It has been a few years since our last cruise to Alaska and we decided this was the year to once again cruise the northlands.
We flew to Vancouver the day before our cruise departure. We always do this in case there is a flight delay. We spent the night in a very nice hotel in downtown Vancouver. It had been awhile years since my last visit to this beautiful city and I was surprised at the growth. There were many newer high-rise buildings and more people. But overall, the city remains dramatic, clean and friendly.
The next morning, we had some time available to do a little sightseeing before taking a taxi to the pier to board our ship.
We discovered there was a hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus that stopped by the hotel, and it ran every 20 minutes. We purchased tickets from the hotel concierge desk and soon a double decker bus came along and we hopped aboard.
The round trip takes almost two hours and covers all of the downtown area including the main streets, China Town and several parks, including Stanly Park and the famed Gas Town.
When the bus returned us to our hotel we rounded up our luggage and took a cab to Canada Place, the dock where we found our magnificent ship, Holland America Lines’ Zuiderdam. The ship is 82,000 Gross Ton and 950-feet long. It looked polished and ready for our Alaska cruise.
The boarding process was the easiest we have yet experienced and I have to say that Holland America Line has really perfected this experience.
After boarding we took our hand-carry items to our stateroom and took an elevator to the cafeteria for lunch. After this we headed once again to our stateroom to find our luggage had arrived. We unpacked and moved into our room within 30 minutes. Our room was of generous size, with large beds, dressing table/desk, couch, coffee table, flat screen TV and large closets with drawers and a personal safe. The bathroom was very well laid out, with plenty of room to store personal items. It had a shower over bathtub and complementary items just like a four-star hotel on land: shampoo, conditioner, and assorted creams and soap.
The outside wall had a sliding glass door from ceiling to floor, which allowed us to step onto our private balcony, which was equipped with two nice wicker chairs and table. We have traveled with Holland America Lines several times in the past and find this cruise line to be superior in all areas such as accommodation, cuisine, entertainment, on-board activities, with a very friendly staff and crew. The Zuiderdam is one of their Vista Class ships and has everything you could desire in premium cruising.
At 3:30 p.m. all passengers were requested to assemble at their emergency drill positions on Deck Three for a talk on how to use your life jacket and what to do in case of an emergency. This was very detailed and passengers felt secure in the knowledge they were given by the officers and crew.
At 4 p.m. the ship’s whistle blew three times and we began to back out of our docking position, turning to the north and cruised out of Vancouver Bay into the beautiful British Columbia sheltered waters passing by the mainland on one side of the ship and dozens of islands on the other. Already we were sailing past tall pines and rugged mountains. We witnessed all this from the comfort of our balcony.
At 5:45 p.m. it was time to head to the dining room for our first sitting dinner. When one checks in at the pier each passenger is given a cruise card with your name and what meal sitting you are assigned to along with your table number and this is also your room key. It’s that easy! We were escorted to our fine table for two where we met our waiter and bus boy, given menus and we ordered our first meal aboard Zuiderdam. It was perfect. I ordered prime rib and Norma requested salmon.
The food is superior to most restaurants ashore. The only problem is not eating too much and gaining weight.
The next day was spent at sea during which time we acquainted ourselves with the ship and all of its offerings, the many public rooms, lounges and handsome theatre which seats more than 1,200 guests. The entertainment that is offered each night in the theatre is presented at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. in order for all guests to be able to view the wonderful shows. When the week was over both Norma and I felt that the Zuiderdam shows were the best we had yet seen at sea. They were very professional, well written, choreographed, and performed. The audience gave the performers standing ovations each night.
The morning of the second day we cruised into Juneau, capital of Alaska. After docking, we boarded a complementary bus to take us the short distance into town. We saw government buildings along with shops of various types. Very near the ship was a tram, which took us to the top of the mountain in back of the town in order to get a view of the entire area from 7,000 feet. Juneau has a population of some 40,000 residents. Several interesting sightseeing tours are available here, including flights over several glaciers including the Mendenhall and Taku as well as aerial tours around the entire area. This is great if you are a photographer. You can also dog sled, go fishing, go kayaking, do some whale watching, visit wildlife areas and much more.
The next day we awoke as the Zuiderdam docked in Skagway. This is a small town that has quite a lot of history dating back to the famed Gold Rush of 1898. Word got out in 1897 that men were finding a lot of gold in the Yukon and to enter the mining area you had to take a ship from Vancouver to Skagway then board the White Pass and Yukon Railroad to the Yukon Territory. In the earliest days of the “rush” men had to use packhorses to get to the Yukon, traversing up the high mountains through the Chilkoot Pass. The railroad was built in just two years; creating a much easier passage to the gold.
Today, cruise ship passengers can take the train up the high mountain range to the Yukon border where it turns around to return to Skagway. The scenery is breathtaking. At one point you can still see the “trail of ‘98” where the packhorses climbed the high mountains to Whitehorse in the Yukon. The rail cars still have potbelly stoves to keep passengers warm on cold days.
We took the rail trip knowing the scenery would be spectacular. This takes several hours in the afternoon.
Other sightseeing tours available included a glacier discovery by helicopter, Chilkoot Trail hike and float trip, Klondike summit and salmon bake, and gold dredging. One passenger I ran into showed me quite a lot of nuggets he had dredged on this tour. There are also other interesting tours available here.
Cruising the Inside Passage during most of this Alaskan cruise you really aren’t aware that you are at sea. It is like being on a lake with amazing scenery almost all the time.
Our forth day was spent entirely in Glacier Bay. Not every cruise ship can enter this National Park but, Holland America Lines has been offering summer cruises to Alaska for many, many years and their ships are allowed to cruise in this very scenic bay.
The ship is guided close to the glacier face to allow an up-close view of the tall ice entering the bay. Sometimes it breaks off and falls into the sea. The Zuiderdam moved very slowly this day, permitting all passengers to witness the wonders of Glacier Bay.
Day five was spent in Ketchikan. This is mainly a fishing town with many boats used during the summers to catch salmon, crab and more for our dining pleasure. Shore tours offered to passengers here included kayaking, rainforest zipline expeditions, back country Jeep and canoe safaris, Alaskan wilderness survival tours that teach skills, Bering Sea crab fisherman’s tour, Totem State Park, salmon fishing and still more.
Day number six was cruising back to Vancouver through the Inside Passage. We spent most of the day sitting comfortably on our balcony. As we awoke the last morning we were docking again at Canada Place and following breakfast we left the ship, collected our bags, and caught a taxi to Hertz to rent a car for a week to tour the Canadian Rockies. We will share some of those experiences with you in my column next week.
We wish to thank the officers and crew of Holland America Lines Zuiderdam for making our cruise so enjoyable and without fault. Thank you all for your smiles, wonderful food, entertainment and great service.