With the May introduction of its Ultimate Alaska & Pacific Northwest Adventurer itinerary, Holland America Line (HAL) offers a 21-day opportunity to explore Alaska's history, culture and recreational highlights.
The route is part of HAL's Explorations Central (EXC) In-Depth Voyages category, which launched in September 2018. EXC In-Depth tours build upon the company's existing Explorations Central programming, which showcases featured regions through immersive cultural experiences, shore excursions and onboard presentations.
EXC In-Depth tour itineraries feature longer travel time and a sharper destination focus, with activities centered on six themes: photography; active exploration; nature and science; history and perspective; arts and culture; and food, wine and spirits.
Holland America senior director of destination marketing Bill Fletcher describes the tours as a cross between luxury cruising and the expedition experience.
"It's an opportunity to hybridize the curiosity that's often associated with expedition cruising and the style that Holland America is known for, with the onboard experience and food and service and public spaces of a midsize ship," he said. "We're replacing some of the traditional elements of the Holland America cruise experience in our efforts to go deeper into the stories of the destinations that we visit."
The company's 1,258-passenger Maasdam has been updated to accommodate EXC In-Depth tours. In addition to swapping out traditional Club HAL youth activities for local adventures, the America's Test Kitchen experiences available on other Holland America ships have been replaced by a port-to-table program that spotlights local chefs. Each will travel aboard the ship for about a week at a time, leading kitchen demonstrations, planning menus and preparing five-course meals using regional ingredients and cooking traditions.
After exploring the South Pacific and the Maldives since late last year, the Maasdam will arrive in San Francisco in May. The ship's 2019 Alaska season includes three roundtrip EXC In-Depth tours from the Bay Area, along with an Ultimate Alaska & North Pacific Adventure Collector itinerary that stops in Alaska, Canada and Russia before ending in Yokohama, Japan.
The tours are among Holland America's first Alaska roundtrips from California. Deploying from San Francisco distinguishes the tours from the company's traditional Last Frontier itineraries, which depart from Seattle and Vancouver.
"These are also the longest Alaska itineraries that we've ever offered," Fletcher said. "In many cases, this is the first time we're visiting these ports. The Maasdam will call on a combination of the marquee, bucket-list ports, as well as some off-the-beaten-path places," he said.
Stops on the Ultimate Alaska & Pacific Northwest Adventurer tour include Valdez, Kodiak, Homer, Sitka and Wrangell. Guests will also explore areas around College Fjord and Tracy Arm Fjord. Shore excursion options range from two new catamaran experiences at the Hubbard Glacier and Frederick Sound, to tours of the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center and Klukwan village near Haines, a bike and hike excursion in Ketchikan, and a kayak and culinary adventure in Juneau.
Local experts will travel with guests aboard the Maasdam, leading educational sessions and sharing personal stories about life in Alaska.
"Our partners are individuals who are well-versed in arts and culture, history and perspective, and nature. We have worked hard to get people who are from Alaska originally and really know it like the back of their hand," said Holland America EXC regional curator Leann Arthur.
The roster features a Tlingit artist who will discuss how his heritage and culture shape his large-scale scale woodcarvings and a founding Sitka Historical Society member who has worked with Iditarod race teams. Between presentations, experts will participate in tours, answer questions and dine with guests on the ship.
"In Alaska, the majority of the guest presenters and naturalists that we've booked will be on for a minimum of a week, but many will stay on the ship for close to the full 21 days," Arthur said.
The goal is to combine the staples of a classic Alaska cruise with new perspectives and experiences, said Fletcher.
"Many of our customers may have discovered Alaska on a seven-day cruise. Now that they've checked off some of the traditional iconic highlights, they might want to go back and dive much deeper into the wildlife, Alaska Native history and authentic culture."
For tour dates, details and reservations, visit www.hollandamerica.com.