The first segment of our journey was four nights on the Holland America Lines (H.A.L.) ship Zuiderdam. We sailed from Vancouver, British Columbia to Skagway, Alaska, with a port of call at Juneau, Alaska’s capital. The ship-board meals, entertainment and crowding were pretty standard for large cruise ship fare. The scenery was interesting but unremarkable until we got closer to Juneau, where we sighted some orcas in the distance and began to see the snow-capped rugged mountains of Alaska.
Highlights were the two H.A.L. excursions in Juneau and Skagway, and the very scenic train ride out of Skagway.
In Juneau we rode a bus to the docks for the first part of our “Alaska’s Whales and Mendenhall Glacier Trail” excursion. The boat was designed specifically for whale watching, with large windows that opened completely and both fore and aft outside decks. We were a little disappointed to see no spectacular breaching. However, we saw many whales surfacing with their telltale blow mist as they expelled water from the blowhole, followed by the tail fluke showing as they dived again.
The second part of the excursion was a walk through a relatively young, moss-covered forest to the shores of Mendenhall Lake to see the famous glacier. This part of the Tongass National Forest was covered by the glacier as recently as 200 years ago.
Skagway had been the main starting point for the arduous trek to the Klondike gold rush of 1897-99. With its historic, picturesque main street and scenic railway it is now primarily a tourist town. We started our visit with a short bus tour of the town including a forest walk to the Lower Reid Falls and Gold Rush Cemetery. After checking in to the Westmark Inn we boarded the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway for a round-trip ride up the historic White Pass into Canada, with spectacular views across the valley far below.
The next morning we boarded a small boat for our “Glacier Point Wilderness Safari” excursion. After traveling for an hour past impressive waterfalls and mountain scenery we arrived at the remote Glacier Point. We were served a lunch of soggy sandwiches before setting off cross-country on an old school bus, to be outfitted with rubber boots, life vests and paddles. We then walked another quarter of a mile or so to a giant canoe that we paddled upstream and across a small lake to view the Davidson Glacier.
One of our two guides made several attempts to land us on the mud flats just below the glacier, but the mud was too soft to support our weight. Eventually we stopped for a walk on a small island before paddling back to our starting point. On our return bus ride we spotted a bald eagle and a distant wolf.
The next day we boarded our bus for Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.