My husband and I had been talking about going to Alaska for quite a while, but always found ourselves going somewhere warmer instead. When I found out this was the last year the Amsterdam would be doing its two-week Alaska itinerary, we decided it was time to go.
We used the Holland America (HAL) website, deciding to book an inside cabin low and in the center. Our decision was based on two issues:
1. My husband tends toward seasickness, so we wanted a cabin which would be more stable.
2. We were going to be in Alaska during summer solstice, so we wanted a place which would be dark at night.
AIRPORT CHECK IN:
We signed up for HAL's transportation from the airport to the pier. We wanted to meet our son for lunch (he lives in Seattle), but we didn't want to worry about our luggage. The scene at the Seattle airport was confusing and crowded. We were at the luggage carousel furthest from our gate, no fault of the Holland America representatives.
There were two reps at our carousel and it was a mob scene, making it difficult to retrieve our luggage and consolidate it. We finally pulled everything together so the rep could take it. I think it was more than 45 minutes from landing to getting the luggage on the Holland America cart. Then we had to walk to the opposite side of the airport for the HAL transportation to the pier, where our son was going to meet us. Again, this was no fault of Holland America, but anticipate the worst in Seattle, meaning more than an hour to an hour and a half from landing to transport.
When we got to the transportation area, we had to wait in a short line. The people in front of us had an issue, so we were delayed once again. Finally, we were given our transportation tickets/numbers and told it would be a half hour, at most. Happily, there was plenty of seating available. When our number was called we walked, once again, to the farthest bus point from the waiting area.
After a 20 minute ride, we were dropped at the pier and our son picked us up. Since a lot of time had been eaten up by the mess at the airport, rather than going to a restaurant, we ate at a nearby Whole Foods for expedience. Afterward, he dropped us off at the pier and we went into the building for embarkation.
This was a sharp contrast to our experience at the airport. It was about 1:30 p.m. And the crowds had mostly been processed. From entering the building to boarding the ship it was only about fifteen to twenty minutes. Then we were aboard the ms Amsterdam.
Our room was ready, so we stopped down to drop off our carry on luggage and went to do a bit of exploring before the "Emergency Drill".
We were due to sail at 5 p.m. I believe they began the Emergency Drill (Muster) about 45 minutes earlier. As other people reported, they now take attendance and don't begin the drill until everyone is accounted for. You don't need to bring your life jackets and you report directly to your lifeboat station, where the crew runs through emergency procedures. If everyone is there on time, the drill is short and sweet. We spent more time waiting for people who were late than we did on the actual instructions.
Sailaway for us was wonderful, with sunny weather, a clear view of Mt. Ranier, and anticipations for an incredible trip on this beautiful ship.
We purposely took a central, inside room on the Dolphin Deck (lowest). Specifically, 1841. It was a bit smaller than I expected. But it was well-appointed with three closets, night stands with two drawers each, two large drawers under the bed, and a desk with a flat screen television and dvd player. We didn't have a tub, but the shower was large and roomy, which would have been our preference anyway. The nightstands' top drawers were lockable and there was a keypad safe in one of the closets.
Our room stewards were incredible. Our room was made up twice a day, ship newsletters and notifications were left over our room number promptly, and there was always ice in the ice bucket.
One day we were walking in the hall, one of our stewards saw us and greeted us by name. They worked long hours and always had a smile on their faces, greeting passengers each and every time they saw someone in the halls.
Our bed was a little bit hard for my husband's taste. But we both slept well every night, in spite of his trepidations. We each had two pillows. One was a soft (feather?) pillow and the other was a bit firmer and thicker.
The Amsterdam is an elegant ship, without the glitz of some other ships we've seen. It has lots of wonderful nooks and crannies, including hidden outside areas. Advice about exploring the ship well would be advice well-heeded. You never know where you might find your perfect spot!
We particularly enjoyed sitting in the Explorations Cafe area, which doubled as the library. The large windows allowed for a clear view outside the ship. It offered a variety of seating, and was where we would pick up our abbreviated version of the news, provided by the NY Times. Other abbreviated newspapers are available daily by the front desk.
Take some time to check out the clock which spans two or three levels, with all sorts of settings. Other things worth perusing: the live bonsai in different parts of the ship, art (not the Park West items, but things like sculptures, photographs, etc.), and the different qualities of furnishings in the different seating areas.
At no point did we find the ship either dirty or unattractive. Staff was always cleaning, painting, polishing, and sanding -- a never-ending job for a ship which spends the majority of its time out at sea.
We tried four of the many dining options available on board the Amsterdam.
La Fontaine (the main dining room): We mostly ate dinner here at the 8 pm fixed seating. We requested a table for six and lucked out, sitting with two couples who were absolutely delightful. We also ate there for breakfast and lunch on days when our schedule allowed. Our dinner waiter, Eko, was attentive and efficient, something which seemed to be across the board with the wait staff.
