*post written while staring at the Margerie Glacier from our cabin balcony. Excuse the drooling 😉
There’s a storm brewing in the sky. I’m munching on my breakfast bowl of granola and berries when a colossal glacier appears in front of our cabin’s balcony. All around magnificent icebergs float on the still waters. Sea-lions try to perch themselves on the chunks of ice, slipping clumsily every now and then. It’s just another day at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
But for the two of us, it’s no ordinary day! We’re deep in the Alaskan wilderness and looking at gargantuan glaciers and icebergs, it’s easy to imagine the vast tundra that lays beyond the final frontier. We’ve been in Alaska for less than a week but we’ve realised something – here, at the edge of the world, there is a surprise lurking around every corner. Entire valleys alive with bright pink flowers, mountains and landscapes draped with sapphire ice, whales and orcas playing and hunting in untouched wilderness, and glaciers by the dozen. There is something so incredibly seductive about nature this pristine.
CHOOSING AN ALASKAN CRUISE
Alaska is famous for miles upon miles of untouched wilderness. A number of its famous sites are accessible only by boat or plane. So how is one to experience this pristine wilderness with creature comforts – bath tubs, 3 course dinners, Egyptian cotton sheets, a wine list? By cruise ship of course! 🙂
Be it the Mediterranean, Norwegian Fjords, or Middle East we love visiting new destinations on cruise ships. But here in Alaska, cruises are often the most economically viable option as travelling by land can get expensive. Besides boats are convenient because they can go to many sites that are inaccessible to automobiles. No wonder an Alaskan cruise is on so many bucket lists!
Cruises to Alaska start from both Vancouver and Seattle but we ended up choosing one that started in Vancouver for two reasons. Cruises that start in Vancouver venture deeper into Alaska’s wilderness and sail through the calm waters of the Inside Passage.
BOARDING THE SHIP: HOLLAND AMERICA’S NIEUW AMSTERDAM
We boarded our cruise ship, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam, on a sunny morning from the Pan Pacific Hotel. It’s the first hotel we’ve visited that is actually connected to the cruise ship terminal, which made checking-in a breeze.
We opted for a cabin in the middle of the ship, as we usually do. The cabins are equipped with comfortable beds, spacious wardrobes, a television with a large selection of movies and TV series (watched a dozen in less than a week 😉 ), shower cubicle, and a bath tub (a first for us on a cruise ship!). Once checked in we walked around the ship to acquaint ourselves with the layout, dining options, and the fitness centre. I have to be honest – this is one of my favourite rituals of boarding a cruise ship! Exploring the nooks and crannies of the vessel never fails to get me excited about the holiday that lays ahead – a week full of exploration, black-tie dinners, fine dining, spa appointments, and the culture of a new corner of the world.
The Nieuw Amsterdam is very different from most cruise ships we’ve been on so far. The interiors are extremely sophisticated and grown-up. This holds true of lounges, restaurants, reception areas, poolside cabanas, and even the buffet areas. Expect rich woods, stunning floral arrangement, winding staircases, and handsome interiors. Everything is tasteful and understated, including the cabins. The ship pays homage to the classic tradition of cruising and invokes the romance of a bygone era.
Having acquainted ourselves with the ship and our cabin, we wound down with a luxurious massage each at the Greenhouse Spa & Salon, all set for our Alaskan Cruise holiday to begin 🙂
DINING ON BOARD NIEUW AMSTERDAM
Let’s be honest – dining is the focal point of most cruise holidays. If you’ve even been on a cruise holiday you’d know this well. Cruise holidays involve food, food, and some more food. They offer the perfect opportunity for a bit of indulgence. In keeping with this, there is no shortage of dining options on the Nieuw Amsterdam. The expansive buffet area has everything from fresh fruits and continental delicacies to Alaskan specialities and world foods at every meal. Dive Burger Bar serves scrumptious burgers on freshly-baked brioche and a selection of gourmet hotdogs. There’s even a poolside pizzeria if you fancy some comfort food. The vast salad bar is my personal favourite – I found myself inching towards it at almost every meal.
Every night the main dining room has a specially curated three-course menu that is included in the cost of the cruise. However I urge you to try pan-Asian cuisine at Tamarind Restaurant. The menu is curated by the renown sushi chef Andy Matsuda and it truly lives up to the hype. Vid can have sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So we’ve ended up trying most of the items on the menu – loved the Tempura Lobster Roll; Nigiri Seared Salmon and Nigiri Tuna Zuke with yuzu-flavored tuna and guacamole sauce (an unusual combination but no less scrumptious). Even writing about it is making me hungry. We also loved the rustic sharing plates at Canaletto, the Italian restaurant on the Nieuw Amsterdam.
