Mary’s Alaska Cruisetour with Holland America
By Mary Curtis, Travel Consultant at The Travel Connection
Cruising on Holland America was a great experience. We flew into Canada and part of what Holland offered was to transport the luggage from the airport to the cabin without us even having to claim or handle our luggage at all. That was great. We arrived around 9:30 am and arrived at the cruise ship by 10:30 am – our cabins were immediately available – we didn’t have to wander around the ship first. Very quick turnaround on those cabins. The Holland America cabins were definitely larger than other cruise cabins I’ve stayed in. The bathroom was actually a bathroom complete with a tub. All ages of passengers were on board – not one age category as I had originally believed.
Children, young adults, middle age people as well as an older crowd. This was just a short 3 day cruise that would connect us in Skagway for an additional 7 days of touring on land, through the Yukon Territory where we traced the steps of the 1898 gold rush to Dawson City.
We rode the restored antique train from Skagway to White Pass where we boarded a luxury motorcoach and proceeded on to Whitehorse for the night. All of the towns we visited through Canada and northern Alaska were all very small, one or two hotels and just a few eating establishments. Therefore, the accommodations were not 5 star. The rooms were clean and tidy and probably 3 to 3 1/2 star. (except Anchorage). All the time we were traveling on the motorcoach our guide/driver was telling us all about the gold rush and what happened each step of the way. He pointed out animals – he spotted a moose and her two babies. He had recently been studying about the ice age and how it affected this part of the world. He was very knowledgeable and made the trip MUCH more interesting. A great tour guide can really make your trip.
Once we were in Dawson City, we had the opportunity to participate in a “Toast at the Dome” trip. This is a high point above the city with 360 degree views. Spectacular. We ran across a family of black foxes on the way which was great.
The next day we went out to an active gold mine and took our turn at panning gold. Our guide helped us locate a few specks of gold – she’s got much better eyesight than me! We learned about the prehistoric animals constantly being unearthed through their water cannon blasting process. They are running across woolly mammoth tusks which the miners get to keep.
We flew between Dawson City and Fairbanks, Alaska. We arrived in less than two hours which is a huge improvement in the 14 hour road trip they’ve used in the past. Passengers get to spend more time in the destination towns rather than on the road in 2014. The view from the sky was beautiful, too. We flew over the high mountains and spotted the winding Tanana River as it entered into the Fairbanks area. Denali National Park was our next stop and that was amazing. So many things are offered there in the way of touring. There are flight seeing tours over Denali, river rafting in the Nenana River as well as bus tours into the Park. Individuals no longer drive into the park. You must ride into the park on one of the approved tour buses. Make sure you get on the Tundra Wilderness tour that enters 62 miles into the park. This is the best way to make sure you see the wildlife. We saw a lynx (extremely rare to see one), moose with calves, at least 9 grizzly bears, caribou and dall sheep, eagles and their prey, ground squirrels, horseshoe rabbits. Rides into the park are also offered but there is NO tour guide no be careful of those lower prices options. On the day we took this trip, we were treated to a nearly full view of Denali itself. We were told only about 20 – 30% of the visitors get to see Denali at all and only 15% will ever see the mountain completely unobscured.
We traveled by train between Denali and Anchorage which is very relaxing. Food is offered onboard in a beautiful dining area on the first level of our domed car. The food was great and we were able to take advantage of yet another experienced tour guide who pointed out points of interest along the way. Denali was on our left and again we were blessed to have magnificent view of the mountain in every viewing point along the way.
Cruises and cruisetours to Alaska operate May-September. Fall foliage in Alaska starts in two weeks and its a great time to see the animals – moose in Denali, etc. before the winter hits. You may even have a chance to see the Northern Lights as the nights start to get longer. Regardless of when you go, a cruisetour offers the best of Alaska!