly marked, along with the names of various towns and islands.
But this isn't just a guide to where to get off the ship and a listing of a few eateries or hotels or anything of that sort. Mr. Upton takes the time to let the reader in on what is not to be missed, what is best avoided, as well as the story of each port along the way. While he is clearly in favour of going by a smaller ship than most of the megaliners that dominate the Alaska cruise season, he also realizes that those big ships do provide a much needed boost to the local economy by bringing plenty of tourists with money to spend.
Besides the maps and the stories, the big sellers for me were the photographs in this book. They are quite lush and beautiful, and I suspect, probably do pale besides the rugged beauty of Alaska's coastline. They certainly whetted my appetite to go on my holiday, and I've already marked down several places and things to see and do that I do not want to miss.
While many readers do think that the ships dock in the aptly named Anchorage on Alaska's southern coast, the ships actually come in at Seward, and Mr. Upton has thoughtfully provided a guide to the rest of Alaska as well. Most of the information is centered on the two largest cities in Alaska -- Anchorage and Fairbanks -- but there are plenty of pages devoted to the lesser-traveled parts of the state.
For most travelers, the main interest on the landward part of the trip is going to be the journey between Anchorage and Fairbanks, either by motor coach or the even better Alaska Railroad, that makes stops at Talkeetna and Denali National Park (Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain on the North American continent). I had debated whether or not I was going to add this portion of the state to my travels, but now that I have read through this book, I'm glad that I am going to be including this.
What many readers may find surprising in this book is that the author has included sections on traveling by RV (recreational vehicle) or car, and many tips on what you will want to plan and pack for. He also breaks down the various ships that cruise the Inside Passage, with both their pluses and minuses, and feedback as to their quality as given by the passengers.
In addition to the maps included in the text, there is a big fold out map in the back of the book that is very attractive and gives the entire route that goes from Seattle to Fairbanks. Places that get attention are: Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Seward, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks. There are also brief mentions of Nome, Barrow, and Dutch Harbor and the Aleutian Islands.
One important note here: The maps that are included in this book are a guide, and are not to be used for navigation purposes -- those are published anew each year and are very detailed as to their content. Anyone who is stupid enough to try and go seafaring without the proper charts is asking for every bit of bad luck they get.
Along with all the information, stories, details and listings, there is a very good bibliography as well, which should give those interested in Alaskan lore and history a good start.
One thing that really struck me was the amount of information that the author devoted to the Exxon Valdez spill in the 80's. Many of Alaska's fishermen and native peoples lost their livelihood through that tragedy, and to date, Exxon has not compensated them in any way, and despite a trial that found in favour of the Alaskans, Exxon refuses to pay. If that's not a case of injustice, I don't know what is, given the current profits seen by the oil corporations these days. Ok, rant over.
Summing up, this was a very good book and one that I can recommend to anyone planning a cruise to Alaska. This should be one of the books to look through first when planning, and deciding where you want to go and do. Out of the many websites and books out there about cruising in Alaska, this is one of the best and most informative, with plenty of details. And of course, don't forget to tuck this one into your luggage when you go, you're going to want to be looking at it when you're traveling as well.
Five stars overall.
Many thanks to the Books CL Pestyside for adding this to the database for me!
The Alaska Cruise Handbook: A Mile-by-Mile Guide
2007, 2008; Coastal Publishing Inc.