Our cruise, aboard the elegant Silver Muse, started from Seward and headed South to Vancouver, calling into Skagway, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. Silver Muse was the first of Silversea's new generation of ships to join their stylish and understated fleet back in 2017, with all-suite accommodation, numerous dining options and a cosmopolitan feel onboard.
With Alaska being a temperate rainforest, we were assured that the 7 days of rain we were experiencing was typical liquid sunshine weather for this glorious state, and whilst these conditions may've saturated our clothes and brollies, we didn't let it dampen our spirits, and how can you, when you're visiting this bucket-list destination on a superb ship with an incredible cruise line?
Our first sea day saw us cruise to the 75-mile-long Hubbard Glacier in Wrangell National Park. As we edged closer, this 6-mile-wide high glacier came into view through the mist, but as the wind and rain proved too much to endure at the Forward lookout point on the ship, we retreated to the shelter of our balcony to enjoy the scenery in our Superior Veranda suite.
Whilst we didn't get to see this extraordinary ice floe highlighted in shades of blue and white in basking sunshine, the weather didn't detract from the magnitude of this site and the peace and quiet this bay has to offer (no matter which side of the ship your cabin is on, the ship will turn to allow both sides to view the glacier).
For a place like Alaska, outside viewing areas, particularly for my husband and I who are keen wildlife spotters, are important - and with the cascade effect of decks at the Aft of Silver Muse, you have sea views from Deck 6 right up to Deck 11, as well as the walk-around/jogging area on Deck 11, the Observation Lounge at the Forward of Deck 11 and a Forward outdoor viewing area on Deck 12, which is only accessible by stairs. Therefore, you are spoilt for choice for places to spot whales, sea lions, otters, bald eagles and sea birds in this state.
The first port of call on our itinerary was to the isolated state capital of Juneau. Anyone visiting this wild capital can only do so by air or sea, making you feel somewhat privileged to say you've been here at all. There's lots to see and do in Juneau, from wildlife watching cruises and sea kayaking to culinary experiences and helicopter flights, but our first excursion was to the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier and its Upside Down Forest.
We explored the trails around Mendenhall Glacier by foot, which leads to the thundering Nugget Falls, and soaked up the significance of this ice field across it's serene lake that's dotted with translucent ice carvings. From here we were taken by bus to the astonishing Glacier Gardens, otherwise known as the Upside Down Forest. This forest has been recreated with the imagination and dedication of Steve Bowhay who acquired the land after a devastating landside in 1984. Since then, Steve rebuilt the stream and landscaped this mountain side into stunning gardens full of Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Cedar and Birch trees, but what gives it its topsy-turvy name? Whilst Steve was rebuilding the stream, he damaged some moving equipment. In his frustration, he used the machine to pick up a tree stump and flipped it upside down in the mud. Bowhay saw this outcome as an opportunity to replant trees upside down and turn the roots into flower beds, full of begonias, fuschias and petunias that cascade down the trunks, a truly inspiring place.
Our afternoon excursion was one James and I were particularly excited about, a trip to Iditarod Dog's Summer Camp. Being huge animal lovers, mainly of the furry kind, we were treated to a sled ride, pulled along by 12 adorable huskies, in a mountain side of the Tongass National Forest. The enthusiastic mushers enthralled us with their stories of the Iditarod races, the equipment they use and the training that takes place, alongside the chorus of over 100 excited dogs. Our biggest highlight came when we got to hold a 5-week-old husky puppy! She's yet to be named, but 'Hayley' sounds good to me...!
Smiles from Juneau stayed with us as we cruised up the Inside Passage to the quaint town of Skagway. Known as North America's amazingly preserved gold rush artifact, the main attraction here is the White Pass Scenic Railway, which is not to be missed and a truly memorable experience for any Alaskan cruise. Chugging along 80 miles of this 107-mile Yukon railroad from downtown Skagway to the White Pass summit provides you with outstanding views along the gorge in the Tongass National Forest and mountainside, all the while thinking about those who built, navigated and lost their lives during the Klondike Gold Rush - simply astonishing.
There's no need to worry about which side of the carriage to be on during this trip, as what goes up must come down, so both sides get to experience the same views. You can move around the carriage too and opt to stand outside, particularly as you head through the tunnels and the white pass summit itself, as the landscape here changes to snow, ice pools and more snow - breath-taking! Back in town there are numerous shops, museums, a saloon and Skagway's Brewing Company to wander around at your leisure.
