Cruising through Alaska’s Inside Passage

by Nancy Mueller / Photo ©  Holland America Line

On a balmy Seattle summer day, passengers aboard Holland America Lines soak up the stunning backdrop of Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains framed by the sparkling waters of Elliott Bay. A sunny, festive mood prevails on deck while awaiting our departure for a seven-day cruise to Alaska’s spectacular Inside Passage.

For an affordable Northwest getaway to an enchanting destination with abundant wildlife, breathtaking beauty and exciting excursions, it’s hard to top a large ship cruise to the 49th state. I sailed on the ms Westerdam, but other Holland America ships and other cruise lines also ply the waters to Southeast Alaska.

With so many fun activities available day and night, on land and at sea, it’s easy to craft a cruise experience for every budget, whether traveling solo, with friends or your multigenerational family. Dress up or dress down. Wake early or sleep in. Enjoy fine dining with a cozy ambiance or grab a snack to go from the buffet. Mix and mingle with other passengers or head off on a self-guided walking tour of the ship’s art collection.

Here’s what to expect on your North-to-Alaska sail away:

Ship Overview

For starters, there’s the ship itself, an expansive floating wonder replete with eleven passenger decks, bars and lounges, specialty restaurants, fitness center, spa and salon, an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, casino and culinary arts center. While the ship’s size could feel daunting to first-time cruisers, before long I learn to navigate from bow to stern, thanks to friendly service staff happy to point me in the right direction.

Tip: When boarding, arrive early (10:30 a.m.) or late (2:30 p.m.) to avoid lines. Use your extra time to explore the ship facilities, check out excursion offerings or book a spa appointment to kick off your cruise in style. Review the ship’s daily itinerary posted outside your cabin for times and locations of your favorite activities or join the cruise director for an afternoon orientation on how to make the most of your Alaskan cruise.

Nightly Entertainment

The party commences nightly in the Ocean Bar or the Northern Lights music lounge where you can dance the night away. If you would rather sit back and enjoy the show, check out the evening’s live performances featuring Westerdam crew entertainers and nationally-acclaimed acts like Recycled Percussion, a dynamic four-person combo, in an electrifying drumming extravaganza.

For a more mellow evening out, head to the Crow’s Nest to enjoy acoustic guitar or join your host at the piano bar for tributes to favorite crooners. Whatever your musical mood, you can find a venue to match, including classical music repertoire in the Explorer’s Lounge featuring string and piano duets.

Demos and Hands-on Classes

You can sign up for a variety of classes and workshops to maximize your cruise experience. Learn about Alaska Native culture or how to take better photos with the ship’s Techxperts.

How about brushing up on your cooking or bartending skills with celebrity chefs in the ship’s Culinary Arts Center. Not only do chefs share insider secrets for making signature dishes such as chef Bobby Moore’s Grand Marnier prawns, but you can also pick up tips on chefs’ favorite kitchen tools and easy cooking techniques. And no need to have a designated driver for your mixology class where skilled staff show you how to prepare the perfect cocktail.

The Great White North

When poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Every day I walk out into the world to be dazzled, then to be reflective,” she might well have been describing a cruise of Alaska’s Inside Passage. Magnificent snow-capped mountains rise from the edge of serene, sheltered waters, disturbed only by occasional leaps of porpoises, orcas and humpback whales while our ship sails along the coast from Juneau to Ketchikan.

Each port of call on Holland America’s seven day Alaska cruises offers unique sensations to see and discover. Here are a few recommended excursion highlights:

  • Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration – Enjoy a 40-minute multi-glacier, narrated flight aboard classic de Havilland turbine Otters in Juneau for a spellbinding view of Alaska’s natural wonders.
  • Mendenhall Glacier & Whale Quest – Meander along a moss-laden trail with your naturalist guide before approaching Juneau’s star attraction, Mendenhall Glacier. Then hop aboard a catamaran for guaranteed whale-watching and wildlife adventures.
  • Historic Sitka – Explore Sitka’s historic cultural attractions on foot along a scenic route that includes Castle Hill, the Russian Bishop’s House, St. Michael’s Cathedral and Sitka National Historic Park with its large collection of Tlingit and Haida totems.
  • Glacier Bay – Spend a splendid day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay from the comfort of the ship’s deck. Meet National Park Rangers and the Huna Cultural Interpreter on board for an in-depth look at one of nature’s most compelling attractions. Brave souls can take the Polar Bear Plunge in the ice-cold waters of the ship’s outdoor pool and earn a certificate as proof of their daring.
  • Misty Fjords Cruise & Wilderness Explorer – Board a high-speed vessel in Ketchikan for a captivating cruise beneath towering 3,000-foot ice-carved cliffs and waterfalls.
  • Exclusive Mountaintop Flightseeing & Crab Feast – Fly aboard a floatplane to remote and rustic George Inlet Lodge for a succulent feast of Dungeness crab. Enjoy a narrated coastal drive on your return into Ketchikan.
  • Butchart & Butterfly Gardens – View hundreds of exotic butterflies before visiting Victoria’s famous flower Eden.

For more information on Holland America’s Alaska cruises, visit:

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