To celebrate my graduating with a Masters degree in counseling (mental health) my husband and I booked a Holland America Line one week Alaskan cruise. I am 49, my husband is 58 and this was the first time either one of us has cruised. We called an online American discount cruise company to book our passage. Our agent was able to get us a rate that was $400 less pp than the lowest rate I saw for the same type SA suite on the HAL website. We also received a $75 obc. Before the final payment our agent called to tell us HAL was offering free fares to third and fourth passengers in our suite. At that time we decided to take our two teenagers for the price of taxes ($112 pp) and the hotel gratuity charge ($12 pp/pd.) We had deluxe verandah suite room 7022 on the ms Amsterdam sailing May 25 through June 1, 2012.
In the months leading up to the cruise I perused the Cruise Critic boards in anticipation of the trip. My time was well spent as I learned many tips that served us well on the cruise. The first, CC tip #1, which proved advantageous, was the advice to arrive in the port city a day or two before the cruise. We left our home at 4pm on May 23 and arrived in Seattle twelve hours later, with two delays, and an alternative arrangement hanging (KC to Minneapolis to NY to Seattle----arrgh!) I'm glad we allowed ample time as we needed it! We had prearranged with Seattle Airport Express to meet us at the airport and they were there, in the wee hours of the morning, and for $82 (this includes tip) they transported four passengers and six bags to the Seattle Center Holiday Inn on Dexter Avenue (in the dead of night in a strange city I consider this a bargain!)
We had a standard room with two queen beds, sofa bed, refrigerator/microwave. No breakfast was served, however the Holiday Inn Express is attached to the Holiday Inn Seattle Center and the express does include breakfast with their rates. We chose our hotel based upon the location and the brand as my husband travels with his work and earns hotel night points on each stay. The next morning we walked a few blocks to the Space Needle. We had made lunch reservations online for the revolving restaurant at the top. It cost $20 to go up to the observation deck for a look around OR you can go up for free and spend a minimum of $25 per person for lunch. We chose the latter and did not regret it. Every seat in the restaurant has a great view of the city. It was a clear day and we sat in the restaurant for well over an hour enjoying the sights---plus we had a great lunch (expensive but good and the view couldn't be beat.)
After lunch we took the monorail to the Westlake Center. We walked to Pike Place Market and checked out the vendors, buying some pastries and peaches for the next morning's breakfast plus my husband bought me a huge bouquet of flowers (poppies, lupine, iris, daisies, etc...) for $10!---he said at home those would easily set him back $50. My daughter had to visit the original Starbucks, and my son enjoyed the oddities at the Olde Curiosity Shop on the waterfront. On the way back to the hotel we passed a chain drugstore and picked up milk for breakfast plus a few toiletries we had forgotten. We were all tired so we turned in early after ordering pizza delivery from Amante on East Olive Way. Try their Thai House pizza as it is fantastic.
We had arranged with Seattle Airport Express to meet us at our hotel at 11:00 am for transportation to Pier 91. The cost was $48 (includes tip) which seems steep for a five mile ride but the local shuttle was charging $10 per person (and there were four of us). As it was we stepped off the elevator into a lobby crowded with cruise passengers waiting for the shuttle and were able to walk through it all and into our waiting car. The car dropped us off at the front door of the pier. Outside the front door our luggage was tagged for the Amsterdam before we proceeded inside with it. There are plenty of HAL representatives to direct the flow of traffic and answer questions. It probably took about thirty minutes total from arrival until we were standing in room 7022 where we put my flowers in water (in the extra champagne bucket found in the cabinet) and then carried the bottle of complimentary champagne down the hall to the Neptune Lounge. CC Tip #2 you can trade your champagne--we requested something non-alcoholic so our kids could enjoy it too and they graciously gave us a bottle of Fre Brut. At noon we slapped on our Transderm Scop patches for seasickness (CC Tip #3) and were prepared for the trip. We did encounter rough seas between Sitka and Ketchikan and I was so dizzy I skipped dinner that night but otherwise all was fine.
CC Tip #4 bring your receipts for any pre cruise purchases. I had purchased some onboard gifts with points from our Visa card and they did not show up on our room statement but all I had to do was show the Neptune Lounge concierge my receipts and after checking with accounting she was able to make it all right. She also traded a $50 beverage card purchased with Visa points for two $25 soda cards for my children.
