This was our thirteenth Alaska cruise and our second with Holland America. Our first was on the old Rotterdam. We have also been there on four other lines. This was our second 14 day cruise that took in ports in outside in southeast Alaska.
We flew from San Francisco to Seattle on Virgin America, leaving SFO at 8:45 AM and arriving at SEA at 10:45 am. When we arrived at the baggage area, we were greeted by a Holland America representative who said she had been looking for us. She indicated that we should go to the other end of the baggage area where a bus would be ready in a few minutes. We waited there for about 20 minutes and were then on our way. The trip to the ship took about 30 to 40 minutes with commentary from the driver the whole way. When we arrived at the pier, we left our luggage on the bus and were processed though check in immediately. Our cabin was ready and we dropped our bags and went to the main dining room where they had lunch for past passengers. They also had the lido restaurant open for people not using the main dining room.
Although neither of us is handicapped, we took a handicap room (# 2555) because it was available. These rooms are generally about twice the size of an ordinary room and have very large bathrooms with large showers. They cost the same as any other inside room, but are like having a suite. The room had a king size bed with about four feet of space to the wall on each side. I thought the bed was very comfortable, but my wife did not agree. There was a couch, table and two chairs plus about 9 feet of closet space. Night stands on each side of the bed had two drawers. Additional drawers were in the vanity, but there were not enough drawers for two people. The closets had to shelves to make up for the lack of drawers. The cabin was well located on deck two close to the forward elevators, but we were not bothered by any noise from them. We were only a short distance from the exit door usually used for disembarking at various ports. The main showroom was just two floors above us. It was very convenient to get to this room or the observation lounge on the top deck of the ship. It was a little farther to walk to the main dining room at the other end of the ship. The front desk was just two decks above us.
The Amsterdam is a nice size at 62,735 tons and one never felt crowded with a guest capacity of 1368 public rooms are comfortable and easy to find. Everything about the ship has been very well maintained and maintenance was constant during the cruise. One must look very closely to find any signs of wear or damage. Seats always seemed to be available in the showrooms. It was seldom necessary for anyone to stand during a performance.
There was a problem with gastro/intestinal illness and they restricted the use of certain items onboard like salt and pepper shakers or any other item that might be handled by several people. They also shut down the self-service laundries for several days because of this illness. However, they reduced the price of the ship's laundry by 50% during the time they were closed. We had a couple of bags done at $10.00 per bag and were happy to pay that amount.
We had anytime dining in the main dining room. We usually went for dinner between 5 and 6:30 PM. Never did we experience any problem getting a table as soon as we arrived. We usually shared a table with any guests arriving at the same time we did. The service was always excellent in the dining room. On only one occasion was it necessary to wait a long time for our food. That was at breakfast one day.
There always seemed to be plenty of waiters available. The lower floor of the main dining room was used for anytime dining and many tables were empty at each meal.
The service in the Lido Restaurant was not as good as in the main dining room. There were often lines that moved slowly even though the servers were moving as fast as they could. We felt that this was due to the fact that people were not using the main dining room as much as they usually do. Free tables were sometimes hard to find at all meals.
NOTE! There seems to be a shift away from formal dress on formal nights. We were surprised to see this on a Holland America ship. HA has always had a reputation for being more formal than most other cruise lines. We observed many more people using the lido restaurant on formal nights and wearing the same clothes that were worn during the day. We even found ourselves doing it on two of the 4 formal nights during the cruise. We just did not feel up to wearing formal clothes four times during one cruise.
We used room service on a few occasions. We found them to be prompt and the food well prepared. I had scrambled eggs one day that were far superior to those in the dining room or the lido restaurant.
We like to go to the shows in the evening, but prefer the single entertainer acts rather than the production shows. Unfortunately 6 of the 14 nights were production shows. We did not attend any of them, but we heard negative comments from guests that saw the shows. Some said they stopped going because the performers appeared so amateur. There were two comedians, one juggler, one ventriloquist, one singer and one that did impressions. The impressionist was excellent and one comedian and the juggler were very good. The others seemed to be struggling to keep an audience. One night they had a movie. Two crew shows were done at 11 PM on different nights, but we were in bed hours before they started.
We were surprised that Holland America made no attempt to let passengers know about the availability of free busses at ports to shuttle people into the town centers. We used them at Ketchikan, Anchorage and Kodiak and found out about them by reading other Cruise Critic reviews of past cruises or just asking HA employees when we got to the docks. We found no notices in the Explorer newsletter distributed to our cabin daily.
We have visited Alaska during all the summer months when ships are cruising there and have always had comfortable weather. This trip was the first time the weather has been cold and windy. We were not encouraged to stay in the towns much more than a few hours before we wanted to return to the comfort of the ship.
In Ketchikan we took the free shuttle bus from the dock through the downtown area and up the hill to the fish hatchery where we got off and walked back down Married Man's Trail to Creek Street. We enjoy watching the spawning salmon work their way up the falls above town, but there were very few fish in the creek during this visit. We always enjoy visiting Ketchikan and used to spend time at various stores that sold locally made art objects of various kinds, but now the city is full of jewelry stores run by companies from the Caribbean area and a walk through downtown has become boring. What a shame!
The weather was very good when we entered Tracy Arm. We went all the way to the glacier before turning around. We have been in Tracy Arm several times, but this was only the second time we have seen the glacier. After leaving Tracy Arm, we anchored just south of Juneau for the night and pulled into town around 7 am. It was drizzly and chilly.
In Juneau, we went to the library that is right next to where the ship docks. There we used one of their computers to email home. Many of the ship's crew and passengers have found out about this facility and were also in line to use the computers. This is also a good place to buy a used book at a $.25 each.
