If ever you have wished to see for yourself the glories of Alaska’s wilderness—the ancient glaciers, last relics of the Ice Age, the towering mountains and waterfalls, the breeching whales, the wild bears, the massive, pristine rivers and the indescribable numbers of salmon rushing up the falls, the soaring gyrfalcons, the tundra carpeted in flowers—this is the time to go.
And this is a wonderful way to see them: travelling in style and elegance in spacious suites aboard a luxurious mega-yacht which can explore intimate places where the large ships just cannot go—and including five-star days and nights in two wonderful cities, Vancouver and Seattle, in the warmth of late summer. This is a luxurious holiday, arranged so you can witness the glories of the glaciers and the wildlife, and follow in the footsteps of the Gold Rush pioneers. Nothing will be allowed to get in the way of your pleasure in the sights, sounds and sheer joy of Nature at its most wild and free—close up, and in total, luxurious comfort.
Not in crowded high summer, but as August turns into September, in quieter days when the riches of Alaska pass before us as our eye-sweet cruise yacht, Le Soleal, reveals the glories of Alaska’s Inside Passage. She will take us on an exciting journey from Vancouver to Juneau amid breathtaking sights—and at the time when the amazing spectacle of the Northern Lights, aurora borealis, once again becomes visible in the darkening night sky.
Why do we say ‘travel now’? Because the ice is melting, the centuries-old glaciers are shrinking, and each year the scenery changes. So if you have been delaying your trip—which will certainly be the experience of a lifetime—we think it’s time to say, ‘Go now!’ And Ponant is an especially interesting and appropriate luxury cruise line to explore the Alaskan wilderness.
We chose Ponant for our exploration because of their extensive knowledge, their environmental credentials, as well as the luxury, comfort and culture of life aboard all-but-private yachts. This is cruising as it was meant to be, from the cruise company also chosen by experienced top-level travel specialists such as Abercrombie & Kent, for example. Ponant was founded by mariners from the French Merchant Navy, and as such their focus is on maritime exploration and endeavour.
For more than 30 years they have taken their guests to the most secret places on the planet, where Nature reigns supreme. This choice brings with it responsibilities towards the environment and the indigenous peoples they meet, and so Ponant has created the Ponant Foundation to preserve the oceans and the Polar regions and encourage exchanges between peoples. Their aim is to support research, awareness-raising and conservation—and they take scientists, explorers and other experts with them on their voyages, saying, ‘We protect best what we know well.’
This exciting new Alaskan itinerary—named ‘On the Trail of the Gold Prospectors’—is captivating: our voyage covers iconic, must-see elements of Alaska and more, taking the Inside Passage route from Vancouver and making unmissable ports of call: Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Tracy Arm Fjord, Haines and Skagway. This transports us to spectacular scenes of great glaciers, including Mildenhall and Sawyer, and now they are avoiding Glacier Bay as overcrowded, preferring instead Tracy Arm, a parallel fjord, ideal for access by the smaller cruise yachts; after all, we go to Alaska to be at one with Nature—not the mega cruise ships with thousands of passengers on board!
Our 10-night itinerary begins on Tuesday, August 25, with our flight from London and arrival in Vancouver for transfer to our hotel, staying the night in central Vancouver; Wed Aug 26, Enjoy Vancouver at your leisure before boarding Le Soleal; Wed Aug 26, Ponant Le Soleal sails at 6pm; Thurs, Aug 27, Sailing in the Johnstone Strait (Canada); Fri, Aug 28, Ketchikan, Alaska; Sat, Aug 29, Sitka, Alaska; Sun, Aug 30, Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska; Mon, Aug 31, Skagway, Alaska; Tues, Sep 1, Haines, Alaska; Wed, Sep 2, Juneau, Alaska, followed by internal flight to Seattle, Washington, with overnight hotel stay; Sep 3, Seattle at leisure, until your overnight flight to London, arriving in the UK on Sep 4.
This fabulous holiday opens with an immediate highlight: Vancouver is one of Canada’s most beautiful cities, a west coast wonderland between sea and mountains, giving spectacular scenic views, miles of walks by the sea and across stunning beaches, in parks and forests, and cable car rides high into the mountains—and this is an excellent time to visit as the weather is generally warm and dry. Vancouver is one of the world’s best destinations for fine food and a lively cultural scene. It’s also gateway to Alaska—and it is here that we shall board Ponant Le Soleal for our first night as she sails out of Vancouver harbour as the sun dips over the city, bound for the Inside Passage.
We shall pass the north-east coast of Vancouver Island, sailing all day through magnificent Johnstone Strait, internationally renowned as the finest place in the world to view orcas, or killer whales, in the wild. The Strait is a 100km-long channel formed by an old glacier bed, dotted with a string of lush islands. Sailing amid this wilderness offers fantastic opportunities to observe the wildlife. Not only are these home waters to the world’s largest population of orcas, but the abundance of wild creatures includes magnificent bald eagles, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dahl’s porpoises, sea lions and humpback, minke, blue and grey whales. The Johnstone Strait is also situated under the ‘Pacific Flyway’ bird migration path—so it is worth turning our eyes and binoculars skywards, as well as seawards!
