My husband and I took the Holland America Land & Sea Journey on the Zuiderdam. We flew to
Anchorage where we were met at the airport for transport to the Westmark Anchorage for the start of the Land portion of our trip. It was the first trip of the season so that may have accounted for the disorganization the next morning as we were taken by bus to Holland America's own domed rail cars for the trip to Denali. The train ride was great -- so many miles of forest and beautiful scenery! McKinley Chalet's are where you stay and they are OK but clean. The only drawback on the land portion was your luggage had to be outside your room door each morning of travel by around 6:30 am. That means you have be up and ready by then or you have to carry anything you use to get ready with around with you the rest of the day. All the hotels you stay at are Westmarks or the McKinley. They are all clean but I would only call the Fairbanks & Dawson one's attractive (both in very different ways).
We stayed 2 nights in Denali. The wilderness tour was taken on the full day there. We saw numerous caribou, several moose, ptarmigan, a Dall sheep (a dot on the mountain). Some on our group also saw a lynx. Every where we went on buses, they made plenty of stops so we didn't get tired of sitting.
From Denali, was took a bus to Fairbanks. It was only a couple of hours trip and there was beauty out all the windows so well worth the time. The next morning we took a plane from Fairbanks to Dawson, Yukon, Canada. (You might want to verify with you cell provider whether you will have service in Alaska and Canada.) We personally loved the little town of Dawson. Only one street is paved and most of the buildings look like they were built a 100 years ago. On our way out of town the next AM, there was a cute little red fox that ran alongside our bus for a little bit. Then about 10-20 miles outside of town, there was a black bear sitting up against a telephone pole watching our bus go by. By the time the driver was able to get back to it, it had taken off so we didn't get photos but had a great initial viewing of it.
My husband was really dreading that 9-hour bus trip between Dawson and Whitehorse. But he even admitted it wasn't bad. The bus was comfortable, they made frequent short stops, and there was just so much to see. And the morning after Whitehorse, we rode the old narrow-gauge railroad down into
Skagway where we got onto the ship. Little did I know we had already spent the best part of our trip on land.
I didn't really think about the fact that we weren't going to spend very much time in each town we visited because there simply wasn't time. But we are still glad we took the Land portion because we did get to see so much more of Alaska that way. Oh, and the shore excursion Husky Homestead Tour was the best. Not only do you get to hold and pet young Alaska husky puppies but 4X Iditarod champion, Jeff King, gives a informative and entertaining presentation about preparing for and running various sled dog races. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
We joined the ship in Skagway and things from there were rather a disappointment,. This was our first cruise so maybe I expected too much but all the full-color glossy brochures made me believe we were going to experience the trip of a lifetime. I just thought it was going to be a good thing.
The cabin was fine even if you feel like you are meeting yourself coming and going. The hallways to the cabins were dreary. The buffet was staffed by people that English was their second language and quite a few of them made no effort to speak clearly. We never knew what we were going to get because we literally could not understand 1/2 of what they said. And you are charged $11.50 per day per person to give those that wouldn't make an effort to be understood gratuities for service! There were plenty that made the effort to be understood, gave very good service and were polite and pleasant., But not nearly enough of them.
Oh, and as for the great quantities of delicious food -- think again. Sizzler has a better salad bar, there was a strange flavor to most of what we got, and the wonderful, enticing desserts were nonexistent. We paid just a little extra one night to dine in the Italian restaurant and only 1 of the 3 items we got was good. I lost over 4 pounds in our 11 days!!!! Side note, every meal we got on the land portion of our trip was good.
Unless you like to have people staring at you while swimming and enjoying the spas, I wouldn't plan on using either during the afternoon. There was a Mexican Fiesta buffet set up all around the pool area so you would have quite an audience while trying to swim.
I was expecting some serious luxury in at least a few common areas. It wasn't bad but there definitely wasn't any soaring ceilings or graceful stairways. There were glass elevators from which you could see the ocean or land. The colors were primary and bright.
We felt that almost everything on the ship was about separating you from your money. We even had to pay over $3.00 a bottle for water in our cabin. I guess the bottom line is I was expecting to be treated really well and I felt we were just treated like cattle and that they expected us to pay well for the treatment!
We caught a shuttle that took us close to the far end of Creek Street. We walked all along Creek Street and visited some of the shops. At the other end of Creek Street, we visited the salmon ladder but disappointingly no salmon were running (May). We then spent at least an hour in the Discovery Center. It was a nice, smaller museum and we would probably have enjoyed it more if we wouldn't have been soaked. It was raining when we pulled into Ketchikan and it rained the entire time we were there. If you like flowers, there were some beauties growing all over the town!!
The driver/guide was a little over the top but very entertaining and informative. We got to see a lot of Skagway and she knew a lot of it's history. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend the tour.