Bunny’s 7-Day Northbound Alaska Cruise on Holland America Noordam

Holland America Noordam
Cruising Glacier Bay

Last summer, Bunny visited Alaska for the first time. Her trip started with a 7-day northbound Alaska cruise from Vancouver, Canada, to Whittier in Alaska. It was her first cruise in Alaska and her first time cruising with Holland America. And it was a brilliant experience!

Glacier Bay
Hiking in Ketchikan

Holland America Noordam

Bunny had previously cruised with Celebrity Cruises, MSC and Norwegian Cruise Line. She wasn’t sure what to expect from Holland America but she was most pleasantly surprised during her trip.

Noordam is an older, Vista class ship, which has a capacity of 779 crew and 1924 passengers. Its age was showing in some of the decor but the whole ship was immaculately clean and very well maintained. In fact, Bunny observed the crew meticulously maintaining the beautiful wood surfaces every single day during her trip.

Cruiseships in Skagway

Surprisingly, Noordam felt positively empty even at full capacity. Bunny never really experienced crowds anywhere on the ship. She was often the only soul on the outside decks, enjoying the majestic views on her own. And the Bunnies also had the hot tubs to themselves on a number of occasions during their cruise.

Quick embarkation
Safety drill

Inside Stateroom

Bunny’s inside stateroom (7021) was located on the Rotterdam deck 7. The stateroom was compact but functional, very clean and quiet. Bunny had no complaints.

Noordam inside stateroom
Inside stateroom bathroom

Have It All -Package

Before the cruise, Bunny was torn between the option of selecting a balcony stateroom with no extra packages or an inside stateroom with Holland America’s Have It All (HIA) package. The price of the two options was approximately the same.

Bunny ended up selecting the HIA package and was very happy to have done so. Bunny’s cruise fare included a drinks package, speciality dining, some shore excursion credit and a surf package for internet. Surely, having a balcony stateroom would have been nice, but it was even nicer to spend time on the ship without having to worry about any extra costs at all.

Glacier Bay scenery
Passionfruit Margarita

Bunny’s Cruising Style

Bunny is not your typical cruiser. First of all, she is not a pensioner, she hates crowds and she absolutely loathes organised tours and forced socialising. And yet she loves cruises! She just does the cruises in her own way.

Cruise ship companies usually don’t like clients like Bunny because she doesn’t indulge in speciality dining (unless it’s part of the package as explained above), she doesn’t buy any shore excursions, she doesn’t shop, she doesn’t use the spa, she doesn’t gamble… The poor cruise companies barely make any profit out of her.

Leaving Ketchikan
Alaskan scenery

Day 1 - Vancouver

Bunny’s official embarkation time in Vancouver was at 12:20. At midday, she took a taxi to Canada Place parking hall and encountered a very well organised embarkation process. First, she dropped off her luggage with the friendly staff, then proceeded to the check-in, security checks and the US border check. It took her less than 30 minutes to go through the entire process and be inside the ship.

Onboard, the Bunnies first wandered around like idiots, trying to figure out where to get their room keys from. Then someone told them to go to their stateroom as the key cards would be waiting in the room. Of course! How did they not think of that.

The Bunnies then officially started their journey by indulging in burgers at the Dive-in burger joint. Bunny had read in advance that they would be stocking vegan Beyond Meat burgers and this was indeed the case. So yummy!

Bunny at Dive-In
Noordam pool deck

Before sailing away, the Bunnies walked around some more, getting to know the ship. Bunny instantly liked the outdoor promenade on deck 3. They also had drinks at Crow’s Nest, a lovely, panoramic lounge at the front of the ship. Then it was time for the compulsory safety drill that required all passengers to visit their muster station (i.e. meeting point) and watch a Safety at Sea video in their stateroom. It was easy-peasy compared to the old-fashioned muster practices they had had to endure in the past.

Vancouver port
Sailing out of Vancouver

Sail time out of Vancouver was 4pm. The weather was beautiful so the Bunnies headed to the top deck with drinks in hand and marvelled at Vancouver’s iconic Lion’s Gate Bridge as the ship glided under it. Afterwards, great views opened up on both sides of the ship, with snowcapped mountains, cute lighthouses and lush forests all around them.

Gorgeous scenery

The Bunnies celebrated their first cruise day by dining in the speciality Italian restaurant Canaletto (included in the ‘Have it All’ package). The food, the drinks and the service were all very good. Bunny particularly loved the cheese plate and tiramisu. No surprises there.

