Cruise Holidays of Lindsay

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Ryndam - Holland America

13 Day Alaska Cruisetour

July 19 - 31, 2009

 

In July of 2009, my husband Michael and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, so a truly special family cruise vacation was in order and our choice was the 13 day Alaska Cruisetour on Holland America. I chose my tour over a year in advance so that I could reserve my preferred stateroom. The southbound tour from Fairbanks to Vancouver is a favourite here at Cruise Holidays of Lindsay, because we prefer to have the tougher travel days and busy cruisetour first, with the relaxing cruise to finish. I chose Holland America because my family wanted to experience a premium cruise product for this special occasion. I booked a suite in order to have extra room and a larger balcony. On July 19 we set out with our two sons Randy (21) and Peter (19), excited to finally see what so many of my clients and the other agents at Cruise Holidays of Lindsay have already experienced.

 

The flight to Fairbanks is long, and lost luggage tends to dampen your spirits (thankfully, I had travel insurance). Holland America uses the Westmark hotel chain in Alaska, and the accommodations were lovely and centrally located. The tour portion of the trip calls for early mornings, but they were so well done, the busy days were worth it. The full day in Fairbanks of the El Dorado gold mine tour, the lunch at the Gold Dredge, and the Discovery Riverboat cruise allowed us to pan for gold (more fun than you might think!), see the Alaska Pipeline, a dog sled race demonstration, and a glimpse of native lifestyle at the Athabascan village. It truly was a day full of interesting things.

 

Holland America’s tour continues to Denali by train on the Alaska Railroad in company rail cars called "The McKinley Explorer”. These glass-domed cars are luxurious with wide, plush seats, all facing forward, and plenty of legroom! The scenery changes dramatically in a short time, and by mid-day we were in Denali at the McKinley Resort. The lobby and lodge of this hotel complex is beautifully crafted of natural wood and stone. The accommodation units are located down the steep hill along the Nenana River, with step out balconies to enjoy the mountain air. There is shuttle service between the units and the lodge, and all but the ridiculously fit will need to use it! The "double Denali” tours spend two nights at the lodge with plenty of free time to enjoy the area or take on extra excursions. We were inspired to try white water rafting and it was exhilarating!

 

The Tundra Wilderness Tour departed at 5 am, but the views of the morning light on the mountains was worth the early wake-up call. Our tour was shortened to the "Natural History Tour” due to heavy park traffic, but we still saw so much there was little to complain about. We had excellent views of Mount McKinley, and experienced the ‘big five’ wildlife sightings: caribou, dall sheep, wolf, fox, grizzly bear. Binoculars are a good investment for this tour, and a powerful zoom lens on your camera will have everyone oohing and ahhhing when you get home, but the buses have t.v. screens for close-up views of the wildlife. Our grizzly bear encounter was amazing – come in and ask to see my pictures some day! Hint: take extra food, sit near the front. We finished the cruisetour portion in Anchorage, arriving by train in early evening, and were bound next day for the ship on an upgraded transfer that took us to Seward via Portage Glacier. It was the only rainy day we had the entire trip, but the dull skies made the blue glacial ice stand out even more!

 

We boarded the ms Ryndam late afternoon and marvelled at our elegant, spacious stateroom with its expansive balcony, large dressing area, and ample sofa seating area. The best advantage to the suite, however, was the easy access to the private Neptune Lounge. The concierge service simplified dining reservations and answered all our questions. During lounge hours  there was continual access to beverages and fancy snacks and pastries. Continental breakfast was available in the morning, but with the expanded room service menu, full breakfast was the way to go!

 

The Ryndam is one of Holland America’s older ships, but she shows little signs of wear and tear. You have to look closely to see the signs of age, though the design of the ship itself gives it away. With barely 1300 passengers onboard it never feels crowded. Typical of Holland America, there are large floral arrangements throughout the ship, sparing no expense, and wonderful sculptures, artwork, and nautical artefacts at every turn. The pool has a retractable roof, handy in Alaska, and the theatre is large with no obstructed views, but the best element of all is the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant. It is a dining experience that surpasses expectations and leaves the patron satisfied that the surcharge was well-spent. I found the ship’s engine noise louder than most, but the hum reminded me I was at sea. Perhaps the refurbishment that is planned in the coming years will address that.

 

The seven day cruise itself defies description. The sunny skies made every day a photographer’s delight. (I took close to 1500 pictures – I’m still sorting through them!) Hubbard Glacier was spectacular. One gets perspective at its size when the 14-storey cruise ship ahead of us touring along its base looked like a bath tub toy! Great chunks fell away, making it clear why ships keep their distance. Sitka was a quiet, sea-side town with strong Russian and native heritage. It is well-known for its sea otters and birdlife, but we saw whales too! Ask me about the unique products in the fur stores someday. Skagway was one of my favourite days because of the White Pass excursion to the Yukon , our dog sled ride, and the amazing scenery.   It felt like we’d stepped back in time. Juneau was very busy and crowded with cruise passengers, but there is so much to do in Juneau it’s still worth making the effort. Mendenhall Glacier should not be missed, but Juneau is also known for whale watching and Randy found out why! Ketchikan was an easy town to explore, but nearby Misty Fjords is a natural beauty, and the tree­tops of Tongass National Forest are home to a great zipline adventure. This really was a trip of conquering nerves! The sea day that followed was a welcome rest but soon we were sliding under the Lion’s Gate Bridge and up to Canada Place Pier in Vancouver for the flight home. I wanted to head right back up to Fairbanks and do it all over again!

 

While I truly enjoyed my Holland America experience, I can tell you that Alaska is the true star of this trip! Best accessed by sea, Alaska is just waiting for you to choose your cruise line, but if you can arrange the extra holiday time, please consider the cruisetour. We would have missed so much of what was special about this trip, had we chosen only the cruise. Feel free to drop by to talk about Alaska cruises and cruisetours. I promise not to make you sit through all 1500 pictures (though surely a few won’t hurt!)

 

by Vivian Warren, Master Cruise Counsellor

 

 

 

 

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