We were traveling with my senior parents, three children (10, 12, 13) and my husband and I...
My favorite way to read reviews is by subject, so I wrote mine in the same fashion. Hope it helps with your amazing cruise planning!
We flew AA from Tulsa to Seattle - stayed in Seattle for 3 nights before our cruise sailing date so we could get the kids (and us) adjusted to the time change. This worked out really good for us - we enjoyed Seattle so much (Space Needle & Pike's Market) - our hotel was wonderful. We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn Lake Union - there were 7 of us and we had a beautiful 2 bedroom suite so we could all stay together. The hotel was across from a beautiful bay and just minutes from Pier 30.
Embarkation - Wow! They do have it down to a fine art. We arrived via limo (it was actually cheaper to rent a limo for our party of 7 and 13 pieces of luggage from our hotel rather than 3 taxis) to the pier. We arrived around 10:45 a.m. and a porter was there to greet us, take our large luggage stack and direct us to the right place. We waited in a short line (two couples in front of us) and were completely checked in, photos taken, birth certificates shown, credit card slips turned in - in less than 20 minutes. We sat down in some blue chairs in this warehouse type building for just a few minutes. At 11:30 sharp the giant gangway door opened and we proceeded up the gangway to embark on our wonderful cruise. We were met at the door and ushered up to the Neptune Lounge where we stashed our carry-ons (yes, we took lots of Diet Pepsi and Dr. Pepper - more on that later) and then were treated to yummy snacks and drinks. We relaxed for a while and then headed up to the Lido for the buffet lunch. Following lunch we explored a while and then went back to the Neptune until our cabins were ready. More on the Neptune later.
Cabins - We were in suites 7071 & 7073 - amazing rooms. The verandahs were huge. They removed the panel between our verandahs and we had great access the entire week to come and go with ease. Each verandah had a large table with four tables, a small table and two cushioned chairs with ottomans (a cool teak made furniture). We were very comfortable with our group of 7 sharing the two cabins. The dressing area/vanity was such a nice touch. There was so much storage we didn't even use it all - and we had quite a bit of stuff. Each person got their own closet space (they're divided into 6 sections - each with their own door) - each closet has a rack at the top with two shelves that can fold up if not needed. I have now been forever spoiled to having our verandah (we didn't have one on our former Disney cruise) - it was so nice to hang out and enjoy the scenery - a must for the Alaskan cruise - there is just so much to see. Our cabin steward was Tono - he was from the Philippines - one of the nicest people I have ever met! I would consider us a bit of a challenge with 3 children - he never missed a beat - we kept trying to catch him there - he was so good about coming in the moment we left. Our room was spotless. He made the most awesome towel animals - the kids looked forward to those each night. We saved them all along the back of the couch - I think he liked it that we liked those so much. We tipped Tono a $20.00 bill (from each cabin) at the beginning just as a token of our appreciation for all that he would be doing for us. Tono never let the fresh fruit plate or the ice bucket run out. He was truly amazing! We miss him already!
Suite Passengers also get free laundry and drycleaning (Well, I guess that's relative - you pay for it with your room purchase.) We used these services every other day - it was so nice to have everything freshly pressed and hung. Our clean clothes that we requested to be folded were placed in a basket and covered in tissue paper - such a nice touch. Every single item that was sent out was returned perfectly pressed and cleaned. They even got a lipstick stain out of one of my daughter's jackets!
Neptune Lounge - Michelle and Melanie - what can I say? They were our concierges for the week. These two ladies were amazing They met every need before we even asked! My son turned 12 on Tuesday of the cruise. We came back to our cabin after lunch to find the door completely decorated with balloons and a "Happy Birthday David" poster. He was elated!! We walked into the Neptune on that first day to store our carry-ons and from that moment on they knew each of our names - my children thought that was very, very cool! How do they do that!?!? We also scheduled our dinner in the Pinnacle (more on that later, too ) As well as my massage - oh - it was so nice! One day, my son asked if they were going to have any more chocolate covered strawberries and they replied that they would try to get some. Within the hour they showed up with a plate of strawberries for him - it was so much fun! We could not believe they had time to take care of our chocolate covered strawberries - they do so much stuff for so many people. You also get amazing coffee, all you can drink hot chocolate and juices in the Neptune. They also change the food out several times throughout the day - so you may drop by one time to snack and by the time you return the people from the Pinnacle Grill have changed the food out. We dropped by several times each day for snacks, drinks, DVD's or just some nice peace and quiet. My children all three received very nice compliments from Melanie and Michelle - we were so proud. They visited even more than us. (The hot chocolate was delicious!)
