February 01, 2023

North to Alaska: Cruising with Holland America

Holland America Line brings more people to Alaska than by any other means and have been doing it longer than any other cruise line.

Which US capital city can you not drive to? It’s a great trivia question and it's true: you cannot drive to the state capital of Alaska, Juneau. But you sure can cruise there.

For five months of the year, the tiny city of Juneau becomes the centre of the cruising universe. Mighty cruise ships from many of the big names in the business, run continues in and out of the beautiful harbour, bordered by dense forest and overlooked by tall cliffs clad in pine and spruce. Floatplanes buzz the waterfront, whisking sightseers out for airborne excursions to the nearby glaciers. It is quite likely busier now than during the famous goldrush that lasted 60 years until WWII.

Alaska’s history extends way beyond the first sightings by Europeans that began in the 18th Century. The first residents of the region were the native Tlingit people who came to Alaska thousands of years ago and are acknowledged First Nation people of the Pacific Northwest. Despite the influence of westerners, the Huna Tlingit of Glacier Bay maintained their independence throughout, resisting the move to reservations and continuing the traditional lifestyle as best they could.

“We are a people who exist not just in museums or books,” the guide reminds us as we cruise serenely through the still waters of Glacier Bay National Park, “we are a living culture.”

Today the Tlingkit take great pride in playing host to visitors from all around the world and their rich, resilient culture is evident throughout the entire region now known as Alaska’s Inside Passage. Their tribes and those of the Haida, and Tsimshian nation also extend well into Canada’s neighbouring province of British Columbia.

Previously a territory of Russia, the rapidly expanding USA took up an offer from them in 1867 and purchased Alaska for $7 million, both parties unaware of the vast riches in gold and oil that lay along the rivers and underground.

Juneau wasn’t established until the latter years of the 19th Century when gold nuggets “the size of peas and beans” were discovered by prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris along Snow Slide Gulch. When word got out, the encampment rapidly grew into a thriving village, swollen by the influx of men (and women) with gold in their eyes.

Juneau became the capital of the Alaska Territory in 1906 when the seat of government was moved from Sitka.

Even today, the only way in and out of Juneau is by air or sea, making this historic port one of the most intriguing places to visit on the world’s cruise calendar. That, and the astonishing array of excursion opportunities on offer like the massive Mendenhall Glacier, Mount Roberts Tramway, Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, Glacier Gardens, whale and orca watching or any of the exciting flightseeing choices just a short floatplane ride from right off the wharf.

As an adjunct to the gold, timber and fur industries, cruise tourism has been a feature of Alaska for around 100 years. The early steamships carried freight, ore and passengers along the sheltered waterways of the Inside Passage past the most amazing scenery. Forward-thinking travel entrepreneurs like Chuck West foresaw the potential and began turning these voyages into spectacular sightseeing cruises on a regular basis beginning in 1947.

West’s enterprise grew as more people discovered the joys of seeing this stunning landscape and its geological features up close. Even the earliest of cruise brochures featured luxurious ships meandering past massive glaciers thrusting out into the sea.

But economic pressure and global forces impelled West to find investors to keep the company growing. In the end, Holland America Line (HAL) bought West’s cruise and tour business outright in 1971 using it as a springboard to the massive, multi-vessel operation we see today.

Since my last visit to Juneau in 2012, a new wharf has appeared, nostalgically christened the Alaska Steamship Dock, boosting capacity from five ships to seven. Our ship, Eurodam, jostles its way alongside HAL’s sister ship, Nieuw Amsterdam as well as Ruby Princess and Celebrity Solstice. 

In this new ‘gold rush’, around 2000 people from each ship, plus crew, stroll the streets and come and go from shore excursions, creating quite a hustle and bustle along the frontier-style retail strip. Everything from craft beer, faux fur coats and hats, gemstones and jewellry are being hawked in a style not unlike the enterprising merchants who “mined the miners” during the 1880s, selling them everything from eggs at a dollar apiece to gold-sniffing gophers.

Nowadays the draw of eager visitors to Alaska continues undiminished, with cruise lines like Holland America leading the charge north and bundling a catalogue of activities that will make the journey as busy or relaxing as you want. Everything from sea kayaking, dog sledding, salmon fishing and even hovercraft expeditions are available to turn the humble cruise into a rollicking adventure for the whole family.  


HAL’s most popular Alaska cruises are the 7-day roundtrip options from either Seattle or Vancouver. Eurodam is based in Seattle along with her Signature-class siblings, including Noordam and Nieuw Amsterdam.

The Alaska ‘summer’ cruise season runs from April to September with the mid-season months most popular and busiest.

Australian and New Zealand guests frequently opt for the longer options, extending their stay with onshore extensions such as Denali National Park and BC (Canada). The ‘Rail & Sail’ packages, which combine with the luxurious Rocky Mountaineer rail experience, present great value.

Fares for the 7-day roundtrip voyages begin at around A$1400 per person. Shore excursions are charged separately. 

See your travel agent or contact 1300‐987‐322 or visit www.hollandamerica.com

This story originally appeared in MiNDFOOD Magazine

All material (c) Copyright Traveloscopy.com unless noted otherwise.

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