The Lido was crazy crowded so we snacked in the Neptune Lounge before taking a mini tour of the ship and attending the mandatory life boat drill. By 4:00 all four of us were enjoying sail away on our spacious verandah (can you tell I'm spoiled by room 7022?)
The next week was a whirlwind of activities, food, fun, and beautiful scenery. The kids enjoyed room service breakfast on most days, but my husband and I usually ate upstairs in the MDR. We liked the quiet, unhurried atmosphere. We rarely ate lunch instead opting for afternoon tea around 3:30 in our room. Our son liked eating lunch at the Lido where he met a variety of older folks who enjoyed engaging him in conversation. He hung out some at the Teen Loft playing X-box and old fashioned board games. My son was bothered a few times by some elderly people at the evening shows who kept encouraging him in a quasi-sign language to put his arm around his date (aka sister) or hold her hand. He was grossed out and wanted to hold up a sign that said "She is MY SISTER" but tried to ignore the people. One lady was quite persistent too. Another man came up to our son (who has no tattoos or piercings) and asked him if he was a Mormon. My son came back to the room wanting to know what a Mormon was because some older gentleman said he looked just like one. (I told him as soon as his braces come off he'd be a ringer for Donny Osmond.) Our daughter took off each day and enjoyed the salsa, cha-cha and foxtrot lessons, classical trio, classes, and snacking in the Neptune lounge (she took the $29 cooking class and thought it was worth it---they cooked and ate their own meal plus received an apron and the recipes.) She also managed to spend an entire $50 beverage card on coffees at the Explorations Cafe and mocktails at the Crow's Nest.
We all met up for the 8:00pm dinner seating at table 20-- a four top by the window. We were adventurous and tried all of the proffered delicacies by sharing our plates (even the escargot), but I have to say the available daily broiled chicken breast with steamed broccoli and carrots and a baked potato were by far my favorites on the menu. Simple, yet delicious and satisfying. My son liked the spring rolls at the International Dinner, my husband liked the brownie baked Alaska with butterscotch sauce, and my daughter liked the lobster tail. (The former Master Chef Farewell dinner has been replaced on the Amsterdam by the International Dinner. At the end of the meal the staff sings "Love in any Language.")
On the night we left Tracy Arm we ate in the Pinnacle Grill which was very tasty but an extremely long ordeal. I know good food takes time, and the food was excellent, but we barely made it to the 10pm show on time and our reservation was at 7:30pm. On the Juneau night we ate in the Canaletto and found it to be an enjoyable experience. The waiters were jovial and my teenagers were delighted with the two plates of piled high pink cotton candy. The taste of the Pinnacle Grill food was far superior, but the food served elsewhere on the ship is acceptable and even good for mass quantity cooking. (We saw on our kitchen tour that the Pinnacle Grill food is prepared in its own small kitchen with its own chef.) We did attend the dessert extravaganza on the second formal night, but we all agreed the presentation far exceeded the taste of the desserts. It would be better to view the desserts and then retire to your room to order a slice of chocolate cake from the 24 hour room service menu (that cake is delicious!)
Our accommodations were lovely with plenty of room for four. Our room steward took all the back cushions off the sofa (which does fold out into a queen size bed) and made it up as a twin bed for our daughter and he brought in a roll-away twin bed for our son. Even with the twin bed folded out there was plenty of room to walk around with no one stubbing a toe. Scheduling four people through a bathroom on a formal night was another matter---CC tip #5 bring power strips. We brought two horizontal power strips, one for the dressing room, and one for near the master bed and it made it possible to plug in all our beauty appliances as well as our electronic devices. My daughter discovered a ladies' room near the MDR that had a separate room with lighted vanities so she took to applying her makeup there each day rather than wait her turn in our suite (plus she said the lighting was better in the ladies' room.) The bathroom in the suite is supplied with shampoo, conditioner, liquid body soap, bar soap, bath salts, body lotion, and a loofah, plus cotton balls and swabs at the vanity. There were four pairs of slippers to use and keep, plus four robes to use during the week. If you don't see the two extra life jackets check under the bed.
On the first sea day we attended the CC Meet and Greet. I wore my "gamer name" on my badge but most others had on their real names---that made it difficult to match up people with online personalities. I'm glad we attended the party and our suite ended up being next door to a member of our CC roll call!
