View of Disenchantment Bay with Hubbard Glacier and HAL sister ship Oosterdam in the distance as taken by my iPhone at the rear of the HAL Noordam.
The Alaska coastline and landscape is truly spectacular. Alaska is a vast state and a lot of it is uninhabited wilderness. For this reason, you cannot drive to most of it. Small planes are the best way to see a lot of it from the air. Of course, cruise ships are the most popular way to see the coast. I definitely rank an Alaskan cruise as one of the top things everyone should enjoy at least once in their life. There are various routes to choose from. There are one way cruises from Anchorage, out of the port of Whittier, to Vancouver or vice versa. There are also round trip cruises, primarily out of Vancouver and Seattle, which make a loop within the Inside Passage. The Passage is the ocean and islands that are on the southeastern Alaska and British Colombia border. Of course, the one way cruises passes by more of the Alaska Coastline. The Southeastern part of Alaska is the small strip that is an afterthought when everyone thinks of the distinct shape of the state but a lot of its bigger cities, including its capital Juneau, are located there. I sailed on Holland America Line (HAL) Noordam. It was a 7 day roundtrip cruise out of Vancouver. Originally, the stops were Juneau, Glacier Bay, Skagway, and Ketchikan. Due to the amount of ship traffic, Glacier Bay and Skagway were swapped with Hubbard Glacier and Sitka. I did not look at Glacier Bay or Skagway before my trip. I figured that any destination in Alaska would be fantastic if I did not know any better. In retrospect, Hubbard Glacier was an amazing day. Looking at the pictures of Glacier Bay, both glaciers look stunning and comparable. As such, I do not feel shortchanged by Hubbard Glacier. In terms of Sitka, it is a cute town nestled in the middle of mountains. I liked it but there are definitely more activities to do in Skagway when I looked at the shore excursions there out of curiosity. I feel like I missed out a little bit but not too much. My family and I booked our trip in the fall when we saw a deal. The price actually dropped afterwards. For this reason, it is probably better to book your trip closer to the sail date (2-3 months out) when the route is definite.
In regards to the HAL Noordam, it is an older ship. Nevertheless, it has all the amenities you would expect from a cruise ship. Like other cruise ships I have been on, everything [food, entertainment, etc.] is at a very good level of quality. They are trying to take care of a ship full of people so you really cannot expect more than consistently very good in all aspects. It has a casino, gym, basketball court, ping pong tables, hot tubs, pools, etc. Holland America is also for an older clientele. For context, the cruise director made a joke that they are committed to keeping the Northern Lights nightclub open until the last guest is ready to go to bed and that he was sure they could beat 11:02 PM from the night before. I spent most of my days eating and enjoying the views we were sailing past. There is decent entertainment provided by the ship but it is definitely not a party ship if you are looking for one. I was with my family and on the Noordam to enjoy Alaska so I had a great time. For anyone who has never been on a cruise, the ships are very big but the rooms are very small. The Noordam is similar but I had enough room to sleep comfortably with two other adults and a four year old in my room. There is a king sized bed, a bunk bed that pulls out from the wall over it if you need it, and a sofa bed. The one aspect that has impressed me the most on any cruise I have been on are the crews. The Noordam is no exception. The crews on ships are hardworking, decent people who go out of their way to make sure you have a great vacation.
Of course, the star of the voyage was the views along the Inside Passage. While the Noordam met my expectations for a cruise ship, Alaska blew away my wildest expectations. As such, I will speak about the views and the ports we stopped at first. There are plenty of options for shore excursions to pick. Activities can be expensive. They are probably fun but I had a great time doing stuff that was a lot more economical. Consequently, I will share my tips and recommendations on what I did at Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan but definitely consider the seaplanes, whale watching, and dogsledding. For example, I took a helicopter ride in Kauai and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I am sure a plane ride over Alaska is just as if not more spectacular. Afterwards, I will touch upon my thoughts on various aspects of the Noordam, primarily food.
