The question some of asked – “Didn’t you move to Australia?” – the answer is yes but we had this trip planned (and paid for) before I knew about the move so we came back for the trip to celebrate our 30th Anniversary. It was our first cruise – we selected Holland America as reviews indicated it focused on an older crowd (e.g. no kids), had one way from Vancouver, and went to Glacier Bay – we didn’t truly understand the definition of older (we may have been the youngest on the cruise).
I have no mixed feelings – elements were either great or frustrating – the highlights for others considering a first cruise:
• After initial boarding – transitions to the “next thing” very easy. Wake up and you are there. Could not have seen many of the sites without a cruise in the inside passage.
• Food – better than expected for the standard package and upgraded meals excellent for a reasonable premium.
• Entertainment/activities – although focused on the “older” crowd – was good for us with a couple of good bands, wine tasting, and an art auction (we didn’t spend $180,000 on an original work).
• The ship – very impressive, even though it is an older ship.
• Communication on initial boarding and disembarkment – created a lot of wasted effort and standing in lines. Ultimately both worked out fine, but too much effort.
• A lot of pre-planning required, partially because of the issue above – more than I usually do when I book everything myself.
• Cost – All-in – cost was about 30% higher per day than we have paid on our last couple of trips (excluding airfare). But food was better than we would have eaten on our own.
We also took the last cruise of the season and 8 of the 11 days had rain and/or heavy overcast – but the 3 days of sun that we did have were glorious.
Our itinerary was Vancouver > Ketchikan > Juneau > Skagway > Glacier Bay > College Fjord > Whitter. We had about 2 days in Vancouver – always great to go there and do the Stanley Park bike loop. In Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway you get the opportunity for shore excursions – we had selected as our primary excursion a seaplane tour in Ketchikan. But with the low clouds it was cancelled and we ended up booking a train ride later in Skagway and did low key stuff in Ketchikan and Juneau. All three stops were heavy rain and cloudy – and it was amazing how many diamond stores are in these towns – that many people are buying jewelry on vacation?
Cruising Inside Passage / Excursions
Most people on our cruise continued on a train or bus to Denali – we had decided rent a car and drive ourselves. Maybe the best decision that we made – with the weather having the flexibility to “chase the sun” worked to our advantage (and it was about 75% cheaper). Since it was the last week of the season, many places were closed or closing (more than one place we were there on their last day open) and in the town of Denali the only place open to eat was the Holland America “McKinley Chalet” where we saw people from our cruise and it was open to the public. Additionally, the national park had stopped bus tours (except if you were with a cruise) BUT you could drive your car into areas of the park not open for the rest of the year. We caught the peak of red fire weed (Bearberry) which covers the meadows at higher elevations and the yellow aspens at lower elevations on a final glorious blue sky day when everyone else had left on the train or buses.