Discover the joys of Juneau in June


Alaskan cruising can transport you to places where car tyres simply cannot tread.

Whales near Juneau.

Quiz: Which city is the capital of Alaska?

If you’ve ever been posed this question at a trivia event, chances are you’ve confidently selected Anchorage. But the correct answer is Juneau, a much smaller township, with a population of approximately 33,000.

And while Juneau holds all the parliamentary privileges (although it’s said the parliamentarians move out in summer to make way for the influx of tourists and seasonal workers), it’s an intriguing choice for the capital.

Juneau is one of only two US capital cities that is not accessible from the mainland by road (the other being Honolulu in Hawaii).

The only way you can get in or out of town is via a plane or ship.

When I arrived, at the beginning of the Alaskan summer, it was aboard the Discovery Princess cruise ship, and what an entrance it was.

The port of Juneau.

Stepping out onto the port, the verdant and densely forested mountains that form the town’s dramatic backdrop, seemed to surround me with a welcoming hug.

The sun was shining brilliantly from a cloudless sky, prompting me to remove my jumper as we walked to meet our shore excursion guide. I mentioned our luck with the weather, to which he jollily replied, “Juneau is like the Florida of Alaska!”.

As we then made our way via bus to a pretty marina glittering with boats against the background of snow-capped mountains, our guide regaled us with fascinating facts.

Did we know that Juneau once had the largest gold mine in the world? Or that the best time to see a bear is downtown on Fridays when they comb through the trash that’s awaiting collection?

But I’m particularly interested to hear about how the US brokered a deal with Russia back in 1867, to purchase Alaska for just 2c per acre.

Having arrived at the marina to begin our afternoon tour of whale watching from a luxury yacht, I gaze at the breathtaking natural beauty that competes for attention from every vantage point, and I’d say it was an investment well made.

Map of Alaska.

Our skipper begins gliding the yacht through the waters of Auke Bay as the naturalist onboard pours sparkling wine for all and tells us about the whales we could expect to see today.

Interestingly, these ocean mammals spend their winters in the warmer climes of Hawaii, before enjoying their summers in Alaska, gorging themselves on the abundant array of seafood that these waters are known for.

It strikes me that this is another unlikely association between the two vastly different states.

Each whale’s flute (the underside of its tail) is like a fingerprint.

Between this and identifiable scars, the naturalist can tell us detailed information about each whale we hope to spot.

And then, just as I have stuffed an unseemly amount of cheese and olives into my mouth from the grazing platter, someone yells, “Whale!”.

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We all excitedly rush outside; food, drinks and the plush cabin forgotten, to cram onto the deck and begin snapping our cameras at the whale that’s currently putting on a show for us.

Its name is Sasha, according to the naturalist, and is a female humpback that has been visiting this region for many years.

She has a distinctive marking on her flute which looks like the letters AK, making her, in my opinion, the perfect mascot for Alaska.

As she propels herself through the water, dipping in and out of the deep blue, she’s seemingly oblivious to the excitement she’s causing.

It turns out Sasha was to be the first of many whales we saw in our afternoon on the water, and our skipper tells us that very few tours return without a sighting.

In fact, the sightings become so plentiful that some watchers return to the food and wine, while others continue to soak up the setting sun and the wonder of these creatures at play on their summer vacation.

All too soon, it’s time to return to shore and our bus driver is ready to deliver us to the Discovery Princess that’s patiently waiting for us in the harbour.

Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska. 

But first, we call in to have a look at Mendenhall Glacier, which is part of the 3,880 square-kilometre Juneau Icefield.

A hike or helicopter tour of the glacier are two other shore excursions that the Discovery Princess cruise liner offers.

Seeing the ancient and awe-inspiring glacier up close would be the next activity I’d like to try if I ever found myself here again.

As we sail away from Juneau, its buildings and mountains melt into the distance, and I’m grateful for the ship and crew that have brought me here and now carry me onward to more adventures.

It’s time to dress for dinner and I look forward to warmly recounting my day’s adventures to my fellow passengers.

I think I’ll order the Alaskan salmon in honour of the whales I’ve met today.


The writer travelled as a guest of Princess Cruises.

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The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.