Cruising is something everyone should do at least once. According to fellow passengers who had been on many, this cruise was above average. We enjoyed it. Contrary to the early reviews, you won't be sorry you did this. Since this cruise is mostly on the inside passage, you are not likely to get seasick.
Getting onboard is easy enough. If you are coming from far away, come the night before and have Holland-American handle your transfer from hotel to ship. They will transfer baggage from hotel to ship. The less carry-on, the easier both at security and when you go on board.
Clearing security was painless compared to airline check-ins.
After you get onboard, eat lunch and then start at the top of the ship and go down touring the public spaces. I never got myself fully oriented port to starboard and forward to aft, but each stairwell has a good map.
The staterooms are showing wear, but still perfectly pleasant and comfortable. They have adequate storage space and amenities. If you can, get a stateroom on the Port side of the ship-the views are better-at least on this cruise. Avoid the staterooms on deck 4 whose views are obstructed by lifeboats.
We were able to get into our stateroom immediately-baggage came about four hours later.
We had a stateroom with a balcony. I'm not sure the balcony was necessary but it was pleasant enough to have. The stateroom was good-sized with a sofa, desk, bed and storage space. The bathroom had a small sink and vanity, a good sized medicine cabinet, a toilet and a good shower. Be warned the outlet in the bathroom is low wattage. But those on the desk in the stateroom are normal.
The TV gets several ship channels and CNN,, Fox, ESPN and a couple of movie channels-use the remote and go channel up or down.
The bathrobes the ship provides are warm enough. There was a good hair dryer. I never looked the minibar. The minisafe worked well.
Unless you are being reimbursed by an employer, 75 cents a minute seems excessive for wi-fi. You should wait til you are ashore. This is also true for cell phone service.
WHAT TO TAKE
The clothing you need depends on you and the time of year. I found a lightweight windbreaker and/or a long sleeve shirt and a pair of chino slacks, one dress shirt, a pair of shorts and some polo shirts. People who chill easily might want a sweatshirt and a medium weight windbreaker. Ponchos are a must.
Remember that onboard ship you will spend most of your time in heated or airconditioned spaces.
There is a dress code. "Smart Casual" means a a shirt with a collar or a nice polo shirt and slacks or chinos for men. "Formal" means a jacket and shirt with a collar. Many men wear ties. Women can get by with a nice pair of slacks and a top.
For most of the time and for all restaurants other than the main dining room, you can wear anything you want. In the Pinacle Room, smart casual is OK for lunch and formal is OK for dinner.
Breakfast can be delivered to your cabin and is adequate.
The food in the main dining room is generally very good. They do have misses and some things are better than others. Generally simpler is better. Remember this is mass feeding. If your travel agent can get you a table by the window in the Vista Dining Room, take it. If not, negotiate with the maitre de when you get onboard. Usually he will give you a reserved spot for three nights but that can be extended. The dining room is very good about helping people with allergies, both by recommending specific items and by making items omitting allergens. But you do need to let them know in advance.
The very fancy Pinnacle Restaurant has an upcharge but it is worth it. Lunch at $10 is a better value than dinner at $25. The food is superb. There is an Italian restaurant but we never tried it. The buffet on the Lido deck is OK. It is not pretentious either in food or ambiance. This is a bar lovers paradise. You cannot move without finding one. Remember the era of continuous feeding is over.
In general the public rooms are well furnished, well maintained and comfortable.
There is a lovely library on the forward port side of the Observation Deck. It has a decent coffee bar nearby. You can borrow books or just relax. Right at the bow on the Observation Deck is the Crows Nest Bar. This has wonderful views and when we were onboard a nice singer. When we were going through Tracy Arm, we camped out there and took turns going for food and drink. We preferred this to going outside where it was cold.
The Explorers Lounge is great if you want a quiet place with classical or light pops and comfortable chairs and good windows.
The pools are like pools at any hotel. The fitness room had an adequate supply of machines but was always crowded. We never tried the spa.
The screening room for movies fills up quickly, so if you want to see the movie be early. But note you can watch the same movie the next day on the TV in your cabin.
The service was attentive but not intrusive. Our dinner waiter was outstanding. Our cabin stewards kept the cabin immaculate without our being aware of their presence. Although you are charged $11.50 per night per passenger for tips, you should tip waiters and stewards who gave outstanding service with a cash gift at the end of the trip. Your bartender gets a 15% tip billed automatically with your drinks(including sodas, etc.)
Most ports can be visited on foot and without a tour. But if you are mobility or strength limited, take the city bus tour.
Our travel agent persuaded us to take an airplane tour of the glaciers out of Juneau. The five glacier tour was wonderful-a not to be missed experience. However, we were lucky because the weather was perfect. They fly in all sorts of weather. So, you may prefer to wait to book this until you are sure of conditions or even wait til you reach port and walk the 100 yards or so to the Wings Air office where you can book the same tour on the day you are in port.
Unlike earlier cruises, on our trip the ship got right up to the Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm. The experience was fantastic. See above about how to view it.
The ship invariably had good docking positions convenient to everything at all ports.
In Juneau do not miss the Mt. Roberts tram. And be sure to watch the movie on the Tligit that is shown in the movie theater at the top. The view is spectacular.
In Sitka do not miss the Sheldon-Jackson museum. This is a real gem filled with a wonderful collection of Alaskan native artifacts. If coffee is your thing, hit the Highliner Cafe.
Ketchikan is mainly a place to pick up whatever souvenirs you didn't already buy. Creek Street is well worth seeing. Nearby is a municipal library and museum that has a nice collection of artifacts from the early days of the city. Remember that many of the trinkets are mass produced. But there are a large number of reasonably priced goods made by Alaskan natives. And their quality is somewhat higher than the mass produced stuff.
Victoria was our only disappointment. As had happened on earlier sailings, the ship was about an hour late into port. Since there were only four hours to see things, this limited opportunity. In our case we booked the Bouchard Gardens tour although we knew most of it would be in darkness. However, coming an hour late, we were unable to see much in light and had insufficient time to tour the garden in the artificial light. We had been promised by both the Front Desk staff and the excursions desk staff that our time at Bouchard Gardens would be extended. It wasn't. And unlike earlier sailings, they neither cancelled the tour nor offered us the opportunity to cancel. I would urge people not to book this excursion. We had been to Victoria before, so the loss was less than it might have been. It is a city well worth seeing. A walk around the inner harbor and tea at the Empress Hotel is not to be missed, if possible. The souvenirs are of somewhat better quality than elsewhere.
Disembarkation and transportation to the airport were swift and easy.