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2:02 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Alaska for 2009 - Part II: Cruising makes it easy

Princess Alaska Cruise Tour/Courtesy photo<p>
The perfect view on an Alaska cruise is from your room’s veranda – where you might spot a pod of whales.

Princess Alaska Cruise Tour/Courtesy photo<p> The perfect view on an Alaska cruise is from your room’s veranda – where you might spot a pod of whales.

"To the lover of pure wildness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world." John Muir - "Travels in Alaska"

Alaska is calling. Go traveling and see for yourself the richness and beauty of our 49th state. In my last column to you I began discussing the almost endless possibilities of a cruise or tour to Alaska. Why to go, when to travel and how to see it all. This week I will cover some other facets of planning your adventure.

Everything in Alaska is larger than life and the possibilities for beauty are practically infinite. With all the endless travel options, a cruise or cruise-tour put together by an expert, your personal travel agent, will give you the perfect mix of adventure, relaxation and value.

Where to Sail: The Great Land is so enormous that deciding on what to see is difficult. One classic route is a seven-day round-trip through the Inside Passage. Sail from Vancouver or Seattle through the pristine inland waterway. To Ketchikan with its native heritage, to Juneau - home to Mendenhall Glacier, to Skagway - the living museum of the great Alaska gold rush and perhaps to shimmering Glacier Bay where "glaciers reach down from towering mountain ranges to meet the icy waters of majestic fjords."

To sail even farther north, you might consider a one-way, seven-day cruise between Vancouver/Seattle and Seward/Anchorage. Using this itinerary, you would begin your cruise in the northwest and sail north to Alaska, flying home from Anchorage or you can cruise the reverse itinerary. These voyages offer you an opportunity to cruise not only through the Inland Passage but also to sail through College Fjord, Prince William Sound and the mighty Gulf of Alaska.

When the ships dock in each of these ports there are wonderful shore excursions available. These optional programs spotlight the best sights and activities in each port of call. You might go sea kayaking, fly fishing for salmon and trout, mush a dog-sled, land on a glacier, or capture the perfect picture of a whale surfacing. Artisans, dancers and storytellers share their heritage in native villages and you can listen to trappers, bush pilots, park rangers and naturalists speak about their unique and beautiful homeland.

To travel beyond the coast into the heart of Alaska, add one of the land tours cruise lines offer. This will give you an opportunity to ride the Alaska rails, stay in luxury lodges and visit the awe-inspiring Denali National Park. Give yourself the time to walk, to watch and to learn. There is no mystery as to why you are there; it is for spectacular scenery and wildlife.

There are all sorts of elements to this trip, which need to be covered. There isn't space to fully discuss the following items but your travel professional will handle all of this - so not to worry.

Cabin position: I have had many clients move from an inside economy cabin for their first cruise, to an outside cabin with a window for their second and then on to a balcony stateroom - but I have never had anyone do the reverse. A perfect early morning on your Alaska cruise is sitting on your veranda dressed in something comfy, sipping hot coffee with a pair of binoculars on the table beside you - ready to grab when you spot a pod of whales.

Tipping: Plan on $10 per person per day. Many cruise lines will put this on your tab to be handled with the final accounting if you wish.

Insurance: It will probably be a complete waste of money. But the penalties are huge if you are forced to cancel so it is an excellent safeguard.

Packing: This will be determined by the activities you plan on and the sort of ship you sail. The climate varies a great deal, so dressing in layers is a smart idea. Take a little for chilly, a little for rainy and a good pair of shoes. Alaska is not a dressy place, so you don't need to worry about lugging a tuxedo with you.

Air reservations: The cruise line can handle this for you or your travel agent will be happy to arrange it. There will be quite a variety in the air rates and schedules and the amount of control you have will depend on who handles the reservation.

When to Book: The best values and the best choice of staterooms are usually available quite far ahead. Hefty discounts are available now and they will melt away as the sailing season approaches. The best rates will usually be found from now until the end of February. And beside the Early Booking Discounts, your travel agent can tell you about regional specials, past passenger discounts, group discounts and consortium rates.

Where to Book: Of course you can do all of this by yourself. (But I have no idea why you would.) Your local friendly travel agent is here to sit down with, sort out all of the options, find you the best rate and ... most will handle it without a fee.

I have only touched the surface, so please realize that this discussion is not only incomplete but also full of personal bias.

Why to Book: They say once you've been to Alaska, you never really come all the way back. The lore and legends of the North, mountains and moose, glaciers and whales, music and room service are all waiting for you.

Leslie and Mike Ross have owned Kachina Travel since 1975.