Speciality restaurant
Prosecco at sea

Day 2 - Cruising the Inside Passage

The second day of Bunny’s Alaska cruise was cruising the Inside Passage, a scenic coastal route along western British Columbia to southeastern Alaska. Clocks were set back an hour and Bunny was up at 5am. It was a rainy day so Bunny started with a morning walk on the Promenade, the sides of which were open to the outside for great views but protected from the elements. She was grateful for some tasty coffee she grabbed at the Explorations Cafe that morning.

Bunny's morning ritual

 She was also very impressed with the library next to the Explorations Cafe. There was a truly great selection of books there which were all brand new and free to borrow. Well done, Holland America!

Bunny loved the library
Former cigar lounge

After Bunny had had breakfast at the Lido buffet (Greek yoghurt with fresh berries, yummy!), she went to the gym. Afterwards, the Bunnies attended an expert talk in the ship’s auditorium. Bunny very much enjoyed all the whale talk and some interesting tidbits, including the rare phenomenon of whales’ bubblenet feeding, which she hadn’t known about before.

Whale information
Sunset onboard

Lunch was at the Main Dining Hall. Bunny found it very good, devouring a cauliflower dish and a quinoa salad. She topped that with white wine and cheese cake to avoid being too healthy… The Bunnies also had a talk with the staff at the Main Dining Room, asking about their special vegetarian and vegan menu. They were advised to order from the special menu in advance of any of their meals at the Main Dining Room. The system worked very well during the cruise and the Bunnies were very grateful for the separate menu. It had a lot of choice and the meals were absolutely delicious. The same could be said of the Lido buffet, which always had plenty of healthy vegetarian options, including fresh vegetarian sushi at lunch.

Bunny loved the food on Noordam
Lovely dessert

That evening, Bunny discovered what would become her drink of choice on the cruise: wonderful Passionfruit Margarita! The second night was a Gala Night in the Main Dining Room so naturally the Bunnies avoided that and headed for the buffet for dinner instead.

Great buffet options
Bunny's favourite drink

It had been a quiet, pleasurable day onboard.

Day 3 - Ketchikan (7am-3pm)

Noordam arrived in Ketchikan before 6am. The weather looked a bit gloomy but it was not raining. This was to be Bunny’s first close encounter with Alaska and she was excited. Ketchikan looked like a cute little town but instead of exploring the town, the Bunnies had decided to go for a hike.

First glimpse of Ketchikan
Ketchikan information

After researching different options, Bunny had chosen The Deer Mountain Trail as their destination. Being the careful sort, they picked up a free personal locator beacon from the Ketchikan Visitor Information Center before starting the hike. Then they grabbed a taxi to the trailhead which was about a mile and a half (2.5 kms) from the port but a steep uphill all the way, just to save their legs for the actual hike.

The hike itself was fantastic! The Bunnies didn’t feel like they had the time (or stamina?) for the full hike which goes up 2,500 feet (760 m) to the summit but they decided to walk as far as they felt comfortable doing.

Start of Deer Mountain hike
Deer Mountain trail

It was magical to be hiking in a lush temperate rain forest in Alaska. Everything seemed so green and alive. The trail was well-marked and included switchbacks through a few wooden bridges over tiny streams.

After a mile, there was an overlook which gave panoramic views of the surroundings.

Ketchikan, Alaska
Happy hiker in Ketchikan

The Bunnies continued a bit further after the lookout but let it be officially recorded that it was Mr. Bunny, eventually, who wanted to turn around and return to town. Bunny could have kept going forever - maybe. The hike was a wonderful and quiet way to spend the day in Ketchikan. There were few people on the trail, no bears to be sighted and the nature was utterly beautiful. Bunny also loved the fresh cool air which is in short supply in her home island of Carriacou.

Bunny on Deer Mountain Trail
Alaskan rain forest

After the hike, the Bunnies strolled through the tiny town of Ketchikan, which bills itself as “The Salmon Capital of the World”. They did a part of the Ketchikan Salmon Walk (the salmon run was only just starting so sightings were sparse), had a quick picnic meal in the town park and marvelled at the totem poles scattered around town.

