The other day I wrote down all of the cruises I’ve been on over the years and the number shocked me. While I wouldn’t necessarily self-identify as a cruiser, the fact remains that I’ve enjoyed a great many in all parts of the world. From expedition-style adventures in Antarctica, to mega-ships in the Caribbean, I’ve experienced the full range of cruising, for better and for worse. Until recently though, I’d never before visited Alaska and I had never sailed with Holland America Line, which are just a couple of the many reasons why I was so happy to join their ship the Westerdam on a 7-day cruise of Alaska. I’m still mentally organizing my thoughts about the experience, but today I want to share my first impressions of both the voyage and the cruise line in what truly is a beautiful part of the world. Holland America provided me with the cruise but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
Alaska Cruises are Different
Visiting Alaska was high on my travel to-do list for a very long time, and I knew that a cruise would be one of the best ways to first experience the 49th state. Its size and challenging transportation options make seeing it from the water a smart choice. Ultimately though, I wasn’t prepared for what the reality of sailing in the waters of Alaska is really like. It’s far from being a run of the mill cruise. No, in fact it reminded me much more of those expedition style experiences I’ve enjoyed in remote parts of the planet. The ports were great, but what really impressed me was the time spent sailing. Different from most other cruises, every second onboard the Westerdam featured incredible views and stunning scenery. Unlike the Caribbean or the Mediterranean where it’s common to lose sight of land for long spans of time, throughout the sailing adventure in Alaska, getting there was as incredible as the featured stops. Once we did arrive in port, we were met by even more opportunities to get out and explore the wild expanses of the state. Whether it was taking an old train through scenic mountain passes or soaring high above the trees on a floatplane adventure, the experiences shared the enormity and beauty of the state in stunning detail. While you can easily sail around Alaska on a larger ship with all of the amenities it affords, it very much feels like an expeditionary experience and that is all too rare.
Holland America: Fact and Fiction
Those of us who are curious about cruises probably have certain preconceptions about different cruise lines. I know I do, and I certainly did about Holland America. What I discovered though was nothing like I thought I’d find. To be honest, I imagined an old-fashioned cruise line with few modern touches and a clientele that was many decades older than me. That’s not what I experienced. No, instead I found a modern and gorgeous ship with all of the amenities I’d expect, along with many surprises along the way. Even more shocking to me was the attitude on board. The cruise was fun and everyone had a great time. In the last couple of years I’ve sailed with cruise lines that, while nice, don’t foster an atmosphere onboard that I would call fun. Laid back, sophisticated, sure, but not fun. My fellow passengers onboard the Westerdam though were there to have a good time and that’s exactly what they accomplished. Part of this has to do with the itinerary and time of year. I was on a 7-day Alaska sailing in the middle of summer. This necessarily attracts more diverse age groups and even families. If I were to sail with Holland America in Asia on a 30-day trip, I have no doubt that the passenger demographics would shift dramatically. But on the Alaska cruise all age groups were well represented, as were all walks of life. It was a wonderfully diverse group of passengers and it was that diversity that helped make the cruise experience as much fun as it was.
Would I Do it Again?
Yes, yes a thousand times yes, I would sail Alaska again. The state doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves and now ranks as one of my favorite destinations on the planet. It has everything I love: it’s a little remote, it’s incredibly gorgeous and interesting in a way that is very unique. While I’d love to visit and do a land-based journey, cruising is the perfect way to experience as much as possible in a short time frame. Alaska is immense, about half the size of the Continental US, and seeing it from a ship enables visitors to experience a variety of different towns and remote outposts. Sailing with Holland America was also surprisingly fun and I quickly found myself falling for the cruise line. While they do have some faults that I’ll address in a future post, on the whole they do a great job of providing a fun and engaging travel experience. Holland America also has a very long history with Alaska, enabling them special access to certain sights that other cruise lines don’t enjoy. All together, that makes cruising around Alaska with them the perfect choice.
Have you been to Alaska? What did you think?