|Passengers hug the
rails of the Celebrity Galaxy for astonishing views of Glacier
Alaska's Inside Passage
Aboard the Celebrity Galaxy
Why Go? For the spectacular scenery and splendid adventures.
Text and photos by Toby Saltzman
It is by sheer, brutal design of nature that we can count on glacier
Bay - a precious gem of Alaskan territory inhabited for the world's
largest population of harbor seals - to exist pretty much the same
for another 1,000 years. Its endurance is aided by the fact it is
encircled by 16 sparkling turquoise tidewater glaciers, carving
their way down through the mountains to the sea.
|The Inside Passage
is the Gateway to pristine forests,
lumbering grizzlies and soaring walls of crashing ice.
Never mind that this year, some 30 cruise vessels - from compact
adventure boats to ultra-luxurious ships - will hustle about 100,000
passengers up the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Glacier Bay.
Fortunately, the bay, recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage
Site, quite naturally restricts close encounters to tourists in
light planes or gently approaching vessels.
|The pristine beauty
of Glacier Bay
You cannot get too close to the face of a glacier without the risk
of huge chunks of ice crashing to the sea with a roar the natives
call "white thunder." You must admire Marjorie Glacier from a quiet
distance, its glorious aqua ice side by side with the moraine-blackened
and mammoth Grand Pacific Glacier, which is advancing daily because
the snow feeding it from the mountains exceeds the melt at its base.
While Glacier Bay and the Alaskan wilderness retain their status
quo, the port cities along the Inside Passage little resemble the
frontier outposts that sprouted a century ago during the gold rush.
Inside Passage on board the Celebrity Galaxy
In Ketchikan, where ships once anchored and tendered passengers
ashore, vast piers stand capable of berthing several ships and supporting
a dozen tour busses. Here, authentic Creek Street - the red-light
district of gold-rush heydays, where many a stampeder hugged a jug
of cheer or a warm-hearted girl - is a row of T-shirt and tchotchke
shops. In Skagway, once the last stop for supplies before the treacherous
Chilkoot Trail to Dawson City and Whitehorse, you could almost believe
you're in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with its kitschy souvenir shops.
|The icy tongue of
the glacier carves its way down to the sea.
So why bother cruising to Alaska if kitsch isn't your style? For
the spectacular scenery and splendid adventures otherwise hard to
reach: for soaring in a seaplane of the Misty Fiords between forested
mountains and snow-capped peaks; for the grizzlies lumbering through
valleys, deer nibbling shoots at the water's edge, waterfalls cascading
through the trees and seals flapping shiny torsos on boulders in
mid-sea; for scouting glacial waters of Chilkoot Bald Eagle Preserve
on a flat-bottomed skiff and encountering the noblest bird of prey
so intimately that you see the yellow ring of his eyes; for the
thrill of walking on glaciers; and for a rousing jaunt past the
alpine tree line on the original White Pass and Yukon Railway -
a feat of engineering chiseled into the sheer face of the mountain.
Most cruise ships plying the passage offer these excursions. So
your vessel is the variable that brightens or blurs your pleasure.
The 1,860-passenger Celebrity Galaxy is an excellent choice for
those who prefer luxury travel within the limits of good value.
We chose the largest cruise ship in Alaskan waters mainly for its
reputation for fine cuisine, inspired by renowned chef Michel Roux,
and for its spacious Skysuites, which offer the biggest balconies
afloat, plus private butlers. We wanted to see it all, yet avoid
|This small, brave
brushes the tongue of the glacier
as it negotiates the ice floes.
The most technically advanced cruise ship afloat, the Galaxy -
in the Celebrity fleet, recently bought by royal Caribbean Cruise
Line- is loaded with seagoing firsts. (Though it is outdone by its
brand new sister ship - the Millennium - launching in late June
2000.) It has the most elaborate, full-service spa at sea (including
a thalassotherapy pool), multiple indoor and outdoor pools, a host
of lounges configured so you never sense the passenger population,
and an area banked with interactive personal computers. Credit goes
to Celebrity's alliance with Sony and SeaVision for the Galaxy's
dazzling array of technical gizmos, many of which have yet to be
installed at any land-based resort. Huge, programmable "video walls"
enhance the lobby and show lounge, which is also geared for laser
light show productions. The cushy movie theatre has Dolby and Sony
Dynamic Digital sound and a 48-cube video wall. And each stateroom
has interactive televisions, programmed in five different languages,
so guests craving privacy may order room service, shore excursions,
first-run movies on demand and even indulge in serious gambling.
The highly touted, interactive golf driving range was always too
busy to try.
Meals in the grand, two-level dining salon were consistently delicious.
We even dined one evening in our suite when our butler delivered
tender, filet mignon. Delightful!
Celebrity Cruise Line: Phone 1-800-437-3111
Encore Cruises’ Tiffany Collection brochures feature terrific values
on Alaska cruises in Canadian dollars. For details contact a Canadian
|Driving a horse-drawn
carriage through Skagway, dressed in "gold rush" costume.
|Grilling fresh salmon
at Taku Lodge.