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How to Experience Alaska

Royal Caribbean Shore Explorer and Irish rugby player Harry McNulty shares what to see and do in the Last Frontier.
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A cruise to Alaska is full of awe-inspiring sights and adventures, like glacier walks, dog sledding and whale watching.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

Think you’ve had a sweet gig? Meet Harry McNulty. A native of Dublin, Ireland, Harry won Royal Caribbean’s Shore Explorer contest in 2019, which meant he got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit six different countries over the course of three weeks. He documented his adventures, showing us just how many incredible things you can see and do on a cruise.

Royal Caribbean cruises visit 240 destinations in 61 countries on six continents, and Harry’s journey took him all over the globe. However, one destination especially stood out to him: Alaska. There, he took helicopter rides to glaciers, went dog sledding, traversed suspension bridges in the middle of the wilderness and more.

Is the Last Frontier on your list of must-visit destinations? Read on for Harry’s scoop on the best things to do there and his top tips:

Shore Explorer Harry McNulty atop Alaska’s stunning Norris Glacier, famous for dog sledding, near the state’s capital of Juneau.

Credit: Harry McNulty

Q: Did you learn anything surprising about Alaska that was new to you?
Harry: Juneau, despite being Alaska’s capital, is only accessible by sea or air. Residents primarily buy local products, and they have one multinational food chain, McDonald’s, which is near the airport.

Pro tip: With so much to see in the largest U.S. state, you can spend more time there before or after your cruise on a Cruisetour. These packages include guided, land-based adventures, such as visiting a historic gold-mining town or traversing the vast state on the Wilderness Express, a train with glass-domed carriages that allow for unobstructed views.

 

Q: Any local restaurants that you loved and would recommend?
Harry: Tracy’s King Crab Shack is the place to go. There is one in the middle of Juneau that is perfect for visitors, as well as a smaller location on the water in the open air. What a spot!

Pro tip: You can also find fresh seafood on board, the Asian-inspired kind that is. While on any Royal Caribbean ship cruising in Alaska— Quantum, Ovation, Serenade and Radiance of the Seas—head to Izumi for sushi, sashimi and other Japanese dishes.

 

Dog sledding is one of many thrilling shore excursions to choose from in Alaska. Other favorites include glacier walks and helicopter tours.

Credit: Harry McNulty

Q: What was your favorite shore excursion in Alaska?
Harry: This was my first time in Alaska—but not my last—and I have to say dog sledding on top of Norris Glacier was incredible. Even getting there was memorable—we took a helicopter. I even had the chance to guide the sled and spend some time with all the huskies!

Pro tip: If it’s adventure after adventure you’re looking for, you can have your pick from dog sledding, glacier walks and flightseeing—sightseeing tours taken by helicopter or floatplane.

 

Q: What was it like riding—aka “mushing”—with those energetic dogs?
Harry: It was awesome! They were born and raised to run, and they enjoy it. They’re all extremely obedient—if the rhythm gets disrupted or everyone isn’t in step, you can call their name, and they will get straight back into it. They all train during the summer to prepare for the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March, which is also known as the Last Great Race on Earth.

 

The view of the Alaskan wilderness from a helicopter.

Credit: Harry McNulty

Q: How was your view from the helicopter to Norris Glacier?
Harry: It was stunning… bright blue lakes formed from glacial waters, and there were glaciers and mountains as far as the eye could see. You get a very real understanding of why Alaska is described as such a wild, unique place.

Pro tip: Check out the North Star on Quantum and Ovation of the Seas, an all-glass observation capsule from which you’ll have panoramic views from 300 feet above sea level.

 

Q: You also traversed a suspension bridge in the forest, can you describe what that was like?
Harry: It was not for the faint of heart, but it was a lot of fun! It was interesting to see the skill needed to attach all these lines and bridges to the trees. We were almost 100 feet high and could only see forest—pretty spectacular.

 

May to September is the best time for whale watching in Alaska.

Credit: Royal Caribbean

Q: You went whale watching, what was that experience like?
Harry: We saw a whale breach in the distance, which is usually a display of attraction, but it sometimes happens when they wash themselves. It was breathtaking. I was told the best time to see whales in Alaska is from May to September, and I was fortunate to see a good number of them and even seals [in early August].

Pro tip: You can go whale watching in Juneau on one of the many GTSC-certified shore excursions offered by Royal Caribbean—these are sustainably operated experiences.

 

Q: Any fun facts you learned about whales?
Harry: Yes! There are two types of orca or “killer” whales. There are resident whales that remain local and transient whales that travel all over. Resident whales mostly eat Alaskan salmon, whereas transient whales have a wide, varied diet and eat whatever they can in each region they visit.

 

Q: Were there any items you packed that you found particularly useful in Alaska?
Harry: I did a ton of walking, so my Adidas Terrex hiking shoes were the best thing I packed. I was super lucky with the weather—nothing but sunny blue skies. But that meant sunglasses were necessary because of the reflection from the glaciers.

Pro tip: Royal Caribbean insiders recommend dressing in thin layers you can add or remove as needed when the weather or conditions change. Even better—thin layers take up less room in your suitcase.

 

Summer is one of the best times to visit Alaska, whether you want to spot wildlife or see why the state is sometimes called the Land of the Midnight Sun (the longest day of the year is June 21). To see majestic glaciers, explore charming fishing towns and more, take your pick of seven-night cruises on Quantum, Ovation, Serenade or Radiance of the Seas, departing from Seattle, Washington; Vancouver, British Columbia; or Seward, Alaska.

Set course for your Alaskan adventure this summer. Head here to see all the cruises that will take you there.