June 18, 2024

Celebrating Alaska

The teak promenade deck on Zaandam was never crowded.

Holland America Line recently celebrated a milestone anniversary of 150 years in service and 50 years of cruising to Alaska. Founded in the Netherlands and now headquartered in Seattle, the company operated transatlantic service between Rotterdam and New York long before their fleet of blue-hulled ships became a dominant presence in Alaska.

Our ship follows Grand Princess through Blackney Passage.

I too am celebrating an anniversary of sorts. My guidebook to Alaska was first launched 30 years ago and is currently in its 10th edition. To celebrate the book’s enduring success, I decided to take a somewhat nostalgic cruise to Alaska aboard the Zaandam. Entering service in May of 2000, this is a spacious, mid-sized ship carrying 1,400 passengers. Like all HAL ships, which are run by Dutch officers, the Zaandam boasts a wrap-around promenade deck, its teak surface perfect for walking and pausing at the rail to enjoy the sea views.

Zaandam docked in Skagway at the head of a beautiful fjord.

In keeping with my first cruise to Alaska, when verandah staterooms were just starting to be a standard feature on ships, my husband and I opted for an ocean view stateroom on the ship’s main deck. As much as I’ve become used to having a private verandah onto which I can step to view the scenery and breathe in the fresh air, there were advantages to enjoying the voyage from a window positioned closer to the water. We kept the curtains open and, without getting out of bed, could look outside at the sea and sky any time of day or night. In the evening the northern twilight would cast a pastel glow onto the clouds outside our window and the easy motion of the ship was accompanied by the soothing sound of water brushing against the hull.

A passenger gazes at Marjerie Glacier from one of Zaandam‘s viewing decks.

The familiar fjords and snow-clad mountains of the Inside Passage are always a welcome sight as the ship travels the narrow channels and open straits of the British Columbia and Alaska coasts. The ports of call have expanded their infrastructure over the years to accommodate the steady increase in number and size of ships docking at their doorsteps, but familiar landmarks remain the highlight amid the newer attractions.

In Juneau, the nearby Mendenhall Glacier draws visitors by the hundreds and the shuttle buses fill up quickly. We have hiked the trails near Mendenhall Glacier and landed by helicopter on the Juneau Icefield, so on our last visit we opted to simply go for a walk along the harbor’s bustling boardwalk, past kiosks, public art and the seadrome where floatplanes land and take off, taking passengers on flightseeing excursions to Taku Glacier Lodge.

Skagway is one of Alaska’s most scenic ports, situated at the head of a beautiful fjord. The train ride to White Pass is a must for first-time visitors to Skagway but we chose on this visit to set off on foot to the Yakutania Point trailhead and enjoy a forest hike with views overlooking the fjord’s turquoise water.

Cloudy skies greeted us in Glacier Bay as we motored to the head and lingered off the face of Marjerie Glacier. Its snout is slowly retreating but remains an impressive sight, its crystal blue ice rising several hundred feet above the water.

In Ketchikan, my sister and brother-in-law headed off to the popular Lumberjack Show while Bill and I strolled the town’s boardwalk streets, reminiscing about our previous visits to this lively port. We first pulled into Ketchikan in a sailboat in 1990, when the sight of a cruise ship in port was still a novelty. Today it’s not unusual for half a dozen large ships to be in port on any given day during the summer cruise season. Even so, the reasons for visiting Alaska by cruise ship remain as compelling as ever.

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.