Before I officially begin my review, I should let everyone know that my family has cruised once before on Costa to the Caribbean before and I did write a review here. So this cruise experience and review has that as a standard insofar as the actual ship, food and service are concerned and not the ports or experience off ship. My family decided to take a cruise to Alaska for two reasons: our son is at an age where he is very much into wildlife and we share that passion and can now enjoy it as a family and also to get away from the Houston heat before summer gets in full gear. The only thing we knew we really wanted to do on this cruise was see some whales and other wildlife - we were NOT disappointed at all. We booked this cruise before school was out so we did not expect a lot of children to be on the cruise - we were more focused on staying together. We stopped in Juneau, Stika, Ketchikan, and Victoria.
We decided to fly in the night before and stay in town to be fresh for boarding. We were lucky that we did, our flight was delayed and we didn't get into Seattle till 2AM and the hotel at 3AM. I had booked all transfers with Shuttle Express and it was so much less expensive than a transfer through HAL. The drivers friendly and helpful and very convenient. Getting off the ship was as easy as getting on. Painless.
We booked a category VD located towards the front on the port side. We wanted to have a veranda so that we could really get our own view outside and take pictures whenever we wanted without going to the public spaces. It was really cold for us - remember we're from the south! Our room had a queen size bed and a pull out bed for our son aged 10. When that was out there was no room at all to walk or stretch. It was comfortable enough for 3 people and 7 days was the maximum for us to be in such tight quarters. We had 5 pieces of luggage and there was plenty of under the bed space and closet space for all of our things. We brought enough formal clothes for 3 nights and with coats and sweaters and boots etc, we still had room once unpacked. The bathroom had a tub - which wasn't used but gave us more room while showering which was a plus. There was also plenty of storage for toiletries. Why are there no fans in bathrooms? No one goes on a cruise to sit in the cabin, however, with a kid there's going to be some TV time. For those who have children, or simply enjoy a movie at the end of the day this is for you. There is Cartoon Network and TBS/TNT and a movie channel. There is also a DVD player if you want to bring any of your own or borrow from the library in the Crow's Nest. The sheets were clean and extra blankets were in the cabin. The mattress is also comfortable. On our past cruise it was horribly thin - not so here, even the pull out mattress was comfortable. What is nice is that you can control the temperature in your own room so it is always comfortable.
A word about housekeeping - while friendly and in the room a few times during the day.... they didn't change sheets and I noticed that towels were sometimes just refolded. This was a huge negative for me. Ultimately, it was why we removed gratuities from our account.
We ate in the Pinnacle Grill the 2nd night for Mothers Day. It was very easy to get reservations the first evening on board it was pretty empty. The restaurant was touted as one of the best on the seas, and land for steaks. Being from Houston and loving steak, I was incredibly disappointed. My husband wasn't too impressed and neither was my son, and I didn't even bother after the second bite. The staff noticed and even when told we were unhappy - we were still charged. It is very sad when this happens and it tainted the entire way we viewed food here.
Perhaps it is because we were fairly young and used to a high standard of food in terms of taste and service - we did not enjoy the food. It was bland, lacking in seasoning and slow in service. I suppose that is probably necessary since the crowd was so diverse. I officially critiques this at the end of the cruise. This was the case both in the dining room and the Lido deck buffet. The one saving grace was the ice cream. My son gave the ice cream staff 2 dollars of his own money he loved it that much!
KIDS CLUB AKA HALS CLUB
When we arrived on board we went to check this out - and the facility was dated but clean. There were a total of 13 kids on the ship that sailing according to the counselors. They were very focused on the younger kids and had nothing for my son. So we didn't go back but did ask for programs to be sent to the cabin. We never received any.
The ship is an older one - and it shows. For Alaska it was intimate and navigated the waters well. I would never take this ship to warmer waters - I was very unimpressed with the activities list. It was clearly meant for an older crowd of people. We were bored without the scenery and the excursions. The pool was nice, it is covered and the water was warm and a nice swim. The hydrotherapy pool was extra - 150 per person for access to it. The spa services were overpriced and underwhelming. The shops were minimal and it was all overpriced.
The photo services had pictures taken of formal nights and such. Packages were reasonable for those - but still expensive. They did have a Black Label Photography which is basically Black and White pictures with a real photographer - very professional and no sitting fee - but very very expensive - plan on spending a good 500 - 1000 on that alone.
You can get beverage cards that give you a 5% discount. Hardly worth it in my opinion.
The ship is for older retired couples as a whole - they really do not cater to a more lively crowd. I didn't expect otherwise - we chose this cruise for the ports and we did get a great price for the cabin. It was worth it because of the experience off the ship and we will be back to Alaska in a few years but will go with another line. I removed the gratuities from our account because the food was sub par, the housekeeping was sub par, the service in the dining room and the buffet was slow and sub par. The price we paid to HAL was fair - a penny more and I would have felt ripped off.