Cruise ships sailing to Alaska come in all sizes and price ranges, and it's important to choose the right large or small ship for your Alaska cruise vacation. Experience plays a big part in many decisions—Holland America Line began exploring Alaska in 1947 and has continued to wow its guests with land and sea vacations to the Last Frontier for the past 70 years. The company's first tour in Alaska was in Fairbanks, but Holland America is now best known for its cruise vacations or land and sea combination tours.
Explore Alaska With Holland America Cruises
Each year Holland America sends about a half-dozen ships to Alaska, with cruises embarking in Seattle, Vancouver, or Anchorage (Seward). Most Holland America Alaska cruises are seven days long and sail Alaska's Inside Passage round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver, but some sail between Vancouver and Seward and others are 14 days or longer.
The 2100-guest Eurodam was launched in 2008 and is one of the company's three largest and newest ships. The Eurodam was significantly refurbished in December 2015, with new dining, lounge, and entertainment venues, along with suite upgrades added. The ship has excellent onboard programs that include America's Test Kitchen cooking demonstrations, computer classes, and great diverse entertainment in the Music Walk area and the show lounge.
However, on Alaska cruises, many think the best place to be is outside on the decks during the long summer days, watching the spectacular scenery pass by and searching the sea and shore for some of Alaska's famous wildlife. Holland America has an onboard naturalist who stays out on the deck much of the time when the ship is sailing. The naturalist is always ready to answer questions or point out wildlife.
The other great thing about a Holland America Alaska cruise is the variety and uniqueness of the many shore excursions scheduled for each port of call. Here are the best things to do at the Eurodam's ports of call in Alaska.
Seattle: Embarkation and Debarkation Port of Call
Seattle is a great city to visit and to embark on an Alaskan cruise. The people are friendly, and the summer weather is often pleasant. Seattle is famous for its rain, but it is usually more of a drizzle. However, the sun often shines, and the temperatures can get warmer than you might think.
Cruise ships embark from two different piers, and your cruise documents will tell you where to find your ship. The Eurodam and other Holland America ships embark at Pier 91, which is north of the downtown area near the Magnolia Bridge. Other cruise lines also dock at Pier 91, while others are at Pier 66.
It's fun to come into Seattle a day or two early and use the time to explore all the sights like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the waterfront, Chihuly Gardens and Glass, and the historic Underground area. When the cruise ships are sailing in the summer months, you'll see lots of other visitors who either are embarking on a cruise or just debarked from one.
The Eurodam sails in the late afternoon for Alaska and passengers gather on the outdoor decks to watch the skyline recede and to be on the lookout for orcas and dolphins.
It's a long way to the first port of call, Juneau, so the Eurodam sails for about 40 hours before arriving in Alaska's state capital.
Juneau: The Eurodam's First Port of Call
Juneau is the capital of Alaska and because of its Inside Passage location, is the only U.S. capital that cannot be reached by car. Visitors must arrive by air or sea. It is also the only U.S. capital with a nearby glacier!
The Holland America Eurodam docks right in downtown Juneau, so those who don't take an organized shore excursion can walk to the shops, bars, or the Mount Roberts Tramway. However, the Eurodam offers over 40 shore excursions in Juneau covering a wide variety of activities, experiences, and costs. Cruise ship guests should take advantage of the unique things to do in and around Juneau.
All of the most expensive shore excursions (over $500 per person) include a helicopter ride to a glacier, dog sledding camp, or wilderness location. Although these prices are very high, you will have a lifelong memory of the adventure. The Holland America Eurodam also has seaplane and boat excursions from Juneau. The seaplanes take you to a glacier or looking for wildlife.
Those looking for something more active can take a tour that includes hiking on a glacier, zip-lining, fishing, biking, or kayaking. Seven shore excursions take travelers to the nearby Mendenhall Glacier on a bus. Some of these Mendenhall tours allow for plenty of free time for those who like to hike.
All of the wildlife in Alaska is exotic and most species are unique to North America. Holland America has eight whale-watching shore excursions operating in Juneau. Some of these tours guarantee you'll either see a whale or get a partial refund from the operator. Whales can be seen in many parts of the world, but seeing the humpback whales in Alaska is an amazing memory to take home.
Glacier Bay: The Eurodam's Second Port of Call
Glacier Bay is the Eurodam's destination on day four of its Alaska cruise from Seattle. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a huge park, and much of it is accessible only from the water. Cruise ships stop near the park office and visitor's center to pick up some rangers who spend the day providing information and insight on the park.
Passengers stay on the ship, gathering in the lounges or outside on the decks to see the glaciers and wildlife of Glacier Bay. The park rangers' commentary is piped into some of the common areas so that guests won't miss anything. None of the cruises have shore excursions off the ship.
The tidewater glaciers are the stars of this national park visit, but guests might also see mountain goats, Steller sea lions, and bears. The ship sails very slowly, allowing plenty of time to take in the views. Whales aren't seen as much in the park since the melting and calving glaciers put more fresh water and silt into the water than whales like.
It's very interesting to listen to the park rangers explain about glaciers and glacial valleys and hear the Native American interpretive guide describe how important the park area was (and is) to the Native American tribes who once lived there.
Sitka: The Eurodam's Third Port of Call
Sitka is located on the outside of the Inside Passage. If that doesn't make sense, it's located on the western side of one of the islands on the Inside Passage but is on the Pacific Ocean rather than a channel. Large ships like the Eurodam of Holland America either anchor and tender their guests into town or dock just outside Sitka and provide a free shuttle bus into town.
