I love going on Alaska cruises, but long before I sailed on my first cruise ship, I loved the history of cruising. In the late 1990s, I started collecting Alaska and British Columbia cruise brochures, and they give wonderful glimpses into what possibilities were available to people with some extra money for vacations.
This brochure was published by the Alaska Steamship Company in 1940 for their 1941 season. It is 16 pages, 8 x 9 inches in size. It has photos of the 7 ships being operated by the line, 9 maps of the sea and land-excursion routes available, as well as pricing and other pertinent information. A hi-resolution copy of the entire brochure (pdf, 93MB) can be viewed at or downloaded from our public Dropbox folder.
Among the interesting information that makes these cruises very different than today's is the paragraph describing possible surprises along the way:
On the many Alaska cruises and cruise-tours outlined in this folder, you will probably be treated to the extra pleasure of visits to "Surprise Ports." These are isolated ports not listed in the regular itineraries, usually salmon canneries, located on the mountain-backed shores of secluded fjords in the midst of the virgin wilderness. To enjoy your visits to Alaska's "Surprise Ports" to the utmost, plan to spend your time there hiking along the shore or in the mountains or ﬁshing in nearby streams or lakes. While THE ALASKA LINE steamer is loading or unloading cargo, make the most of this "surprise" opportunity to dip a little deeper into Alaska's great storehouse of scenic beauty. Fishing enthusiasts are advised to bring along their tackle, and others should include a pair of heavy-soled shoes for hiking excursions. You have the added advantage of visiting "Surprise Ports" when you travel via the Alaska Steamship Company because it serves all Alaska - its commerce as well as its travelers.
As you can see on the map below, there were several options for routing, as well as for multi-day land excursions by boat, rail and/or air through the Yukon and Alaska. The fares, too, provide some interesting facts. One-way fares from Seattle to Skagway in a first-class cabin, as an example, were $57.50 per person, but men only could get steerage accommodation between those ports for $30. For first-class cabins with a bath, fares were noted as being 25-40% higher.
One of the most deluxe excursions was a 12-day round trip from Seattle to Fairbanks and back, by steamer to Juneau, Pacific Alaska Airways to Fairbanks, Alaska Railroad to Seward, and steamer back to Seattle, all for $228.50 per person. The longest trip offered was a 33-day, 5,200-mile one for $279.20, sailing upstream on the Yukon River - downstream was 4 days shorter and due to the much lower cost for fuel, $21.00 cheaper. The Yukon River trips included a sailing on the sternwheeler Tutshi from Carcross to the head of West Taku Arm for a 2-hour visit at the former Partridge family homestead called Ben-My-Chree.