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An Alaska Experience

A mother and daughter discover the beauty of the Last Frontier State.

My daughter Beth and I traveled together many times before she married and had three children. Now the boys are teens, two are driving, and although dad doesn’t cook much, he knows where all the good restaurants are, so she agreed to my invitation to an Alaskan cruise.

ms Oosterdam

Above: Holland America’s Oosterdam travels out of Seattle to a series of port stops in Alaska. Ship amenities include a show lounge featuring dancers and comedians, a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, a variety of dining areas, and the Crow’s Nest, which offers sweeping views during the day and a lively nightclub every evening. Holland America Line photo

Below: Alaska is the Last Frontier for animals as well as people. Species endangered elsewhere remain abundant in Alaska. On an Alaskan cruise, guests experience opportunities to view wildlife such as whales, seals, bears, and birds. Alaska Tourism photo

Juneau

“I love the Caribbean, but why do people go on an Alaskan cruise?” she asked.

I answered, “You’ll see.”

We chose a seven-day round-trip out of Seattle aboard Holland America’s Oosterdam. Our port stops included Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan in Alaska, as well as Victoria, British Columbia.

A Holland America representative met us at the baggage claim area in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and showed us where to leave our luggage and board the bus to the pier. The embarkation process went smoothly and our baggage was delivered to our room shortly after we arrived.

We had lunch at the Vista dining room and headed up to the Crow’s Nest to participate in a 45-minute tour of the ship. These tours always help me get my bearings, but I still get confused the first couple of days.

Dining Experiences

Guests can sign up for the traditional fixed dining or open seating where you can be more spontaneous. We’re early risers, so we opted for the 5:15 p.m. Vista Dining Room seating and sat at a table with two congenial couples. There’s also a 9 p.m. seating.

The Lido buffet is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pizza and ice cream are available from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. In addition, hamburgers and hot dogs are served poolside.

Every night, a corner of the Lido is turned into Canaletto featuring classic Italian fare with seafood, grilled meats and pasta. The $15 dinner charge includes one glass of wine, beer, or a soft drink.

The intimate Pinnacle Grill features Double R Ranch beef and premium seafood. The china, silverware, table linens, and attentive wait staff make it a special occasion. A $10 lunch and $29 dinner surcharge applies.

The second to last night of the cruise, we spent an exceptional evening at the Pinnacle Grill, which one night during every cruise is transformed into Le Cirque, featuring the French Continental cuisine of Sirio Maccioni’s famous New York and Las Vegas restaurants. A surcharge of $49 applies, and seating is only by reservation.

Ship Activities

On our first day at sea, Beth exercised at the fitness center and I took a Tai Chi class at the Crow’s Nest. After exercising, we attended a cooking class with guest chef Sonia Hunt at the Culinary Arts Center. Samples were provided.

The second day at sea, we sailed to Tracy Arm, one of the most beautiful fjords in southeastern Alaska. Guests had access to the bow of the ship off deck four, which was an ideal spot for viewing the snowcapped mountains, steep waterfalls, and floating pieces of ice from the glaciers, some with seals dozing on them. I turned to Beth and asked, “Now do you see why people go on an Alaskan cruise?”

Free computer classes on a variety of subjects are offered daily at the popular Digital Workshop. Both of the classes I took were standing room only.

Recent movies are shown multiple times daily in the screening room with complimentary popcorn.

We attended the shows in the Vista Lounge every night. Five of the shows featured the Oosterdam singers and dancers and two featured hilarious comedians. The cruise director hosted two audience participation games--The Marriage Game and the Ultimate Battle of the Sexes—in the Queen’s Lounge. Both were hilarious. In addition, a choice of music was offered at the lounges every night—piano, guitar, and classical. An eight-piece dance band, the HALCats, kept things jumping.

Shore Excursions

Our shore excursion, Best of Juneau, was absolutely fabulous. We traveled by motor coach to Auke Bay and boarded a water-jet-powered catamaran and traveled to Stephens Passage, an area renown as a favored summer feeding ground for humpback whales. We saw an almost unbelievable sight—a dozen humpback whales using a complex technique called bubble netting to corral and contain prey into a small area so they could scoop them up into their mouths. The onboard naturalist told us it was a rare sight to see that many whales working together. He also told us baby whales gain seven pounds an hour. A woman standing next to me said, “That’s even more than cruise passengers gain.”

Next, we traveled to Orca Point Lodge and enjoyed a feast of wild Alaskan salmon, chicken, corn on the cob, rice pilaf, coleslaw, rolls, and dessert. The excursion ended with a visit to Mendenhall Glacier.

The next day, we explored Sitka on a two-and-a-half hour history and nature walk. We strolled through Sitka National Historical Park; around Castle Hill, where Alaska was purchased from Russia; past Totem Square; the Prospector Statue; Alaska Raptor Center; and the beautiful St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

In Ketchikan, we took a short trolley tour, which was the weakest of our excursions. We rode through the downtown area and past the harbor and city park, stopped at Saxman Native Village with its totem poles, and ended at Creek Street, Ketchikan’s historical red light district, which now is filled with a variety of shops. Beth loves to shop and I don’t, so I held the bags while she checked out the merchandise.

I was really looking forward to visiting Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. Our ship was scheduled to arrive 7 p.m., but it was about an hour late because of strong headwinds, so we didn’t have much daylight to explore the gardens. We ran around trying to see as much as possible before the fireworks started. What we were able to see was a wonderland of flowers, winding paths, and fountains, as well as spectacular fireworks.

There’s no better place for a mother daughter bonding experience than an Alaskan cruise.

Marge Peterson is a contributor from Ralston, Neb.

September/October 2014 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Join us at one of our 2014 On Stage Alaska® Travel Shows this fall. View a list of shows.

To visit Alaska, first stop by your nearest AAA Travel office to speak to a travel agent about available cruise/tours to the Frontier State. View a list of offices to serve you.



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