Most cruise passengers visiting Sitka take a shore excursion to see wildlife or learn more about the history or culture of the indigenous peoples of the area. Holland America has about two dozen shore excursion options in Sitka, so it's difficult to choose just one.
Wildlife Shore Excursions
Holland America has about a half dozen tours that use boats to sail around the harbor and shorelines of some of the neighboring islands. The waters and islands around Sitka have plentiful wildlife, and animals like sea otters, eagles, whales, and sea lions are often seen from the local excursion boats. One wildlife boat tour even uses a jet boat and another uses an ocean raft that moves up to 50 miles per hour, which allows its guests to see wildlife when it slows down, plus have an exciting ride. Bears are rarely seen until the salmon start filling the streams in mid-summer. However, some shore excursions include a visit to the Fortress of the Bear rescue facility where Alaskan brown bears are rehabilitated. Other wildlife shore excursions visit the Alaska Raptor Center, which has many "raptors in residence".
History and Art Shore Excursions
Holland America also has four Sitka shore excursions for those who love history, art, and architecture. One even includes the option to create your own Alaska-inspired painting and take it home with you. Another tour takes guests to explore the Sheldon Jackson Museum, which has a huge collection of Native American and Inuit artifacts. A third excursion looks at Sitka's Russian and Native American history at a clan-style house and the Sitka National Historic Park.
Active and Unusual Shore Excursions
Holland America has arranged 14 very active or unusual shore excursions such as kayaking, biking, hiking, fishing, exploring in a 4x4, or snorkeling in a dry suit. One very fun and unique Sitka excursion is a "Pedal and Pub Crawl", where you explore the town on a bike while learning about Sitka's history and stopping for a couple of beers along the way.
Ketchikan: The Eurodam's Forth Port of Call
Ketchikan has two distinguishing characteristics that most cruise travelers will remember—it is one of the rainiest cities in the USA, and it legalized prostitution in certain areas from 1903 to 1954. Some of the old Ketchikan brothels where the "sporting women" lived and worked (as they were called) can still be found on Creek Street, and a couple of the old homes offer tours.
Although the Holland America Eurodam is only in Ketchikan for 6 hours, the cruise ship has 33 shore excursions for its guests to enjoy. Most of these half-day tours are four hours or less, so guests can participate in a tour and still have time to explore Ketchikan on their own since the ship docks very near to Creek Street and the main shopping areas.
Some travelers wonder why cruise ships would only spend six hours in Ketchikan and then stop in Victoria for just six hours. Why not just spend more time in Ketchikan? Victoria is a great port of call, but ships stop over there in order to comply with the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act). Congress passed this law to protect American shipping, but it also covers cruise ships. It requires all ships that are not flagged in the United States to include one foreign port of call on their itineraries. Since all but one (the Pride of America) large cruise ships are not flagged in the United States, they include a Canadian port of call on their Alaska cruise itineraries or embark/disembark in Vancouver.
The Eurodam has 14 adventure tours available when the ship is docked in Ketchikan. Some of these involve snorkeling; zip-lining; jeep, canoe, zodiac, or adventure cart expeditions. Others give guests the chance to fish for salmon or halibut. One of the fishing expeditions even allows you to eat the fish you've caught!
In addition to eating your own catch, Holland America has four other tours in Ketchikan for foodies. The highlight of all these tours is eating Alaskan crab and/or other types of seafood. The location of the crab feast and entertainment makes each one different.
Historical and Educational Tours
Like all other Alaskan towns, Ketchikan has an interesting past, and it's not just the "sporting women". Guests can take a tour to learn about running crab traps in the Bering Sea while riding on the Aleutian Ballad, just like on television's The Deadliest Catch). One tour explores the streets and waters around Ketchikan from a "duck", which is an amphibious vehicle. Another tour shows guests the highlights of Ketchikan and the totem pole park from a trolley car, while other tours explore the Totem Pole Park and the Saxman Native Village. One tour that is uniquely Ketchikan is its famous Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show. The ship has several tours that include entrance to the show.
Exploring Misty Fjords National Monument
Many cruise ship guests take either a floatplane or a boat from Ketchikan to Misty Fjords National Monument, the second largest national wilderness in the United States.
Ketchikan is the nearest port of call to Misty Fjords National Monument for passengers arriving on large cruise ships. Holland America has three shore excursions that go from Ketchikan to the Misty Fjords, which are about 20 miles away. All three involve a seaplane, which provides a great chance to see this wilderness area from the air. The views are magnificent!
Victoria, British Columbia: The Eurodam's Fifth Port of Call
The last port of call for the Holland America Eurodam before disembarking in Seattle is the city of Victoria on Canada's Vancouver Island. After sailing for about 29 hours from Ketchikan, the ship arrives late in the afternoon on day seven and stays until midnight, which gives guests plenty of time to take one of the 13 shore excursions or to explore Victoria on their own.
Since Victoria is more cosmopolitan than the other ports of call, many of the excursions focus on highlights to see in and around the city or things to do like have Royal Tea at Abkhazi Gardens or tour some of the city's many craft breweries. Guests who haven't seen enough whales can take one last whale watching adventure, while those who love butterflies can visit a butterfly garden outside the city.
Many cruise passengers who visit Victoria take a tour to the famous Butchart Gardens. This 55-acre garden is one of the world's most spectacular, and visitors love to explore the many individual gardens that cover the whole space like the rose garden, sunken garden, Japanese garden, or Italian garden. Although the Butchart Gardens are about 14 miles north of Victoria, you will have plenty of time to explore the entire grounds and the excellent gift shop.