- Transportation to Canada Place
The pier for the cruise ships is at Canada Place (999 Canada Pl, Vancouver, BC V6C 3E1, Canada). The most expensive form of transportation from the airport to the pier is through the cruise line shuttle. The SkyTrain runs directly to Canada Place. We were told it is approximately $10 per person and a 5-6 minute walk to Canada Place. In reality, it puts you right outside of it. It might be a 5-6 minute walk to the middle of the port where you unload your luggage to the cruise line if you are walking slowly. Nevertheless, a taxi is a $35 flat fare from the airport to anywhere downtown. If you have a lot of luggage, the taxi minivans have plenty of space. For the convenience of dropping you right in front of the luggage drop, it is definitely the best deal. In addition, the SkyTrain does not provide savings if you have more than 3 people anyway. Another option is the limos outside of the airport if you want to ride into the pier in style.
- Best Views on the Ship
With all the amazing views you will see during the cruise, you will definitely want to know all the best lookouts on the ship to indulge in the majestic landscape. Below are the various viewpoints on the ship.
- Crow’s Nest
It is at the front of the ship on the top deck of the ship: deck 10. It has large panoramic windows that provide great views of everything in front of the ship. There are also seats to relax and enjoy the sights and a bar inside. On the other hand, it is not the best spot to take a photograph. The window frames will be in your shots. Moreover, smudges or reflections in the windows will appear in your photos too. For this reason, there are outside viewpoints that are more ideal if you want to capture the beauty of Alaska with your camera.
- Bow (Lido Deck)
The bow is on the 9th floor right below the Crow’s Nest. You get there by walking towards the gym then turning right before going into the gym where you will walk to a corridor that gets you outside to the front of the ship. Since you are outside and at the front of the ship, there will be wind and it gets chilly. Regardless, it is definitely the best spot to take photos of everything in front of the ship.
- Rear (Lido Deck)
At the back of the ship on deck 9, you get great views of everything the ship just sailed past. There are tables if you want to eat there. In addition, there are hot tubs if you just want to enjoy the views relaxing in one of them.
- Third Floor
I went to the gym once. Whenever I wanted to exercise and try to burn off some of the food I ate, I would take laps outside on the third floor. It is the deck to be if you want to walk because it is the one floor where you can walk in a circle unobstructed. As such, it is also the perfect deck to catch views of everything surrounding the ship from all directions.
If you staying in a balcony room, you already have a default spot to just sit and enjoy the views from the side of the ship. I purposely left my curtains open so I could wake up to the gorgeous geography every morning.
- Observation Deck
The observation deck on the deck 10 provides views on the top deck from the sides of the ship. It is not a great spot to take photos because you will always have the front or back of the ship in your way.
- Departing Vancouver/ Inside Passage
Canada Place is a picture perfect spot to start your cruise. Once you get on the ship, there is a great view at the rear of the ship on the lido deck of downtown Vancouver. When you face the bay, you see North Vancouver and the mountains in the background. To the left, you see the beautiful Stanley Park and the green Lion Gates Bridge. When the ship sets sail, you have great views of the surrounding area as you go under the bridge and exit the bay. For us, the ship departed after 4 PM and we had an early dinner at 5:15. We had a dining table near the windows at the rear of the ship on the third deck. On both sides of the ship, there are beautiful spruces on the surrounding islands that could be seen on both sides of the ship. The contrast of the mountains in the front with green trees and the mountains further back with snow caps provide an incredible moving picturesque scene for dinner as we sailed. As we were sitting and eating, we could also watch as the beautiful Vancouver skyline slowly vanished in the distance.
On the first full day and last full day of sailing, the ship cruised through the British Colombia section of the Inside Passage. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of rain and overcast on both days. The low lying fog and clouds are still beautiful on top of the trees and mountains on the islands that are on both sides of the ship. Of course, the views are spectacular when the clouds and fog cleared. Unfortunately, those windows of good weather are atypical.
Juneau is the capitol of Alaska. It is a city that can only be reached by ship and air. There is a running joke that the third way is the birth canal but that option is not available to tourists. As a tidbit that I did not know, southeast Alaska is actually a rainforest although it is not a tropical rainforest because it is also in a cold climate. More specifically, Juneau is in a prime spot for precipitation. For this reason, the city measures its annual precipitation by feet instead of inches. It is likely that it will be raining when you visit Juneau. It was raining when I got off the cruise ship around noon. Fortunately, it cleared up in the afternoon and ended up being a beautiful day. The ship arrived in Juneau at 11 AM and the all aboard time was 7:30 PM for an 8 PM sailing time. Of course, getting off the ship took some time too so I had to be selective on how much I could cram in during a day ashore at Juneau. As soon as you get off the ship, you will see booths in front of you on the pier ready to sell you a shore excursion. Whale watching tours are a popular activity. There are packages that combine them with a tour of Mendenhall Glacier and a ticket for unlimited rides on the Mount Roberts Tram. Seaplane tours are another popular thing to do. I passed on the tours and did my own thing. Below is what I was able to jam into the day.
