NOTE: This was my second cruise to Alaska, but the first for my husband. (Ironically my first Alaska cruise was on the old Statendam after it was sold to the Paquet Line and renamed Rhapsody. She was still a lady.)
Our trip started shakily. We were an hour late out of Chicago heading for Dallas-Ft Worth. Needing to avoid a big storm meant we had to land in Wichita Falls, Texas to get more fuel. That was another hour out of our 3 hr dinner layover. On arrival we raced from Terminal A to D, well the Skytrain did most of the racing, and made our plane. We landed on time in Vancouver in the middle of another big storm. Then waited 2 hours for our luggage because the lightening made it too dangerous for the luggage folk to be out and about. AND we made it LOL
The rest was smooth sailing, so to speak. The Metropolitan Hotel was great and just up the street from the cruise terminal, but with luggage we took a taxi. Canada Place is glorious on the outside and totally utilitarian on the inside. And it works. How well it works: on our return we exited the ship, cleared formalities, found our luggage and took a taxi to our hotel. The total elapsed time was 45 minutes.
I cannot say enough good things about the Volendam. Yes it's a bit worn. No it doesn't have high-end finishes, and you can feel some of the results of the cutbacks enforced by Carnival. But it was CLEAN, the staff were warm, welcoming and helpful. The captain, Peter Bos, is a total rockstar. He got to show his mettle before we even sailed. There was a "situation" on deck 4, which turned out to be a fire in a light fixture. Once the cause was located we were told exactly what was going on. Midships was closed off and embarkation was paused for about an hour or so. He and the crew were totally professional. And the life boat drill was before we sailed and VERY serious as well as organized and there was a second drill for the stragglers. Both drills were repeated when we took on new folk at Skagway. Captain Bos also obviously loves Alaska as he would announce wildlife sightings with evident enthusiasm.
Our cabin (DA2550) was perfectly located. I chose better than I knew. Close to the elevator, but not too close. Laundry down the hall on our side. But the best part? At Skagway and Ketchikan all we had to do to exit the ship was go to the stairs and turn right or left. And at Juneau it was just 2 flights of stairs down. It was also very convenient for getting places on the ship.
Food started out great, and then, especially in the Lido Cafe, started to look tired and a bit messy, lthough the dining room did pull it together for the last International Night. A word of advice. The stuff they list on the DR menu as available every night has to have been frozen. It was not up to the standard of the rest. And we got tired of the food in general. Another trick is even at open dining you CAN be assigned a table, but they don't guarantee it. I think the key is to wander up to the Dining Room right after boarding. We delayed and ended up at 5:30pm. But we got a table for 2, which we wanted. It wasn't guaranteed, but we had it every night. I think the secret is to be right on time. We had fabulous waiters and were right on the wine station. Not much wine was moving so Emma spent a lot of time talking with us. BTW set dining is on Deck 5 and open seating is on Deck 4.
PORTS: Sent husband on the Tracy Arm excursion, which he LOVED, despite low clouds and dreary skies. I got exhausted wandering around Juneau. Didn't get where I wanted, but ended up spending about an hour at the Juneau Arts Community Center talking to people. We had a late lunch at the Red Dog Saloon, which was both hokey and fun.
In Skagway we did the RT White Rail Pass train ride, which was just perfect. It was also our best weather day, although it did turn cloudy later. I'm glad we took the advice that the morning train tour tends to have better weather. The guide on the train PA system was excellent. We ate at Skagway Brewing Co. at Broadway and 7th st, right where downtown ends and houses begin. Skagway looks like what Disneyland Main Street would if Walt had been born in Alaska. It is a bit of a hike back to the pier, BUT you could get off the train at 2nd & B'way on the train's return trip instead of going back to the pier, so that cut off some walking.
What can I say? We had crappy weather for Glacier Bay. So we decided that "mysteriously brooding" was a good thing. It was pretty cold. Irish coffees were consumed. Our rangers were delightful young women, who obviously love their work. And Captain Bos was getting us pretty close for our size and pointing out the wildlife. Did I say he was a rock star?
Then, of course, Ketchikan gave us "liquid sunshine." Alas the Misty Fjords floatplane excursion was canceled (with an immediate and automatic refund that paid much of the bar bill) so we just wandered around. I had taken the floatplane trip on my first Alaska cruise and recommend it highly. It's not inexpensive, but it's hard to put a price on landing on a mountain lake and hearing the silence when the engines are turned off. We ate lunch at Alaska Fish House, which was local and fun. And then we "discovered" the SE Alaska Discovery Center. $5. gets you a beautiful 20 minute movie on the Tongass, a small area of nicely done exhibits on the ecosystem and native life, and a free DVD if you ask. We did give a contribution though. The people were just plain nice. It's well done. The recent upgrades at the Center were courtesy of the Recovery Act. Personally I thought it was a better investment than the lumberjack show, but each to their own.
The Culinary Arts program is obviously designed to shill for the Pinnacle Grill and heavily weighted (pun intended) towards chocolate and desserts, but the two sessions I attended were well done and we got to taste the food. It's a nice activity to have for an at-sea day. One thing I LOVED was that, rather than one big cocktail lounge there were lots of little nooks and places for drinks, coffee, reading, internet. We hung out on deck 5 a lot.
I had acupuncture and a hot stone massage in the spa.The first opened up a whole new world to me. The second was a bit more vigorous than what I expected. They were pricey, especially compared to my current acupuncturist. The entertainment was ordinary and the cruise director wasn't my favorite one in my cruising history, but on the whole you can just ignore that part, which we did after the first night.
I've been on more upscale cruise lines (Royal Viking Sea, NA Vistafjord and QE II as well as some more entry level ones, but the comfort of the Holland America middle-of the-road product suits our temperament and we will return, hopefully again and again:)