Just completed the 12 May 7-day Alaskan Explorer cruise on the Westerdam Here is my post-cruise review:
Pre-cruise Seattle: Arrived at Sea-Tac Thursday afternoon with DW and my mother (a Mother's Day present for her). Pick up with Already There car service was spot on at baggage and we used them for all ground transport both pre and post cruise. They are a local company and the price was 40% less that other service--highly recommended. We stayed at the Marriott Waterfront for a two night stay. Location was great for doing Tourist Seattle-walking distance to waterfront attractions and Pike Place Market. We did the three minute cab ride to the Space Needle for dinner.
Embarkation-Already There picked us up at 10:30am on a sunny Saturday for the 10 minute trip to Pier 91. Dropped in the passenger unloading area and instead of being able to drop our bags with a porter at the entrance we were required to drag our bags to the screening area--a bit of a change from last year.
Not much of a line at carry-on security screening (5 minutes) and using the check-in for Deluxe Suites and 4-Star Mariner passengers our party of 3 was totally checked-in for boarding group 1 at 10:55am. Boarding was delayed until 11:30am and with a small additional delay we began boarding at 11:50am. Both my Mother's inside cabin 5177(which we used as a 2nd bedroom and bathroom) and our SC after-corner suite 5190 were completely ready with all pre-purchased amenities (liquor, wine and Mother's Day flowers for both DW and Mom) were in place.
Stateroom-The aft corner "wrap-around" suite is our "crack" on board, Although smaller than the SA suites on Deck 7 the huge veranda with a table for four with chairs, two chairs with ottomans and two loungers (which could hold 15-20 for a sail-away ) and the 42 feet of running aft/side balcony rail is what always sells it for us. This feature provided, I believe, the best views from the ship and was perfect for Glacier Bay viewing and allowed for great on-board whale sightings 4 out of 7 days on-board. We will book nothing else when possible.
The cabin itself had plenty of room for all three of us during the day. The King bed was extremely comfortable with a vast selection of pillows. The five closets and under-bed space provided than enough clothing/luggage storage. In-room amenities included a mini-bar (which went into the dressing area stool) so the frig could be used for ice and other bottles ( we had our steward keep both our small ice bucket and large wine bucket filled with ice all day. The dry bar held a good variety of glass and bar wear which was replaced when used. The twin vanity bathroom was very roomy and useable.
Mom's inside cabin worked great for a "second" bedroom. Her opinion was that it was great for one person but you would really need to love the 2nd person in a cabin that size-a hint from her, turn one of the bedside lights toward the wall as a nightlight.
Dress Code- I want to address this due to the number of HAL threads devoted to this. We did not bring "formal" this trip to cut down to one "rollie" and a single carry-on (for the 'don't' pack it' essentials). In a discussion I had with the Hotel manager about this his comment was--"Well, it certainly is a tempest in a teapot-in some circles. But remember, we a business and we certainly are not going to limits the opportunities we have to make money on board."
It appeared that people wore what they wanted to wear when they wanted to wear it. We did see that they had dark blue sport coats available in the MDR. We were "smart casual all week" and we fell within the middle. Plenty of denim throughout the ship during the evening, with tuxes and long gowns next to polos and Levis in the Crow's Nest after dinner. I agree with the Hotel manager-a tempest in a teapot.
Dining-As I mentioned above and also in my "live" post, we elected to forego formal nights in the MDR and we decided to do the MDR and the Pinnacle for lunch and use the Deck 9 options for dinner. Food in the MDR and Lido was good, not great, tasty and portions just right. We enjoyed it all. Room service was truly good. We are lazy in the morning and in-room breakfast was always appreciated. Be sure that you double check your order BEFORE the steward leaves, a couple of mistakes were made early on but once I mentioned it to the Neptune we noticed that our menu was returned to us with all items checked of and no mistakes after that. We ordered room service for both lunches coming into Juneau and during Glacier Bay day. The Club sandwich, French onion soup and Chocolate cake with raspberry is truly one of the best lunches on the planet.
