2011 Seattle cruises to Alaska: Holland America Line

With the 2011 Alaska cruise season just around the corner, it’s a good time to spotlight the offerings of Seattle’s hometown favorite, Holland America Line. Holland America Line accounts for 50 out of 195 sailings leaving from Seattle to Alaska this year, with convenient weekend departures leaving from Seattle’s brand-new cruise terminal at Pier 91.

General Overview:

Holland America Line is one of the big names in Alaska, with Alaska cruises and CruiseTours likely accounting for at least half of their overall product. The cruise line regularly picks up industry awards in a number of different categories and is praised for being a leader on environmental issues. The Line has a vested interest in putting its best foot forward for Seattle itineraries, given that corporate headquarters is also based in Seattle.

Holland America Line uses the new state-of-the-art cruise terminal located at Pier 91, located just north of downtown. Public transportation is inconvenient to get to the terminal and is not recommended, although it can be used if you pack lightly. Most people either take a cab or get friends or family to drop them at the pier. Parking is available but at a premium price. For more detailed parking information please visit the Port of Seattle website.

7-Day Cruises:

Holland America has taken out a lot of the guesswork with its 7-day itineraries. The MS Oosterdam and MS Westerdam are sister ships, which means they have nearly identical deck plans and the exact same passenger capacity, considered ‘mid-size’ by cruising standards. The ships are docking at the same ports, so really the only difference between the two itineraries is which glacier is featured. The ports featured on these itineraries (Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC) are well-established and offer a variety of different activities to suit any interest.

The MS Oosterdam cruises Glacier Bay National Park, considered by some to be the premier glacier experience. Glacier Bay National Park, a World Heritage Site, is actually a series of glaciers that the cruise ships navigate through. Fans of Glacier Bay seem to find it generally more scenic, believe there is a greater chance of seeing wildlife, and believe there is an added benefit to having National Park Service rangers on board who answer any questions and provide reading materials.

The MS Westerdam cruises Hubbard Glacier, the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska at 76 miles. Fans of Hubbard Glacier seem to prefer it for its remoteness, for its towering walls of ice, and for much more dramatic ‘calving’ under the appropriate conditions. In terms of sheer enormity Hubbard Glacier easily beats Glacier Bay. Note that Hubbard Glacier can at times have more adverse weather conditions such as ice and fog, which could limit the ship’s ability to get close. Both glaciers are impressive in their own way; in the end you really can’t go wrong.

Ship: MS Oosterdam (Vista class)
Built: 2003
Capacity: 1,916 passengers
Ports of call: Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC
Length of cruise: 7 days, departing every Sunday
Featured glacier: Glacier Bay National Park, plus scenic cruising Puget Sound

Ship: MS Westerdam (Vista class)
Built: 2004
Capacity: 1,916 passengers
Ports of call: Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, BC
Length of cruise: 7 days, departing every Saturday
Featured glacier: Hubbard Glacier, plus scenic cruising Puget Sound and Stephens Passage

14-Day Cruise:

The MS Amsterdam (III) offers 14-day itineraries for those who have been to Alaska and want to see more, or even just 1st-timers who want to maximize their time in Alaska. The 14-day itinerary is special for a variety of reasons. For one, the itinerary includes many ports that are seldom offered, including Icy Straight Point, Homer, Kodiak and a full day and evening in Anchorage.

Anchorage is a rarity on cruise itineraries (cruise lines usually depart to or from Seward instead for a variety of reasons) and would normally be offered only as a pre-or-post hotel option on a north or south bound itinerary (ex. Seward to Vancouver) or else as part of a CruiseTour (land tour).

The other unique ports have their own selling points. Icy Straight Point is located in the town of Hoonah on the 5th largest island in the United States, Chichagof Island. Hoonah is home to the Huna, a Tlinget group which has lived in the area since prehistoric times. The area is prime for whale and bear sightings. Sample shore excursions include whale watching, zipline, fishing and Tlinget cultural programs.

Fishing enthusiasts will delight in the Homer port of call. Known as the Halibut Capitol of the World, Homer is an ideal port to book a fishing excursion, although cruise lines will not allow you to bring fish on board. You would need to have your catch shipped home. At some point you should make a point of visiting the Salty Dawg Saloon, housed in one of the first cabins built in Homer dating back to 1897.

Kodiak was once the capital of Russian Alaska, then later became a commercial fishing center, a tradition which continues to this day. Learn about the native Alutiiq people, or take a flightseeing tour to view the numerous brown bears.

Apart from unique ports, the 14-day itinerary features scenic cruising of the Inside Passage and Tracy Arm, in addition to the Hubbard Glacier experience. Tracy Arm is a deep fjord and is home to abundant wildlife, towering waterfalls and dramatic glacier scenery. The Inside Passage portion of this cruise is actually nearer to Seattle and should provide more scenery and smooth sailing than the ocean route of the 7-day itineraries.

Ship: MS Amsterdam (III) [R-class, co-flagship with MS Rotterdam VI]
Built: 2000
Capacity: 1,380 passengers
Ports of call: Ketchikan, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Sitka and Victoria, BC
Length of cruise: 14 days, departing every other Friday
Featured glacier: Hubbard Glacier, plus scenic cruising Inside Passage and Tracy Arm.


An earlier version of this article was previously published at Examiner.com on August 5, 2011. The article would ideally have been published at the beginning of the 2011 Alaska season, so I have assigned a new publish date. The ship and sailing information was correct at the time of publication. Note: the MS Amsterdam (III) was purchased by Fred. Olson Cruise Lines in July of 2019; today, the ship sails under the name MS Bolette.

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