First let me say that I did a lot of research on Alaska cruises prior to booking. My research included the individual cruise lines comparing pricing, accommodations, services and dining, as well as through sites like cruisecritic.com. We ultimately booked through an independent agent through the Internet due to some booking incentives. After booking I started watching the blogs closely in anticipation to our cruise on the HAL Oosterdam leaving Seattle, WA on Sunday, May 13, 2012.
We arrived a couple of days prior to the cruise and stayed in Seattle, arguably one of our favorite places in the US. We arrived at the port for embarkation early (about 10:30am) and met DW's sister and her DH. Porters were available everywhere and before we were able to put a foot on the ground one was there ready to take our bags. The awesome service had begun. We entered Terminal 91 and found it to be clean and very well marked. The brother-in-law had rented a powered scooter and it was More
ready and waiting for him when they arrived at the terminal (big plus). As we entered the terminal, it became clear that one hand didn't always know what the other hand was doing. We were ushered toward an elevator (because of the scooter) but my DW was in the bathroom. The nice man that had offered the elevator had stepped away and a not so pleasant woman, pointing toward the elevator said "GO OVER THERE". Mind you, I am just starting my long awaited vacation...RUDE was not what I was looking for. Just as I started to chime in, the nice man returned and got us on the elevator. Security screening was not horrible, but I did have too many carry-on's (not more than I could physically handle, but more than I wanted to handle) so I was getting a bit crabby standing in line that wasn't moving as quickly as I would have liked. As we reached the front of the line, we were ushered to a nice lady that had a total of 3 people standing behind her...helping her. Not only was she new, but they were learning a new booking system as well. She did the best she could with what she had to work with, and surprisingly enough, I let it roll off. We were inside the terminal with check-in completed and waiting to board by 11:10a
Boarding began promptly at 11:30, and being in the front of the disabled line we were on board by 11:45. As we walked on, I asked if we could wait for our cabins in the Vista Dining Room - the response was "your cabins are ready". WOW! That has never happened on Carnival - we have always had to wait until at least 1pm. We were on and our vacation had begun. Now, all of the things that I had read in the blogs that I would like to comment on.
We booked a guaranteed SY category "Superior Suite". We were upgraded to an SS in cabin 8042. Upon entering the cabin we were definitely in love. Very large (for a cruise ship) bathroom with 2 sinks, tub with Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. There was lots of storage space, not only in the 4 closets but in drawers around.
The sofa was a red leather color, but was very comfortable. I laid on it most every evening for movie night. There are 3 nice chairs and a footstool. The lighting could be better, especially in the entry hall.
We had a slight problem with the in-room safe, but the staff came and took care of it.
This cabin is shown as having a queen sized bed - we had a king.
I had heard that the refrigerators were more like cooling boxes. I can tend to be very critical about things, but I must say, it worked much better than I expected. It was nice having it in the room. We brought on a 12-pack of soda and some bottled water and it was very drinkable.
The veranda was spacious with 2 chairs and footstools, as well as a round table and 2 chairs.
We were impressed by the cabin, and more so after looking at the other part of the family is 8027 veranda. It was quite a bit smaller and more cramped than ours. The upgrade was worth it for us.
The reviews that I have read about the crew were pretty right on. The staff that we dealt with (excluding the front desk staff) were awesome and always willing to go the extra mile. Our room stewart ("Su") always had the room cleaned and turn down down while we were out. He tried once when we were on the balcony, and when we offered to vacate so he could work he apologized and said that he would come back. Awesome...
The Vista Dining Room staff (Mafood and Gun) were great - could not have asked for better service.
The front desk staff were not so great. I found it very difficult to communicate with them over the simplest of issues. Their English was not horrible, but the accent does tend to get in the way when you are frustrated and trying to deal with a problem. We had purchased a soda card ($25 for a $50 card) - it was a good deal, but it would not activate and I took it back. After about 10 minutes of explaining the problem about 4 times, she gave me a new card. I didn't look real close and we tried to use it at dinner and it didn't work because it had not been "activated", which is supposed to happen the 1st time you use it - it didn't. I took it back a 2nd time - frustration level climbing - only to find that they replaced the soda card with a $50 beverage card and charged me for both. After explaining the problem to someone else again...they were able to make it right, and charge all of our soda purchases that had not been covered on the card.
Let me start with our top pick. The Pinnacle Grill was amazing! It was definitely worth the additional money. We ate there once for dinner and once for lunch. Would highly recommend.