Salmon Capital Ketchikan
Salmon capital of the world

The Bunnies also quickly checked out the Creek Street which was a full tourist experience replete with souvenir and fudge shops. Ketchikan was a pleasant and pretty town, but quite busy with several ships in port at the same time. Bunny was very pleased with herself for having spent the bulk of the day in the quiet of the woods, amongst spectacular greenery and away from the crowds.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Back on the ship, Bunny had some delicious vegetarian sushi and ice-cream at the Lido while admiring the Alaskan scenery as they pulled out of port. The Bunnies spent a lot of time on the outside deck that evening, catching a brilliant sunset before heading back to their stateroom for some well-earned rest.

Sushi from the buffet
Bunny had ice-cream every day
Sunrise at sea

Day 4 - Juneau (10am-10pm)

The next morning, the Bunnies were up and about bright and early again. They caught a glorious sunrise at sea before enjoying a leisurely breakfast at Lido. During breakfast, the weather started to turn and they eventually arrived in gloomy and rainy Juneau around 9am in the morning.

First glimpse of Juneau
Bunny in rainy Juneau

Bunny’s plan in Juneau was to go see the Mendenhall Glacier. It is one of the most popular places to visit on an Alaska cruise and relatively easy to access, as it is located only 12 miles from Juneau.

Rainy morning in Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier

Bunny had decided to do the glacier on the cheap, taking the city bus, instead of any organised tours, and walking the last mile and half (2.5 kms) to the Visitor’s Center from the last bus stop. The plan worked beautifully and the Bunnies got a little taste of ordinary Alaskan life on the town bus. Bunny was happy to have abandoned her original plan of renting bicycles and cycling to the glacier as the scenery from the bus window did not seem very impressive. The walking path from the bus stop to the glacier was flat and paved, so there was no real hardship in having taken the bus option.

On way to Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is one of the many glaciers that form the Juneau Icefield, a massive remnant of the last ice age. Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska and a deservedly popular attraction. Like many other glaciers, it has been steadily retreating over the last decades. Although there are a number of short trails at Mendenhall Glacier, none of them take you very close to the glacier itself.

Bunny at Nugget Falls
Retreating glacier

Since the Bunnies had a lot of time, they decided to walk all the shorter trails and savour the area. So they did the Nugget Falls trail, Photo Point trail and Steep Creek trail. They were all short, flat and easy walks, providing different vantage points of the glacier, Mendenhall lake and its beautiful surroundings. Bunny had hoped to spot some salmon, and maybe even bears, on the Steep Creek trail but they visited a bit too early in the season for that.

Juneau, Alaska

For Bunny, the blue icebergs casually floating in the water were the most arresting sight. Mendenhall Glacier was their first glacier experience in Alaska and they liked it even if they didn’t get quite as intimate with ice as they had in Iceland some years earlier.

The Visitor’s Center was good but a bit too packed with people for Bunny’s liking. She did a stroll around to learn more about the area. The various displays and interactive exhibits were sobering reminders of just how much the glacier had retreated over the years.

A closer look via camera objective

Getting back to town was not fun as the Bunnies had no idea when the bus would actually come. They glanced jealously at the passing tour buses and taxis as they made their way to the bus stop by foot. Luckily, they had plenty of time as their ship wasn’t due to leave until late in the evening.

Main dining room
Vegetarian food at main dining room

Back in Juneau, the Bunnies didn’t have much energy left to check out the town, so they headed back to the ship fairly quickly. A nice cauliflower steak dinner and a couple of fortifying red wines later, they were happy to wave goodbye to Juneau as Noordam set sail towards the next stop: Skagway.

Juneau at night
Cloudy Skagway port

Day 5 - Skagway (7am-8pm)

Bunny rails against cruise ship organised short excursions in principle. To her, they are often overpriced, crowded and uninteresting. However, this time around, she had some shore excursion credit to spend, so she had to choose a cruise ship organised tour somewhere during the cruise to make the most out of her deal.

Bunny and The Duchess

Bunny’s choice was the Experience the Yukon and Suspension Bridge shore excursion from Skagway. This was an 8-hour bus excursion (return), packing in a lot of sights, including the Klondike Highway and the Yukon Suspension Bridge.

Canadian wilderness
Yukon Suspension Bridge

The tour included a border crossing from the US to Canada which went rather smoothly. The first stop was in British Columbia which had gorgeous scenery and offered a glimpse of the famous White Pass & Yukon Route Railway - a very popular shore excursion from Skagway.

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
Posing in British Columbia

Then onwards to Yukon and the suspension bridge where there was quite a bit of free time to hop around. The Bunnies learned some interesting historical tidbits from the displays and marvelled at the general scenery. Then it was time to move onwards for a brief stop at stunning Emerald Lake.

