Amsterdam Cruise Review by trophy_23: Amsterdam - 14night Alaska Explorer (June 29th to July 13th)
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Amsterdam - 14night Alaska Explorer (June 29th to July 13th)
We were on the Rotterdam in 2010, so the Amsterdam felt very familiar to us. It was a quick walk from end to end, and felt small having just been on the Eurodam in September. I was impressed with how stable she felt even on the days when we had slightly rougher sea conditions. Overall we found the Amsterdam to be in pretty good shape and kept clean. Every day the crew were out painting, washing and maintaining the ship. I did like that they still had an aft pool as opposed to the retreat pool that was on the Rotterdam.
For this trip we decided to try an HH fully obstructed ocean view on the Lower Promenade deck. We chose HH3384 (instead of taking a chance on a guarantee) because we liked its location, close to both the aft and mid ship elevators/stairs and with quick access to the walking deck (the largest balcony on the ship). The cabin was small, but well laid out, though I think we lost a small amount of space due to this being a More connecting cabin with HH3382. It was just fine for 2 people, with lots of storage space under the bed for our large suitcases (with carry-on packed inside) and plenty of space for all of our clothing, we even had bedside drawers (big enough for laptops) with keyed locks. There was a small love seat, which we never did sit on, but instead used to store our large camera backpacks. My only real complaint about this cabin was that we only had one awkwardly placed wall plug-in above the desk, that when used with a camera charger would turn on and off the lights, due to the charger hitting the adjacent switch. I think it would have been nice to have another plug-in somewhere, near the bed perhaps (we did look but didn't find one). **A word of warning for those considering this cabin (or adjacent cabins), we did experience noise from the main galley overhead, which usually stopped by midnight and started again around 5am, overall it really didn't bother us, but it could be a problem for some.**
We didn't go to any of the HAL shows, we only saw performances by the guest entertainers. Our favourite was Jeff Tracta and his singing/impressions. We found the ventriloquist to be just OK. We really enjoyed Benji Hill's 'dangerous' stuff comedy show. George Kanter the comedian was good also. We were really impressed by Chris Michaels' show, playing all of the different 'instruments'.
We had breakfast in the lido everyday and lunch there most days. We found the variety of food great, with taste ranging from good to very good. The selection of fruit was good, but unfortunately they ran out of pineapple on day 4, so that was a bit of a disappointment as it is one fruit I rarely have at home and it is always so tasty!! We enjoy open dining so we are free to vary the time we want to eat based on our plans for the day, some nights we ate at 5:15pm and some nights at 8:30pm. We had a table for 2 each night without making reservations and our longest wait time was no more than 5min. We ate dinner most nights at the MDR, but had three in the Canaletto (still no charge) and a couple in the lido (when we just felt too tired to dress up). We found the food in the Canaletto very good and the service was great. A few times throughout the cruise we found ourselves coming back on board between the lido's lunch and dinner hours, so we had a snack at the Terrace Grill, the tacos, burgers, and hot-dogs were good, we did not try the pizza. The desserts as always were to die for!!
We are from Vancouver BC, so we took the 6:40am Amtrak Train southbound to Seattle the morning of our cruise instead of spending a night in a hotel. We have done this in the past and found it to be very convenient, arriving at the Seattle station about 11:15am, with a short cab ride to Pier 91. The embarkation process was very quick and we were checked in and in our cabin by 12:15pm. We had a cloudy evening for sail away, followed by quite a nice sea day on our way up the west side of Vancouver Island. We spent most of the day out on deck enjoying the fresh air and the abundance of wildlife (birds, whales, dolphins, etc).
Having been to Ketchikan a few times, we planned to walk around town for a few hours (unless the weather was nice, then we would take the Deadliest Catch tour again as we really enjoyed it in 2010). Well, not surprisingly, the weather was quite wet in Ketchikan, so after a few hours of strolling around town we returned to the ship and had a relaxing afternoon. That evening, at the entrance to the MDR, there was a Canada Flag and a cake to celebrate Canada Day, a nice touch by HAL.
We woke up to a somewhat mixed bag of weather for our scenic cruising in Tracy Arm. We saw many humpback whales and even some Orcas fairly close to the ship in the few hours before we entered Tracy Arm. It was a very cool day on deck, but other than a few very quick showers, the weather held off long enough for us to enjoy a wonderful day in Tracy Arm. We were lucky with the ice conditions and made it all the way to the end, where we got very close to Sawyer Glacier. I was impressed by Tracy arm, it was our first time there and I loved it. After leaving Tracy Arm, we made our way up towards Juneau where we anchored for the night in Stephens Passage.
