HAL 14-day RT Alaska from Seattle: Amsterdam Cruise Review by ACA Jester
Overall Member Rating
HAL 14-day RT Alaska from Seattle
Boarding was quick and simple. We arrived at 1:20pm and were in our cabin by 1:50pm. Our cabin steward introduced himself shortly after arrival. The lifeboat drill at 4pm required everyone to stand together besides their appointed lifeboat in order by height. A BBQ was available poolside from 1pm until 8pm.
I felt the Amsterdam was in good shape.
The crew was always painting, washing the deck, or doing routine maintenance, but usually at the least opportune time. For instance, I would think they could schedule another time to vacuum the hallway other than 8 in the morning on a sea day.
For some reason, we were late to half the ports, even when we left on time the previous day or even following a sea day.
There was an outbreak of Norovirus the first week, (which we later found out effected many of the crew down below). This may have led to the disorganization that prevailed in the public areas. Perhaps some of More the Ship's Crew were doing different jobs than usual. During the outbreak, the hot tubs, library, and self-service laundry were closed, but surprisingly the computers in the Explorations Cafe were still available even though the keyboards get touched by multiple passengers. (Of course the internet generates revenue whereas the others didn't).
Perhaps the stabilizers weren't working, but this ship rolled more than any Cruise I've ever been on (including through Drake's Passage). This was true even in calm water.
The Crewmembers were nice and attentive in all the public areas. Funny story: In the Lido buffet, Crewmember Renny replied to my query about the meat on the cutting board (it was duck) with, "It's Quack Quack"
Oddly for a company that prides itself on its experience in Alaska, the maps in the Explorer booklet available in the cabin were often wrong. For example, in Sitka, it showed the Sheldon Jackson Museum on Capitol Hill and in Ketchikan the road on Creek street was listed on the wrong side of the creek. In Kodiak, the Kodiak Brewing Company was listed on the other side of town from where it was really located. (It's between McDonald's and the intersection with E. Rezanof Dr.) I would recommend instead using the free maps from the local tourist office almost always available as you exit the Ship.
Not impressed. The food was consistently bland, under-seasoned, and the meat was almost always dry. This was the same in both the Main Dining Room and Lido Buffett. I hesitate to call the Lido a "buffet". Even after the Norovirus passed, only two stations were self-serve; (desserts and parfaits/ breads). Everything else was served or cooked to order. This may provide personalized service but it created long lines waiting for entrees since the cooks were incapable of multitasking, making the "Lido Cafeteria" almost as long a dining experience as the MDR.
During the first week it was so frustrating to get food we always used room service for breakfast on port days. On a positive note, Room Service was always prompt and arrived within minutes of the time range requested. (6:00-6:30, 6:30-7:00, etc.)
The MDR is only open for a limited time most days 8:00am-9:00am for breakfast and 12:00pm-1:00pm for lunch. Also, at dinner one side of the Lido buffet was set aside for the ships officers and staff, so finding a table was hard with only half the usual tables available.
Between 8pm when the Lido Buffet closes and 10:30pm when they offer a late snack, there is nothing available to eat. If you have a late port day, get back early or eat something in town.
The free Ice Cream in the Lido was extremely popular but there was only a limited supply each day. Once they run out of your flavor, you're out of luck. This included the soft-serve even though it only requires refilling the machine.
The Terrace Grill poolside had excellent Burgers and also had Pizza, Hot Dogs, and on most days a Taco Bar.
Considering this was a 14-day Alaska trip, it was somewhat surprising that there was never any Alaskan Crab served during the Cruise.
Our cabin was 3410 on the port side. We liked the location which was close to the aft on the Lower Promenade deck. This made it easy to walk outside to the stern or use the outdoor Walkaround on the Lower Promenade.
On the other hand, the Lower Promenade deck was hosed down every morning between 6:30am-7:00am which made walking in the morning difficult due to the wet deck and puddles. This also meant I woke up at the same time every morning when they hosed down the outside window of our cabin.
The Cabin Stewards were nice but twice our cabin was not made up after a long day ashore. Even after we called the front desk, nothing was done until after we returned from dinner at 8pm. We had the 5:45pm seating and also waited numerous times as we returned from dinner for the Cabin Steward to finish the turn-down service.
One thing about HAL that I appreciated was the towel animal each night. This seems to be a vanishing art form on other Cruise lines.
The Queens Lounge had the usual mix of condensed Broadway-type shows and individual performers such as Magicians and comedians.
There is a large selection of DVD's which are available for checkout to watch on the in-room TV. A list of the DVD's is available in the cabin.
The Ship's library was larger than most and allowed all but the travel books to be checked out for the duration of the Cruise.
