Wednesday, 9 August – Vancouver
We had begun our vacation with a marvellous 6 days in Nelson BC, visiting our family there. Lots of sightings of eagles and wild turkeys and one of a bear 

 on the property. [we saw the bear while there, but it came back for Nicole's plums while we were on the ship]. But mostly we just had great family time. We flew from Castlegar to Vancouver on Tuesday and spent the night at the Pinnacle Hotel. We were awake early, listening to the sounds of the city – birds, trucks, mysterious clangs. We were packed and ready to leave about an hour early, after enjoying the hotel’s generous buffet breakfast. It was raining, so we kept out raincoats to wear on our walk to the cruise port. 

By the time we left, the rain had stopped but we were glad to have our coats anyway, since it was chilly. Boarding is never fun, but this time we had priority , so we spent a bit less time in uncomfortable chairs. We were the 3rd and 4th people to board, and although our stateroom wasn’t ready, we scored a good table on the Lido Deck and enjoyed lunch. By then, we got into the room, though our bags didn’t arrive for another couple of hours. Our stateroom is large and has a very big balcony (Larry says it is a “double-wide” ). There’s a lounge down the hall where we can always get a snack or drink, and there are concierges to make arrangements for us. We set sail at 4 and soon had great views of Stanley Park and the water traffic as we sailed under the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Dinner was delicious with attentive servers and an opportunity to pre-order for tomorrow [no garlic, etc]. We found a piano bar with a wonderful entertainer and met a couple from the Chicago area who were also enjoying the music. We left for long enough to hear the interesting story of Holland America’s first 150 years, then returned to the piano bar before retiring for the night.

Thursday, 10 August – At Sea
It’s lovely being rocked all night and we awoke refreshed. We were nearly alone in the restaurant that is reserved for “suite guests” for breakfast, so we got particularly great service. Then a circuit of the ship on Deck 3, before finding a window seat in one of the lounges. One of the staff explained upcoming shore excursions and how to get the best ones for our individual interests. Larry stayed for a session on the Iditarod [great story of the dogs involved], but I left. We enjoyed a light lunch in the Neptune Lounge . I was lured into a trivia session after lunch, and luckily attached myself to a very knowledgeable team. We came 2nd. Later, I played Bingo with no luck at all, and Larry joined me for another round of trivia – no joy there either. Another really good dinner, followed by a main stage dance production. Afterward, we were back in the piano bar for the same amazing woman whose music we enjoyed last night. Even though clocks fell back tonight, that was enough for one day and it was a very early night.
[Nice Digs]

Friday, 11 August – Juneau AK
We were up and about too early for breakfast, so we found a couple of seats by a window and saw our first whales of the trip. They weren’t too close, but we saw their fins, spouts and tails. The scenery was very interesting – lots of rocky little islands covered with trees. After breakfast, we went to the Crow’s Nest, a large bar with a panoramic, front-facing view, and listened to a wildlife expert explain what we might see over the next several days.

Alaska certainly is an amazing place! Larry needed a warm hat and a new jacket, so we shopped a bit, did a circuit of the ship on Deck 3 and continued to enjoy the magnificent scenery from all directions. 

Lunch on our balcony continued the views, right until we docked in Juneau. There were 2 other passenger ships in port. Once docked, we headed out on an excursion to the 

Mendenhall Glacier and the Glacier Gardens. Both were awesome. The Gardens are on the site of a disastrous landslide, at the edge of the vast Tongass National Rainforest. The owner has done wonderful things with the area, including creating gardens on top of upended trees and planting colourful annuals everywhere. We rode a tram up very steep and twisting paths to a high outlook, where we looked down on Juneau and the surrounding area. My eyes were closed and my teeth were clenched for much of the ride, because, of course, I was sitting on the outside edge. 

At the glacier, we were shown videos demonstrating how much the glacier has receded over the last 125 years, and how quickly it continues to recede. However, it is still huge and impressive. In the water in front of it were many ice chunks, the biggest of which resembled a polar bear. We got back to the ship just in time to go to dinner at the Pinnacle Grill – delicious and meticulously served. The staff on the Volendam always seem to have a few moments to chat and they seem to enjoy themselves. Agus, tonight’s server, has a family in Jakarta, whom he sees only every 7 months. That must be hard. Again, we spent awhile in the piano bar, enjoying Grace’s music one last time, then it was bed time. It’ll be an early morning. Bags are already out.

