Last year friends of ours booked a Holland America Alaskan cruise, and we decided to join them!
We decided to turn the cruise into a two week holiday and had several options of what to add on for the second week. We could have visited more of Alaska like our friends chose to do, see more of Canada or what we actually did which was to add on stays in Seattle and Portland before flying into Anchorage. From there we took a train to Seward where the cruise began. We also had a couple of nights in Vancouver at the end of the trip as this is where the cruise ended.
We have previously been to Canada on a winter two week trip from Calgary to Vancouver which is why we decided to add on more on the US instead. We decided to visit cities to give a good mix to what we would be seeing and doing on the cruise.
From Portland we first flew into Anchorage, a city that we decided to see by a fun trolley tour.
We also booked a sea plane for a scenic tour to go and visit some bears. I was so excited for this and was very happy that the weather was good enough for the planes to take off. However, the weather wasn’t good enough to land where the bears were with a storm coming in so we had to return to the base. Sadly we couldn’t do this trip another time due to time restrictions with the cruise so we got a full refund as we hadn’t seen the bears, which was good considering we still had a two hour scenic plane flight to the bear site that we did do.
Without many recommendations for Anchorage I ended up visiting a faithful chain for gluten free options – Hard Rock Cafe. They normally have gluten free buns for burgers and things like that, I can’t remember if they did this time or not as I had my heart set on the Alaskan salmon dish. It really was delicious!
To get from Anchorage to Seward we booked the Alaska Rail road (train) – make sure this is booked well in advance as it was fully booked on the morning of the cruise departure so we ended up taking it the day before and having an evening in Seward. We booked the gold star class as we wanted a carriage with the dome for sightseeing and it also included food and drinks for the four hour journey.
Breakfast on the train
Breakfast was served on the train, I had cereal bars in my bag and wasn’t going to eat anything. However the staff assured me that the scrambled eggs and reindeer sausages were gluten free and that they could prepare it safely for me so I gave it a go.
We struggled a bit in Seward, there weren’t many restaurants to choose from but then I spotted gluten free options in Sea Bean Cafe. It is not a dedicated gluten free cafe so do take care if you choose to eat here, but they seemed clued up. They offered me a sandwich made in a clean area and cooked on foil to prevent cross contamination. I had this and a delicious smoothie.
They also had Nutella bread in the cabinet that looked amazing, for this they said they make all their gluten free products first and clean everything down so I chose to eat them. I wasn’t ill and the Nutella bread was incredible!
Holland America – Westerdam Cruise
As we were joining our friends on a cruise that they had already booked I didn’t get any choice over the cruise line or ship. I was a bit worried as I’d read some poor reviews for gluten free with Holland America but they were really old and gluten free dining has improved massively in recent years. I contacted the tour operator that I had booked the cruise through (it was cheaper than booking with Holland America directly as I got a free drinks package with them). They assured me that gluten free could be catered for and noted it on my booking. (I did take lots of food just in case!)
Once I had boarded the ship I went to see the catering manager to let him know about my dietary requirements. He too assured me that they could cater – I just needed to eat preferably in the main dining room and pick my meals the day before for the chefs to adapt for me. There was also a gluten free section in the Italy section of the buffet.
The buffet had some naturally gluten free options that I tended to stick to like omelettes. I could also pick up bread and muffins from the Italy section.
The Italy section had gluten free and vegan pizza that I could wait to be cooked for me or a pasta station where they could cook gluten free pasta in a clean pan. This was the section that I had most of my lunches from as none of the staff on the other areas were very knowledgeable about what was gluten free and allergens weren’t shown, so the buffet could have been better. However, I worked my way through a lot of delicious pasta options! I could have eaten more lunches also in the main dining room but that would have been more restrictive time wise and we didn’t feel the need for two formal meals a day.
This section also had a basket of gluten free products such as bread in the morning, and blueberry muffins. Unfortunately none of these items were available to staff who provided the afternoon tea – they just gave me a cup of tea and a creme caramel despite having bread and muffins onboard so there are definitely elements of the cruise that Holland America with a bit of thought could improve for gluten free guests.
On one of the days I did try the other sections of the buffet but I didn’t get very far with most sections and chefs. However, I did manage to get some tandoori chicken and rice as I thought the curries would be safe. I was told they weren’t but that I could eat the chicken. No one really went out of their way to help me find out what was safe either, it was easier just to stick to the gluten free pizza and pasta.
The First Evening
The evening meals were much better. On the first day as we didn’t have time to preorder a gluten free meal I was given a menu with a couple of gluten free options on. Therefore, my first meal was Alaskan salmon with rice followed by creme brûlée.
The Evening Meals
After the first night I could preorder what I wanted for the following day (within reason, some options couldn’t be adapted). I tended to stick to more naturally gluten free options.
The Pinnacle Restaurant
Included in our package was one night at The Pinnacle. For this Paul and my friends all opted for the filet mignon and I opted for the crab legs with butter. We all shared creamed spinach and veggies as side dishes. Dessert was vanilla soufflé with berries all round, I must have devoured this too quickly for a photo!
The Cruise Stops
Whilst our friends went on some excursions in Haines we just used the cruise stop to have a wander. We ended up visiting The Hammer Museum, and also I found some gluten free supplies in the supermarket. I picked up some cake mixes I can’t get at home and some Chex cereal for when I couldn’t be bothered with the buffet style breakfast on the cruise! We ate lunch back on the ship rather than in Haines as it docked nearby before heading to the local park for the afternoon to watch a pie eating contest that was randomly being held there as it was the 4th July.
In Juneau we had an action packed day of Excursions! We started the day off by going up the cable car which is right near where the ship docked to get views out over the area.
Alaskan Salmon Bake
We followed this with an Alaskan salmon bake, something we thought we should do! A little touristy but lots of fun we were picked up in Juneau and taken on a short mini bus ride to the bake. I was worried about what I’d be able to eat so had lots of snacks in my bag, but in the end I managed fine. Everything was gluten free except for a couple of items (I think the pasta salad and cous cous).
I did eat some of the safe items off the buffet that weren’t near any gluteney items and they had their own spoons. Many may not want to do that though but you’d still be able to eat the salmon and maybe take your own roll or some sort of snacks to go with it.
I couldn’t eat the blueberry cake for dessert but they had marshmallows for s’mores so I just had some toasted marshmallows for a sweet treat after my salmon!
Helicopter and dog sledding
We definitely had an action packed day in Juneau, with our afternoon excursion being the helicopter ride to a glacier for dog sledding.
This excursion was expensive, but the one that we really wanted to do. We had also seen it on ‘Cruising with Jane McDonald’ when she went on the Alaska cruise and it looked incredible.
From the views in the helicopter to the dog sledding we would highly recommend doing this excursion!
Again in Ketchikan we didn’t do any of the excursions, we used the time to have a wander of the city.
We did however go to the lumberjack show that again we had seen on the program ‘Cruising with Jane McDonald’ and it was a very entertaining hour. Very touristy but lots of fun too and we were glad we went!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Alaskan cruise, however next time we would select a ship with more activities and restaurants. I would do a cruise again, it is a stress free way of travelling with the itinerary designed for you and you can eat all your meals on the boat if you wish to do so. I normally prefer to have more time in each location, but the nature of the small cities and towns that we visited in Alaska, and how difficult it is to get about not by boat for this trip a cruise was perfect! I’m really glad we gave a cruise a try and got to see some of the beautiful scenery of Alaska! I would however recommend taking some snacks and sweet treats on board with you.
Our cruise ended by docking in Vancouver early in the morning so we had some time in the city – my blog post is coming soon!