Cruising the Inside Passage

Our RVs take us to a great many places, and sometimes we find a new adventure waiting for us. Vancouver is a great city to visit, and its convenient Capillano River RV Park is a handy campground for the visitor. It’s also a wonderful place to leave your RV if you should happen to want to take an Inside Passage Cruise.

Our motorhome had brought us 3,000 miles while we camped and parked in amazing places, such as Yellowstone NP, Jasper NP, and Banff National Park. We were ready now for someone else to do the driving for a little while. We had postponed this adventure trip for years, but were finally convinced to book in after listening to friends speak about the amazing trip they had taken up the west coast to Alaska on a Holland America ship.

With those words of encouragement, we eagerly walked up the gang-plank of the Zuiderdam. Actually, evidence of the level of service we would receive from Holland America showed itself the moment we stepped from the shuttle bus. Red jacketed attendants were located at critical positions to point us in the correct direction and answer our questions. It would have been very easy to get lost in the huge terminal. Luggage vanished and the next time we would see it, would be in our cabin.

Those of us who were eager and boarded early were escorted to the Lido Restaurant, the upper buffet dining room to pass some time eating and drinking whilst our room was being readied. It’s not a buffet in the sense you walk along and pick up the food. Instead, most stations have servers behind and will fill your dish with whatever you want. This may be slower but it prevents the customers from touching the food and passing on germs. The ship is heavy on good health and there are hand cleaner stations everywhere you go. Anyone not feeling well is asked to stay in their room.

Our spacious room had a veranda with glass doors that let lots of light inside. The big desk had lots of storage, and in the corner, there was a closet for your hanging clothes. There were even drawers under the bed. There was much more storage room than we needed as we travel with only two carry-on bags.

Since we were blessed with sunshine we made regular use of the balcony. We wanted to enjoy as much of the west coast scenery as we could. After two trips north in the RV we had a pretty good idea of what the mountains were like inland on the other side of the mountains from where the boat was going. The scenery inland had been terrific and now we would see how it looked from the ocean.

We sailed north along British Columbia’s inside passage passing the mouths of several fjords that the flowing glaciers had carved as the rocks embedded in their bottoms and sides carved and chiselled at the seemingly untouchable mountains. The tongues of the glaciers with their massive weight slowly reshaped the mountains.

Fjords are among nature’s most beautiful creations. A glacier creates a long U-shaped valley. The gouges and streaks in the sides of the valley show the power of the glacier. These glaciers near the ocean will have created the U-shaped valley right out to the ocean scouring a channel that is very deep. When the glacier retreats, water flows into the empty place left by the melted ice and a long fjord is created. Some fjords are very deep and when you look at the cliffs along the shore they look as if they are plummeting a great distance down. The older exposed surfaces near the outlet into the ocean should have trees which become scarcer as you approach the glacier. Near the glacier the rock is freshly exposed and trees have not had time to develop. It’s amazing how fast trees gain a foothold in what was once freshly scraped rock. Along the slopes small brush and other vegetation add more colour to the mix making a view across the blue or green of the water one of those ‘wow’ moments.

The first fjord we visited was the beautiful Tracy Arm, a long twisting, narrow channel. Our veranda gave us a front row seat and it looked as if we could reach out and touch the shore. Views up the many glacier carved valleys showed distant white topped peaks with jagged tops. The water surrounding the ship was slowly filling with small and large icebergs as we approached the foot of the glacier. Imagine our surprise as we approached what looked like the solid end of the fjord to see another cruise ship pop out of  a hidden curve.

In the afternoon we reached Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Juneau is accessible only by sea or air. No highways reach into the interior. As with each port we stop at, side trips are available for a fee, or you can just spend your time walking through the town and visiting the trinket shops. I think every town had a large contingent of jewellery shops. There were many beautiful looking baubles, some of which would take your lunch money for many,  many years to purchase. Judging by the pedestrian traffic on the walks, and in the stores, shopping was a popular choice. Instead we chose a couple of side trips.

The trip to the Mendenhall Glacier is a good choice. Your first view of the spreading ice sheet reveals the impressive fracturing of the ice and the deep looking crevasses. The lake at its foot is thick with small icebergs. The mix of autumn colours in the trees, the blue water speckled with white icebergs, backdropped by the white glacier and the dark mountains is awesome. What is also impressive is the fact that only a few short years ago the ice sheet covered where we were walking and the beautiful waterfall on the side poured into a hole in the glacier.

We returned to the Zuiderdam in time to have supper in the Vista Dining Room, a two level dining area. We had the open seating option and thus did not have to fit into the same table and eat with the same guests. This gave us opportunity to meet several travellers who on this trip came mostly from Western Canada, Australia, and England.

