Alaska Through a Porthole

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MS Westerdam, Glacier Bay, Alaska.
MS Westerdam, Glacier Bay, Alaska.

The landscape of Alaska, America’s treasure chest of unparalleled natural wonders, is best mirrored in the sliver of land that makes up its southeast corner where astounding inlets, bays and mountains offer a glimpse of the storied wonders lying beyond. This is a two-fisted zone awesome in its beauty—and for the cheechako, as outsiders are called in these parts, there are few better ways to experience it than from the cabin of the many cruise ships hugging the coast.

showcasing alaska
Holland America Line (HAL) does it with luxurious, modern vessels that belie the flair of a company with a long pedigree: HAL marked its 140th anniversary in 2013. Today, as a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Corp., it carries more than 800,000 passengers a year and a considerable number taking to sea to see Alaska in its midyear glory. With a fleet of 15 ships (a new ship is slated for delivery in February 2016; the MS Koningsdam), HAL currently offers more than 500 cruises to 415 ports-of-call in 98 countries, territories, or dependencies a year.

But it’s in Alaska where it cuts a deep wake. This is a seasonal destination that sparkles, especially in the Inside Passage, the destination of HAL’s 7-day cruise that hoists anchor in Seattle, slices across Canadian waters and ventures into the magnificent shoreline of the 49th state—a place unmatched in natural beauty with the possible exception of the storied Norwegian fjords.

According to Sally Andrews, HAL’s v. p. of public relations, “Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime destination and very popular. The attractions here are very strong: wildlife, scenery and culture are all available during a relatively short window of the year. The diversity of our land and sea packages makes it a very strong selling destination.”

aboard westerdam
The sterling vessel for the line’s Alaskan adventure is the MS Westerdam, a medium-sized luxury liner holding 1,916 passengers and known in cruise circles for its edgy shows, flawless service and laid-back atmosphere. This is a world-class cruiser with excellent public areas, passageways accented with Dutch-style art that pays a nod to its roots, modern shops, and a casino that sways to the whir of slot machines late into the night.

The ship itself manages to blend a traditional cruising experience with modern amenities and is well regarded for its entertainment and for the creative cuisine that flows from its galleys. The Pinnacle Grill restaurant has the feel of an oak-paneled onshore eatery. It has been recognized for its Pacific Northwest fare with portions that are as generous as they are delightful, while the Canaletto Restaurant rivals five-star restaurants in large cities. The ship’s main dining room, Vista, serves a variety of meals throughout the day. The dinner menu also changes daily, offering a variety of international dishes. Other restaurants serve less casual fare and buffets that reflect the relaxed atmosphere. Gourmet hamburgers and made-to-order hotdogs highlight the casual fare and dress at the Dive-In at the Terrace Grill, an airy spot near the main swimming pool, tailor-made for observation.

For entertainment, Westerdam serves a popular revue, “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea,” where passengers get to compete for best onboard dancer (yes, just like on the TV show). The ship boasts that 85 percent of its staterooms have ocean views, while 67 have balconies from where the rugged Alaskan shoreline offers unrivaled scenery. Additionally, each morning passengers find a list of onboard activities such as cooking classes, yoga, team trivia tournaments and lectures on culture, art and nature. Westerdam also has an exercise room and spa.

HAL offers a wide range of shore excursions that include whale watching.
HAL offers a wide range of shore excursions that include whale watching. (Sergio Ortiz)

While sailing the northern latitudes is a treat in itself, it’s the shore excursions that underline the allure of HAL’s cruises.

HAL offers a wide range of shore excursions that include crab feasts, exploration, whale watching and hiking. Andrews suggests that travel agents “should be well versed in the shore excursions, which are essential to the full Alaska experience.”

Bill Fletcher, director, Alaska marketing and sales for HAL, adds: “Onshore activities have also evolved to offer adventures like mountain biking, heli-hiking [a combination of hiking and helicopter treks], rock climbing, and snorkeling in dry suits, as well as local culinary opportunities.

“We still find that guests are attracted to the history, scenery and wildlife—and certainly Alaska continues to deliver on this.

“From an itinerary viewpoint,” he continues, “the 7-day cruise (from approximately $899 pp to about $2,699, depending on cabin class and amenities) is still the predominate option but you will find longer cruises, too, with our 14-day roundtrips from Seattle. As the top destination for first-time cruisers, Alaska has developed into a top family or multigenerational cruise destination, with convenient roundtrips from either Seattle and Vancouver.”

For information on HAL’s Explore 4  savings promotion for 2015 and 2016 sailings, visit

What travel advisors are saying…
Holland America, which has been the leader in cruising to Alaska for 68 years, appeals to multi-generational groups due to its extensive range of activities for children, teens and adults. Families can enjoy many activities together or separately. For example, kids, parents and grandparents can all play together in one of the ship’s swimming pools, go to a movie and dine at one of the restaurants with special children’s menus. Or, the kids can expend their youthful energy at Club HAL and enjoy teen activities while the grown-ups relax in the Greenhouse Spa, watch a Culinary Arts Center chef demonstration, savor a fine dining experience, go dancing, play in the casino and/or watch a live Broadway-style show. Oh, and did I mention, that each Holland America Alaska sailing has a full time naturalist on board!”

Additionally, “for parents traveling with children in the same stateroom on individual fares, Holland America offers reasonable third- and fourth-berth cruise fares. The price depends on itinerary and length of cruise.”—Rodney George, Managing Partner, Luxe Travel Consultants

For more on what George has to say about the HAL experience, visit, where we’ve got the full Q&A.

For information on HAL’s Explore 4 savings promotion for 2015 and 2016 sailings, visit

Archived related articles (available on
Regal Princess (December 2014).

Holland America Line: (877) 932-4259; or