Virtuoso Global April 2019 5 ways to explore the last frontier in style with Crystal Cruises

5 ways to explore the last frontier in style with Crystal Cruises

<em>Crystal Symphony</em> looks right at home in Alaska’s icy waters.
Crystal Symphony looks right at home in Alaska’s icy waters.

Alaska has long demanded superlatives – the ice fields are enormous, the peaks are majestic, the grizzlies and whales are formidable. But over the years, new words are popping up in travelogues and Instagram posts, like pampered, luxurious, and even posh, often followed by #CrystalCruises.

Steeped in traditions of top-flight comfort and service, Crystal deploys its signature brand of luxury during journeys to storied ports, including Ketchikan, Hoonah, Juneau, Sitka, and Skagway. In turn, passengers discover that indulgences in this part of the world pack more punch. Maybe it’s the crisp, clean air blowing off the glaciers or the knowledge that early inhabitants made these journeys in dugout canoes that sharpens the senses. The Egyptian cotton sheets feel a little softer, the Michelin-inspired dining a little tastier, the six-star service more attentive and hospitable.

Need convincing? Consider these five ways to go luxe in a land known for testing visitors.

Strawberries and Champagne are the perfect accompaniment to Crystal’s verandah views.
Strawberries and Champagne are the perfect accompaniment to Crystal’s verandah views.

1. Place an order for seals and Champagne.

For sublime wildlife viewing, you need go no farther than your suite with a verandah aboard the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony. Chill in your private space while you watch seals sliding across ice, eagles swooping and soaring, and glacial ice plunging into the sea. When these peak views make you thirsty, your personal butler can deliver needed provisions like Veuve Clicquot Champagne and fresh strawberries or local Alaskan Amber ale and popcorn.

Virtuoso travel advisor Jonathan Phillips remembers when his Crystal ship made a pass very close to some glaciers. “It was like sitting in a freezer,” he says, but he was toasty. “They brought us warm blankets and mufflers, and we were in our fluffy slippers drinking hot toddies.”

Sample new spins on classic cocktails at Crystal’s Silk Kitchen & Bar.
Sample new spins on classic cocktails at Crystal’s Silk Kitchen & Bar.

2. Revel in the glories of ice.

Don’t miss a chance to visit one of Alaska’s 100,000 glaciers via helicopter. The flight to Mendenhall or Taku glaciers provides an inspiring aerial lesson in the region’s geomorphology. Then touch down and walk the frozen surface for a humbling perspective on these immense earth-carvers.  

Virtuoso travel advisor Gina Morovati says she was wowed by her glacier excursion. “We saw bears – a mommy bear playing with her two little cubs – from the helicopter.” she recalls. “I just thought that was so cool.” And while trips to glaciers aren’t exclusive, Morovati says, “Crystal does it right.” The cruise line gets preferential treatment and excursion times, which means fewer crowds and more comfortable transitions.

If a glacier excursion puts you in mind of ice clinking in a glass, Crystal has you covered there, too. Always at work on the frontier of great cocktails, their mixologists have recently developed a gin and tonic menu that updates the classic with ingredients like crisp cucumber and dried rosebuds or fresh lime juice and coriander. G&Ts are having a moment, and Crystal is right there.
Casino games add to the vibrant nightlife on board <em>Crystal Symphony</em>.
Casino games add to the vibrant nightlife on board Crystal Symphony.

3. Take a chance.

Channel the spirit of the Klondike, without the deprivations, during a day of trying your luck at sea. Begin in Juneau, on board a marine research vessel in search of great humpback whales. Your odds are good for spotting one, since you’ll be visiting their seasonal feeding grounds. Along the way, Steller’s sea lions, Dall’s porpoises, harbor seals, and bald eagles reward the watchful.

Back on Crystal Symphony, go for the gold at more traditional games of chance, such as blackjack, roulette, or baccarat at the casino – a swank alternative to panning for gold in frozen rivers. The casino is just one of the reasons Crystal has a reputation for lively nightlife and active socializing. “I tell new-to-Crystal guests, ‘You will always find something to do,’ ” Phillips says, and that includes after dark. While smaller ships tend to close down early, Crystal keeps the energy going, from the casino to the disco to the piano bar, where Phillips says he has spent some of his most memorable nights at sea.

4. Write an unforgettable fish story.

A floatplane provides stellar access to scenic wilderness, where a stream or tidal estuary has been specially selected by your knowledgeable guide, who takes into consideration fish availability, water levels, and weather. Once in place, you’ll cast your line (catch-and-release, using a fly rod) on waters where other anglers are rarely encountered. Depending on the conditions and time of your visit, you may fish for salmon, Dolly Varden, cutthroat trout, or steelhead.

Best of all, there’s ample compensation for any fish that got away. Back on board, head to Umi Uma and Sushi Bar, created by revered chef Nobu Matsuhisa exclusively for Crystal, and swap fish stories over lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce and black cod marinated in miso.

Haines, Alaska, is home to snowcapped peaks, salmon-filled rivers, wildflower fields, and Tlingit cultural sites.
Haines, Alaska, is home to snowcapped peaks, salmon-filled rivers, wildflower fields, and Tlingit cultural sites.

5. Mush!

Delve into the fascinating world of sled dogs at an authentic dog musher’s camp on Norris Glacier. Learn about training and care, interact with the dogs, and experience the thrill of a dog-powered ride that just might spark your own Iditarod dreams.

There is probably nothing more infectious than the enthusiastic yips and barks of huskies getting ready to hit the trails. Let that spirited energy carry over to a workout, like complimentary Pilates or yoga (downward dog, anyone?), a boot camp session, or a spinning class, or make your own tracks power-walking Symphony’s stunning 360-degree teak promenade – which you’ll find only on Crystal.

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