We love the romance of old-fashioned black-tie dinners, so we really enjoyed ourselves on both gala dinners and attended as many cocktail evenings as we could. In keeping with the grand tradition of cruising, most guests were dressed to the nines on formal evenings – unabashedly glamorous jackets, bow ties, and cocktail gowns were out in full swing 🙂
ALASKA CRUISE: PORTS OF CALL
We spent a week exploring Alaska’s wilderness and gawking at calving glaciers. At Tracy arm, chunks of ice floated past us as if to remind us we were in iceberg territory. At Juneau we were blown away by the sight of 13 humpback whales feeding on fish all at once. At Mendenhall Glacier, we couldn’t get enough of the blue colour of the metres upon metres of compressed ice. At Skagway, we marvelled at Alaska’s living, throbbing countryside aboard The White Pass and Yukon Rail. Hundreds of thousands of bright fuchsia flowers, The Alaskan Fireweed, lent an inimitable shade to the landscape. We flew over a surreal, almost lunar landscape, at Meade Glacier in Skagway. We couldn’t stop peeking out of the helicopter’s window every 10 seconds as it made its way past misty fjords, tall peaks, indigo icebergs, and finally the glacier.
But it was today, when our ship pulled into the iconic Glacier Bay National Park that I well and truly fell in love. We didn’t get ideal weather – far from it! Thunderous skies and rain showers ensured a grey day. But then the mist parted to reveal a gargantuan wall of ice staring us in our faces – The Margerie Glacier. Beyond it, a white void stretching as far as the eye could see. A landscape so surreal it seems to belong to another planet.
I listen to the murmur of raindrops as I snuggle deeper into the blanket I’ve wrapped around myself. It might be freezing but I can’t tear myself away from this vision. As I watch frolicking sea lions and icebergs calving off the glacier, I know I need to write this post soon. I want to preserve the memory of the sheer spectacle unfolding in front of my eyes and there’s only one way to do it 🙂
An Alaskan cruise – it’s just the sort of seductive rendezvous that fuels our wanderlust and spurs us to explore every single corner of this planet. Here’s to setting afloat in search of new worlds……
FACT FILE & TIPS FOR YOUR ALASKAN CRUISE
- A cruise to Alaska makes for a perfect romantic getaway, ideal if you’re celebrating your honeymoon or any other special occasion.
- Boarding the cruise ship: Pan Pacific Vancouver is the perfect hotel to stay for a night or two before your cruise to Alaska. It is located on the cruise terminal itself, so transfers are hassle free.
- Costs: Holland America’s 7 night cruises to Alaska start at £600 per person. More information on www.hollandamerica.com
- Excursions: Our favourite excursions include helihikes in Alaska, The White Pass and Yukon Rail, Whale Watching experience, and kayaking by a glacier. For all details read our article on our favourite cruise excursions in Alaska.
- Choosing a cruise: When choosing a cruise to Alaska, try to choose one that sails through The Inside Passage. It is usually calmer and perfect if you don’t enjoy the thought of turbulent seas (who does?)
- The Nieuw Amsterdam: This is a sophisticated ship with an old-world charm about it. Expect beautiful floral arrangements, handsome interiors, and understated furnishings. The grown-up ambience is a far cry from the garish interiors of many other cruise ships. We really enjoyed it.
- Choosing a cabin: Mid-ship cabins on the fourth, fifth, and sixth decks are a perfect choice – you will barely feel the ship here, especially when the waters are calm. The staterooms on Nieuw Amsterdam are more spacious than most ships we’ve been on. The cabins are equipped with comfortable beds, spacious wardrobes, a television with a large selection of movies, shower cubicle, and a bath tub (a first for us on a cruise ship).
- Dining: There are a number of dining options included in the price of the cruise holiday – everything from three-course meals at the main dining room and burgers to sliced pizza and salad bars is on offer. For something different, we would highly recommend sampling the pan-Asian menu, especially the sushi, at Tamarind. Canaletto restaurant that specialises in rustic Italian styling dining with sharing plates also makes for a great evening out. There is a surcharge of £15/per person to dine at both these restaurants.
- Internet: Internet is paid but works through satellite. It worked surprisingly well through the length of the cruise for us. We managed to update our social media channels every single day which is perfect. But if you don’t NEED to be online, a cruise to Alaska provides the perfect opportunity to disconnect from the outside world.
- Packing: We’ve written so many articles on packing for cruise holidays, so I won’t say much on this front. As a rule of thumb make sure you pack black-tie/evening wear for special events and gala nights on the cruise ship. Pack warm down jackets and thermals for colder days and excursions. But do get along a few casual outfits and swimwear for warmer days, casual lunches, and afternoons spent lazing by the pool.
Stuck on which cruise excursions to choose on your cruise to Alaska? Here are 5 of our favourite Alaskan Experiences
New to cruises? Here are 5 reasons we love cruises