Be sure to order your free hot appetizers to be delivered to your suite each day at 4:00 p.m. This is especially great for those with the late seating - just enough to tide you over until you get to eat the good stuff. The appetizers changed each day - they were delicious!
The Lido Buffet - Great food - amazing view. The only draw back on the Lido buffet is the amount of time it takes to get in each line to get your food. They have several stations throughout the buffet area. Each station carried different foods. The only problem is to minimize the spreading of illness (very good idea) they serve cafeteria style - and while this is the only way to go on a cruise for health purposes - it takes a very long time to wait on each person. When you're serving 1800 - the line tends to creep. There were many times that part of our group would be completely finished eating by the time the rest of us stood in the line. Some lines were longer than others - for instance - you could get spaghetti in no time, but the other lines might be 20 people deep. Try to hit the Lido on off-peak times - we found that going at 11:30 or 1:00 worked best (be careful though, they stop serving most of the foods by 2:00 ish) for lunch and 7:30 for breakfast. The waffles on the breakfast buffet are the very best I've ever had - they were simply delicious - my most favorite food in the lido! They serve those every day And, that line moved very fast.
Room Service - We ordered room service almost every day for breakfast and ate out on the balcony. What a fantastic way to start our day together. We would pull all the chairs together from both decks and munch away while gazing at our ever-changing scenery. You could order muffins, bagels, toast, eggs (scrambled, fried or omelette), bacon, sausage or ham, hash browns, croissants, yogurt, cereal, juices, hot chocolate (they bring the whole pitcher ) And coffee - another whole pitcher - it stays hot quite a while. We always tipped $3.00 for each cabin because our orders were always so big - of course, this is optional. We really enjoyed the delivery guys - they were always nice enough to carry it all the way out to the verandah for us. Room Service asks that you call them when you are finished - they request that you do not place the tray out in the hallway - they are too narrow as it is.
Vista Dining - I truly cannot say enough good things to justify our positive experience in the Vista Dining Room. We had the 2nd seating upper level (7:45 p.m.) Table 29 right by a window. Joko and Heinke were our servers (I can't remember their official titles) - they were absolutely the most attentive wait staff I have ever experienced. After the first night the children's drinks were waiting when we arrived. Andrew's hot choc arrived after every meal (literally following his last bite) and my husband's coffee (decaffeinated because of the hour) came with dessert each night. They knew each of us by name and were so patient in helping the kids figure out what each item really was and if they really wanted it. They also rolled up kid's menus for them just in case. (We will never forget these wonderful friends we made - they were outstanding at their jobs! Antonio was the wine steward and even though we do not drink, he was also in charge of the kids' sodas and made sure they were served in giant glasses with straws. (We ate in the dining room each evening (except for the Pinnacle Grill Night). On Friday night they did the parade for the Baked Alaska - sparklers were everywhere - so much fun! The kids loved it - it was very festive!
Pinnacle Grill - The food in the Pinnacle was excellent - the service impeccable, however, we just missed that personal touch that we received from Joko and Heinke. The staff in the Pinnacle was a little stuffy for our tastes - they did not do a bad job - just a little uptight. No jokes were made (Antonio even comes around and does magic tricks for the kids) They did a fantastic job - but we really missed our wait staff upstairs. We will probably skip out on the Pinnacle on our next cruise with HAL.
Cruise Staff - My husband and children were thrilled with those Dam Dollars - yes, it bothered me for a couple of days when they said that. The Activities Assistant and Cruise Directors did an amazing job with keeping fun activities going throughout the cruise - especially on days at sea. They had golf chipping challenges, free throw challenges, putting challenges, shuffle board challenges and more - each activity earned the winner Dam Dollars - my family totally got into this and earned over $30.00 by the end of the cruise. On Saturday, you got to go to the Store by the Lido pool and spend your Dam Dollars on HAL souvenir stuff.
