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Alaska without the Cruise Ship Part 17: Some Final Thoughts
Alaska without the Cruise Ship is a 17-part series exploring the ease and advantages of touring Alaska on your own steam and at your own speed.
And so we come to the end of our Alaskan adventure: a tiny prop plane that would take me from Skagway to Juneau where I would catch a much larger plane back home to Los Angeles.
Unlike the other one million tourists who visit Alaska annually, my friends and I were part of the 600,000 non-cruise ship minority who decided to do it on our own. Alaska is, after all, a wild place where even tourists should be allowed to roam free and not be limited to the confines of a cruise ship and its tightly regulated itinerary.
For those of you who thought it impossible to visit this fine state without signing up for an expensive cruise, hopefully this series has shown that this is simply not the case. Of course, there is nothing wrong with cruise ships; they're a very convenient and comfortable way to get around. Traveling without one, however, is just as easy, and in my opinion, far more rewarding for travelers seeking a deeper Alaskan experience.
Every town we visited, for example, seemed to undergo a substantial transformation when the last cruise ship left for the day. The crowds were gone, the restaurants less packed, and the locals more relaxed. It was like an intermission between shows at the theater.
Traveling on your own steam also allows you to stay longer in the places you enjoy rather than rushing back to catch your ship before it sets sail. When I discovered just how wonderful Skagway was, I did exactly that; my extra time in the local bars, restaurants and cafes were so very rewarding. Of course, we missed the all-you-can-eat cruise ship buffets, but nearly all the food we ate instead was freshly plucked from the Alaskan waters and fabulously delicious.
We were also able to take advantage of all the same onshore excursions offered up by the cruise lines, but often times at cheaper rates. And since so many of the outfitters rely on cruise ship passengers who are traveling without cars, nearly all of them provide free transport to their sites, be it kayaking, zip lining, bear watching, dog sledding, or any other adventure one could imagine.
Accommodations were also easy to organize thanks to a great selection of local hotels bursting with character. Be sure to book ahead, though! Hotels are small and fill up quickly. Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway all have Visitor Bureau sites listing hotels and contact numbers (click links above)
And then, there is the Alaska Marine Highway. This far-reaching system of ferries connects nearly every major port town on the coast which means no need to rent a car! How easy is that!
Alaska, truth be told, is easy. I had always pictured it as an exotic, far-flung destination that was difficult to get to and, unless traveling by cruise ship, difficult to manage once there. The reality is that Alaska is a state just like any other state in the union; locals speak English, ATMs dispense dollars, and cars drive on the right side of the street. If you've traveled in any of the other 49 states without a tour group or cruise ship, you can do so here as well. In fact, I would argue that Alaska is so geared towards tourism that it is actually much easier to travel here than any other state. Cruise ships are nice, but you can certainly do this one on your own.
However, if after all this, you're still worried you can't do Alaska on your own, then please, please get yourself on a cruise ship. Cruise ships are still wonderful in their own way and are still a great opportunity to visit this most amazing state. Because, as I discovered on my own trip, Alaska simply does not disappoint--whatever your level of travel comfort might be.
Yesterday: The Crazy Nightlife of Skagway
(Thanks go out to Kirstin for a wonderful edit job on this series)