The Vista Dining Room - as I said, the staff was excellent. I was really looking forward to the food after reading through the blogs and HAL's website. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the food was nothing special. The shrimp that they served had no taste, the steaks were less than prime and not very tasty. I could go on and on - but, it didn't ruin our cruise.
If we had be left only to the Lido I would have jumped overboard - even in frigid waters. The only word to describe it is "gross". I had better food in boot camp. The oatmeal was paste, the scrambled eggs were powered, and everything I tried (outside of the hamburger, taco bar and the ice cream) didn't get finished.
I had heard differing comments about the condition of the ship. I found the ship to be very clean and in good condition. I did not notice the areas of disrepair that were mentioned - and I was looking for them.
One thing that was not mentioned was the on-board photography. The sister-in-law found a package deal on HAL's website for $299 - all photo's taken on board included. We figured that we would look when we arrived and decide after that. Once on-board we found that the package had increased $50. If you like good photo's this is a good deal even at full price. We ended up with about 20 different seating's for photos, and came home with a ton of photo's. You can go to any of the places on ship where they are taking photos as much as you want, change cloths and go back if you like. If they are not busy, they will often do as much as you want, and as goofy as you like. DW took advantage of it and we go our monies worth. Less
We booked an excursion with M and M Tours in Juneau prior to the cruise. The sister-in-law went to Jr. High with one of the drivers, and she arranged for him to take us. There were a total of 8 people on the tour and it was perfect. A tour of the city, Mendenhall Glacier, and the shrine outside of town. The 2 hour tour was very reasonable, intimate and Kenny the driver was very knowledgeable. I would highly recommend this AND Kenny. If you have the opportunity, look at the photo's that he has taken and his music CD's.
We took the Mt. Roberts Arial Tram and had lunch at the top of the mountain. The weather was not cooperating, but the ride up through the clouds was breathtaking. The clouds parted several times and we were able to get some great photo's.
We got off the ship and the DW's hit every jewelry shop in the area picking up the free stuff...along with every other woman from the ship. Get the book from the terminal in Seattle and get the free crap in the ports from the shops owned by the cruise lines - meant only to get you in the door.
After walking around town for a couple of hours we headed back to the ship. On the way back we noticed a 4 person electric car that was available for rent. If we had only known, that would have been perfect. If you are interested, get off of the ship and stay to the far right side of the dock. You will see a bunch of them outside the shops on the far south end of the dock about 150 feet in from the ship.
I have a mixed review of Sitka. One of the reasons that we booked HAL was their friendliness to folks with disabilities. Prior to booking, the sister-in-law (SIL) checked with HAL about this port in particular because it was shown as a tender port. She advised them that her DH would be in an electric scooter. They assured her that if the seas were calm he would be allowed to take the scooter on the tender provided that he could board the tender independently without the scooter.
The evening prior to arriving at Sitka the SIL called the front desk to inquire if the conditions were expected to allow for scooters. She was advised that they would call her back by 7am the next AM. By 8am no one had called, so she did. She was advised that due to sea conditions scooters would not be allowed, however, they would be happy to "rent" her a wheelchair for the day for $95. The 3 of us went into Sitka and left the BIL on the ship. Once on shore we encountered a lady from the ship in a scooter (rented from the same company) on shore. She stated that she didn't call but just came down with her family and they put her on board. The SIL went ballistic. When we returned to the ship she and the BIL went to the front desk and spoke to the staff there. This turned into a huge ordeal, with accusations about making the story up and the like. Not knowing who this woman was (name or cabin) it was difficult to prove the point, and what first started out as a complaint had not escalated into something much more. They were finally able to talk to someone on the Lido deck that had gone ashore in Sitka with their scooter, and was escorted by the cruise director. With their stateroom number in hand another visit was made to the front desk. This time, they spoke with the Safety Officer - the guy who makes decisions. He now tells them that no one, at no time is allowed off of the ship at a tender port on a scooter. WRONG! We know of at least 2 people that were. Instead of admitting that someone somewhere had made a mistake, they left a bottle of wine (gee thanks) in their stateroom. Not sure what the wine means...but it doesn't make up for all of the frustration.
The stop in Victoria is mandatory and is very quick. The cruise ships dock quite a way from downtown where all the stuff to see is. Once you exit the terminal there are lots of options. We talked to a couple of different ones and finally decided on the pedicab. I talked to "Nick" and introduced him to his load for the evening. He didn't flinch as he added the gross tonnage of his future passengers. Nick had a bicycle with room for 4 adults. It was quite an adventure riding slowly through town with large buses behind us. Nick took it all in stride and he gave us an awesome 2 1/2 hour tour for $75 a piece. I would highly recommend this over every other tour offered. Very different!