Route: 15 day voyage: Seattle -- Ketchikan -- Cruising Tracy Arm -- Juneau -- Icy Strait Point -- Anchorage -- Homer -- Kodiak -- Cruising Hubbard Glacier -- Sitka -- Victoria, BC -- Seattle
1. General Comments: A fascinating trip. We had done the one-week land and one-week cruise with HAL some years ago. This was a less strenuous trip. Unfortunately, the weather was not very cooperative. Temperatures were usually in the upper 40s/low 50s, along with rain, clouds, fog, and occasional sunshine. Our "best" day was in Anchorage with 72 degrees and sunshine. We were a full ship with ca 1,400 passengers. Ages tended toward the grey/white hair set, but there were a number of children along. One infant was "adopted" by nearly everyone on the 7th deck as his or her grandchild.
While we had booked a cabin with verandah, about a week before the cruise our travel agent e-mailed that a couple "superior verandah cabins" were suddenly available at much reduced fares. We grabbed one, and it was super! These cabins are on the 7th deck; you get access to the Neptune Lounge and all its services along with the extra perks for 7th deck passengers. This made for a very pleasant two weeks.
2. Travel to Seattle and Embarking: While we made our own plane arrangements, we did use the HAL hotel (Hilton Airport) and shuttle to the pier. The hotel is a comfortable business hotel, and the HAL service, from greeting at the airport to delivery the next day at the pier, worked perfectly. Having checked in on-line, we got on the ship quickly. Our cabin was ready, and luggage appeared in the afternoon.
3. The Amsterdam: A very attractive ship, enhanced by its smallness. Our upgraded cabin was a delight with all the space and storage drawers/closets. Details can be seen in the cabin descriptions on the HAL website. The bathroom had a tub shower. There was a small safe and a small refrigerator. The flat screen TV (set up for DVD movies) received the usual news, movies, music, etc. You get a daily planner in your cabin the night prior. You need to read it carefully as there are practically no announcements on the PA system. The Captain does a daily report from the bridge, and the Cruise Director may make a daily announcement on activities. You also get a daily newspaper based on the New York Times.
4. Meals: We were pleased to see that HAL's "As You Wish Dining" worked. The entire 4th deck of the dining room was set for this dining; fixed time dining was on the 5th deck. We reserved a table for two at 7PM and got it every night. Our table was generally in the same area so the wait staff did get used to our tastes. Dinners were uniformly excellent, as was the service. The wine list was also good, whether you wanted a bottle or a glass. We should note that no matter what ship or line you are on, including the Amsterdam, the first night's dinner is disorganized as diners and staff sort out who sits where and when.
Lido Buffet: We only had a couple lunches here, and there was quite a variety of good food, whether you wanted a meal, sandwich, or salad. The dessert area was equally varied.
Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant: My wife and I have mixed feelings on this. The food and wine were great. The service was, however, indifferent. The Pinnacle promotes itself as the fancier establishment on board, and on most of the HAL ships we have sailed, it is. However, the wait staff of this grill just did not show the attentiveness or interest that we expected. Was the food and wine worth the extra charge? Yes. The service? No.
There are plenty of bars and food outlets on board. You cannot go hungry or thirsty. We settled into the Ocean Bar for after dinner drinks. The music there was pleasant for listening or dancing.
5. HAL dress code: There were four formal nights; the rest were all "smart casual." "Formal" for men meant mainly suits; tuxedos were a minority. Casual was just that; most men did wear shirts instead of t-shirts. One could make the case that "formal" on an Alaska cruise is a bit of an oxymoron. You are on the cruise to take in the natural beauty of the state; formality on board in this part of the world may be considered a bit out of date or unnecessary.
6. Shore Excursions: Make your shore excursion reservations on-line! This saves you standing in line at the ship's tour desk. The on-line billing goes direct on your credit card and not on your shipboard account. If you know the ports of call and want to travel by yourself, then, of course, you don't need the ship's tour office. Tour prices are not cheap; you are paying for the convenience of having the ship organize the tour rather than you doing it after you get ashore. Also, if you obtain your tour through the ship's staff, you have support when there is a problem.
Travellers with any form of physical difficulty should do their homework in studying shore excursions. Tour buses at Homer and Kodiak were just regular "Bluebird" school buses. The pathways in the Anchorage Zoo were loose gravel, and the zoo grounds were hilly. Travellers, and their agents, need to research -- beyond the cruise line shore excursion descriptions -- to learn if they will be able to participate in, and enjoy, the excursion.
There was a park ranger on board who provided a briefing before, and commentary during, the ship's cruising at the Hubbard Glacier. This was very helpful in understanding this massive structure.
7. Shipboard entertainment: We did not see the evening shows. We did not, though, hear any unhappy comments about the shows. The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for all tastes: lectures, bridge, bingo, etc, etc. The library is well stocked. Art is for sale, and there are auctions, but this is done more quietly and without as much noise as in earlier years. While there is advertising for the art for sale, there is also plenty for the ship's spa.
The casino was small and the machine payoffs did not seem to be much worse than Las Vegas. Various table games were also available. The selection of duty-free liquor on board was not great, but adequate; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin the day before disembarking. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to have your picture taken by the ship's photographers--pricey, but a good souvenir. Photography in the dining room was limited to the fixed time seatings. There were various venues for night owls.
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts.
The amounts are charged to each person's shipboard account. You have nothing more to do. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service. Your bar and wine bill automatically adds 15 percent.
If you want to tip anyone for exemplary service, you can give him cash in an envelope.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your voyage, anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos, etc) is punched into a computer; you sign one copy of the ticket and you receive a copy. You only receive a copy of your total bill the morning you leave the ship. If you think you may have a problem with your bill, you should check with the Front Office before the last day. Disembarkation morning is usually a bit chaotic and not the time to deal with bill issues.
10. Disembarking in Seattle: Your bags have to be out before 12PM. It appeared that bags were not removed before midnight, so if you had any last minute changes, you could still make them. We used a new service offered by HAL, VIP Luggage Service. With this service, we used specially issued luggage tags, put our bags out as usual, and they were delivered to our residence. We arrived at San Antonio Airport at 10:15PM, and the suitcases were delivered at our residence at 2:00AM. The service will deliver your bags to your residence within six hours of your landing at your final airport, and you have to live within 100 miles of the airport. It is not cheap: $40 per bag plus whatever your airline charges. If, at the end of your cruise, you do not want to fool with your luggage, you may want to consider this service.
11. Conclusion: This was a most enjoyable trip. The hiccups were minor and did not detract from the Amsterdam or the beauty of Alaska. We'll visit this area again.
If anyone has questions, send me an e-mail at LTC519@satx.rr.com.
San Antonio, TX