Juneau continued with the trend of overcast conditions, and once again, we had no big plans other than to take the MGT bus out to Mendenhall Glacier for a hike. We enjoyed a nice hike out to the waterfall and then hiked one of the shorter loop trails, just missed a close encounter with a bear, but did see a porcupine in a tree. After a couple hours we made our way back to walk around town and do some quick souvenir shopping. Before we boarded the ship, we headed over to Tracy's Crab Shack for an ice cold Alaskan beer and some very tasty crab cakes! As we sailed out of Juneau (10pm), some of the locals who live along the waterfront put on a display of fireworks as each shipped passed in front of their houses, which was neat to watch.
Icy Strait Point
We headed off the ship around 9am on the tender. At the tender dock, we made our way up the very steep ramp where we had a look through the interesting cannery building. There is a shuttle to town ($8pp round trip), but in case anyone is wondering for future cruises, one-way tickets are only available for purchase in town ($5pp) for the return bus back to the tender pier. We found this a bit strange, no one way ticket to town available for those who already had a ride back to the pier pre-arranged. It was a nice enough day so we chose to walk along the seawall path to town.
This is where our fun really begins! We pre-booked a whale watch tour with Misty Bay lodge for 11:30am, so after a walk around town to check out the eagle's nest we checked in at the lodge. We then headed down to meet our Captain (Dan) at the dock, turns out some fellow CC'ers were on the first tour and had a great time! We happened to be the only ones booked on the later tour, so we got a total private tour with Hope and Dan. I can't say enough about how great they were. We saw plenty of whales and their boat was very comfortable. I would highly recommend Misty Bay! We made sure we were on deck to watch for whales after the sail away (until we entered the Gulf of Alaska) and we were rewarded for this with many humpbacks and even a few Orcas coming very close to the ship. The ship and its crew were decorated in Red, White and Blue for the 4th of July BBQ which was also a nice touch.
After a full day at sea crossing the Gulf of Alaska, overcast weather greeted us as we arrived in Anchorage, however it quickly brightened up and turned into a nice day. We took the HAL shuttle bus to Egan Center (about a 10min ride), as you cannot walk in and out of the port at Anchorage. From Egan center we walked a couple blocks over to Hertz, where we had pre-arranged a rental car for the day. We decided to drive out to Point Woronzof for an overview of the city, where we happened to see a moose. From here we headed to Kincaid Park for an hour walk in hopes of seeing more moose, unfortunately no luck. We took the Seward highway to Portage, then drove through the Conservation center before making our way back toward Anchorage. After dropping off the car, we spent a little time on the wifi at Starbucks beside Egan center, then caught the shuttle back to the ship. Free wifi is also available at the visitor center during operating hours. Anchorage is a place I would really like to return to, as I feel like even with a long day in port we barely scratched the surface of what we could do here. After our 11pm departure we decide to stay up and take a 'midnight photo' to show our friends at home just how light out it is at this time of year, amazing!
With no real plan in place for our time in Homer, we headed off the ship and onto the free 'Spit Shuttle' for a look around. After a short walk, we returned to the pier and took the $15pp hop-on hop-off bus to town so we could check out some shops and go to the Time Bandit store. IMO, it was a waste of $30. I think it was poorly organized and the stops were very poorly placed. There was really not much to see and most people seemed to want to stop at the Time Bandit store which was quite a walk from stop #4. It was OK for us, but for anyone with a mobility issue it was very a long walk. The school buses were in rough shape and the drivers didn't seem to have any local knowledge. A couple times we asked for information on how to get to places and these 'locals' didn't have any idea. Needless to say we were very disappointed and those on this itinerary in the future need to be aware of this. Anyways, enough ranting about that! When we returned on the ho-ho bus, we headed back out to the end of the spit on the free bus. From here we decided we'd had enough of buses for the day and would walk back to the ship. We walked along the beach a ways, grabbed a lunch of Halibut and chips (which was excellent) and then had a leisurely walk by the fishing boat docks back to the ship. This would be a great walk for anyone looking for close-up eagle photos, they were everywhere! Especially near the cleaning station, where the fishermen clean their catch, beside the boat ramp.
