By Greg Aragon
Summer is coming and the great white north is calling. In fact, if you listen closely you can almost hear roaring grizzly bears, splashing killer whales, rustling moose, and squawking bald eagles – all doing their best to attract tourists to share in the splendor of Alaska. So for those who have never taken a trip to the area, now is a great time to look for last-minute cruise specials.
One of the most popular lines sailing around the “last frontier” is Holland America (www.hollandamerica.com), which has ships in the region bringing guests closer to the state’s natural wonders, such as Glacier Bay National Park, Hubbard Glacier, Twin Sawyer Glaciers of Tracy Arm, or the glaciers of College Fjord.
The company currently has numerous cruises around Alaska, ranging from seven to 14 days long, with a multitude of great itineraries and ports. They are also offering a bunch of specials and last-minute deals on Alaska cruises as well as other destinations.
One of the Holland America cruises I am currently looking at is the 7-day Alaskan Explorer, an exciting roundtrip journey from Seattle, Washington with stops to see the cobalt-blue icebergs at Glacier Bay, the authentic Alaska town of Ketchikan, and much more.
The voyage departs August 25 from Seattle and heads north up the Inside Passage for about 900 miles to Juneau. The journey takes about a day and half, so guests will have plenty of time to acquaint themselves with the majestic Eurodam, Holland America Line’s first Signature-class ship. Guests on this graceful vessel can enjoy scores of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, pools and spas, lounging spots, and lots of daily activities.
On day three the ship arrives in Juneau, one of the most remote and strangest state capitals in the U.S. Surrounded by water, forest, and mountains, Juneau offers glacier hikes, fishing, and history. While in port, the ship offers many activities to take advantage of nature and wildlife viewing.
One of the excursions I’m looking into is the Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration. Seeing glaciers from the air is a must-do in Alaska, and doing so by authentic Alaskan seaplane is the quintessential local experience. Seaplanes or floatplanes allow visitors to escape into the true Alaskan wilderness within minutes of leaving the ship.
The seaplane exploration takes off from the historic downtown Juneau waterfront, carrying you over the remnants of Juneau’s mining past. The trip soars over the lush wilderness of the Tongass National Forest where riders will get their first glimpse of five distinctly different, majestic glaciers making up a section of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field. The adventure glides over deep crevasses and azure blue meltwater pools of the Norris, Hole-In-The-Wall, East and West Twin Glaciers, plus the famous five-mile-wide Taku Glacier.
On day four, the Eurodam drops anchor in Glacier Bay. Frosted crags descend into mossy forests and a 1,500-ft-deep fjord at this World Heritage Site, which is also one of the planet’s largest biosphere reserves. Stone, ice, and water continue to collide, sculpting a dramatic landscape that is the crown jewel of southeastern Alaska’s natural wonders.
Once completely covered by a huge ice sheet, Glacier Bay now features a spruce-hemlock rain forest near the mouth of the Bay and wildlife includes bald eagles, bears, moose, and humpback whales. All the sights will be visible from the ship’s decks.
The next stop is Sitka on day five. Set amid lush forests and frigid, glacial waters, this once gold-rush town and remote wilderness outpost was controlled by Russia from the mid-1700s until the United States purchased it in 1867.
On day six, the ship pulls into Ketchikan, an important hub of the salmon-fishing and packing industries. The town is also one of the best spots along the Inside Passage to explore the rich cultural sights of Native Alaskan nations like the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. A cool Holland America excursion here is the Magnificent Misty Fjords by Floatplane tour. Besides soaring above Misty Fjords National Monument, guests will experience an exhilarating water landing.
On day seven the cruise arrives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where passengers can tour the world-famous Butchart Gardens.
For more information on this cruise and other Holland America cruises to Alaska, and for more info on current specials, visit: www.hollandamerica.com.