From Anchorage, Hannah Tattersall embarks on a journey by land and sea, taking in Denali National Park, gold rush towns of the Yukon, Canada, and Alaska’s Glacier Bay and Inside Passage.
Alaska is known for its diverse terrain: soaring mountain ranges, sparkling blue glaciers and thickly forested coastal areas where wild bear and caribou roam. One of the best ways to explore America’s largest state is by a combined land and sea journey, which allows unrivalled access to coastal mountains, marine wildlife and quaint, hard-to-reach towns.
Holland America (HAL) and sister company Princess Cruises dominate the Alaska cruise tour market, and the former has offered combined land and sea voyages since 1946.
I embarked upon HAL’s 12-day land- and-sea journey last August, beginning in Alaska’s most populated city, Anchorage. From there, I and a bus load of fellow cruisers took the McKinley Explorer train to Denali to spend two nights in Denali National Park. Aside from being home to the famous Mount McKinley, the park is fertile ground for grizzly bears, moose, wolves, caribou and wild flora.
For the rest of the land part of the trip, we followed the route (in reverse) taken by more than 30,000 Klondike stampeders in 1898 when gold fever struck the region, through Fairbanks to Dawson City and Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon in Canada. (You can do the trip chronologically if you choose to start your adventure at sea). One of the more interesting parts of the land component was visiting the home of Robert Service who settled in Dawson City and wrote countless poems about the Klondike gold rush. The pastel-hued town is steeped in literary history and filled with great bars and cafes. Don’t miss the cabaret show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s and, if you’re feeling super adventurous, the chance to sample a Sourtoe cocktail at Sourdough Saloon (warning: it’s a shot with a real human toe in it).
The great thing about doing the land part of the trip first is that after a week of early mornings and constant repacking, I felt well and truly deserving of a few days respite aboard the MS Zuiderdam.
In Skagway, I embarked on the Glacier Point Wilderness Safari, which involved jetting off in a 26-passenger expedition boat to a remote beach and canoeing to the spectacularly blue Davidson Glacier.
Back on the ship, the next morning was spent cruising around Glacier Bay, sliding in beside iridescent formations shaped during the Little Ice Age. It was also a time to mingle with fellow passengers while sipping hot pea soup on the decks. From Glacier Bay, we sailed to Ketchikan, the gateway to Misty Fjords National Monument and from there to the Inside Passage, an area encompassing a thousand islands, coves and bays.
As well as eagerly searching for whales, eagles, bears, moose, seals and seabirds from the deck, there was plenty to see and do within the ship. Activities included daily trivia, bingo, towel folding, cooking and fitness classes, and Zuiderdam has a Greenhouse Spa and Salon, indoor pool, casino and various entertainment venues in which to while away the evening hours.
Mark Best, owner of renowned Sydney restaurant Marque, is now on board with HAL’s fleet of 15 ships, offering his French-inspired cuisine in the Vista Dining Room. For passengers seeking an evening of sophistication, nothing beats The Pinnacle Grill when it is transformed into New York restaurant Le Cirque. I enjoyed some of the best steak I’ve ever tasted – and the seafood options and wine list are equally impressive.
Highs: HAL is so experienced in this neck of the woods that logistically, the odyssey through Alaska and Yukon is a dream. From arrival in Anchorage to departure in Vancouver, HAL takes care of your luggage, ensuring it shows up exactly where it is supposed to every time, and HAL staff are some of the friendliest and most courteous folk I’ve ever come across. Lows: The only complaint I had at the end of the trip was not having enough days at sea to relax and contemplate my amazing adventures in Alaska. Best for: Curious, mature-aged travellers with a sense of adventure. Most of the passengers on board Zuiderdam were aged 51-74 and many were repeat travellers.