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Alaska: The Ideal Destination for Everyone — Four Cruise Perspectives

As the Alaska cruise season comes to an end, Holland America Line’s guests reflect on their journeys to “The Last Frontier.” From multigenerational family bonding to scenic solo cruising, plenty of travelers agreed that a trip to Alaska is an unforgettable experience.

The company is the recognized leader in Alaska travel, celebrating 68 years exploring the state in 2015. Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time cruiser, or even if this is your first cruise with Holland America Line, travelers have been touring the “Great Land” with Holland America Line since 1947 and cruising the famous Inside Passage, Glacier Bay, Tracy Arm and throughout Alaskan waters since 1975.

There is something for everyone on an Alaska cruise. Enthusiastic mariners are the driving force behind this type of tourism, and guests like these make every journey a memorable one. As the season wraps up take a look at a four unique experiences from 2014 Alaska summer cruises!

GRANDPARENTS AND TWIN TWEENS

Linda and Don Bair decided to take a cruise to Alaska with their twin granddaughters, who are first-time cruisers. It was a fabulous opportunity for family bonding.

The Bair family cuddles up to sled pups.

The Bair family cuddles up to sled pups.

Linda wrote:

Thank you Holland America for creating a magnificent memory for us with our 13-year old twin granddaughters! We wanted to spend one-on-one time with these wonderful girls and because my husband and I had cruised to Alaska in the past — Statendam (1999), Veendam (2003) and the Volendam (2005) — we knew that an Alaska cruise would be just perfect for us to share together.

BairCollage

The girls had never been on a cruise ship before and absolutely loved the Zuiderdam!

They were thrilled with their signature suite (next door to ours). We always appreciate the excellent shore excursions HAL offers when we cruise with you — we took the girls on the Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier boat, the musher’s camp and sled dog experience in Skagway (they loved holding the puppies), we flew over the Misty Fjords in a floatplane, and we stomped our feet and cheered at the lumberjack show in Ketchikan. We saw glaciers calve in Glacier Bay (caught it on camera – yay) and we introduced the girls to our favorite restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill.

“We think every grandparent should take their grandchildren on a Holland America cruise!” — Linda and Don Bair

THE SOLO SIGHTSEER

Travel writer Richard Varr, of the blog varrtravel.wordpress.com, cruised as a guest of Holland America Line and had the opportunity to see Alaska from air, rail and sea with a 12-day Land+Sea Journey.

Land+Sea Journeys offer the chance to see Alaska by air, rail and ship. Photos by Richard Varr.

Land+Sea Journeys offer the chance to see Alaska by air, rail and ship. Photos by Richard Varr.

Alaska by Air, Rail and Cruise Ship
We had arrived in Glacier Bay National Park passing several glaciers until stopping for a couple of hours to behold the massive Marjorie Glacier – a tidewater glacier with bits of its leading edge cracking off the ice mass and plunging into the bay. The day before in Skagway, I took a shore excursion to the Meade Glacier by helicopter, and then hiked the 900-foot-deep glacier with studded ice boots and a walking pole. What I found most interesting there were the many fissures called moulins – deep holes in the glacial floor exposing blue ice. And I dared not get to close!

Alaska’s sharp mountain peaks, gushing streams and deep valleys give new meaning to train travel. The clear-glass domes of Holland America Line’s McKinley Explorer offer wide-ranging views of the rugged wilderness all around us. The train chugs through the countryside from ocean-side Seward to the high mountains of Denali National Park. I got on in Anchorage for the six hour trip to Denali, paralleling rivers and passing over the 914-foot long bridge over Hurricane Gulch that drops nearly 300 feet.

What I thought was an even more dramatic ride was the White Pass and Yukon Route train, a shore excursion out of Skagway. This train ride, just under two hours, leads one way from Skagway to Fraser, British Columbia (or reverse), with motor coaches taking passengers on the return trip. This ride reaches more than 2,800 feet and parallels the South Klondike Highway along the Coast Mountains and the Tongass National Forest, dropping deep into the valley. It ends (or starts) at sea level in Skagway.

