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In the wake of Haida chiefs, great explorers and soldiers of fortune
by Jerry W. Bird

While most travelers approach the fabled 'Inside Passage' from various points due south, my first experience of this 1,200 mile Marine Highway, was from Canada's Klondike, having plied the Yukon River for four eventful days aboard the SS Casca, a classic paddle-wheeler ; chugging and puffing our way upstream from Dawson City to Whitehorse. After an overnight at the Regina Hotel, with its ornate lamps and Victorian furnishings, we boarded the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Railway for a day trip, detraining on a wooden platform at historic Skagway. This sleepy little seaport on Alaska's Lynn Canal, came to fame 100 years ago, during the Jefferson (Soapy) Smith era, as a lawless, rough and ready frontier town at the foot of the White Pass.

Yes, the north had its own Al Capone, clever, tough as nails, and every bit as ruthless. To Yukoners headed for what we call the "outside," this town was where the Inside Passage really began. So with eager anticipation, we hustled up the wooden gangplank of the Princess Norah, one of Canadian Pacific's coastal armada. Vancouver, here we come! Today, the Yukon paddle- wheelers Klondike and Keno are all that's left of the British Yukon Navigation Company's proud fleet; both are tourist museums. CONTINUED


"Most people who travel look only at what they are directed to look at." John Muir, Travels in Alaska.

While John Muir's assertion may be true of many destinations in the world, I would challenge anyone to try to ignore the scenic beauty totally surrounding them on a cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia via the Inside Passage to Alaska. From the soaring tree-clad mountains, to the looming glaciers, to the breathtaking waterfalls, the passing panorama is just so vast, so overwhelming, it would take the most cynical and world-weary not to be impressed by it. From the home port of Vancouver, the larger cruise companies offer two major routes: the Inside Passage Cruise and the Glacier Cruise- on both you can be assured of the same kind of luxury and service as on the more established Ocean or Caribbean cruises. A typical Inside Passage Cruise would take you on a 7-day, 2000 mile journey from Vancouver to the top of the Alaskan Panhandle and return, between the BC mainland and the offshore islands. Because these islands act as a buffer from the turbulent seas of the North Pacific Ocean, the cruise is very calm so motion sickness should not be a problem (map of coast)


FILM FESTIVAL AT SEA: The Films to Sea Festival, a seven-day Alaskan cruise, showcased 14 international film premiers while sailing through the Inside Passage and Glacial Bay National Park starting in August. Holland American Lines' M.S. Zaandam's screening room is not as big as downtown Vancouver's Tinseltown theatres, but is elegant nonetheless. Dusty Cohl, Toronto's film festival czar, organized the first such cruise in 1990 as a fun way to bring his friends together. Its success led to more such experiences and this year, organizers decided to host the West Coast cruise to involve Vancouverites who had shied away from Cohl's East Coast excursions.

Look no further. Here is a specialized web site that will tell you everything you need to know about cruises to Alaska. It's one of our publisher's favorite topics and a vacation experience you will never forget.

In some places the passage is quite narrow and twisting, making for some exciting moments as the skillful officers navigate the vessel through seemingly impossible places. Seymour Narrows, 100 miles north of Vancouver is such a place- much safer since the mid-channel Ripple Rock was blasted in 1958, but still a tight, S-shaped pass. Another is the fjord named Grenville Channel- difficult to maneuver, but spectacular to behold, with mountains creating walls against which waterfalls tumble.

Once you enter American waters, it's like you've taken a step back in time as you go ashore to visit the old frontier towns. Ketchikan is Alaska's southernmost major city and is the home of the world's largest collection of totem poles.

Its waterfront buildings rise above Tongass Narrows supported by a forest of pilings and joined together by a picturesque boardwalk. Wrangell began as a fur-trading post in 1834 and has been governed under three flags: Russian, English and American. Evidence of even earlier inhabitants can be seen in some intriguing petrographs.

Juneau, Alaska has the distinction of being the only US capital that can be reached only by air or sea. This gateway to Glacier Bay rests between towering Mt. Juneau and the Gastineau Channel. Skagway is the historic town where the great Klondike Gold Rush of 1889 is relived. It is headquarters of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, the last single gauge railroad in operation. Sitka sits in the shadow of Mt. Edgecombe, a 3201 ft high extinct volcano. It was once the seaside capital of Russian America and a visit here certainly evokes the 18th century.

