This was the first cruise for my husband and I- we were with my parents as well as my sister and her boyfriend. My parents had previously sailed on the Westerdam in January so we had a leg up as far as finding things on the ship.
Embarkation: We arrived in Seattle the day before embarkation, which turned out well because we got up in the morning and headed to the pier. The embarkation process was rather slow (they only had one metal detector/x-ray machine!) but we expected lines upon lines so it wasn't a surprise. Once onboard, we went straight to the Lido buffet for lunch, which was a nightmare, as expected, since it was basically the only place for everyone to congregate. But, all in all, embarkation went pretty smoothly and our rooms were ready earlier than we even expected.
Accommodations: My husband and I shared an outside cabin with my sister and her boyfriend. Tight quarters, to be sure. My parents had a verandah- one with a wraparound corner balcony. Both rooms were nice, although four people in an outside room was a tight fit and I definitely wouldn't recommend it! One word of caution- the rooms are advertised as having sofa beds, but these are not your everyday sofa beds. They do not pull out. Essentially the part of the sofa that you sit on flips over and that is the sofa bed- it is probably smaller than your average twin bed. Our plan was to sleep two people on the sofa bed, but once we got there, we realized this wasn't possible. We were told by our travel agent that we could have four people in one room- however, once we got on the ship, they would not provide us with a cot to sleep that fourth person. However, they would bring the cot to my parents' suite. So, we took it in the elevator and brought it to our cabin with little to no trouble and it was left at that. Tight quarters indeed, and we left our steward a nice tip for all the trouble he went through working around the cot and cleaning up after four people in such a small room! Anyway, the verandah suite was very nice and I would highly recommend having a balcony, as it was quite handy to have in Glacier Bay.
Dining: I am a notoriously picky eater, and a vegetarian at that. However, we all ended up eating quite nicely on the ship. We had most of our dinners in the Vista Dining Room, and the food was always very good- we loved having so many courses. (And may I use this opportunity to say that we saw a woman in the dining room wearing pajama pants on informal night! )Most of the time, however, we had lunch in the Lido- we generally eat casually at home, so we had our fill of pizza and pasta at lunchtime and left the fanciness to dinner. We also had one dinner at the Pinnacle Grill (which was very nice, although as a vegetarian I would personally not spend the $20/person again&the food is just as good as what's in the dining room) and one lunch at the Terrace Grill, which was also very good. Towards the end of the cruise we did start to grow tired of dinner taking upwards of an hour and a half, and just wanted to grab a sandwich! But, being able to just relax and be served was really nice and we did enjoy it most of the time. We ordered breakfast to the verandah suite most of the time and it was lovely to eat on the balcony! Breakfast was always pretty good, with the exception of the day they mysteriously ran out of bagels. Also, the milk and yogurt were always lukewarm, never cold. We braved the Lido for breakfast one day and it was nice, although busy. If you have a hankering for pancakes or French toast, it's worth it, although I prefer to sit in my room in my pjs and forego the pancakes! Also, my major complaint with the dining was that the one time we ordered breakfast room service to our outside cabin instead of the verandah suite, it never arrived. We had to leave for an early excursion and the food did not arrive within the window we selected, so we had to run to the Lido and grab something before leaving. We were very disappointed with this, not only because we had an early excursion but also because the service had never been an issue in the verandah suite. We did order room service for snacks at other times and it worked out well (again, we ordered it to the verandah suite which I suspect played a large part in receiving good service). However, apparently the whole ship ran out of chocolate chip cookies! They are listed in the room service menu, but they never had them and brought oatmeal raisin instead, even when we specifically asked for chocolate chip. So, I would caution not to get your heart set on ordering certain items from room service, as we were told a few times that they did not have what was on the room service menu.
Service: Other than the breakfast room service debacle, service onboard was excellent. We occasionally left notes for our room steward making small requests and he always fulfilled them. Our dining steward was likewise very nice and efficient, and he and the wine steward knew after a few days what we liked to drink with dinner. Every staff member we came in contact with was very kind and seemed happy to be there (which was surprising considering some of their back stories! Serving spoiled Americans for a year at a time in order to feed their families, and happy to do it). My dad sent his sweater to be laundered and it ended up being shrunk to the size of a five year old's sweater- they refunded what money he had paid for his sweater with little or no trouble. Likewise, the activities staff were very kind. We especially liked cruise director Drew and "money man Mark", aka the senior assistant cruise director. They were all a lot of fun.
Entertainment: One thing my husband and I loved about cruising was the plethora of entertainment. Normally when we vacation, we go and see the sights and then sit in our hotel room, staring at each other! This time we had plenty to do. At night we enjoyed the shows in the Vista Lounge- specifically the comedienne, magician, and of course the cast of the Westerdam who put on really great song and dance shows. Also at night they hosted fun little games like Jeopardy or the Newlyweds Game, which were always fun to watch. We ended up in the Northern Lights Night Club probably more nights than we should have, but it was fun. It wasn't busy at all the first couple of nights but after that it was pretty busy at night. The DJ takes requests left and right so if you want something played, all you have to do is ask. During the day we enjoyed bingo and team trivia (which we unfortunately didn't discover until the second to last day!). My advice would be if something sounds fun, go and observe at least. They will never force you to join anything, so you can go check it out and see if you're interested. If not, you can discreetly slip out, or just continue watching.