This is also time to explore the rich pleasures of Le Soleal herself, and to discover the delights of cruising on what is almost a private super-yacht with French cuisine and flair! We shall have the advantage of enjoying the great French classic dishes, dining à la carte on an ever-changing menu, expertly created by leading French chefs and with excellent French wines and sommelier service: and remember, all but premium drinks are included—from House Champagne to delicious French wines. And when the night’s entertainment is over, we shall retire to our sumptuous suites, ready to wake to a new Alaskan dawn, and Ketchikan.
This, the most southern town in Alaska, is the spectacular doorway into the Inside Passage and the old world capital of salmon. One of the glories of an Alaskan cruise. Ketchikan will blow us away. It takes no time at all to feel the deep peace of this Alaskan port and its surrounding wilderness.
Ketchikan is one of the great ‘Gold Towns’ of Alaska—this was home to the famous Golden Fleece mine among many others—and it still produces gold. In fact, Alaska currently produces more gold than any state except Nevada. But the most striking sight in Ketchikan is its totem poles—not religious symbols, but carved to honour important people, record noteworthy events and proclaim the lineage and history of the people who owned them. The practice continues to this day: new totem poles are still erected during important ceremonies by the indigenous Tlingit Indians, the first settlers and founders of Ketchikan.
It’s a short walk everywhere in this amazing town, including world famous Ketchikan Creek Falls. To see the salmon ladder there is a classic Alaskan experience. Stand at the top of the falls and watch literally thousands of fish trying to get up the creek—the amazing sight makes one wonder if we could walk across the water on their backs! It’s mesmerizing, and this will be a prime time to witness one of Nature’s great events.
Back on board Le Soleal we shall wine, dine and sail on through the night to another great Alaskan experience: Sitka, historic Gold Town, former Alaskan capital and Russian colony.
Accessible only by air or sea at its Baranof island home, Sitka offers incredible scenery, fishing, hiking, wildlife and Alaska’s most culturally rich history and community. Sitka is brimming with the rich history of the prospectors—even now one of the USA’s greatest mining companies is named Sitka Mine Corp. It’s also home to Tlingit Indians—and here we can see a national park filled with totems. Sitka is filled with natural wonders too. You just have to look up to admire the mountain range around the port. In the distance, the snow-peaked Edgecumbe volcano stands majestic. Numberless islands scattered around Sitka stretch out before us in a vision of preserved Alaska.
Here we can experience the remarkable wilderness islands, waterways, and wildlife of historic Sitka on one of a host of excursions: some in Alaskan-built expedition vessels which quietly navigate the small channels. An onboard naturalist explains the remarkable ecosystem of the area and points out places of interest and wildlife: sea otters, whales, harbour seals, brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, bald eagles and more. Your captain has the local knowledge and experience to deliver the best possible viewing on any day—and one excursion is coupled with a feast of the gourmet Alaskan king crab, one of the world’s delicacies, with wild salmon and prime rib at exclusive Fin Island Lodge. This will be the best time to eat the amazing Alaskan King Crab, just in season, and to appreciate it to the full: Alaskan crab fishing is considered the most dangerous job in the USA since, on average, a crab fisherman is killed at sea every week. Such is the desirability of these world famous delicacies that the fishermen are undeterred. If you have never tried one, now is the time!
Next day we shall reach the spectacular Tracy Arm Fjord, 80 kilometres south-east of Juneau, a ‘must-see’ on any Alaska voyage. We shall sail into the middle of the inlet, surrounded by waterfalls cascading down granite cliffs into the sea. This is our opportunity to see the two faces of Sawyer Glacier close up. Majestic and otherworldly, it spans the whole length of the mountain in shades of crystalline blue: without a doubt, this is one of the most breathtaking wonders of Alaska. There is something about the Tracy Arm passage’s deep channel that inspires communion with Nature. And as Le Soleal is a diminutive expedition ship, her hull ice hardened, we shall get closer to the Sawyer glacier face—we might even see it calve.
Back aboard Le Soleal for the evening, it’s time to enjoy the superb French cuisine—and watch out for the Aurora Borealis in the darkening night sky as she sails on through the Inside Passage towards our next destination: the Gold Rush Town par excellence, Skagway, gateway to the Klondike. It was through Skagway that swarms of 19th-century pioneers passed in their quest for gold and the town still exudes a sense of their spirit wandering along the main street, Broadway, edged with the famous painted houses. Stroll along pathways taken by the gold prospectors in a glorious scene of mountains, waterfalls, lakes and glaciers. Or take an historic scenic drive and rail excursion up the Klondike Highway into the St Elias Range—one of North America’s most scenic mountain roads, the historic Gold Rush Trail of 1898.
