Live Cruise Review: Holland America Line Oosterdam, Dancing with the Stars Alaska 2013 – Shore Excur
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Alaska is always a natural wonder to behold, and even after 18 cruises, I never grow tired of this great land. There’s so much to see and do that it always remains interesting, and this time onboard Holland America Line’s Oosterdam, I decided to revisit an old favorite as well as try an entirely new adventure.
Before my two shore excursions, we sailed for two days straight from Seattle, Washington up through the magnificent Inside Passage. Day number two featured Tracy Arm, a long narrow inlet and fjord with steep mountainous sides, that the Oosterdam navigated for our sightseeing pleasure. It was nothing short of dramatic.
The silty green-tinged water was dotted with massive blue icebergs along the way as waterfalls spilled over the mountain tops on either edge of the valley. As narrow as this body of water is, we still passed by the Amsterdam, another cruise ship in Holland America Line’s fleet in an impressive show of maneuverability.
Juneau: Taku Lodge
The capital city of Alaska is a favorite of ours and not only because it’s home to our distillery of choice, the Alaskan Brewing Company, although that is certainly one of the reasons. We love the historic establishments such as the famous Red Dog Saloon, the mysterious overgrown remnants of the town’s former gold mining, Mount Roberts aerial tramway and no joke, Sombreros Mexican restaurant. What can I say? Sometimes Californians need a Mexican fix while away.
As far as excursions go, a popular choice for years has been to take a float plane to the Taku Lodge. I myself flew out a couple of times during my first few visits to Alaska and wanted to return once more. A half-hour flight to the site takes off right alongside the cruise ship dock and whisks you away high above majestic glaciers and jagged peaks. If you call shotgun first, do take advantage of sitting in the cockpit adjacent to the pilot. You’ll get the best views.
Once to the lodge, you’ll have plenty of time to wander the scenic grounds before and after enjoying a hearty lunch of grilled king salmon (a chicken alternative is also available), baked beans, cole slaw, biscuits, sliced bread, roasted apples with cranberries and cookies for dessert. The quintessential Alaskan meal was most satisfying.
You may even get to see a “resident” critter as we did. Our black bear friend here apparently enjoys lapping up the salmon drippings off the grill from time to time despite its still molten temperature. And therein must lie the secret recipe: bear saliva. (To be sure, the grill cage is separate from where the bear was licking.)
There was even a smaller black bear camping out in one of the trees but was nearly too dark to make out. Across Taku River is one of the beautiful surrounding glaciers (as pictured in the header above). Also on the property is a fun little gift shop, nature trail, a complex of smaller cabins to support the operation and “sometimes” a waterfall as they call it depending on precipitation. They were even building a brand new lodge impressively in rough timber-style nonetheless.
After your meal and optional hike through a mossy forest area that resembles Dagobah (yes, a Star Wars reference for you), it’s time to reboard the float planes for another 30 minute journey back to the cruise ship dock. Even if you don’t manage to score a spot in the cockpit, every seat has an excellent window view. This remains one of Juneau’s best shore excursion opportunities.
We were also in Sitka the next day but stayed onboard to film. There we recommend checking out the Fortress of the Bear where you’re guaranteed a bear sighting as it’s the home of rescues in captivity.
Ketchikan: Kart Adventure
The real treat of this cruise came today in Ketchikan where I went off-roading at a former logging operation. A number of long, winding and most importantly for fun’s sake, uneven gravel pathways remain and stretch deep and high into the wilderness. On these paths, patrons take two-person buggies for a delightfully rough and muddy ride that includes a bonus obstacle course and a handful of scenic rest stops, like one at a waterfall.
It’s quite an experience to drive past dense Alaskan foliage, get splashed with mud and fulfill the need for speed all at the same time. Even though you only top out at about 15 miles per hour, it certainly feels a lot faster on the rugged terrain. Pot holes and valleys are a regular occurrence and only add to the excitement level. Two excellent guides accompany each group with one leading the pack and the other trailing behind to ensure safety at all times and to provide insight about the surroundings.
Photographs are taken of you as you pass one point and can be purchased at the end of the ride, but if you have a waterproof camera or better yet, a GoPro, bring it with you to capture the onboard rush as well, while in the passenger seat that is. What’s more, water and a granola bar snack are included as is the chance to try some wild berries along the route.
This is one tour where you will get muddy, but thankfully rain gear and splash guard helmets are provided to endure the bulk of the elements which are indeed part of the experience. Adrenaline junkies need apply for this highly recommended excursion.
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