A Holland America Line sailing showcases the best of Alaska, offering diverse experiences for multigenerational families and leisure groups
Alaska is a booming cruise destination. Indeed, Alaska cruises were the most booked U.S. vacation for the third year in a row, according to Travel Leaders Group’s 2019-2020 travel trends survey. Alaska welcomed an estimated 1.33 million cruise guests in 2019, reports the Alaska Travel Industry Association, and a 6 percent cruise capacity increase is forecast for 2020. While cold-weather destinations are hot these days, additional key trends are helping to drive demand for Alaska cruise bookings, including the massive growth in multigenerational vacations and the increasing appeal of adventure travel.
Cruising is an ideal way to see Alaska because the Last Frontier is massive and many of its most magnificent sights and coastal areas are best viewed by water, including iconic Glacier Bay National Park. In addition, Alaska cruises offer unparalleled convenience, and time-constrained groups can efficiently pack an extraordinary number of memorable adventures into a week-long period of time.
Guests on an Alaska cruise can expect a wide variety of experiences. Over the course of our Holland America Inside Passage cruise, we saw dozens of humpback whales, watched black bears fishing for salmon, drove a dogsled atop one of Alaska’s largest glaciers, took an exhilarating road trip through Canada’s Yukon Territory and went kayaking on pristine bays. Alaska cruises allow guests to get close to wildlife and nature, explore stunning national parks, visit historical and cultural sites, and experience the best of America’s dazzling 49th state in world-class comfort.
Unforgettable Adventures Await
Our Holland America Inside Passage cruise departed from Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s wise to arrive at least a day or two early to go biking or jogging in Stanley Park, sample gourmet foods at Granville Island’s Public Market and take a swaying walk across the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Vancouver is home to a number of other appealing sites including the Vancouver Aquarium, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and Grouse Mountain’s outdoor attractions. We enjoyed spending time on the waterfront deck of the Pan Pacific Vancouver watching seaplanes take off from Coal Harbour.
Sailing away from Vancouver’s Canada Place cruise ship terminal is a spectacular experience. We gazed at Vancouver’s skyline as our ship, Holland America’s ms Nieuw Amsterdam, left the harbor and passed under the Lions Gate Bridge. As our Alaska voyage began, we made a beeline for The Crow’s Nest atop the ship to enjoy the panoramic views. This popular forward observation lounge with its floor-to-ceiling windows is also home to Explorations Central (EXC), Holland America’s multi-faceted destination experience center.
Our Alaska cruise itinerary featured two full days of cruising along the Inside Passage. Sea days along this route are never the same – the scenery is constantly changing. We passed tiny towns, bright green forests and plenty of wildlife on our journey. As we made our way towards Juneau, we were greeted by close to a dozen humpback whales and witnessed the convergence of icy blue glacial waters with the Passage’s sapphire blues near Tracy Arm fjord, an area that John Muir described as “a wild unfinished Yosemite.”
The weather was clear as we arrived in Juneau, providing excellent conditions for our first adventure – dog sledding and glacier viewing by helicopter. Our scenic heli-flightseeing trip took us over Alaska’s massive Juneau Icefield to an exclusive dog sled camp near the top of advancing Taku Glacier. After landing, we met seasoned veterans of Alaska’s famous Iditarod Race and had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mush our dog sled team of friendly huskies across the snowy terrain. Zipping along the glacier on the dog sled was an unforgettable experience and the scenery was extraordinary. After returning to Juneau, we topped off our amazing day with a visit to Tracy’s King Crab Shack for some tasty king crab and signature crab cakes.
Next on our itinerary was the historic port of Skagway, where we rented a car for our epic journey over legendary White Pass into Canada’s breathtaking Yukon Territory. The two-lane Klondike Highway follows the footsteps taken by Klondike Gold Rush stampeders, passing glacier-topped mountains, dazzling lakes and cascading waterfalls. We stopped near the historic town of Carcross to pet some cute husky puppies at Caribou Crossing, walk across what’s affectionately called the world’s smallest desert, and marvel at stunning Emerald Lake. This drive will delight photographers and nature buffs, so plan on making plenty of stops to capture the scenery and wildlife along the way.