Drew Murdock was our Cruise Director - did an excellent job - very personable - but most of all you could tell he truly loved his job and respected his staff. They are truly a giant family - and depend on each other so much as many of them leave their families for a year at a time. I so much appreciated seeing that side of Drew - he was great! He also had a wonderful staff working with him - attitude reflects leadership - everyone was wonderful!
CLUB HAL - We had two children in the Tween Club Hal age group (age 10 & 12). Each night their itinerary would arrive with the main itinerary. They would sit down with their colored highlighters (each person in our group had their own color) and they would highlight the activities that interested them. We would then tape their itineraries on the closet door by the main door so that they could easily pop in and see what time their next activity started. HAL allows kids 9 and up (either 9 or 10) to check themselves in and out. This sounded kind of scary to me at first, however, it really worked out great. We just set some guidelines - like they could only go to the room if they checked out before our pre-arranged time and they had to check out together (10 year old daughter/12 year old son) if either one needed to leave. This worked out great. A couple of times they had these scavenger hunts - Oh My Goodness - they loved these. They would go all over the ship gathering the items on their lists. There were strict rules in place - no running, polite manners etc...or their team would be disqualified. The teams who came in first got Dam Dollars. It was wonderful. On my son's birthday - Liz, from Club Hal - she was so good with this age - had ordered him a huge sheet cake with Happy Birthday David written on it - WOW Talk about going above and beyond She was great! (Oh yes - during the orientation at 5:00 p.m. on the first day they made it very clear - in a nice way - that they preferred for children not to move up - but they could move down.) There were about 20 kids in this program.
The Loft - Kaitlyn - It would be our pleasure to entrust our teenager with her anytime. She ran an excellent, well-rounded program for some of the hardest guests to please on the ship - teenagers. She knew how to keep it cool - but fun. I think there were about 15 kids who came to this program - which we were happy to hear. Many kids were still in school on our cruise dates so the number was minimal. Their activities ranged from fake casino nights to scavenger hunts to charades to Guy vs. Girl night. Bingo was one of the favorite activities with HAL logo prizes. They had two flat screen tv's for movies and a juke box to select music videos. There were also two flat screens for the two Play Station 2's. They also played board games - generally socialized constantly. On the last night they had a good-bye party and got t-shirts that everyone signed. Andrew came away with new friends and great memories. They can't wait to go on a warm water cruise and hope to see one another there.
Overall, he gave The Loft a 10! Lots to do - all the time all the way up to midnight each night! But you can come and go whenever you like 24/7! Fun!
Weather - We had heard it rained every single day where were heading - so we planned accordingly. I think we had convinced ourselves that we were going to enjoy our trip despite the rain and just have fun. This helped a lot - to have realistic expectations of what the weather was going to be like. This is not your warm water - sunshine makes or breaks the day - kind of trip. Seattle was overcast and gloomy most of each of the 4 days we spent prior to the cruise. Each day in Seattle the sun made an appearance. They call these sunbreaks - interesting. It drizzled on and off a couple of times each day too - strange weather. By the time we sailed on Sunday the weather pattern seemed to change a little and it was sunny for a while - then cloudy again. But - thankfully that was not the case for the entire trip.
Hubbard Glacier - beautiful - beautiful weather - about 55 degrees - with a bright blue sky - and warm sunshine - on our balcony we were shedding the coats while we were in the sun - but once the captain turned that ship around we put them back on.
Juneau - Unbelievably beautiful weather - 65-70 degrees - sunshine most of the day. The guys in our group headed out to play golf (so they could say they played golf in Alaska) and went in short sleeves. Sitka - Blue skies and 65 - we did our whale watch at Sitka (more on that later) and were so pleased with the beautiful weather for our catamaran ride.
Ketchikan - Overcast - a little cooler - 55-60 degrees - sweatshirt weather - it began to sprinkle as we were getting back on the ship.
Victoria - We arrived in Victoria at 6:00 p.m. - so the sun was starting to drop. It was overcast - but nice enough weather for shopping. 60 degrees at 6:00 and then dropped to maybe 50 when we boarded at 10:00 p.m.
