First, was it worth it? The answer is undeniably YES!
First the flights. We arranged our cruise booking through our local TA and couldn't have been more pleased with our Representative. We booked in late February and got the last two outside cabins (2 friends went with us). We booked the airfare as part of the cruise with Holland after reading other cruise critics advise that this might eliminate any issues with late arrival and catching up with the boat if your flight was delayed. (This was really unneeded as we did the Denali NP land portion first). If I had it to do over again, I would not have booked through Holland? Why? For some reason they booked us from Lexington, KY to Atlanta (1 hour), Atlanta to Minneapolis(2 hours), and then Minneapolis to Anchorage (7 miserable hours)via Delta. Why not route through Detroit or Chicago using another airline, cutting down the flight time? Coming back from Vancouver, BC, we were booked on United to Chicago (3 hours) and then to Lex (1 hour). The flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis was on an Airbus so there was plenty of room. The flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage was on a 757. Of course the rude lady in front of me, immediately leaned her seat back in my lap. I jiggled her seat hoping she would get the hint. Instead she turned around after 30 minutes and accused me of being rude. Finally after 30 more minutes of jiggling she lifted the seat back up... I would book my own flight and not use the cruise line in the future.
Arriving Anchorage, (on Thursday 25th) the Holland staff met us and stayed with us while we gathered our luggage, got us to the right bus and had us at our hotel (Westmark) in about an hour. This was about 12 MN EST after we had left Lexington at 0630. The Westmark could certainly use some refreshing, as it is 1970's vintage hotel... All the recommended restaurants nearby the hotel were full with an hour or more waiting, so we had a late meal in the Westmark hotel restaurant. Nothing fancy but it probably was as good as we could have gotten at either of the overbooked breweries or pizza places nearby.
The next morning (Friday)we were bused to the McKinley Explorer train. This was absolutely the highlight of the trip. Dome rail cars as comfortable as your home easy chair, unbelievable panoramic views, a great meal for a reasonable price on the train and a running tab for drinks (coffee, tea, liquor). The weather was perfect, we could see Mt. McKinley from Anchorage before we pulled out of the station. Everyone on the train and in Denali kept telling us how bad (rainy/cloudy) the weather had been all season and we had perfect day 1. The train ride is 8.5 hours (240 rail miles)and again was fabulous. We were met at the Denali train station and taken by bus to the McKinley lodge (which has a great breakfast buffet) and overall good food. I was expecting unbelievably expensive prices but considering we were in Alaska, I thought they were just right. The food service employed is Aramark and overall they did a good job. The McKinley lodge did not have air conditioning and the rooms were unbelievably warm. This coupled with the fact that our bodies were still on EST, going to bed at 8pm Alaska time (12 mn EST)with the sun still fully out and no ac did not lead to restful nights. The next day (Sat)we took the Denali Tundra tour (8 hours) by school bus to about 40 miles from Mt. McKinley. We saw and got pictures/video of Moose, Elk, Brown and Grizzly Bear, Dall Sheep and of course great pictures of Mt. McKinley. (We were told to have 2 days of back to back sunshine in the park occurs about 0.5% of the year). On Sunday, we had a 300 mile coach ride back through Anchorage on to the port at Seward. This followed 8 hours on the Denali school bus. It was nearly 12 hours to Seward with a stop for a lunch (that is forgettable)and stops at the Porter Glacier. Our bus driver Ron was very good and he made the long ride as interesting as possible.
We arrived in Seward at 7 pm Alaska time and boarded the Zaandam after going through an embarkation process that took about 15 minutes, where they take your credit card and issue you a cruise card to charge everything on the boat. Our luggage (other than what we had taken to Denali) was already loaded on the ship. Our rooms were on the main deck (which most of the time is the boarding deck). We managed to grab some food on the Lido deck before the obligatory life boat drill which occurs about an hour after boarding. The rooms all have wonderful storage and more than enough space. The satelite TV could use some upgrading but they don't want you staying in your room anyway. Holland now has a magnetic stripe on your cruise card so you can use it to access the safe.
The next day (Monday) we had sailed to College Fjord. We spent the day getting acclimated to the boat. I had read reviews that the Zaandam was a tired old ship. I did not see any unusual wear and tear, the carpets were magnificent and the boat was in fabulous condition. I was over the boat from stem to stern from the main deck (2) all the way to the sports deck (11) and found it in excellent condition. There are numerous areas to get away on the boat inside and out, I never felt it was overcrowded. A great dinner every night with early seating in the Rotterdam dining room. (Baked Alaska every night on the menu along with many other dessert choices, but make sure you go for the night it is made with butter pecan ice cream on top of a fudge cookie)! Fabulous!
The one thing on the boat that sucked big time was the internet! (Holland does note that the MTN service is slow before your purchase). I bought the 250 min package for $100 and believe me as slow as it is you need it. I ended up purchasing additional minutes on Saturday to make sure I got checked in on my flight back. Why buy it? Because other than when you are in port, you had better keep your cell phone turned off or you will pay for exorbitant ship to shore phone charges ($16 min). On shore, we could use our cell phones just like in the lower 48 (we are AT&T).
On Tuesday another day of beautiful sunshine as we hit Glacier Bay (I got the Margerie glacier calving on video). We saw several other glaciers including the Johns Hopkins. Then it was on to Haines (a small fishing type village)arriving on Wednesday. From there we took a ferry to Skagway to ride the White Pass & Yukon RR. This is an original gold rush narrow gauge railroad that ascends 3300 feet in 20 miles. My wife thought this was the highlight of the trip. It took about 3 hours and the views are fabulous! Spend time in Skagway and shop. The remainder of the cruise is the usual stopping in Cruise ports. (Thursday) Juneau, if not the capital of Alaska, would not be much larger than a fishing town. (Friday)Ketchikan is a fishing town invaded by cruise based business.
Overall, I felt the cruise was two days two long. They should cut one of the ports out (either Juneau or Ketchikan) and sail into port at Vancouver or Seattle and allow a day there. I know that won't help the Alaskan economy but once you've done one port, you're repeating the process just like on the Caribbean cruises.
On an Alaskan cruise, I would say don't waste the money on a Veranda. Most days at sea are 55-60 degrees with lots of wind, so I don't believe it's a good investment.
I can't say enough about Holland America, their staff, their taking care of you every step on both the land and cruise portion. Again the McKinley Explorer is a must! They meet you at every step in the process. The embarkation and debarkation processes were run as smooth as clockwork. I will definitely sail Holland if I ever do another cruise!
Spend some time in Seattle or Vancouver if you get the chance. If we hadn't done Denali and seen the heart of Alaska, the cruise portion would have been a real disappointment.