The open ocean setting of Sitka makes it a brilliant port to spot and seek marine wildlife, and due to its compact size, it's fairly easy to explore on foot. We started the morning with a boat trip to see sea otters, and whilst bald eagles (which are as common in Alaska as red kites along the M40!) were aplenty and deer were grazing on the islands, sightings of any marine life at all were looking as bleak as the weather, and with a $100 refund if no otters were spotted on this excursion, that's where we thought we were heading, until a mass of floating sea weed parted to reveal a bevy of 6 male otters swimming playfully, whilst eating their breakfast. The cuteness of this sighting was another day made for us in this fabulous region!
Back ashore, we walked through Sitka's National Historic Park to the Alaska Raptor Centre and came back into town for some souvenir shopping and a gander at the Russian Cathedral of St Michael. Upon waiting for the ship to set sail, we were greeted with a visit from a curious sea lion, popping up from foraging in the deep.
Back on board we enjoyed all the luxuries one expects on a Silversea cruise; one big difference with Silver Muse is the removal of a Main Dining Room onboard, instead, Silversea have adopted the concept of 8 restaurants to give guests the choice on where they dine each day, from elegant bar and Atlantide is an elegant bar and grill that offers surf and turf style dishes to Indochine, offering Asian cuisine that is simply divine. We enjoyed two dinners here and I highly recommend the Malabar curry, so yummy. Each of these restaurants are open dining and seating.
Every evening the Venetian Lounge plays host to a full-scale Silversea production by the talented performers and singers, then you can carry-on a night of music and dancing up in the Panorama Lounge with its spacious and comfortable outdoor seating to sip on that strong cocktail as you watch the sunset. Or for those of you who like to place your bets, the Casino is open whilst cruising to gain or lose a few pounds (of the money kind that is).
Further relaxation can be had in the Dolce Vita, Observation Library, Connoisseur's Corner for those who enjoy a cognac with their cigars and cigarettes, or the ultimate unwinding experience can be had in the extra large Zagara Beauty Spa at the back of Deck 6, complete with a spacious fitness centre, men and women's sauna and steam rooms, treatment rooms, a salon and nail bar. You can come back feeling totally invigorated.
What doesn't get mentioned about Silver Muse is the small, but well-catered kids' activity room on Deck 9. Accessible to children (and big kids) onboard to play with a Playstation and Xbox. or interact with the children's host and other kids onboard. This is the only place for children on board, and the only place with activities for youngsters too.
Our final port of call on this itinerary was to the bustling town of Ketchikan. Apparently, Ketchikan is famous for its rainy skies… need I say more about the weather by this point?! We geared up for a morning exploration through the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary in the hope to spot some bears (they really do seem to elude me on my travels!) and whilst we weren't lucky for these sightings (they're only just out of hibernation) we learnt a lot about their natural habitat, the flora and fauna that can be found throughout Alaska, its uses and plants to avoid.
The excursion ended with a Q&A and ponder around an active totem pole workshop, which was fascinating. Back to the port we walked through the iconic old red-light district of Creek Street, past the sounds of the lumberjack shows taking place, and after dragging my husband around shops for last-minute souvenirs, it was only right that we finished up in another brewery for him to sample his last pint of authentic Alaskan beer.
You'll be pleased to hear that the final day at sea, as we ebbed closer to Vancouver, came with clearer skies and sunshine - hallelujah! With calm waters as we entered the Johnson strait, we were treated to several sightings of Minke whales and a pod of porpoise, a lovely end to one amazing voyage.
We spent three full days in Vancouver at the end of our cruise and we did fill these days. We stayed at the wonderful Sutton Palace hotel on Burrard Street, which is a great location for shops, restaurants and bars in downtown Vancouver. The hop-on-hop-off bus enabled us to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings and spend our short time wisely with our first morning munching our way around Granville Island with its incredible market, food stalls and boutiques, and an afternoon in Gastown, with its famous steam clock, Canada Place right on the water's edge and along Robson Street that's teeming with oriental eateries and high-end shops.
Our second day was at Stanley Park, navigating the trails and exploring along the seawall, its totem poles, lagoon and spotting lovely little black squirrels and numerous native birds. As we'd walked our socks off, our final day was spent chilling in Coal Harbour Park and soaking up some much-needed Vitamin D from the glorious sunshine.
Come rain, or shine, Alaska is full of exploration, wonder, wildlife, history, intrigue and character, and no matter where your cruise starts or finishes, I highly recommend a pre and/or post-cruise stay in Vancouver, or even a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer. Whatever your next cruise plans are, make sure Alaska is on your list!