14 DAYS ABOARD THE AMSTERDAM: AN ALASKIAN EXPLORER CRUISE, 29 JUNE-13 JULY, 2012
SHIP STATS: 62,735GT, 23 Ft. Draft, 781 Ft. Length, 106 Ft. Beam (Width), 2000 Launch Date, Max. Speed: 21 Knots, 1388 Passengers, 647 Crew, Distance Covered: 3,675 NM, Fuel Consumption: Approx. 39,500 Gal / Day = 150.5 Gal. NM (Power & Propulsion), Potable Water Production: 160,000 Gal / Day.
SHIP STAFF: Master: Fred Eversen, Hotel Manager: Frank Ulbricht, Dining Rm. Manager: Danny Dharmawan, Beverage Manager: Mark Wranik, Chief Housekeeper: Matilda Rebello: Executive Chef: Joachim Barelmann, Cruise Director: Michael Harvey.
PERSONAL "STAFF": Ms. Judy, DW, aka 'she who must be obeyed' We both enjoy cruising as a vacation venue and, more importantly, still tolerate & enjoy each other's company after 39+ years of marriage.
PERSONAL "DOSSIERS": both my wife and I will turn 62 this year and are full time professionals (engaged in medical & science pursuits), both have New Jersey origins (our current residence is in northern Arizona) and are military veterans ('69-'73). We consider ourselves fun loving, non-demanding and pragmatic. Cruising is one of our favorite diversions.
PRE-EMBARKATION TRAVEL / PORT ACCOMODATIONS: We enjoyed spending one night in Seattle prior to embarkation @ the Homewood Suites on Pike Street. The accommodations were more than adequate and the hotel was centrally located. We used Already There Town Car service for airport pickup & for pier pickup following the cruise. We enjoyed a dinner atop the Space Needle as a sort of a once in a lifetime thingy. The food was okay, the service likewise. However, the beverages & consumables were quite pricey. I really couldn't recommend the Needle for dinner.
EMBARKATION DAY: We enjoyed a breakfast buffet that was included in the hotel cost, packed up our luggage & had the hotel store our stuff while we did a walking Savor Seattle Food Tour at the Pikes Place Market between 1000-noon. It was a wonderful tour with plenty of samplings of various foods. We grabbed a cab, went back to the hotel to pick up the luggage & wine we bought for the trip the night before & headed out to pier 91 for embarkation.
EMBARKATION: Quick, smooth & no crowds @ 1:00 P.M. Just the way I like it. We were escorted to the elevators and we're inside our cabin within five minutes. Bags were already on the bed (how that happen so fast?), the AC worked & the plumbing seemed to work. Life is good. We unpacked, attended the life boat drill & enjoyed the 'Sail-away" in the Crow's Nest with our traditional mango Daiquiris & nuts.
CRUISE & SHP COMMENTS / OBSERVATIONS
ACTIVITIES (DAILY): There was a diversity of activities available which included, but not limited to, aerobics & fitness classes, Komen Walk for the Cure, Sudoku puzzles, daily quizzes and various trivia games (team, liquor, etc.) , dance lessons, art auctions ("they're back....."), bingos, ports of call lectures, the "Explorations" speaker series lectures, and free cooking demos, MIX-ology classes & wine tastings, religious services, spa seminars, kitchen tour, and the most recently released movies available in the Wajang theatre.
CABIN: (Deck #1, Dolphin Deck, outside, mid-ships, starboard, #1893): Clean & welcoming. Couch & carpeting somewhat worn & I suspect will be replaced during the upcoming dry-dock / refurbishing. As mentioned, AC & plumbing worked great. Our two cabin stewards were great (they were apparently taking care of 29 cabins total for this cruise) & provided us with excellent service.
CANALATTO: We didn't go this dinning venue on this cruise. We've tried it on a couple other HAL cruises and weren't really wowed but that isn't to say that the Amsterdam staff might have produced a 'better product' than other ships in the fleet.
