Canada and Alaska on Holland America Volendam

submitted by Stacy- agent at Pegasus Travel Omaha NE
Sailed on Holland America's Volendam. Stayed at Westmark hotels in Skagway, Whitehorse, Dawson, Tok, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. Mt. McKinley Lodge in Denali.
Sea food lovers will enjoy the salmon, halibut, etc. Reindeer, bison and elk were common in the Yukon.
The scenery and history of both Alaska and the Yukon are fantastic. You do get a little immune to seeing spectacular mountains, lakes, trees the whole entire trip but never knowing when you'll see an eagle, moose, bear, and etc keeps you on your toes. I especially enjoyed the Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali. This is the 8-10 hours tour (depending on how many times you stop for grizzly bears, caribou, wolf, eagles, and moose..the big 5 in Denali) that travels about 50 miles into the park on tan school buses operated by the National Park Service. There are green school buses that run every day for people wanting to get on or off at various points for hiking, camping, etc. The Natural History Tour is 5 hours and goes only 13 minutes into the park (very little opportunity to view wildlife and no chance to see the mountain itself).
Be prepared for very long travel days in order to cover the distances involved. Both Alaska and the Yukon are HUGE areas…we heard over and over that if you cut Alaska in 2, Texas would be the third largest state! Up at 6 am most days to set your luggage out; leaving by 8 or 9 am and arriving in the next overnight town late in the afternoon. There were several stops during the day which help to break up the sitting time but all that sitting and starting out the window for wildlife is tiring!
Sun rise was close to 4 am and sunset around midnight. But it never was completely dark in between. The drapes in all the hotels were very thick to keep out the daylight but you just couldn't help looking out at 2 am to see how much daylight there was. Because of all their daylight, the flowers were amazing. Especially in along all the streets both hanging baskets and in the ground. Moose hang out in Anchorage all year long…they even have Moose etiquette signs posted throughout the city.
On the land tour, some meals are included; however, most are not (which is explained in the brochure). On average, the hotel's breakfast buffet was $15 pp; dinner entrees averaged $25. HAL offers a meal plan for the land portion for $459 pp that provides 6 breakfasts; 1 lunch; and 7 dinners only at the hotel's restaurant. Good value for clients that don't want to decide where to eat each night and are big eaters!
I strongly recommend arriving one day prior to cruise anytime of the year. Our nonstop flight from Minneapolis to Vancouver had an unscheduled stop in Bozeman, MT to drop off 25 passengers. Our 1:30 arrival time ended up being 3:15…ship sailed at 5 pm. (if you arrive before 2 pm on the day of the cruise, purchased your transfers from the cruise line, and have your luggage tags on your bags, then US citizens can bypass normal customs. A travel agent can help with this US Direct option. It then took another 15-20 minutes to go through customs. Our transfer, of course, was long gone I called the phone number listed in the documents and HAL sent their on-site rep to us right away and whisked us off in a taxi to the port. We watched from the terminal as the muster drill was taking place. Delta told us that as long as the HAL luggage tags were on our luggage, DL would bring it to the ship. I thought we'd never see our luggage again, but it was in our stateroom when we opened the door!
We were on cruisetour 3A…Alaska and the Yukon. It started with a 3-night cruise out of Vancouver with one full day at sea, 1/2 day in Tracy Arm followed by stop in Juneau, and disembarking in Skagway early on the 3rd day. The captain announced that due to the tides, the ship was not able to get into Tracy Arm, which on this itinerary, would be the only chance to have that "glacier experience”. He said this occurred 3-4 times a season..something I would think the cruise lines would know in advance so we can advise our clients! (This re-enforced the lesson to never guarantee any port of call on a cruise). We purchased the $200 pp excursion into Tracy Arm on a 150-passenger boat and were able to get very close to the Sawyer glacier.
Always suggest 2 nights in Denali so allow enough time for the Tundra Wilderness Tour and time to decompress from train and bus rides.
Dress in layers so you can add or subtract according to the temperature. For example, in Tracy Arm, the temperature was in the 30s. In Fairbanks, 90! Dawson can also have high temperatures in the 80-90s. We took gloves and a scarf which we used on many days. I had two heavy sweaters and a windbreaker that kept me reasonably warm when needed. Other than on the cruise ship, you don't need any dressy clothes…jeans, khakis are perfectly fine.
When in Dawson, tell your clients to be sure to go to the Downtown Hotel and watch or experience the Sour Toe Cocktail Club. I'm now a member of the club, along with 5 others in our group. If you are curious, click here
My friend, Jane, loved it. It was the first time she's been on an escorted tour. She realized that for most people to see what we saw, an escorted tour is the easiest way to do so; however, she still felt "herded” from time to time. She loved having 2 nights in both Dawson and Denali for nothing more than not having to repack (she brought every piece of clothing she owns with her).
Westmark hotels
Highlights: good locations in each town; restaurants were nice; rooms were average in size but most had very thin walls. We could hear blow dryers and coughing from the next room.