Review: Klondike Explorer and Inside Passage
Cruise - Ocean Cruise
Alaska and Yukon Cruise and Tour
121 people found this review helpful
Although my aunt and I have traveled across Canada from coast to coast (including Newfoundland), we had never been to any of the territories. When the opportunity came up to go on an Alaskan cruise, it only made sense to select the option that included a land tour into the Yukon. We were not disappointed.
We live in different provinces so we got on the phone and on line together and checked out the various cruises and tour options and chose the Holland America 11-day Klondike Explorer and Inside Passage cruise and tour from Vancouver to Anchorage. We spent the first three nights on the ship Volendam and the following seven nights at various hotels throughout the land portion of the tour travelling by train, coach, and river boat.
Originally we had booked the meal plan ($450 each) for the land part of the tour (meals on the ship are included in the cruise cost) but we cancelled it before paying the balance of the fare. We do not eat large amounts of food and did not spend $450 between the two of us on the trip so the meal plan would have been a wasted expense for us.
After the obligatory lifeboat drill we spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening exploring the ship and taking in the lovely scenery as we left Vancouver, past Stanley Park, under the Lions Gate Bridge and headed into the Inside Passage. We had selected “as you wish” dining between 5:00 and 9:00 pm and had the option of a table to ourselves. The food was delicious and our table was at the very stern of the boat with lovely views. Our first full day on the ship was spent cruising in the Inside Passage. We filled the day with shopping, attending talks on the excursions, gambling in the casino and eating. Thank goodness the 3rd deck is a walking deck so we could walk off the food and work up another appetite.
The next day while walking on deck 3 I saw a small whale getting it’s morning exercise as well. The first destination for the day was to be Tracy Arm, Alaska. However, despite three attempts to enter the fjord the captain decided to head for Juneau. There was too much ice blocking the chanel into the fjord and it was unsafe. Although we didn’t get to see the Sawyer Glaciers at the end of the fjord, which is where the blue glacier ice comes from, we did see a lot of beautiful blue ice from a safe distance.
Our next port of call for the day was Juneau and the weather was starting to turn. The top of Mount Roberts was barely visible in the fog as we were docking but we did see an eagle checking out the new visitors. We shopped in Juneau then met up with our tour for the gold panning and Alaska salmon bake. There were less than a dozen of us and we went out of town to prospect in the rivers like in days gone by. Despite the drizzle we enjoyed ourselves and panned some gold and a garnet. As we were drivng towards town to the salmon bake a small black bear came crashing through the undergrowth and ran across the road in front of our vehicle. After our coho salmon bake, we went up the Mount Roberts Tramway for some misty views from the top. There is a Raptors centre with an injured bald eagle namedf Lady Baltimore, a movie theatre with a short film about the First Nations in the area, and the obligatory gift shop. Back on board the ship we enjoyed Irish coffees in the Explorers Lounge while listening to the Adagio string quartet. There is entertainment on board for a variety of tastes.
The next morning we had breakfast in bed – a nice luxury to enjoy as there would be little opportunity for a leisurely breakfast while on the land part of the tour. We arrived in Skagway, at the northern tip of Alaska’s Inside Passage, where we met our Tour Director, Jen, for the remainder of the trip. As some of us were going on a Streetcar Tour Jen took our lunch orders so we could pick up our boxed lunches later at the Westmark Inn in Skagway ready to board the White Pass train for the next stage of our journey. I can’t say enough about how attentive Jen and our various drivers were throughout the remainder of the tour. At every stop along the way we would find bottles of water and snacks on our seats when we returned to the bus. It is vital to remain hydrated, especially in the desert, yes, I said desert.