More Photos of the day


Saturday, 12 August - Skagway AK

Very early breakfast in the chaos of the Lido Market buffet restaurant, then gathering everything still in the stateroom and finding our group, before boarding a bus. We toured Skagway in the rain, including the Goldrush Cemetery
and the dramatic nearby waterfall.

It was a bit of a challenge climbing up there, but well worth it. We heard the legend of Soapy Smith, and saw his grave and that of the man who shot him. Back in town by about 10, we left our carry-ons at the Westmark Hotel and strolled the town on our own, until our rooms were ready at 2pm. It was still raining, and our umbrellas were in our suitcases, so we got rather wet. We covered the length of the main street, but since most of the shops carry only jewellery, there was little to interest us. I did find a unique Nativity and Larry picked up a few smaller things.

We sat at the train station watching one train arrive and another one leave, before going to lunch at the raucous Bonanza Saloon. Back at the hotel, we found comfortable seats in the lobby until our guide, Dave, distributed room keys and welcome packages. We were happy to reach the warm, dry quiet of our room, but disappointed that wi-fi is not available there.  
Fortunately, got wi-fi in the dining room while we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink.       More Photos of the Day

 Sunday, 13 August Skagway
On our morning walking tour, Dave explained that “Skagway” means something like “home of the north winds” and it certainly lives up to that name. We did see a rainbow as we set out, and we had very little rain, but we were buffeted by the wind. 

Dave pointed out historical buildings and told us gold rush stories. For an event that lasted only 2 years, 125 years ago, it certainly left a mark. This is a deep-water port, and so was recognized by some, ahead of the gold rush, as the place that would give access to this area. The indigenous people didn’t settle here because of the constant wind, so they were not displaced by the creation of the town. Besides the human story, we once again watched salmon fighting their way upstream to spawn. 

Our next treat was the Ghosts & Good Time Girls Walking Tour. Madam Rosy (in full costume, including dollar bills sticking out of her cleavage) greeted us at the meeting point and issued garters to wear on our arms, then Madam Lavinia arrived to lead us around town, teaching us some street-walking skills, while regaling us with tales of life in Skagway for women in the late 19th century. The tour ended at the Red Onion, which at that time was a tavern and brothel (side note: yesterday our bus driver/guide, aware that children were on board, explained that for those who didn’t know what a brothel was, it was a place where they made & sold very good soup. Get it? She then explained the various activities there in terms of types of soup and how they were served.) We had a tour of the brothel area with a glass of champagne to toast the ladies. This was one of the best tours ever, and 

Lavinia was amazing in her ability to talk constantly, interestingly and informatively for 2+ hours. We tried a different lunch place, the Skagway Brewery, and enjoyed another good meal. After a bit of feet-up time, we headed to the theatre for the “98” show. Before the show started, everyone was given $1000 in chips and we gambled for about a half hour. I ended up with $3000 and Larry went broke. It’s fun gambling where no actual money is involved. The show was fun, relating the story of Soapy Smith, an infamous villain, with words, song and dance and a little audience participation. Enjoyable, and followed by dessert back at the hotel dining room and packing for the next move tomorrow morning.


Monday, 14 AugSkagway AK to Whitehorse YT
We were up early to get our bags out and have breakfast before boarding the bus at 7:30. It took us about 4 blocks to the train station to board the White Pass & Yukon Route train. 

It was a spectacular 2-hour ride to Fraser BC, where we passed through Canadian Customs and rejoined our bus. Along the way, we climbed very high, crossed fragile-appearing bridges 

and saw traces of the paths used by the “stampeders” at the time of the gold rush. It wasn’t far to the BC/Yukon border, where we stopped for photos. An hour or so into the bus trip, we stopped at Carcross for a stretch and snack break – chocolate bars and ice cream for us. It was an easy run from there into Whitehorse and the Side Wheeler Hotel. 

We walked to the waterfront, visited the SS Yukon, an old paddle-wheeler, then back to the downtown through a lovely waterfront park. After drinks at an outdoor place, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. My first Arctic char.

Our Cruise Director, Dave, compiled this video covering Aug 12-14
[Click above for video]

More Photos of the Day


Tuesday, 15 August – Whitehorse to Dawson City
Bags out was 6 am, coincidentally the same time the Tim Horton’s opened for the day, so we went there for breakfast. Several of our fellow-travellers were there and were as baffled by the routine as I am if I find myself at Starbucks. But most seemed to get by OK. We were on the road by 7:45 to the strains of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”. It’s wild and open country beyond the Whitehorse border, and we passed forests of black spruce and quaking aspen, as well as the huge Fox Lake and many small rivers. 