- Mendenhall Glacier
There are shuttles that leave from the parking lot in front of the Mount Roberts Tram, which is to your immediate right when you exit the ship. There are blue buses and white buses (Juneau Tours). I specifically asked for the white bus when I exited because they run more often and I read a bad comment about the blue one. Unbeknownst to me, the girl in the first booth I asked works for the blue bus and told me they are the same so I just bought a ticket since I was in a rush. I can appreciate her misleading me for a sale. The blue bus is $36.75 for the round trip. There are two buses. One of them is at the tram in Juneau to pick up passengers to go to the glacier and one of them is at glacier to return passengers every half hour. I assume the issue with some of the negative comments I read was because only one shuttle was running on certain days. I had no issues. I was picked up quickly on the way there and back. The fee also includes the $5 fee to enter the park. If you are in a group of more than 2 people, it may make more sense to rent a car. It is approximately a 25 minute ride from downtown Juneau to the glacier. The weather is usually better at the glacier than in Juneau. Juneau was not built at the best location. The settlers ignored the advice of the locals.
Mendenhall Glacier was the first glacier I saw on my Alaska trip and it was truly an incredible sight. The view of the glacier from the first lookout, right by the parking lot, was breathtaking. If you look to the right, you will also see Nugget Falls. It is a popular walk to the falls so you will likely see people next to it that look like ants. By the Visitor’s Center, you will see the Trail of Time. The trail is actually a marker of how much further out the glacier used to be and how much it has receded over time. Another reason I visited the Glacier is because I wanted to hike. I chose to do the East Glacier Loop, which is 3.5 miles with an elevation gain of a little over 900 feet. I have done a lot of hiking in recent years. In terms of difficulty, I would say it is moderate and relatively easy for an experienced hiker. I recommend doing it clockwise because there is a small section, where it is a bit rocky with a railing on the side, that I thought was a lot easier going up then it would have been going down. The trail passes through the rainforest right next to the glacier. It is fun to walk through a rainforest. The trees are very pretty and extremely tall. There are also parts of the hike with wooden stairs that blend into the forest very well. In terms of views, they are good but not great. At the top of the railing on the way up, there is a good view of the glacier but it is obstructed by some trees. You will also see the stream below that empties out into Nugget Falls. On the way down, there is a good view of the bay. Nevertheless, there is no clearing along the hike which will give you an incredible view. In terms of ranking the East Glacier Loop with all the other hikes I have done, it is solid and a good exercise but not one of the most memorable ones. In addition, be careful of bears. Another hiker saw me in the distance and shouted “Hey”. He noted that he did it to not sneak up on a bear. If you are in a group, talking loudly is another tip. Bears generally know not to go towards humans. Since I was alone, I used a more modern approach and turned on a podcast when I did not see any other people near me.
If the East Trail is not your taste, I definitely recommend walking the 0.8 miles one way to Nugget Falls. The walk is totally flat with no elevation gain. If you are on a shore excursion in Juneau, I would not recommend Mendenhall Glacier if you do not plan on hiking the East Glacier trail or walking to Nugget Falls. The glacier is spectacular but depending on the route of your cruise route, your ship will or already have sailed right next to a glacier.
- Mount Roberts Tramway (490 S Franklin St, Juneau, AK 99801)
You will see the tramway and Mount Roberts as your ship is pulling into Juneau. It is right in front of you when you get off the ship and onto the pier. It is $33 to ride it all day. On a clear day, the views of the city are absolutely stunning. You get the best views on the ride up the mountain. I have seen pictures of a sunset on a clear day and they are spectacular. However, you need a lot of factors to come together to get that shot: clear or partly cloudy skies, your ship’s all aboard time is after sunset, and there is a short line or you time the line perfectly so you are riding down the tram during sunset. The second best views are on the sky bridge that you step out on to when you arrive at the top. There is also a lookout that is a short walk when you get off that has a great view of the channel you sailed in from. However, you cannot see the city because the mountain and the tramway are in the way. At the top, there are also a gift shop, restaurant, and nature center. They are usually rehabilitating bald eagles so you can probably see one in the enclosure. In addition, I also saw wild ones flying around the mountain on the ride down. It is hit or miss on whether you have to line up for the Tramway. If a cruise ship just disembarked, the line will be long. Unfortunately for me, I returned from a trip from Mendenhall Glacier and got stuck in line. I waited 40 minutes for the ride up and an hour for the ride down. The actual ride is less than 5 minutes each way. Be cognizant of lines if you need to return to your ship by a certain time.