Summer in Delta

The service in the Vista was very good and the waiters were quick and ready to serve you. The tables near the windows gave good views of the coastline as you ate a relaxing meal. We were fortunate several times to get a table beside the windows at the stern which made it possible to see the scenery on both sides when you were in narrow channels.

The Lido Restaurant is a cafeteria style buffet where the food is dished out for you. There are also special stops that cater to special tastes for those who want Asian, Italian or maybe sushi. The Lido’s breakfast omelette, made in front of you, using your choice from a wide variety of ingredients, is done to perfection. If you want seats by the windows, eat early, as the prime seats go fast. The ice cream stand offers top quality, and very delicious ice cream in cones, or in the dish. This was a favourite stop for us.

If you are looking for outstanding service in very exquisite surroundings a visit to the Pinnacle Grill may be what you would be looking for. Their steaks are terrific and cooked as you like them. Their service makes you feel like a person of importance while you enjoy a wonderful meal. The Pinnacle Grill is one place on the ship where the food costs extra.

If you are too worn out from the day’s activities you can order by room service using a special menu. We didn’t try this but those who did said the food arrived on time and foods that were supposed to be hot, were hot when they got them.

There are plenty of activities to do on the ship when away from a port, or if you’d rather not participate in a shore activity when docked. There is a store with a jewellery boutique, a shop for watches and jewellery and lots of souvenir shelves. Visit the art gallery which has some very nice pictures and it has an auction where you might pick up a fine painting. The Crow’s Nest is a comfortable lounge area about as high on the ship as you can go. It provides a wall of tall windows where you can keep track of the ship’s progress from an easy chair. Nearby there is a library so you can pick up a novel, and go out on the open deck to relax in the sun and watch the world go by. You can purchase some time on the internet and sit in a cosy chair so it’s just like home. Perhaps you want to soak in the hot tub or swim in the pool under a retractable roof that is open in nice weather. We didn’t find the hot tub as hot as some we have been in. To finish your day perhaps you’d like to sign up for a session in the spa and be rubbed and pampered into shape.

Evening entertainment includes the Vista Lounge’s shows of comedy, music, variety, and a show with the singers and dancers of the Zuiderdam. Also the many lounges and bars have a wide variety of music on piano, guitar, and songs.

The highlight of the cruise lies in the all day cruise into Glacier Bay. I would suggest that when you are booking your tickets you select a port side veranda room. It seemed as if the ship toured the bays clockwise and that gave us maximum exposure to the cliffs and bays. Our veranda angled out a little so we could also view forward. When the ship travelled at 20 knots and if there was also a headwind it was a little breezy but we tucked into our parkas, pulled up a blanket over our legs, and wouldn’t have exchanged positions with someone on a southern beach. The trip through the bay was a fantastic experience, perhaps worth the entire cost of the trip in itself. As we approached the end of the bay the tiny icebergs we had been seeing along the way became larger and more interesting. Some were showing clear blue ice, others were dirty with rock carved from the cliffs. On many of the ice hunks there were seals resting in the sunlight. The ship was able to park right in front of the glacier and we watched a massive hunk of ice that was tilted and ready to topple. But it refused to cooperate although smaller hunks crashed into the sea sending out small waves and sometimes a big boom that echoed across the waters. Soon the Zuiderdam turned around so the other side of the ship could have the spectator seats so we went up on top to the open deck to continue viewing and encouraging the glacier to calve with a large piece. However, it didn’t happen!

We had the opportunity to ride the narrow gauge White Pass & Yukon Route train to the top of the pass in Skagway

The ship also entered the Lynn Canal. Now as far as I can see  the name is misleading. It’s not a canal, but it is a massive 140 km long fjord and is very deep. It took us to Skagway for a day and a chance to roam the streets of the town that grew up during the Canadian Klondike Gold Rush. It also provided an opportunity to ride the narrow gauge White Pass & Yukon Route train to the top of the pass. We have come down to the port by land with our motorhome, and judging by the many RVs there, it is still a popular RV destination. Being on the ship, we were able to learn what it was like farther down the fjord.

Downtown Vancouver.

On the return trip to Vancouver we stopped at Ketchikan where it was raining and visited a large assembly of well cared for totem poles.

As we headed eastward in the motorhome we were glad to have done the cruise, and also happy to be back in our own mobile home where each stop was of our own choosing.

This trip created a pile of new memories to add to those of our years with our RVs. If you are looking for a diversion during one of your RV trips to the west coast, I can’t think of a better one.  

For Information:

www.hollandamerica.com/main/Main.action

White Pass and Yukon Railway https://wpyr.com/

For more from James Stoness, click here

Story by James Stoness

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