Alaska Inside Passage Christian Cruise Travel Log

01
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Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage With Dr. Charles Stanley & In Touch Ministries

Cruising Tracy Arm Fjord toward Sawyer Glacier in the Tongass National Forest.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

Ever since we were married, my husband and I have dreamed of taking an Alaska cruise. We were thrilled when Templeton Tours invited us to join friends of In Touch Ministries on a 7-day Christian cruise of Alaska's Inside Passage. Adding to our enthusiasm, the cruise was hosted by Dr. Charles Stanley. Personally, I have long held Dr. Stanley in high regard for his teaching ministry which profoundly impacted me in my early days as a believer.

Several experienced cruise travelers told us before our trip that sailing the Inside Passage of Alaska, with its exotic wildlife and one of the most magnificent landscapes in the world, is a journey like no other. Pair an Alaska adventure with a Christian cruise and you're sure to have a truly unforgettable Christian vacation experience. We certainly did!

I hope you enjoy this Christian cruise log as we delight in sharing some of the highlights of our trip.

Read a full review of an Alaska Inside Passage Christian Cruise.

02
of 09

Christian Cruise Log Day 1 - Depart from Seattle, Washington

The historic downtown district known as Pioneer Square is Seattle's 1852 birthplace.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

The embarkation point for our Christian cruise to Alaska was Seattle, Washington. Since it was our first time in the Emerald City, we decided to arrive a couple of days early to explore.

Starting Wednesday afternoon, we climbed 520 feet (via elevator) to the Space Needle observation platform to take in spectacular views of Seattle's early evening skyline and picturesque Elliott Bay.

God graced us with a beautiful, sunny day on Thursday, so we returned to the Space Needle for a daytime visit. We stopped at the Pioneer Square to see Seattle's 1852 birthplace and spend time touring the old underground passages of historic downtown. Lastly, we shopped until our heart's content (and our feet's agony) at Pike Place Market, the oldest open-air farmer's market on the West Coast and home of the original Starbucks.

Seattle has no shortage of things to do, so it made an outstanding addition to our Alaska cruise vacation.

View More Photos of Day 1 - Embarkation Port: Seattle, Washington.

03
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Christian Cruise Log Day 2 - At Sea on the ms Zaandam

Departing Elliott Bay with Mt. Ranier hovering over Seattle's cityscape.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

We arrived at the port early for embarkation wanting to spend ample time exploring the seaworthy resort that would be our home away from home for the next seven days. Catering to Christian guests, our ship, the mid-size ms Zaandam of Holland America Line, had all of its bars and casinos closed, offering Bible studies, Christian music concerts, comedy, inspirational speakers and seminars as on board "entertainment," as well as a church service.

After a mandatory life boat drill and safety briefing, we set sail at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

Just minutes after sailing, we chanced an encounter on the elevator with our cruise host, Dr. Charles Stanley. Looking down from what seemed like a 6-foot height, with a warm smile and pleasant southern drawl, he said, "Hi thay-er." He had just finished his "Welcome Aboard Address," which we missed, opting to be outside as the ship left port toward the Puget Sound.

As we departed Elliott Bay, the sky was clear enough to see beautiful Mt. Ranier hovering in the background of Seattle's cityscape.

Before dinner, we attended a casual Bible study by Dr. Stanley on the topic of true friendship. To my surprise, he talked briefly about his divorce, remembering the faithful friends who stood with him during and after that time, as well as those who abandoned and rejected him because of the divorce. As a pastor in the Southern Baptist denomination, a divorce is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances. Stanley said, "When my wife walked away, she couldn't tell you why. She doesn't know now, she didn't know then. But, First Baptist of Atlanta was a real friend to me then." It was the first time I'd ever heard him publicly speak of his divorce.

Friday night we savored a meal in the formal dining room, enjoying views of the surrounding mountains, an occasional snow-capped peak, a lighthouse, and eventually the setting sun. We ended the evening with a few laughs listening to comedian Dennis Swanberg, one of the many Christian entertainers aboard.