You can also hike up to the top of the tram from downtown via the Alpine Loop trail. It is approximately 2 miles and takes an hour. If you are only riding the tram down, I heard you can buy a ticket for $5 in the gift shop. I would have loved to do it. However, I already used up half my day going to and hiking at Mendenhall Glacier. In addition, I was in Juneau in early May so the snow was still melting. As a result, the trail was really muddy. I would have at least started the hike and tested out the conditions if it was the first thing I did when I got off the ship. However, I definitely wanted to experience the tram so time constraints steered me to skip the hike altogether. When I got up to the top, I heard the trail was very slick so I made the correct decision. In addition, there are more summits. If you continue on the trails from the top of the tram, it is another 2 miles to Gastineau Peak and 3 miles to the peak of Mount Roberts. There was still a lot of snow in early May and it was unstable. I tried hiking the trails a little bit but the snow caved on me after 100 feet so I thought it better to turn around before I got close to a ledge. However, I was bigger than all the other people hiking in the snow. They moved around pretty easily. Consequently, know yourself and stay within your own personal limits. If I returned to Juneau in the summer, I would definitely go up the Alpine trail and get as close to the peak of Mount Roberts as I could then ride the tram down.
- Papa Rod’s (300 S Franklin St Juneau, AK 99801)
Alaska is known for its fresh fish (salmon, halibut, etc.). As a result, you definitely need to try some fish and chips. Papa Rod’s is a food truck [shack] right at the pier. The fish is prepared fresh. I could see the halibut being sliced up in front of me then breaded and fried. The fish was ridiculously smooth and tender. Halibut is flaky and falls apart in small rectangular chunks in a glorious way. The fried breading was perfect and had a little kick to it. The fries were good but nothing special. The fish and chips were also not cheap. It cost me over $20 after tip. However, the price was consistently the same at other cities the ship stopped at. In my opinion, Papa Rod’s had the best fish and chips I ate in Alaska. Moreover, they sell a full Dungeness crab at $30. Even if you do not order it here, definitely try some fresh Dungeness crab at some point. I do not even like or generally eat crab but I spent a lot of time sucking Dungeness crab out of its shell during my trip.
- Hubbard Glacier
It is an incredible experience sailing past the Alaska coastline with the never ending mountain ranges covered in powdery snow. Nevertheless, the crown jewel moment of the cruise is definitely when the ship gets to the glacier. Fortunately, we got a perfectly clear day. I stood outside on the bow on Deck 9 for 40 minutes as the ship sailed in Disenchantment Bay and right up to the glacier. The anticipation and excitement grew as we got closer. Once we got next to the glacier, we could hear what sounded like avalanches. In actuality, it was the sound of chunks from the glacier melting and falling off and into the sea. You will hear it before you see it. The glacier is more than six miles wide at the point where it meets the ocean. When the HAL sister ship, Oosterdam, sailed into the bay and up to the glacier, it provided the reference point to comprehend how wide the glacier truly is. It extends 76 miles into Alaska. No matter where you are on the ship, you will enjoy views of the glacier because the captain spins the ship in 360 circles multiple times. The bay is also very beautiful. Consequently, definitely take in the views from the rear of the ship when it sails out of the bay. When the ship exits, you will see the massive mountains around and behind it. As wide as the glacier is, it is only a small part of all the greater landscape surrounding it. One of the better pictures I took was when the Noordam sailed out of the mouth of the bay.
Originally, our itinerary was Glacier Bay. I did not look into Glacier Bay because I wanted to enjoy Hubbard without feeling that I may have missed out on something better. Retrospectively, I have googled Glacier Bay and it looks very similar to Hubbard Glacier. As such, I do not feel like I missed out at all.
