Alaska wasn’t really on my personal travel radar until one eventful afternoon while discussing a client’s trip with my mom. “I would like to see the Glaciers before they melt!”, says she. So before you could say the words ‘Inside passage’, we were booked on a Mom/Daughter adventure.
We flew into Anchorage, stayed the night and then took the train down to Seward to board our Holland America Ship, the Zaandam. It was a great way to start the trip. We stayed at the Anchorage Hilton which was in a perfect spot for exploring the farmer’s market across the street. To start the trip off right, we went for happy hour at Simon and Seafort’s which has beautiful views of the waterfront. We went during the time of year when it doesn’t get dark until at least midnight, so we forced ourselves to sleep before catching our early train.
The train station is an easy cab ride from any hotel within the downtown area (we saw several others in the area including Captain Cook’s which is another popular pre-cruise hotel). To take advantage of this once in a lifetime experience, we booked the Alaskan Railroad’s Goldstar service. Their motto is “The Best Way to See Alaska is on the Railroad” and I believe it to be true. If you’re a couple or small group (as opposed to a larger family group which can add up fast..) then I HIGHLY recommend taking this class of service. The regular train class is fine and they do have a dome in some of the cars that passengers can rotate through, so you will still have a good experience. On our trek we saw amazing views of glaciers, rivers, eagles and eaglets and a moose!
Upon arriving in Seward, we took advantage of the free Seward shuttle which was the first of several school buses doing summer double duty as shuttle that we saw during this trip. Seward was nothing to write home about, but if it’s a stop on your itinerary, a good place to embark on outdoor adventures.
Despite the rainy afternoon, the HAL employees at the embarkation building were a ray of sunshine that set the standard for the great service we were going to receive all week on the Zaandam. Our inside cabin, 3344, was in the perfect location on the Promenade deck. The self-service laundry was nearby ($2 to wash and $1 to dry) as well as elevators and the guest services area. Highlights of the ship – the smaller size, library stocked with games and books, great photographers and consistently good service throughout all areas of the ship. The activities have stepped up on HAL with their new “On Location” program where they bring your destination on-board to make the experience robust. Our cruise director Michael and his staff were friendly and made everyone a part of the experience. Trivia with Reggie, Chocolate Trivia with Jen (Thanks for the Martini prize!) and the Alaska lectures by Lance made our trip fun and educational.
Now for the destination commentary. Our itinerary included cruising Glacier Bay – one of the BEST places to cruise, Haines Bay (an 80 min ferry ride from Skagway), Juneau and Ketchikan. We also cruised through the inside passage to return to Vancouver. Glacier bay was just amazing. We stopped at Marjorie Glacier for an hour where we saw the glacier calve several times. It’s one of those moments that you don’t appreciate until you experience it. Like the time my sister Cynthia dragged us to the space shuttle launch and we were awed at the power and emotion we witnessed…but I digress.
Juneau was my favorite. It’s a larger port area with fun options like eating King Crab legs at the legendary Tracy’s Crab Shack and grabbing a beer at the historic Red Dog Saloon. However, your MUST DO (yes I yelled that) in Juneau is booking an adventure with Orca Enterprises. (Yelling again) MUST DO! I had read great things about Capt. Larry and Orca, and our experience did not fall short. We literally had a whale of a time! Of course, nature is unscripted, but if there is something to be seen, Capt. Larry will make sure you see it. Not only are their prices competitive, the experience was envied by other people on our cruise who saw our boat while on another provider. Email me if you want more on this experience, I could talk for hours. Click HERE to see all of the pics and videos. All I’m going to say is, if you’re in Juneau and you don’t book with Orca Enterprises to see whales or go on a Mendenhall Glacier tour, or whatever, then don’t tell me that you were there, because I will chastise you. Yes, chastise:-).
Ketchikan, “Alaska’s First City”, had a nice “Northern Exposure” kind of feel. The usual shops and seafood, but the area we chose to explore was the Creek Street area, the previously shady side of the creek. Lots of history and now has cute shops and Dolly’s House Brothel museum. Hey, unscrupulous or not, ,it was a part of the rugged “last frontier”….
Our leisurely cruising day through the Inside Passage was a great way to relax, see some Orca’s and take a mixology class. Pom Drop Martini anyone? Docking early on Sunday morning in Vancouver was perfect for exploring Granville Island and it’s Public Market and shops. It’s about a $15 cab ride from the dock and buses are available as well, though require more walking. Absolutely loved this destination. Any food, flower, fruit, soup, nut, salmon product and did I mention yummy burgers, can be found here. My favorites: Chocolate – ChocolaTas (friendly guys and DEElicious choclates) and the Market Grill (yummy burger and potato wedge fries). Follow that up with a mini NYC style cheesecake from Stuart’s Bakery and you’ve got a day of eating worth exercising off.
A great service that we discovered that made our running around possible was CDS Luggage storage. They will either store your bags at Canada Place for aprox $8 a bag or for $40 they will transport your luggage to the airport for you! It was GREAT! We were able to run around Vancouver, get on the very cheap skytrain to the airport and pick up our bags which they had on a cart for us very quickly and efficiently.
While we hadn’t planned on taking this adventure this summer, we’re really glad we did. Previously Alaska was a destination for a certain age group, but my eyes have been opened. In my opinion, it’s a great destination for families with kids ages 10+, couples that enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and older couples looking to explore the final frontier. And cruising was the perfect way to leisurely see it all.