September 2015 - Zaandam to Alaska - Gulf of Alaska
We went on a land and sea journey with Holland America during the first 2 weeks in September.We were hoping to see the Northern Lights as it was a new moon and fall. We had one opportunity but because we moved rooms they failed to call so all we saw were pics from some guys cell phone. Note, don't count on a wake up call... The trip went as follows: Fairbanks, Riverboat, Bus to Denali for 3 days, Rail to Anchorage, Rail to Seward then the 7 day cruise. We have cruised 5 times over the last 3 years with Holland. Most of our fellow travelers were on their first cruise. The Riverboat consisted of a trip of about 2 miles down the river with a take off and landing of an old float plan, stops along the way included a dog sled kennel from the side of the boat with commentator on shore talking about the operation and you in the middle of the river as the audience. The Alabaskan village stop you actually got off the boat to see the demos. The meal afterward was meatless stew with a decent salad. The land portion was very disappointing as the accommodations were awful in Denali at the Holland compound. They first put us in the Canyon Lodge across from the second floor elevators, laundry room, garbage shoot, and smoking room. Asked to be moved which resulted in a worst room at the Cottonwood. Two days no hot water because the unit kept tripping off and takes hours to recover once reset. Also, "were in Alaska for the view" but our windows looked out on parking lots. Ask Travel agent to request a river view if possible before leaving. We bought the land meal package for $700 which included the Music of Denali dinner show. They served you thin cut brisket that is tough as leather and a BBQ sauce that is indescribably awful. The waiter/actor/chefs try really hard but come up way short of entertaining. The cruise lines have the entrance to the park pretty much to themselves with a few other places to go most notably Pizza and Subway. Otherwise the food made us sick with diarrhea and is very expensive if you don't have the meal package. The trip included a bus trip into Denali park for roughly 72 miles of which 30 or so are paved. The bus was a Blue Bird prison bus that had few operational windows and leaked dust making us all sick. Once in Denali the wildlife is few and far between but we did see everything albeit at a distance. Mount Denali was shrouded in clouds but we did see the North and South peeks apparently an unusual event. We went on a Black Diamond ATV tour which is done in Healy not in the park. Expensive at $239 per person for 3 hours. Expect to pay a lot for any extra tours. Rails to Anchorage and Seward have great views but freight trains have priority so it was a long trip, Each car has a narrator which became a real pain after listening to them take about themselves and provide little information about surroundings. The domed cars were comfortable on the trip to Anchorage but totally uncomfortable and no dome to Seward. Scenic and beautiful sights along the path to both cities, The Hilton in Anchorage was sub standard with our room window looking at a wall. Holland has a select menu of about 10 crappy items from a 50 item interesting normal hotel offering. The Zaandam ship experience was not any better. Everyone was sick with colds and who knows what else. The roomer mill said 30% were having gastrointestinal issues with the others fighting colds. Yes, we started off healthy only to get sick with colds on retuning home. We stayed in our room and out of public areas most of the trip. At least our room had a balcony and the ship turned to allow viewing from both sides. The in-room dinning was good and we could order anything served in the dinning room even if it wasn't on the menu. The late night seating was warmed up leftovers and not to Holland's standards we expected. We figure one night would have crab legs but the chef said Holland was to cheap to buy them. The gala night also left a lot to be desired with a very limited menu. Please note the room only has one outlet so bring a multi plug adapter. The shore excursions we expensive and because this was the last ship of the year the staff wasn't much in the mood for anymore tourist. The towns have been overtaken by Caribbean stores selling at twice the price. Overall we had very high expectations because of all the good we heard from friends and neighbors. We have always wanted to see the Northern Lights. We found the towns in Alaska distressed and grim and people to match. Not a lot to do unless you are flying, cruising to see whales, or kayaking to see wildlife or glaciers all at premium prices if you can afford them. The fall colors added to the trip making it a varied landscape. Bucket list checked off, been there done it but very disappointed. We met a couple who were upgraded to a suite for $200 per person so ask your travel agent to call one week before and day of embarkation for upgrades.