My husband and I were first-time cruisers when we booked with Holland America Line on a seven-night circular trip to see the majestic scenery of Alaska, so the MS Statendam seemed huge when we first saw her in Vancouver harbour.
But with a passenger capacity of 1260, the Statendam is classed as a mid-sized ship, dainty in comparison to some of the other vessels that sail this classic route. The small harbours along the Alaska cruise route can take only four liners at a time and over the following week we often saw our ‘cosy’ Statendam dwarfed in dock.
We booked an ocean view cabin – or ‘state room’ – as we intended watching the scenery pass from upstairs on the viewing decks, but verandah suites are also available. The vessel offered a high level of comfort throughout, but has since undergone an extensive refurb which promises even higher standards.
‘The ocean is always in motion’ was the favourite refrain of our jolly Dutch captain but in reality, the movement of the ship was imperceptible, which makes this an ideal cruise for anyone prone to motion sickness. The boat travels almost entirely between the mainland and the islands, so you not only have scenery on both sides 24/7, but you rarely feel any movement from the waves. Only on one evening were we open to the ocean for a couple of hours. Next morning, some passengers chatted excitedly about the ‘rough sea’, but to us it was no worse than the English Channel in a light breeze!
Holland America Line carries a large number of passengers from the United States, but we met a healthy contingent of British and Canadian passengers too. Staff were predominantly Indonesian and unfailingly helpful. We chose the buffet-style lunch on an upper deck so as not to miss any of that fabulous scenery, and if you don’t have expandable waistbands but do have a modicum of willpower, this does help to control the calorie intake normally associated with cruise travel. We were well-fed but never felt over-full.
John and I were able to have our own private table for dinner, but were sufficiently close to other twosomes that we could strike up a friendship between courses if we wanted. Food was international in flavour, plentiful, and well presented, but if you wanted a change, the a la carte restaurant offered speciality fare in more intimate surroundings for an extra charge.
After a day taking in the stunning scenery, watching for whales and dolphins, or participating in a shore excursion, it was good to relax with a pre-dinner aperitif and watch the nightly show in the theatre. A second performance took place after dinner and the panoramic bar upstairs offered quizzes and dancing to a DJ late into the evening. By day, there was a modest programme of talks and a beauty salon for treatments, but for us – and, I suspect, most passengers – the star of the show was the ever-changing scenery and the chance to spot marine wildlife.
The itinerary operates from mid-May until late August when the route is free from ice. We travelled in late May and were lucky to catch blue skies almost every day above a landscape still white with the last snows of winter. For the first couple of days, it was warm enough to be on deck in light layers, although we needed a fleece as we travelled further north.
Our itinerary took us from Vancouver up the Inside Passage to Juneau, the state capital, and on to Skagway, before turning round and stopping at Ketchikan on the return journey. Other Alaskan itineraries include a one-way or return trip that goes further north to Anchorage. Our first and last days were spent at sea, with a wide variety of excursion options on three of the days, plus a day when the Statendam took us up close and personal to the ice formations of Glacier Bay.
On port days, you can get a real taste of the great outdoors on one of the more active excursions or choose to simply wander round the atmospheric small towns that depend so heavily on summer cruise tourists. In each port, the ships literally dock at the end of the high street so there is minimal walking involved.
Juneau may be the state capital, but it has barely 40 miles of road and is accessible only by sea and air; we hopped on the local bus to visit the Mendenhall Glacier but also pre-booked a fabulous float plane excursion over the ice field. At Skagway, our excursion involved a motor launch, then a forest walk, before canoeing to the foot of a glacier. In Ketchikan, ‘Salmon capital of the world’, we enjoyed the fun of a lumberjack show as well as a nature cruise up the inland waterways. Other options included scenic rail trips into Alaska’s rugged interior. All utterly unforgettable and highly recommended.
More about Gillian
Gillian Thornton has been a freelance journalist for more than 30 years, writing everything from parenting features to celebrity interviews, corporate copy to heritage articles. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, she has been concentrating on travel writing since 1998 and is a widely-acclaimed specialist on France, writing for all the Francophile newsstand titles as well as for ferry magazines, airline publications and tourist boards. Gillian also contributes travel features to The People’s Friend, My Weekly, Woman’s Weekly, and Go Holiday, on destinations as far apart as Finland and Oman, Florida and Poland, but she also loves travelling round Britain. “I never mind where I go,” she says. “There’s always something new to discover.”
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Holland America Line