Alaska Journey on the MS Westerdam – Part Two
Part Two – if you haven’t read Part One, we encourage you to! It explains the Holland America cruise vessel, MS Westerdam, which Chistina was aboard for this Alaska cruise itinerary.
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. This itinerary was also ideal for us for the ease and convenience of being able to embark and disembark the ship in our hometown. No flights required! I reserved a seven-night Alaska cruise with Holland America.
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.
Rewarding activities away from the downtown core include hiking the local trails or, time permitting, the Chilkoot Trail. Oher options include navigating the fjords of Lynn Canal on a rafting tour, and the exhilarating adventure of placing ones’ footsteps on a glacier. Harding and Denver Glacier can both be seen from town, and excursions to Laughton Glacier which involve a few miles of hiking can fit into a day’s visit.
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.
Our tour included stops at Emerald Lake, Lake Tagish and the town of Carcross whose quaint General Store offers for sale what just may be the tastiest ice cream cone in North America, served in an Alaska-sized portion. We also enjoyed a stopover at the Husky Homestead, home of four-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King where we took advantage of the opportunity to cuddle several puppies and meet the champion sled dogs. We were served a hearty lunch which fueled us for the journey back home. It was on this excursion that we sighted a beautiful Grizzly Bear sauntering lazily along the highway’s edge.
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.
History and culture buffs will enjoy exploring the totem pole displays at the Saxman Native Village, and Totem Park. The active at heart will thrill at the opportunities to kayak or canoe and explore the back country by jeep or on a zip line. The Alaska Raptor Center is a must for those who have thing for birds and the opportunity of an up-close encounter with a bird of prey which when I visited included an American Bald Eagle and a Great Horned Owl. Donations towards the rehabilitation of these beautiful birds are gratefully accepted. Don’t miss The General Store which is well stocked with Alaska treats. We came home with a healthy supply of smoked salmon, blueberry and huckleberry jam.
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.
Like Skagway there seems to be an overabundance of jewellery shops and shops selling kitschy touristy paraphernalia but if you take a walk through town you’ll discover a maze of narrow interesting streets with a jumble of shops and buildings whose architecture dates back to the early 1900s. Head up Franklin street to visit the Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church which was built in 1893 and is the oldest such church in Alaska. It is an interesting place to visit whether for spiritual or simply historic interest.
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!
Enjoyed Part Two? Read Part One to learn more about the Ship MS Westerdam and your experience onboard with Holland America. Ready to take an Alaskan Cruise adventure? We’re ready to help every step of the way! Find your next brilliant cruise experience with our expert cruise team, to Alaska or elsewhere!
July 5, 2018