This was our 8th cruise but our first on Holland America, and for the most part, it was fabulous. The Amsterdam is a smaller ship than we are accustomed to, but it was not crowded at all, and the level of service was much higher than expected.
We flew into Seattle the day before, stayed at a hotel near the airport and took the light rail for $2.75 each into the city (Westlake station)where we found a cab which for $10 took us to Pier 91. Boarding was painless. We were in our stateroom by 11:30. Lunch was served on Lido deck and was very good. When we got back to our room, our luggage was there.
The ship is very clean and well maintained with the exception of the plumbing. Our toilet did not function intermittently for the better part of two days, and we had to plan to use public facilities on Decks 3, 5, or Lido, even early morning or late at night. We complained to guest relations and got a cold brush off. Captain Mercer offered an apology on August 22 in an intercom announcement, and some guests, including friends of ours, received a letter of apology and a bottle of wine in recompense. We did not receive anything, and frankly, this exacerbated the "bad smell" associated with the issue. We have since sent a letter to Holland Guest Relations. Please keep in mind that this is a relatively tiny issue, and we love the ship, the staff and the cruise.
Overall, food was excellent. We did late seating diner in the Dining Room every evening. Food and service were wonderful. I am on a gluten free diet, and all my meals were given special attention to assure my needs were met. I thought the soups were unusually imaginative and delicious. And by chance, we were assigned really great table mates who became our friends. Lobster was on the menu twice, and these folks know how to do lobster. Also, I ordered wine by the glass a few times, and it was always very good. We did some lunches in the dining room and some on the Lido with good results. We tried breakfast in our room once, and it was fine with eggs over easy, bacon, juice, etc. The omelet station on Lido was super with custom omelets to suit any taste. And the dining room breakfast was extra special but took longer. I loved the German made fine china and real silver plate flatware used in the dining room. We did not use the Pinnacle Restaurant but heard very positive reviews from other guests. Since we ate late for diner, we sometimes stopped by the fast food grill for an excellent hamburger with the trimmings and fries that were extra good. There is an Italian restaurant on board at no extra charge, but we ran out of time before we could try it. One night, there was a dessert extravaganza. We looked at this feast for the eyes but did not eat.
Entertainment was very good and there was a wide variety. Main evening shows included typical musical reviews, a magician, voice imitator, ventriloquist, and passenger talent. We enjoyed them all. There was live music in many areas. A Hungarian trio performed classical, and there was a folk singer I particularly liked, as well a the piano man, and a band. The swimming pools were warm and deep. We tried shuffle board too.
Ketchikan is touristy, but we like it. We took a city bus to Totem Bight State Park many miles north of the town. There were displays of totem poles and a reconstructed lodge and a rocky beach. After an hour or so, we caught the return bus. The bus was full of fellow cruisers from other ships and some locals. We learned a lot. In town, we walked the streets and visited shops, saw a log rolling , salmon streams, and took advantage of coupons for bargain hoodies and caps at Tongass Trading Co.
Tracy Arm is one of the most beautiful places I have been. We saw two bears on the shore and enjoyed the fantastic scenery on the way to the Sawyer Glacier. In front of the glacier on the floating ice were hundreds of seals. The glacier was beautiful and blue and cold. The captain opened the front deck for viewing, and the staff dished out bowls of Dutch pea soup to help keep us warm.
Juneau is the state capital and survives on the business of Government. We caught a tour bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. Wonderful trip and beautiful glacier, you should be sure to stop at the Forestry Visitor Center and take a walk to the waterfall. Also, it is a good place to observe bears, although we just missed them. Back in town, we walked to the Russian Orthodox Church and bought a Christmas ornament icon of St Nicholas at the gift shop staffed by the priest and his small children. The state Capitol building is an old office building left over from the territorial administration, but we took the official tour and gained an understanding of Alaskans' view of government. You can get free WIFI at the library or even from the ship if it is tied up near the library.
Hoonah was fascinating. It is real Alaska. A village of 800 people, we walked into town, stopped in the store and marveled at the high prices for food items, talked with the locals, walked the Orthodox Cemetery, and sat at the pier where we watched a humpback whale play in the harbor. I got terrific photos of the whale showing us bubble net fishing techniques. There was another whale giving a show at the cannery pier (or maybe it was the same whale). We saw dozens of whales in Icy Straight, mostly in the form of "There she blows."
Anchorage is a big city. On the advice of friends who live there, we rented a car and drove north for three hours through Wasilla, Willow and to Talkeetna, which is a prime view point for Mt. McKinley. Talkeetna is a cute little town, and the river there is a good place to walk, but the mountain itself was covered by clouds. We took pictures of where it would have been and took off south. We ate lunch at Cubbies Grocery store to get a local taste. Then we stopped at a farmers market in Willow meeting locals, including a woman who told us she had seen a Bigfoot in the area. (In Alaska this was perfectly believable). The Salvation Army store in Wasilla was worth the stop. The people there knew Sarah Palin and her family and had some good deals on Alaskan souvenirs. On the drive back we saw a serious traffic accident and Alaska State Troopers in action. We got back to Anchorage in time to stroll around downtown before returning to the ship.
On the cruise to Homer, I got up for sunrise and had the good fortune to see a couple of the active volcanoes in the area, the symmetrical cone of Redoubt and the tower of Iliamna. Homer itself is a drinking town with a fishing problem as they say. We spent $15 each for the bus pass to see the sights. We had fun at Ulmer's store, stopped at a rummage sale and a garage sale to talk to the folks there. We went to the museum, which is fine, and walked a nature trail to the beach. On the spit, I found a charter boat that promised four hours of Halibut fishing for $95. This is a fraction of the price of the ship excursion, but we had run out of time. So, next time, I will call ahead.
Kodiak is a very special place and not at all what we expected. It is an emerald island. We shared a rental car with friends and drove south on the limited roads. We hoped to see bears, but none appeared. On the way, we passed some scattered buildings and a few cattle ranches with pastures dotted with cottonwood trees that reminded us of Kansas. Near the end there is a coal black beach called Surfers Beach where we saw cars with surf boards but no one in the water. Most strange was the Kodiak Launch Site, an abandoned ballistic missile base that made for some eerie photos. Back in town, we went to the Russian Church.
Following a day a sea, we saw Hubbard glacier. It is like a living thing, advancing, big and noisy. The ice is unbelievably blue and cold. There seemed to be constant calving activity, and we spent many hours mesmerized watching it. You have to see it to understand.
Sitka is a fishing town. It is the site of the Baranof Castle where Alaska was transferred to America. We recommend a trip to the Fortress of the Bear, a worthwhile organization that saves orphaned bear cubs, and you will see bears. After hearing bad reviews on the seafood restaurants, we tried Agave Mexican where were served by authentic Alaskan Natives with decent food. St Michael's Orthodox Church gift shop is the place to buy a St. Michael's Christmas ornament. Also, the Lutheran Church is great for use of the restroom and a sale on homemade salmonberry jelly. We picked up some last minute gifts for relatives at the Ben Franklin Store and tendered back to the ship.
Victoria is a place we love having visited it twice before. Most of our time was spent at Buchart Gardens and the harbor area. Nice place.
Overall,it was a terrific cruise, and despite the plumbing issues, we would not hesitate to sail on Holland again.