Downtown Juneau, like Ketchikan, is also overrun with jewelry and T-shirt shops. There are a few places that still sell locally made items, but they are hard to find. We visited a few and found our way back to the ship for lunch onboard.
At Icy Strait, we took a walk down the beach and through the woods on a loop trip that ends near the finish of the Zip Line run. This is a beautiful walk on a good day. There was no rain and we found the walk very enjoyable even though we have done it before. We spent some time in the shops at the converted cannery before returning to the ship. On past stops here, we have seen a lot of whale activity around and close to the ship but not on this trip. Other passengers said they had seen whales near the ship earlier in the day, but we missed them. This is one of the best places on this cruise to see whales from shore or the ship.
At Anchorage, we took the free shuttle into town and were dropped off at the Egan Center. We walked around the corner to the visitor center where we got on the trolley for a tour of Anchorage ($15.00 per person for 1 hour tour). The driver did a great job showing us her city and providing some history of the various areas we visited. Much of what she told us had to do with the earthquake that hit Alaska in the 1960s. She was a teacher that had just retired after 30 years at a local school and really spoke with enthusiasm about the area. The tour was well worth the cost. After the tour, we walked several blocks to find a restaurant that had been recommended by ship personnel. When we got there, the line was out the door and we were told the wait for a table would be about an hour. We ended up looking through a few antique and souvenir shops and returned to the ship for a late lunch followed by a movie in the ship's theatre.
At Homer, the ships docks out near the end of the Homer Spit. The dock is on a side road about a half mile from the shops along the spit. A free shuttle was provided to take people from the ship to the shops. We got off the shuttle and walked to the end of the spit to see if anyone was catching fish there. This is a favorite place for locals to fish for flounder and other fish that frequent the gravelly area near the spit's end. Only a few people were there and they were not having much luck. The weather turned cold and rainy just as we approached and everyone decided to call it a day and try again some other day. We walked back to the shop area and visited every place that was open, then took the shuttle back to the ship. There was another shuttle that went into town and cost $15.00, but other Cruise Critic reviews stated that it did not stop at any place of interest and was overprices for the service provided, so we decided against it. We have been to Homer before and have seen about all that it has to offer. The best was to see the town is by rental car and making up your own tour.
At Kodiak, we took the free shuttle into town and were dropped off at the Chamber of Commerce at the intersection of Center Street and Marine Way. Only one bus was taking people into town and it took about half an hour or more to make a round trip. We waited for at least 20 minutes to get the bus to town. After arrival in town, we walked about three blocks to the Alutiig Museum. It is a small but very interesting historical exhibit. It is well worth the $5.00 admission charge. After leaving the museum, we walked across the street to the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church to take a few pictures, and then walked two a block back to the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center at 402 Center Street. There were several interesting displays here and an interesting movie was shown upstairs. We noticed a long line waiting for the shuttle bus and decided to get into line so we would not be late returning to the ship by 2:30. The wait was almost an hour while the bus made two round trips to the ship before taking us. They could have used two busses.
There was a thick fog hanging over Yakutat Bay when we arrived on our way to Hubbard Glacier. Not much could be seen until we were almost all the way up to the face of the glacier. It was raining heavily and a very cold wind was blowing. Thank goodness that this ship has a good observation room above the bridge. It was packed with people that did not want to spend the morning out in the rain and wind on deck. We all strained to see seals on the ice flows, but did not get quite close enough to view them with binoculars. The glacier did calve a couple of time to the delight of the folks onboard.
The morning we arrived in Sitka, I came down with the gastric/intestinal problem that had plagued the ship and was restricted to my room for 24 hours. Sitka is always the highpoint of any Alaska cruise that includes this port and I was very sad to miss it. We had planned to purchase day tickets and take the local bus to all the places visited by the bus lines. We especially wanted to visit the Fortress of the Bears and National Historical Park, which we had not seen since our first visit in 1987. My wife was able to go to town long enough to replenish some locally made items that she had bought there on our last visit. I did sneak up on deck long enough to take a number of pictures of the beautiful island all around this gorgeous harbor.
On the last sea day going south to Victoria, I spent much of my time on deck looking for whale activity. Not much was seen until the afternoon when we were passing the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the sea came alive with dozens of pods of Humpback whales on the starboard side of the ship. We had a great time watching them for over an hour. Every few minutes the ship would pass another group and some even approached the ship.
Victoria was its usual beautiful self. We picked up a map from one of the docents near the ship and followed the recommended route from the dock to the downtown area. It is a very pretty walk through the residential street with many pretty homes along the way. Downtown, we took the tour of the Parliament building, something we have not done since our first visit in 1987. We were pleasantly surprised to find the wonderful restaurant in the basement of the Parliament building and had a late lunch there. The Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich was fantastic and the first I have had since our visit to eastern Canada 20 years ago. It was just as good as the one I had then. If you find yourself in downtown Victoria, don't pass up the opportunity to have lunch in this very nice restaurant.
The cruise would have been more enjoyable if the weather had been better, but that is the way it is in Alaska. We have had very good weather on most of the 13 cruises we have taken to Alaska, so can't complain about one that did not go our way. At least it did not rain that bad in the few ports where it was wet. The service in all areas of the ship was very good and the crew did everything they could to make the cruise comfortable and enjoyable for the guests. The food in the restaurants was bland and not up the standard of Holland America as we remember them from past cruises on this line. The single act entertainment has definitely gone downhill and should be reviewed by management. More information about port and shuttle busses should be included in the Explorer newsletter. Overall there was nothing about this cruise that would set it apart from similar cruises on other lines. It will probably be a while before we take another Holland America cruise. I can only give it an overall rating of average.