The tour we took of Skagway was in a 1927 retrofitted street car and included not only a tour of the town (a restored gold rush town and the headquarters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park) but also the Gold Rush Cemetary on the outskirts of town and up to the top of the mountain for great views of Skaway and the docks. Also included was a short movie about early Skagway residents and the prospectors who came to Skagway on their way to the gold rush. The views however were surpassed by those from the train which takes you from sea level in Skagway to 2,865 feet in just 20 miles to the Summit, through Tunnel Mountain and by Lynn Canal, Mount Harding and the Chilkat Range. The Whitepass and Yukon Route was designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1994 and was our ticket out of Skagway and onto the beginning of our land tour. From the train you can see the trail the old prospectors took before the railway was built. It is still littered with debris and the weathered bones of 3,000 horses which died carrying the prospectors’ ton of supplies they were required to have in order for the RCMP to permit them to travel the route. The RCMP were at the US/Canada border at the White Pass Summit. It was a long way (over 500 miles) to the gold fields and many did not make it.
Our trip was a lot more comfortable, eating our boxed lunches while taking in the breathtaking scenery of the mountains, hairpin turns of the train, and tressle bridges. we were joining those disembarking at Fraser, BC where our driver was waiting for our journey to Whitehorse. Canada Customs boarded the train to check our passports before we could disembark. Those wanting a stamp in their passports could stamp it themselves in Carcross, Yukon Territory with a black bear stamp. Carcross was our pit stop in the middle of the afternoon to stretch our legs and where the desert enters the picture. The Carcross Desert is a remnant of the last ice age – the remains of the sandy bottom of a glacial lake. It is strange to see “christmas trees” in amongst the sand dunes.
The Westmark Whitehorse was our destination for the evening. After a delicious dinner of beer battered fish trio (halibut, arctic char and shrimp) we went to the Frantic Follies, a lively and entertaining vaudeville show presented in the hotel. At every destination Jen provided us with information about the city/town and area along with recommended restaurants including type of fare and hours of operation. All very helpful to plan our time.
After breakfast bright and early the next morning we were on the bus by 8:00 and on the road to Dawson City where we would spend two days. After a morning coffee stop at Braeburn Lodge for the world’s largest cinamon bun we stopped for lunch at Minto Landing Resort. After lunch we all posed for a group picture by the Yukon River before heading for Moose Creek Lodge, our afternoon stop. I was taking full advantage of all the shops along with way to do some early christmas shopping. It was a long drive but the scenery kept us interested between the masses of wild flowers along the roadside (e.g., lupins and fireweed), the swans nesting in the lakes, and the bear sighting at Five Finger Rapds. Our driver also kept us entertained by reciting Robert Service poems in preparation for our visit to the poet’s home in Dawson City the next day.
For a change from all the sea food we’d eaten the past week we had a tender steak dinner at Belinda’s Dining Room at the hotel. All of the steaks on the menu were bigger than either of us could eat so they cut one in half for us. I also highly recommend the fish and fries at Sourdough Joe’s Restaurant. We spent part of both evenings in Dawsn City at Diamond Tooth Gerties, Canada’s first casino. It is operated by the Klondike Visitors Association, a non-profit society and all proceeds are invested in community attractions and visitor services. There are three shows a night with singers and Can-can Dancers and of course the casino has gaming tables and slot machines. The challenge was getting to sleep while it was still light outside, even at 2:00 am!
One morning we went on The Ghosts of Dawson City Tour including a stop at the home of the poet, Robert W. Service where a costumed guide told the story of his life and recited some of his poems. The tour also took us out of town to the Gold Dredge #4 and discovery claim where the first gold was discovered. In the afternoon we boarded the free George Black Ferry to cross the Yukon River to go golfing at the Top of the World Golf Course – it is 9 holes and is the most northern course with grass greens in North America. Although we looked for the moose mother and calf reputed to live on the course the only wildlife we saw was a fox walking on the side of the highway on our way back to the ferry. We stopped for a photo on the Top of the World Highway of Dawson City and the convergence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. The ferry is the only way to cross the river so people living on the other side have to stock up as winter sets in as they won’t be able to cross for supplies until the ice is safe.
We had plenty of time in town to wander the unpaved roads, rustic boardwalks and explore the various buildings – historic and/or shopping. Whether your interests are literary (Robert W. Service, Pierre Berton, Jack London) or adventurous (canoeing, hiking, jeep tours, river rafting) there is something for you in Dawson City.
