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A Family Goes to Alaska

Written by Colleen Pero.

Looking for a way for the family to get reacquainted? Try travel… it’s perfect!

Our family’s adventure started with a Holland America fax offering great deals on Alaskan cruises. Always on the lookout for a travel bargain, I quickly took note of the incredible values being offered for shoulder season travel. Knowing that several members of my family were interested in Alaska, I gathered all of the details to share with my brothers and sisters during our annual Christmas brunch. Four siblings said yes, plus me, so we were batting 500! A couple of family friends decided to join as well as Dan’s brother Rich, and another sister. So before we knew it, our group had grown to 19 – a good number for a group tour.

We spent the first night in Anchorage, having arrived there at 8 pm. The next morning, we were up bright and early to catch the Alaska Railroad bound for Talkeetna. A number of people in the group hadn’t experienced train travel before, and all felt it was a highlight of the trip. So much to see, and so relaxing. We had enough time at the Talkeetna Lodge before our Jet boat excursion on the Sestina River. Though we had rain (or liquid sunshine as they call it in Alaska), we had a good introduction to the rivers of Alaska, were lucky to see a number of majestic bald eagles, and had an interesting hike along the riverside and into the woods!

Our second day began with breakfast at the Lodge, and then the train up to Denali National Park. What a wonderful day to be on the rails…the views were fabulous, the dome cars fairly empty (another advantage of off-season travel), and everyone had plenty of time to take pictures to show back home! For our Denali stay, we had decided to stay closer to nature, and opted for the Denali River Cabins. Our cabins were directly on the Nanana River… what a treat to wake up and see the water flowing by (and what a relief to learn the rushing water sound was the river and not rain!).

Once at Denali, there are so many things to do: horseback riding, flightseeing (around Mt. McKinley), park bus tours, river rafting. You name it, you can find it! Or, you can opt to just sit on the deck or in the cabin, and just enjoy a good book. You can easily spend several days in the Denali area, but our ship was departing from Seward on Sunday, so after a short day and a half, we boarded our chartered sightseeing bus to cover the 350 miles to Seward. Again, the scenery was fantastic…and the miles passed quickly (even for our 3- and 4-year olds!).

Everyone was excited as we came into Seward and saw the ms Statendam in the harbor! It was to be our home away from home for the next seven nights… and those new to cruising as well as those with many cruises under their belt had the same sense of wonder as to what our Alaska cruise would have in store for us! We had selected the Glacier Discovery cruise because we were all very interested in actually seeing a glacier, and were especially excited about the prospect of cruising to Glacier Bay National Park! We were not disappointed in the least.

But first, a bit about our ship and its cabins. Holland America prides itself on having larger cabins than many cruise lines, and those who in our group who had sailed on other lines agreed. The standard inside cabins are over 180 square feet and the standard outside cabins are another 10 square feet larger, and featured a large picture window. Because it was to be our anniversary trip, Dan and I splurged on a suite which measures over 600 square feet and has a huge balcony! One night, we entertained the entire group of 19 in our suite, and didn’t feel crowded at all. Other than size, the suites offered several other advantages including free laundry & dry-cleaning services, afternoon high tea in your suite, hors d’oeuvres prior to dinner, VCR and video library, special priority disembarkation and tender services, special dining room privileges and more! Oh, I should also mentioned the Kid’s Club…a great way for the children to enjoy the cruise. (Note: even if your children are too young to stay by themselves, you’re welcome to have an adult stay with them, and they can participate in the activities while you’re there.)

But you don’t have to have a suite to enjoy the superb food and service offered in the Statendam’s dining rooms and lounges! The Rotterdam Dining Room offers formal dining, and features two evening seatings, and open seating at lunch and breakfast. Or, if you’re in a hurry to eat, or would like to have a more casual setting, you can head up to the Lido Restaurant to select from a buffet, taco bar, hamburgers & hot dogs, etc. And if you’d like to enjoy a cocktail and conversation, you can select from 5 or 6 lounges. Of course, there’s also a casino and nightly shows, both of which received excellent reviews by our clan!

But back to Alaska! We were very happy with our cruise itinerary. Not only did we cruise College Fjord, but were astounded by the beauty and majesty of Glacier Bay National Park. I ordered coffee and hot chocolate for the second afternoon, and we all had a wonderful time admiring the glacier from our balcony, and waiting for the next chunk of ice to thunder into the water below. What an unforgettable and awe-inspiring experience!

The ports of call were all great (Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan). Perhaps it’s because we all come from a fairly small hometown, but we found Sitka especially delightful (despite the fact that it was the only place where we encountered consistent rainfall during our stop!) We all opted for different shore excursions… from Russian dancing and fish hatchery visits, to white water rafting and helicopter glacier visits, to horse drawn carriages and trolleys and the amphibious “duck” tours, there truly was something to please everyone’s taste. And then, at the end of each busy day, we would generally all dine together to hear about each other’s adventures and have dinner together. When we pulled into Vancouver the last day, more than one person said they’d like to stay behind!

Our last group activity (other than flying home) was a city tour of Vancouver, a city consistently rated as one of the best places in the world in which to live! We had great weather, the gardens were beautiful, the sights spectacular, and all agreed it would be a wonderful place to spend additional time. But alas, it was time to go home…to the rest of our family! What a great experience though…to see some of the most beautiful land in the United States and to share it with so many of our family members. These are truly memories we will have with us for a lifetime!