For the most part we found the food to be of the highest quality. My only complaint would be they cooked the salmon a little more than I do at home. And, if you're a dessert person, we enjoyed the fruit crisps almost every night. One evening my husband ordered the ever-present Baked Alaska and was disappointed in it. The outer meringue was not browned nicely, making it a bit mushier than it should have been.
The Lido (buffet) was not to our taste for meals. We don't particularly like waiting in lines and serving ourselves when we can have excellent table service instead. However, wee often came in between for hot tea and a small snack, which was always available. My husband liked the made-to-order omelets in the morning.
Even though it was a buffet, when you were carrying the food to a table the staff was always there to grab your plates and help you find a seat. They also had a person walking around the room to refill coffee and/or tea.
The one meal we DID enjoy in the Lido was the Indonesian lunch, with great cold dishes. I believe there were other international days -- we just weren't there to enjoy them. Perhaps someone else will comment on these.
We had room service several times during the cruise. I was a bit seasick on the first full day out at sea (as were many other people). They have a special "high seas" menu for days like these. We ordered the beef consomme and the green apples. The third item is broiled chicken with rice and vegetables.
We also used room service for breakfast on the three days we were leaving the ship at seven or eight a.m. The trays always came with fresh flowers, real china, silverware, and cloth napkins. They were always on time, though there was often a slight error in the order, either something missing or something we didn't order added. Whenever we reported it the staff rectified the error immediately. The food was always well-prepared and beautifully presented.
We ate once in the Terrace Grill, a fast-order burger joint by the Lido pool. I had the turkey burger (I highly recommend it) and my husband had the chicken burger, really a grilled piece of chicken. They came with fries and there was a fixings bar. I wouldn't eat there every day, but it's perfect for that off-hours daytime fare.
As an aside, we also ordered capuccinos a few times from the Explorations Cafe. They weren't the best we've ever had. But they were "good enough".
We didn't eat in the Canaletto or the Pinnacle.
We only went on three excursions affiliated with Holland America.
Icy Strait Point -- Whales, Wildlife & Bears.
Honestly, they weren't kidding when they named this. This was the best whale watch of the trip. It was probably just luck, but we saw a large pod of Humpback Whales who put on a show, blowing, diving, and breaching. Then we took a ride to the Spaaski River, where we were accompanied by a guide who was friendly, well-spoken, and extremely informative about the Tlingit culture, her tribe, and her life. We hiked a bit along some muskegs. A bear dashed by chasing a Sitka Deer. Some people saw it -- I didn't.
On the walk we were preceded and accompanied by a young man with a high-powered rifle. It made the fact we were looking for Brown Bears all the more real. There were three stops along the river. We saw a bear and its cub as well as another bear. All were quite distant. We had good binoculars with us, so we were able to get decent looks.
Homer -- Seldovia Cruise with Gull Island
Let me preface this by saying my husband and I are birdwatchers and this was what we were interested in when we booked this excursion.
The cruise to Gull Island was wonderful for us. There are thousands of birds nesting on the island and feeding around it. The sight of thousands of Common Murres in an enormous group sitting on the water is breathtaking. If you're looking for Puffins, you'll most likely see both Tufted and Horned.
I think my complaint, and it seemed to be a general complaint, is we didn't have enough time in Seldovia. We were given two hours. The restaurants were limited in number and another tour boat was in town, making it very difficult to eat within the time frame given -- something I know many people were hoping to do in town.
My husband and I went birding. We strolled along Seldovia Slough, a lovely walk by many of the homes in that town. Even just taking a walk within the time frame of less than two full hours made us feel as though we were too tight on time.
Kodiak -- Kodiak Sightseeing and Wildlife Cruise
It was Sunday in Kodiak (called Cruise Ship Sunday by the residents there, since the Amersterdam is the only ship which stops there). At first we thought we were a group of 12. However, when we reached the docks we were split up among three different small boats, making the trip very personal and special.
We spent time looking at the different birds in the area, visited hauled out Steller's Sea Lions, and saw some more birds. The captain knew we were birders, so I have a feeling he tailored a lot of the tour for us. If you book this, I'd recommend you let your captain know if you're specifically interested in anything special since, with so few people, they've built in the flexibility to accommodate their passengers.
We did not go to any shows, use the children's services, or visit the spa, so I can't speak to those areas.
We were spending a couple of days with my son before flying home, so we opted for later disembarkation. We left our bags outside our cabin before we went to bed. In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room. We then returned to our room and, just before nine, we disembarked.
Two ships (ours and a Royal Caribbean ship) shared the terminal, so there was a bit of confusion. But we found our bags, sorted by color and number, and passed through immigration/customs almost as an afterthought.
Outside the terminal was a bit of a mess. But our son was able to pull around and pick us up in spite of the crowds. There were a good number of people there to keep traffic orderly and moving.
Holland America is an impressive cruise line offering exceptional service and atmosphere for your
dollar. This itinerary is comprehensive and unusual. If you're thinking of going to Alaska, go for it, before it passes you by.