Before I officially begin my review, I should set the stage a bit... I have cruised 5 times before, mostly to the Caribbean. I feel like I know what to expect based on my experience. My wife and I decided to take a cruise to Alaska for two reasons: we live closer to Alaska now than when we last cruised and we have always wanted to check out the inside passage. We booked a category VF and were moved to a category VB. Our room had a balcony and only had a shower (no bathtub). The only thing we knew we really wanted to do on this cruise was see some whales. We stopped in Juneau, Stika, Ketchikan, and Victoria.
The boarding process was a piece-o-cake. We flew into SEATAC, arranged our own transportation beforehand with Shuttle Express, and showed up at the cruise terminal at around 11:15 a.m. We boarded around 11:45. Our cabin was ready and we introduced ourselves to our cabin stewards. They were completely awesome the whole cruise. Seriously. I had read somewhere on this board that the staff of the Westerdam had somehow become "less friendly" lately. Not my experience whatsoever. Every single employee I encountered throughout the entire cruise looked me right in the eyes and greeted me.
We ate in the Pinnacle Grill the 2nd night and as I had anticipated, I enjoyed one of the best steaks I have ever had. My wife had the salmon (and had the salmon every night after that except one).
Overall, the food and the choices available were very good. The desserts were basically terrible, but I'm not sure that any cruise line knows how to make a good dessert except for Carnival's chocolate molten cake. All of the desserts were bland and were all the same consistency--like that of custard or yogurt. It didn't matter if it was pie, cake, or cheesecake, it all tasted the same. I suppose that is probably necessary since the crowd was so diverse. I officially critiques this at the end of the cruise. I would suggest they get a hold of Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines and learn how to make cake... They had ice cream available so that's what I had every night after giving their cake or pie or cheesecake a shot first.
At any rate, other than that, I enjoyed all of the choices and quality, and I actually enjoyed my open seating time for dinner. I was a little concerned before we got on board, but it was great and I only had to wait once for about five minutes for a table. I found out at the end of the cruise that they basically served the same food in the formal dining room and the buffet and for room service. If it was on the menu and it was a lunch or dinner, you could have it delivered to your room.
I only paid for one excursion--the whale watching and rain forest trails in Juneau. It was completely awesome. We saw a mother and calf just a few minutes after we got on board our whale-watching boat, and the calf was going crazy jumping all the way out of the water and splashing around. Just seeing that with my own two eyes was worth the price of the cruise.
Glacier Bay was nothing I imagined it would be. It cannot be described. Go see for yourself... It was beautiful, powerful, majestic, peaceful--you name it. We spent all day there and saw at least a dozen whales on the way out.
Sitka and Ketchikan were also beautiful. I had no idea how much I would love the scenery in Alaska. I had heard about, and read about it, and seen it on The Discovery Channel. Nothing prepared my senses for actually being there. On the last day of the cruise, we were at a lecture about Victoria and the lady giving the lecture put up a slide that basically said, "if you're going to Alaska and you are young, wait. When you are old, go. For if you go when you are young, nothing will compare for the rest of your life." Whoever said that was right. I will only cruise to Alaska form now on. And I will probably only do an inside passage cruise next time...
My advice to you is bring your winter clothes so you can stay outside comfortably, bring an umbrella, bring a set of binoculars for each pair of eyes--there's just too much to miss if you don't have your own set--and bring a camera that takes pictures quickly. My digital camera takes great still photos, but the people with those cameras that can take a series of pictures in quick succession are the ones who got the best wildlife shots.
Getting off the ship was as easy as getting on. Painless.
The internet service was way better than I have experienced on other cruise lines. it was plenty fast and I had perfect reception in the public areas on my iPad and iPhone, and had great reception about 90% of the time while in my cabin. I have AT&T so I had service in all the ports except Victoria. I fell asleep with my iPhone NOT in airplane mode as we left Juneau and I'm sure AT&T is going to hammer me for that since my phone managed to find the ship's cell tower. My fault...
We did go shopping at all the ports only to get a few small things for our children and nieces/nephews. Once you've been to any of these shops in any cruise port, you have seen them all (except for the local flair). I did notice that the prices for clothes, especially in Ketchikan were very reasonable--and not just for t-shirts--for things like North Face, etc.
I have no problem recommending Holland America to anyone. I only had the small complaint about the dessert which I've already mentioned. I had a great time and WILL be going again. God has made some really cool stuff and I'm glad I got to see it with my own two eyes.
And, before I conclude, I must mention that we paid for the whole spa/whirlpool gig for unlimited use the whole cruise. It was great. I will do that again, too.