Number of Cruises: 20
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 26th, 2003
by Doug Eads
North: I have discovered no other destination in our great land of America that affects my sense of beauty, peace, and vastness quite like Alaska. I think of it as the land of no neon a place where moose, elk and wolves roam, and the Alaskan brown bear is the dominate wild predator.
Alaska is a land where the scale is so immense that flying over endless mountain ranges defies your preconceived imagination of what huge formerly meant. Those prior notions of immensity are vacant now they are replaced by a new concept Alaska. The intricacy of how Alaska draws upon one’s soul and beckons relic primal yearnings was reflected best by a favorite poet of the young state:
“... can't you hear the
Wild? it's calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind,
there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go.”
Robert W. Service, Alaska’s favorite poet
Ship: We decided not to try and fix something that works well, so once again we
chose Holland America Cruise Lines. We have formerly sailed the Veendam,
Volendam, and now we selected the Zaandam. Our itinerary would take us
from Vancouver, B.C. round trip. On this Glacial Discovery itinerary we
would explore the state capital of Juneau, lovely Skagway, Ketchikan, and
Glacier Bay National Park.
The Zaandam is a newer Holland America ship built in 2000 at 63, 000 tons. She carries 1440 passengers on 10 decks. The design and space allocation makes it quite easy to find private nooks to relax, and Holland America offers graciously spacious standard cabins. We have tried inside, and outside cabins finding them pleasant and spacious. We have not yet moved into the balcony suites with Holland America but I imagine they please clients. More on this people-pleasing ship in my overview.
Route: Sailing from the city designed by and for water, Vancouver, is a delight. The gleaming translucent blue glass buildings and frayed fingers of land jutting into the inlets alert visitors that this is a scenic metropolis, not one in a metro-bustle of confusion. Majestic looming mountains surround the scene extra days are more than warranted for Vancouver!
Ports of call: Our first port yielded a Juneau in July junket of joy! As you cruise into this small state capital, you are enveloped in lush green velvety mountains glistening with waterfalls small tour seaplanes buzz above, and then Juneau delightfully unfolds. If there were by chance palm trees, the temperate rain forest southeast Alaskan area could pass for Kauai, Hawaii ... well, you might have to add 15 degrees even in summer.
We tried a new outing in Juneau this trip we did a five hour tour which involved the Mendenhall Glacier, the rain forest bouquets of the Glacier Gardens, and the Salmon hatchery. On two previous Juneau visits we had avoided the salmon hatchery ... by the name it sounded mundane. In reality the salmon were running and this was exhilarating!
Salmon are propagated at the hatchery, and released season after season. After thousands of miles of journeys to unknown seas they return mystically to the hatchery. We were there for the almost spiritual return splashing, slashing, and bolting upward over the steel gates of the inclined hatchery, they make their way home. Just as in nature, the salmon come home to breed, deliver eggs, and die. At the hatchery, nature is helped by increased fertilization and breeding standards and salmon populations are supported by this ecological aid. The hatchery helps both salmon populations, and local fishing.
The Mendenhall glacier stop allowed over an hour to tour the visitor’s center, and take modest trails to lookout points. Inspiring, this goliath creeping wonder of ice displays its splendor quite easily with a thunderous waterfall just off to the side. The glacier proudly shows its magnificence in a mirroring tidal basin it is a photographically splendid park.
Glacier Gardens sets up in a rain forest area near the city of Juneau ... and a drizzle can be expected. This mammoth tour through the forest is on golf carts with a guide, and offers a lush groomed setting and a scenic vista. We were pleased with our tour selection, and we were glad to once again be in one of two state capitals you cannot drive to Juneau is one Honolulu the other. Juneau has so much to offer visitors, it may one day be a separate land vacation destination we would strongly consider.
Skagway: This charming small turn-of-the-century looking boardwalk town is just what you expect of a robust pioneer mining town spirit. There is nothing pretensive or theme-park-like about Skagway ... it is the way it was, and is. The year-round population of Skagway is a mere 3500 souls, but in summer with additional employees plus visitors, numbers soar.
