Image caption: Mark Bailey on an Alaska cruise
Earlier this year, Canada Advocate Mark embarked on an unforgettable cruise to Alaska with Holland America Line. In this Q&A blog, we find out more about his experience cruising to the Last Frontier, what he enjoyed most, and his top tips for other travellers.
What were the highlights of your Alaska cruise?
Where to start? The never-to-be-forgotten experience of watching huge glaciers crash into the sea just metres away from the ship. Eagles soaring over an untouched wilderness of snow-capped peaks. Orcas, humpback whales, and porpoises were “performing” right in front of our balcony as the sun went down. The sadness of seeing salmon die having spawned in Ketchikan Creek. Lumberjacks putting on an action-packed show which you just WOOD not believe! Plus meeting new friends from around the world as we danced the night away. Go and see for yourself because my words alone cannot truly describe what an assault on the senses an Alaskan Cruise truly is.
What excursions did you go on?
So many to choose from! Here were some of our favourites –
Juneau was our first port of call, and we decided to do our own excursion here. A berth secured for MS Koningsdam right in the heart of this captivating town provided the ideal launchpad for a DIY walk around fascinating streets of American heritage and alongside fast-flowing creeks.
TOP TIP: Hang fire on booking in advance the “Goldbelt Tram” (Cable Car). Instead, see what the weather is like and book if it’s good when you get there.
Skagway – Best Of Skagway: Rail, Salmon Bake & Saloon
A must-do excursion and one that quickly sells out! We took a motor coach along the Klondike Highway, passing the Tormented Valley and spectacular Pitchfork Waterfall. Keep your eyes peeled for brown bears – we saw one. On arrival in Fraser, British Columbia, stretch your legs near the mirror lake before boarding a vintage railcar on the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Railroad back to Skagway. The scenery was incredible as our knowledgeable tour guide shared the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. Next up is the Liarsville Gold Rush Camp & Salmon Bake. Delicious grilled Alaskan salmon proved to be the perfect lunch ahead of a humorous melodrama of years gone by, plus the chance to pan for gold and make a million! The trip finished with a visit to the infamous Red Onion Saloon and brothel – a glass of champagne, the perfect toast to celebrate a never-to-be-forgotten day.
TOP TIP: Don’t forget to take your Passport!
Ketchikan – Saxman Native Village, Dance Performance & Totem Park plus Lumberjack show
A short transfer from the ship to the Saxman Native Village and a chance to see first-hand the amazing culture of Alaska’s Native Americans. A troupe of dancers entertained our enthusiastic group and there was even a chance to strut your stuff for those brave enough. Don’t forget to check out the amazing Totem Poles and if you’re lucky enough as we were, you might even bump into the famous Tlingit carver Nathan Jackson – a true gentleman and living legend. But that wasn’t the end of this action-packed afternoon excursion as we headed to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, just a short walking distance from the Koningsdam pier berth. The concept was simple. World-class lumberjacks compete in two teams. The divided audience shout and cheer as “their” ‘jacks throw axes, speed climb 50 foot poles, chop logs in double quick time and even log roll over a deep pool of water, where there was only one dry winner. It’s a fun event for all ages and one not to miss. Good value, a must book.
TOP TIP: Whoop and cheer loudly to win an amazing prize!
Did you spot any wildlife?
Seals basking on icebergs gently floating by. Sea otters “waving” at every turn. Brown and black bears prowling down mountain sides. Elk running through forests. And then the never to be forgotten experience when entering the Inside Passage as a pod of orcas chased a shoal of porpoises whilst humpback whales breached in the distance. Wow, just wow.
TOP TIP: Patience is a virtue. Keep watching and you will be rewarded and don’t forget to have your camera ready at hand.
What was the onboard experience like with Holland America Line?
Having been on a few cruises, I’d have to say that Holland America for me and in particular the MS Koningsdam was right up there. Excellent state room with balcony. Restaurants which excelled at every meal – the Tamarind high up on Deck 10 with superb views was a standout in terms of creative Asian cuisine. Brilliant music themed bars with B.B King’s Blues Club a favourite place for us. Staff in ALL departments could not do enough to make sure all guests had a memorable cruise. The only slight disappointment? Well, the World Stage acts were good, but not standout and the days at sea entertainment programme lacked real depth and interest IMHO. A small downside for what was overall a truly unforgettable experience. A bucket list trip well and truly ticked off thanks to Holland America and the excellent pre-advice given when booking by our Canadian Affair Travel Consultant.
What advice would you give to someone else looking at cruising Alaska with Holland America Line?
Book your excursions early. Many of the popular trips were sold out quickly and we met a few people who didn’t get their first choice. Download the Holland America App – a great way to have all your cruise information and itinerary available at all times. The App can also be used before you board to book any of the specialist restaurants, which are very popular. Use the experience of a Canadian Affair Travel Consultant to guide you on the most suitable choice of cabins and suggest additional options. Taking a package including wifi, drinks, credits for excursions and restaurants proved great advice (thank you) and saved our budget no end. A very happy Yorkshireman!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Holland America is perhaps a little bit more expensive than some alternative cruise lines. But in life you get what you pay for as highlighted in this one small example. At every port the MS Koningsdam always got the premier berthing spot. Other ships that “followed” us into ports were often a considerable distance away from the centre of the action. We found ourselves smugly smiling to ourselves as we sipped cocktails whilst watching snaking groups of people either having to walk a long way or board a tender. The only other thing I would add is why are you waiting to book? Call Canadian Affair today!
Want to follow in Mark’s footsteps and experience the spectacular scenery, wildlife and towns of Alaska yourself? Head over to our Holland America Line page to explore our wide range of Alaska cruise holidays and get in touch if you’d like to request a quote.