Guest Chef Laura Slama had interesting cooking demos in the Culinary Arts Center.
We went to several movies in the Wajang Theater. Get there early because there was only enough popcorn for the first dozen people every night.
We were docked at Berth 4. A free city shuttle bus was available into town, but it was also walkable. The bus started at Berth 4 and makes two other stops in town before ending at the Totem Heritage Center and returns the same way. Keep in mind the Creek street stop is before crossing the bridge. There was also a Wal-Mart shuttle bus that departed from the Berth 4 that runs every 15 minutes if you left anything at home or want some snacks.
The ship was docked one block from the Red Dog Saloon downtown. We first took the MGT bus ($16RT) to the Mendenhall Glacier. Once we returned to town we took the Mt. Roberts Tramway and used a Buy-one-get-one-free coupon from the Alaska Tour Saver book. It was a typical Juneau overcast and rainy day so the views weren't that great from the top. There isn't much to do up there so we didn't stay long. We then did the Zip line at Alaska Canopy Adventures before shopping along Franklin St.
Since it was a late departure, we freshened up on the ship and then crossed the street to the Red Dog Saloon around 8pm. That afternoon the place was packed but in the evening hardly anyone was there. Slightly less touristy and more authentic is the Alaskan Hotel and Bar a little further down Franklin Street.
Icy Straight Point-
A Humpback Whale was feeding just offshore between the Old Cannery mini-Mall and the town of Hoonah all day. Several of the first Tenders ashore had to stop as the Whale was feeding directly between the ship and the dock.
A matter of personal choice, but we preferred the Juneau Zip line with 10 different zips versus the lengthy but only 90-second-long Zip line here.
There are shuttles into town from the Cannery or a sidewalk along the water that also leads into town. There were many small curio shops in Hoonah and we spotted two Bald Eagles in different nests on the walk into town.
We've been to Anchorage many times before so we rented a car from Thrifty on Spenard rd. Anchorage City Shuttles picked us up by the ship and dropped off at the Egan Center which is downtown on 5th Ave. between E and F Streets. The Thrifty shuttle bus also picked us up at the Egan Center. We drove north to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, then on to the Matanuska Glacier, and finally back to Anchorage and a visit to Earthquake Park.
We docked at the Deep Water dock on the opposite side of the Marina from the Spit. School Busses shuttled passengers to the Spit and dropped off right next to the Salty Dog Saloon. There was also a free van that shuttled between the ship and a downtown Gift Shop. After hitting the souvenir shops on the Spit, we took the free shuttle to town and walked to the Two Sisters bakery (best Scone I've ever had!) We then made the obligatory stop at the Time Bandit store. We just missed Johnathon Hillstrand who had left in his new truck right before we arrived. His mother was happy to pose for pictures for several other shoppers.
Our excursion on Harvey Flying Service was cancelled apparently due to bad weather, although other Bear viewing flights were able to go. So instead, we walked into town along Shelikof St. and rented a car at Budget. Following the suggestions from the folks at Budget on possible Bear viewing sites we drove to the end of Bushkin Beach Rd. We followed the river to the beach but didn't see any Bears (but did see lots of tracks!). We then drove to the Coast Guard base, Fort Abercrombie, and toured a little bit of the Island. For fans of the Deadliest Catch, the Time Bandit was in dry dock across the bridge at St. Herman's Harbor, and the Cornelia Marie was moored there as well.
Captain Mercer brought the ship very close to the Glacier despite the high winds and rain. He turned the ship both ways so everyone got a great view. This was truly an amazing place. The forward observation deck on the bow was opened for Passengers as was the outside deck below the bridge. We were once again late arriving so the 3:00pm Pea Soup was served around the Lido pool deck instead of outside.
This is a tender port. We walked from the tender dock under the bridge along Harbor Dr., turned right on Lincoln St., and followed that to Sitka National Park. The Salmon were running and it was quite a sight watching thousands of Salmon squeezed together slowly making their way upstream.
We docked at berth A. I booked Orca Spirit Adventures independently ($95 online vs. HAL excursion rate of $129) Orca Spirit has free shuttle pickup, which was good because we were late again as usual. We saw a family of transient Orca's just 30 minutes after leaving port. The boat followed them until the Race Rocks lighthouse and the Sea Lions ensconced there. Orca Adventures is located next to Fisherman's Wharf, and is halfway between the ship's dock and town. Victoria was a nice town to walk around and have dinner, (All-aboard was at 10:30pm) and do some last-day souvenir shopping.
We chose a late departure 9:00am-9:30am and used Shuttle Express to the Airport. Departure was quick and painless even with some extremely long but fast moving lines at Customs. Less