This Alaskan Cruise Blends Wilderness and Luxury

Explore the outdoors — and drink Veuve in a luxe stateroom — on Holland America Line’s “Alaskan Explorer” trip. 

A Holland America Line ship heads to a port in Alaska. / Photograph by Steve Schimmelman

I’m sipping soft bubbles of champagne on my private ocean-facing balcony, staring out at electric blue hunks of ice as they float in the waters of the formidable and remote Glacier Bay National Park. 

Somehow, the freezing ocean full of diving whale tails and splashing otters and the vast tundra dotted with massive brown bears seem close even as I dig into my lobster-topped eggs Benedict — brought to my balcony by room service. I check on the time to make sure I’m not late for my hot stone massage at the ship’s spa. 

Okay, so not that close. 

I bundle up and take a brisk walk to the front of the ship where National Park Rangers are giving talks about marine life, climate change, the Native peoples of Alaska, and the importance of preserving wild lands. I get minute-by-minute updates on the ship’s app about which glaciers, islands and mountains we’re passing. On Holland’s­ Alaskan trips, the staff and crew go out of their way to offer extremely attentive service, entertainment (live music or trivia at B.B. King’s Blues Club or the Lincoln Center Stage), and the finer things (high-quality dining, acupuncture, facials, spin classes in the gym). But there’s also emphasis on education about the breathtaking beauty of the nature you’re cruising through.

Let me back up a bit. We boarded from Seattle, said bon voyage to the contiguous states, and headed for the North Pacific Ocean aboard the Eurodam. At our first port, in Juneau, options were plentiful — we decided to kayak five miles through icebergs to the base of the 13-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier. (A bit of advice: You can also see it from multiple land-based vantage points that don’t require paddling through a frigid lake — or take a helicopter to the top to go dog-sledding, as one does.) We also stopped for a salty crab bisque at local favorite Tracey’s Crab Shack as well as a beer at Devil’s Club Brewing, a trendy brewery close to the port. 

On this trip, we found a balance: We had plenty of laid-back ship time but also saw a whole lot of Alaska. Holland has a curated collab of things-to-do with Food & Wine — from visiting a family-run oyster farm in Ketchikan to checking out local restaurants and popular food trucks for dishes like blackened cod tips and crab legs in Juneau and Sitka. Meanwhile, adventure lovers can hike, bike, kayak, fly or ATV through the surrounding waterways and the Tongass National Forest — a rain forest — ­to spot wildlife and explore off the beaten path. 

Whether you want to be helicoptered onto a glacier and mush with the sled dogs or indulge in fine dining with on-board options dreamed up by chefs like Kristen Kish, David Burke and Jonnie Boer (think: Tamarind’s crispy duck and Thai citrus scallops, bright orange salmon rolls at Nami Sushi, and tender filet mignon at Pinnacle steakhouse, plus cocktails by Dave Degroff), this surreal, ice-filled journey can be as rugged, or luxe, as you make it.  

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Published as “The Wilderness Voyage” in the September 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.