Alaska Cruise from Vancouver

Daytime at Glacier Bay Alaska

The Alaska cruise up the Inside Passage is one of the most scenic cruises in the world. Dotted through the passage are countless islands and mountains as the ship slowly cruises through the narrow sheltered sections. 

You can go whale watching, salmon fishing, ride scenic trains along the gold rush route, and enjoy the immense wilderness that makes up this part of the world. 

Most cruisers on the Alaska cruise experience fog, rain and cool weather. We packed warm clothes and rainproof outer garments for that possibility, but we ended up wearing light summer clothes instead.  

The water was calm and like a mirror. Each day was brilliant blue skies and moderate temperatures and the sky and water teamed with wildlife. 

7-Day Cruise to Alaska

We did a 7-day Alaskan cruise on Holland America’s  Zuiderdam, sailing out of Vancouver, BC with stops in Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay and Ketchikan before returning to Vancouver.

Our balcony cabin was $750 including port charges and taxes of $260  This was an 80% discount from the brochure price. Gratuities were $15.50 each a day making it a total of $868 each for the 7-day cruise. We chose a balcony cabin in case we were quarantined for a Covid outbreak. The balcony would at least allow us to spend time outside instead of being locked in our 250 sq. ft. cabin.

We reserved a starboard balcony cabin because it is the best side of the ship to be on when travelling through the Inside Passage on the Alaska cruise as you face the mainland for terrific scenery. Our cabin was on the 7th deck which is the best deck to be on as the highest priced suites are on this deck and the cruise line places it top cabin stewards on this deck. Our stewards were 10 out of 10 for service and cleanliness. 

We were located at the stern with the main dining room directly below us on deck 2 and the Lido deck directly above us two decks. It was just a short elevator ride down to the dining room for breakfast and dinner or up to the stern hot tubs

Day 1 - Holland America Zuiderdam Check-in

Holland America Line Zuiderdam

The ships dock at the Canada Place cruise terminal located in downtown Vancouver. We parked our car with family and took an Uber ride. The driver took us to the underground parking below Canada Place and he was directed to the lower level where we dropped off our luggage to be placed in our cabin. 

We carried on by foot through the terminal on the start of our Alaska cruise. Our check-in time was scheduled for 1:30 pm but we got there two hours early at 11:30 am and they told us it was fine that we were early.

We stood in line to show our passports, proof of vaccination and a current Covid test, then our picture was taken and we were given our onboard id card that is used for identification to go off and on the ship and to purchase anything on board. We then had to fill out our ArriveCan form (a week before we were coming back) before proceeding to the screening area.

Our carry on bags were scanned for contraband. On Holland America you are not allowed to bring onboard any beverages of any sort without paying. I brought four bottles of wine for dinner. The attendants put a coloured sticker on each bottle to show that the corkage was paid.

We boarded the ship with the whole process taking less than 30 minutes. Normally cabins are not ready when you board and you go and have lunch on the Lido deck. The crew welcoming us told us we could go straight to our cabin if we wished. We proceeded to our cabin with our carry-on bags and were totally surprised to see our checked-in luggage already in our cabin. It normally takes several hours to get your bags. 

After we unpacked and stowed everything away, we watched the safety video and went to our muster station on deck 5 and had our cards scanned. Once that was done, we were officially on our Alaska cruise. 

 

First Day on Board

Holland America Zuiderdam Cabin 7143
Cabin 7143 with balcony and on Rotterdam Deck 7

We went up to the upper Lido deck for the lunch buffet. The food was excellent with a good selection. The first thing we noticed was that we were one of the few passengers wearing masks. All the staff wore masks all the time but only 1% of the passengers wore masks. 

We wore our masks whenever we were out of our room and around people on the ship. But, we didn’t wear our masks while eating and drinking and there are a lot of people moving around in the eating and drinking areas. I did not really feel comfortable about that after spending two years staying away from any large group of people – even though everyone was vaccinated and recently tested.

The ship was scheduled to leave at 4 pm but was half an hour late because some of the passengers did not follow the safety rules. In the past, everyone onboard had to report to their muster station at a specific time and go through the Internationally mandated safety drill. All of the cruise lines take this very seriously. 

