My sister and I booked a 7 night Inside Passage Cruise on the MS Volendam. We flew into Seattle, took the AmTrak coach to Vancouver to spend the night before boarding the ship the next day. We stayed at the Ramada close to Gastown and enjoyed shopping there in the morning before boarding.
The Ramada was close enough to Canada Place that we could have walked, so we didn't include the transfer cost, but taxis are reasonable there and we didn't want to struggle with luggage. Boarding was painless. The lines were long, but moved rapidly. There were two ships in dock and a lot of people milling around but the process was well controlled. There were ample HAL employees directing traffic and it went seamlessly. We had our photos taken, issued cabin keys, then seated in the "holding area" until the line opened for us to pass through customs.
Once on board, the Lido (buffet) was open for lunch and it was recommended that we eat before going to our cabins in order that the stewards had plenty time to ready the cabins from the cruise that had disembarked that morning. As soon as we arrived in our cabins, our luggage was already there. We unpacked, gathered at our Lifeboat stations for the Emergency procedures, then went on a tour of the ship with the "Lifestylist," Claire. (Very helpful, cheerful personality.)
The ship was a good size and appropriate for what we were looking for in a cruise. There were no discos, rambunctious youth, or blaring music (for the most part, although one time it did get awfully loud on the Promenade Deck). The crew maintained a very clean ship, and the captain and crew were overly cautious about curtailing the spread of viruses and sickness. (Hand sanitizer "stations" at all elevators, stairways, dining entries, etc.) The only complaint in the maintenance department is that they were continually painting. Every day areas were roped off and marked "wet paint". Also, every day, the promenade deck was washed down, which meant if you were an early walker you walked on very wet decks.
Our cabin was on the Promenade Deck, which was convenient. We had a large window, while not looking directly out, looked across the open promenade deck to the outside. Being on that deck and close to an exit door from the hall to the deck made it easy for us to get out on the deck for photos, walking, etc. Even though many people walked the promenade, the windows were tinted so that our cabin was still private even when the curtains were open. We had previously read that if you have trouble with sea sickness, dizziness, etc., a cabin toward the aft (back) of the ship on a lower deck would be best, and that's just what we had. We would have walked less steps overall if our cabin had been more centrally located (especially when we left something in our cabin that we needed), but with the large meals, the walking was good for us!
The cabin was a cozy size, larger than we anticipated, with ample storage space (certainly for the two of us). The beds were comfortable and the bathroom spacious enough with a full tub. A shelf under the sink as well as a cabinet built into the corner over the sink offered plenty of room to store our toiletries. The water pressure was good, but we took several cool/warm/cold showers. (We never even thought to bring this to the attention of our steward. There may have been something he could have done to correct this!) We had some minor problems with the toilet flushing, but access to public restrooms on the ship caused that not to be much of a hardship.
One thing we had not prepared for was the absence of a clock. We would not leave our phones turned on (to make sure we did not receive any $16/minute international calls), and as neither of us wear watches, we were constantly wondering about the time. This was important in order to make it to planned events taking place on the ship. Every night we were given a schedule of the next day's events. (Finally we bought an inexpensive watch at one of the ship stores but it did not keep good time and really wasn't worth what we paid for it.) I believe the television might have displayed the time, but we would not turn it on for that.
The classes from Microsoft on digital photography were very good for beginners. The young guy, Craig, who taught them was patient and willing to help with any problem cruisers were having with their digital cameras, computers, etc. Some really got their "money's worth" out of his help!
Not being interested in the bars, casino or many of the shows, we retired to our cabins fairly early each evening. It was quiet and peaceful (maybe more so for us because we were toward the back of the ship?). Since the sunset was late (around 9:30 or 10:00) we saw a couple of beautiful sunsets. (When it wasn't raining or cloudy!)
Our steward was very efficient and thorough. He attended our rooms twice a day, smiling every time we saw him and always helpful.
We had first dining at 5:45 and the dining staff was efficient and for the most part friendly. Our assigned table was toward the center of the restaurant, with little access to views of the outside, so we decided we really enjoyed the buffet better -- our choice of seating, seeing and choosing the dishes that looked good to us at the time, and not being on a schedule. We wound up, for the most part eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Lido. We also decided that, although prepared, we did not feel like dressing for the formal dinners, so the Lido was a better fit for us.
The bars and lounge areas, library and card room with window access were comfortable places to sit during the day to scan the water and banks for wildlife, to catch a snooze, to eat that extra dessert, to read or to chat with new acquaintances as the ship made its way through the Inside Passage. For the most part, it was too windy and cold to sit outside on the deck areas. One of my recommendations to the ship line in this area would be to make access to outer areas easier. From the seated areas, if you noted something you really wanted to photograph, you had the options of 1) taking it through the spotted, dirty window (most of the time covered with raindrops!) or 2) running to an outside area hoping to catch the shot before it disappeared. (I missed most of these!) There were some covered seating areas on the back pool Lido deck with easy acess, but it got awfully cold and windy there as well as on the Promenade Deck. I tried it a few times, but usually gave up and headed inside.
We were glad for the captain's schedule when we made our first stop -- Juneau at about 1:00 pm. I was afraid that late arrival wouldn't give us enough time to check out the capital city, but it was ample time. There was only one other ship in dock which made it much easier to get around town, to our excursions, etc. without being jostled by crowds.
Skagway was the next port of call.This was my favorite stop (or would have been, if not for the rain!). Thankfully, up in the mountain the rain stopped.
Glacier Bay was astounding. Again, misting rain and cloud cover, but we were able to see several glaciers. It was another rainy, cold day and the Crow's Nest was a good place from which to view since the windows stretch all the way across the front of the ship. (However, you must arrive EARLY to get a seat in there.) Having the National Park ranger and personnel come on board and give comments and explanations gave it an added dimension. We didn't witness any large "calving" which we would have liked to seen, but there was a calming quietness that was almost "otherworldly." It's hard to imagine the natives of yesteryear existing day in and day out in that cold, sublime area.
The last port of call was Ketchikan. Enjoyed it but didn't take any tours. Just wanted to walk around, get souvenirs and get a feel for the city. Walked through the Creek Street area and along the Married Man's Trail.
The last day was another day of cruising the Inside Passage, making our way back to Vancouver. It was still very pleasant viewing and the captain did a fairly good job of keeping us updated on where we were and what was coming up that we might be able to see. Although I enjoyed the viewing, I was beginning to want to be off the ship and on dry ground. Six nights of being rocked to sleep was beginning to get to me! I think others must begin to feel the same way because they scheduled more "active" events that last day than usual -- table tennis tournament, basketball game, WII bowling, etc.
The disembarkment was carefully planned, but no matter how well organized, 1,400 people disembarking and some not following directions caused some chaos. However, overall it went well. Once off the ship, we were somewhat confused where we supposed to go, but once through customs, there were HAL employees directing us and answering questions. Found them to be very helpful.
Overall I recommend Holland American Lines and the Volendam. There wasn't pressure to buy anything on the ship, although we felt a little pressure from the professional photographers to allow us to be photographed. (They made a DVD of the week which was available for sale at the end of the cruise as well as individual photos taken during the week. That would make a nice souvenir for those interested in pictures of who was on board as well as what could have been seen during the sailing.)
The other thing noted about the cruise was lack of North Americans working on board. As far as I could tell (by accents), there may have only been a couple. Although the workers spoke English to some degree, a few were hard to understand and had trouble understanding us.