By Cathy Bell Bartholomay


Years ago, fresh out of college, I traveled around the world by ship.  During my ‘Semester at Sea,’ a three-month academic voyage to Spain, Turkey, Greece, Israel, and Egypt, as well as India, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, and Japan, I saw nearly all the wonders of the ancient world, and wonders without number in between.

An adventure like that defies description.  It was destined to stay with me, remaining not just on my mind, but in my heart.  How couldn’t it?

It’s no wonder that for years I dreamed that the ship, The SS Universe, was leaving without me, and indeed it was, continuing its global tours during the school year, and in its summer “off season,” cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage.  In fact, when I left the ship for the last time in Seattle, WA, our return-to-America and final port of call, one of the many things I took with me and held dear was the sworn promise I made to myself of a summer cruise to Alaska.  Maybe it was wishful thinking that I would one day return to the ship; maybe it was another way I could hold on even tighter to that once-in-a-life time, life-altering journey.

But time has a tricky way of marching on, and sometimes things get left behind.  Fast forward a few decades through law school, a writing career, marriage, and my beloved children.  Though I traveled extensively—think numerous African photo safaris, annual trips to Kauai, re-tracing the steps up to D-day in Normandy, and more —I never took another cruise nor went to Alaska.


Goodbye glorious Vancouver; setting sail for Alaska!

Goodbye glorious Vancouver; setting sail for Alaska!

Until last summer, when, along with my husband, Bill, and sons Joey and Charley, I did both.  And wow, was it worth waiting for.


Map of Alaska’s Inside Passage.


The Inside Passage, in our wake.

Our family’s 11-day “Ultimate Alaska” Seabourn cruise through the Inside Passage – to Ketchikan, Rudyerd Bay, Wrangell, and Sitka; and to Juneau, Haines, Icy Strait Point, and Seward — was exactly that.   Not only because of the symbolic reunion of sorts with my long-ago voyage, but because, unbeknownst to me or my family, Alaska is an unexpectedly magical place, filled, to our collective surprise and delight, with staggering scenery in truly mythical proportions.  And despite the superlatives, that is an understatement.


Powder-puff clouds over Ketchikan Gateway.

Haines, Alaska — or Hawaii?!

Right up to the waterfall in our Zodiac boats.


Like something out of ‘the land that time forgot….’

This is the land of electric blue ice, rolling mists, crashing waterfalls, and glaciers as big as a city block.  But also, somehow: lush green meadows, colorful wildflowers, and sunny blue skies.  Throw in towering mountains, dense green forests, and sparkling waters, along with killer whales, bald eagles, brown bears, and bright yellow banana slugs — all set against a back-drop of the biggest temperate rainforest in the world — and you’ve got a journey through something out of a scene from ‘the land that time forgot.’


The regal Sojourn at port in Haines.

Table for four, please. Our usual breakfast place, including a plate of Charley’s custom pastries.

Mountains so close they seem part of the Sojourn’s pool deck.

Navigating the charmed land and waters of the Inside Passage was a breeze, thanks to the uber-luxurious setting of our ship, the Seabourn Sojourn.  Known for over-the-top accommodations, service, dining, and amenities, Seabourn’s handful of ships carry about 400 passengers and feel more like a private club than a commercial cruise line.  There is a reason the fleet has been given the nod from Conde Nast magazine as “Best Small-Ship Cruise Line” eight times in the past ten years, and the Sojourn itself certainly lived up to the accolades. From our adjoining suites– the epitome of comfort, with marble baths, seating areas and ocean front verandas – to the personal attention lavished upon us– upon learning of Charley’s food allergy, the chef had an individual plate of freshly baked, nut–free pastries waiting for him every morning — our onboard experience was indulgent and intimate.


Not a bad way to begin my birthday: arrival in our first port, Ketchikan.


Our first port, the colorful town of Ketchikan.

Our happy gang – Joey, me, Charley, Bill– at the foot of a mile-high waterfall at Misty Fords in Rudyerd Bay.

Our fleet of Zodiac boats and crew awaiting their next excursion.

Joey and I, framed by a ‘land that time forgot’ backdrop.

Wildflowers, waterfalls and snow, in Wrangell.

Mirror-like waters of Sitka Sound.











Towering mountains, still waters, rolling mist.


Melting glaciers so close you can touch them from our Zodiac boat.

Surreal swirls in electric blue ice.

9:30 pm sunset off Sojourn’s starboard as we approach Juneau, after about 18 hours of daylight.

Thar she blows! A pod of killer whales in Juneau.

Icy Strait Point, the only tribal-owned cruise destination in Alaska.

Charley, and an adorable sled-dog in training, at Iditarod Champion Nick Petit’s Training Camp in Girdwood.


From ship to shore, pretty much everything  about our voyage amidst the fantasy-like landscape of Alaska’s Inside Passage was something to marvel at, revel in, dream about. And like my long-ago Semester at Sea journey which inspired this one, Alaska stays with me: on my mind and in my heart.