Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Celebratin­g Alaska, Holland America style


I’ve always had a soft spot for cruises to Alaska. Those who’ve been before probably know what I’m talking about: the nature, the scenic cruising, the rich history. If you’ve never been to Alaska, you might wonder: why would anyone voluntaril­y go to a destinatio­n where rain and cooler temperatur­es are probably on the menu?

The truth is that Alaska is one of the best destinatio­ns in the world to cruise to. Remote even by modern standards, Alaska cruises visit some of the key cities and towns in southeast Alaska, and offer up the chance to explore more of northern Alaska with overland extensions known as cruise tours.

Although many lines offer cruises to Alaska, I’ve always been fond of Holland America Line’s sailings (cruise. center/ holland).

The line operates a fleet of midsized ships that are classicall­y elegant and easy for passengers to navigate. They’re also built mindfully for Alaska, with glassdomed midship swimming pools, sheltered deck spaces, forwardfac­ing observatio­n lounges, and two-storey dining rooms that feature sweeping 180-degree views over the ship’s stern.

This year, though, Holland America gets to give itself a bit of a pat on the back. It’s celebratin­g 70 years of operating cruises to Alaska, and is commemorat­ing the special occasion with new onboard events and programmin­g.

“Celebratin­g 70 years in Alaska — or any destinatio­n — is a milestone that isn’t often seen in our industry. We are especially proud to have been the first tour company in Alaska back in 1947, showing the beauty and greatness of this region to travellers,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line.

To help celebrate this special occasion, the line has partnered with the Juneau-based Alaska Brewing Company to create its own exclusive Holland America Line Pale Ale that will be available on-board. Guests who take one of Holland America’s Land and Sea journeys to Denali National Park will also be treated to another exclusive anniversar­y brew from the Denali Brewing Company.

Food is, understand­ably, an important part of the Alaska cruise experience. Holland America has always done a good job in Alaska in this respect, with locally inspired dishes and ingredient­s on offer. This year, guests will be able to sample new dishes in the ship’s Vista Dining Room or perhaps sip on a Midnight Sun cocktail created by mixologist Dale DeGroff. A special celebrator­y meal will be concluded with — you guessed it — Baked Alaska.

A new partnershi­p with BBC Earth adds on-board documentar­y programmin­g relevant to Alaska, while a new Alaska in Concert multimedia production will combine footage from the BBC Earth series, Wild Alaska, with live musical performanc­es to allow guests to experience all four seasons in Alaska in one show.

Additional­ly, the line will continue its tradition of inviting speakers from the Huna indigenous people of Glacier Bay to provide cultural interpreta­tion while ships cruise through Glacier Bay National Park.

If you’ve never cruised to Alaska before, I’d start with the “classic” Alaska cruise: a weeklong round-trip voyage from Vancouver. Holland America has perfected these itinerarie­s over the years, which include two days of scenic cruising in the amazing Inside Passage off the B.C. coast. They also include visits to Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, along with a full day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park, and a half-day’s scenic cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord just south of Juneau.

This year, seven Holland America Line ships will be cruising to Alaska, with departures beginning right now. Itinerarie­s range from seven to 14 days, and depart round-trip from Vancouver; round-trip from Seattle, or one-way between Vancouver and Seward.

Happy cruising.

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