Definitely take note of when sunrise is and wake up 20-30 minutes before it when there are hints of daylight. On a clear day, it is definitely worth staying up to watch the sun rise above the Alaskan coastline. Since my room was on the starboard (right) side of the ship as we were sailing north towards Hubbard Glacier, I did not even need to get out of bed to wait for and view the sunrise. It is very comfortable and convenient. It is the second most stunning sunrise I have witnessed. The first is at the top of Haleakala, a dormant volcano on Maui. Of course, I did not have to wake up 2:30 in the morning and drive two hours to see the sunrise on the Noordam in Alaska.
In addition, know when sunset is. If it is clear, it is amazing to watch the sun slowly dip below the ocean. I took laps around the third floor for an hour to enjoy it. At the point when the sun touches the ocean, definitely get in position at the rear of the ship (3rd or 9th floor) to fully bask in the moment.
Sitka is a small, island city nestled within mountains and the former capitol of Alaska. The population is a little under 9,000 so a cruise ship of passengers can easily overtake the city. Nevertheless, it is cute, quaint, and serene. It has a lot of charm to it. The Proposal (2009), starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, allegedly takes place there. However, the movie is a sore spot for Sitka. First, only one scene was filmed in Sitka and the rest was filmed in Massachusetts. Next, the city feels like it is defamed by the movie because there is a scene that suggests you need to manually crank something to get internet there. Although it is an exaggeration, I did not have good service at all in Sitka. My data was extremely slow even though I could call and text. It was not the most exciting stop on our cruise but it was still a good place to walk around for half a day. It is very beautiful when the ship sails into Sitka. You are surrounded by mountains and you also see a number of small islands with small houses on them. Sitka is also a tender port. In other words, a large cruise ship cannot dock. As a result, the Noordam uses its lifeboats to ferry its passengers to Sitka. The city has a small downtown area. It takes maybe 10-15 minutes to walk across it. Nevertheless, there are plenty of shops and restaurants. I tried very hard to look for a fish and chips food truck that has rave reviews and looks like a must try. I walked in circles multiple times in search of it around the address it is supposed to be located at. Either it is no longer around or just decided to take that particular day off. Again, the internet is kind of slow so I could not look up if there is anything else I needed to try. In frustration, I opted to just go back to the ship to eat lunch.
Originally, our ship was slated to go to Skagway. I definitely feel like we missed out a bit with the switch. Looking into Skagway, there are definitely more attractive activities to do. We were interested in the historic White Pass & Yukon train ride. In addition, dogsledding is a lot cheaper in Skagway than Sitka. Nevertheless, Sitka is a decent stop and I enjoyed it.
- Sitka National Historic Park
The park is a little over a half a mile from the pier. When you get on the pier, you head to and turn right on Lincoln Street and walk past all the ships docked at the pier. You continue on Lincoln Street until you hit the entrance for the park. There is no fee to enter and walk around. Definitely walk the one mile Totem Trail Loop. You will see some of the best views of Sitka from this trail. My personal favorite picture is of the Noordam with Mount Edgecumbe in the background. I also walked the 0.6 roundtrip River View Trail. However, it is no big deal. It leads to and ends under a bridge for the main road for cars. The 0.75 mile Russian Memorial Loop was closed at the time of my visit.
If you are in Sitka, I definitely recommend walking to and around this park. When I walked around downtown and did not find anything that really interested me, I walked back and took another lap on the Totem Trail Loop.
- Ludvig’s Chowder Cart (834 Lincoln Street, Sitka, Alaska 99835)
If you are hungry after walking around Sitka National Historic Park, Ludvig’s has a cart inside the Mill Building that sells clam chowder. Overall, it is very good. The temperature is perfect: very hot like burn your tongue hot. It also has a little kick to it because of the chorizo. On the other hand, it could use a little more clams. In addition, the clams are not local since the shellfish may be toxic in the area. For this reason, they import their clams from Oregon. It was a disappointing fact because you would hope that something fresh and local would be the featured item. Since a lot of the restaurants in Sitka highlighted their clam chowder, it was another reason I did go out of my way to try the local cuisine. After a cup of Ludvig’s clam chowder as an appetizer, I went back to the ship to eat.
I did not have a lot of expectations for Ketchikan but I ended up having a great time. It is known as the Salmon Capital of the World. Naturally, there are plenty of salmon shops that provide plenty of samples. There are also a lot of good gift shops in Ketchikan so it is a good place to buy some Alaska souvenirs or gifts. Moreover, there is some great fish and chips options. I winged the day but found plenty to do.