After two days it was time to move on up the Yukon River to Eagle, Alaska on board the Yukon Queen II. There had been a terrible flood earlier in the year which damaged the dock and buildings along the river in Eagle, and this was the first northern trip of the season. The three hours to Eagle (100 miles) passed quickly with narration along the way pointing out the various settlements, watching for wildlife and enjoying lunch. Once we arrived in Eagle, US Customs boarded to check our passports before we could disembark onto a new coach which would take us on to Fairbanks via Tok. We spent some time in Eagle talking to the folks in the visitor centre about the flood and they showed us the pictures of the devestation, and of course, doing our bit to help their economy – shopping in their makeshift outdoor market. Then it was on the coach for a steep and narrow drive on the Taylor Highway with a guide vehicle in front warning oncoming traffic of the approaching coach. If you don’t like heights, you don’t want the window seat! Again the views were spectacular, this time of Forty-Mile River Canyon and Canada’s Ogilvie Mountains.
Our evening stop in Tok was again at a Westmark Inn which looked like two story log cabins. After dinner there was time to shop next door at the Burnt Paw Gift Shop and take a look at the husky pups in the kennels behind the shop. The next day on our way into Fairbanks we saw moose in Moose Meadow. Our first stop in Fairbanks was the Eldorado mine for our miners lunch of beef stew and biscuits followed by a tour of the dredge which works on the same principle as a thresher. We then moved to a train (The Eldorado Express) which takes you back in time to 1905 to see how the prospectors lived in tents or log cabins and interpretive guides explained how they looked for gold. After a demonstration of gold panning everyone was given pans and a sack of soil to try their luck.
After leaving the mine we had a short stop at the Alaska Pipeline before arriving at our hotel for the night, the Regency Fairbanks. The hotel had a welcome wine and cheese party for everyone on the terrace which we just had time to attend before catching our tour to Pioneer Park for an Alaska Salmon Bake and a show at the Palace Theatre protraying Fairbanks’ history and folklore.
The next morning we boarded our coach for the last time and were taken to the train station to board the McKinley Explorer for our four hour trip into Denali National Park. The first floor of the train is the dining cars and the upper floor is the observation cars. Each carriage has it’s own bar and staff who take very good care of you. We had breakfast on the train and as we were approaching Denali station, we saw a Moose swimming across the lake. For this part of the trip we had to pack overnight cases only and our larger cases were sent on to Anchorage. It is suggested that you include rainware, layered clothing and comfortable shoes for your stay in the park. We definitely needed the rainware. Our hotel, the McKinley Chalets was a cluster of chalets with a shop and restaurants in the lobby complex. There are buses to take you from the station to the hotel and there were complimentary shuttles to the Denali National Park entrance and to local shops available from the lobby of the hotel.
We had time to check out our room, walk back to the lobby and purchase some snacks we might need on our afternoon safari. As it turned out, the boxed lunches provided on the safari bus were more than adequate to keep us fortified for the 8 hour tour. The buses are fitted with monitors that drop down from the ceiling and the driver has a movie camera up front. When someone spots wildlife they yell out the direction based on a clock face, the driver stops the bus and gets the camera focussed so everyone can see the wildlife on the screen. Over the course of the afternoon we saw caribou, countless Dahl sheep and grizzly mums and their cub(s), fox, wolf, merlin, golden eagle, and moose. We also saw beautiful scenery and had plenty of rest stops along the way. We returned to the hotel around 9:30 pm and had a late supper in the Nenana View Grill.
The next morning we had breakfast in our room then we dropped our overnight bags in the luggage storage room of the main lobby and went on our last tour – the Husky Homestead. We went to the homestead of Iditarod champion Jeff King and learned how the huskies are trained for the race and about all the preparation that goes into running the grueling 1,049 mile race which Jeff and his team won in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2006.
After this tour we just had time to retrieve our bags and catch our ride to the station for our train to Anchorage. As the train had not arrived yet we spent some time in the Visitor Centre and did some more shopping. It is an 8 hour trip from Denali to Anchorage through more lovely scenery and wildlife spotting. We had lunch and dinner on the train and it was a nice relaxing way to arrive at our final destination on the tour, the Westmark Anchorage. Our room was on the 14th floor with great views of Cook Inlet.
121 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Holland America Line