The next day we spent on the McKinley Explorer which was a lovely dome train with very comfortable seating. We had a great narrator who explained what we were seeing as well as giving us lots of information about Alaska.
We arrived at the Chalets Resort in Denali and were horrified. We were assigned rooms down a very steep hill and away from the main area. The rooms were ugly, rustic, and not very comfortable. The dining on the property was very expensive and the food was mediocre.
The next day was spent on a bus taking us through Denali. We had a great guide, Kate Swift, who's driving skills on hairpin turns were amazing. We saw quite a bit of wildlife and were pleased with the excursion although sitting on a bus all day was boring.
Another day on the McKinley Explorer to Fairbanks where we had two excursions - gold panning at El Dorado Gold Mine and the Discovery Riverboat. We had lunch consisting of stew at the Dredge #8 which was quite good. The Discovery Riverboat took us up and down the river and stopped at an imitation native village with grandchildren of natives explaining how they lived.
Next was a long day on a comfortable bus with a great driver, Alex Fisher. We had lunch in Tok which was quite good.
The Westmark Inn at Beaver Creek was probably the worst hotel we have ever stayed at in our lives. There were no phones or tvs in the rooms. The place was dark and dismal. We could not understand why HAL would put people up at such an awful place.
Dinner and a "Yukon" show were included. The food was not very good by any standards and the drinks were outlandishly expensive - $6.50 for a glass of draft beer. They had an open fire where we could make 'smores. The smoke burned our eyes and they finally doused the fire after dinner - long after we stopped making 'smores. The show was hokey but we had fun since it was better than going to our room.
We went to White Horse and stayed at the White Horse Westmark which was adequate.
The weather was warm and wonderful. However, there didn't seem to be a/c in any of the hotels and the average room temps were in the 90s. We were told to open the windows to let cool air in.
The meals provided were three lunches and one dinner in our 8 day tour. Many of us were surprised that more meals, especially breakfast, weren't included. Our days started very early in the morning and it would have been nice to have breakfast before our very long bus rides.
Holland America is very remiss in the quality of accommodations they provide on their cruise tours.
We finally boarded the Volendam in Skagway.
The absolute best part of this trip was sailing in Alaska. The sights are awesome. We went through Hubbard Glacier with an excellent narrator. The ship's speed was perfect and we thoroughly enjoyed the majesty of Alaska. We got to see a few hump back whales.
Unfortunately the Volendam is not what she claims to be. She is not a premier line, she is not elegant. Instead, she is a tired, old ship with no ambiance, no glamor and nothing to make us want to sail on her again. The crew had pasted-on smiles and really didn't seem happy about taking care of us. On many occasions the main dining room staff were abrupt and it was difficult to get beverage refills. Too bad.
Our ocean view cabin was the typical cruise cabin and was adequate. Our cabin steward, Imam, was very friendly and helpful.
There was a wonderful salmon bake on the Lido deck and the food was excellent. The smells from the salmon being grilled were so appetizing. That was a great touch to a cruise in Alaska.
On another night there was a chocolate extravaganza with the usual variety of chocolate statues, such as eagles.
The food was the usual cruise fare, some good, some mediocre.
Because Alaska is such a magnificent place to visit we were OK with the fact that the shows weren't good and there were no activities to speak of.
All in all, it was a good experience but we would not repeat it, nor would we recommend it to our friends.
We boarded the Volendam in Skagway and had a few hours to visit the town. Skagway is mainly jewelry and souvenir shops on a main street with a couple of side streets. There is a train to the Yukon which I was told was an interesting experience. Other than that, it is a waste of time.