Alaska US

Kitsch boats, glacial parks and Hollywood sets – cruising through Alaska

I’m not really a boat person – it’s not the boat so much as the water. That whole being in water where I can’t touch the bottom fills me with an incomprehensible dread – this from an Australian, I know it makes no sense.

But when Two’s A Crowd asked me to host their Canada and Alaska tour – which includes a cruise through Alaska up the Inside Passage – it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

And I comforted myself with the thought that I’d be able to see land at all times. Yes, this is important to me for some reason, don’t judge me.

If you’ve never been on a cruise before the excitement starts before you even set foot on deck with an elaborate check-in – think airline check-in with even longer queues and a larger check-in hall.

We travelled on the MS Vollendam for one week and it was spectacular.

On the first full day of the cruise I had to remind myself – several times – to get up on deck and out into the sunlight to check out our surroundings. I finally made it onto the deck around 4pm. The rest of my day had been spent checking out the shops and various eateries and attending workshops – everything to see in the towns we would dock in and a few extras like how to pick out a good diamond.

Yes it’s kitsch, yes it’s all designed to make you spend more money on the ship and in the towns but it’s also a bit of fun.

But it’s up on deck where the real magic happens. We sailed through the Tracy Arm Fjord and past the Tongass National Forest – think snow-capped peaks and lush green forests.


We looked for bears, wild moose and deer, but with no luck. It was early in the season and bears were apparently just coming out of hibernation – slowly, obviously very slowly.

We did have more luck with the aquatic animals – over dinner we watched with more than just a little bit of amazement as across the ocean we could see water spouts – a sign of whales beneath the ocean – and the odd tale coming out of the waves.

Our first stop on the cruise was Juneau. A charming little town that is close to the Gastineau Channel, the Meldenhall Glacier and the Juneau Icefields. You can arrange day trips to any number of the attractions from the boat or from shore, or just wander through the town. The town looks like something straight out of an old western movie – and I mean the Hollywood set up of an old western town! But here the old storefronts house diamonds, tanzanite and other delights to entice the tourists!

Stop number two on our itinerary was Skagway – don’t you just love that name! Skagway was apparently the gateway to the Yukon and in particular the Klondike Goldfields. In it’s hey day at the end of the 1800s Skagway boasted a population of about 20,000, but today it has fewer than 1000 residents.

The city retains much of its character from the goldmining days and the history is shared throughout the city in mini museums and signs. And of course a new kind of gold rush has moved in with any number of jewellery shops aimed at the tourists! So I guess they are still well known for their gold.

One of the highlights of the cruise would have to be Glacier Bay National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage listed site covers 3.3 million hectares of glaciers, rugged mountains, rainforest and fjords.

It’s an eerie feeling sitting on an almost silent ship surrounded by glaciers, icebergs and snow-capped mountains, particularly when the silence is broken by the sound of ice breaking off the glaciers.

Glacier National Park seen while cruising through Alaska

Our final stop on the cruise was Ketchikan – seriously, who is naming these towns! Ketchikan sits on the banks of the Tongass Narrows and is the south-easternmost point in Alaska.

For me the highlight of Ketchikan was the living museum of Creek Street – established as a Red Light district in the early 1900s it’s actually a boardwalk winding its way along Ketchikan Creek. Most of he buildings have been converted into shops, but one of the most famous of the original brothels, Dolly’s House, is now open as a Museum.

I still wouldn’t say I’m a cruising convert, but at least now I can appreciate the benefits of travelling by sea and know that I can cope – just as long as land isn’t too far away!

Fast Facts

We stayed on the MS Vollendam.

We were on the ship for seven nights.

Was it long enough? It was a good amount of time for a cruise. I could have spent longer in Skagway to explore more of the Yukon.

Highlights: The Glacier Bay National Park is amazing, Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan all have a unique charm and seriously, who doesn’t want to spot whales over breakfast, lunch and dinner!

*The cruise was part of a tour I hosted with the awesome Two’s A Crowd tour company.

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The author Diane, and sister Julie, in the cycle rickshaw on tour in Hutong Village.
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Quokka at Thomson Bay, Rottnest Island
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Rocks on the beach on Flinders Island.
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