At the end of summer we went on an Alaskan cruise with Holland America, on the Noordam, it was a great trip with amazing things to see and do, with the ship proving quite accessible. The cruise was the last of season and the weather was a little bleak when we started out but it improved daily. We left Vancouver about dinner time on Sunday, cruised out under the Lions Gate Bridge, passed by Stanley Park, then followed Burrard Inlet out into the Straight of Georgia, and headed north between Vancouver Island and the mainland of BC on our way to Alaska.
Accessible Suite #6108
We stayed in a wheelchair accessible suite, 6108, a larger suite that allowed for wheelchair access around the bed, on to the veranda, and with a larger accessible bathroom. The veranda was at an angle letting us look both out and forward allowing for excellent views. The stages or show rooms are wheelchair accessible and there a number of accessible restrooms around the ship with elevators giving access to all decks, other than the sport court on the topmost deck. The doors on to the promenade deck have ramps but the doors are little heavy to open while at the back of the ship there are automatic doors that let you on to the aft deck. The promenade deck goes around the ship and allows for a little exercise, to offset all the great food that is provided, and this deck allows for a variety of views. Holland America has made efforts to make the ship accessible and the crew was very hospitable and helpful. There are a variety of accessible cabins or suites, some are only partially accessible, ie. if you can stand and and walk little but use a wheelchair to get around. If you do need a completely wheelchair accessible suite be sure it is, we almost booked the wrong one.
In Juneau the weather was somewhat dreary, it was overcast and raining. We had planned on taking a bus ride to visit Nugget Falls and the Mendenhall Glacier but when we were off the ship there was no bus with a wheelchair lift available, poor planning on my part and timing to get there was an issue. My wife Sherrie, went to Nugget Falls and said that it was amazing, however, it was wet and cold. My brother, his wife, and I walked the town and visited Sealaska Heritage an Alaska Native Corporation owned by Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian shareholders that helps to explain cultural diversity and promotes Alaska Native arts, history, and education statewide, it is a new and really bright and comprehensive facility. We then went to the Red Dog Saloon and had a fine time listening to an old time piano player who was very funny and insightful about the local area.
It was a short cruise from Juneau to Skagway and the weather was brightening up. In Skagway we took the Snow Summit Yukon train that left from dockside and it traveled up the same route the original gold prospectors had followed. When booking make sure to ask for the train with the wheelchair accessible car on it, our planning was better with this excursion. There was a guide who gave information during the trip who gave great insight into what the prospectors went through in their search for gold. The train traveled up to Canada and turned around and passed an old border crossing that was no longer in use, North West Mounted Police. The tracks were at precarious heights, it went through tunnels, and gave amazing views. This excursion became one of the most memorable things we did on our Alaska trip. After the train excursion we walked around Skagway and had lunch at the Skagway Brewing Company and enjoyed a good lunch there.
When we reached Glacier Bay the Noordam did a slow entry and turn around making it really easy to view the glacier. We could hear it calving and could see the sheets of ice fall away from the glacier front. Johns Hopkins Glacier is about 1-mile wide, 250 feet high, and 200 feet deep at the water line. In 1750 this glacier was 65 miles down the inlet at the ocean mouth but as I have come to understand it is now an advancing glacier.
From Glacier Bay it was on to Ketchican and the weather kept improving, it was a warm and sunny day and we docked right in town. Ketchican sits in a beautiful narrow passage with many tours available from there; buses, boats, sea planes, and not too far off helicopter tours. We walked around the town and through the old business district on Creek Street, famous for its bordellos. We enjoyed sitting in the northern sun and enjoyed crab and a lunch at Fat Stan’s Pizzeria. Yes, there was a lot of good food on this trip.
The next day we were at sea and when we entered Johnstone Straight which separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia it was a gorgeous afternoon sitting on the back deck with tree covered hillsides leaving the waters edge and going up into a beautiful blue sky.
We did see whales in the distance and perhaps a hundred White Sided Porpoise on either side at the back of the ship, surfacing and jumping in it’s wake.