Adventure and beauty can be found all over Alaska. Photos by Richard Varr.

Adventure and beauty can be found all over Alaska. Photos by Richard Varr.

Sunbeams shot through the plane window, reflected from the snow covered mountain peaks of Denali National Park. I was in a small, twin engine 12-seater flying over Denali’s craggy terrain with the goal of seeing the mountain – Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest. The question was, would we see it through the clouds or would it be lost in a white mist?

I was mesmerized by the views below – jagged mountain peaks and mountainsides, some draped in snow maybe 30 feet or more deep, and views of the elongated Eldridge Glacier on the valley floor. The glacier looks like a two-lane superhighway from our vantage point. All of a sudden, our pilot yells, “there it is!” We see Mount McKinley – just the tip of the taller, snow covered South Peak – shooting out above the clouds.

The above is an excerpt of Varr’s experience in Alaska. For the full text visit Richard Varr’s Travel blog.

THE FAMILY CELEBRATION

The Tham family also had a fabulous time on their Alaska cruise. Patrick Tham said Holland America Line was the perfect option for an important celebration. The family vacation marked their mother’s 75th and father’s 80th birthdays, and the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Patrick (second from right) takes a selfie with his brother, parents and partner on a family cruise in Alaska.

Patrick (second from right) takes a selfie with his brother, parents and partner on a family cruise in Alaska.

“A family getaway celebration isn’t always easy to coordinate. With differing needs and interests, trying to please everyone often ends up being stressful and sometimes even seemingly pointless. But our recent 7-Day Vancouver Roundtrip Alaska Cruise on the Zuiderdam probably got as close to what we were looking for. Even with Dad’s early stage Alzheimer and need for constant companionship, we all managed to enjoy moments of good times together and apart on the ship. For the Tham family, cruising has what I consider to be the Five F’s for a fantastic vacation: facilities, food, fitness, fun and friendliness!” said Patrick.

Facilities
The convenience, pampering and value one gets on a cruise isn’t something one can easily find in another vacation package.

Food
Not only was the quality of food either good or great, the choices and options available satisfied the varying preferences of the Thams. It’s not often we’re served elaborate 4-course meals at a table that’s reserved just for us and always dressed up with crisp linen, fine china and sparkling silverware. One of the highlights of our food experience was being treated by Holland America to dine at Canaletto. The platters were generously sized and made the sharing of an amazing assortment of appetizers, pastas and entrees both satisfying and satiating.

The Tham family enjoyed great food and friendly service as Mr. and Mrs. Tham celebrated their Golden Anniversary.

The Tham family enjoyed great food and friendly service as Mr. and Mrs. Tham celebrated their Golden Anniversary.

Fitness
On the days my brother Andrew “double-entreed,” he went to the gym twice. I signed up for three sessions of yoga and before each class, I warmed up on the elliptical or treadmill then hit the weights. My partner Norm and our parents preferred exercising outdoors, and enjoyed the 1/3 mile track along the Promenade Deck for walking instead. As they say, “Calories in, calories out!” and speaking only for myself, my clothes still fit me the same before and after the cruise. At Juneau and Skagway, we took shorter and more accessible walks with Mum and Dad. On our own in Ketchikan, we walked longer to explore different sections of the city while Mum and Dad enjoyed a quiet day on the ship.

Fun
Having fun is about enjoying the familiar but also about finding joy in new experiences. Ending every evening with piano music and singalong with Jim Fischer somehow made each day more special. While the cruise by Glacier Bay was spectacular, the Park Ranger and Cultural presentations gave us perspective and made our day at the Bay more complete and meaningful. Having passengers perform on that same stage as “Dancing With the Stars: at Sea” competitors made the experience at the venue more participatory. Yours truly took a Cha Cha DWTS@Sea “lesson” with a fellow Piano Bar fan. Mum and Dad were present at both the lesson and show. My take is that they were both amused and entertained, and having fun while at it! 🙂

Friendliness
Our cabin stewards always remembered our names, every crew member was helpful in response to questions or requests and many passengers acknowledged each other with hellos and smiles. At Mum and Dad’s birthdays and anniversary dinner, our waiters were exuberant in the execution of their celebration song. At the Piano Bar, the waiters and regulars would greet Norm and me by name. Even at the medical centre, the doctor made my Mum smile by claiming “Asian ladies live the longest, you know.” Our cruise may have ended but through my Facebook posts and pictures (and this article!), I hope to help Dad and all of us remember the wonderful time we had together.

