The Zaandam Alaska cruise (Sept. 15-22) was also our first cruise. We arrived in Seattle a day early and found the airport personnel very helpful in arranging a towncar transfer to the downtown Seattle area for $35 (approx. the same price as a taxi). We had reservations at the Sheraton downtown and had no problem checking in early (approx. 11:00). We got our luggage situated and took off on foot to see the sites of Seattle. We found everything to be within easy walking distance and would recommend planning a good amount of time for Pikes Market which was a lot of fun. We walked to the Space Needle late that afternoon and enjoyed the view from the top as the sun set.
We took a taxi to the pier on embarkation day (about $10) where we were promptly greeted and our luggage quickly taken care off. There were plenty of representatives on hand to help direct us and we found ourselves onboard very quickly. We took time exploring the public areas of the ship while waiting for the rooms to be ready and upon the announcement that we could proceed to our rooms had no problem finding our way there. Luggage arrived a piece at a time and was all accounted for within the first hour. The room was very well prepared and there was no shortage of space to stow our clothing and other belongings. Our room steward introduced himself fairly quickly and we requested that the twin beds be put together which was taken care of before we returned to the room later that evening. We decided to handle our shipboard account with cash rather than a credit card which presented no problem, we simply went to the front desk where it was taken care of very quickly.
The ship is beautiful and very clean. We had no problem finding our way around. We rarely felt crowded and only occasionally found elevator waits to be somewhat long. We did make frequent use of the stairways when only going up or down a couple of decks. We had an outside room on the lowest deck (Dolphin Deck) and very near the front of the ship (1810). We did receive notice the night before arriving in Sitka that the ship would be dropping anchor approx. 2:00 am and to not be alarmed at the sound of the anchor dropping. I did hear the anchor drop but only because I happened to be awake, my husband slept thru it as I no doubt would have, it was not nearly as loud as we expected it to be.
We were a little surprised at the number of photos taken onboard. The first formal night we were required to go thru several photo lines before reaching the main dining room but there is no pressure to purchase the photos. We waited until the last night of the cruise to make our way to the photo gallery where we gathered all of our photos and determined which ones we wanted to purchase.
The food onboard was plentiful and very good. We ate all of our dinners in the main dining room where we received wonderful service every night. We found the dining room staff to be most attentive and felt pampered like never before. We ate most breakfasts and lunches on the Lido deck where the buffet was plentiful and the food was well prepared. We never had a problem finding a table by a window even on the most crowded of days. We did order room service for breakfast on a couple of mornings and the food always arrived exactly as ordered and was always hot.
The service aboard the ship was outstanding. The crew was amazing and several crew members were greeting us by name within the first couple of days of the cruise. These people work incredibly long hours and are on the move constantly yet never fail to greet you with a warm welcome and a big smile. Gratuities are automatically charged to your onboard account but we did tip certain individuals above that as we felt their service went beyond standard.
The onboard entertainment was good, the cruise activities staff were energetic and a lot of fun. Be sure not to miss the crew show where they will present you with a little bit of their home culture. It is obvious that they put a lot of work into this in addition to their normal duties and really is a wonderful experience.
Ports of call Juneau, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria B.C. We did not book any excursions in advance thru the cruise line. Upon arrival in Juneau there were plenty of vendors with booths set up with which to book excursions at a fraction of the price charged by Holland America. We booked whale watching with Captain Larry from the pier and had a wonderful time. Very knowledgeable staff and we had the opportunity to view many whales. Definitely recommend this tour. Glacier Bay was quite an experience, had no problem finding viewing areas on deck, plenty of warm blankets, and the U.S. National Park Rangers narration thru the ships loud speakers was very informative. Sitka and Ketchikan both presented rainy days, we donned our rain jackets, purchased rain hats on shore and spent both of those days exploring the cities on foot on our own. Victoria was a little disappointing as we did not arrive until 8:00 pm and only had four hours in port. There were busses available for shuttle into town at the cost of $5 per person. We were advised that it was easy walking distance so we choose to walk. When it became obvious that it was not going to be a quick walk we choose to return to the ship and spent that evening enjoying the ship activities.
Debarkation day came way too soon. The evening before we were presented with luggage tags which were coded by color and number. We were allowed to remain in our cabins until our code was called, and within fifteen minutes of being called we were off the ship and thru customs. Could not have been handled any better. I would advise marking your luggage to make it stand out, we painted ours with large yellow stars so they were quite easy to find, could have been difficult without markings which stood out. Taxis were waiting at the pier and we quickly found ourselves back in downtown Seattle where we had reservations at the Summerfield Suites for the night. We were allowed to check in at 9:00 am which was a pleasant surprise and had another day to explore Seattle before we had to leave.
A word of advise about flying out of Seattle, we had an early flight (6:30am) and arrived at the airport an hour and a half before flight time. Got bags checked easily and made our way to security where we were astonished to find an amazingly long line waiting to pass thru security. It seems that they were training security staff and it took a long time to get thru security, made it to the gate just in time to board for our flight.
We would definitely recommend Holland America to our friends and would not hesitate to book with them again. We are in our mid 40's and while we were among the younger cruisers we never felt out of place, there really is something for everyone.