Saturday, we spent the entire day at sea. It was overcast and cold. A perfect time to investigate the ship and learn our way around. In the afternoon we attended a "Scenic Splendor" lecture by geologist Billy Caldwell and learned many interesting facts about the great land of Alaska. We also tried to rest up some and prepare for a busy day in Juneau.

View More Photos of Day 2 - At Sea on the ms Zaandam.

04
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Christian Cruise Log Day 3 - Port of Call: Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier is a 12-mile long receding
Image: © Bill Fairchild

The sun set Saturday night after 10 p.m. and rose sometime before 5 a.m. (I'm not exactly sure because I wasn't awake at the time.) As we peeked out our cabin window Sunday morning, we saw bright sun shining on blue waters, surrounded by snow-spotted mountains and timber-wooded islands. Stepping out onto the deck, my husband and I were greeted with spectacular sights so overwhelming and awe inspiring, we both welled up with tears.

We were approaching our first port of call, Juneau, and we couldn't help but feel torn between attending the indoor church service with Dr. Charles Stanley, or standing in awe of God's amazing creation on display at every point on deck. We beheld views of wildlife and mountainous shoreline we'd never seen before and might never get to experience in this way again. Can you guess which option we chose?

There are truly no appropriate words for this Florida-born girl to describe the magnificence of the Alaska coastline. We were given a perfectly lovely day as we sailed the Gastineau Channel into Juneau at the tip of the bow (exactly where I wanted to be), praising and worshiping God the entire way. We saw crisp, blue skies, mountain ranges dappled in white, endlessly long trailing waterfalls lined with dark green majestic Spruce. We also had our first glimpse of a humpback whale rising to the water's surface, blowing air and flipping its tail (fluke). From a distance we watched the whole thing in wonder.

Juneau is a beautiful old mining town and Alaska's state capital. The only access to the area is by boat or plane. The city also boasts the highest bear population in North America. The creatures have become so comfortable with people that they are often spotted around the city garbage cans which are now constructed with special bear-proof locks.

First, we rode to the top of Mt. Roberts on a 6-minute, 2000-foot tramway ride. Along the climb we had a close view of the Spruce, Alder and Hemlock trees and a fantastic overview of the Chilkat Mountain Range.

Next, we toured the 12-mile long Mendenhall Glacier, a receding "river of ice" just 13 miles from the heart of Juneau. After that we visited a unique and refreshing rain forest glacier garden. We ended our time ashore shopping in Juneau's quaint and colorful heritage district, just steps away from our cruise ship. We could not have asked for a more perfect day in port!

View More Photos of Day 3 - Port of Call: Juneau, Alaska.

05
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Christian Cruise Log Day 4 - Port of Call: Skagway, Alaska

White Pass and Yukon Railroad is the most popular cruise excursion in Alaska.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

Early Monday morning we arrived in the unique gold rush town of Skagway, known as the Gateway to the Yukon. Just 15 miles from Canada, Skagway came alive in 1897 when gold seekers began pouring into the Yukon territory for the Klondike Gold Rush. At the time, the population of Skagway swelled to nearly 20,000, making it the busiest city in Alaska. Today, the year-round population is between 800-900; however, when the cruise ships are in port, the city returns to its bustling 1890s atmosphere.

The Chilkoot Trail, beginning just 9 miles from Skagway, is one of two main routes to the Yukon Klondike region. Long before the gold rush, this trade route into the interior of Canada was established by the native Tlingit people. To get a glimpse of this historic Trail of '98, we chose to ride the famous White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Built in 1898, the narrow gauge railroad is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. As we climbed 3000 feet in 20 miles to the summit, we marveled at the panoramic, breathtaking views. It's no wonder this is the most popular cruise excursion in Alaska.

For a bit of history and fun, we also took in the Street Car Tour, claiming to be the oldest tour in town, established in 1923.

