Alaska Shore Excursions Holland America Line – Part 1

Marvin and the Grizzly

With the US National Park Service celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (since its establishment in 1916), it seemed a great opportunity to visit the first park created under its watch. Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska (originally Mount McKinley) also celebrates its own centennial next year.

Marvin the mooseOur story starts in Anchorage though, where we were warmly greeted to Alaska by everyone we encountered from the airport to the comfortable Westmark Hotel. We took the complimentary shuttle out to the Alaska National Heritage Museum that celebrates the indigenous tribes of Alaska. Informative displays, demonstrations and talks formed the backbone of the visit but I really enjoyed the discussions with the team about their heritage.  We thought that the icing on the cake was the opportunity for Linda to cuddle the latest dog sled pups, but then Marvin the Moose ambled out of the forest. Marvin looked me over, gave me the “keep your distance look” (happy to oblige) and then poked his tongue out (how rude Marvin). Dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse finished off a great day.

Glass domed carriageThe journey to Denali (237 miles) was via the magnificent McKinley Explorer train. Giant double decker coaches with glass domed roofs ensured a comfortable ride and a great panoramic view. The on board bar service, breakfast, lunch and running commentary made sure we were well cared for and knew what we were looking at. A small open air viewing platform was also available, so passengers could get up close and personal with great sights like the Hurricane Gulch Bridge. This trestle bridge spans 918 feet across the gulch and offers great views of the creek nearly 300 feet below.

We had booked 3 nights at the McKinley Chalet Resort and soon we joined our bags in the comfortable, rustic, cabin style accommodation. The well-equipped lounge, bedroom and bathroom was perfect for our stay. The Tundra Wilderness Tour, proved to be a great way to see some of the park. The school bus style transport had a knowledgeable driver/guide, who narrated us through the 53 mile, 8 hour exploration of the park. On the journey we spotted moose, caribou, dall sheep and grizzly bears (binoculars are a must). Wooden grizzlyYou’ll see me pictured here cheek to cheek with a wooden grizzly, which is as close to a live one I was getting after we watched one rip apart the carcass of a moose it had downed at Toklat River. All this was happening on a canvas of fantastic snow-capped mountain views that we never got tired of admiring.  

Our excitement the following day was River Rafting – Canyon Run on the Nenana River. We were slightly disconcerted after the safety talk, which explained the many ways we could die on a fast moving white water river/grade III/IV Rapids. As we got into our dry suits and helmets, they told us how to avoid that happening and all was well. Our guide took great care of us and we survived a thrilling and enjoyable run down the river, as well as making good friends with the couple who did the Canyon Run with us. Plenty of warm layers and double socks are essential as glacier fed river water is (add your own adjective) cold.

A somewhat tedious 9 hour (including stops) coach journey to Seward (albeit with some more great mountain scenery to admire) brought us to MS Noordam. Pictured here against the backdrop of snow flecked mountains, it was to be our home for the next 7 nights as we cruised the inside passage of Alaska. MS Noordam - Holland America LineWe had a comfortable verandah cabin (5115) which included a nice lounge area and an ensuite with over bath shower. There were some nice Elemis products in the bathroom, the same brand used by British Airways.

First full day on the ship was a sea day, so plenty of time to use the on board facilities. I actually just loved wandering around the ship and admiring all the artwork, sculptures and statues, it’s like a floating art museum. I particularly liked the old prints of the MS Rotterdam along the corridor to our stateroom. Loads of good quality choices for breakfast and lunch at the Lido restaurant was followed by a Gala dinner and an excellent show in the theatre.  Happy, full and content we retired to dream of Glacier Bay tomorrow.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Holland America Line

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Steve Aldridge

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