Posing at Emerald Lake
British Columbia, Canada

Lunch was served at Caribou Crossing Trading Post which has delicious vegetarian lunch (pre-ordered) and unlimited homemade donuts. The Bunnies also made friends with some puppies at the Dog Mushers' Village and checked out the wildlife museum. The small Canada Mounted Police Heritage Center provided some interesting insights into the region’s history.

Yukon, Canada
Wildlife museum
Dogs at Caribou Crossing
Fancy lunch here?

The last stop of the tour was at Carcross where the Bunnies strolled along the Bennet beach with delicious ice-creams in hand.

Beach life in Yukon
Ice-cream time

Scenery on the trip back to Skagway was breathtakingly beautiful. If Bunny had had her own rental car, she would have stopped every 200 metres to take photos (Mr. Bunny would not have enjoyed that). The tour bus naturally couldn’t stop that often, particularly since unloading all the passengers seemed to take AGES every time they did stop. Bunny was sitting at the back of the bus, going crazy every time this happened. Impatient, much?

Canada views

All in all, Yukon looked like a place where Bunny could easily imagine herself holidaying. It was remote, beautiful and very, very quiet. That’s a winning combination in Bunny’s books.

Yukon, Canada

After the tour, the Bunnies strolled through Skagway and found it quite pretty, but touristic. Back at the ship, they enjoyed some hot tub time, another delicious dinner in the Main Dining Room and some great laughs at the ship’s comedy club.

Rainy day activity
Delicious vegetarian food

Day 6 - Scenic Cruising Glacier Bay (7am-4pm)

The next morning, Bunny had set her alarm for 5:30am but didn’t quite get out of bed that early. So she just missed the sight of US park rangers jumping onboard Noordam for a day of cruising at Glacier Bay National Park.

Approaching Glacier Bay

Determined not to miss anything else, Bunny grabbed a coffee from Explorations Cafe and started manicly walking around the outside decks, gawking at the foggy, but beautiful scenery. She made sure to attend the rangers’ welcome talk at Crow’s Nest at 8am and grabbed all the info and maps about Glacier Bay she could lay her paws on.

Approaching Glacier Bay
Program in Glacier Bay

Alaska cruises typically feature at least one glacier in their itinerary and Glacier Bay is normally considered the top pick. It is generally a passable channel and includes multiple glaciers for viewing but has a limited number of spots per day for cruise ships. Bunny had made sure to pick a cruise that included Glacier Bay and was looking forward to her experience. It is not every day you can explore a magnificent national park from the comfort of a cruise ship.

Scenery in Glacier Bay

By a stroke of luck, the Bunnies also had the perfect weather for the day, as a glorious, sunny day emerged. Thankfully, the captain also decided to open the bow of the ship for glacier viewing. This was an amazing, albeit chilly, spot to take in the majestic scenery - and the occasional whale spouts!

Noordam's bow open for passengers

During the day, Noordam spent a good amount of time at different glaciers, including Margerie, Grand Pacific and Hopkins glaciers, with the Bunnies witnessing some calving in the process. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking.

Alaska glacier

The thing about glaciers is that they tend to be very cold. Luckily, Bunny was prepared, wearing almost all the clothes she had packed for the trip. She also consumed warm, spiked drinks at regular intervals. That kept the cold at bay.

It's cold out there
Warm drinks at hand

Bunny particularly loved spotting otters that kept making appearances around the ship in Glacier Bay. There were also the occasional whale spouts that made Bunny regret the fact that she had forgotten her binoculars at home. Luckily, that didn’t stop her from spotting different sizes of icebergs floating past the ship throughout the day.

Amazing glaciers in Alaska

The rangers departed the ship around 4pm (this time Bunny caught it) but the captivating scenery continued for the rest of the day.

Beautiful glaciers

The Bunnies celebrated the marvellous day by having some special glacier cocktails made with ice picked fresh from the glaciers they had visited earlier. Afterwards, they went back to the comedy club where Mr. Bunny decided it was a good idea to heckle the comedian a bit. Well, he got heckled back quite nicely. Bunny was mortified. Let’s just say that one too many glacier-infused cocktails were consumed that night.

Special cocktail
Glacier ice cocktail

Day 7 - College Fjord (6pm-8pm)

Not surprisingly, the Bunnies woke up to a slight hangover the following morning. They actually stayed in bed until 10am which is almost unheard of. Luckily, they had chosen a good day to do so because the last full day at sea had delicious Alaskan brunch offered at the Main Dining Room until early afternoon.