Well, we finally woke up to a spectacular sunrise, but unfortunately it was short lived and the cloud cover rolled in. Kodiak is where we had planned our one BIG excursion of the trip, so we were very excited for the day ahead, bear viewing with Sea Hawk Air. We were off the ship at 7:25am to meet our van pickup at 7:30, they were right on time. After a slight delay trying to clear up some confusion with other cruisers (who 'tentatively booked' with Sea Hawk, but then actually booked with another company), we were off to meet our seaplane. Fortunately for us, because of this confusion, it ended up being just the two of us on this tour, so we boarded the plane with our pilot Willie and off we went to the Katmai Coast. What a spectacular day it was, the stunning scenery on the flight alone was worth it! We saw plenty of bears up close, and as a bonus, elk, humpback and fin whales, from the air. The bears were so cooperative we didn't even have to get off the pontoon of the plane, except to explore the beach!! We spent most of our time sitting on the pontoons or standing in knee deep water photographing the bears while they foraged and dug for clams on the beach. After a successful day, we had the best homemade box lunch ever to enjoy on the flight home. I can truly say this was the highlight of our trip and Sea Hawk Air did a fantastic job, I would fly again with them in a heartbeat!
After crossing back across the Gulf of Alaska, we made our way into Yakutat Bay and Hubbard Glacier. It was partly cloudy and due to favourable ice conditions we were able to make it very, very close to the face of the glacier. We were treated to some calving and even though I have seen it before I am still amazed by the impressive size and blue color of Hubbard Glacier!
It was a gloomy looking day ahead of us in Sitka, with no excursion plan. We headed to shore on an early tender and walked to the Sitka Sound Science Center for a brief walk through. From here we continued on to the totem park and then to the Raptor Center, which was really neat. On the way back we walked through the park again and then along the beach to explore the tide pools. After some shopping in town we made it back to the tender area under the O'Connell Bridge just in time to take shelter from an absolute downpour! Dessert extravaganza night was fantastic as always, with some amazing displays of culinary talent from the crew. I am glad to see it has been gradually scaled down from what it was 5 years ago when we first cruised, I hate to see waste.
Finally, a sunny day, at sea as we make our way back along the West side of the Queen Charlotte Islands and Vancouver Island. A great day on deck watching whales, where at some points we were able to see 4-5 surface at once. Looks like favourable weather for our day in Victoria. Another beautiful sunset!
Welcome to 70+ degree weather, a beautiful 'shorts' day in Victoria! We decided to take advantage of the nice weather and walk from the ship to town. Victoria is close to home for us, we visit often, so planned a low key day, a visit to the museum and Imax theatre. We walked back to the ship for dinner and then decided to walk the breakwater at Ogden Point to catch the sunset. For sail away at 11pm we headed to the crows nest for one last happy hour and were treated to a spectacular lightning storm!
We had requested a later disembarkation time as we were getting picked up by family at the pier, so we headed off the ship at 9:15am. It was a breeze getting of the ship, going through immigration and getting our bags. We certainly met many interesting people from all over the world on this trip and hope everyone had safe travels back home. It is a shame they are discontinuing this itinerary, we had a wonderful time and it was the best trip we have had to Alaska yet! I don't think the 7nighters will cut it any more :) Less
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Cabin review: HH3384
For this trip we decided to try an HH fully obstructed ocean view on the Lower Promenade deck. We chose HH3384 (instead of taking a chance on a guarantee) because we liked its location, close to both the aft and mid ship elevators/stairs and with quick access to the walking deck (the largest balcony on the ship). The cabin was small, but well laid out, though I think we lost a small amount of space due to this being a connecting cabin with HH3382. It was just fine for 2 people, with lots of storage space under the bed for our large suitcases (with carry-on packed inside) and plenty of space for all of our clothing, we even had bedside drawers (big enough for laptops) with keyed locks. There was a small love seat, which we never did sit on, but instead used to store our large camera backpacks. My only real complaint about this cabin was that we only had one awkwardly placed wall plug-in above the desk, that when used with a camera charger would turn on and off the lights, due to the charger hitting the adjacent switch. I think it would have been nice to have another plug-in somewhere, near the bed perhaps (we did look but didn't find one). **A word of warning for those considering this cabin (or adjacent cabins), we did experience noise from the main galley overhead, which usually stopped by midnight and started again around 5am, overall it really didn't bother us, but it could be a problem for some.**