After wanting to do an Alaskan Cruise for years, I did a ton of research and chose Holland America inside passage. The itinerary was great, priced well, and very scenic. Overall, the cruise was very nice but not great.
Leaving out of Vancouver's Canada's Place was easy and hassle free. My husband and I got in the night before and took a cab to the port. The drivers know the drill and knew right were to go, the bags were loaded right from the taxi to the ship and in our cabin.
First off, we were upgraded from a Veranda Stateroom to a Deluxe Veranda Suite, so that was fantastic. We were VIP fast track through the long customs line, and was able to board the ship first. Our floor (8 Rotterdam deck) was almost all suites and had a lounge and concierge available just for our floor. Even thought we were upgraded, I don't think it would be worth the price for the extra perks you get for a suite for 2 people. (The extra space for 4 people would be worth it). Our cabin was very nice, the complimentary laundry service came in handy.
Our particular cruise had unbelievably good weather the entire trip. After talking with staff and more experienced Alaskan travelers we were told on a 7 day cruise, you can expect rain at least 5 days. Gray overcast and fog usually plagues the trip. We had sun and clear skys almost the entire time, so the scenery was amazing. If the weather was not as good, it would have really put a damper on out trip.
Some of the reviews I read before leaving said the ship was in bad shape etc. I didn't notice this at all. A little wear-and-tear, but nothing worth complaining about. Our cabin steward was very friendly as well as all the staff. I don't think there is anything negative to say about the service of HAL staff.
The main thing we really started to NOT like at all was the constant "selling." It takes about a day to notice it, but eventually you feel like you are in one long sales convention. Constant invitations to special jewelry and art shows, spa "seminars" etc. The ships TV channels are mostly infomercials on things you can buy. Even the ship's magician had an afternoon "magic show" that was an hour of him selling his $130 magic kit. Not to mention being pressured into booking your next HAL cruise while on this one. One of the best marketing ploys I saw was for a jewelry show on the ship where you get a free charm bracelet at the end of it. Then in each of the ports you go to certain jewelry stores (Owned by the cruise line) and get your free charm. Plus, most of the shops in the ports are owned by the cruise lines and they employ there own people, so almost no money goes back into the local economy.
Also, things like the spa are "concessions" on the ship, not HAL employees. Be prepared for VERY hard sales pitch after any spa service. To the point of being insulted enough that you need their lotions, or cleansers etc. We learned this on another cruise line and we will not use any ships spa service again. A fellow passenger was so upset about how she was treated after a facial that I knew I made the right decision to boycot their services years ago. Now with that being said... we did pay for the "Hydro Suite" in the spa ($250 for a couple for the entire 7 days). They had an amazing mineral hot tub, thermal lounges, sauna, and steam room you could use unlimited through the cruise. (When the spa was open) We really enjoyed that and used it a lot.
We chose a set time in the dining room at 8pm, they sat us at a table by ourselves (just the two of us). On previous cruises we really enjoyed meeting people in the dining room and having company to chat with. But after seeing who got sat together, we decided to just sit alone. The table groupings were very odd, and it was obvious no thought was put into it. We witnessed a few people request table changes or to sit alone. The food in the dining room was about a 6 out of 10. Some nights were better than others, but it did not compair to other cruises where we raved about the food weeks later. We chatted with many others in the casino who really was complaining about the food. We did not go to the Italian restaurant or pinacle grill, but others said the food was very good, but service was slow. The lido buffet restaurant was nothing great, almost cafeteria quality.
Another thing I was a little unhappy with was the dress on the ship. In all my research I was under the impression that HAL was a little more upscale, and they say there's a dress code in the dining room. I believed them, and packed accordingly. Shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, jeans, ball caps etc.. were in the dining room every night. About 1/2 the ship did not adhere to the "dress code" so those of us who did, were usually overdressed. I realize this is not really HAL fault, but they should try to enforce it.
One of our fellow passenger was a tour guide and had 150 people in his group. He had a private party in one of the lounges and had a bar tab over $1600. The bar manager kept calling him in his room to book another "private" party and they will extend the happy hour for him. He never was given a single free drink, bottle of Champaign or thank-you note the entire trip. He was so turned off by the nickel-and-dime Holland American attitude he told his company to not use HAL again. We all joked it would be less obvious if they physically picked up each person tipped them upside down and shook them until everything fell out of their pockets before they got on the ship.
I just realized how LONG this review is... so I have to say; the upgrade was great, the staff was great, the ship was nice, but because of the constant selling, we will not be using HAL again.