Skagway is an indigenous term for windy valley ... and both times we have visited her, she lives up to that reputation. The don't dare miss option for Skagway and all Alaskan towns is of course shopping in the local boutiques, but for an adventure ... the White Pass Railway. The route up the gold-rush heartache trail is one of the world’s most scenic and spectacular.
The narrow gauge tracks climb above the tree line winding over steep gorges, and passing waterfalls and tall trestle bridges ... it is worth two or more rolls of film. With steady nerves you are allowed to stand between train cars for your dramatic photos as the train rounds bends over deep canyons. Your trek takes you into the Yukon and British Columbia area of Canada. You have two tour options ... return by train or take the scenic bus which stops at Liar’s town.
Liar’s town is situated near Skagway and is where the miners camped before heading upward to look for gold. Over 40,000 climbed, many died, over 3000 horses died trying to carry the loads, and in total 30 million dollars were spent by crazed gold-frenzied miners to find nuggets. Gold was found, and 300 or so became rich, but only 10 million dollars of gold was produced ... thus more was spent than found and this defines the gold-craze. It was called Liar’s town because the reporters were too afraid to make the arduous trek, thus they remained in camp creating stories ... and thus fueled the frenzy further. Skagway? ... you will fall in love with her!
Ketchikan: Each visit to this picturesque Alaskan town we have visited the ESPN sponsored Great American Lumberjack Show. Showing off the skills of days gone by, this entertaining competition is a crowd pleaser. With cruise ships in port the show can fill quickly, so on-board booking may be wise.
From pole climbing, to the loud hot-saws, then log-rolling ... the crowd is cheering for their team to win the show. It is quite an Alaskan reality adventure set very near the docks of Ketchikan. After the show you can walk easily to the bridge to see fishermen haul in salmon, then cross over to the lovely and historic Creek Street. This lovely historic row of buildings sits on stilts above the Ketchikan creek, which is brimming with salmon in late June and July. Creek Street is stunningly photographic.
We have, in the past, visited the Totem Park which helps visitors get involved with the life and customs of the indigenous peoples of Alaska. Ketchikan is nick-named Alaska’s rain capital, but we have always had good luck in that regards. It is a lovely town situated in a memorable mountain and water surrounded location. We have found no location in Alaska other than inviting!
Glacier Bay: John Muir, American naturalist gave these words after his first visit to Glacier Bay in the 1800’s “This is my first view of such solitude, and magnificence, such ice and snow newborn ... mysterious, yet wonderful.” he wrote. We have remarked many times after a visit to Glacier Bay National Park ... “It is like stepping into outer space it is away from humanity completely”. There is the deep blue ice, which often fractures and thunders into the currents, and your ship will be surrounded by icebergs aplenty.
There are seals, and whales en-route ... both its simplicity and complexity are spiritual. Our day was especially lucky this year, for it was perhaps a warm 50 degrees and a glorious abundant blue sky. The ranger which boarded for the day said there are perhaps only 25 days per year this wonderful at Glacier Bay ... thus it was special and serene.
Overview: Our ship, the Zaandam, offered excellent five star dining, and the specialty restaurant The Pinnacle Grill offered world-class fare and presentation deluxe. This extra fee dining facility is really worth that special treat above and beyond what you might expect. Zaandam’s entertainment had excellent and engaging acts from a polished crew cast, to magicians, musicians and a popular comedian.
Our only suggestion for Zaandam and perhaps other ships in this group would be to add some prints or other art to the cabin bedroom area. The spacious standard cabins have bathtubs and showers, sitting area, bedroom area and are quite above norms for cruise ship space ... just a touch more color and art would be welcomed in the cabins, which Holland American could easily arrange.
See your favorite travel agent for advice, and always ask for cabin upgrades and discounts it’s your money! For Alaska, plan months ahead and remember, Alaska is more than a state, it is a state of mind a region best left unexploited and retained for its wildness and splendor. It is still your frontier, your past, and a respite for our future generations.
Alaska need not be more expensive than a Florida vacation with theme parks, and the weather is compellingly inviting during hot summer months.
You may not yet have traveled to Alaska, but one day you will go ... Or, you may have been, thus you hear her calling for your return Alaska is a rite of passage in life that beckons you it is your call of the wild.