June 18, 2024

My First Cruise to Alaska

Anne Vipond in Alaska

Author of Alaska By Cruise Ship

The first cruise I ever took, back in the 1990s, was to Alaska. The ship was Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam and we departed from downtown Vancouver on a warm September afternoon. I have many vivid memories of that first cruise but there are two that really stand out in my mind. The first is of walking across the gangway onto the ship to be greeted by a row of smiling stewards in their smart blue uniforms. It was like stepping into a cocoon of warmth and civility and luxury that only the very wealthy of yesteryear would have enjoyed, and to this day – dozens of cruises later – I still experience that same sensation of pampered privilege when first stepping about a cruise ship.

The second was a sense of release when the ship sounded its horn and began easing away from the pier to commence our voyage. People were waving from the outdoor promenade of the cruise terminal and I was standing on deck with a bunch of fellow passengers waving back. They were all strangers to me, but the timeless excitement of a ship leaving port had momentarlly brought us together – the wellwishers waving from land to the passengers heading out to sea.

Few port cities are as beautifully situated as Vancouver, and the scenery began the moment the ship was underway, slipping past the green shores of Stanley Park and emerging beneath the suspended spans of Lions Gate Bridge to enter English Bay where sailboats tacked among the anchored freighters. Then the ship turned up the Strait of Georgia and we were heading north to Alaska along the narrow channels of British Columbia’s Inside Passage. These sheltered waters of glacier-carved fjords and forested islands are among the most intricate and scenic in the world, and I was already familiar with this famous coastline because I had spent years exploring it by sailboat with my husband Bill. We kept our boat moored on the Fraser River just south of Vancouver and our weekends were spent sailing across the Strait of Georgia to the Gulf Islands. When vacation time rolled around, we always headed north to visit the dramatic fjords and sheltered coves hidden behind rocky headlands. But two or three weeks of vacation was not enough time to reach Alaska in our small craft, so we eventually quit our jobs and embarked on the first of several extended voyages to northern latitudes.

After years of being first officer, chief purser and head chef aboard our 35-foot sailboat, and having experienced the best and the worst of Alaska weather, I didn’t quite know what to expect of a cruise. Like most first-time cruisers, my expectations were surpassed. Not only was I embarking on a voyage of everchanging vistas, I had no work or worries. It was time to sit back and relax for the next seven days. And because the first full day of an Alaska-bound cruise from Vancouver is spent at sea, there was time to acquaint ourselves with the ship’s amenities, including the Crowsnest Lounge where you can watch the ship’s progress from a windowside seat and possibly sight Pacific whitesided dolphins leaping in the bow wave.

Since that first cruise, Bill and I have visited Alaska many times on all of the major lines, and we never tire of the magnificent scenery.

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.