CASINO: My DW made several donations to the one-armed bandits during the course of the cruise. I did not notice much in the way of drifting cigarette smoke for the infrequent times that I walked through the casino. I can't report if they had non-smoking nights or not since it was not a concern of mine.
CRUISE DIRECTOR: Mr. Michael Harvey was the CD on this cruise. He did a fabulous job, along with his staff, with all the daily activities, introductions for the shows & lectures and other various "master of ceremonies" duties too numerous to enumerate. He was accommodating, bright and polite. He is a solid staffing "asset" for HAL.
CRUISE CRITIC ASSEMBLAGE: The first sea day (Day 1) of the cruise, I attended the CC "M&G" in the Crow's Nest @1000. The ship provided coffee & cookies. We met some real nice folks many of which were seasoned cruisers. It was a great way to start a cruise
DAILY SCHEDULE: I like the appearance of the "new" daily schedule, i.e., fresh & clean. Items that I miss or could be improved: No longer is there a 'blurb' of sorts (a couple of sentences) that would describe the current on board feature movie. I didn't really notice much in the way of "Notes from the Navigator" There appeared to be plenty of space to manipulate fonts and also, perhaps, tell folks about additional services available, e.g. laundry pricing, phone cards, etc. that might generate more income for the good HAL folks.
DEMOGRAPHICS: A typical 'seasoned' HAL crowd. Most folks we encountered were cordial and, in some cases, quite pleasant. And naturally, some "sour pusses" and "whiners" were allowed to board. The cruise crowd included the typical cross section of grumps and noise bags, the contentious, the pretentious and a sprinkling of pseudo-snobs but the overall mix was predominately a pleasant and passionate gaggle of experienced cruisers.
DRESS CODE: It appeared most folks abided by the dress code rules for evening wear. There was an exception or two of course but nothing really to get your skivvies in a wad about. There were #4 formal nights scheduled on this cruise and everyone looked great IMO. The sassy casual nights were certainly entertaining to view everyone's interpretation of cruise wear.
ENTERTAINMENT (SHOW ROOM AT SEA): We only attended two production shows so I really can't comment as to the individual entertainer shows. The two production shows that we attended were typical HAL. Pleasant enough but nothing to 'write home about', as it were
CROW'S NEST: DJ JASON / KAT & THE HAL CATS/ MARE LENNON (GUITAR); EXPLORER'S LOUNGE: MOONLIGHT TRIO; PIANO BAR: ROU KASSEL (PIANO), MARE LENNON (GUITAR); OCEAN BAR: THE NEPTUNES .
'ROTATING' / VISITING ENTERTAINERS
JEFF TRACTA (COMEDY, SINGING), PHIL HUGHES (VENTRILOQUIST), GEORGE KANTER (COMEDIAN),
CHRIS MACHAELS (MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST), DAALE KRISTIEN (SINGER), BENJI HILL (COMEDIAN) & A PASSENGER TALENT SHOW
SHOWROOM AT SEA OFFERINGS (CAST)
LET US ENTERTAIN YOU, DANCING UNDER THE STARS, MOMENTS TO REMEMBER, SIMPLY BROADWAY, CALIENTE, EUROPA
EXPLORER'S CAFE: The Cafe has plenty of shelving packed with a variety of novels and reference materials and has well lit reading areas and several island computer stations are available. I do not use internet services when on vacation so I cannot address the quality and costs of the service. Depending on the itinerary and the tours I've lined up I have used internet cafe in some ports in the past for tour confirmations and infrequent cancellations by the operator. However, on this cruise I did not need to use any internet services while ashore since our cell phones were up & running at the ports.
