Drift between enormous glaciers and old gold-mining towns on a thrilling Alaskan tour.
CRADLING a cup of hot chocolate laced with whisky and wrapped in a warm blanket, I headed out on deck to join a group of passengers staring out into the distance.
Through the fog and sleet in the Yukon, North Alaska, we could just make out the large white mass looming towards us.
As we drew nearer, I could see why we were gliding so slowly. This glacier was a monster.
Covered in crevices and varying in colour from a gleaming Mediterranean white to sapphire blue, it hardly seemed real.
Called Hubbard or, unimaginatively, The Big Glacier, it is 75 miles long and 300ft high.
What we couldn't see was the 500ft below the water which can rip a hole in the largest of hulls.
We got to within 600 ft, close enough, thank you. Even from here, the sound of huge pieces of the glacier breaking off were like claps of thunder.
Being in the freezing, crystal clear air can do funny things to a head used to noise and pollution. Another ship glided by before disappearing into the thick fog. Was it an apparition?
Also, I couldn't help but think about that well-known ship on that infamous night back in 1912.
We boarded Royal Caribbean's Serenade Of The Seas on a hot July day in Vancouver, Canada, joining guests on deck to take in the stunning views. Three days later, the temperature was in single figures.
Alaska is more picturesque than you would expect. Pinecovered mountains with dramatic gorges and fast-flowing waterfalls lined the coastline. We spent hours watching for whales and grizzly bears but they must have heard us coming. Only the occasional fishing boat moored in terrain not suitable for the faint-hearted appeared.
One boat that did come close was the coastguard RIB "escorting" us into Skagway, under US rule. To remind us where we were, a huge Stars and Stripes flag flew off the back while a guard stood at the bow wielding a machine gun.
Welcome to America.
Skagway has tried to recreate its 1800s gold-mining town feel.
Quaint, brightly-painted shops adorned with bunting house precious gems or souvenirs, and the main streets retain traditional wooden boardwalks.
We took a trip on a narrowgauge train along the famous White Pass Yukon Route.
Chugging up steep hills, we saw waterfalls, crossed old wooden bridges and passed original cabooses (now quirky B&Bs).
Along the way, we had a history lesson about the harsh conditions the miners and railway builders endured.
ALASKA is husky territory and, though there was no snow, a visit to the Musher's Camp, just outside Skagway, is a must.
Three hundred energetic and noisy hounds live here. I boarded a "rubberised" sled (a wheeled trailer) for a drive through the aromatic rainforest. I felt like a kid being drawn by a faithful team of huskies, barking their happiness. The temptation to yell "mush" was almost too much.
The attraction of this trip is that there are just too many activities to choose from: glacier walking, helicopter trips and canoeing to name just a few.
And, if the weather doesn't permit, there's plenty to do on board ship including being pampered in the Serenade Day Spa or having a workout in the gym. I had a metabolism analysis to find out how much I could eat at the midnight buffet (no, I'm not telling you the result) and how many calories to consume. There were also seminars on eradicating cellulite and massaging your partner.
We shared our space with almost 3,000 other passengers but not once did the ship feel claustrophobic. In a cabin with cable TV, balcony, full-sized shower, robes and room service twice a day, our space couldn't have been more comfortable.
After a couple of days you become a part of the cruise community. You've had time to meet people, have a wander through the endless bars and restaurants and have a hit of mini golf or climb the rock wall.
It's like a floating village as you nod hello to your "neighbours".
We stopped at Juneau, another former gold-mining town and the launchpad for helicopter flights to the Medenhall Glacier and whale-watching cruises.
Unfortunately we missed out due to bad weather so pottered around the main street where the façades of the old buildings had been lovingly restored and now house shops full of T-shirts, woodwork and homemade fudge.
As we drew closer back to Vancouver, the clouds lifted. Our final stop was the very British, Victoria, with its double-decker buses, hanging baskets and red telephone boxes, spread around a pretty harbour.
Finally, if you thought cruising only catered for the older generation, you're mistaken. On board were teenagers, happy to play basketball or join in a game-show; and couples clearly having a ball, playing bingo and watching the slick live shows.
But if it's pioneering travel in five-star style that floats your boat, head north to Alaska before it literally disappears before your eyes.GETTING THERE:Royal Caribbean (0845 165 8330/www.royalcaribbean.co.uk) offers a nine-night Alaska Hubbard Glacier fly/cruise on Serenade Of The Seas from £1,376pp including return flights from London Heathrow; transfers; one night's pre-cruise accommodation; seven-night cruise departing Vancouver; meals on board and cruise taxes/fees. Price based on May 11, 2007 departure.