Cruise to Alaska in July on the ms Volendam
The first cruise I ever went on was to Alaska in 2006. This past July I went for the second time with my mum and my boyfriend. In my opinion the only reason to go to Alaska is for the scenery. To go up north and see all that nature has to offer (mountains, fjords, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, whales, bears, bald eagles and more) is really the biggest drawing point. It is spectacular.
We signed up for a 7-day roundtrip Alaska cruise out of Vancouver with port stops in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, plus scenic cruising through Glacier Bay National Park. Having been to the port towns before, I was most excited to visit Glacier Bay. This was my first time cruising with Holland America Line. We were on the ms Volendam, a ship 781 feet long with a passenger capacity of 1432.
What can I say? It’s a pretty run down little town, and that’s especially unnerving since it is Alaska's capital city. Juneau is very isolated. No roads lead in or out of this remote port town so it can only be reached by ship or plane. I’m not sure how anyone could live there! The town is nestled into a valley and apparently gets rain 230 days of the year.
Apart from the cruise ship season that runs annually from May to September the town lays quiet. When the ships are in port the population can increase by several thousand. Someone from the cruise ship told us Juneau also happens to be the crystal meth hub of Alaska. Not the most appealing place to be but the town does draw in the cruise ship passengers because they must pass through to get to the retreating Mendenhall glacier, which is about 19 kilometers away.
During our rainy visit to Juneau we wandered around the downtown area for a bit and looked into the tourist-y gift shops (tanzanite and diamond sales). These shops are in every Alaskan port and after seeing them on the first Alaska cruise years ago we've learned to avoid them. Other than the tourist trap shops I noticed that Juneau had a lot of book stores. I figured this has to do with there not being much to do in Juneau. I imagine it would be especially depressing and quiet in the winter. Thank goodness for those bookstores.
Next we checked out the infamous Red Dog Saloon and went into a cool gallery called Alaska Robotics. The gallery staff gave us a great tip for a cozy cafe that was located just around the corner. We headed to The Rookery and found some great coffee (tea for me). By the time we were finished the rain still hadn't eased up and so we decided to call it a day and headed back to the ship.
This is the port to visit if you’re interested in Alaska’s gold rush history. We originally had planned to go zip lining that day since we heard that Skagway has one of the best zip line parks in all of Alaska. Our plans ultimately fell through.
Instead we went to the tourist information building and signed up for one of the free city tours that the city Rangers provide. The tour was about an hour long and took a group of roughly twenty-five people (I’m assuming they were all cruise ship passengers) to various historic buildings. We learned all about Skagway's gold rush history as well as the abandoned neighboring town of Dyea and the old west crime boss Soapy Smith.
A must see shop in Skagway would be the Back Alley Rock Shop, which is tucked away off the main street. There you can find a gigantic collection of rocks, gems, and minerals from all over the world, plus various fossils and jewelry. I regret not picking up one of the fossilized jellyfish!
My favorite Alaskan port. Ketchikan has the worlds largest collection of standing totem poles and is known as the “salmon capital of the world”. It also has many boardwalks to explore throughout the town. This was the only port that was sunny and that makes a world of difference when visiting any city. Everything is instantly more appealing and people are friendlier.
As this was the final port on our cruise we were determined to go zip lining. We signed up with Southeast Exposure and they drove us to the zip line park, which is located a short drive outside Ketchikan. Once I had overcome my fear of heights the zip line tour was tons of fun and I wish that I had taken photos! But the risk was too great of damaging my camera and so it stayed behind in my backpack. Our guides Rob and Jeff were awesome! The final zip line took us out of the Tongass Forest tree canopy and onto a platform raised above the ocean. On the platform we had a great view of the islands around us. Right next to us were three or four bald eagles circling the water’s surface and landing in the tree tops.
After the zip line tour we drove back into town and walked up and down some of Ketchikan's boardwalks before heading back to the Volendam.
We sailed out of Ketchikan and made our way back towards Vancouver through the Inside Passage.