Cruising Magnificent Glacier Bay aboard the Zuiderdam

Sailing Glacier Bay National Park aboard Holland America Line’s beautiful ms Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Today, Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam glided silently across the ocean, carving a path through the early morning fog as she made her way toward what is arguably my favorite destination in Alaska: Glacier Bay National Park.

Early morning fog begins to burn off as we begin the 55 mile sail through Glacier Bay to Margerie Glacier. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I love being here; for me, Glacier Bay is right up there with Norway’s Geirangerfjord and Scotland’s Hebridean Islands in terms of raw, unsurpassed beauty. It’s also a destination that is constantly changing; when I first visited in 1998, it poured rain the entire time and visibility was severely limited. In 2006, bursts of sun and fog created an odd haze that rolled in and out all morning while low-lying ice floes crackled like broken glass against the hull of the ship.

The bow and port-side bridge wing of the Zuiderdam are seen reflected in the crystal waters of Glacier Bay. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Today, we were graced with Caribbean-esque sunshine and blue skies, which even our onboard park ranger described as “unusually nice.”  At 6:15am, they boarded the Zuiderdam to provide us with running commentary over the public address system, which was fantastic. For example, did you know Johns Hopkins Glacier advances at a rate of roughly 14 feet per day?  While most glaciers, including Margerie and Lamplugh, are receding, Johns Hopkins is not.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Holland America provides iPod tours of Glacier Bay to guests wishing to hear more about the history of this diverse UNESCO World Heritage site, available in limited quantities from the helpful Librarian on Deck 10 in the Crow’s Nest.

Breathtaking. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Ice Masters on old, rigged sailing ships used to describe how they could “smell” ice long before they could see it, and today I found that to be true. The air grew noticeably colder and developed a “fresh” scent as Zuiderdam passed silently by narrow inlets and small islands on her way to the main event: the ever-calving Margerie Glacier.

Choosing a ship with plenty of open deck space – like the Zuiderdam – is essential in Glacier Bay. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Not every cruise line gets to sail to Glacier Bay, and not every itinerary offers this amazing sight. Holland America boasts one of the largest number of sailings into Glacier Bay, all of which depart from or end in Vancouver. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve always recommended this itinerary to prospective cruisers; the “classic” Alaska itinerary, with two days of Inside Passage cruising and scenic cruising in Glacier Bay, is hard to top.

The bow area of the Zuiderdam on Deck 4 was also opened for passenger use today. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Zuiderdam is about as perfect a ship as you can get for scenic cruising, with open deck spaces on Decks 11, 10, 9, and 3.  For today’s scenic cruising, the large bow area on Deck 4 was also opened up to the passengers.  It is for exactly this reason that I always stress to people about how important it is to choose your ship wisely; there’s no substitute for good open deck space like that found aboard the Zuiderdam.

The best reason to get a balcony stateroom. Note the provided wool deck blanket! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

How much do I enjoy it here? I was up at 6am and out on deck by 7am – where I remained until nearly 1pm.  It’s tough to tear yourself away, particularly on a day like today. I even took lunch from the comfort of my balcony – a worthy investment, even in Alaska!

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Of course, Holland America also makes it easy to stay on deck and brave the chill: hot chocolate was on offer by the Lido Bar and Seaview Bar on Deck 9 from 10:00am to 3:00pm, and roving drink service was available on all outer decks. At 10:30am, a HAL tradition – hot Dutch Pea Soup – was served on the outer decks in proper china bowls and utensils.

I could go on and on about Glacier Bay, but I think it’s only appropriate to let the photos speak for themselves. If there is a single reason to cruise to Alaska, it is this.

The spectacular Margerie Glacier basking in the sunlight. The best reason to get a balcony stateroom. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Margerie Glacier and passengers aboard the Zuiderdam soak in the sun. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Postcard-perfect; Zuiderdam’s Captain Emile descibed today as “the best day of the season.” Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Today was so nice that we were even able to make it near Johns Hopkins Glacier, which is normally choked with ice and impassable for large cruise ships. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Upon our exit from Glacier Bay, the fog rolled back in and temperatures dropped rapidly. Still, even in the fog, Alaska is scenic. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Cutting our way through the fog. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

So how do you top a day like this? With dinner at Holland America’s special “Le Cirque” theme night in the Pinnacle Grill here onboard the elegant ms Zuiderdam, of course!

