All aboard! From Vancouver to Alaska

All aboard! From Vancouver to Alaska

Trixie shows guests around the Red Onion Saloon Brothel Museum in Skagway

"MY NAME is Trixie, and I am going to be your guide on this quickie tour of the Red Onion Saloon Brothel Museum," a young 1890s-dressed lady says as she leads a group up a staircase and into the 100-plus-year-old area where good-time girls entertained gold miners.

Skagway, Alaska, was once a busy jumping-off point for prospectors heading into the wilderness to seek fame and fortune by finding gold in the rugged mountains. The brothels were thriving businesses alongside saloons and mercantiles selling everything the men and women seeking their wealth might need.

This picturesque town is a popular cruise port on the Inside Passage, including Holland America Line Koningsdam, which sails the scenic waters from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

During my week-long adventure aboard Koningsdam, I found abundant natural beauty, rich indigenous culture, historical treasures, and endless fun.

The mid-size ship will be my home for the next seven days, along with 2,649 other passengers and 1,036 crew members. Its size makes it easy to get around, and orientation takes little time.

The online description is truthful: "The ship abounds with innovative dining and entertainment options. Head to B.B. King's Blues Club for Memphis R&B, take in visually stunning entertainment at World Stage or revisit classic hits at Billboard Onboard. There's much to see and do on."

Mendenhall Glacier as seen from the Pacific Ocean aboard the St. Actinea whale watching boat


We first sail into Tracy Arm Inlet, and the sight is my first hint of what is to come. Glacier-covered mountains, fjords, and the largest intact coastal temperate rainforest in the United States are in sight from my stateroom balcony.

My port excursions also frame my adventure.


Koningsdam sails along the Alaskan shore

Mendenhall Glacier is a popular attraction in Juneau, and it is included in several itineraries. The glacier is my first stop on my day-long adventure.

As the only glacier in Southeast Alaska that can be reached by road, Mendenhall is a testament to nature's grandeur. It descends from the vast Juneau Icefield, cascading a staggering 4,500 feet over 13 miles. Retreating for the past 300 to 400 years, since the Little Ice Age, it has further receded by 1.75 miles since 1929.

My excursion continued with a whale-watching cruise. During the summer months, passengers are guaranteed to see whales. Although I saw only one humpback, the orcas stole the show. The black and white mammals bobbed in the surf close to the ship.

A bonus to the cruise is another look at Mendenhall Glacier from the Pacific Ocean.

Holland America Koningsdam at port in Skagway


The port town of Skagway served as the primary gateway to the legendary Klondike Gold Rush and quickly grew into Alaska's largest settlement. It was a raucous frontier town packed with trading posts, saloons, and brothels.

Much of the town has been preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, where rangers offer free walking tours around the historic district.

After touring the Red Onion Saloon, which still keeps a pistol Wyatt Earp left behind en route to the Klondike, I boarded the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. This classic narrow-gauge railway traverses rugged mountains, passing cascading waterfalls and towering glaciers as it connects Skagway to Whitehorse deep in the Yukon.

The snow-covered mountains frame the railroad as it heads toward the gold fields. All along the route, a narrator tells passengers what to look for and inserts exciting facts about the gold rush.

Built more than 100 years ago, we could stand between the rail cars for excellent photographic vantage points as we pass through some of the North's most rugged terrain and retrace the original route through breathtaking scenery beyond the summit of White Pass at 2,865 feet.

In Fraser, British Columbia, we board a motorcoach for the journey down the west side of White Pass Canyon for additional mountain beauty.

Our last stop is Liarsville, a gold rush trail camp nestled beside a waterfall at the foot of White Pass. The camp is named after the journalists sent here to report on the Klondike Gold Rush, whose articles included tall tales of the prospectors' exploits.

An entertaining show by "journalists" and dance hall girls illustrates the fanciful reporting originating from writers who never set foot in the gold fields.

The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show

Glacier National Park & Preserve

Dressed warmly, I headed for the Crow's Nest on Deck 12, where park rangers had set up their temporary headquarters. Informative posters, photos, and three-dimensional displays helped illustrate what we were passing.

Delicious pea soup was served as a park ranger narrated what we were passing as the ship slowly glided past the park's grandeur, glaciers, fjords, inlets, rivers, and streams.

I used my camera for close-up views. As we passed the mile-wide Margerie Glacier, many passengers used binoculars for a better look.

The rangers and local Huna Tlingit guides provide expert insight into this diverse ecosystem and millennia-old culture. The area is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

As the ship turned to leave the park, passengers were invited to attend special in-depth talks. Younger passengers were offered engaging, age-appropriate activities and an exclusive Junior Ranger program for kids ages 3-16, available only in Glacier Bay.

Ketchikan, Alaska


The rain came, and the fun followed in Ketchikan, where more than 80 totem poles make up the most extensive collection in the world.

One half of my excursion was a visit to Saxman Village's Totem Park. The 25 totems are authentic replicas of the original poles left in abandoned villages as Native Alaskans moved into more populated cities.

We stood in the rain as a young man explained how the totem pole wood is chosen and the meaning of many of the totems arranged around a building where two men were working on creating totem poles.

We went inside and watched Nathan Jackson, a renowned Tlingit totem carver, work on the preliminary carving of a totem and a second man painting wings for another totem pole.

The poles are symbols of cultural and economic wealth, telling stories about the people and legends of the land.

In the late 1800s, Tlingits from the old villages of Cape Fox and Tongass found the Saxman site as a place to build a school and a church. The town has a population of just over 400 today, mostly Native Alaskans.

The last event of the day is The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.

Four skilled lumberjack athletes "compete" in 12 athletic events that utilize seven-pound axes, six-foot razor-sharp saws, tree climbing gaffs, and souped-up chainsaws.

It was a great way to end the day and to end my visits to historic Alaskan communities.


If you go:

After our three ports and the glorious Glacier National Park & Preserve, we have one more sea day to enjoy the entertainment, delicious variety of food options, and mingle with the new friends we have made.

The Koningsdam sails again from Vancouver on May 17, 2025, for a seven-day adventure.

From £1134pp, this includes all meals (excluding specialty dining), afternoon tea, theatre shows, an onboard gym, children's clubs, and much more.

For more information:  7-DAY ALASKA INSIDE PASSAGE, / 0344 338 8607