A century’s worth of history is embodied in these names: White Pass, Brackett Wagon Road, Pitchfork Falls, the Dead Horse Trail and Moore Bridge. We can see them all, surrounded by glaciers and peaks. And from the coastal rainforest, through the subarctic taiga, we reach the 1,000-metre (3,290ft) summit, discover a barren moonscape of rock, dotted with small lakes and stunted alpine foliage. At Fraser, British Columbia, we shall board a narrow-gauge railcar for the trip aboard the world-famous White Pass Railroad, retracing the ‘Trail of ’98’. The train takes you through the opposite side of the Pass, and down the other side of the canyon, offering panoramas of new mountains, glaciers and waterfalls on the down to Skagway, and the comfort of your ship.
As September dawns, we arrive in Haines, the most beautiful of the Alaskan ports. In the heart of spectacular wilderness, between jagged peaks and a sapphire ocean, this legendary small port is rich in natural beauty, wildlife and tradition. Founded by the Tlingit Indians, the pioneers followed when gold was discovered at Porcupine in 1898, after which came salmon canneries and a US military base, Fort William H Seward, in 1903. This is where the stunningly beautiful Chilkat River flows, where bald eagles fly, where brown bears and grizzlies hold sway, and where you can take a wilderness expedition through fjords and rainforests while viewing some of the most remarkable Alaskan scenery around, from wildflowers to towering mountains and up-close views of the Davidson Glacier, breeching whales, cascading waterfalls and remote beaches.
We reach Juneau, capital of Alaska, on the final day. This was the birthplace of the Gold Rush and by 1906 had become so economically significant it was made the capital, despite being accessible only by plane or boat, and therefore difficult to reach for many Alaskans! Along the Gastineau Strait, in the heart of the spectacular Inside Passage, the 31,000 inhabitants of Juneau enjoy some of the world’s most incredible fauna and scenery every day of their lives. Here again you can be lucky enough to see the humpback whales against a backdrop of majestic glaciers. And before your short flight to Seattle there is plenty to see: a gold mine, for instance, or take the Goldbelt Tramway to the summit of Mount Roberts towering 1,800ft above the city. It’s one of the steepest in the world—and as they say in Alaska, ‘one hell of a ride!’. In its way, it sums up this wonderful Alaskan cruise!
On September 3, too soon, our short internal flight from Juneau whisks us away from Alaska’s pristine wilderness—to Seattle, on the Eastern Seaboard, the USA’s beautiful Emerald City of forests, mountains, great food, shopping and nightlife. We shall spend the night in a five-star hotel, waking next morning to a day spent at leisure until our evening flight. Great natural splendour allied to state-of-the-art modernism create a city of many parts. On clear days the Olympic Mountains glow far across the water to the west and Mount Rainier appears majestically to the east. Its glittering, bustling waterfront is a hive of activity: Seattle is about good food, the arts and entertainment—and a large dose of fresh sea air. It’s a great city in which to relax before our overnight flight home.
On this holiday our Members are saving from £2,034 to £4,461 per person off the Ponant rates, depending on your chosen suite. You are warmly invited to join us, and enjoy!
BOOK NOW AND SAVE UP TO £4,461 AS A CLUB MEMBER
This 10-night holiday includes all flights, international from London to Vancouver, Seattle to London, and internal, Juneau-Seattle; a night’s stay in a 5-star Vancouver hotel; the eight-day, seven-night Ponant ‘On the Trail of the Gold Prospectors’ cruise from Vancouver to Juneau, including Captain’s welcome cocktail and Gala Dinner, all meals while on board ship, complimentary ‘open bar’ including pouring wine, House Champagne, alcohol except premium brands; a night’s stay in a 5-star Seattle hotel; return flight to UK (which adds an extra night) and all airport-ship-hotel transfers. The dates are August 25 to Sep 4, 2020.
Below are some of the suite categories and exclusive Club savings. Rates are per person, including all the above, and the usual supplement for single usage of a double cabin is waived for the first Member to book, others subject to availability and category.
Superior Stateroom: RR £7,028pp, CCUK £4,994pp, saving up to £2,034pp (nearly 30%).
Prestige Stateroom on Deck Four: RR £7,893pp, CCUK £5,549pp, saving up to £2,344pp (30%).
Prestige Stateroom on Deck Six: RR £8,401pp, CCUK £5,879pp, saving up to £2,522pp (30%).
Deluxe Suite: RR £10,586pp, CCUK £7,287pp, saving up to £3,299pp (31%).
Prestige Suite on Deck Six: RR £13,858pp, CCUK £9,397pp, saving up to £4,461pp (32%).
All rates and bookings are subject to availability at time of booking, and bookings are made subject to CountryClubuk Club rules and full terms and conditions, and those of Compagnie di Ponant. Some aspects and timings may vary without notice. All are subject to weather conditions. The wildlife encounters, expedition highlights and itineraries described here illustrate possible experiences only, and cannot be guaranteed. Excursions are not included in the price.