Cruising Alaska on the Holland America Statendam

A Cruise that Caters to Seniors

We just returned from an adventure of a lifetime, and we didn't have to travel to a faraway nation to experience it. Even though we are 50 plus, we rode in a helicopter, walked on a glacier and came face to face with amazing and colorful marine life.

We also watched native American Indians carve a totem pole and attended a Russian folk dance performance, and those are just some of the highlights of our recent trip to Alaska. But let's start at the beginning.

Native Indian carving a totem pole
Native Indian carving a totem
| Larger

We wanted to go on a cruise, but wanted to see more than just tee shirt shops and sandy beaches. We had heard from friends that Alaska is an interesting place to visit and went to our travel agent and asked for brochures on cruises to Alaska. After studying dozens of brochures from different cruise lines traveling there, we opted for the Holland America line. They had six different ships to choose from and offered more than 120 cruises to Alaska during the cruising season from May to September. The line has two itineraries: round-trip 7-day sailings from Vancouver, British Columbia and one-way 7-day sailing between Vancouver and Seward, Alaska.

We selected the Glacier Discovery Cruise on the MS Statendam which travels north from Vancouver to Seward, because it travels beyond the Inside Passage to the Gulf of Alaska.

We boarded the ship at 3 p.m. and took a ship's tour to familiarize ourselves with the amenties on board.

MS Statendam

Our tour began on the Sports Deck on the top of the ship. There we found the Crow's Nest, a lofty lounge which offers spectacular views through its panoramic 360-degree windows. One floor below was the Lido deck, with a swimming pool and a sliding-glass retractable roof which opens and closes depending on the weather, a wading pool and two whirlpools. There was a buffet poolside where passengers were enjoying hamburgers, hot dogs, and other casual fare and a bar where people were sipping sail-away drinks. We stepped through sliding glass doors on the Lido deck and discovered the Lido Restaurant, with raised seating and floor to ceiling windows. We were told that we could enjoy an informal breakfast or lunch or late night buffet at the Lido Restaurant. The Lido deck contains a state-of-the art fitness facility and an Ocean Spa with a beauty salon, massage, steam and sauna rooms. One deck below we found the Explorer's Lounge for after-dinner drinks, a library and the Rotterdam Dining Room, a stunning two-story dining room with an exquisite glass ceiling. The ship also has an elegant two-story nightclub. We then located the gift shops, casino, and a nifty Internet Cafe where we could check our emails and log on to our favorite internet sites.

We were glad the first full day on the ship was spent at sea. Being 50 plus, we needed a day to recuperate from our day of air travel. We also used the time to select the off shore excursions for our trip. Holland America has more than 75 shore excursions offering passengers many exciting opportunities for fun at ports-of-call in Alaska—from seaplane flights over waterfalls and granite cliffs to fly-fishing, snorkeling and mountain lake canoeing. They also have kayaking and helicopter glacier expeditions, dog sledding and panning for gold.

The tours were rated for the amount of physical endurance required and those that were wheelchair accessible were also indicated. The tours were an extra charge. Our first day on the ship also included a fitness routine. We got up early in the morning and went to the fitness center and had a spirited workout on treadmills. Then we participated in a low-impact aerobics class which was filled with many passengers, 50 and over, just like us. The class was fun and not too difficult and made us hungry for breakfast.

Our first port-of-call in Alaska was Ketchikan. It is the fourth largest city in Alaska with a population of 14,000. It is known as "Alaska's First City" because it is the first town travelers reach when ferrying north. The city is also known as the Salmon capital of the world due to the abundant salmon returns each summer.

A light misty rain and cloud covered mountain tops greeted us as we sailed into Juneau, our second port-of-call. This city's claim to fame occurred on October 4, 1880, when two drunken prospectors, Richard Harris and Joe Juneau, discovered gold in the area they called Gold Creek. They staked a claim on one of the largest finds of the Alaska Gold Rush era.

Snow-capped mountains
Snow-capped mountains | Larger

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and has a population of 30,000. Thispicturesque city, surrounded by mountains and streams, is also the home of the Mendenhall Glacier, one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Alaska. The 12-mile glacier, dates back to the Ice Age. We wanted to take a closer look at the glacier, so we selected the Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Tour. The description indicated that we would fly over the glacier, then land on it and walk on it. The tour was explained as suitable for all ages and physical abilities, so we decided to try it.

Phyllis and Arvin on the glacier
Phyllis and Arvin on the glacier | Larger

When we arrived at the site for the glacier ride, it was raining. We wondered if we would be able to see anything. We climbed into the helicopter, fastened our seat belts and off we went soaring high into the clouds. The ride was as smooth as silk. We rose from sea level to alpine ridges in a matter of seconds. The rain didn't prevent us from viewing this incredible journey beyond civilization. We flew over deep crevasses and around jagged spires. Our pilot described our glacial journey through individual headsets that we wore. Finally, we landed on Mendenhall Glacier and had the opportunity to explore this unique environment. Expert guides were waiting for us on the glacier in a white tent with an American flag next to it. We felt like we had landed on the moon when we took our first steps on the uneven terrain with its rocky crevasses and aqua surface pools of water. We were dazzled by the bright blue color of the glacier. Our guides also provided us with raincoats to protect us from the rain as we walked on the glacier. We also received special boots. Our guides explained that the glacier moves two feet each day, but we couldn't detect any movement as we walked on its surface. The Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter Tour was an experience of a lifetime and we would highly recommend it if you travel to Alaska.

After our third day on the MS Statendam, we realized that the fabulous amenities of the ship and the interesting shore excursions were only part of our Alaskan adventure. Rather, the magnificent beauty of Alaska itself was causing us to stop and look repeatedly throughout the day from our stateroom, or while eating dinner, or while walking down the street at a port-of-call. Wherever we looked, we saw snow capped mountains, or cloud covered mountain tops, or green forests, or a rough sea turned into a sea as smooth as a lake.

The next adventure on our cruise was visiting the immense and spectacularly beautiful Glacier Bay National Park. The Park consists of 3.3 million acres of mostly mountainous land. As we sailed into Glacier Bay, we were awed by the size and beauty of the 65-mile long Bay. Snow-capped mountains rose up from the shoreline, piercing blue skies at several thousand feet, towering far above our 11-deck, 1,200 passenger cruise ship. The MS Statendam took us within 1,000 feet of several glaciers and everyone gathered on deck to look at them. There was silence in the Bay except for the occasional thunderous sound as ice chunks broke off from the glacier and crashed into the sea.

Glacier in the sea
Glacier in the sea | Larger

After leaving Glacier Bay, the MS Statendam entered the Gulf of Alaska. Late the next afternoon we reached the final adventure of our voyage, cruising College Fjord. Blue skies and snow capped mountains surrounding the Fjord greeted us. We saw sea otters swimming in the aqua blue, ice dotted waters. College Fjord is eight miles long and two miles wide. It was a breathtaking assemblage of glaciers standing several miles high with their jagged edges against the backdrop of a bright, blue sky. We enjoyed standing on our balcony looking at the sun on the mountain tops.

Phyllis on our balcony
Phyllis on our balcony | Larger

On the last day of our cruise, we had a three-hour bus ride to Anchorage, which was filled with even more beautiful scenery and wildlife in Alaska. We were awed by the immense size of Alaska and its thousands of miles of magnificent unspoiled environment. We have taken many cruises to different destinations, but none with such spectacular scenery, mile after mile, day after day.

For information

Holland America cruises to Alaska