We were invited to and attended two cocktail parties to meet the captain and crew members. At the first party, as guests entered they were introduced by name to the captain and the two crew members who stood with him. Then guests were dismissed to mingle with the other guests. At the second party the captain and crew mingled amongst the guests and we had a chance to speak with them. My husband especially enjoyed talking with the environmental officer and his wife (a delightful couple.) On a do-over I'd skip the first cocktail party and attend only the second party. At that party I met a 12 year old boy who was at the party as recognition for his helpfulness on the cruise. Apparently a couple had left their 3 year old daughter asleep in their room while they went about their fun on ship. The little girl awoke and opened the door and left the room. She somehow managed to get outside on deck and was found (by the young man) sitting on the deck steps crying for her parents. It would have been easy for this little girl to have stepped through the railing enclosure and fallen from the deck. I hope her parents were slapped silly for their stupidity.
In Juneau we pre-arranged with Evergreen Taxi for taxi service to the glacier and then a tour around town---we wanted to see how the locals lived. Martha gave us a great tour and she has lived in the area 20 years and knows the ins and outs. In Sitka, Jim Seeland of Sitka Sound tours gave us a wildlife boat tour for our family of four. He provided snacks and binoculars and for about three hours took us around scouting out otters, seals, and whales (his boat has a bathroom.) In Ketchikan we took the incline railway up the hill and then looked at the small circle of totems before walking down the married man's trail into town. We shopped in a few stores and actually found a great deal on hooded, reversible rain jackets with fleece linings ($20) with Alaska embroidered across the left chest (found at the Tongrass store.) We had brought rain jackets but these were of better quality and a bit heavier for winter use back home so we bought one each for my husband and the two kids. I ended up getting a beautiful pendant of aquamarine in a silver setting from a locally owned jeweler, the Jewel Box, in Juneau. The color reminded me of the blue of the glaciers. We encountered fog on the way to Victoria and as a result were two hours late and were not able to make our Pedi-cab tour with Ryan John and Victoria Pedi-Cab tours. His tours sound great and his rates seemed reasonable so we are sorry we missed it!
We selected disembarkation between 9 and 9:30. My husband and I went to a leisurely last breakfast at 7:45 am (CC tip #6.) I stopped by the Neptune to say goodbye to the concierge and eat one last peanut butter cookie dipped in chocolate (so tasty.) We walked off the ship at 9:15, found our luggage, and were through customs and into our waiting car by 10. The airplane ride home was uneventful (thank goodness!)
We had a great time on the Amsterdam. The Neptune Lounge concierge, our room stewards, and our dining room steward were all polite, professional and efficient. The only person that I found the slightest bit annoying was the beverage steward ---although he was polite he had the tendency to assume. If he saw a soda can in our room he assumed we had taken it from the mini-bar and added it to our bill (we did not use any mini-bar items on our trip.) One night in the MDR we ordered sparkling water in a carafe and were charged for it (as we should have been) but the next night we asked for plain water and it too arrived in a carafe and we were charged for plain water (as we should not have been.) He assumed things rather than asked about things and I had to keep a close eye on our bill (I asked for a print out of our bill every few days CC tip #7.) All I had to do was explain the situation to the Neptune concierge and she would remove the charge but it was annoying just the same. So that is my CC tip for future travelers---keep an eye on the drink charges. By the way, unused credit on beverage cards will be refunded to your account. (The exception is soda cards if you already have drank 10 sodas you have used the $25 cost although the card is worth up to $50 value in soda-- so on the last sea evening my son asked "his bartender" to cash out his card in soda and he carried off a few sodas to drink while waiting in the airport for our afternoon flight.)
One last thing----unlimited laundry, pressing and dry cleaning came with our room. Believe me I took advantage of it! We were on a Friday to Friday cruise and our last bag of laundry went out Wednesday night at turndown and came back Thursday afternoon. If you don't book a room with laundry privileges you might consider purchasing the laundry package as it allows for half the clothing and you don't arrive home to a pile of dirty laundry! Oh one more thing--as I was packing to go home I couldn't find one of my undergarments so I pulled out the drawer all the way and there it was---it had fallen over the back of the drawer. My husband ended up pulling out all the drawers in the cabin to check and although we didn't find any more of our items we found plenty of other people's items. So my final CC tip is to check behind the drawers. (We returned the items to the concierge.)