Alaska's Inside Passage and HAL Noordam: What to Expect for Teens

| November 26, 2007
CruiseMates Teen Editor

Have you ever wanted to cruise Alaska but didn't know what to expect? My family and I took this vacation in late August to early September of this year and we had a blast! I had also visited Alaska ten years ago when I was about four years old, and from what I remember, this time was even better. It was a very cool (literally and figuratively) trip because of all of the natural wonders we saw.

The ship we sailed on was the lovely HAL Noordam which departed from Seattle. If you live on the east coast, the flight out west is very scenic with views of mountains, rivers, and canyons. Seattle itself is a very exciting city. We stayed there for one night and enjoyed Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, many delicious restaurants, shopping, and walking around in the historic parts of the city.

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The Seattle Space Needle   Seattle Skyline

The embarkation process for the Noordam was very easy and fast. Upon our arrival to the ship, we went to the buffet. The buffet on the first day was really good compared to the embarkation buffets on other cruise lines. I discovered the taco bar which became my lunch station for the rest of the cruise. In addition, there is also an outside grill that serves the usual burgers, hotdogs and French fries.

The inside buffet is made up of five sections. There is an Asian section which serves sushi and a different type of Asian cuisine every day. The Italian section has pizza and pasta where you can personalize your dish. (This station served as a waffle section in the morning where they make waffles to order.) There is the regular part of the buffet which serves the usual choice of meat, vegetables, breads, soups, etc. Towards the back of the area, there is a sandwich section which is sort of like a Subway; in that you can pick what kinds of bread you want along with toppings and dressings. (This station serves as an omelet/egg/toast section in the mornings.) There is a desert station that serves an array of juices in the morning along with a plethora of deserts and ice cream in the afternoons.

Holland America offers the normal dinner times (5:00 and 7:15), but you can also come to the dining room any time you want. We chose the second option because early seating was too early for us and late seating was too late. Although we didn't have the same waiters every night, it was still very enjoyable. The food on this ship was really good. My family and I loved every dish we had aboard from lobster to spring rolls to bananas foster. We thoroughly enjoyed all of it. There was a lot of variety in the dishes so there was something completely different every night.

Many people think that Holland America Line is just for old people and not for teens and families. But that statement is false. There were a great number of teens and families and the ship catered to everyone. Because of the Alaska sailings, the Noordam had many Alaskan decorations that added to the ambiance of the cruise.

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The Noordam in Sitka

There were also many cool amenities. There was a kitchen studio, where three times during the cruise different chefs would do cooking demonstrations (it was sort of like the Food Network.) The teen club called, The Loft, was also a fun place to hang out-with bean-bag chairs lots of TV's, video game systems (which included DDR and Guitar Hero) and much more.

The teen club had many fun activities to participate in. For example, there was an on-going game called "Gotcha" which was played throughout the whole cruise. If you've never played "Gotcha" before (sometimes called "Assassins"), here is how it works. Everybody is assigned a person to "kill" sometime during the cruise. You can "kill" someone by: putting objects in the form of an X under their food, kissing their hand, or shaking their hand while holding a spoon. You have to try and wipe out as many people as you can and the last two people standing win. There were other cool activities such as: dance parties, movie nights, scavenger hunts, and prom night. The counselors were all really nice and down-to-earth and made it easy for everybody to have a good time.

If you're the sort of person who likes nature and natural wonders then Alaska is the vacation for you! On the second day of our cruise, we sailed into Glacier Bay. For those who don't know, Alaska's "Inside Passage" is the waterway between many islands in southeast Alaska. Glacier Bay is towards the top of this passage. Through the course of the day, we cruised by many mountains (some snow-caped), wildlife (whales, porpoises, and sea otters), and glaciers. Around lunch time, a park ranger from Glacier Bay National Park came on board and narrated for the rest of the afternoon. We saw four distinct glaciers: Margerie Glacier, John's Hopkins Glacier, Grand Pacific Glacier, and Lamplugh Glacier. These glaciers were magnificent sights, which sparkled with miles and miles of ice. We also got to see calving, which is when chunks of ice fall off the glacier into the sea.

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John Hopkins' Glacier   Glaciers and snow-capped mountains

The next day we were in Juneau which is Alaska's state capital and the third largest city in the state. After breakfast, we took the Mount Roberts Tram up to Mount Roberts. We had taken the same tram ten years ago when we had visited there last. Once on the mountain, we hiked up to where you can see for miles and miles all around you and it's a pretty amazing sight. We took some pictures of us at the same spot we did ten years ago and went back down the mountain.

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On top of Mount Roberts   View from Mount Roberts

Later that day, we went on a whale watch. I highly recommend this because it was the best whale watch I've ever been on. Once we got to a certain point, the boat slowed down and all of the sudden about ten whales lifted their enormous heads out of the water. They were "bubble-netting" which is a method of feeding where the whales surround the fish and force them upwards towards the surface. The guide also put a microphone underwater so we could hear the whales 'talking'. Then, out of nowhere one of the whales jumped out of the water (called breaching) and surprised everyone. The tour guide said it was one of their best whale watches ever and I definitely recommend going on one sometime while in Alaska.

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Whales' Tails!   Scenery from the Whale Watch

The next day we were in the port of Sitka. We took a hike with the group "Shore to Summit". It was a really cool nature hike up a mountain, through a field, and around a lake. If you or your family is into hiking (like my family) then Alaska is the perfect place to trail-trek. After the hike, we went to a local chocolate factory with amazing chocolate. My dad and brother then went to the Raptor Museum and my mom and I went to a Russian Dance show. Sitka is known for its Russian roots and the women in the show did a good job of expressing old and new dances. I found the show a little boring after a while, but my mom really enjoyed it. If you're into culture and dancing, then I suggest going to a show like this.

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Russian Church in Downtown Sitka

The next day we woke up really early to catch our tour in Ketchikan. We were going to the Saxman Native village and Lumberjack show. The Saxman Native village has been home to the Tlingit Indian tribe for many years and now they are showing tourists how wonderful their culture it. First, we watched a video on the history of the tribe. Next, we went into the main longhouse and watched a dance show which was pretty cool. For the last dance they invited members of the audience to get up and try dancing. My mom volunteered just like I had on our last visit ten years ago. Before we left, we walked around the totem pole park which had about ten to fifteen totem poles representing different events or lessons in the history of the Tlingits.

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The Beaver Clan House in Saxman Village   Totem Pole at Saxman

After the village, we went to the lumberjack show. It was a very touristy attraction but we had a lot of fun. Two teams of two lumberjacks competed in various activities like: log-chopping, log-climbing, log-rolling, and ax throwing. Ketchikan has been named the rainiest city in the U.S. and of course it rained while we were there, but only for a little while. In fact, even though Alaska and the Northwest area tend to get a lot of rain, it only rained once during our entire trip.

We left Ketchikan in the early afternoon in order to get to our last port, Victoria, Canada. We arrived there at night and my mom took a tour of Butchart Gardens while my dad, brother and I walked around the city. It was especially cool because many of the buildings were lit up. Because of our late call, there really wasn't much to do there so we headed back to the ship to enjoy our last night.

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Parliament Building lit up at night   The Empress Hotel in Victoria

Almost everything we experienced on this trip I would highly recommend to others. So if your family is thinking about booking a cruise to Alaska, tell them about this itinerary and about cruising with Holland America. You won't be disappointed.

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