Since the pandemic, the procedure has changed. You have to watch the safety video in your cabin then report to your muster station where your onboard card is scanned by staff. As each person does what is required of them, they are checked off on the ship’s manifest.

An hour before departure there are announcements every 10 minutes reminding people in a friendly way to go watch the video and get their cards scanned. As the time for departure got closer the announcements become more and more terse. I am not sure how they go about tracking down the people who did not follow the rules but eventually everyone complied and we sailed away half an hour late.

 

Bow deck waiting for the sailaway party

The sun was out and it was hot on the bow deck for the sailaway party. Only about a 100 people showed up. The party is not as much of a deal as in the past where three or four hundred people would show up. The cruise director comes out and welcomes the guests and talks a bit about the cruise and the activities on the ship. After she finishes, there is taped music (most cruises have the house band playing) and the bar staff wander through selling the special drink made for the party while we watched the port of Vancouver, Stanley Park and the North Shore slip away as we headed north.

Afterwards we wandered around the ship to the various areas to get acquainted with the ship’s offerings. The ship has a full gym and spa, shops, casino, three pools and five hot tubs. I enjoyed working out at the uncrowded gym. The change room showers are twice the size of the cabin showers and overlook the water. It is a much better place to shower and shave in the morning than the small cabin bathrooms.

 

Men's change room and showers

We went for dinner at 7:30 pm the first night. With Covid, we chose the ‘Dine Anytime’ option over the set seating at 5 o’clock or 8 o’clock. We wanted a table for two as we were not comfortable eating with 4-6 other people at this time. Normally we like to eat with other passengers and have had wonderful dinner companions on all of our cruises over the years.

The mâitre’d gave us table 101 and booked us in for 7:30 each night so that we had the same waiters for dinner. It was a lovely table with a partition wall on one side and in front of a large picture window. 

I brought the wine with me and gave it to our waiter. Each night the wine was at our table with the white in an ice bucket and the red on the table. I told the head waiter that we would look after our own wine pouring; otherwise they will keep filling your glass which we didn’t want as we had allotted a glass of white and red each night and that is all we wanted because when you are dining for 7 nights, you have to pace yourself. 

The dinner menu changes each day and salmon was on most evenings along with filet mignon, prime rib, duck breast, escargot and a variety of other dishes. If you have a big appetite, you can order as many courses as you like. Don’t be shy, the waiters are there to please. All my meals came perfectly cooked. The beef was rare, the salmon was moist, eggs were soft and the plating was well done. 

People do not dress up like they use to just a few years ago. There definitely is a trend to ultra casual wear. The dress code five nights was smart casual and two nights were dressy which seems to be the term that replaces formal. I did not see any tuxedos on those nights and only a few suits. We dress up each night. I always wear a blazer, dress shirt, pants and shoes. On formal nights I will put on a tie. I pack three dress shirts and two dress pants for a 7-day cruise. 

 

Main dining room Zuiderdam
The purple sticker shows that the corkage fee has been paid
Zuiderdam prime rib
Zuiderdam breakfast

Day 2 at Sea on the Zuiderdam

The second day was at sea as we cruised through the Inside Passage. We had breakfast in the dining room early and then went and used the hot tub on Deck 9, two decks above us. The trick is to go early that first day as most people don’t think about using the hot tub and the rest tend to go later in the day. We sat in the hot tub for 45 minutes watching the scenery go by. Afterwards, I went and worked out at the gym. It was quiet with only three other people there. Just the way I like it.

 

Zuiderdam stern hot tub

There is no shortage of things to do onboard. There are three live music venues with the Rolling Stones Lounge rock band playing songs from the 70s to today. Throughout the day the Billboard Onboard piano lounge played songs that made the Billboard Hits list. The Lincoln Center Stage had a piano quartet that put on three performances a day from a variety of classical and modern composers. There is also the grand stage that had wonderful dance performances most nights.