As we passed the turn-off to Lake Lebarge, Linda, our driver/guide, played “The Cremation of Sam McGee”, written by Robert Service and narrated by Johnny Cash. 

A couple of beautiful outlook stops later, we stopped for lunch at Minto Crossing. It was a beautiful spot beside the Yukon River. Lunch was nice – Bannock, soup, cold cuts, cheese, salad and Nanaimo bars. I had earlier been explaining Nanaimo bars to some of the women, when we saw them for sale, so they got to try this iconic Canadian treat.

We ate at a picnic table by the water, then strolled the property after lunch. 

Next stop: Moose Creek. A fun place with friendly dogs, excitable squirrels (or chipmunks or something not quite like at home), clean restrooms, interesting souvenirs and good snacks (we had butter tarts). It is surrounded by birch trees. Elliott, the 5-year-old, only child aboard, rang us back on board with the cow bell. The road had been deteriorating ever since lunch and now we got into long stretches of construction and road repair, with dust churned up constantly, sometimes to the point of whiteout conditions. We played 2 truths and a lie -- turns out both of us are terrible liars! Elliot’s parents used the game to announce to Elliott and the other 4 relatives in their group that they’re expecting their 4th child. Our last break was at the Titana (?) Trench, where 2 tectonic plates meet and are drifting apart. The views were astounding, with many distant mountains and interesting cloud formations, and we could see rain falling in the distance. Then it started to rain on us, but that didn’t last. 

Entering Dawson City there’s plenty of evidence of heavy mining in the form of century-old tailings piles that go on and on, barely showing little bits of life starting to find a foothold. At the edge of town, we came upon an accident scene – it looked like a car had gone into a very deep, rock-lined canal. We met what must have been every emergency vehicle in town on their way to it. After a brief tour of town, Linda dropped us at the Dawson Westmark Hotel and said good-bye. We really enjoyed her stories and appreciated her skillful driving. We were quickly in our room and bags were delivered instantly. The room is nearly as palatial as the Volendam stateroom. Too bad it’s only for 2 nights.

More Photos of the Day

 Wednesday, 16 AugustDawson City YT
We grabbed a quick (and very costly) breakfast at the hotel, before joining the Gold Bottom Mining Tour. We drove about 30 minutes out of town to a small, family-run placer mining operation. It is at what used to be a small community of 300 people.

Many cabins have disappeared, some buildings are in poor shape, but the operation goes on with about 4 people and a lot of heavy equipment. 

They dig down through permafrost to bedrock (about 10 – 40 feet), then dig out the approx. 2’ layer above the bedrock, where the gold is found.

That layer is processed through many steps, all involving water, gravity and agitation, until flakes of gold are all that remains. The land is then returned to its original form and plants quickly regenerate, putting down deeper roots than before. The creek is also kept clean through the use of settling ponds to remove silt from the water before it’s returned to the creek. No chemicals are used in placer (pronounced “plasser” and meaning loose gold) mining, unlike hard rock mining for deep veins of gold. 

After it had all been explained and we’d seen the heavy equipment and modern panning equipment, we had a chance to pan the old-fashioned way. Larry decided to be the photographer, so I donned rubber boots and waded into the very cold creek with my pan of dirt.

We were carefully instructed and had the skill demonstrated, but I still could only go so far. Luckily, our guide came along and helped me wash out the last of the mud and debris, revealing

6 good-sized flakes of gold! One lady actually found a loonie in her pan, a surprise to the staff as well as to herself. We transferred our gold into little vials as keepsakes and came back to town. A fun and informative morning for sure. 

Back at our room, I bundled into bed, trying to get warm. Oddly, my hands, which are always cold, and had spent 20 minutes or so immersed in a frigid creek, were the only part of me that was warm. Larry worked on getting photos into this blog. [took until Fairbanks, AK to get good internet] Finally, we were ready to go looking for the next meal, and we headed out to the waterfront in search of Sourdough Dan’s. 

It certainly lived up to its reputation, as did the ice cream place next door. We enjoyed our cones by the river. 

As we wandered through the downtown, we picked up some supplies so we can eat our next couple of meals in the room, especially breakfast. This morning we each had a bowl of cold cereal, a muffin and a cup of coffee and it cost nearly $50. Prices here are a little hard to swallow sometimes, [tsk] even knowing the circumstances and enjoying the people. Our evening was spent at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Saloon and Casino.