Funny - when we arrived back in Seattle it was raining pretty steady - but we enjoyed watching disembarkation from the balcony.
Port or Starboard? One of my questions when we were planning our trip was whether the ship docked on the port or starboard side at each port. We were trying to choose the side that faced the town we were docked at - we thought this would be more fun with the balcony. Our suites were odd numbered and on the starboard side. Here is how the ship docked at each port on our trip:
Seattle - the Starboard side was facing Seattle.
Hubbard Glacier - both sides of the ship get equal viewing time.
Juneau - the Port side was facing Juneau but the Starboard had a nice view of mountains and scenery on the our side.
Sitka - we tendered - I believe the Starboard side was facing Sitka (quite a distance away).
Ketchikan - the Port side was facing Ketchikan.
Victoria - the ship backed into this port - but the Starboard side faced inward.
We were a little sad when we docked each day and we weren't facing in - but we were delighted when we realized that we had a fantastic view each day too!
Ports of Call/Excursions
Seattle - we stayed in Seattle for a few days before our cruise - definitely would recommend the Space Needle and the Pike's Market (two days would be recommended for Pike's Market - Eat lunch at Lowells and go to the top floor (of three) - their shrimp basket is divine - my dad had the fish and chips - equally delicious! We saw the Science Fiction Museum - wouldn't recommend it unless you are a devout sci fi fan - the kids were pretty bored. Ride the Ferry. It has a restaurant, 3 levels, several bathrooms, video arcade games and more - very cool if you don't live around the ocean - my children had a good time - very inexpensive ride - lasted about 90 minutes round-trip.
Juneau - Juneau was our favorite port - the t-shirt shop on the far left when you dock is the best and least expensive spot for your souvenirs for those you have on your gift list - tons of Alaska stuff - great prices. We ate lunch at the Red Dog Saloon - it was very busy and quite noisy - fun atmosphere. We also went on the Canopy Zip Line Adventure here - we used a new company that uses a safer breaking system (most of them use the hand break system where you actually grab the line to slow yourself down). My 10 year old loved it - she just jumped right off - never looked back - there are 6 zips - from 400-600 feet long and 80 feet off the ground - you zip from one tree to the next - you only have to climb a couple of flights of stairs and the rest is downhill from there. We also loved the Mt. Roberts tram - takes you to the top of the mountain and provides an amazing view of the ships (there were four in that day). There is also a movie, shopping and a restaurant up on the mountain. Nice excursion.
Sitka - We did the Sea Otter Quest and Raptor Center excursion here. It was great They called us down to the Vista Lounge at 7:30 a.m. Then, we stepped off of the ship and onto our catamaran for our Sea Otter Quest. The sun was shining - the sky was blue - the seas were calm. Great day to go in search of Sea Otters. We saw two groups of Sea Otters - one set were females with their babies on their bellies So cute. We saw a couple of seals - they said seals were very shy - so we only caught a glimpse of them. Then, the whales! Oh my goodness - these creatures are so majestic - we saw a couple of Humpback Whales with their beautiful tales - our captain got us really close - our footage is wonderful. They served unlimited hot chocolate and coffee. They also came through the cabin with a couple of treats (baked salmon and a pastry of some sort). We were taken to the pier and from there got onto an awaiting bus to whisk us up to the Raptor Center. We saw several eagles and one up close in an assembly style presentation. He was so big - his claws huge. The Raptor Center rescues eagles, owls etc..and nutures them back to health and then releases them back to the wild. Occasionally an eagle is injured beyond repair and take up permanent residence at the center - they are beautiful creatures!
After our excursions we shopped and then took the tender back to the boat. Very Fun Day!
Ketchikan - We didn't have any excursions planned for this port - we just relaxed and shopped until we dropped. We had purchased quite a few of our souvenirs in Juneau so we didn't have much left to purchase - the city is beautiful - larger than we thought. I think we set sail around 2:00 p.m.
