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AMAZING ALASKA
RAIN OR SHINE

By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie

"Be prepared for liquid sunshine," an experienced traveling friend says, while I pack for our Carnival cruise. "And don't forget to layer up. Alaska can be chilly."

We'd already heard that inclement weather is no stranger to the 49th state. Much of the Inside Passage is rimmed by the Tongass Rainforest, a 16.8 million acre greenbelt. The 800-km waterway and maze of channels, nooks and crannies is often blanketed by low-lying cloud. But, during our departure from Vancouver's scenic harbor, we have sunny skies and clear sailing!

Our northbound route hosts a cornucopia of natural wonders along the way. While plying the Inside Passage we spot soaring eagles, leaping porpoises and whales that spout from the deep. Bordering the sliver-thin waterway are hills choked in evergreens and saw tooth summits that tower above like looming sentinels. It's untamed wilderness in finest form and we're frequently mesmerized by its magnificence.

Although the vistas and wildlife sightings are certainly added bonuses on this excursion, there's definitely no shortage of top-notch amenities onboard The Spirit. From the moment we step over this floating resort's glitzy threshold, the fun begins.

We check out team events, listen to wildlife lectures, enjoy the line-up of professional performers and plunge into swimming pools that dot the sun-splashed decks (one even has a retractable cover in case those clouds ever do roll in). While younger sailors are enthralled by the 2,400-square-foot play area, and the casino crowd to slots and blackjack tables, spa denizens are lured to the heavenly rooms that promise exotic treatments at sea. And splayed over two adjacent levels is a state of the art fitness centre where we can burn off those extra calories --for me, an unattainable task.

Grazing is a big part of cruising and Carnival makes sure we're satisfied, whether we fine dine at the Napoleonic-themed Empire Room or go casual at La Playa Grille's ala buffet! Nautica Spa menu options and personal dietician consulting meet the nutritional requests of the more health conscious and vegetarian passenger, and the upscale Nouveau Supper Club fills the bill for the luxury loving sea-goer. There's round the clock pizza, midnight buffets, and complimentary 24 hour room service when we're craving a little more privacy. And while dining on the balcony of our spacious stateroom we're also privy to the stunning vistas that sail by.

During the week we also have closer encounters with four ports, each that boasts a mind boggling line-up of onshore opportunities. We roam Ketchikan's rugged backcountry while on a canoe and jeep safari, saunter close to Juneau's impressive Mendenhall Glacier, retrace the Gold Rush history during Skagway's scenic White Pass Railway tour and re-live some of Sitka's heritage while strolling along totem-studded trails. Each coastal community offers a unique flavor and personality, and beneath clear blue skies all are downright gorgeous.

On our final day we're scheduled to cruise the College Fjord, another glacially-carved corridor that's riddled with lush beauty and wildlife. Beneath cloudless skies, we look forward to sightings along the way; seal pups basking on translucent blue icebreakers, black bear lumbering along timbered shorelines and whale flukes breaking through glint-tipped waves. But as the day and views roll by, we discover that these visual highlights may not be part of the picture.

"The weather pattern has taken a turn," our naturalist, Michelle, reports as we parallel cloud-enshrouded hillsides. "But we're approaching Harvard Glacier and hopefully the mist will lift." In spite of the drizzle, passengers flock to the ship's port side and prepare for that photo moment. We, on the other hand, remain riveted where we are -at our dining table in the Empire Room. And while being served culinary classics that would impress the House of James Beard Soon, our gilded floor to ceiling porthole frames the breathtaking scene. Beyond the aquamarine sea, dotted by cerulean ice floes, is a mammoth river that has been frozen in time. It bisects towering peaks that are pocketed with glacial remains, and gouges out its wide white pathway from skyline to shore. Once again, we're mesmerized by the magnificence, awestruck by the nature and captivated by the beauty. After all, it is Alaska and it is pretty amazing, rain or shine!

SIDEBAR Carnival Cruise Lines: http://www.carnival.com/

Photos by Brent Cassie
1. Alaska 032 - heading off from Vancouver's scenic port
2. Alaska 210 - the Inside Passage bordered by hills of evergreens and saw tooth summits
3. Alaska 245 - One of the culinary classics is served with a smile.
4. Alaska 512 - The impressive Mendenhall Glacier
5. Alaska 702 - We retrace the Gold Rush history on the White Pass Railway Tour
6. Alaska 2967 - View of Harvard Glacier from our Empire Dining table

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