In addition to this, there are talks and workshops going on throughout the day. There was so much to do that I was unable to get to all the things that I would have liked to do. I went to an art seminar on ‘Greatest Art Heists’ that was very interesting. The artist whose works have been most stolen with over 1,100 of his pictures stolen at some point of time is Pablo Picasso.

Zuiderdam bartender

I took a mixology course for $15 that first day. We were shown how to make a Cosmopolitan, a Metropolitan, an Old Fashion and a Manhattan. We were given full samples and the waiters put on bottle juggling show. It was an early happy hour.

Happy hour is from 4-5 pm and 8-9 pm each day except the first day. The cocktails are expertly prepared and drinks are 50% off with most costing $5. You can get a beer for $3.50 or buy a bucket of 5 beers for $15 which you can then take back to your room. Soft drinks are $1.25 and if you brought booze aboard you can stock up on mix. 

We just told our room steward to always have a can of tonic and soda in our mini-fridge and paid the $2.50 per can. You are not allowed to bring your own spirits on any cruise line but we always throw in a bottle of gin in our suitcase and have never had it taken. It is for our pre-dinner drink while we are changing.

 

Zuiderdam Cosmopolitan
Zuiderdam Aperol Spritzer

Day 3 - Juneau Alaska

People's dock Juneau
Lots of jewelry stores and crab shacks in Juneau, Alaska
Cook at Crab Shack in Juneau, Alaska
King Crab legs are $75 per pound
Juneau food stand
Main commercial area

Our first stop was Juneau, the state capitol of Alaska with a population of about 30,000. We did not take any tours but there are dozens to choose from at each port. It is easy to find something of interest. The tours are pricey and you are with a whole group of people and we were not interested in that. 

We walked and looked around the State Museum, the Governor’s Mansion and the State Capitol building. The museum was $13 and takes about an hour to browse through. The exhibits are well displayed and you get a good feel about the state of Alaska. The Governor’s Mansion is a modest two story white structure on about half an acre of garden. You go right out of the museum two blocks and climb about 70 stairs up to the mansion. Below there is the State Capital building. 

We entered the building and the guard told us that we could just wander around the building. We wandered around a number of the floors and looked at all the pictures on the wall and went into the legislature assembly room. It was all very interesting and there were no other people around. We then continued walking down through the heart of the city and stopped in an old bar to have a drink before heading back to the ship.

 

Day 4 - Skagway Alaska

Skagway White Pass train station
Skagway National Park

Day four was the port of Skagway with a population or 1000 in the winter and 2500 in the summer when the university students come and the staff for the many jewelry stores arrive for the season. The town is six blocks long with wooden historical buildings including the oldest hotel in Alaska. The National Historic Park Service has a big presence here with a number of buildings and talks. It is here that you can take the White Pass Railroad over the scenic pass that so many Klondike gold rush prospectors climbed. 

Like Caribbean cruise ports, there are many jewelry shops. What has happened over time is that the jewellery store owners of the Caribbean shops have bought up old buildings and have created modern jewellery shops on the main floor and living quarters upstairs. When it is off-season in the Caribbean, they all head up to the Alaska ports for their summer season and return to the Caribbean for the winter cruise season.

 

Day 5 - Glacier Bay Alaska

Margerie Glacier Alaska
Margerie Glacier with a face of about 80 feet. The glacier is advancing and breaking off calfs.
Lots of floating ice from the glaciers
Glacier Bay Pat eating pea soup
The captain fed us all pea soup as part of his tradition

The third stop was Glacier Bay, a national park and preserve covering over 3 million acres. There are seven active tidewater glaciers that calf icebergs into the inlet. Cruising up the inlet 65 km to Margerie Glacier the ship moved very slowly through the calm waters. 

We spent an hour at Margerie Glacier as the ship turned slowly around so everyone had a good view of the glacier right from their balcony. The spectacular wilderness is awe inspiring and for me the best day of the cruise. We had brilliant blue skies, warm weather, and saw a couple of ice faces crack and crash into the water. We also saw waterfalls, other glaciers, and an Orca along with many bald eagles, sea otters and sea lions.

