Tom Garrett

Chicago, Illinois Travel Agent

Alaska by Land and Sea

Seeking Alaska through my wife’s eyes was one of my favorite trips ever. Alaska is my passion so she had heard all about it, but this trip was Stacy’s first vacation in Alaska and her first cruise. I planned the quintessential first-time visitor itinerary for us, infusing it with experiences that would show her the Alaska I grew up in.

We started out in Anchorage where we rented a car for a pre-cruise trip to Denali National Park and Preserve. There are two ways to see Denali—either on a guided tour bus, or on a shuttle bus that lets you off, and if you have a backcountry pass, you can hike in and camp. This trip turned out to be my best Denali trip ever because we saw so much wildlife: brown bears, moose, oxen, Dahl sheep, and caribou.  

At one point, someone called to the bus driver to alert us that there was a herd of maybe 1,000 caribou off in the distance to the right. Everyone was looking at the herd. Then, Stacy tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to left. There, just a few feet from the bus were three caribou. It was pretty thrilling.

Glaciers particularly fascinated Stacy. In Denali, you see them in the distance. After Denali, we returned to Anchorage to catch the train to Seward on the historic Alaska Railroad. The train is not just a mode of transportation; it is an iconic way to see experience Alaska. After a scenic stretch of the coast, it takes you into the mountains and high meadows and passes fairly close to a number glaciers.

But the best glacier experience was from the deck of our cruise ship. The ship, which we boarded in Seward, goes up the west arm of the Glacier Bay to the base of the Grand Pacific Glacier and idles for about an hour. There, you are surrounded by huge glaciers. We actually witnessed a glacier calving. Stacy had never seen anything like that before and was in awe.

She had been unsure she would like the cruise. As a Gen-Xer, she typically does not like organized activities but she loved it. We sailed on the Noordam, one of the older Holland America Line ships. It felt quite luxurious after our adventures, and the entertainment was to our taste.

Holland American has made a commitment to performing arts and through an arrangement with Lincoln Center, they bring on young musicians who play several concerts every day in an intimate performance space.  They also had a great blues band performing in the evening as well as a piano player, so almost any time you wanted, you could have live music as you watched Alaska glide by.

We also liked that as you dined, you could take in the changing scenery. It was a peaceful way to see Alaska. I typically suggest people cruise and then go off on an adventure, but this trip changed my thinking. It was wonderful to travel around and then get on the cruise and relax and take it all in.