Glacier Bay: The first place we went was Glacier Bay, where the ship didn't dock, but we cruised through the park (and may I take this opportunity to say that we knew we were going to Glacier Bay months ago, despite what other posters have said. I don't know where they got their information, but apparently not the right place). It was really beautiful and we were glad for our balcony, because we saw seals and bald eagles and mountain goats right from our balcony! They had nature experts on board to speak about the sights of Glacier Bay, although we did not partake in this.
Juneau: Our first "real" port. We did the Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Watching trip, and we really liked it. Mendenhall was really neat and I would recommend hiking over to the waterfall to the right of the glacier if you're capable. This left us with little to no time in the visitors center but it was more than worth it. You get right up close to that glacier! The whale watching tour was with Allen Marine and it was excellent, we saw about 30 whales that day. The guide was very knowledgeable and helpful. Juneau itself was a neat little town, reminiscent of the gold rush days. We had the obligatory beer in the Red Dog Saloon (quite a cool place) and then went into some shops.
Sitka: We were not too impressed with this little town. There wasn't a whole lot to do, and the tendering is a pain in the neck. Passengers who have suites get to bypass the tender line, and boy are they lucky. Otherwise, you have to go to a room (on the Westerdam it was the Queen's Lounge), get a number, and sit down until they call your number. All the while they're blasting a commercial for some type of jewelry over and over and over again on the TV screens. Then once you get your number they lead you down two floors and you wait in line to get on a tender. All in all quite a pain, especially considering Sitka isn't really worth the trouble. The one sight we did enjoy was Castle Hill, because it afforded good views of our cruise ship and the mountains around us. We weren't impressed with anything else, including the shopping. However, the excursion we did was our favorite of the trip- the 4x4 Wilderness Adventure. It was nice because this excursion only allows 6 people, so we didn't have to wait for a huge group to go everywhere. We took a pretty crazy boat ride out to an uninhabited island, where we rode our ATVs around the island at about 20mph. We saw a rainforest and a beach, and it was really pretty. The 4x4s drove over a lot of bumps and through puddles, so it was quite a thrilling ride- highly recommend this excursion if you are so inclined. The other members of my group went on the Sea Otter viewing tour (also with Allen Marine) and said it was very interesting.
Ketchikan: We found ourselves wondering why we spent so much time in Sitka and so little in Ketchikan. We had no time to view the town but others in our group said it was really nice. In Ketchikan we did the Misty Fjords boat ride, again with Allen Marine. At this point we were "excursioned out", so to speak. It was about an hour boat ride to the fjords, and while they were definitely beautiful, we wished we had opted out simply because we had taken long excursions for the past two days and weren't in the mood for another one. The fjords were worth it, but the two hour boat ride round trip got a little taxing. Once again the Allen Marine staff was very knowledgeable and helped spruce up the ride a little bit. If we could do it over, we would have liked to have done a quick excursion in Ketchikan and left ourselves time to look around the neat little town.
Victoria: Again we found ourselves wondering why in the world we spent so much time in Sitka considering Victoria and Ketchikan have so much more to offer! Firstly, we were to get into Victoria at 6pm. 6pm came and went and we were not docked. Finally at around 6:30pm they announced that we could get off the boat. The thing is, every other time we got off the ship, we got off on deck 2. So, everyone was lined up on deck 2, only to discover that we had to get off on 1 or A instead. There was mass confusion, not to mention massive lines due to the fact that we were late getting in. Basically getting off the ship was a nightmare and our excursion left a full hour later than planned. The excursion we did was Victoria: A City Haunted. We have mixed feelings about this. We loved the city tour we got- again our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out pretty much all of the important sites. We visited the Maritime Museum, which is supposedly haunted, and Ross Bay Cemetery. The museum was interesting in and of itself (it has an old courtroom on the third floor, as the museum used to be the courthouse). However, we were sat down in said courtroom when it was about 75 degrees and stuffy and someone stood up in the front and told stories. Most people seemed rather bored, and I'd have to agree with them. We would rather have been walking around or shown artifacts or pictures or something other than being given a lecture. Ross Bay Cemetery was very interesting and the stories were told quick and to the point, and it was rather nice. It seems as if we could have spent a few days in Victoria, not a short six hours!
Disembarkation: We had a few personal snafus, such as someone forgetting their jacket and THEN not being able to locate their key card (which you need to get off the boat, so they know who is on and who is off). The lines were atrocious, as expected. But, once off the boat, it was smooth sailing (no pun intended). We flashed our passports at the customs people, found our luggage in no time, handed over our customs form, and were on our way to the airport.
All in all it was a wonderful trip- my husband and I are already planning our next cruise! There were a couple of negatives but nothing that wasn't hugely outweighed by all the positives. I'm still suffering from cruise withdrawal!