Inside Passage to Alaska
27 June 09 - 04 July 09
Some may wonder why Eleanor and I would make so many cruises on the same itinerary (this was our seventh through the Inside Passage) but our conclusion about cruising is that it boils down to X days of relaxation and decadent living. It the case of the Inside Passage it comes with some of the world's finest scenery. Cruising is certainly not the best way to see a country nor to meet local people. Time ashore is almost always at a tourist trap with organized tours and an array of shopping facilities. On this cruise the number of jewellery shops is unbelievable. Some are owned by the cruise lines. My favorite store signs read "We are not on your cruise line's recommended list because we refuse to pay kickbacks to the cruise lines. This allows us to offer the lowest prices."
Our recommendation for a cruise to Alaska is the Statendam class of ships of Holland America (Veendam, Ryndam, Maasdam, Statendam). They're small, with just 1250 passengers, and seem less crowded. Also, book for a time when schools are in session and make sure the itinerary includes Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm.
Tough economic times hit discretionary spending hard and a cruise is probably the ultimate form of discretionary spending. The cruise lines are hurting and prices have dropped. We paid less for the same accommodation in 2009 than we paid for our first cruise in 1997. Consequently, some services have slipped, largely as the result of a slightly smaller crew. Happily, the food on this cruise remained top notch.
On some previous visits we have witnessed major calving on this glacier; not surprising since it's reputed to advance 8 feet per day. This time there was only minor calving but we had a close visit. On one previous visit, the ship stayed well back to avoid disrupting the birth of seals on the ice flows. The face of the glacier is 250' high and towers above the ship.
One of the highlights of this cruise was a visit to Haines, 45mintes/14 miles by catamaran (356 miles by road) from our stop in Skagway. A professional photographer (below) took our group of 4 on a tour of scenic venues (above) and gave us tips to improve our photographs.
The Inside Passage is one of the smoothest of ocean cruises. There is only one short stretch, north of the Queen Charlotte Islands, where the voyage is open to the north Pacific. Yes, there was some pitching in this area that upset a few passengers. If you are prone to mal de mer, choose a cabin amidships and ask the front desk for a pill.
We passed HAL's Veendam at the entrance to Seymour Narrows.