EXPLORER'S SERIES LECTURES: This is usually one of the highlights of HAL cruises we always look forward to. With that said I was a tad disappointed with the fact that the Explorer series lectures are a thing of the past, at least on this sailing. The lectures are now Travel Guide presentations. On this sailing there was one Travel Guide, Jeanette Shanigan, that did multiple chores above and beyond the lectures. Too bad that the budgetary cutbacks for the lectures (& other items as well) has diminished the HAL quality experience.
FLOWERS & FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS: Maybe it's just me but it seemed that the ship's flower and floral arrangements looked a tad better (fresher?) than our last two sailings with HAL the last two cruises. The public areas seemed to have less floral arrangements in my judgment. We'd bought a wonderful arrangement of cut flowers to bring aboard from the Pike Marketplace ($10) & the flowers pretty much made it through 12 days prior to disposal.
FOOD, DINING ROOM: Food being a subjective item as it is wouldn't really be critiqued by me other than to say that some nights were better than other nights when it came to taste, presentation and food temperature at serving (obsession number one = cold soups and salads need to be served COLD!, hot items need to be served HOT!). The menus were somewhat unique and varied for each day of the day cruise. As mentioned food consistency seemed to be a 'hit or miss' for us. For example, fish ordered one night would be perfect & the same fish ordered three nights later would be over cooked and would need to be returned to the kitchen. We had fixed late seating at a six top. Service was much like the food. Some nights it was great, other nights it was lacking. And so it goes.
FRONT DESK / GUEST RELATIONS: The good folks behind the counter were attentive and patient with each passenger concern that I observed. We had no issues with the final billing statement so, again, life is good.
LAUNDRY: Pricing for the unlimited laundry & pressing was $7/day. Needless to say we utilized the unlimited services and I was quite happy with the service. I'd send soiled laundry out when the beds were turned down and the laundry would be returned by 0900 the next morning. There are some washers & dryers aboard but for $7/day who wants to mess with laundry? Hey, you're on vacation! This cruise put us over the HAL 200 day mark so laundry (unless HAL changes things) will no longer be a concern.
LIDO BUFFET / DINING: Since we dined in the La Fontaine DR or Pinnacle Grill every night we used the Lido for breakfasts and lunches only. The buffets were adequate as usual & in some cases the dishes were very good. My only comment to the DR Manager the first day was that the English muffins really need to be toasted (versus warmed to room temperature) & the bacon needs to be cooked crispy & not barely cooked. The next day & throughout the cruise all the bacon was cooked correctly but I still needed to request that the muffins be toasted for the various Egg Benedict's . No biggie really.
LIFE BOAT DRILL / MUSTER: Well organized and completed in approximately 30 minutes or less sans life vests these days.
MAPS, IN PORT GUIDES: The In Port Guides were available at the gangway (no longer delivered to each stateroom these days, sans another tradition due to cutbacks) for Juneau, Icy Strait Point & Sitka.
MARINER LUNCH: It seemed the old menu was basically a choice of salmon, chicken or a quiche. The salmon has been replaced with some seared tuna (not bad really) & me thinks the chicken was replaced with braised ribs or something. In any event there were three seating's on the last sea day (we did the 1300 seating) & all went accordingly. Again, for some reason, the luncheon lost, well, it's "luster" of prior cruises IMO. Service was spotty and you were lucky to get a champagne refill.
PHOTOGRAPHY SERVICES: I found the photography staff to be polite and unobtrusive. We did not pose nor purchase any photographs on formal nights. I did ask for a free shot of the ship (a Mariner benefit) that I always forget to do. Well, it was a postcard sized shot of the Amsterdam anchored in Half Moon Cay. Go figure.
PINNACLE GRILL: We enjoyed one 'routine' dinner, a Le Cirque night and the Cellar Master's Dinner in the PG. The food on all three occasions was wonderful and the service was prompt. I can't say enough good things about the PG staff. Unfortunately we didn't have time to schedule a lunch that we've always enjoyed on prior cruises.
