Wild at heart: what to expect on an Alaska cruise

Katie Noviss sails through Alaska regularly in her role as Business Development Manager at Holland America Line. We asked her what is special about discovering the 'Great Land' from the water.

What is it that draws people to Alaska?

Alaska is one of those places where you can experience nature and science at its wildest. You can see magnificent glaciers, witness the grace and power of migrating orcas, and see grizzly bears in the wilderness. It’s like nowhere else on earth.


Why is Alaska best explored by ship?

Alaska is vast – with one million acres for each day of the year ­– and much of it is land-locked. The best way to visit the charming seaside towns, enjoy all the marine life and walk on the ice-age glaciers all in one trip, is by ship. And the best of Alaska can be experienced on a cruise through the Inside Passage, a waterway along the Pacific North West coast filled with spruce-covered islands, snow-capped mountains, glacier-fed rivers, and tiny coastal communities.

Do you think the ‘Blue Planet effect’ has impacted on the demand for Alaska cruises?

Definitely. Travellers are increasingly curious about the natural world having seen the incredible scenery and wildlife on television and film. Our cruises are designed around this. For example, in Glacier Bay National Park, a National Park ranger will be onboard to share all sorts of information, from the science of glacial calving to the species of cormorants that live here. Additionally, we’re delighted to have an exclusive partnership with BBC Earth to screen Alaska footage from the ground-breaking Blue Planet and Frozen Planet series, accompanied by a live orchestra.

What animals do people get most excited about seeing?

Whales! Often a pod of whales or dahl porpoises follow in the wake of the ship. We also feature whale-watching excursions on smaller boats where guests can experience whales at close hand with an expert guide.


What surprises people most when they take a cruise through Alaska?

The weather, which is surprisingly mild in summer. Being near the Arctic means that the days are long and light, with more opportunities to enjoy and explore during early morning and evening.

How are Holland America Line cruises in Alaska a little different from the others?

Our elegant, perfectly sized ships get visitors closer to every calving glacier, every whale splash and every tranquil inlet – with more visits into Glacier National Park than anyone else. We have onboard naturalists, award-winning shore excursions and onboard talks, local experts and cultural workshops that deepen your experience of each place you visit.

What to do: Katie's must-see Alaska excursions

Painted totem poles in Ketchikan, Alaska

1. Try to take at least one seaplane or helicopter tour to see Alaska by air – for instance the’ Misty Fjords National Monument by Seaplane’ from Ketchikan.

You'll see some of the most spectacular scenery in Alaska, along with expert narration from your pilot, from the comfort of a window seat. Only by air can you fully appreciate the dramatic beauty of a land that's been slowly crafted by nature over tens of thousands of years. 

2. Make sure you encounter First Nation culture, such as a visit to Saxman Native Village Dance Performance & Totem Park from Ketchikan. 

You’ll have exclusive access to the Beaver Clan House, a working Native carving centre, and a chance to see the  dancers first hand. At the Saxman Totem Park, discover one of the largest gatherings of totems in the world in the company of an expert guide.

3. Take a Glacier tour, for instance the Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer, where you travel by deluxe jetboat for close-up views of the majestic Sawyer Glaciers.

You'll glide past curious seals and bobbing icebergs, at times feeling the 'white thunder' as immense spires of ice break from the glacier and crash into the sea. There will be stops along the way, with an onboard naturalist to give you the natural history and point out the wildlife - including bald eagles, mountain goats, seals and whales.