The Inside Passage - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to The Inside Passage

The Inside Passage

Shaped by the carving of massive glaciers millions of years ago, Southeast Alaska is an astounding region of deep fjords, glaciers, majestic mountains and forests. Known as the 'panhandle', it epitomises classic Alaskan scenery. Thousands of islands form a pristine protected waterway called the Inside Passage that is lined with many charming towns and small villages rich in history. About half of the tourists who travel to Alaska arrive on cruise ships that make their way through the islands of the Inside Passage to ports of call such as Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka and Skagway.

The area is home to the native cultures of Tlingit, Haida and Tshimshian Indians and the art of totem pole carving, traditional music and dance has been preserved especially in Ketchikan. Russian settlers have also left their legacy of icons and onion-domed churches, having been drawn to the region in search of fur; the region's promise of gold, salmon fishing and forests of timber attracted many profiteers. Today the business of tourism is an additional income-earner for many of the picturesque coastal communities.

The history of the Gold Rush days is especially evident in the town of Skagway at the northern tip of the Inside Passage, once a lawless trading post serving the Klondike Gold Rush pioneers. Juneau is Alaska's attractive capital, with a bustling waterfront and a scenic mountain backdrop, and is the gateway to one of the country's more stunning regions, Glacier Bay National Park.

With no roads connecting the towns the best way to travel is by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry that hops from town to town, or on one of the numerous and very popular cruises that ply the channels. The Alaska Marine Highway is a designated National Scenic Byway and is one of the most beautiful ways to explore Alaska. The deep waters and mild climate provide a prime habitat for whales, sea lions and porpoises, which can often be spotted from the deck. Between the picturesque fishing town of Petersburg and Russian-founded Wrangell is the spectacular Wrangell Narrows that is only 300ft (91m) wide and so shallow in places that the boat is forced into a slalom course of 46 turns to avoid grounding on the channel bottom. Frederick Sound is a prime whale sighting area.

Information & Facts

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.

Large cruise ships regularly travel to major ports in Alaska but a better, smaller option is the Alaskan Ferry. Departing from Bellingham Washington, these large ferries bounce against the major coastal towns of Canada and The Gulf of Alaska before stretching to the Alaskan Peninsula. The landscape is staggering, revealing hundreds of craggy forest-dense islands and coastlines. Eagles, killer whales, bears and other hardy wildlife are all part of the view. The months of operation are May to September, when the weather is bearable and sunshine illuminates most of the evening hours. Costs vary greatly on length of voyage and accommodation. Most ferries rent cabins but those in tune with Alaska's pioneer spirit can pitch a tent on deck or just use a blanket.

There is surely no more spectacular experience on the planet than to witness the calving of a titanic glacier. A stopover to watch nature's incredible marvel, the Hubbard Glacier, in action as the incredibly high wall of ice thickens and advances towards the Gulf of Alaska is one of the unforgettable lures that draws thousands of holidaymakers to opt for an Alaskan cruise every year. The Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, beginning its 75-mile (121km) journey to the sea on the tallest mountain in Canada, Mount Logan, and finally shedding tons of its bulk in awesome ice falls across the six-mile (10km) wide head of Yakutat Bay.

Every day cruise liners pull in, their passengers bundled up in their warmest clothing and festooned with cameras and binoculars, as they hang over the deck rails to witness the stunning sight of the luminous blue-green ice wall as it creeps inexorably forward. Those who visit at the right time could be fortunate enough to see one of nature's most awesome events, when a chunk of ice cracks and falls thunderously from the wall into the ocean as the mighty glacier calves, startling the seals basking on ice floes. In contrast to what one would expect with many glaciers shrinking due to global warming, the Hubbard is growing and advancing, controlled apparently more by mechanics than climate. It is predicted that if the Hubbard Glacier continues to advance it will close the entrance of Russell Fjord and create the largest glacier lake in North America. Many cruise ships snare a chunk of ice so that their passengers can end the memorable day by getting up close and personal with the Hubbard Glacier, and enjoy a chunk of her ice in their evening cocktail.

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