This trip of a lifetime began when my aunt and uncle came to me for help planning their cruise to Alaska. As we got further into the planning process, my cousin and I decided to book our own room and tag along!
We started our trip by flying into Vancouver two days before our cruise was scheduled to depart. We stayed at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel which was in a great location for exploring the city. To see some of the beautiful scenery in the surrounding area, we booked a small group tour with a local guide. He took us North to Squamish, where we were able to see Shannon Falls, the Sea to Sky Gondola, and the famous suspension bridges.
Our first full day on the ship was a day at sea. We decided to hangout on the top deck and enjoy the sunny weather while keeping an eye out for whales and dolphins. That evening we cruised through the inside passage, and the crew opened up the bow of the ship so we could all get a great view as we sailed forward! We then went to dinner in the main dining room and got a table next to a window to continue enjoying the passing scenery.
The first port we visited was Ketchikan, where we booked an excursion to go sea kayaking. Ketchikan is known for being the rainiest city in Alaska, and even though there was a light rain falling when we started our tour, the guides were prepared with rain gear that kept us completely dry as we paddled through the peaceful coves! After our kayaking adventure, we walked through the famous Creek Street. The sun came out and we had perfect weather as we did some shopping and sampled local beers. We then returned to the ship and spotted lots of eagles as we sailed on to our next port!
Our next stop was Juneau, Alaska’s capitol city. We started or day by visiting the famous Mendenhall Glacier. We took a leisurely hike down to the lake for a closer view of the glacier and Nugget Falls.
Our next adventure in Juneau was an excursion that I had been looking forward to for months. We had decided to splurge and book a helicopter tour to a dogsled camp on top of a glacier, and it was definitely worth it! The helicopter ride took about 15 minutes each way, and the views from the sky were stunning. When we landed at the dogsled camp, the workers there gave us an insight to their way of life and let us meet some of their sled dogs. (As an animal lover, I was in heaven!) They hooked up a sled and we took off on a ride around the snow-covered glacier. I was happy to see how much the dogs loved running through the snow, and we could see that they were well taken care of by their handlers. This tour was very well done and was a highlight of the trip!
Our next port was Skagway, which is known for the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. We had planned to take the famous train excursion, but there was a landslide the night before and the railroad was closed for repairs. Instead, we took a bus tour up the Klondike Highway (which runs parallel to the train route) and had a great time! Our local driver made multiple stops for us to get out and take pictures of the beautiful scenery, and we spotted a family of bears hanging out right next to the highway.
We spent the rest of the day hiking a local trail, sampling the local breweries, and walking around the historic town before heading back to the ship.
When we arrived in Seward, we were sad to leave the ship, but excited to head up to Denali! We boarded a motor coach and began the drive North. We were able to stop at Potter Marsh for some free time and wildlife watching, and then we continued our drive. As we approached the park, our driver stopped at a scenic viewing point and we got our first look at the massive Denali Mountain! We then arrived at the impressive McKinley Chalet, which would be our home for the next 3 nights.
Because we booked a Triple Denali tour, we had another day in the park to do whatever we wanted! We decided to go whitewater rafting, and even though the water was freezing, our wetsuits kept us warm and dry. Our experienced guide told us fun stories about his life in Alaska and kept us safe as we paddled through the rapids. After our exciting rafting tour, we took a relaxing hike that followed a river and led us to a scenic mountainside with a whole family of caribou.
After our adventure in Denali, we boarded the McKinley Explorer for our scenic train ride back to Anchorage. The dome windows gave us great visibility as we traveled through the mountains. There were lots of food and drink options available onboard and we had a guide that gave us information about the areas we were passing through. This was a fun and comfortable way to make the 8-hour journey!
We had one night in Anchorage, and then our flight home was late the next day. We had lots of fun walking around town, shopping, and trying out more local breweries! I was glad that we had free time to explore this unique town before heading back to reality.
Overall, this was an amazing vacation! Holland America did a fantastic job of helping us experience Alaska by land and sea. The transition from the ship to Denali was seamless and very well organized. Each employee we met was so kind and helpful, and I would highly recommend Holland America for anyone who wants to visit Alaska. Many people consider this a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but we enjoyed it so much that I know I’ll be back again someday!
Contact Maggie at 314-439-5700 ext. 120 or send her an email to begin planning your Alaska adventure.
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