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Alaska cruise review: Waterfalls, wildlife & gold rush history

Destination Reviews
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I have always wanted to visit Alaska, with its stunning scenery and wildlife, so a trip starting in the city of Vancouver beckoned in May. It's the perfect choice for both seasoned and first-time cruisers. Read my Alaska cruise review below.

I started with an easy flight from London - albeit still 9 hours (!) - and on arrival in Vancouver, had a one night stay at the Pinnacle Hotel, about a 10-minute walk from the cruise terminal of Canada Place. There are other hotels located in this area, most notably the Fairmont Vancouver Waterfront and the Pan Pacific, both also very close to the terminal.

The following morning I checked in at my assigned boarding time - a bit of a lengthy process as you also have to clear US Immigration as well as the security checks, so it takes about an hour before boarding the ship. Once I stepped foot on the ship, Holland America Line Koningsdam, I could not wait to explore my home for the next week, a lovely Veranda Stateroom.

I found the Navigator app which I downloaded on my mobile phone invaluable to plan my day and evening; I could book dining, spa treatments and shore excursions, and I liked the 'chat' section so I could keep in touch with fellow guests and travelling companions.

Our first port of call was Juneau in Alaska, and here I took the Goldbelt Tram (a cable car) which is the only aerial tramway in Southeast Alaska. You can hike once you reach the summit, but icy conditions can still make this difficult if you are not wearing the appropriate footwear.

There is a shop and restaurant here; the town of Juneau itself is small, with mainly tourist shops, a theme continued at the next couple of ports of call! Just twelve miles from the town is the beautiful Tongass National Forest where you can hike or walk one of many trails, taking in the spectacular scenery of waterfalls, icebergs and wildlife.

The following day we arrived in Skagway, a town rich in Gold Rush history, and much of the area has been preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. This is where I boarded the White Pass & Yukon Route scenic railway - my favourite excursion of the trip.

The carriages take you up to the White Pass Summit at an elevation of 2,888 feet before looping round to descend back to the town. Along the way, you see the route taken by hopeful gold seekers over the White Pass towards the Klondike goldfields, with fantastic views of the mountains and valleys below. There is also the opportunity to stroll through the town, with a visit to the legendary Red Onion Saloon, a former whorehouse, and the tour led by one of the "madams" of the establishment.

Glacier Bay National Park was the next area we visited with an early 5.30am start, recommended for the best chance to view the wildlife - whales, otters, seals and birds - as they like to appear early in the morning. Park Rangers came onboard to narrate our journey through our arrival at John Hopkins Glacier and Margerie Glacier, before departing in the late afternoon.

The scenery here is stunning, and silent throughout, with ice floes passing the ship as we sailed along. This was the only time it felt colder, but hot chocolate and hot toddies helped to warm us up!

We sailed along to our final stop in Ketchikan - the salmon capital of the world, set in the heart of the Tongass National Forest - and where you can take the Totem Bight trail where one of the world's largest stands of totems await at the end.

There are also opportunities to spot black bears and bald eagles with a nature walk through the rainforest, but I opted to walk alongside the pretty marinas and browse in the shops before returning to the ship for our final day at sea and onward to the destination of Vancouver to disembark.

This process was straightforward, and I opted to book the Hop On, Hop Off bus for the day as my return flight was in the late afternoon. My luggage was taken to the airport for me, so I was free to discover this beautiful city on my own.

I took the horse-drawn tour of Stanley Park and visited Granville Island with its many local artists, restaurants and shops before heading back on the bus through the China Town and Gastown districts, finishing back at Canada Place for the Skytrain to the airport. This is the easiest (and cheapest) form of transport between the airport and the cruise terminal/downtown Vancouver, and takes about 40 minutes. I cannot wait to return and discover more of this destination - plans are already in the making!

Meet the author

Cathy is a Cruise Consultant at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for 5 years and in travel for over 22 years. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Crystal, Regent Seven Seas, Paul Gauguin, Ponant, Seabourn, Cunard, AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Tauck and Pandaw. Her favourite destination is Bermuda however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean, Adriatic, Myanmar, South Pacific and Antarctica. When she’s not travelling she loves going to the theatre.

More about Cathy

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