We were there early to soak up the atmosphere and get tables at the front. It was a very high-energy, very enjoyable, 35-minute show with some audience participation. Terrific singers, dancers and musicians. At the end we were invited to stay for the next show an hour later, followed by the casino, but we called it a night. It did feel like Klondike Days here in Dawson City, though the audience likely smelled better tonight than 125 years ago, and we had less gold in our pockets. Some members of our group saw Northern Lights last night at 2 am, so if we’re awake, we’ll go up to the terrace to see if they’re back. Fingers crossed.


Thursday, 17 August – Dawson City to Fairbanks AK
 An easy morning with both checkout and bags out at 9. That was welcome, because we had been awake, wandering the streets at 3 am hoping for Northern Lights. Sadly, there were none. Some in the group did see them the night before. 

WW2 "19 Set" for tanks.
Owned one back in the 60s.

With a couple of hours before departure, we found our way to the museum, to learn more about the fascinating history of this place. 

Gold Rush Necessities
  [Click Photos ]


It was a beautiful morning, so we sat outside the hotel until Linda arrived with the bus to take us to the airport. Security was quick – set up on the tarmac and all-human except for their wands.

[the ticket taker registered us on a laptop siting on a car hood] There was one plane on the runway, a 737 with Air North markings. We had it to ourselves, using about 46 of the 120 seats. Easy to get a window seat and take some photos. And easy to get accustomed to a life style involving private charters. 

Formalities at Fairbanks were quick and easy, and soon we were rolling our bags to a drop-off and boarding the bus to our Westmark Hotel. We had a couple hours before our rooms were ready, so we went for a walk to find lunch. It was dull, windy, chilly and damp and the area we walked through seemed somewhat run-down, but eventually we found a delightful little coffee house with eclectic furnishings and a nice light menu. 

Back at the hotel, our keys were soon available and we found our nice, large, comfortable suite. Just one night here, though, so we won’t be settling in. At 6:15 a blue bus pulled up in front and several of us got on to go to the Alaska Salmon Bake & Palace Theatre Show. These are at the Pioneer Park. There are outdoor grills and stands where we got salads, drinks, sides and dessert. The dining hall was a bit warmer than the outdoors, so we enjoyed our meal there. Then we walked to the theatre, 

where we sang, laughed and applauded the vaudeville-style show by 5 talented performers who explained Fairbanks and its history in song, dance and recitation. Really enjoyable.

 Friday, 18 August Fairbanks to Denali National Park
We were up early to get our bags out at 6:30, but didn’t need to leave until 9:45, so we relaxed and got caught up on the blog. Our new driver-guide, Brie, picked us up and drove us to the site of Dredge #8. We saw and heard about the Alaska Pipeline,

then boarded a little train. Along the way we saw various remnants and reproductions of mining stampeder-style. Our first task when we arrived at the dredge, was to 

pan some gold. We were each given a poke of dirt and a pan. We stood at long troughs of warmish water, so it was much less arduous than the other day. Afterward, we could find out the value of our gold. Between us we had just over $30 worth. It was many more flakes than I got the other day. We then had the opportunity to eat cookies and wander through 
the dredge itself. What a ferocious piece of equipment! 

Back downtown, we dispersed for lunch. We found a small cafĂ© on the ground floor of a building that housed a museum upstairs, and we enjoyed touring that. There was a lot of information on dogsledding, which prompted us to also visit the small building devoted to the Yukon Quest dog sled race. 
We bought a bootie for one of the dogs, which will entitle us to follow that team when the race happens in Feb 2024.  

Back on the bus, Dave & Brie kept us entertained and informed (when we weren’t dozing) for the 3-hour trip to Denali. 

We had one stop for a stretch, washroom, coffee, snack and shopping, and arrived around 6pm. 

More Photos of the day

[Dave, our guide, told about a moose that toured a store in Kenai AK.  Video click below:
Moose Tours Kenai store   ]

We had 6:30 dinner reservations so dropped our stuff and walked over to the Denali Square.

Once again, we have a really big, nice room, complete with Wi-Fi. This time it’s for 3 nights so we are settling in a bit. Denali is so beautiful that just soaking up this atmosphere and beauty for a few days will be great, even without the activities we will do.

