This was our second HAL cruise. It may be our last.
We had taken this cruise five years ago on the Norwegian Pearl, but this time we wanted to try HAL as a previous repositioning cruise with HAL was very nice. We thought the food and service might be better than on the Pearl. We were right about that. It was what we didn't know that would have caused us to choose the Pearl again.
We always fly in a day before the cruise and out the day after a cruise primarily because my wife does not have a lot of stamina as a result of a medical condition. This time we chose the Mayflower Park Hotel in downtown Seattle and loved it.
We took the train from the airport to the hotel, which has the advantage of being both very inexpensive and ending in the mall next door to the hotel. Fortunately the ride was on a Saturday afternoon and the train was not crowded - there is really no place to store Pepto and Bismal, our very large, very "findable" hot pink suitcases. (This was their first trip with us and they provided many a laugh while never being hard to spot in the sea of suitcases!)
The hotel is about 5 blocks from Pike's Place Market. Being Mother's Day weekend the market was more awash in flowers than usual. We love street vendors, and we found a wonderful leather bag to replace one we'd bought 18 years ago in St. Thomas.
The Mayflower's van vendor is wonderful, and they delivered us to the ship at about 11:15 a.m. We were in our room by 11:45, and eating lunch by 12:15.
We stayed in 6175, which is a handicapped aft suite. It was a wonderful room, with more room than the three of us needed. I have never seen so much storage! It was nicely appointed with excellent craftsmanship (I'm a woodworker, so I notice such things). The bed was excellent. The window was quite big with a wonderful desk in front of it and sash big enough to sit in.
The balcony was very large with a table, 5 chairs and a chaise lounge. Previous reviews I'd read had warned that there is virtually no overhang over the balconies on deck 6 aft and that proved to be a handicap on the few times it rained during the cruise. I would have loved to have had the corner suite next door so I could have seen "around the corner" on the wrap-around balcony, but the very nice folk that stayed in it had booked before I.
We had never sailed in an aft cabin. Though I don't care to not being able to see where we were headed, the advantage of very little wind as the ship moved through chilly air was nice indeed. The biggest disadvantage, at least on the Oosterdam, was at Tracy Arm. The captain got us there just fine, but once there he kept the ship pointed forward for a short time, then turned it around and promptly left. We only had moments to see the glacier and the harbor seals on the ice. Had I known that's what he was going to do I would have fought the crowds and gone forward for a while.
Our room stewards Joe and Tree were just exceptional, astoundingly wonderful, beyond words, etc.
The food in the main dining room was excellent - almost every dish was as good as one could get anywhere. The service was mostly good except at lunch a couple of times. The Pinnacle was mediocre, crowded, with inadequate seating, and it always closed before the posted closing time. We always had our "first breakfast" via room service ordered for 6 a.m., and it always arrived at 5:30 a.m. It was quite tasteless. We were thankful for the order forms we filled out the night before and hung on the door, as room service did not answer the phone one single time on our cruise. As a result, we consider HAL's claim that food is available 24 hours a day just so much hot air. If you are hungry after about 8:30 at night, your menu choices are pizza and ice cream, at least until about 11. After that, forget it. We learned quickly to buy food in port, or get extra yogurt at breakfast for those late night snacks. What became amusing, but nice, was that later in the cruise coffee that we didn't order started showing up about an hour after breakfast was delivered.
ACTIVITIES AND SHIP SHOPPING
The "activities" were a source of derision, especially to our 20 year old daughter. It reminded me of the days I have visited folks in adult daycares. But, I don't go on cruises for ship activities, so that might explain why I thought they were so funny.
My girls are professional shoppers and it didn't take them long to explore, then dismiss shopping on board - they forgot swimsuits and were out of luck as there were none. For me - no bandaids or (few) toiletries or socks or underwear? Wow. I've gotten on ships before with little or no extra clothing - on purpose - to just buy it there without having to bring a big bag, and it's a good thing I did not try that on Oosterdam!
The one show we went to was ok; the female lead singer was very good, and some of the dancers were excellent. The routines were a mixed bag from mediocre to quite good. The comedian, Julie Barr, was quite funny.
We love any port in Alaska and either shop or just walk around town visiting with locals. When shopping we avoid the cruise line's in-pocket shops and seek out locally owned places. Sitka is wonderful, as there are only about 3 places affiliated with the cruise lines. We found an amazing piece of whale bone art at Sitka Rose Gallery, and I could have maxed out a credit card or two there. (The piece beat us home to Oklahoma too!) The walk to, and around the national park in Sitka is stunning and not to be missed. I loved Sitka so much that I am going back in August for a week just to fish and hang out.
There was a native art place in Ketchikan back from the harbor near the Creek Street shops that had an amazing piece of marble bear and seal (I can't remember the name of the shop), but ma wouldn't let me spend $4,000 on a rock! Darn. I'm still thinking about tracking the place down and calling them to get it.
The State Museum at Juneau is small, but fun. One of the displays was a spoof and I felt rather silly after saying "Oh, give me a break" several times, then seeing the explanation outside the room only upon leaving it.
We love shopping in Victoria, but unfortunately our favorite shop closed down/changed its inventory "because the younger generation does not care for fine woolens" drats. However, as I've detailed below (and noted that cruise reviews for the week before ours say the same thing), don't count on anything happening in Victoria as there is not time there- a pox on HAL! If you do get a little time in Victoria the taxis are half the cost of ship-provided transportation, and there was absolutely no waiting for one either to get to town or back to the ship.
This ship had some mechanical issues. The toilet seemed to have a mind of its own re: flushing. Some of the time flushing occurred successfully upon pushing the button. Other times it might flush five minutes after pushing the button. Many other times it would flush an hour later. And at least 6 times it would not flush at all and we had to call maintenance. On one visit the tech actually admitted that they were having system problems all over the ship and whole sections would become inoperable because of "air locks". I asked a few of our neighbors if they were having problems, and all said "Oh, yes."
I found it odd that most of the propulsion came out of the port side propeller. I even asked the captain himself about it and he gave me some nonsensical mumbo jumbo; I didn't care until it became obvious that the ship was running slow everywhere it went.
We sat for four hours outside the Sitka harbor while they repaired "a problem with the anchor." Apparently it wouldn't come aboard. They only managed to make up 2.5 of the hours, so we were late getting into Ketchikan and lost that hour and a half in that port.
As other Oosterdam cruisers have reported, we left Ketchikan half an hour ahead of the Norwegian Pearl, but the Pearl passed us late afternoon. We got into Victoria an hour and a half late and saw the Pearl already docked and unloaded on time.
We ran into a local who claimed his brother was a harbor pilot, who explained that Oosterdam had a history of running late; that the pilots thought it was because the captain wanted to collect his fuel savings bonus, and that none of the cruise lines wanted to stop in Victoria anyway but were required by law to do so. Who knows if this is true or hogwash, but at any rate, the whole is not a positive.
The end result, whether because of ship issues or captain's motives, we lost a lot of time in port. So, if I ever go HAL again, I will assume that the itinerary is probably baloney.
Walked right off at 9 a.m., found our suitcases immediately, and were outside in the van back to the Mayflower by 9:30.
The food was worthy, the cabin extremely nice, and most of the service was outstanding. However, if we do a third Alaska cruise, we will go on the Pearl again, or try some other line. Toilets are things one only notices when they don't work, and dishonored itineraries left me feeling less than comfortable about trying this one again.