In the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, there are a lot of salmon snobs. For most of us outside of that region of the country, we know of farm salmon which is the pink stuff we see at the supermarket. In Alaska, they love their wild salmon and there is a disdain for the inferior farm salmon. Wild salmon is a different color and taste. There are five different types. In my opinion, sockeye salmon is definitely the best of them.
The salmon shops feature salmon spreads in a can that go on crackers, bread, etc. You can sample them in the shops. Two great ones are right by the pier after you get off the ship: Salmon Etc. (322 Mission St, Ketchikan, AK 99901) and Salmon Market (200 Main St, Ketchikan, AK 99901). Definitely stop by both and try their samples. We ended up buying some cans of salmon and salmon fish oil. Salmon Etc. also has a great explanation on its website of why Alaska champions wild salmon: “We offer only Alaska wild fish and hand-processed products using soft, natural ingredients. Farmed fish – raised in crowded, restrictive net pens in Europe, South America and some areas of North America, are fed fish meal that can pass on disease – that’s part of why antibiotics are so heavily used in fish farms. Farmed fish are genetically weaker than their wild counterparts. Farmed fish have such pale meat that dyes are added to their food to color the flesh. For good reason, Alaskans are down on fish farming and see the up side of harvesting wild, sustainable fish.”
- Creek Street
It is the historic red light district built right above the creek where salmon was fished. Since Ketchikan was predominantly comprised of single men (loggers, miners, and fishermen), Creek Street attracted them with its bars and brothels. There was a saying that it was “where both men & salmon came upstream to spawn”. You will see that slogan on the Dolly’s House Museum. Today, Creek Street is a boardwalk on top of wooden pilings with plenty of gift shops, stores, and restaurants for tourists. Simply Salmon (10 Creek St, Ketchikan, AK 99901) is another good shop to sample and buy salmon in Ketchikan.
- Alaska Fish House (3 Salmon Landing, Ketchikan, AK 99901)
It is a tourist magnet and there will likely be a line. Nevertheless, the fish and chips are great. You will see the fresh fish cut up in the back to be battered and fried. The Alaska Fish House features three different types of fish in their fish and chips: Bering sea cod, local silver salmon, and local halibut. You can also order the AK sampler ($15.99) to try one of each. In my opinion, the salmon was the best one of the three. The halibut is excellent too. On the other hand, the halibut is the most expensive. It is $23.99 for three pieces if you get it on its own. I did not really care for the cod. Moreover, the restaurant has fresh Dungeness crab. Again, definitely try it at some point during a trip to Alaska.
- Alava’s Fish-n-Chowder (420 Water St, Ketchikan, AK 99901)
It is a hole in the wall type spot for fish and chips. For this reason, it is not as touristy as the Alaska Fish House. It is a good spot to get fresh fish. However, I did not love the fish and chips. We ordered the halibut. The breading was a bit sloppy and not as good as other places I tried. The oil from the fish was also runnier than others. The oil also did not look that fresh but we went at the end of the lunch rush so it might have been because it was used throughout lunch. We also wanted to try the clam chowder but it was sold out by the time we got there. It has rave reviews so I would definitely suggest trying it at the beginning of the lunch rush because I was not all that impressed at the end of it.
- Rainbird Trail
There is a popular hike on the Deer Mountain Trail close to town. You can get a Satellite Personal Tracker so that a volunteer squad can track and help you in case of an emergency. Next, you take a cab to the trailhead and take one on the way back. I was not in Ketchikan during the summer so I did not even consider it. Nevertheless, an alternative is the Rainbird Trail. It is a solid, relatively easy hike next to the town if you do not want to cab out. From the middle of town on Front Street, I walked to Water Street then walked up Schoenbar Rd. The uphill walk up this street is much more difficult than anything on the Rainbird Trail. Once the road connects to 3rd Avenue, you take a sharp left and walk down the road. You will eventually see the trailhead on your right. It is clearly marked by a sign and a set of stairs. It takes about a mile to get there from Front Street. The hike is a 1.3 mile walk through the edge of the rainforest on a ridge that runs above Ketchikan. There are a couple excellent views of the water channel at the top of the beginning of the trail. It is fun to walk through the rainforest and the tall trees in it. There are some muddy spots so wear hiking boots if you do not want to dirty a good pair of shoes. However, there is nothing challenging enough for me to say you definitely need to wear them. If you complete the trail all the way to the end, you pop out in the back of a recycling center. Walk on College Avenue then down Jefferson Street until you hit Tongass Ave. You follow it until you hit Water Street and eventually Front Street. It is a nice walk on the waterfront. It takes a little over 1.5 miles to return to center of downtown. The total loop takes less than 2 hours.