Holland America has partnered with New York-based Le Cirque to transform the Pinnacle Grill on one night per voyage into an all-out culinary feast that aims to recreate Le Cirque’s famous dishes at sea. It’s offered for one night only during this cruise, and comes complete with new décor in the Pinnacle Grill, along with a special menu and some decidedly Seussian, Le Cirque-themed china.

Tonight, I enjoyed ‘An Evening at Le Cirque’ aboard Holland America’ s Zuiderdam. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

For $39 per person (or $59 with wine pairings), this special Le Cirque night seemed to be a hit; I expected to be the only one dining at 8pm sharp (I love late dinners), but instead, the Pinnacle Grill was almost full up – a testament to both the uniqueness and quality of the food served here.

Foie Gras mousse, anyone? Delicious! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

With the ever-helpful Steve waiting on me again, I decided to partake in the Trio of Salmon, Foie Gras, and Caviar to start with, followed by the Butternut Squash soup garnished with huckleberries, and concluding with the Chicken Under a Brick.

Each dish was excellent, both in terms of quality, presentation and taste.  Special note has to go to the Butternut Squash soup, which was tremendous – and I don’t even like butternut squash!  But, much like my Caesar Salad experience two nights ago, Steve told me it was the one menu item he truly felt was a must-have, and he was correct.

Le Cirque is definitely worth experiencing on your next Holland America Line cruise; it’s a great way to celebrate a special occasion. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

So was the Le Cirque experience better than the standard Pinnacle Grill? I’m not so sure; Holland America’s culinary team, led by master chef Rudi Sodamin, has created a spectacular menu in the Pinnacle that is available every night of the cruise. It’s a tough one to top, and it made such an impression on me that I’m even headed back to try lunch at the Pinnacle tomorrow.

Le Cirque, on the other hand, does present diners with a completely different array of appetizers, soups, main courses and desserts, along with two special wine pairings. Should you try it? Yes!  Do you need to try it every cruise? Probably not.

Still, for a special occasion – and for those who have never heard of Le Cirque or had the opportunity to dine there in person – Holland America’s special Le Cirque at the Pinnacle night is an elegant evening that is worth indulging in.

My friendly stateroom attendants are also quite creative; each evening, a new towel animal appears! Le Cirque is definitely worth experiencing on your next Holland America Line cruise; it’s a great way to celebrate a special occasion. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

When I returned to my stateroom, a nice little touch was waiting for me: a small yellow “Le Cirque” box containing two chocolates. Clever!  It was sitting on the bed, keeping my nightly “towel animal” company.  I love the little animal-shaped towel figures that are probably the bane of every stateroom attendant in the world, but each night, something new is waiting for me.

It’s tough to ask for a better day than today. With a few gentle swells rocking the Zuiderdam tonight, it seems like everyone is enjoying themselves after a day spent out on deck in the sun. Magician James Cielen is performing now in the Vista Lounge on Deck 2; they’re showing Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in the Screening Room; Adagio is playing classical music in the Explorer’s Lounge, DJ Reggie is spinning hits from the 80’s and 90’s in Northern Lights…the list goes on, and the night is young.

The fresh ocean air, a little champagne, and a “dam ship” – life is good. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

And me? I’m off to bed – pleasantly full and very happy after a day that, for me, truly highlighted the magic of cruising.

Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam returns tomorrow as we call on the salmon capital of Ketchikan, Alaska!


7 Responses to Zuiderdam Live Voyage Report – Day 5

  1. Nicholas Sabalos, Jr., CDR, U.S. Navy (Ret.) says:

    Gosh, this is fun! I feel like I’m right onboard Zuiderdam. It’s amazing how all 15 Holland America Line ships have that same ambience.

  2. Vanny says:

    AMAZING!!! And your photos… absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for the tip on the iPod tour. Is there a fee for that?

  3. […] recently discovered after following From the Deck Chair‘s Live Voyage Report aboard the Zuiderdam that an iPod containing podcasts on Glacier Bay may be signed out from […]

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