The Canaletto--Mixed feelings about this. There is a new $10 charge (a pilot program on the Westerdam and the Oosterdam). This charge included a beer, glass of house wine or soda and a "upgraded" menu. This menu is the same as last year (with the removal of the lasagna and the Veal Picatta and the inclusion of the "le Cirque" inspired special 1st and 2nd course chicken Cacciatore choice. My belief, if they are going to charge HAL must step it up on the menu, but the venue is still nice because of the view on most Alaska days.
The Pinnacle--I have mentioned in the past that felt the Pinnacle was "underwhelming" for dinner. However, this trip, we really liked it for lunch--selections were good and it was a great way to experience the service. The perk of deluxe suite breakfast was really nice.
Entertainment/Lounge Venues-Not much to say about this since this trip was a "early to rise, early to bed" scenery and excursion trip. Other than team trivia (which we won once!) and the Crow's Nest after dinner we didn't partake. I must say it was nice to see entertainment in the Crow's Nest until 11pm each night. Cat was a great solo singer/guitarist. Both our previous trips on the Ooosterdam did not have it. Nice a way end an evening with some music and the sunset.
Excursions/Ports-This itinerary is one where you should take advantage of excursions.
Juneau-We did the Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier trip. Juneau stated out overcast but was raining by the time we reached Auke Bay to board the Allen Marine jet catamaran for the four hour whale adventure. Yes indeed we saw the humpbacks (three times), also the sea lions and Bald eagles. The boat was comfortable and the staff friendly, experienced and knowledgeable. The Mendenhall portion of the trip was crowded (with 3 ships in port) and I would not recommend it since you will be in Glacier Bay the next day. The combined trip makes for a 51/2 trip and with the weather it didn't leave us much time to wonder around the dock area.
Glacier Bay-THIS is why we booked the suite we did. Up before breakfast (5am) so as not to miss anything! We entered the National Park under grey and rainy skies. After a room service breakfast we were able to see rangers embark the ship. The USPS ranger began her presentation and commentary at 9am (available on channel 43 of the TV) where she pointed out a Brown bear on the beach. Just prior to our arrival at Reid Glacier the clouds parted to reveal a crystal clear blue sky and caused the snow-covered mountains to be reflect in the glass-smooth water of the bay. The pictures on the HAL website of Glacier Bay truly represented our day. This vista was maintained throughout our visit to "glacier country". Room service lunch was delivered during our transit to Margerie and Great Pacific glaciers . Five minutes after our arrival at Margerie we were lucky enough to view a calving from the front of the glacier with the accompanying booming and cracking and our luck extending to a second ice fall just as were stern-on to the glacier while the Captain spun the ship. The views continued back down to Lampough Glacier where were a numerous nesting seabirds and seals hauled out on the small calved bergs in the bay.
The afternoon continued back down the bay where were we able to see a breeching Humpback just before we departed the park.
Sitka-We were already anchored in Sitka harbor where breakfast arrived at 6am. Our Allen Marine Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest boat picked us up at 9am right at the ship (no tendering!) The excursion consisted of 3 Â½ hours of otters (including a mother/pup combination), Harbor Porpoises, a huge Stellar Sea Lion, Bald eagles and a the end of the trip a special view of a sounding mother/calf pair of Humpbacks. We were dropped back at the tender dock so others could meet up with the land portions of their excursion or just to spend money in Sitka. We tendered back to the W-Dam for a Pinnacle lunch and sail-away.
Ketchikan--Shopping Day! Watched the ship dock in the prime spot before enjoying breakfast in the Pinnacle. Down the gangway with an empty HAL bag. After two leisurely hours walking around dock-side we returned with a full HAL bag.
Victoria-Stayed on the ship to complete a lazy "at sea" sinced we all ahd been to Victoria multiple times before.
Wireless package-Purchased a $100 embarkation wireless package with a 25 minute bonus (total just over 240 minutes of time). Easy log-on and off from all ship provided PCs and wireless worked well in the cabin although log-on was a little cumbersome from our personal devices.
Greenhouse Spa--Great facility. Took advantage of massage service twice during the cruise. Little pricey compared to shore side but within reason.
Behind the Scenes Tour-This became a lengthly review. Please see my separate post "Wetserdam Behind The Scenes Tour".
Disembarkation--We used expedited disembarkation and departed the ship at 7:45am. It took us only 35 mintutes to leave the ship, clear CIS, meet our car and arrive at our downtown post-cruise hotel for an overnight stay before returning home