 

Day 6 - Ketchikan Alaska

Ketchikan Alaska Creek buildings
Ketchikan marina

Our final stop was on Day 6 at Ketchikan. The 1st City of Alaska has a different feel than the other two stops. There is downtown core of about six blocks with a vibrant marina and I like walking through Creek Street behind the marina with all its old historic buildings. Many of the houses were bars and bordellos during the gold rush days. 

Following the creek along ‘Married Man’s Trail’ (the married men would sneak down the trail to the bordellos) for 10 minutes will bring you to the Totem Heritage Center. Admission is $5 and the facility is world class. Not many ship passengers get up to here so it is not crowded. They have done a good job of preserving totem poles inside air controlled glass cabinets. There is cultural art work on the walls including blankets that take years to make. There are interesting displays with good information on plaques. We enjoyed spending an hour here and talking with the First Nation staff and artists at work.

Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan Alaska

Totem Heritage Center totems

Day 7 - At Sea Alaska to Vancouver

Zuiderdam stern wake

Day seven was an at sea day and I was looking forward to taking part in several of the activities that I was not able to take part in on the first day at sea. But, we were not feeling very well so we stayed in our cabin and ordered room service. We were also able to have our dinner from the dining room delivered to our room. We sat on our balcony and watched the coastline of Vancouver Island as we passed Port Hardy, Campbell River, Courtenay, Parksville and others. We must have slowed right down through the night and we docked in the early morning.

If you want your luggage delivered to the transportation pick up area, you have to put it out the night before then wait until your luggage group is called. You may be on the ship until 10:30 and you are moving with a lot of people. If you carry your own luggage off the ship, you can leave anytime you want between 8am and 10:30am. 

We had an early breakfast in our cabin and then took our own luggage off the ship by ourselves at 8:30 am. The Cruise Director was standing at the gangplank greeting us and thanking us. We walked a bit and handed our filled out Customs Form that was put in our mail holder outside our cabin door the day before. That was it. No scanning our luggage, no nothing. We were at the front of Canada Place before 9am arranging an Uber driver.

Tips and Recommendations

Maybe hold off another year to cruise

The day after the cruise we tested ourselves and got a faint positive line. The next day it was a solid positive line. We quarantined ourselves for 7 days. It was like a head cold with low energy for the first 3-4 days and then by the 7th day we were back to our normal routine. 

In hindsight, I would probably have waited another year before going on the cruise. Even when everyone is vaccinated and tested, even though we wore masks and avoided crowds as much as we could, with that many people mingling around not wearing masks, we still got Covid. 

If you do go on a cruise, I recommend taking your dinners in your cabin. The room service will deliver your selection from the Dining Room evening menu to your room. On Holland America, they are really pushing room service. There is a follow-up phone call within 10 minutes about the service and we found the service 10 out of 10. 

Bring your own wine

It is cheaper to bring your own wine aboard and pay the $20 corkage fee. That way you don’t have to drink down. A $10 bottle of wine goes for $42. A $20 bottle of wine goes for $84 and a $30 bottle of wine goes for $125. Better to buy our own $30 bottle of wine, pay the $20 corkage fee and save $75 per bottle. 

Take the mixology or wine class

These are very good value. You get much more than you paid. For this mixology class, I paid $15 and got $35 in drinks and was entertained for an hour. I have been to wine tastings where they expected 20 and only got 10 people. They open the wine before the tasting to breath. Some very expensive wine was opened and we got to have full glasses of $300 wine for $20. 

Tip generously if deserving

Cruise lines charge a daily gratuity for staff. You use to give cash in envelopes to your waiters and cabin stewards. Now it is automatically charged to your credit card each day. Holland America is $15.50 per person per day or $31 a couple. 

Our cabin stewards were terrific and I was happy to leave them an additional $40 in an envelope in our cabin. 

50% off Happy Hour

If you like to have a drink before dinner, the 50% off Happy Hour is a great deal. The bartenders and highly trained and the drinks are always wonderful. The ingredients are perfectly mixed and served in the proper glassware. 

Happy Hour is from 4-5 pm which is perfect for those dining at 5pm. There is also a later Happy Hour from 8-9 pm for that night cap or heading out for the evening.