Fairbanks and Onward - group input by Dave    Click Left
to view


Saturday, 19 August – Denali
Happy Birthday Joanie! 

We had no activities booked for the day, so after breakfast we chatted with the lady who does bookings. She suggested the Music of Denali evening dinner theatre,

and mentioned the show put on by the park’s Alaskan Huskies.

We took a bus to their compound, where we walked through their kennel area, then we heard the history of these dogs and their role in the park. A team was brought out, harnessed up and run around a large track. Their roles were explained, they were introduced and sent off to their kennels. Such energy! The dinner theatre was fun, too, with the performers also serving the meal and tending bar. The food, served family style, was very tasty and the show was fun.

More Photos of the Day

 Sunday, 20 August – Denali.
It was a chilly, damp and very active day. At 8 am we joined a group for river rafting. We had chosen the less-challenging part of the river, which was a good call.

We got into very complicated wetsuits over our warm clothes, then personal flotation devices and helmets (over our warm hats). Our guides, Berry and Sam then gave us a safety briefing and helped the

5 passengers into a raft. Berry was in charge of our raft and Sam accompanied us in another one. This was a new perspective on the beauties of Denali and we greatly enjoyed the whole experience. 

Well, except for how cold I was afterward. Back at Ridge View, I crawled into bed with every available blanket and was still shivering when we went to lunch an hour later. A hot chocolate solved that problem very quickly. On the way to the front office for the next tour, we encountered a trainer with 

2 Alaskan Husky puppies. They were super-cute and frolicking in a small fenced area. I held the black one for a few moments, but it wasn’t happy being held, so that didn’t last. 

Then we were off on the next adventure the Tundra Wilderness tour. Our driver-guide, Peter, drove us as far into the park as it’s possible to go, regaling us with stories of the park, of history and of course, of wildlife. 

We saw a bear with 3 cubs, several caribou, ptarmigans and moose. A delightful 5+ hours.
Back in our room, with no desire to go out again, we devoured our previously-untouched snack packs from the bus.

 Monday, 21 August – Denali-Anchorage. 
Time to leave this beautiful place. Bags were out at 7 and we had a very nice breakfast at Karsten’s. Our server was Ali from Uzbekistan, who will go home in 10 days for his last year at university, where is his studying foreign languages: English, Chinese, and Russian. A very interesting young man. (Many of the seasonal workers are students and we chatted with a few of them. Our guide on the train was a retiree, also like many other seasonal workers.  With a very sparse local population and a huge influx of tourists, Holland America/Princess recruits people from all over the world who work for about 4 months. It’s a great experience in a safe environment.) .

At 8:30 we boarded the bus and went to the train station to board the dome-car train for the 8 ½ hour trip to Anchorage. 
The views were amazing and Jim’s narration very interesting. Lunch was served on the lower level, where there were views from a different perspective.
Lots of woods, rivers, streams, distant mountains, abandoned telegraph lines, blueberry fields, the occasional road. Several other trains, usually causing us to stop for a few minutes on a siding. When we passed the best viewpoint for Danali, it was totally invisible. Ah well! Not seeing the mountain on this trip.  Seems like some folks on this train did get a photo :
Mysteriously. Wildlife was not prolific, though we saw quite a few trumpeter swans, a couple of ptarmigans and an osprey. We passed through one large burned area, result of the huge Willow Fire in 2019.

[Larry: Spent much of the ride on the back platform with better views and lots of "train-lore" from the crew.  We stopped when meeting the opposite train bringing folks from Anchorage so many of the train crew could exchange to reverse their trip. Also one of the platform tourists was also a train fanatic and had the Conductor search out spikes from the ballast when switch us to a siding.] 
Arriving in Anchorage around 6pm, we met the usual Holland America efficiency – busses were waiting for us and, as we boarded, we were handed envelopes with room keys, baggage tags and transfer information for airport departures. 

We were sorry to say good bye to Dave and our fellow-travellers and to see the end of this great vacation. We set out to find a place to eat and found what appeared to be a great one across the street, but it had a 90-minute wait for a table. Turns out that there are very few choices. We ended up at a pizza place. Larry had pizza, but my option ended up being 
something sort of resembling poutine.

All fine. 
Comfortable room, if not up to the usual Holland America standard.

Tomorrow our travel begins at 2pm (Alaska time = Eastern time minus 4 hrs) with a change in Vancouver, and we won’t be home until the next morning.
Final Cruise Leader Combination of shared photos