In a cruise filled with peak experiences, our exceptional day sailing through Glacier Bay National Park was certainly one of the high points. Holland America Line offers the most cruises that include this pristine UNESCO World Heritage Site. A National Park Service ranger boarded our ship to serve as a guide in Glacier Bay, and our captain opened up the Nieuw Amsterdam’s bow deck, which provided exquisite views of towering glaciers, majestic mountains and the area’s natural beauty. Glacier Bay has more than 50 named glaciers, and wildlife is equally abundant, including tufted puffins, mountain goats, humpback whales, bald eagles and even brown bears. Our ranger informed us that brown bears are excellent swimmers while pointing out one swimming across Glacier Bay.
That was not the last bear we saw on our Alaska cruise. In Ketchikan, we went on an awe-inspiring flightseeing adventure to Neets Bay, one of Alaska’s best bear viewing sites. After a smooth water landing, our small group took a short guided hike through the old-growth forest to a secure viewing area where we could watch majestic black bears fishing for salmon in the creek. We stood silently and collectively held our breath as four massive black bears emerged from the forest, one at a time, to feed on salmon swimming upstream. Each bear had its own personality, and it was fascinating watching them fish for salmon and feast at close range. We spent about 45 minutes glued to this spot before our naturalist guide pried us away for our return flight to Ketchikan. Our DeHavilland floatplane took us soaring over the Tongass National Forest and Revillagigedo Island, providing panoramic aerial views. This immersive wildlife experience was a highlight of our Alaska trip.
Memorable Moments Afloat
While Holland America recognizes that Alaska is the star of the show on its journeys to the Last Frontier, the line’s mid-size ships provide a premium cruise experience with outstanding attractions of their own. Particularly noteworthy are the exceptional Alaska-themed Explorations Central enrichment programming, wide variety of dining options, ship amenities such as the centralized pool with retractable roof, and the prodigious amount of superb live music and entertainment on board. The cruise line’s Club HAL for kids ages 3-12 and The Loft for teens ages 13-17 are a hit with families. Holland America’s ships provide something for every age group and interest, making them excellent choices for leisure groups and multigenerational vacationers.
Dining is typically one of the highlights of an Alaska cruise. Holland America has won numerous awards for its culinary scene, including being named the top ocean-going cruise line for dining in Cruise Critic’s 2019 Editor’s Picks Awards. Holland America’s Culinary Council chefs craft outstanding regionally-inspired cuisine for guests to savor, both in the main dining room and at venues around the ship. We particularly enjoyed our Nieuw Amsterdam dining experiences at the Pinnacle Grill, Rudi’s Sel de Mer, Canaletto and Tamarind.
Holland America knows how to artfully weave immersive Alaska insights into its onboard programming. We enjoyed the Huna native speaker presentations in Glacier Bay, the exceptional BBC Earth Live “Alaska in Concert” performance, and the many EXC talks and shows that allowed us to dive deeper into aspects of Alaska’s culture. Brand partnership experiences are also popular with guests, including America’s Test Kitchen cooking classes. Evenings were spent at Holland America’s multi-venue Music Walk, singing along with the pianists at Billboard Onboard and dancing the night away at B.B. King’s Blues Club.
Holland America Line offers groups the opportunity to enjoy their journey to Alaska in an upscale, relaxed and memorable way.
“Holland America has been showing travelers the best of Alaska for more than 70 years – longer than it’s been a state – and has the most expertise, local connections and infrastructure,” said Orlando Ashford, Holland America Line’s president. “That means our guests get the best and most authentic travel experience in The Great Land.” Holland America certainly delivered on that promise on our Inside Passage cruise. These magical Alaska voyages offer a tapestry of extraordinary experiences on both land and sea.
For more information on Holland America Line’s Alaska cruises, visit https://www.hollandamerica.com.
Story and photos by Nancy Schretter