December 6 2013 Latest news:
Friday, October 21, 2011
Brian Caldecott warms to Alaska with a cruise to its capital Juneau with lots to do on board and ashore.
In a remote location to the north-west of Canada, between the Arctic and Pacific oceans, Alaska is known as America’s ‘Last Frontier’ state.
After our Canadian Rocky Mountaineer rail adventure (featured in last week’s EDP Weekend magazine), Tricia and I boarded Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam in Vancouver and had two days at sea on our way to Alaska’s capital, Juneau.
Our stateroom was fitted with plenty of wardrobe and storage space, comfortable twin beds, a bathroom and shower, TV, phone and tea and coffee-making facilities and a balcony that allowed us to stay alert for wildlife sightings. The weather in early July was pleasant enough to go on deck in light clothing and from there we spotted ospreys and eagles, seals and dolphins – and a solitary whale.
We passed through the beautiful calm and sheltered cruising waters of the Inside Passage where thousands of bays, coves and islands provide an eye-catching and ever-changing backdrop. The scenery became even more spectacular as we entered the 30-mile long Tracey Arm fjord and sailed up close to the awesome Sawyer Glacier that glistened amid snow-capped mountains. The dazzling blue-green water was dotted with huge blocks of ice that had parted from the glacier with resounding creaks and booms.
Juneau, with a population of about 30,000, is hemmed in by water and soaring mountains and doesn’t even have a road link to the outside world – aircraft and boats provide the sole access to a town that was born because of gold. We took the Mount Roberts Tramway to get a fantastic view from 1,760 feet.
Back on board we were getting used to the excellent service from crew members, mostly Indonesian and Filipino, and the great restaurant choices. We had learned from previous experience how easy it is to put on the pounds during a cruise, when it’s possible to eat all day, and welcomed the healthy-eating options. We tried a juicy steak or two and fish, including Atlantic salmon, but after one breakfast feast cut out the ‘full English’ and the pastries.
During the day we enjoyed classical sounds with the Adagio Strings and after dinner it would be easy-and-breezy jazz sessions in the Ocean Bar with the Neptunes – composer-arranger guitarist Dave Hooning, drummer Keith and pianist Carlos. And we joined enthusiastic audiences in the Vista Lounge theatre for wonderful Broadway-style shows by the talented Zuiderdam Singers and Dancers or talent shows and fun sketches by crew members.
Our second port of call was Skagway which, in 1897, was the starting place for more than 40,000 Gold Rush stampeders who headed to the Yukon. A seven-block corridor along Broadway features historic false-front shops and restaurants, wooden sidewalks, locals in period costumes and restored buildings. No visit to Skagway is complete without a call at the Red Onion Saloon where an attractive woman wearing lots of make-up might start a conversation…
Downstairs are dance hall girls and a Gold Rush era mahogany bar while upstairs you’ll discover that the Red Onion was also a front for a popular bordello. Today Skagway survives almost entirely on tourism, as more than 400 cruise ships a year turn it into a boomtown every summer.
After an overnight sailing we awoke to marvel at the unforgettable scenery of the Glacier Bay National Park, an area of snow-capped mountain tops, deep fjords, tidewater glaciers, huge icebergs and freshwater streams in which cameras were working overtime.
Another overnight sailing delivered us to Ketchikan, at the base of Deer Mountain. Because the mountain range nearly reaches the shore the town’s enterprising founders added ‘land’ by sinking pilings and building piers on top and as a result, some of the town’s most charming harbourside restaurants are actually on stilts in the harbour. Ketchikan was our final port of call before returning to Vancouver for our flight home.
Titan Travel’s 18-day Deluxe Alaskan Voyage and Rocky Mountaineer tour has eight departures next year between May and September. It includes a seven-night full-board cruise on MS Zuiderdam, a two-day journey on board the Rocky Mountaineer train, direct Air Canada flights, nine nights in hotels, first-class coaching, services of an experienced tour manager throughout, excursions and the unique VIP Home Departure Service. Prices from £3,195 per person. For information and to book telephone free on 0800 988 5858 or visit www.titantravel.co.uk