Magazine article Insight on the News

New Allure of Cold Beauty

Magazine article Insight on the News

New Allure of Cold Beauty

Article excerpt

Last year 1.1 million vacationers visited Alaska, about 370,000 of them arriving on cruise ships. This year, three more lines -- Carnival, Celebrity and Seabourn -- are offering tours, bringing passenger capacity to 483,000.

"For the nine summers that I've been in the cruise industry, I've heard that Alaska is getting overcrowded," says Art Sbarsky, senior vice president of marketing for Celebrity Cruises. "Now there's more than twice as many ships, and they're bigger ships. And yet the market continues to expand to fit the demand." Celebrity now sends its flagship, the Horizon, into cold waters -- more than 50 percent of the passengers aboard the ship's first sailing were repeat customers of the Celebrity Cruises.

Alaska's allure is no mystery -- at least not once the largest state's borders are crossed: It offers a visual experience impossible to duplicate anywhere else on Earth. From the soaring eagles with 12-foot wing spans to trophy-size Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, from spectacular waterfalls to isolated fjords, Alaska is unique.

Ironically, the United States did not want Alaska in 1867 when Russia offered it for sale for $7.2 million. Were it not for farsighted Secretary of State William Seward, America might have passed on the purchase. "Seward's Folly," as Alaska was called, passed into US. possession by one vote.

Since then, Alaska has paid for itself many times over. In 1896, rumors of gold drew the first wave of speculators, many of whom settled there, although few struck it rich. Then fishing took off: Salmon were said to choke the streams. Timber and oil spawned other industries. Now it's tourism.

With a population of 29,000, Juneau, the state capital, isn't exactly cosmopolitan. The city is named for Joe Juneau, who found gold there in 1880. Between 1881 and 1944, the Juneau Gold Belt produced 6.7 million ounces of gold worth more than $3 billion by today's standards. The Gold Rush Historic District pays homage to that era. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum houses mining and pioneer memorabilia.

Tourists can see the region -- from 3,500-foot Mount Juneau to the nearby 1,500-square-mile ice field -- by raft, canoe and kayak or take an aerial tour. Wings of Alaska flies over the ice field and lands at Taku Glacier Lodge, a historic log structure with a romantic past. After a salmon bake, guests can hike trails shared by a family of adopted black bears which playfully wrestle with the owner's dog.

Because of the lack of roads in Alaska, the American concept of two cars in every garage has translated to a float plane and a boat at every dock. …

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