Our departure port was Vancouver. We made our own airline arrangements and arrived the evening before sailing. We stayed at a hotel close to the airport and took a shuttle to the pier in late morning.
The boarding process was smooth and we were in our rooms by noon. We had sailed previously with Holland America and thus, qualified to have lunch in the main dining room. The ship sailed at 4 pm.
The Zuiderdam ship was satisfactory. We had received a free. last-minute upgrade to a veranda suite. It wasn't particularly large, so I don't know how we would have endured our original room. The buffet at the Lido was very crowded. There was much pushing and few tables. Consequently, we had all of our lunches and dinner in the main dinning room. We had the flexible seating arrangement, and had to call to make reservations each day. For the dinners, the only times that were offered were 5:30 and 8:30. This wasn't what we expected. We chose 5:30 and noted that there were many empty tables even when we were finished two hours later. We did not make reservations on the day that we had a stop at Juneau and discovered that we could walk up at 7:00 pm and get seated immediately.
Our cruise only lasted 3 nights. We disembarked in Skagway to begin the land tour. The land portion involved 75 people divided between two buses. We only saw the second bus at the hotel stops. Except, that we did have to wait two hours at the border when leaving the Yukon in order for the second bus to join us.
All of the tour personnel are very young. The tour guide that traveled with us would disappear whenever we arrived at a hotel stop or had a free day. He would bombard us with information immediately prior to arriving at a hotel stop, and this practice produced considerable confusion. The tour guide had a strong urban/hip style that did not relate well to the mostly older age of the passengers.
The first six days of the land portion were dominated by the story of the Klondike gold rush. I probably heard the story of Soapie Smith ten times. We would have preferred to have heard more about the geology and botanical life, as well as more about the First Nations who had originally lived in the area. About 90% of the information provided by the local guide and the sites was restricted to the events of 1896-1900.
Compared to other escorted tours that we have been on, there were relatively few group excursions. We had a couple of paddle boat rides as a group and we took a Denaili park tour together, but that was about all. There was one group lunch. There was not much effort to create familiarity with each other.
We stayed at the Westmark hotels owned by Holland America in five different cities. The hotels were quite satisfactory. The worst was in Skagway. Surprisingly, the one in Tok was not at all primitive.
We had purchased the meal plan for $479. We were the only passengers who had done so. I now wish we had not. The meal plan included 7 breakfasts, 7 dinners, and 1 lunch. They were only allowed at the Westmark hotels, or the Holland America dining car on the Denali train. The food was generally good, but there was ample access to other dining at the hotel stops. There were days when we probably would have only had a snack for dinner, but since we had prepaid, we consumed a full-course meal. The prepaid price only made sense if you had soup, entree, and dessert. Surprisingly, when we returned home we had not gained any weight. The lunch on the Denail train occurred at 1:30 pm and then dinner was at 5:00 pm. We would not have had lunch if we had not prepaid for it.
We elected the self-drive excursion at Denali. The 2-door Jeep Wrangler required contorsion for passengers to get in the back seat. We drove for 4 hours along two roads recommended by the vendor, but saw no wildlife and no noteworthy sites. This excursion was not worth the $179 cost.