ALASKA 2019 REVIEW – Holland America Lines - Noordam

Itinerary: Anchorage (2 nights), Denali (2 nights), Cruise (7 nights)

Cruise: Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan to Vancouver

This was our fifth Alaska cruise but we had never done the land portion to Denali so we decided to try that. While Denali was awesome to see, it wasn’t really worth all the hassle.

We left early (5:00am) to catch our flight to Anchorage. The Westmark Anchorage Hotel, which we learned was owned by HAL, was a mid range hotel but the Wi-Fi did not work on the higher floors. I had to go down to the lobby to connect every time I wanted to use it. The HAL tour desk is right in the hotel for all the arrangements to Denali. The restaurant served an excellent breakfast buffet but, as I imagine is typical of Alaska, overpriced.

The next day, Thursday, in Anchorage we had booked a tour from “Alaska’s Finest Tours” called Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Turnagain Arm Tour. Click here for the review of this tour which was an absolute rip off by Alaska’s Finest Tours.

Friday morning we had to get up early again (5:30am) so we could put our luggage in the hall by 6:00, have breakfast, check out, and be down at the HAL tour desk by 7:45. They took us by bus to the train depot which was a short 15 minute drive. We already had our train car and seat assignment. Considering the number of people and luggage, everything went smoothly and the train left on time. Unfortunately we had a refurbished car and one of the two bathrooms didn’t work and the heat didn’t work. The car was much too cold and most people had to spend the 8 hour trip in their heavy coats. The cars did provide a beautiful view of the scenery. The train was very slow and I imagine it would take several hours less if you drove or took a bus to Denali.

At Denali we were loaded on buses to get to the resort. We were assigned a specific bus which would drop us off at the lodge we were staying in. The HAL property had many buildings and was a rather large complex. Shuttle buses ran the circuit because most of it was too far and hilly to walk. We had upgraded to a Junior Suite in a new building. What we found out is we were the first to use that room. We had to plug in lamps, take packing tape off the Keurig and hair dryer, and put batteries in the safe. It was a beautiful room. rustic looking with a nice view, definitely worth the upgrade price.

Part of the Denali 2 night trip is a bus tour of Denali. We were assigned a bus at 7:30 Saturday morning so it was another early day to get breakfast and get to the main lodge on time. There was no information in advance of this tour. We didn’t know that part of it was a walk in the cold morning air at 2 stops so we were not dressed appropriately. They pointed out some wildlife along the way but most of it was too far to really see clearly.

That evening we went to the Husky Homestead to learn all about the Iditarod race and how they breed, raise and train the dogs, as well as what the process is for the race and route. They had puppies for us to hold. This was the best tour yet. If you love dogs, this is a must.

Sunday was another early morning. We had to have our luggage outside our door by 6:00am for the bus trip to Seward and the ship. The luggage is taken separately by truck. Our bus left at 7:00 for the 10 hour drive. We stopped after 2 hours for a short break and then for lunch at a banquet hall for a sandwich buffet. The afternoon was almost 3 ½ hours before we stopped and it was a very small rest stop with only 2 bathrooms for a whole busload of people.

Checking in and boarding the ship was the usual process of getting your keys, going through security except we never had to show any documentation or our boarding passes.

The cruise was very relaxing and it was so great not to have to get up early every morning. The HAL ship, Noordam, was slightly bigger than the others we’ve been on (except the Eurodam). But not overwhelming like other cruise lines. The ship is showing its age and we heard it is going into dry dock in fall for refurbishing. We even got our Bronze medallion for having over 100 days at sea (we earned that on the last cruise).

Ocean Bar Bronze Medallion

We went to Glacier Bay and when we got to the Grand Pacific Glacier I was amazed at how it had changed. The picture on the left was taken the end of May in 2000. The picture on the right is current - mid May 2019. It's sad how it has been receeding.

One thing I love about Holland America is that they are very environmentally conscious. They have removed all plastic straws from their ships and recycle as much as possible. At the Denali resort they had water in aluminum cans because they recycle so much easier than plastic bottles.

I would always recommend HAL as a cruise line. Out of 17 cruises we have sailed them 11 times. But I would not highly recommend the Denali land portion unless you absolutely needed to see it and could not do it on your own. You spend more time traveling (train/bus) than viewing it.