When the Bunnies dragged their tired bones to brunch around noon, the local flavours, healthy smoothies, wild forest mushroom crepes and Alaskan blueberry pancakes were just what the doctor ordered.

Breakfast smoothie
Alaskan brunch

The weather had also turned a bit nastier after the glorious sunny day in Glacier Bay. It was suddenly freezing and the ship seemed to be swaying quite a bit more. The scenery looked very different, gloomy but still beautiful. The Bunnies spent some time on the outside decks but soon found it bitterly cold. Afternoon tea and a nap in their stateroom seemed like a better option.

Staying indoors
Vegetarian afternoon tea

Noordam was due to arrive in College Fjord around 6pm. The bow of the ship was opened again, but it was not nearly as popular as the day before. Either people had seen enough glaciers or the cold really kept most spectators away.

College Fjord
Bunny loved the promenade

The gloomy weather didn’t help but it made the colour of the sea a mesmerising turquoise. Small blue icebergs floating in this turquoise water were utterly beautiful. There was also some wildlife to be observed (handful of people spotted a bear on the coast), at least for those who decided to brave the conditions outside.

Cruising in College Fjord
Close-up of glacier
Beautiful colours
Gloomy and beautiful

Eventually, even the Bunnies gave up and decided to observe the scenery from the hot tub instead. What a brilliant idea! Bunny had never seen such alluring scenery whilst soaking in a hot tub. As an added bonus, no-one else seemed to have had the same idea so the Bunnies had the hot tub to themselves. What a perfect last evening onboard.

Cruising College Fjord
From glacier to hot tub

Day 8 - Disembarkation in Whittier

The last morning, disembarkation was done in waves. The Bunnies ignored that as they were happy to carry their own luggage off the ship. So they went to the Main Dining Room for a substantial, lazy breakfast on their last morning. In the meanwhile, most of the other passengers jammed the corridors while queueing to leave the ship in a hurry. What’s the point, Bunny wondered.

Breakfast at main dining room
Vegetarian breakfast

The Bunnies left the ship among the last passengers, thanked the staff and walked out of the ship with their luggage in tow. What a brilliant cruise it had been!

End of cruise

What Bunny Loved About Her Alaska Cruise

It’s surprisingly difficult to pick highlights from the 7-day cruise but these are some of the things that Bunny particularly loved:

  • Cruising Glacier Bay in glorious weather
  • Delicious vegetarian and vegan food throughout the ship
  • Not feeling crowded at any point during the journey
  • Friendly staff and fellow passengers; almost no children onboard
  • Passionfruit Margaritas (and glacial cocktails)!!!
Glacier Bay

What Did Bunny Do After Her Cruise

After her cruise ended in Whittier, Bunny stayed in Alaska for another 4 nights. She managed to pack in a lot of activities in those handful of days. In Whittier, she did an Afternoon Float Tour to Spencer Glacier with Chugach Adventures and loved the scenery and the glacial lake. 

Floating at Spencer lake
Wonderful hike from Whittier

She also took a small boat tour to Blackstone Bay with Lazy Otter Charters, witnessing some wildlife and glaciers at close range. The next day, she hiked the Portage Pass and stumbled across some bears just outside the town in the beginning of her hike (it was scary!).

A great boat tour from Whittier
Lazy Otter boat tour

Then Bunny took a very pretty train ride from Whittier to Anchorage, rented a car and headed to Seward along the very scenic highway, with many, many photo-taking stops on the way. In Seward, Bunny stayed in a yurta in the forest. She did a wonderful 6-hour boat trip with Major Marine to Kenai Fjords National Park, spotting killer whales for the first time in her life and, incredibly, witnessing whales bubblenet feeding in real life! Bunny’s short hike to Exit Glacier was not as big a success as she had been hoping owing to heavy fog and Bunny didn’t actually get to see the glacier…

Major Marine boat tour

Bunny didn’t spend much time in Anchorage itself, but before her flight back, she did manage to stroll around town, walk part of Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and sample some tasty local beers at the 49th State Brewing.

Kenai Fjords NP
Sampling Alaskan beer

If you are thinking about doing an Alaskan cruise, Bunny would definitely encourage you to add a few days to your itinerary to explore a little more of Alaska on your own. It has so much to offer!

Klondike Highway

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