This 'Alaskan Explorer' Cruise Takes You Whale-watching, Wandering Seaside Towns, and Sailing Right Through Stunning Glacier Bay

Humpback Whale tail fluke in Frederick Sound, South East Alaska
Photo: Mike Hill/Getty Images

There are a great many cruise destinations around the world that I’d like to profess my love for, but the one I will forever rave about is Alaska. And as you’re planning your travel year and scouting cruise destinations, Holland America Line’s 7-Day Alaskan Explorer is an itinerary that should absolutely be on your radar.

Why does Alaska lend itself so well to cruises? The northernmost U.S. state has always been a bucket-list destination, and there are so many coveted sights to see spread throughout the Last Frontier. Once you get a taste, you’ll want to see them all, and cruising is the simplest and most luxurious way to cover as much ground as possible. Enter: Holland America Line’s Signature-class Eurodam ship.

Holland America Cruise Ship Approaching Glacier Bay
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Beyond the ease of getting around on the Eurodam, some of Alaska’s most memorable sights are best seen on the water. Because, you know, what’s better than paying 25-cents to peer through those clunky, iron binoculars (that look like refurbished parking meters) to scout glaciers? Sailing by the glaciers from the comfort of your cruise ship.

Holland America Line’s first trip of 2020 on the 7-Day Alaskan Explorer sets sail in May. And even before feasting your eyes on Alaskan glaciers and wildlife, you’ll get to cruise along one of my favorite coastlines in the world. Californians might argue that the legendary Pacific Coast Highway drive along Big Sur is the world’s best coastline experience, and the Francophiles are bound to favor the Riviera coast running from Nice to Monaco. But in my opinion, one of the most underrated but beautiful coasts is found in northern Washington. And while cruising to Alaska with Holland America Line, you’ll get to sail the Puget Sound and see the Pacific Northwest in its prime before arriving in Alaska.

After a day in Seattle, and a day along the Puget Sound and at sea, you’ll reach the famed Stephens Passage. The passageway starts in the Frederick Sound, which boasts the best whale watching in Alaska. As the sound narrows, you head into the wildly scenic Stephens Passage before winding up in Juneau.

Woman viewing glaciers in Juneau, Alaska
Chavalit Likitratcharoen / EyeEm / Getty Images

Juneau is the eclectic capital of Alaska, and their quirkiness rivals the likes of Portland and Austin. We should really be saying, "Keep Juneau weird," if you ask me. While in Juneau, cruisers can tour the Mendenhall Glacier, or hike Mount Roberts with their eyes peeled for deer or bald eagles. If you’re looking for a treat-yourself experience, Juneau might be the place to splurge on Holland America Line’s Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration.

Day four brings cruisers to UNESCO World Heritage Site Glacier Bay National Park and Icy Point Strait. And the action continues on days five and six with two important Alaskan ports: Sitka and Ketchikan. If Juneau is the eclectic capital city of Alaska, Sitka is its rugged cousin. A much more remote section of the state, Sitka has a smattering of “Native Alaskan villages, all set amid lush forests and frigid, glacier-flanked waters,” says Holland America Line.

A true wildlife destination, the shore excursions here are all about fishing and otter spotting, and yes, to answer your inevitable question, the otters are exactly as cute as you’re expecting them to be. Ketchikan, on the other hand, feels like it’s straight out of a Scandinavian fairy tale. It is a destination of fjords and colorfully painted houses rising up from the water on stilts, and one of the shore excursions offered here involves a crab feast. Put another way, it’s a dream destination.

Hoonah, shoreline brewpub and dock, Tlingit Community, Icy Strait Point, Chichagof Island, Inside Passage, Southeast Alaska
Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery

While at this point you’ve already seen the Puget Sound, the Frederick Sound, Stephens Passage, multiple glaciers, Seattle, Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan, you get a bonus city on the way back down to Seattle. That bonus city is Victoria, which in my humble Canadian opinion, is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada. Sitting right on the water, the Victoria Harbour views are surreal, and yet the whole city has a decidedly British feel to it.

Seeing this much beauty packed into seven days is, quite frankly, a lot to process. And while, first and foremost, it’s a privilege to see so much of the world’s natural majesty in one trip, you also need to give yourself adequate time to digest it. The serenity of Victoria is the perfect place to do this. Consider taking your day in Victoria to visit the Butchart Gardens where you can unwind amongst the plant life, regroup with the people you’re traveling with, or take some time to yourself.

Keep the perspective you’ve found in Alaska and Victoria with you as you sail back to Seattle and reacclimate to post-vacation life. Holland America Line’s 7-Day Alaskan Explorer trip will leave you filled with gratitude for our planet — from the orca whales and otters, to the fjords and glaciers.

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