ROOM SERVICE: We tend to "vegetate" by mid-afternoon on sea days in our cabin. I generally order two cheese platters and two salmon platters to munch on while sipping wine and viewing a DVD of some sort (I had brought along three dozen favorites in a small clamshell case). On port call days with early tours scheduled, we'd go for the 'door card' breakfast. The items were always hot and delivered on a timely basis. No problems were noted throughout the cruise, and, in fact, the coffee always seemed better than the coffee served at the Lido buffet in the mornings. Great job room service staff!
SERVICE, BEVERAGE: & FOOD: Overall, outstanding as usual (including the housekeeping service). This is truly the backbone and reason for so many Mariner's and 'repeaters' on HAL. It was indeed like 'returning home'. I really can't express how important the comment cards are to the staff. As per our habit, we wrote cards (available at the front desk) practically on a daily basis letting them know how pleased we were with one individual or another. The individuals in question receive these comments daily from their supervisors and you can tell by their smiles and 'thank you' comments that they appreciate the praise probably more so than any sort of extra tip.
SHIP: The Amsterdam definitely needs a retrofitting / upgrading of the public rooms & , at least, our cabin). Some observations included a needed refinishing of the Crow's Nest Dance floor, re-upholstering some of the bench pads, worn carpeting, etc. Now that isn't to say that cleaning was an issue. The housekeeping staff did a wonderful job keeping things clean. It just seemed to me that some spaces were dingier for some reason than other spaces.
SPA / SALON: As usual, DW signed up on embarkation day for three massages & manicure/pedicure appointments. Apparently 'she who must be obeyed' was satisfied since I did not hear otherwise.
TV / DVD SERVICE: Worked like a charm. I'd brought some videos for late afternoon viewing (beats bingo for us). TV reception was fairly strong throughout the cruise.
WAJANG THEATRE / CULINARY ARTS CENTER: My wife attended several cooking demonstrations and enjoyed them all.
WEATHER: Overcast & rainy for most of the cruise. The seas were described as moderate to slight during most of the voyage. I really didn't notice much motion throughout the cruise (of course, we were bunked down amidships on the Dolphin Deck).
ITINERARY / CLASSES / DINNERS / FORMALS
DAY 0 Seattle, depart 1700; DAY 1 Vancouver Island Cruising (Sea Day), Mixology #1, Formal Night #1; DAY 2 Ketchikan (0800-1700); DAY 3 Tracy Arm Cruising (Sea Day), Mixology #2, PG Dinner; DAY 4 Juneau (0800-2200), Dinner: Qwest; DAY 5 Icy Strait Point (0700-1600), Mixology #3; DAY 6 Sea Day, Mixology #4, Formal #2; DAY 7 Anchorage (0700-2300); DAY 8 Homer (1000-1800); DAY 9 Kodiak , Le Cirque Dinner PG, Formal #3; DAY 10 Sea Day/Hubbard Glacier Cruising, Mixology #5; DAY 11 Sitka (1000-1700), Cellar Master's Dinner PG; DAY 12 Sea Day, Mariner Lunch @1300, Mixology #6, Formal Night #4; DAY 13 Victoria, BC (1200-2300), DAY 14 Seattle Disembark @0730.
PORTS OF CALL / TOURS
KETCHIKAN (0800-1700): A.M. Touring about town. P.M. (1200-1530) Mountaintop Flightseeing via floatplane & Crab Feast @ George Inlet Fjord Lodge. This is a wonderful tour with plenty to eat & drink at the lodge. I would highly recommend.
JUNEAU (0800-2200): A.M. (0800-1100) Touring about town; 1130-1430 Coastal Helicopter's tour to Herbert glacier & dog sledding. This was another once in a lifetime tour with Iditarod mushers. We really enjoyed this tour. 1800-2100 (HAL tour) Evening Whale Watch & Dinner aboard the Qwest. There was plenty of wildlife to see & more than enough food for dinner. Recommended.
