I'm a single mom and travelled with my parents and 8 year old daughter; all of us were HAL newbies, and had fairly high expectations just from having cruised a lot and the pre-conceived notions of HAL.
Before the cruise, we stayed in Kent at Hawthorne Suites by Marriott; they're condo/apartments and we had a two bed/two bath unit that was two stories and had a living room and kitchen. a regular hotel would have been fine, but we were there for three nights and the price of a downtown hotel, and parking, made staying in Kent much much more reasonable. it's near the airport, and anything you need is a ten minute drive maximum. it took us about 25 minutes to get downtown, but traffic was less than what it is on the east cost.
now, the first of two issues would arise before we even got on board. i had a rental car, and my mom and i dropped my dad and daughter at the ship with all the luggage since it wouldn't fit in one cab back to the port. port security sent us to the fourth and final drop off point; where there was not a single porter. it took us a little bit of time to get back to the rental agency (it really should have taken maybe 15 minutes, but i hit some traffic trying to refuel so it took longer). my dad called my mom and told her no porter had come down by where they were dropped off. in typical seattle manner it was drizzly and a bit chilly. 45 minutes later and they're still standing there, not a single porter came to help. now my dad being responsible, he wasn't going to leave the 8 year old alone to go all the way down to the first drop off point (maybe a football field length away) and he wasn't going to leave our luggage alone so he stayed with it all. when we got back to the port, i had the taxi drop me off right at the first spot and i said something to the security lady who sent us to the 4th section, and her response was "i can't tell them what to do, its not my job to send them down there" and i was flabbergasted. that level of rudeness was so unexpected and uncalled for. then i found a porter who was walking back to the loading area and i asked him for help, explained that my dad and daughter had been waiting for over an hour in the chilly wet alllllll the way at the end, and he walked as fast as he could with that cart down to us and loaded it all up apologizing along the way. he made a passing comment about how they were only supposed to drop off to area 3. someone dropped the ball hardcore and it put a damper on the check in process.
The ship... the Westerdam was amazing. For being an "older" ship (relatively speaking) it is kept in pristine shape. Having cruised several times on the spirit-class ships of carnival, the actual body of the ship was very similar, and getting my afts and forwards and port and starboards were pretty easy thanks to that. there is nothing tacky about the westerdam, it's the antithesis of a carnival ship... classy, artfully decorated, sophisticated and exactly what i would have expected it to look it.
the stateroom... we were in neptune suite 6095; a SB. we were the second room in from the center elevators and the glass elevators and it was a quick walk up a flight of stairs to get to the neptune lounge. i think being on 6 is better than on 7 with the majority of the suites... our room steward had less rooms, and was better able to give us his attention than on the 7th floor which was really nice. the room itself was similar to the suites on carnival, but the TV was on the desk and swiveled and there was an actual desk that faced the window allowing us to sit and look out. so alaska is VERY bright, and is very bright late at night and early in the morning so im glad we had clips to close the curtains all the way.
when you walk into the suite, there are closets to the right (3, but the third one has the safe) and the dressing area with 3 more closets to the right; through there is the bathroom with a dual vanity, the jacuzzi tub and then a separate shower (which tended to make a mess with the stupid shower curtain). then there were two chairs, a coffee table and the sofa which was teh double bed (which had to stay out once he put the board on it) and then the two single beds become a king bed which was very comfortable. the balcony had a table with four chairs and then two comfy chairs with ottoman and a small table between them. being alaska, we spend a lot of time on the balcony, but didn't eat out there on the table.
here is another gripe... we purchased access to the thermal suite for $299 for myself and my mom (150 each... part of the "first day special") they claimed only 50 were sold, and let's just go with, a massive waste of money to the point where i feel ripped off. the hydropool doesn't have anywhere comfortable to sit down, and the lounger bar things i found to be quite uncomfortable and made for someone who is 5'7 or taller not anyone shorter. the heated loungers were usually filled and no one abided by the 20 minute limit when busy rule; and one day (sitka) i went to use the warm lounger (which seemed to make my back hurt less) and they were ice cold; i told the aloof male employee and he sent his spa manager to check it out... she told me they were accidentally turned off and would be ready in ten minutes. at least 30 minutes later still cold, and she had told my mom a totally different story. then when i told her again they're cold she gave me another story and then i told her the sauna was off too and she told me it was one... it wasn't. it was room temperature and the stones where the dry heat comes from were cold to the touch. so yes. a total waste of money, and i hate to think people pay 199 per person to use that.
