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Alaskan Cruise - July 2017


Alaska! Glad it was made a state in 1959 because it is truly spectacular.  


This was the first truly big trip that we took as a family. The kids were 7 (son) and 12 (daughter).  I wouldn’t recommend doing any younger because it is a long travel day (with a 3-hour time change) and the shore excursions are long too.  


A few notes:


  • We sailed on Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam with a 7-day closed loop itinerary from Vancouver (starting/ending in Vancouver). The cruise sails the Inside Passage, which isn’t as rough as the open waters of the Pacific. Cruises that leave from Seattle are a bit rougher.  

  • We cruised in mid-July, the peak season (July and August are both peak months) and the best time to see the calving of the glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. 

  • We did a two-night pre and post-cruise stay in Vancouver because there is so much to explore in the city. 

  • We had a mid-ship balcony, mid-deck – the best for those of us (me) who get seasick. 

  • We booked all our excursions through the cruise line, which is more expensive, but if there is a weather delay on tour (see below about Oprah getting stuck on a glacier), the ship will wait for you or pay for you to get to the next destination. Excursions that are booked independently do not provide that guarantee. 



Thursday – Flight to Vancouver via Atlanta


We left Jacksonville early on Thursday, flew to Atlanta with a short layover, and boarded for Vancouver. I recommend a longer layover than an hour because our Jacksonville flight was delayed and was debarking when our Vancouver flight was boarding. We ran through the airport (because where are the golf carts when needed) and thankfully made the flight. 


We arrived in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon around 1:30 (thanks 3-hour time change for giving us time to explore). We checked into the Pan Pacific Hotel on Canada Place, where all the cruise ships dock. We opted for a two-night pre, and post-cruise stay. We were all in awe of Vancouver. The city is gorgeous and mixes modernity with nature. We explored the area near the hotel and then headed to bed for an early night. The hotel had a restaurant that had breathtaking views of the harbor. I briefly considered becoming an Alaskan bush pilot after watching all the seaplanes take off and land. 


Friday –  Vancouver


We played the tourist part to a tee and purchased tickets for a hop-on/off tour of Vancouver. I don't remember what tour company we used, but there are buses and trolleys lined up in front of Canada Place and they all go to the same places). I always like to do a tour on the first day because it gives you a good overview of the area and then you can pick and choose what you want to explore further.  


Vancouver had so much to offer. My daughter loved all the buildings and sites she recognized from The Flash and Smallville. In addition, Vancouver has a vibrant film/tv production scene. We tried to book a film/tv tour, but it was sold out.  


After a long day as a tourist, we headed to dinner at the Elephant and Castle (now the Brass Fish Tavern) in the Marine Building - not because of its food but because the exterior of the building is used for the Daily Planet in Smallville and Jitters on The Flash; however, this is where we made the most incredible discovery – the Canadian Shirley Temple. It is made with orange juice, grenadine and Maraschino cherry instead of the American version, which is made with ginger ale. Returning to the hotel, we made the second most incredible discovery – Bella Gelateria. Award-winning gelato and an hour's wait. It was worth it! 


Some sites were seen, including - Stanley Park, Vancouver Aquarium, Gastown, Chinatown, Granville Island, Lululemon headquarters and BC Place (where the BC Lions Canadian football team plays).


Saturday – Embarkment Day - Departs 4:00 pm


First day of the cruise!  We boarded Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam. It is a smaller ship on Holland American’s Signature Class Ships with approximately 2100 passengers. Boarding was seamless and we were off to our cabins. 


We stayed on the Verandah deck in a cabin for 4. It was very tight quarters, and I recommend getting a bigger cabin or 2 cabins. My son slept in the fold-down bunk and loved it. Once we worked out a shower schedule, we were good.


After wandering around the ship to get the lay of the land, we booked some shore excursions and got ready for dinner. We didn’t make reservations and opted for the buffet instead.


We settled into our cabin and tried to sleep, but the sun was up until 10 pm! So we sat on the verandah and watched the incredible scenery of the Inside Passage. There were some fantastic mansions, cozy cabins and logging camps.  


Sunday - At Sea Cruising Inside Passage 


We cruised the Inside Passage and just relaxed. My son went to the Kids Club but was bored. Holland America is geared more toward older children and adults. However, we managed to keep him occupied and even rented a private cabana with endless food and a butler. We rented it for the entire cruise and it was worth it! My daughter and I went to the spa and treated ourselves to mani/pedis. We ate at Canaletto, a specialty restaurant that was an extra charge. It was delicious, but the kids didn’t appreciate the food, so we stuck to the dining that was included for the remainder of the trip. 


Monday –  Juneau - Arrives 1 pm/Departs 10 pm


The first stop was Juneau, the Alaskan Capital. It was rainy and cold when we docked, but I was assured that the weather would change hourly. We wandered around the town for a bit and had the best coffee at The Grind Coffee Co. kiosk. We also picked up some glacier silt soap from GlacierSmoothie.  


We met our tour guide and boarded the bus to the heliport. This was my favorite excursion and one I had to push hard for. No one else in my family wanted to ride a helicopter to a glacier, but I convinced them it was a bucket list item and we were all going! So, after a quick safety video, we donned our crampons (special grips that go over your boots to grab onto the ice) and hopped on the helicopter. But, perhaps, the tour's highlight wasn't the glacier but Winnie from Winnipeg, our helicopter mate. She was a solo traveler and was the best! 


The glacier was so beautiful that it looked fake. I wasn't sure how we would land on ice, but we did. It wasn't as cold as I thought, but it was windy and hard to stand with the gusts. We drank from a glacier stream and got a glacier silt facial. It was a quick trip – about 2 hours, and we headed back to Juneau and boarded the ship.


Interestingly, Oprah Winfrey chartered another Holland America ship (Volendam) in port with us. Some of her guests did a helicopter tour to a dog sled camp and got stuck on the glacier! The glaciers have microsystems and the weather can change on a dime. They made it back to the ship but had to fly at night, which was challenging.  


We headed back to the ship, ate dinner and had an early night – are you sensing a theme with the early nights?  


Tuesday –  Skagway - Arrives 7 am/Departs 8 pm


Next stop – Skagway and the summer home of the Iditarod dogs. Mushers (dog sled drivers) bring their dogs to the summer camp to train for winter activities. This was a dry camp with no snow, only dirt roads. We were picked up by a Unimog, a vehicle that can climb any hill, no matter how steep. It was an interesting ride, but the scenery made us forget that we were literally climbing up a side of a mountain. Next, we visited the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world, covering 16.7 million acres! We crossed streams and saw salmon swimming upstream. The musher’s camp is near Dyea, an abandoned gold rush town. We hopped on the dog sled and off we went. Those dogs are fast! We then got a chance to visit and hold the puppies. They were adorable. 


We were back on the ship for boarding and had another early night. My son loved sitting in his bunk and watching the sunset at 11 pm.