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©Susan Milne, 2004
ALASKA FROM SAN FRANCISCO
June 14, 2003, 14 nights
By Susan Milne
Since joining Holland America in June 2002, Prinsendam has been called the "Elegant Explorer" as she roams the globe on exciting itineraries of 10 days and longer. In 2003 Prinsendam offered the only 14-night itineraries to Alaska, sailing round-trip from San Francisco. The two-week cruise was wonderfully relaxing and allowed us to see so much more. This comprehensive itinerary included Hubbard Glacier and the twin Sawyer Glaciers at the head of Tracy Arm Fjord as well as Misty Fjords National Monument. In addition to Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, Prinsendam called at Wrangell, Victoria, BC and Astoria, Oregon.
Sailing from San Francisco:
Many passengers lived within driving distance of the San Francisco pier and it seemed the rest arrived by air. I was thankful we took the HAL coach transfer from the airport to the pier, as the stop and go traffic along the Embarcadero would have created a hefty taxi fare.
In these uncertain days for air travel, we had taken an early flight from Vancouver BC so there would be time for a later flight should ours have been cancelled. Everything went like clockwork. We arrived at San Francisco at 9:30am so there was a wait for the coach to the pier. Since HAL did not have early embarkation at this time, it seemed better to wait at the airport than at the pier which is quite rustic.
San Francisco's cruise pier is #35, situated on the Embarcadero next to the yacht basin. I had sailed in and out of this pier in 1969 aboard P&O's Orsova and again in 1997 and 1988 on coastal cruises with NCL. It seemed that little had been done to the "cruise terminal" which is a covered pier containing a wide open space where HAL set up the facilities it needed to board passengers. Being a traditionalist and a romantic, I liked boarding by walking up an old fashioned gangway.
After boarding I had planned to leave the ship and walk along to Fisherman's Wharf however, as usual, I adjusted immediately to the shipboard routine and just got off briefly to take a few photos in the terminal.
Sailout from San Francisco is always a joy, this unique city has such a wonderful look from the water. Sailing past the island of Alcatraz, seeing the liberty ship Jeremiah O'Brien at the Maritime Museum and of course, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is always a thrill and can be just as exciting when the famous fog disrupts the view. The water beyond the bridge is notorious for being rough so take your gravol before you sail so you can enjoy the evening and first day at sea as you sail north.
A highlight of this cruise for me was Tracy Arm. It was my first visit to this fjord which is 1,200 feet at its deepest point. The bends in the fjord add to the spectacular views as the ship changes angles, meandering passed ice en route to the twin Sawyer Glaciers at the head of the fjord. The only sounds are bird calls, ice creaking as it thaws and water lapping against the ship's hull. The naturalist spoke occasionally explaining the natural history of the area.
Mountain peaks in this area rise over 7,000 feet. The sides of Tracy Arm emerge steeply with many waterfalls visible along the route. The water is glacial blue due to the microscopic sediment or glacial flour it contains. Sea lions, eagles terns, kittiwakes, mew gulls and mergansers were spotted and some smaller birds flew around the ship.
We did not sail right up to either of the twin Sawyer Glaciers (Sawyer and South Sawyer) but saw them from a distance. We could see a small Cruise West boat in front of the Sawyer Glacier but we turned around and sailed back along the fjord.
Misty Fjords National Monument is in a post glacial stage so there you do not have the ice floating in the water and the surrounding mountains are not as high as at Tracy Arm. There are also frequent bush plane flights over Misty Fjords which detract from the peacefulness of the setting.
Another highlight of this cruise was my guided hike in Sitka: "Sitka Tongass Forest Nature Hike" ($59.) The three mile hike took the group across the muskeg and through the temperate rain forest to Starrigavan Creek and recreation center and on to Mosquito Cove Trail. At the Cove we were treated to an Eagle feeding with repeated swoops over the water and at the Starrigavan Estuary, a humpback whale leaped out of the water, a rare sight so far from the open ocean. The going was tough in places as the trail was steep, up and down, and our very fit guide kept a steady pace as he led the way. There were many informative stops where we learned about the flora and fauna of the region.
Unfortunately, Prinsendam is not returning to Alaska in 2004 however my good experience aboard her showed how Holland America can help make an Alaska cruise special and I would not hesitate sailing HAL to Alaska again. The cuisine and service are top notch and I appreciate the wonderful ambience aboard this classy fleet.
While HAL does not sail from San Francisco this year, they have devised an excellent itinerary aboard Volendam and Zaandam which includes both Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay on seven-night cruises round-trip from Vancouver.
The Prinsendam: An excellent ship for longer cruises
The 38,000-ton Prinsendam is well suited for longer cruises. Her smaller size makes it easy to get around yet she is much larger than a yacht, with plenty of public areas on board. Carrying only 793 passengers means the ship doesn't overwhelm ports of call and makes tendering passengers ashore easier in ports without a cruise pier.
Every cabin aboard Prinsendam has a walk-in closet. On my 14-night Alaska sailing it certainly gave me plenty of space for clothes and storage. The well appointed staterooms also have a refrigerator, hair dryer, phone, locking drawers, safe, individually controlled air conditioning and most bathrooms have a full tub and shower. Mattresses and pillows were among the most comfortable I've experienced at sea and beds have cozy duvets instead of blankets.
Cabins are roomy ranging from 181 to 238 square feet with suites from 362-724 square feet. The exception is the Standard Inside cabins which are only 128 to 138 square feet. Most cabins have a sitting area with love seat, table and chair great for relaxing in-cabin. The useful additional amenities for deluxe cabins and suites include bath robes, extra-luxurious towels, DVD (and access to the DVD library), personalized stationery, verandah and floor to ceiling windows.
The two self-service launderettes with irons and ironing boards, found on Main and Verandah decks, are another welcome touch on Prinsendam's longer routes.
Prinsendam is no stranger to extended, globetrotting itineraries with added luxury. She started out in 1988 as the Royal Viking Sun for Royal Viking Line and as such was rated as the number one ship in the world for many years. In 1999 she continued her upscale existence becoming the Seabourn Sun for Seabourn Cruise Line. Following a major refit after joining Holland America, she boasts all the traditional features of the HAL fleet - the Explorer's Lounge, Ocean Bar, Crow's Nest, Java Cafe, Wajang Theater, Half Moon Room, the Queen's Lounge showroom, La Fontaine Dining Room and a wrap-round promenade - as well as The Pinnacle Grill Pacific Northwest specialty restaurant, a new Internet Center, an Art Gallery, Roman style spa, fitness center and an impressive Golf Club and Pro Shop complete with golf simulator.
Holland America's new Signature of Excellence program will add more luxury touches to the cruise experience. Already flexible boarding times are in place and soon four dinner seatings in the main dining room, instead of two, will be available as well as casual dinner service in the lido restaurant and an extensive room service menu.
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