By Greg ARAGON
Summer is here and it is a good time to plan a cruise to Alaska for a chance to encounter sights no other cruise destination can offer. Where else can one see humpback whales splash beneath a stateroom balcony, or glaciers drift past a dinner window? Where can one sit by the pool and watch float planes and eagles soar above, or bears frolic on the shores of virgin forest, or dine at an all-you-can-eat midnight buffet?
So if a cruise to the Great Outdoors sounds interesting, then now is the time to act because ships are filling fast and deals are aplenty. The Alaskan cruise season runs from May through early September, with scores of different ships serving the region.
A popular line in the area is Holland America, which offers a variety of exciting routes and ports of call, including Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, the Inside Passage, Haines, Seward and more. The line features a more adult atmosphere than a Carnival-type ship, with more passenger space, less crowds, and onboard lectures by expert naturalists and scientists. They also offer the popular “Club Hal” for kids, numerous land excursions and land tour add-ons.
One of my most memorable Holland America Alaskan cruises took place last year aboard the MS Statendam. Dubbed “Glacier Discovery,” the seven-day expedition began on a Friday night, when the 720-ft. Statendam pulled anchor and sailed out of the harbor in Seward, guided by tug boats and the eternal light of Alaska’s summer sun.
To celebrate the start of the trip, I joined other passengers for appetizers, drinks and live jazz in the elegant Crow’s Nest bar. From this impressive, 12th floor vantage point, we peered out a wall of windows into a rugged landscape dominated by tiny islands and snow-peaked mountains.
In the morning, I stepped onto my cabin’s balcony and found a wild world of untamed forests and white-capped peaks drifting past almost close enough to touch. I then had a smoked salmon breakfast in the Lido Restaurant and prepared for an afternoon encounter with Hubbard Glacier.
Stretching 76 miles from Mount Logan in the Yukon to Yakutat Bay and Disenchantment Bay, Hubbard Glacier is a spectacular sight to behold – especially by boat. The Statendam pulled beside the ice monster and a park ranger/glacier expert boarded and gave a lecture from the bridge.
While the ship idled a couple of hundred yards from the glacier, passengers congregated on the outside decks, where every spot afforded a great view. I took in most of the scenery from my private balcony, where I watched a sea of blue and white ice pieces float beside the ship, and listened to the thunderous crash of chunks the size of buildings fall from Hubbard’s six-mile-long glacial face.
As the Statendam left Yakutat Bay, I dined at the two-story Rotterdam dining room. Here, with Alaska’s never-ending wilderness drifting past the restaurant’s many windows, I enjoyed Alaskan bouillabaisse, steak and lobster. At 9 a.m., the ship dropped anchor at Icy Strait Point, where I enjoyed a coastal hike and walked to the Tlingit Indian town of Hoonah where I saw scores of bald eagles, resting in pine trees.
Our next stop was the 100-year-old Alaskan gold rush town of Skagway where I hiked along the legendary 33-mile long Chilkoot Trail; and then a stop in Juneau, which was founded in 1880, around the discovery of ore in Gold Creek, and sits at the top of the Inside Passage. Here I took a Holland America helicopter and dog sledding excursion into glacier country.
For more info on taking a summer cruise to Alaska, contact Holland America at (877) SAIL HAL or visit hollandamerica.com.
Greg Aragon is a travel writer from Glendale. For the past 12 years he has authored “Greg’s Getaway,” a popular travel column which has taken him to more than a 21 countries in search of exciting destinations, people, food, drink and culture. You can follow more of Greg’s travels at Travelingboy.com.