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With Joe Upton and The Alaska Cruise Handbook


Joe Upton spent 20 years exploring Alaska and the Northwest coast, catching fish, making maps, taking photos, and collecting his award-winning stories. He created The Alaska Cruise Companion in 1997 for Princess Cruises and then The Alaska Cruise Handbook, available in bookstores and aboard most Alaska cruise ships. The book and this website covers routes, Alaska cruise ports, walks around the ports, shore excursions, and much more. But the enduring popularity of this book is because in addition to being a fully informational Alaska cruise guide, it is filled with Joe's wonderful Alaska stories.

In this new edition, Joe has worked with film maker Dan Kowalski to produce over 20 videos highlighting places along your cruise route, sharing his deep knowledge of the land and its unusual people with Alaska cruise passengers.

The included map has video icons at places where the videos are about or were created at. Videos available here.

Sample Video


Joe's map shows your Alaska cruise route with milemarker numbers for easy navigation and video icons at places of particular interest. The map uses a numbering system based on Seattle as Mile Zero. This allows ship staff to announce ship's position by number. Map also has GPS coordinates and a line showing the route of most cruise ships.

See the Map

Joe's Unusual Story

"Hey, Kid.. wake up... ya gotta see this..." A hand on my shoulder, shaking, skaking. It was 4 a.m, the day after the Alaska fish-buying boat I had just gotten a job on had left Seattle. It was the kindly 60 year-old mate, Mickey: "It's Seymour, kid, you don't want to miss it..."

SEYMOUR NARROWS? I'd heard about Seymour along the waterfront. It was supposed to be this place where the tide created whirlpools big enough to suck down hundred-foot boats. I pulled on my clothes and climbed up the ladder into the pilothouse.

We were in this narrow canyon of a channel. The first thin light of day revealed gloomy steep hills on both sides, and a right angle turn ahead where a huge whirlpool seemed to take up half the channel, slowly revolving, and whose center was probably 6 or 8 feet lower than the edges! As I took it all in, amazed, a tree trunk the thickness of an oil drum shot up vertically from the water just to our right and a moment later, disappeared.

Our skipper struggled with the steering wheel and aknowledged me with a stream of tobacco juice spat into a can, and a "That's the kind of crap you don't want to hit, kid..." And 30 minutes later turned the steering wheel over to me and nodded at the channel ahead. "OK. kid, it's yours for three hours... use the chart, " he pointed to the chart table, "put your points in the logbook.. AND DON'T HIT ANYTHING.." And disappeared into his cabin!!!

"Me?" I thought, terror stricken. "Me, steer this big boat up to Alaska..?" I had substantially exaggerated my experience to get that job.. and piloting that big boat through those winding channels was way more than I was prepared to do.

But the kindly mate put his thick hand over mine on the wheel, showed me how to engage the autopilot with my foot so that it steered us straight down the channel. "Here, kid, here's how we do it..."

And So began my education as an Alaskan fisherman. But more than the nautical rules of the road, how to catch fish, how to read the weather from signs in the sky and water, that kindly old man filled me with the lore and the legends of The North.

We'd pass some bay and Mick would have a story: “We went in there in the old Mary A, winter of ‘31. Thick o’ snow, we’d toot that horn and listen for the echo off the rocks, through the snow.” Tie up at a cannery and Mick would tell about working on a tug to help the square riggers get out back in the '30s, deep loaded with canned salmom.

At Seymour, he told me the story of "Old Rip," the ship killer rock that used to be right in the middle of the channel. Every year it'd get a ship or two. First they anchored a barge with a thousand tons of anchors, Old Mick explained, but the current was too much, the barge would move and the drill bits would break. Then a work crew died in a whirlpool, and they decided to drill from the shore, a half mile of shafts and tunnels to fill that rock with almost three million pounds of dynamite, and adios "Old Rip.!" That kindly gentleman filled me with a lifelong passion for The North, which still drives me today.

For me that long ago summer of 1965 was ALASKA in capital letters. There were totems at the dock, eagles in the trees. All I wanted to do afterwards was to go up there to fish commercially in my own boat.

Eventually I did, building a tiny waterfront cabin near a small roadless, fishing settlement.

Our store floated on logs, and was also a bar. The bartender was the fish buyer. You could sell your fish for bar credit and get right to work: whiskey and water, whiskey and coke, or whiskey and Tang. And they saved the ice for the fish.

In the spring we fished the windy outside coast. In the summer, we worked nearby Sumner Strait. In the fall we traveled north to the natural wind tunnel called Lynn Canal, for the 10-dollar-a-fish chum salmon. And in the long, kerosene lantern-lit winters, there was time for visiting.

The stories came out. The experiences of my friends and neighbors, an oral history of the coast. I was an amateur photographer, and a writer. “Write a book,” my friends said, “Tell our story.” One book became another.

When I first started fishing, cruise ships were few and small. Then more ships began traveling the coast, and I designed a series of illustrated maps to better share with these new visitors the drama and beauty of The North.

For me the books and maps are a way to share with you a sense of the mystery and the power of this place that is such a big part of my life.

So come, take this journey through this land that remains much as it was when the first explorers came through.

Thanks, Mick. I'm still telling the stories.


Mickey and Joe, SE Alaska, 1965

This kindly older fisherman took me, a green and inexperienced young man, under his wing, and taught me the ways of The North. But beyond that he filled me with an excitement and a sense of history that continues to this day.


My first Alaska job was aboard the Sidney, a fish packer, sort of a mother ship to the smaller fishing boats that spend their seasons far from their home cannery. In addition to buying fish we had groceries, fuel, and water for our boats. With a cagy skipper, grumpy cook, but an immensely kind first mate, it was a season that changed my life forever.


Next was an ill-fated attempt to go to Alaska in this barely seaworthy boat...I spent all my money, was luckly not to have drowned, and was really lucky to get a job on the new king crab boat below, to make some money in the just starting King Crab Bonanza, now known to TV viewers all over the world as Deadliest Catch.

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