Cruise wild Alaska in comfort

By Diane Tierney

Cruising to Alaska is like peering into Mother Nature’s jewelry box of precious gems showcasing emeralds, diamonds and aquamarine. Alaska’s lush green forests gleam like the rich vitality of emeralds. Snow-capped peaks glisten like pure diamonds. Glaciers glimmer with an aquamarine hue. It’s a majestic scene that catches your breath – and it’s the freshest air you’ll ever breathe.

The spectacular scenery is only the backdrop of Alaska’s dramatic show that you can see by cruising the coastline and slipping into the rugged terrain of the Inside Passage. On this natural stage are characters that warm your heart and lead to photos that make you feel like you’re shooting for National Geographic.

You’ll spot mama bears and baby cubs fishing for fresh salmon. Bald eagles stare at you from the treetops. Massive whales the size of a school bus spout water and wave their tails as if to say, “Watch me dive!” The goosebumps you feel don’t come from the crisp Alaskan air. You’ll be awed by seeing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat.

Cunard cruises Alaska in royal style with their 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth ship that just had a magnificent $40 million makeover. The 1920s Art Deco decor and memorabilia of British royalty provides an upscale atmosphere of the refined, graceful cruising of yesteryear.

Formal nights, fun 1920s costume galas, exquisite fine dining, ballroom dancing, fencing lessons and musicians playing harps and violins showcase Queen Elizabeth’s personality – without a hint of snobbery. Most of the passengers are British so you can also enjoy casual pub lunches and beers at the Golden Lion, and afternoon tea and sweets in the Queens Room.

The ship sails to/from Vancouver and takes you to remote ports – some only accessible by sea or air – such as Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Icy Strait Point and Sitka.

Highlights include visits to Glacier Bay and Hubbard Glacier, two jewels of the region. You’ll cruise within a half-mile of Hubbard to marvel at the wall of turquoise ice, close enough to hear the calving that sounds like thunder. Meanwhile sea otters and sea lions sunbathe on chunks of ice that float past your cabin balcony while you’re enjoying a hot toddy.

The villages are fun to visit with their wild west style of boardwalks, saloons, totem pole parks and lumberjack shows, but explore deeper by taking shore excursions.

Choose from soft adventure tours that give you a unique view of Alaska’s beauty with a helicopter or seaplane flight to valleys where bears are roaming, or boat tours to watch whales, sea otters, sea lions and bald eagles. If you have the energy go dogsledding, kayaking, hiking, biking and ziplining.

Leisurely excursions include easy train rides to scenic locations, aerial trams for magnificent views, gold panning, fly fishing, or culinary experiences such as an Alaska feast of king crab and salmon complemented by champagne.

At the end of each day enjoy the luxurious comforts of the Queen Elizabeth. There are two pools, four hot tubs, lawn bowling, croquet and more. The two-storey library is one of the largest at sea.

There are more than a dozen dining venues, bars and lounges. The Britannia Restaurant is the main dining room that offers exceptional service and variety. But be sure to dine at the Steakhouse at the Verandah speciality restaurant for the finest of beef.

After dinner head to the Royal Court Theatre for a night of entertainment. The theatre has open seating as well as private boxes with champagne service. Enjoy Broadway style shows, musical performances and comedians.

On sea days spend time in the spa and fitness centre to relax in the hydro pool, saunas, steam rooms or have a special spa treatment.

Cunard also raises the bar for Alaska cruises by including an onboard enrichment program of discussions and seminars with well-known explorers, naturalists, historians and scientists who provide fascinating commentary and fun facts about everything you see. Plus, the cruise line has partnered with Rocky Mountaineer, the famous glass-roofed luxury train ride that takes you through the spectacular Canadian Rockies from Banff to Vancouver. Consider it as a wonderful pre- or post-cruise land tour that takes you to or from the ship.

There’s truly no need to ‘rough it’ to see wild Alaska. Cruising offers the best vantage point and The Queen Elizabeth takes you there in comfort and style. For more information visit Cunard.com or call 800.728.6273.

Photos: Cunard

Diane Tierney has been on 70 cruises to 45 countries. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @ Cruiseguru