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Juneau: Alaska’s All-in-One Port

Holland America Line’s Alaska cruises are filled with exciting, unique and unspoiled ports. While names like Sitka, Homer and Skagway might not be as familiar as Anchorage or Ketchikan, it’s the state’s capital of Juneau that is probably most well-known.

With access to the town limited to air or sea entry, it’s truly a spectacular port that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

Alaska is a Huge State. Juneau Stuffs the Best of it Into One Convenient Package

The Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Holland America Line’s Mariner Magazine is ready to hit the mailboxes of our Mariner Society guests. Here’s a sneak peek at the article by Chuck Thompson that features the highlights of Juneau.

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Imagine “Alaska,” and what do you see? Towering mountain peaks? Gold Rush history? Whales? Bears? Fresh king salmon on a grill? Dogsledding on a glacier? There’s one port that puts these and other iconic Alaskan scenes and experiences in a single, compact stop — Juneau. The capital city isn’t merely the hub of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage; it’s a place that puts adventure within easy reach of visitors, no matter their level of experience or comfort with the outdoors.

Despite numerous campaigns to build a land route out, no roads lead into or out of the city — it’s accessible only by air or sea — so Juneau retains an isolated, “frontier” feel. The town’s two biggies, Mount Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier, are stunning bookend natural wonders separated by 12 miles of road. Between them you’ll find any number of outdoor activities you care to brag about on Facebook.

Clockwise from left: Alaska's Ultimate Canopy & Ziplining Expedition tour is a favorite in Juneau, black bears are often seen around town and a Messenger Living Tree Carving.

Clockwise from left: Alaska’s Ultimate Canopy & Ziplining Expedition tour is a favorite in Juneau, black bears are often seen around town and a Messenger Living Tree Carving.

Downtown Juneau and the main walking stretch along Franklin Street — this is where you’ll find everything from inexpensive souvenirs to Alaska Native art by Tlingit and Haida masters — rest at the foot of Mount Juneau, which rises like a giant’s shoulder a staggering 3,576 feet straight up from the ocean. If you want to go ahead and call Juneau the country’s most beautiful capital city, you won’t get any argument from locals. It’s definitely the wildest; black bears occasionally wander down from the mountain into town, though you’re more likely to see one on a wildlife-viewing excursion.

The approximately 20-minute coach ride from town to the Mendenhall Glacier and Juneau Icefield is noteworthy in itself, passing rugged Blackerby and Heintzelman Ridges, craggy mountainsides filled with bear, mountain goat, and salmon streams that separate “town” from “the Valley.” The Valley is where you’ll stand face to face with centuries of geologic power. The whole area was carved out by “the Glacier” (like the Pacific or the Donald, Juneau’s landmarks loom so powerfully that they require only the article for an honorific), a blue ice sheet one-and-a-half miles wide and more than 100 feet high at its terminus.

“People arrive and it’s instant amazement,” says Nikki Hinds, assistant director of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center. “This is one of the most popular glaciers in Alaska, and it’s right in Juneau’s backyard, a place where locals and visitors stand in equal awe of the land.”

Mendenhall Glacier is just part of the Juneau icefield, which extends some 1,500 square miles. Photos courtesy Steve Schimmelman.

Mendenhall Glacier is just part of the Juneau icefield, which extends some 1,500 square miles. Photos courtesy Steve Schimmelman.

SPEAK JUNEAU
Drop these into a conversation and you may pass for local:

Juneau tennies: Ubiquitous brown Xtratuf rubber boots, perfect for everything from fishing trips to first dates.

S.O.B.: Housing more than 600 government employees, the 11-story State Office Building is Juneau’s largest.

Humpy: Colloquial name for pink salmon, so called for the distinguishing hump males develop on their backs during spawning.

Carlos Boozer: The NBA star and Olympic gold medalist led Juneau-Douglas High School to state basketball titles in 1997 and 1998.

Down South: Not just Dixie. Starting with Seattle, the entire Lower 48 is considered “down south.”

Have you visited Juneau on a Holland America Line cruise? What was your favorite part of the visit? Tell us below!

All Mendenhall Glacier and Juneau town photos courtesy of photographer Steve Schimmelman, www.steveschimmelman.com and @StevenArtPhoto.

2 Comments
  • Ceon Sun

    The Mendenhall Glacier was a remarkable experience. I can still remember viewing the glacier with the waterfall adjacent to where I stood.

  • Lynne Gehrke & Angie Malone

    We are so looking forward to the Mendenhall Glazier helicopter ride from Juneau to the husky dog sledding although we still haven’t been given our Hal no through Cosmos Tours the cruise leaves Vancouver on the 16th July on MS Volendam for 7 days & we want to book our excurcisions ahead of time

    So disappointed with Cosmos so far for not giving this to us

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