For many, the highlight of their Inside Passage Cruise will be the glaciers at Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay. Standing on an active glacier and maybe catching sight of a humpback whale is one of the world's truly unique experiences. For those who wish to venture further than the Inside Passage, there is the Glacier Cruise. This 7 to 10 day, one way route continues on into the Gulf of Alaska, and may continue into Prince William Sound, terminating in Seward, Whittier or Anchorage. (The Cruise may also be taken in reverse- southbound to Vancouver). Once your ship leaves the Inside Passage it's glaciers all the way, one more spectacular than the last: LaPerouse, Hubbard, Columbia and the numerous glaciers of College Fjord.

In our "Super Cruise Guide," we salute the sleek Empresses that wore the colours of Canadian Pacific, and as an extension of the mighty CPR, sailed from Vancouver to exotic ports o'call in the distant Orient. They did us proud. Their smaller, more modest sister ships, Princesses of the BC to Alaska fleet plied the Inside Passage from Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver to the Northern ports along the Alaska Panhandle. They carried freight and passengers to remote points; setting the stage for today's love boats and floating hotels. It was on the SS Princess Norah that I experienced my first memorable sea cruise as featured in my series 'Klondike Memories.' Since I found the history of the Inside Passage such a fascinating study, I am sure our potential cruise passengers would like to know more about its background and discovery.

The new Super Cruise Guide is based on the success of our Air Highway Supermaps and the earlier overland versions created for Best Western and Avis, which feature auto travel,accommodation and intermodal connections. Close to 500,000 of our various maps are in circulation. Above: Inside Passage from Vancouver to Alaska. The Fotomation sequence (above) is from the Ship to Shore Conference, where the major Alaska cruise lines entertained and educated Travel Agents from across North America.

Having cruised the Inside Passage between Skagway, Alaska and Vancouver, BC, since I was old enough to walk the decks, I can vouch for the fact that it is one of the most breathtaking experiences in the world. Little did we dream that it would develop into a major route for luxury cruises and that Vancouver's Five Sails cruise terminal, pictured above, would be such an important hub of marine activity, fed by a greatly expanded and enhanced Vancouver International Airport (YVR). It's good news to hear that there are well advanced plans for a SkyTrain extension connecting the waterfront with the air terminal for seamless convenience of cruise passengers among others

We feel very close to happenings at Vancouver's BC-Alaska cruise ship terminal, since our offices are only a few blocks away. With the help of my friend Ed Anderson, we will be documenting in words and pictures some of the major changes occuring all around the inlet. Regarding the Inside Passage, some of the fun ports of call when I was young were Prince Rupert and Alert Bay, which until now had been bypassed by the Alaska bound love boats and floating hotels, but the times they are a changing. We can expect Prince Rupert to blossom as a cruise port, and Victoria to rapidly increase its share of the cruise business. While Expo '86 served to put Vancouver and BC on the map, the 2010 Olympics will add another boost of world attention -- and the entire travel tourism sector will benefit.

If you don't have time for a full Alaska cruise, we had a wonderful time on BC Ferry's Discovery Coast route between Port Hardy, BC and Bella Coola, where explorer Alexander Mackenzie landed in 1792. In a video I wrote for the Alaska Highway's 50th Anniversary, featued the strategic importance of the Alaska Marine Highway during the dark days of World War II. Watch for much more information about upcoming cruises and trends on our Air Highways and BC Scene Magazine websites

Aprés Cruise? Fly Helijet's..Super City Triangle
We just received a letter from a lady in Southern California, who is taking an Alaska cruise this summer. After reading our article on Helijet Airways in the Air Highway Journal and this web site, she is booking transportation for her group to Victoria following the cruise. From Vancouver, at a landing pad right next to the Cruiseship Centre, Helijet Airways whisks you to Victoria in less than half an hour, then to Seattle and back the same day. For bookings, phone (604) 273-4688, fax (604) 273-5301

New shorter "Pocket Cruises" Royal Caribbean International is offering something new for cruise enthusiasts with the addition of a "pocket cruise," a shorter three-to four-day cruise between Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle on its Vision of the Seas, pictured in the 'fotomation' above. The numbers reflect healthy growth for the Vancouver-Alaska cruise industry. Everyone involved in the Vancouver-Alaska cruise experience should be proud of this exceptional performance," said the VPA Chairman. The number of ships dedicated to this itinerary has remained steady over the last couple of seasons, with 24 vessels representing 10 cruise companies calling on Vancouver. The average number of passengers per voyage climbed steadliy, a new market offering will begin with the addition of the pocket cruise option of three to four-day cruises, which should provide further growth for the industry.

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