We know tons of people who’ve gone to Alaska. Most of them, it seems, did it by boarding cruise ships as tall as a small mountain with a thousand or two other passengers. Certainly, that approach has its appeal: at least nine major cruise lines offer multiple departures every year. In the relatively short high season, it’s not unusual for several of the ships to dominate the harbors that can handle them. (One friend’s post-trips slideshow had as many photos of other liners as of the Alaskan landscape.)

There’s no denying that, as a company that specializes in small-group cultural trips and multi-sport family adventures, our personal bias is not in favor of invasion-style cruise travel. The funny thing about Alaska travel, though, is how many people think their only alternative to a cruise is a camping trip in the bush: sleeping bags on permafrost, pestilential clouds of mosquitoes, lessons in how to scare off a grizzly bear.

Grizzly bear

What we quickly came to realize when we first scouted our trip to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula about a dozen ago is that it’s extremely easy to do better than an arm’s-length cruise, that you can immerse yourself in the state instead of just tip-toeing in water deep enough to handle a ship.

For us, one way to understand what it is you miss on a cruise is by looking at what the experts tell you to consider when planning a sailing excursion.

Splurge on a cabin with a balcony!

Well, yes, that’s a good idea. On a cruise ship, it’s all about the view. The experts aren’t as quick to remind you to pack a telephoto camera lens and binoculars. The views are undeniably beautiful, but from your cabin you’re only a spectator. On the ground, you are within the view – and make no mistake, there are plenty of scenic and accessible trails that make it easy to venture comfortably into the awesome landscape. Alaska, seen from the floor of a quiet forest is an experience you’ll never forget. And kayaking beside a small iceberg that’s just calved from a glacier is a perspective you just can’t get from the Promenade Deck

Group hiking in Alaska

Go ashore to meet the people!

Unfortunately, as the tenders-full of passengers hit the dock, you’ll stand in line to meet the good people of Alaska. It’s kind of a shame because Alaskans are really terrific and very interesting people. You’ve probably read about that independent, individualist streak that runs through the folks who choose to live here. We get to see that when we talk to halibut fishermen, marine biologists, naturalists, glacier guides and the colorful folks we encounter during the trip. That personal connection is essential to knowing Alaska.

Book your extra-cost shore excursions before you depart!

The reality of a cruise is that the fare isn’t the cost of the experience. If you’ve ever cruised to any destination in the world, you know that there are lots of add-on costs if you want to seriously explore the places where you dock. Classic Journeys is the flip side of that. We include everything, so the cost of the trip is the cost of the trip. Whether we go kayaking along the coast, or glacier walking, or whale watching, or visiting a gold mine, it’s all included.

Kayaking in Alaska

Plan for some long days at sea!

The majority of trips start in ports like Seattle and Vancouver, and it takes some steady steaming to get to prime Alaska territory. On the other hand, we start in Anchorage, and we spend the week on the Kenai Peninsula, which means we cover drastically less ground (or sea) to see Alaska at its best. So your time in Alaska is all about Alaska instead of getting to and from Alaska.

In the end, we’re not a bit worried that our take on Alaska travel is going to put any cruise ship lines out of business. Cruises work for a lot of people. But if you’re one of those travelers who really likes to see and immerse yourself in the places you visit, you should look into a land-based trip like our Cultural Walking Adventure or Multisport Family Journey.