After a full day in Skagway, as our ship retraced its course through the Lynn Canal, once again, we saw unbelievable sights. Five or six whales were spotted along the route, two Bald Eagles, and spectacular mountain scenes were all back lit by the most patient and enduring sunset I've ever seen. It was hard to go inside to sleep, but we pried ourselves away a little after 10 p.m. in preparation for another early morning.

View More Photos of Day 4 - Port of Call: Skagway, Alaska.

06
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Christian Cruise Log Day 5 - Cruise Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier

Cruising toward Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

Once more, we were blessed with a crisp, sunny day to take in what truly became the highlight of our Alaska Christian cruise adventure. As we entered the sheer-walled fjord (a drowned glacier valley) known as Tracy Arm, we began to sail past huge icebergs. The five hour round-trip voyage to Sawyer Glacier through Tracy Arm was narrated from the bridge by a trained geologist, Billy Caldwell. Speaking from a Christian Naturalist's perspective, he shared interesting facts about Alaska's glacial history, the surrounding rain forest, and the abundant coastal wildlife. He said we were witnessing the most iceberg activity they have seen in the past five years. The giant, floating chunks are formed by a process called “calving,” when portions of ice break away from the receding glacier. Some of the icebergs are the size of three story buildings.

Fortunately, we were able to get close enough to see the magnificent Sawyer Glacier; however, the massive icebergs prevented us from safely moving to a point where we could watch the calving process. While the ship parked at an awe-inspiring vantage point, Dr. Charles Stanley spoke a short service from the bridge, reading from Genesis chapter one. In closing, we all sang "How Great Thou Art." Then a quiet calm settled in the canyon, creating a moment which words failed to adequately describe. Many of us were moved to tears, as truly we beheld the majesty of our God in his powerful handiwork.

On an island near the glacier, we spotted an eagle's nest and, soon after, we saw the adult female bald eagle and its juvenile bird. Then, a friendly harbor seal swam up to the bow of the ship. Often black and brown bears, mountain goats, wolves, and Sitka black-tailed deer are seen here, so I kept my binoculars trained on the numerous (and glorious) waterfalls, which are said to be good places to spot the bears. We didn't happen to catch a glimpse of any that day.

Even still, the splendor of this place was unlike anything we'd ever seen before. It made us think of heaven and how awesome it will be to spend all eternity exploring the wondrous creation of our great God. To top it off, just as the ship exited Tracy Arm, three bald eagles flew overhead, giving us an unforgettable show—a triune expression—and a thrill we will never forget!

That evening we attended the Captain's Reception and formal dinner. We stayed out on deck late into the night, mesmerized again by the magically long-lasting sunset. We wished the day would never end.

View More Photos of Day 5 - Cruise Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier.

07
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Christian Cruise Log Day 6 - Port of Call: Ketchikan, Alaska

From our cruise ship we received a friendly welcome from Ketchikan.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

We arrived in Ketchikan early Wednesday morning, and although it was overcast, no rain was expected. Since Ketchikan is situated in a rain forest and known as the rainiest city in the United States, averaging about 160 inches a year, we felt very blessed with the day's weather forecast. The city is actually located on an island and, therefore, rich in commercial fishing resources. It's proud to be called the "Salmon Capital of the World." Ketchikan also bears the nickname the "First City" because it is the southernmost city in southeast Alaska and often the first Alaskan port for northbound ships.

Since we'd never ridden one before, we decided Ketchikan would be a good place for a duck tour. And although it was fun, we only had a short time in Ketchikan (5 hours), so once the two hour tour was over, I was eager to make my way up to Creek Street. This section of town is very popular among tourists and gave us a quick stroll through Ketchikan's colorful history. Authentic 1890s establishments still line Creek Street, a wooden boardwalk along Ketchikan Creek. The bars and bordellos which once formed the city's red light district, now offer mostly restaurants and gift shop.

Ketchikan is a great place to learn about totem poles at the Totem Heritage Center or by taking an excursion to Totem Bight State Park. Unfortunately, we did not have time. Still, the sun was shining as we left Ketchikan and we thanked God for another fun-filled morning.

