Written by Christina Stobbs of Cruise Experts, Merit Travel’s retail brand focused on cruise vacations.
The itinerary for our round-trip Vancouver cruise included Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau, and Glacier Bay National Park. I selected a round trip Vancouver route because it is true Inside Passage, offering the stillest ocean waters and the most picturesque journey. I chose Holland America because I knew my Mom would appreciate its warm and gracious hospitality, fine dining and the traditional experience of cruising on an ocean-going vessel. We would be cruising on one of its Vista class ships, The MS Westerdam.
The Westerdam carries just over 1900 passengers and includes most of the latest Holland America fleet enhancements. The highlight of activities on board the ship was listening to chamber music at the Lincoln Centre and down-home blues in BB King’s Blues Club. We checked out America’s Test Kitchen on a day they were featuring chocolate and the creation of Pots de Crème. Participants were asked to sample five different chocolate brands and evaluate for taste and texture in order to choose the best ingredients in creating the recipe of the day.
Explorations Central, or simply EXC for short is a comprehensive program which encompasses a variety of resources and programs designed to immerse passengers in the destination and make their experiences more engaging and meaningful. The EXC Hub on board the Westerdam is located at the Crow’s Nest and is a great place to explore and plan your Alaska days in port with the aid of a variety of books, interactive screens and EXC team members who are more than willing to assist and advise on planning your days in port. In summary the Westerdam is a destination in its own right. The facilities and programs available on board the ship are varied and interesting enough to satisfy the most discerning clients of all ages.
The Cruise Itinerary
Our journey along the Inside Passage began in Vancouver and took us to the northernmost point of the Inside Passage which on our cruise was Glacier Bay. The scenery along the route includes temperate rainforests, coastal mountains and fjords, glaciers and wildlife. It is said that the best way to view this grandeur of Alaska is by ship and I heartily agree!
Skagway Attractions and Excursions
This historic city which is located at the head of Lynn Canal served as the gateway to the gold fields during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890’s. Although especially touristy in the immediate vicinity of the cruise ship pier, Skagway has a lot to offer when one ventures a few blocks beyond the pier with its seemingly endless jewellery shops. Touristy, however can sometimes be thoroughly enjoyable, as is the case with a visit to the Red Onion Saloon a turn of the century brothel converted to a bar and eatery which serves some tasty bar fare and a variety of Alaska brews.
White Pass and Yukon Rail Excursion
The highlight of a visit to Skagway for most, including myself had to be the train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Rail excursion! A journey that takes one from Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, a small town located on the Klondike Highway in the Yukon Territory. The rail journey of about 110 kilometers is surely one of the most scenic train rides in the world. It is also the experience of the scent of the fresh air, the steep mountainside, the silence of the forest and the feelings stirred when one imagines the prospectors of the Klondike Gold rush on their trek for gold fortunes which makes this tour special.
The Canned Salmon capital of the world is as one would expect a wonderful place to fish and stock up on a variety of canned salmon. Adventure seekers and nature lovers will appreciate Ketchikan for the wildlife viewing opportunities and lush rainforest setting, particularly the sea cliffs and misty fjords of the coastal mountains. This is the place to go kayaking, take a float plane ride through the Misty Fjords, or zip line through the rainforest. Sighting Bald Eagles is a common occurrence, and this is also a great place to join a bear watching tour if visiting during the months of August and September.
Alaska’s state capital is said to be the most attractive city in the state likely because of its waterfront setting between Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau. Juneau can only be reached by boat or plane and a visit is well worth the extra effort. Juneau offers one the opportunity to experience trekking on an ice field and glaciers, whale watching and bear excursions, and a myriad of hiking trails to discover. At the days end you might choose to visit the Alaskan Brewing Company to sample award winning brews of the Last Frontier.
Juneau’s Red Dog Saloon
Another touristy spot which is worth a stop at is the Red Dog Saloon. During our visit a piano player entertained the crowds with some colourful honky-tonk tunes and equally off-colour jokes which are all in good fun. The beverage menu includes a drink called a “Duck Fart”, so fair-warning of what to expect when you step through the swinging doors of the Red Dog saloon! During our visit it was jam-packed, loud and a lot of fun! On the way back to the cruise ship pier we stopped at Tracy’s King Crab Shack for a feast of crab cakes and giant King Crab legs, a meal worth skipping dinner on the cruise ship for.
Glacier Bay National Park
This is the highlight for everyone on an Alaska cruise for the experience of the seeing and experiencing the singular beauty and sound of calving tidewater glaciers. Both will render you speechless. This designated park, wilderness, and world heritage site is the habitat of humpback whales, orcas, brown and black bears, harbour seals, wolves, moose and a multitude of bird species. On our day in Glacier Bay the Alaska Rangers boarded our ship arriving in a small dinghy, using a long ladder to get on board. We were treated to a presentation on Glacier Bay providing a glimpse into the history of this exceptional place and the importance of its preservation for future generations.
Glacier Bay National Park has a distinctive status as a Biosphere Reserve which is defined as an ecosystem with plants and animals of unusual scientific and natural interest. It is a label given by UNESCO to help protect the extraordinary places such as this and to promote the management, research and education in ecosystem conservation. Glacier Bay National Park is an extraordinary place well worth visiting!
Read more about the Ship MS Westerdam and your experience onboard with Holland America as well as many other amazing travel experiences, at merittravel.com/blog/alaska-
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