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Holland America Line's Westerdam
Alaska Explorer via Glacier Bay

Lamplugh Glacier
John Hopkins Glacier
Margerie Glacier

Part Two

by Linda Coffman

Alaska Ports & Sights
With the variety of shore adventures Holland America offers, it was difficult to choose exactly what to do in port. Fortunately, our first "call" required no decision making. After a day at sea, we got up early as Westerdam entered Glacier Bay. Greeted by a pod of humpback whales, we enjoyed some of the world’s most stunning sights.

Although the day was overcast and drizzly, we spent most of our time outdoors on Westerdam's aft pool deck. Sheltered from the wind, and with cover nearby, we were ready as Lamplugh Glacier came into view. Almost before we knew it, we were exploring the inlet to John Hopkins Glacier, inaccessible earlier in the season because it's where sea lions give birth to their babies.

The highlight of the day occurred as Westerdam slowed in front of Margerie glacier. Not only did the glacier calve once, it did so twice. There were more rumblings and we hoped for an even more spectacular show, but the glacier's face remained intact as Westerdam pirouetted to provide everyone on board with the best views.

With the bow open to passengers, a wrap-around promenade deck, open decks aft of the Crow's Nest, the aft pool deck, and private balconies, there was plenty of outdoor viewing area for everyone on board. Less hardy souls had no problem finding a seat at a window. Naturally, warm drinks were available and steaming Dutch Pea Soup was served.

Juneau: It was no “fluke” that we saw an abundance of wildlife on our Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest tour this morning—the tour’s operators guarantee whale sightings and promise to hand each passenger a one-hundred dollar bill back at the dock if humpback whales are not spotted. No one has ever collected and we certainly didn’t have to today.

Although the weather was drizzly, the catamaran, which is specifically designed for wildlife viewing, was cozy inside and it was a simple matter to scoot outdoors to the observation deck when whales were spotted. In addition to the coffee, hot tea, and hot chocolate that were served, we also had a tasty smoked salmon snack.

Westerdam Whale WatchingThe first wildlife sighting in Stephen’s Passage was a majestic bald eagle and it wasn’t long before a mama whale and her baby surfaced alongside our boat. We then passed an island populated by sea lions and harbor seals and also saw a sea otter swimming offshore. It’s somewhat unusual to see sea otters, so that was a rare treat for both the tour’s naturalist as well as us.

I had almost given up seeing a whale rise out of the water and show his tail when we spotted several spouts, the indication that there were numerous whales about to surface. And surface they did! A couple even “waved” their flukes in the air—something I’ve always longed to see. Altogether, the tour was informative, enjoyable, and delivered everything it promised.

Sitka, no make That Tracy Arm Fjord: Oops, what happened to Sitka? We had good news and bad news aboard Westerdam when leaving Juneau.

First, the bad news. Before departing Juneau, Captain Henk Keijer made the announcement that due to the weather forecast of hurricane force winds and rough seas we would be unable to call at Sitka as planned. Sitka is a tender port and it would simply be too dangerous for the ship and passengers.

Instead, the good news. We sailed in the calmer Inside Passage to Tracy Arm Fjord and enjoyed scenic cruising from early morning until mid-afternoon. Even on a rainy day with low clouds, the scenery was remarkable. Waterfalls rushing down the cliffs created a symphony of sights and sounds that more than made up for the missed port call.

I didn't hear a single complaint but, just in case anyone on board was unhappy, they received a complimentary glass of wine or champagne at dinner. A nice touch from our Hotel Manager and Captain.

Tracy Arm was an unexpected delight and we still had Ketchikan to look forward to.

Ketchikan: One of my favorite Alaska ports, for shoppers interested in authentic Alaskan native art, Ketchikan is a treasure trove of shops and galleries. It’s also a very walkable town with colorful Creek Street just a short stroll from the piers. While the buildings are now home to shops, they were once a part of the infamous “red light” district. The creek that runs alongside was full of salmon during our visit—many of them putting on quite a show as they leaped into the air.

Back aboard Westerdam we were treated to a Great Alaska Cook-Out poolside where we feasted on salmon and Holland America Line's signature bread pudding. And we learned that the after dinner Dessert Extravaganza, which had to be cancelled due to rough seas the night before, was rescheduled.

With so many activities to choose from, it was almost difficult to decide how to spend the rest of the day at sea after leaving Ketchikan. There was a digital workshop featuring photo editing, a margarita mixology course, wine tasting, and a Cupcake Tea. One event I didn’t want to miss was the Travel Guide Series lecture about Alaska’s Native People.

Victoria, BC: For Westerdam’s evening port call to Victoria, BC, we chose a “pub” tour and sampled beers at three micro-breweries. The bus ride through the city with our knowledgeable and entertaining bus driver was almost more interesting than the beers. We’d like to come back to Victoria again for a daytime tour to Butchart Gardens, which we heard weren’t as impressive at night, even though they are softly illuminated.

Sadly, our cruise had to come to an end, but the Holland America Line service didn’t stop when we reached Seattle. Based on post-cruise transportation plans, all Westerdam passengers were assigned specific debarkation times. The “silent debarkation” began with the early departures at 7:45am and no announcements were made afterwards. Our assigned debarkation was at 8:45am and that’s exactly when we walked off the ship. By 9:40 we had taken the Budget Rent-a-Car shuttle from the pier to downtown, picked up our car, and were pulling into the parking lot at The Museum of Flight where we spent several hours wandering through the exhibits, including Air Force One (that would be the plane that was used primarily by President Lyndon Johnson).

If You Go: Holland America Lines offers a variety of ships and itineraries sailing Alaska waters from Seattle. They also have the most National Park Service “passes” to Glacier Bay, offering the opportunity to see Glacier Bay on three major itineraries.

Sail either round-trip for seven or fourteen nights from Seattle or seven nights from Vancouver, BC. By sailing one-way northbound or southbound between Vancouver, BC and Seward (Anchorage), Alaska, you can extend your trip with the option of a pre- or post-cruise land tour and cruise combination itinerary. From their gracious ships to their exclusive sightseeing motor coaches and domed railcars to their Westmark Hotels, relax and let Holland America Line take care of the work.

Back to Part One: On Board Westerdam


Behind The Stage — It's Show Time! and we ventured behind the stage after the performance to find out what goes into Holland America Line's production shows aboard Westerdam.

The Chef's Table Fine dining aboard Holland America Line's ms Westerdam.

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