ICY STRAIT POINT (0700-1600): A.M. Salmon fishing with Captain Eric of Ear Mountain Charters. We caught three salmon (#2 Silver & #1 King). We had a great time and would recommend his services. P.M.: (HAL tour, 1300-1530) Kayaking Port Fredrick. There were just four of us on this tour and we enjoyed immensely. Two folks to the kayak so make sure one of the two of you is in
some sort of shape to paddle against the wind, etc.
Anchorage (0700-2300): Prince William Sound 26 Glacier Tour. We grabbed a cab at the port and made it down to the train station to catch the 0945 train to Whittier. We pretty much camped out in the club car in both directions. The boat tour ran 1230-1745. The return train left @ 1830 & we were back aboard the Amsterdam by 2115. Although overcast & gloomy in Whittier (apparently it was sunny in Anchorage according to our cab driver) we really enjoyed this tour. There was plenty of glaciers (naturally), otters, seals & whales to view. The boat crew was very friendly & accommodating. Recommended.
Homer (1000-1800): Alaska Cooking School at the Tutka Bay Lodge (1030-1430). We were met by a driver on the dock, taken to the water taxi dock and traveled over the sound to the beautiful Tutka Bay Lodge for our 'cooking' adventure / hands on lesson with Chef Kisten Dixon. Our menu / prepping chores included the following items: Multi-ingredient (cook's choice) Beignets with a spring green/raspberry salad, Fisherman's stew & fresh pasta topped with Sockeye salmon, Tutka Bay lodge bread, & honey cake with Rhubarb sauce. Needless to say the class was wonderful. We had a small group (6 total) & had a great class & tour of the grounds following our dinning session (served with superior wines I might add). This tour is definitely recommended.
Kodiak (0700-1500): 3.5 hour HAL tour, Marine Wildlife Cruise. The tour was okay I suppose (same wildlife, different pond). I'd probably take a tour of the town, the church and the Russian cultural tea tour next time. This was probably our least favorite tour since we had been doing wildlife tours at other ports & didn't really see anything we hadn't seen before. I certainly don't want to sound snobbish. However, I do like being out in a small boat& bouncing around & enjoying the scenery.
Sitka (1000-1700): HAL tour, Volcano Exploration by Ocean Raft (Zodiac really) & 4 X 4 (1130-1330). This tour is not for the 'faint of heart' or one that has medical or disability issues. You bounce along pretty good at 50 mph on a metal bottomed Zodiac and if you didn't have back problems prior to the tour you might have one after the boat rides. Sitting in the back is less bumpy of course. DW sat back by the captain for a less assaulting ride. Naturally I sat in the front seat & made like a fifteen year old. What a blast! In any event, a hot bath that night aboard ship along with some Ibuprofen & several medicinal doses of Maker's Mark made everything well. The tour also included driving ATF's up the mountain, etc. This was a great tour. I would highly recommend if your ale to do so.
Victoria (1200-2300): HAL Bus transfer to the Butterfly & Butchart Gardens with a itty bity city tour on the return trip. Very nice tour & not really all that expensive considering the admission cost that the regular folks pay. I would highly recommend this tour also.
We really enjoyed this cruise itinerary &, perhaps, someday, may repeat it if it becomes available again. The staffing folks aboard the ship were all pleasant & accommodating to our needs. As mentioned, such things as food quality & service, lectures, etc. has slipped IMO from prior HAL voyages. Maybe it was just the little things that added up to this impression. Perhaps again we've journeyed into the new "norm" (e.g. endless budgetary cutbacks, dress code addendums, odd smoking policies, etc.). I will certainly cruise with HAL again however I'll probably stick with the Prinsendam whenever we can. We really do enjoy the smaller ships and longer itineraries whenever we're able. Perhaps we'll cruise aboard the Amsterdam again if we're ever able to take one of the Grand Voyages or WC's.
In any event, if you've made it through this 'brief' review then Bon Voyage & Good Health to you!
Safe travels to one & all.