WHO: Betty Gilman, 56, her son, Lou, 23, and daughter, Julianne, 17, of Burlington.
WHEN: 10 days in July.
WHY: Years ago Gilman learned about the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, which protects the world's largest concentration of bald eagles. "I promised myself I would see those beautiful creatures in person."
FROM THE INSIDE: "I started learning a lot about the state," said Gilman, who had never been on a cruise but realized that traveling the Inside Passage would be the best way to see the sights. She chose a
CATCH, YOU CAN: They left from Vancouver, B.C., and first docked in Ketchikan. "It was a nice little place, and they all fish up there. The guide took us to spots where the salmon were jumping right out of water and eagles were just looking at them." Just outside of Juneau, where they docked the second night, they visited Mendenhall Glacier. "You can just walk right up to it." They were even more impressed by the Hubbard Glacier on the Inside Passage. "You cruise right up to it, and it's making snap, crackle, and pop noises and pieces were constantly popping off."
A THREE-HOUR TOUR: From their stop in Skagway, the Gilmans caught a boat to Haines, where the preserve has a visitors center, and then hopped a bus to the Chilkat Valley. "The skies just opened up and it was gorgeous. We had a three-hour tour with a Tlingit native on a boat along the Chilkat River. The eagles were flying and swooping and gazing at you from onshore. The natural beauty of this valley is just indescribable."
PEAK EXPERIENCE: After traveling by boat for a week, the family took a three-day bus tour of Denali National Park. A highlight was taking a single-prop airplane tour out of Talkeetna to Mount McKinley, at 20,320 feet, the tallest mountain in North America. "We flew among all these peaks, alongside cliffs, through the clouds, and 400 feet above the Ruth Glacier, which is like a huge river of ice, with all these crevasses. We were dipping in and out, having a ball."