My husband's and my Alaskan Inside Passage cruise adventure actually began with four nights, three days on VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to Vancouver with two friends, British ex-pats who live in Canada. We flew from New York City to ... Read More
My husband's and my Alaskan Inside Passage cruise adventure actually began with four nights, three days on VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to Vancouver with two friends, British ex-pats who live in Canada. We flew from New York City to Toronto on Tuesday afternoon, had dinner with our friends, boarded the train and departed from Toronto at 10 pm. The rail trip was filled with gorgeous scenery, interesting people, delicious food and a lot of fun. I would caution anyone unfamiliar with this trip, however, that the size of the Sleeping Compartment was miniscule. After the shock and figuring out our way of dealing with the lack of space, the trip was wonderful. We arrived in Vancouver on Saturday morning and took a cab to the Zuiderdam. Embarkation was efficient and easy. Our adjacent verandah staterooms were ready, so we settled in, exuberant about the spaciousness compared to the train! We had a gorgeous view of Vancouver from our balcony and our stateroom was lovely with plenty of storage space. We went to lunch in the Lido, where for the first two days breakfast and lunch were served by the staff to help avoid any illnesses brought onboard, after which was self-serve. As for dinner, we had chosen 8:00 pm in the main dining room at a table for eight. Our dinner companions proved to be charming and we enjoyed each other's company every evening. My husband and I like the Ocean Bar as our pre-dinner cocktail place, where the excellent Neptunes trio played nightly.
Our first day was spent cruising north through the Inside Passage. The second morning we cruised through the scenic Tracy Arm area, arriving in Juneau at 2:00 pm. A shuttle ($3 RT) was offered into the town center of Juneau, but my husband and I chose to walk—20 minutes to and from. We then took one of the blue buses ($16 RT) to Mendenhall Glacier. Just off the parking lot we watched the salmon swimming up a creek alongside a raised walkway to the Glacier. There were a lot of salmon carcasses left by bears, but no bears. Mendenhall Glacier is pretty spectacular I must say, being 12 miles long and 1½ miles wide at the base! There are lots of different trails you can take, but we only took the short Photo Point Trail, which got us a little closer and a wonderful photo op.
The next morning we arrived early in Skagway, where we had booked the Yukon Bus & Rail Excursion with Chilkoot Charters & Tours ($175/pp - 7½ hours). We were picked up at the dock to begin the tour on the White Pass train to Fraser, British Columbia, which if you do nothing else in Alaska, do this! The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it is fascinating to think this 110 mile railway begun in 1898 on the difficult ascent of rugged terrain was finished in 26 months! An engineering feat! Not to mention, prior to the railway, the thought of prospectors climbing on foot and each carrying a ton of supplies (as was required to enter Canada).
At Fraser we transferred to a small van type bus for our trip into the Yukon Territory, where we saw more amazingly beautiful scenery along the South Klondike Highway. We even saw two white mountain goats high on the side of a mountain! We had many photo stops at such landmarks as Carcross Desert, Bove Island in Tagish Lake, Bridal Veil Falls and Emerald Lake. We stopped at Caribou Crossing Trading Post for an included BBQ chicken lunch, and where we visited the Husky Puppy Camp and the Yukon Wildlife Museum. I must point out that the Museum is so well worth seeing! Such a wide and excellent display of wildlife, worthy of the Museum of Natural History in NYC!!! Be sure and see this included perk if you take this tour. On the return to Skagway, we stopped in the small town of Carcross for a short time and then enjoyed more scenic vistas along the South Klondike Highway. I highly recommend this tour and Chilkoot Tours.
Most of the next day was spent cruising Glacier Bay, during which a National Park Ranger boarded and commentated as we toured the area. We found watching the scenery from our balcony was perfect. The day was lovely, we propped the cabin door open to hear the Ranger on the TV and enjoyed the views and the sounds of the glaciers—Johns Hopkins, Lamplugh, Grand Pacific and Margerie. Captain Timmers took us very close to the Margerie and rotated the ship very, very slowly so that everyone no matter where you were would have a wonderful view. Really nice!
The following day we were in Ketchikan, and being the rainiest place in Alaska, we had a rainy day. However, that did not stop us from doing a walking tour as we had planned. Stop at the Visitors Bureau on the dock and pick up their wonderful map, which includes walking tour directions. We walked up to Creek Street from there and took the tram up to Cape Fox Lodge, where there is a nice display of several totems in the courtyard. We walked down the Married Men's Trail and to the Salmon Ladder, then Creek Street (the old red light district) and checked out the shops that line the street now, and where I bought a lovely totem souvenir, even though I'm not much of a souvenir buyer.
We spent the next day at sea. It was so foggy in the morning that the foghorn had to blow at regular and frequent intervals. This was the day for the HAL Mariners lunch in the main dining room, after which we enjoyed the Zuiderdam Celebrity Cook-off between Captain Timmers and Hotel Manager Kees. A lot of fun!
The next morning we arrived in Vancouver, disembarked easily and took a taxi to the Blue Horizon Hotel where we stayed overnight. The hotel is well located on Robson Street, the rooms quite large and well appointed. The lobby was a bit small for all the activity going on when we checked in and we had to wait and wait to have our bags checked while our rooms were being readied. Finally our bags were checked and we took off on the HOHO trolley right outside the hotel. We had gorgeous weather and spent the day touring Vancouver on the HOHO, and having fresh oysters at a wonderful place on the dock of Granville Island called Whet. We took both the Red and the Blue Loops, which proved to be a great way to get a feel for Vancouver. That evening we had a lovely dinner at O'Doul's just down Robson Street from the Blue Horizon, and where a lovely jazz combo were playing near the bar area. The next day was spent flying home to New York City.
A wonderful trip from beginning to end! I have no problem recommending HAL or the Zuiderdam, one of their older ships but still quite cruise-worthy. Our stateroom was lovely, plenty spacious, the bed extremely comfortable, good temperature control, etc. etc. Love the trio of dispensers for Shampoo, Conditioner and Body Wash in the shower/tub! Service was extremely friendly and attentive. Lots of onboard activities to suit everyone's interest, food was good and well varied, and cocktails and wine reasonably priced. What more can I say? Great trip filled with majestic beauty! Read Less