There were tons of activities... although being an Alaska cruise in May my parents were of the younger demographic and i had more in common with the crew than the passengers. there was bingo everyday, and i highly highly regret (my only regret in fact) missing the afternoon tea. but like most ships you can do as much or as little as you want. the cover to the pool was closed most of the time, so it was comfortable to relax there and read a book while my DD played in the pool with the other kids.
now here is where i'm going to sound like a fanatic. but this is such a big deal its important to stress. first, the bad. the pull out beds are HORRIFIC. and that's not even the right word. they are downright disgusting and should not be in used on a line that portrays itself as upper class and refined and should certainly NOT be found in a suite on any ship on any line. it's pretty embarrassing when the pull out beds on carnival (which i have slept on so i am speaking from experience) are more comfortable. i do not know why holland america has these painful disgusting beds, but had our room steward not been as amazing as he was, i would have been flying home from Juneau and calling the vacation quits. i immediately asked for an egg crate for the bed, but realized that wasn't going to be enough, and after the bed was pulled out i found our steward, Hendricks, and he IMMEDIATELY brought down several duvet's to put under the mattress to try and make it tolerable. so i slept on a half dozen duvets, the mattress (that was maybe 4 inches thick) and then the egg crate. i might have gotten 4 hours of sleep, woke up crying, and my neck and back are still bothering me. it really was just THAT bad. fortunately, Hendricks is probably the best room steward to have ever existed, and after a full 24 hours of trial and error, he was able to create a bed for me (a wooden board, 6-8 duvet covers, two mattresses, the egg crate and a lot of extra hours worked outside of his shift) that was actually almost comfortable. this is something that HAL needs to fix, because that's the ONLY thing keeping me from booking another cruise today.
our room steward worked so hard to fix the bed debacle, that he repeatedly checked to make sure i was okay, and when he thought i was hesitating, he would go out of his way to get it out of me, instead of just being like "okay you say its fine, then its fine" and walking away. instead he dug deeper and when i hemmed and hawed (because i felt TERRIBLE doing this to him) he bent over backwards for me.
generally speaking, the service on the ship was fantastic. our concierge, Dean and Margarete were incredible and the ladies were the most efficient and fabulous "front desk" that could be asked for. having the suite access to the neptune lounge really was awesome, having always travelled in a suite on carnival, experiencing how other lines treat their suite guests makes me want to write a letter to the CEO of carnival because its really shameful how they treat suite guests. anywhere we went on board once they saw our cards (like if we paid for a drink or something) the level of service (if even possible) increased even more!! it was unreal at time; it was late at night one night and the lounge was closed so we used the front desk to get a new DVD and we were ushered to the front of the line when the employee saw that i had a suite card in my hand. i was just holding it, not flashing it or anything and it was both shocking and uncomfortable to be ushered to the front ahead of a few others who were waiting longer than myself.
the ports were awesome... we did a gold panning and salmon bake in juneau; glacier bay there are no words in the English language to describe the beauty and incredible-ness of it (and the whales!!) the weather was so perfect HAL called in the helicopter to take video and photo's for press and commercials (which ruined the ambience but we got an extra hour or so there to make up for it); sitka was pretty cook and ketchikan was a good place to shop. victoria we didn't trek into, the line through customs was really long, and that was my dads birthday so we had dinner at pinacle instead.
the food on board was fantastic... the lido didn't have the best selection but i still think it was more dignified than on carnival. the burgers from the lido pool area was awesome and the breakfast in the pinnacle was INCREDIBLE. lunch in the dining room was also pretty good. the pinnacle for dinner was FABULOUS, and the meal was both filling and tasteful with the creme brulee dessert one of a kind.
Now, my daughter's favorite part... the kids club. she truly loves camp carnival so i was concerned she'd be less thrilled with Club HAL. being a may alaska cruise there were maybe 40 kids on board, with perhaps 10 or so in her age group so Club HAL was empty and they had a lot of fun and leeway with the staff in terms of activities. the glacier bay activities were INCREDIBLE... they did a junior rangers program and go to speak with the park ranger on board as well as the gentleman from the indian tribe that dominates the area (i can't spell the name of the tribe, and it's not phonetic). she loved club hal so much as soon as they opened she wanted to be there and didn't want to leave until 10p when it closed. the staff were also fantastic, in both the tweens group (my daughter's age group) and the younger group (they watched movies together). one massive plus is the staff are all america, which my daughter loved since we've had some camp carnival employees who she couldn't' really understand.
armand the CD wasn't my favorite, but after you've had Malcolm on the carnival miracle, it's hard to have anyone not as awesome as he is.
Disembarkation... was painless and sad because leaving is always sad. we were the first group and were off the ship with our luggage by 9am. customs was a laughable joke, i was almost embarrassed... they asked one question, "did you have a good trip," and that was that.
all in all this cruise was incredible, a massive disaster that was going to RUIN the vacation was dealt with by an incredibly amazing room steward who was so happy with his job and what he was doing that he dealt with me and the bed drama with a kind hand and a smile the entire time. i used to be a carnival loyalist, but Hendricks himself has changed me to a HAL convert.