THE CRUISING COUPLE

Michael and Karen McNerney enjoyed their getaway onboard ms Westerdam. He shared sentiments, some spectacular photography and a great appreciation for the gentlemen who help make a Holland America Line vacation that much more relaxing.

In Glacier Bay National Park, ms Oosterdam cruises towards the Marjorie Glacier. Photo by Michael McNerney.

In Glacier Bay National Park, ms Oosterdam cruises towards the Marjorie Glacier. Photo by Michael McNerney.

We had a great cruise up to Alaska onboard the ms Westerdam. Our cruise began on the 23rd of August 2014, and we enjoyed the quiet time of our voyage over the ocean before we made port.

Holland America Line team members Rizi and Ari made the fabulous cruise even better! Photo by Michael McNerney.

Holland America Line team members Rizi and Ari made the fabulous cruise even better! Photo by Michael McNerney.

Kudo’s to both of our Cabin Stewards who made this trip enjoyable and they should be recognized for the attentiveness and professionalism while we were on this particular voyage. They made us feel like family! We enjoyed their company and I like how Ari’s “little brother” followed him around all the time.

Saxman Totem Park, Ketchikan, Alaska. Photo by Michael McNerney.

Saxman Totem Park, Ketchikan, Alaska. Photo by Michael McNerney.

Westerdam glows at Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Michael McNerney.

Westerdam glows at Vancouver, British Columbia. Photo by Michael McNerney.

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Summer has come to an end and the temperatures are dropping in the northernmost United State, which means, for now, Holland America Line ships will disperse to travel other regions of the globe. But it’s not too early to begin thinking about next year’s cruise! Ships will return to Alaska in May 2015.

Insiders know that booking early is a great way to get extra perks that make your cruise that much more enjoyable. Book the line’s popular Explroe4 promotion which ends soon – Oct. 31 – to receive a free dinner in the Bair’s favorite restaurant – The Pinnacle Grill; free or reduced cruise fares for 3rd and 4th guests; reduced deposits and more!

Do you have a story to tell of fabulous photos from your Holland America Line visit to Alaska? Let us know in the comments below!
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If you’re taking an Alaska cruise the shore excursions, including the sled dog experience and flightseeing, can be pre-booked so you get the adventure of your choice.

5 Comments
  • Astrid Simola

    Apparently I need 12 Cruise Day credits from reaching 3-Star Mariner level.
    I feel that this will only be accomplished if I get another to share a cabin with me.
    I have travelled many times with HAL, alone, costing me what it costs for 2 people.
    Sorry, but this is just something I cannot continue to do, why – TOO EXPENSIVE.
    I did put a $100.00 deposit, however guess that is no longer valid.
    Sincerely yours.

  • Marjorie Tennyson

    I have been to Alaska twice , the first time was a 70 Th. birthday for my Mother with the family, and was my first cruise. The second was last May with my other half and it was his first time. I was impressed with all the changes after eleven years
    Now we are going on our dream cruise January 2015 can you guess where ? I love traveling with HAL

  • Shirley Huckins

    LOVE Holland America. No matter the ship or location – always best staff, food, entertainment, and whatever.

  • Raie Brookes

    We did the Yukon train trip, just brilliant. Also the sea plane out of Ketchikan flying above the fiords and even landing in a beautiful lake being able to stand on the pontoons and soak in the silence and the beauty. The most difficult job on our Holland America cruise was how to choose from all on offer, wether it be excursions, dining options entertainment. Just amazing. This was our first cruise and loved it. Our next will be to the Pacific Islands out of Sydney. Cant wait but must. Raie and Ian Brookes

  • Edgar

    This pictures are very wonderfully shot and glad that you shared it with us..we are planning to visit this country for holiday..

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