- Food on Noordam
Now that I have finished going through all the destinations the Noordam stops at, it is time to talk about the ship again. Of course, food is one of the most important things on a cruise. It is unlimited, non-stop eating whenever I go on one. I was not impressed at first but it got better as the week progressed. Overall, the food is very good and there were a few amazing items on the menu. Without further ado, here are my thoughts about the food on the Noordam.
- Lido Deck (Deck 9)
Every cruise ship has a Lido deck, which is the buffet line deck of a ship. The Lido deck and I did not get off to a great start. It always takes a while to check in and get on board a cruise ship. The Noordam was no different. I also did not eat lunch yet so I was anxiously anticipating the Lido deck. Of course, no other dining is open when everyone gets on board the first day. As a result, the lines are long. I stood on line for a good amount of time. By the time I got to the server, the veal and fried chicken were gone. I settled for a couple of slices of turkey then grabbed a turkey sandwich because I was starving by that point. Unfortunately, the turkey sandwich was mislabeled. In reality, it was a beet sandwich. There are few things that could annoy me more than biting into a beet sandwich when I was starving and expecting turkey. I saw the salad bar was open so I had a custom salad because I was desperate to eat anything at that point. Fortunately, steak eventually came out and I was able to properly start the cruise with real food.
Jokes aside, the Noordam’s Lido deck has an excellent number of choices. They have a salad bar, pizza bar, pasta bar, Asian bar, dessert bar, and the main courses section that have most of the items in the dining rooms. The salad bar is solid. It has what you expect it to have. The pizza is bleh but I am from New York so I did not expect to like it. The pasta bar is very good. It is also open for lunch till late at night. There can be lines at times though, especially when the lines for the main courses are closed. The bar I liked the most is the Asian bar. I tried it once and it was very good. I had some vermicelli, curry lamb, and stir fried vegetables. In terms of the dessert, they have a solid selection. I loved the ice cream. Specifically, the pineapple soft serve is awesome. I have been to Hawaii the last two years and I crave the Dole Pineapple Whip on the Dole Planation on Oahu. Of course, the Noordam does not have as good a pineapple soft serve as the Dole Planation but it is close enough and satisfied my craving for some pineapple soft serve. It was a pleasant surprise.
The breakfast selections are also solid. They have an omelette bar and continental breakfast (e.g. pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, bacon, pastries, etc.). The omelette bar actually has more topping choices than the dining room on the 2nd floor. On the other hand, the orange juice is way too diluted. If you want good orange juice, you need to go to the dining room. The guava juice is good though. The issue with the Lido deck during prime breakfast and lunch times is that it is really difficult to find a table to sit at. For this reason, we opted to eat at the dining room as much as possible so we did not have to scavenge for a table and also be served.
Finally, I definitely recommend the Dive-In burger window near the front of the ship. It is a spot to get burgers, hot dogs, and fries. It feels like any burger joint you can find on land. They even give you a buzzer so you can walk around and get a seat while they make your order. The do-it-yourself taco bar in front of Dive-In is also great. The pulled pork there is delicious. It is only opened from 11 AM-5 PM. It would have been better if it was open late like the pasta bar.
- Vista Dining Room (Deck 2 and 3)
Again, the Vista Dining room is better for breakfast if you do not care to wander the Lido Deck for an open table. A lot of the selections for both decks are very similar with a couple of nuances here and there. The Lido Deck opens at 7 AM and the Vista Dining room opens at 8 AM. For this reason, the Lido Deck may work better for you if you are an early riser. At the dining room, you start your breakfast with an assortment of pastries on a tray your waiter brings to your table. My favorite pastry is definitely the pecan Danish. The croissants are very good too. My favorite overall breakfast item is the bagel and lox. I ordered it almost every day. Moreover, the smoked salmon seemed fresher at the Vista Dining Room than the Lido Deck. Of course, items at the Lido Deck could be lying out at the buffet line for a bit. Next, the better items on the menu are the egg dishes. The egg benedicts are very good. There is a Dungeness crab one but it is not the best grade of Dungeness crab. I usually ordered a custom egg white omelette with smoked salmon and vegetables. The “hot off the griddle” items (Belgian Waffles, pancakes, etc.) are decent but nothing special. The hash browns are very good and I ordered a side of it every day.
