Although it was not yet 8 a.m. the first morning of sailing onboard Holland America Line (HAL) Nieuw Amsterdam brought smiles to more than two dozen people who were eager to see Alaska and its wild inhabitants.

As the ship moved further north along the Inside Passage the sightings of porpoises, dolphins, and humpbacks increased. Mola Mola, an ocean sunfish, even came back to greet us. It was the fifth of 10 planned seven-day sailings to Alaska for the 2021 season.

Holland America Line’s COVID-19 Rules

HAL resumed cruises to the region in late July with a list of protocols in place to ensure the safety of guests, crew and the communities the cruise line visits. All guests must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19; in addition, everyone must provide a negative medically supervised COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within 48 hours of embarkation.

Masks must be worn when using elevators, indoor entertainment areas, and retail shops, except when you are actively eating or drinking. Before being allowed to eat at any restaurant, guests must wear a face mask. Crew members must be masked at all time.

Mask directives are only one of many changes that clients will notice when they board the ship. The muster drills are no longer required. Instead, guests can view a safety video and check in in their cabin. While traditional paper menus can still be viewed, tabletop QR codes are preferred for viewing the drink and dining menus. Before boarding, guests are encouraged to download HAL’s Navigator mobile application on their smartphone. Excursion tickets can now be digitally issued and stored in digital wallets.

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Nieuw Amsterdam is currently operating at about 70% capacity.
Nieuw Amsterdam is currently operating at about 70% capacity.

Credit: 2021 Dana Rebmann

Nieuw Amsterdam’s 2021 Itinerary

Departing from and returning to Seattle, the voyage’s ports of call included Juneau, Icy Straight Point (a new addition for HAL), Sitka and Ketchikan in Alaska. The standard Canadian stop was missing. However, guests were able to stay a little longer in Ketchikan because they did not have to travel to Canada. (A 2021-season waiver of the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 is allowing foreign-flagged cruise ships to carry guests to Alaska without a stop at a foreign port. )

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With 1,448 guests onboard, the mid-size Nieuw Amsterdam sailed at about 70% capacity, resulting in numerous perks for guests that were apparent throughout the seven-day Alaskan Explorer voyage.

Embarkation took just 15 minutes; primo spots by the pools were easy to come by; lines at the casual Lido Market buffet — when they existed — were short; and seats at evening shows and talks on Alaskan wildlife were plentiful. The only event that felt crowded was the Park Ranger Morning Chat, held inside at the front of the ship in a space called Explorations Central, as we entered Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Despite the fact that there were fewer ships in Alaskan waters than usual, the traditional busy ports felt quieter than they have been. However, the appreciation for the return visitors, from tour operators to employees at restaurants and shops, was evident.

Guides on the Mendenhall Glacier Float Trip enjoyed a warm day in Juneau and were happy to show off their gorgeous backyard. A magical moment occurred when a boat was able to spot a pod of orcas teaching a baby how to hunt. It ended an evening whale-watching cruise off the coast from Icy Straight Point.

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A bear appeared almost on time as we started a day of cruising Glacier Bay National Park Preserve. Moments like these reminded us that even though vacation planning has never been easier, Alaska cruising is a rewarding experience.

The Details

Holland America Line