After several busy days, we needed an afternoon of rest. Prior to the trip, I had dreamed about a time when we could sit and relax on the deck lounge chairs and, finally, the moment had arrived. What a perfect way to prepare for this evening's midnight Dessert Extravaganza!

View More Photos of Day 6 - Port of Call: Ketchikan, Alaska.

08
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Christian Cruise Log Day 7 - Port of Call: Victoria, British Columbia

Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia
Image: © Bill Fairchild

Thursday was our last full day of cruising. We spent most of it at sea, bound for Victoria, British Columbia. It was a gorgeous, calm day. We decided to get our packing done in the morning so we'd be free to roam the sunlit decks, relax in the afternoon, and then prepare for a quick tour of Victoria that night.

A brief farewell ceremony from the Holland America crew was held that afternoon, and we enjoyed showing some much-deserved appreciation to the mostly Indonesian and Filipino personnel who served us with warmth, grace, humor and great care.

Moving toward our final port of call through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, glorious scenes of bright-blue sky, inky-black sea, and rugged mountain terrain grew more and more dramatic. We marveled at the impressive Olympic Mountain Range as Victoria came into view. It was clear enough to see Mt. Baker in Washington state from our approaching position near the Victoria breakwater.

Eager to make the most of our short visit in the striking old Canadian town, we decided to see the city's highlights by bus tour. Character and old-world charm line the streets, as well as lavish flower displays which can be seen all around the downtown "Garden City." We longed to walk inside the Parliament Buildings, drink tea in the Empress Hotel, and take in the famous Butchart Gardens, but time would not allow.

We did have the opportunity to tour the Craigdarroch Castle, built in the 1800s by Scottish immigrant Robert Dunsmuir who had worked his way to fortune in the coal industry. The mansion was a gift to his wife, Joan—an incentive to lure her to move from Scotland. Although Robert Dunsmuir died before the castle was finished, his wife did move there to raise her large family. The 39-room, 20,000 square-foot castle was made from the finest building materials of the era, featuring numerous exquisite stained-glass windows, elaborate woodwork and paneling, as well as elegant Victorian-style furniture throughout.

Reluctantly, at 11 p.m. we boarded the ship for our midnight departure.

View More Photos of Day 7 - Port of Call: Victoria, British Columbia

09
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Christian Cruise Log Day 8 - Disembarkation

Farewell to the ms Zaandam at disembarkation in Seattle, Washington.
Image: © Bill Fairchild

After a short night at sea, we docked in Seattle at about 5 a.m., awakening to the reality that our dream vacation had come to an end. Both of us were filled with bitter-sweet emotion as we prepared to disembark and make the long flight home. Still, our hearts were filled with thankfulness for the blessings we experienced throughout our travels in Alaska. We knew our first Christian cruise would never be forgotten.

As I mentioned earlier, this particular cruise aboard the ms Zaandam of the superior Holland America Line, was chartered by Templeton Tours exclusively for friends of In Touch Ministries, and hosted by Dr. Charles Stanley. If you are considering a Christian cruise, I hope this daily journal will provide you with an idea of what to expect along the journey of an Alaska Inside Passage Christian Cruise.

To gain a fuller understanding of the cruise experience, including a careful pros-and-cons evaluation from a Christian perspective, I invite you to read my full Alaska cruise review.

View our Alaska Christian Cruise Pictures.

To learn more about the ministry of our host, Dr. Charles Stanley, please visit his bio page.

To learn more about Templeton Tours and their Christian travel opportunities, check out their website.

More Alaska Inside Passage Christian Cruise Pictures:
Embarkation Port: Seattle, Washington
At Sea on the ms Zaandam
Port of Call: Juneau, Alaska
Port of Call: Skagway, Alaska
Cruise Tracy Arm to Sawyer Glacier
Port of Call: Ketchikan, Alaska
Port of Call: Victoria, British Columbia

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this evaluation, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.