Of course, the Vista Dining Room is primarily used for the daily sit down dinners. There are early dinner times (ours was at 5:15) and later times. I was not that impressed with the food early in the cruise but it got progressively better during the cruise. The lamb dishes were generally great. A pork chop on one of the nights was one of the best dishes I had the entire cruise. On the other hand, the rotisserie chicken dishes were unsurprisingly dry. When you mass cook for a large group of people, it is very difficult to keep chicken moist because it dries up easy. The fish and steak dishes were usually very good. The desserts were generally very solid but not spectacular. The ship has great ice crema. Our cruise had two formal, dress up dinners: a Gala at the beginning of the week and the Captain’s Dinner at the end of the week. The food for the Gala was good but could have been better. I ordered the escargot and chicken with soba soup as my starters. The escargot was good but not overly creative or complicated. It was just cheese slapped on top of snails. The soup was decent. For my entrees, I ordered the rack of lamb and mushroom risotto. The lamb was one of the best entrees I ate during the entire cruise. It was phenomenal. The mushroom risotto was very good but I did not understand the clunk of butter or cheese right in the middle. It did not look very appealing and I ate around it. I ended my meal with a chocolate soufflé. It was very moist. However, I do not consider it a real soufflé if it does not have the puff that rises. In terms of the Captain’s dinner, it was certainly the best meal I ate during the cruise. The wild salmon and duck were excellent. The filet mignon was very good. I finished with a Baked Alaska. The marshmallow layer was seared very well.
The cruise also offers beverage packages. The ones we had were pretty flexible. If we did not want to drink wine or beer to get up to our daily limit, we were allowed to use our allotment to get large bottles of spring water, vitamin water, smoothies, etc.
- High Tea
Definitely try to make it for tea time at least once during the cruise. It is at 3 PM and usually at the Vista Dining Room. In addition to the tea, there are small sandwiches that are very good. The sweet treats are great too. Specifically, the tiramisu is awesome.
- Explorations Café
The café is on the third floor near the back of the ship. The large collection of books is next to it if you are looking for reading material. The café has the best baked goods on the ship: macaroons, brownies, and cupcakes. It is also the only place on the ship you can get large chocolate chip cookies. One of my regrets on the trip is that I did not know the treats at the café were complimentary until the latter part of the cruise. The drinks are extra if you do not have a beverage package though.
- Pinnacle Grill
It is the premium steakhouse on the Noordam. It was disappointing. The complimentary egg flan with lobster was very good. The crab cakes were very good too but a bit small. The porterhouse was decent. I ate it all. Unfortunately, the cardinal sin for a premium steakhouse was committed. I ordered my steak medium and it was cooked unevenly, half of the steak was medium and the other half was medium rare. I understand why the waitress suggested the filet mignon now. Nevertheless, the porterhouse should not be on the menu if it cannot be cooked properly. The sides are very good. For dessert, the volcano cake was very moist. The whip cream was top notch and I usually do not care for it.
Overall, it was not a terrible experience but I would not pay extra to dine at it again.
As I expected from a cruise, the entertainment was very good but not spectacular. The main shows each night were entertaining. The song and dance number shows from the crew were solid. They gave great efforts and it is impressive that they can dance on a moving ship. One of the singers stole the show when she gave her rendition of Adele’s “Skyfall”. In addition, I really enjoyed the night when they showed “Alaska in Concert”. It is a combination of spectacular video clips of Alaska from BBC Earth and music performed by the band, violinist, and pianist on the ship. The Noordam also brought in some outside entertainment. The comedian was funny. He said a lot of jokes about his wife so she was obviously not there. The magician, Craig Diamond, was the most entertaining. He only did a few tricks and I have seen them all before. However, he was extremely funny and his humor made his show. On the last night of the cruise, the Noordam brought in Natalie Toro from Broadway. Not surprisingly, she was theatrical. The show dragged a bit because she liked to talk about and self-promote her career and link it to her show. In the end, she did a great job getting the audience involved and ended the night in dramatic fashion.
My favorite entertainment every night was Adagio, the violinist and pianist duo who play classical music. It was a relaxing way to end each day.