Victoria - We arrived at 6:00 p.m. The temperature was a little cool so we bundled up and headed out. There are shuttle busses waiting to take you to town - cool double decker busses - the cost was $5.00 per person for unlimited rides. So, we loaded up- headed to the top and enjoyed the 5 minute ride to town. They run constantly so getting a ride back to the pier was not a problem. The drop off/pick up location is right in front of the Fairmont Empress. Take time to tour the hotel - it is amazing Government Street is the main shopping area - we started our trek up the street and spotted a Canadian McDonald's - we couldn't resist - our children were having french fry withdraw. So, after a few burgers and fries and of course the photo op we were back on our way. There were some great knick knack stores - my daughter collects snow globes and she found a Victoria one for under $10.00 - you also get Canadian change back - we have money as souvenirs as well. We boarded the ship by 10:00 p.m. mainly because it was getting so cold - ordered up some soup and burgers and watched as the ship sailed away from beautiful Victoria. Equally beautiful were the Princess and NCL ships all lit up that were in port at the same time we were.
Seattle - We were so sad to be back - our 7 day cruise just flew by and, it was raining again in Seattle - kind of matched our moods - we were ready to sail away again .
Entertainment - The entertainment was fantastic. Julie Barr was the resident Comedian - very funny - even in conversation she was funny. There was an excellent magician - perhaps more comedian than magician but his illusions were great!! The Westerdam Cast - awesome. There were some very talented singers and dancers in the this group. Our favorite production was on Friday night - they did songs from every era along with full costumes. Even "Singing In the Rain" - it was fabulous! I have to admit there were a couple of nights we went to bed following dinner - we were just too tired. The late seating (7:45 and 8:00 p.m.) show is at 10:15. That would be 12:15 a.m. Oklahoma time - by the end of the cruise we were better at staying up past midnight.
Dress Code - I can honestly say that I did not notice anyone breaking the dress code. There were a couple of jeans on casual nights. You have to really, really pay attention to what people are wearing as they come in to actually notice what they're wearing - for when they are seated they rarely get back up until after dinner is over. On the two formal nights everyone seemed to really adhere to the dress code. There were maybe 10 men in tuxes during our seating - most men wore dark suits. Most women wore cocktail dresses or really nice church clothes. No one stood out - no one really cared. Way to much hoopla over the Dress Code - everyone was really just there to have fun and enjoy themselves. There was much laughter and enjoyment as people got to know their new tablemates - friendships were made and many toasts were given. We loved our dining experience - very positive!
Disembarkation - We weren't flying out for another day so we opted to stay on the ship until 9:30 a.m. We ordered a huge room service breakfast - as well as snacked on the treats in the Neptune Lounge. By the time we got off the boat the main rush was over and we strolled off - found our luggage - turned in all forms and caught our transportation "Seattle Express" to our hotel at the airport. Disembarkation was even easier and low stress than I had read. Hats off to HAL for making the sad job of leaving the ship quite easy and effortless!!
To sum it all up here are some not to be missed items:
1. Afternoon ice cream in the waffle cones and freshly baked cookies.
2. Bread Pudding in the Lido (it's kind of hidden around a corner - be sure to ask for it if you don't see it).
3. The BLT Sandwiches from the Lido were really good.
4. Take your own Pepsi or DP and ask your room steward to clear your mini bar when you get there. It was so nice to sit out on the deck with a Diet Pepsi and a snack. (The ship only carries coke, sprite, diet coke etc...)
5. Board the ship early - snag a window seat and enjoy the view while you dine on your first shipboard lunch in the Lido.
6. There are no chair hogs in the pool area on Alaskan Cruises - so head to the pool area to let the kids swim at your leisure - chairs and towels are never in shortage. Because the ship has this state-of-the-art retractable roof - you could swim and/or enjoy the hot tub whenever you got the urge.
7. The first day at sea (if you are sailing all the way up to the glacier first) was a little rough - Bomine worked great for my dad and I and the kids were fine. One pill worked all day long.
8. If the sea is rough - take the kids to swim in the pool - there is a magic wave machine - they had so much fun.
9. Don't overpack!! We really only wore ½ of the clothes we took.
Most of all have a blast - the week goes by so fast - participate in as much as you'd like - take long walks on the deck with someone you love and enjoy the sunset (and sunrise if you're an early riser). This was truly the best family vacation we have ever experienced.