We've never cruised before. Our style is to see a place and explore it, instead of hop off a ship, take a tour, snap a photo and hit the Lido deck. We've looked at Alaska for years and logistically, a cruise is the easiest AND cheapest way to see the inside passage. Even BC ferries and the Alaska Marine highway don't offer a savings, with a big sacrifice in comfort. Lastly, we didn't want to be hassled and we wanted to go off on our own. The Volendam itinerary gives you these opportunities.
HAL is valiantly trying to get younger, but we were in the whipper-snapper age bracket as 40 somethings. There were about 50 kids in the 1500 plus passenger list, although Arman, the cruise director, said there were 200. As a cruise director, he is sworn to lie repeatedly! The teens have the best place on the ship: deck 9, with a loft on deck 10. Perhaps a dozen teens were on the cruise and some hung out together the entire trip. Our daughter was mainly with us, but also enjoyed the Loft when she attended. Low key--minimal structure--very mellow. As far as he 8 year old, there were a minimum of screaming kids on board. The hyper children had plenty of video game action, while others could do arts & crafts. Only one child was under 8, so parents with 5 year olds will probably be kicked into the tweens room. Once again-- safe, mellow and more structure than teens. They do offer a kids only cooking class where they all made pretzels in the culinary arts center. We recommend this activity. Otherwise, we looked at the agenda & let the daughters pick what they wanted.
The inside cabins feel like a tomb with 4 people in them. We put on the bow camera channel on the TV, but we still limited our time there. The cabin itself was fine: Pullman bunk, single bed on the couch and the mashed together twin/king. The stewards were efficient and the towel animals were a hit. The showers worked great and the lighting was OK. But--if you can, choose a balcony or at least a window.
Getting around the ship is easy and there is often minimal elevator wait time. A quirk in the Volendam is the inability to do from one end of the 4th level-the Promenade deck-to the other. Since the Rotterdam Restaurant is on this level, we always had to be mindful of going up to go down.
There is a laundry on decks 2,3 & 6 and there's no irons in the rooms. 6 is always the least crowded and 2 is the most. $2 wash $1 dry.
The ship loves its flowers and tries for this as a signature. There is also an art area, where it appears that everyone should buy a painting by Thomas Kincaide, painter of light. The casino is small and sad.
TOURS of the SHIP:
We took tours of the kitchen and the show lounge area. Both were educational about the logistics of running a cruise ship. The kitchen tour was more about the process and the back stage tour was more personal, with a chance to talk to performers about ship life.
HAL is obsessed with hand sanitizer. The 1st 2 days, the buffets are service, not self serve. The captain, in his best Butch accent, is warning passengers to sanitize. There's even a steward at each end of the Lido restaurant with an industrial bottle of hand san. As far as the food--the Lido food gets old fast, especially at breakfast. We quickly learned to go to the main dining room for breakfast as well. The varieties at lunch/dinner are greater, The main dining room: Rotterdam is mostly excellent. the 4 course meal is strong on a variety of soups and interesting combinations of entrees. We didn't eat at he Pinnacle Grill. I don't get paying more, but others do. Assigned seating v. Open-- here's the deal. We never waited for open seating. We were always seated immediately. We had tables all over the place, including water side windows for 3 dinners. We also ate at the Italian restaurant, which is really just a part of the Lido restaurant sectioned off. They were great for 1 night, but hey had little differentiation of their menu. Overall, the food was excellent and the portions are way to large for an 8 year old. There is no childrens menu. This was not an issue, except the stewards were always asking if everything was OK with the food.
STUFF to DO:
My wife won bingo twice. We won trivia once. They have daily trivia & bingo 4 times on the cruise. We attended most of the shows in the showroom and thought the vocal talent was excellent. The highlight of the trip was Glacier Bay. We hit it on 6/24 and it was literally 72 degrees and sunny. The park ranger was almost in tears because of the scenery and the wildlife. Even the glaciers were calving as a show. There are 2 places to watch this spectacle: on the top decks OR at the stern of deck 6 with no other people, relaxing on a teak lounge chair. The area is even covered by a roof. We spent 8 hours there.
IS IT WORTH IT?
It's the way to see the Inside passage. If I were in the Caribbean, or God forbid, Hawaii-- I would cry. The port of calls are faitly lengthy and the Volendam hits the ports when most other ships are NOT there. The Volendam crew does a nice job at playing their roles. The on the ship-off the ship process is seamless. There are few glitches. Because we had great weather, it was a cruise of a lifetime. If the standard rain was our weather, we might view the cruise in a more negative way.