Celebrated artist and conservationist, Wyland (aka "Marine Michelangelo") is an expert on all things outdoors – be it under the sea or above. When Norwegian partnered with the painter in 2016 to design the hull of Norwegian Bliss, the resulting fresco entitled "Cruising with the Whales" quickly became a world-renowned guest favorite. Wyland cites Alaska as one of his favorite places on earth, so we asked him to chat with us about the majesty of America's largest state, the importance of conservation, exploring the wilderness (with an emphasis on whales), and why he feels you should experience your journey on a Norwegian cruise ship.
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Q: Why do you think Alaska is such a special cruise destination?
Seeing wildlife from one of Norwegian's ships gives you a different perspective of Alaska's scenic beauty. It also affords the kind of access to natural wonders like Glacier Bay that would be impossible to see any other way. Throughout your Alaska cruise, you're treated to ever changing views of sky, land, and water. It's breathtaking.
Q: Our ships in Alaska are custom built to “Let the Outside In,” allowing cruisers to feel a sense of adventure and nature even while on board. What does that tagline mean to you, personally?
I’ve always believed that it’s important to be open to new experiences. That’s especially important for an artist, but it’s a great way for everyone to be. There aren’t many places in the world better to do that than Alaska. It’s one of the truly wild places on the planet.
Q: We recently added Icy Strait Point to our itineraries – tell us why you love it there so much.
On my first trip to Icy Strait Point, we ziplined down to docks where the whale-watching boats go out. The whole place is very historic and quaint. The native people, who know the waters best, took us on one of the best whale-watching trips I’d ever been on. Their knowledge of the area and their hospitality was fantastic. I was so inspired by the experience that I created a 26-foot-high life-size breaching orca statue for the community. The sculpture was unveiled by the elders and the native community for all visitors to enjoy. I think even the orcas can get a kick out of seeing themselves depicted in art.
Q: You clearly have a thing for whales – you included a few beauties on the hull of our ship, Norwegian Bliss. Why do you love them so much?
Like a lot of people, I was fascinated by whales from a very early age. The sight of these beautiful creatures in real life gives us a new perspective on the world and ourselves. There is nothing like looking out across the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage and suddenly catching sight of a breaching humpback whale. You can do a whale tour to guarantee a sighting, and I know many people also spot them while on board their cruise with Norwegian. If that isn't a memory to last the rest of your life, I don't know what is.
Q: Is there any part of Alaska that you love, but isn’t as well known?
All the towns that I’ve visited have inspired me as an artist and explorer. Some are more well-known than others. But I think there is so much to discover in some of the lesser-known places like the Yukon Territory or Ketchikan (where Norwegian recently added a port). The scenery is simply extraordinary.
Q: Are there photographs you can capture in Alaska that you’d never get elsewhere?
Alaska has millions of acres of wilderness, much of it completely untouched. It’s a fantastic place to take in glaciers, wetlands, and rivers. I know Norwegian sails through Glacier Bay National Park, which is a big deal, as it’s very difficult to secure that permission. The ship approaches the glacier, while an Alaskan Park Ranger is onboard to explain the formation of glaciers and talk about the wildlife around the park. I really love this element of the Norwegian cruises, as well as all the various excursions where you can get up-close-and-personal with the environment. For me, Alaska is all about the wildlife. It’s home to great whales, sea otters, moose, bears, bald eagles, all of which inspire my work. There are images you can get in Alaska that would be impossible to get anywhere else in the world, and speaking as an artist who has traveled the four corners of the world, that’s saying a lot.
Q: We recently expanded our Alaska sailing dates to span from April to October, which means people can see the Northern Lights. Have you seen them?
I have experienced the Northern Lights, and in my opinion, getting out on the water is one of the best possible ways to see them. Be prepared for surreal encounters with the aurora in the Alaskan night sky.
Q: You shared a video of yourself photographing an Alaskan brown bear up close. We prefer to keep a VERY safe distance on our wildlife excursions, but what was that experience like?
When I have an opportunity to photograph Alaskan wildlife, I always make sure I’m prepared. On one of my last wildlife excursions, I happened upon a massive brown bear and captured what I think is my best bear image, up close and very personal. When people ask me if I ever worry about getting too close, I tell them, “Just remember, you don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than whoever else you’re with.”
Q: You collaborated with the Seward Mural Society - how important is it to partake in local Alaskan experiences when you’re there?
I’ve been to most parts of Alaska and was never disappointed. No other state in America has such a broad range of native cultures, with different traditions. There are great excursions at every stop on the Alaska cruises with Norwegian that allow you to explore this rich heritage first-hand, from trips to the native villages to dogsledding. Each has special memories that you take with you throughout your life.
Q: As a conservationist, was Norwegian’s “Sail & Sustain” program - which seeks to increase sustainable sourcing, minimize landfill waste, and reduce CO2 emissions - an important part of this partnership?
Yes, our goal is very similar to Norwegian’s - to show everyone how beautiful this world is, encourage them to become more informed, and take actions, large or small, that can make a difference.
Q: Your foundation is dedicated to preserving the world’s marine life. What can people do in their everyday life to help these efforts?
The Wyland Foundation is probably one of the most interesting art and conservation organizations in the world today. I highly encourage people to join as a member. Our new app called MyVolunteer Water Project has everything you need to do this. And it shows you how all those small actions add up to the kind of results that can change the world.
Photo credit: Hero image courtesy of Wyland.