Fabulous 1st-time Alaska Cruise - Seattle > Juneau > Sitka > Ketchikan: Oosterdam Cruise Review by BackslashAZ
Overall Member Rating
Fabulous 1st-time Alaska Cruise - Seattle > Juneau > Sitka > Ketchikan
The ship was very comfortable in a sophisticated way, our balcony stateroom was large by cruise line standards and very comfortable, the food (with minor exceptions) was excellent, the entertainment was fun, the spa was luxurious but, above all, the service was phenomenal.
Our Indonesian room stewards greeted us even before we entered our room, introduced themselves, learned our names and asked if we had any immediate requests. During the remainder of the cruise they greeted us warmly by name, made up our cabin when they wouldn't be in our way, provided a second sprucing up and turndown while we were out for More the evening and left us needing nothing.
The only staff that surpassed our cabin stewards for level of service were our dining room stewards. Our table steward and his assistant, both also Indonesian, were friendly, omnipresent without being intrusive, and concerned with making sure that everything, and I do mean everything, was perfect. We signed up for the late dinner service at 7:45 each evening. It worked wonderfully for us, giving us time to clean up from shore excursions, have a wonderful perfectly paced four-course meal and still have time for late shows or laid back time in one of the ship's lounges. We had a four-top dining table set for two right next to the windows looking out over the ship's wake. It was the little things that made the service top-notch. At our second dinner our friendly servers greeted us by name, paced our dinner perfectly for the two of us and, remembering that my wife had ordered after dinner coffee the previous night and I hadn't, served her coffee and asked me if I would like any. They had noted which bread we ate and which we left uneaten the night before and our basket was filled with our favorites and not the others for the remainder of the cruise. They quickly determined (correctly) that we liked efficient, unobtrusive service with a little chit-chat while the Japanese party of three at the next table preferred a quiet but more ostentatious presentation and close attention by the wine steward, and that the large younger group at the table on the other side of us wanted to have a lot of interaction and conversation with the wait staff. Everyone was catered to in the most amazing, personalized and pampering way.
We had one pretty rough evening on the ship. Little white bags appeared next to all of the elevators and in our stateroom even before things got bad. At dinner, some of the tables were sparsely populated or outright empty. My wife had a single bite of her appetizer and one bite of her salad before deciding that she was going back to the cabin. She didn't feel like she was going to throw up, just that eating was completely unappealing for her. Our head table steward came over to me immediately after she left to inquire after my wife's welfare and make sure that there was nothing that they had done to cause her any problem. The next night their greeting included a hearty welcome back for her and what felt like real concern that she be feeling better.
Barmen, lounge wait staff and lido deck food servers were all professional and quick to serve as well.
As for the food, everything we had in the main dining room (breakfast, lunch or dinner) was very good to excellent, presentation was beautiful and freshness of ingredients was obvious. All of the sauces and soups we had were wonderful, seafood was fresh and cooked just right and steaks were cooked exactly as ordered. In most restaurants my wife, who likes her steaks rare, orders medium rare because so few places get rare right. She found that ordering a rare steak on this cruise produced one perfectly done. Salads were crisp and vegetables were never overcooked. The only things we found lacking in the dining room were the crusts on pies and other pastries. After the first couple of less than flaky, dry crusts we steered our dessert choices to wonderful chocolate cakes, elegant baked Alaska, etc.
We ate in the extra cost Pinnacle Grill our second night on the ship to celebrate our 26th anniversary and had a pleasant experience but didn't think it was worth doing again. We paid $50 out-of-pocket for an upscale meal but were disappointed, not because it was bad but because the main dining room was so good that there wasn't much room for improvement. My filet mignon was a heavenly cut of meat cooked perfectly, but sides were average, prawns were slightly overcooked and we felt the level of service was not an improvement over our dining room experience.
The food at the lido deck buffet stations was so-so. They did some nice things like cooked to order omelets and pressed sandwiches, and very fresh cut fruit and salads but the rest (Italian, burgers, pizza and Mexican) were average at best. We ate there only on embarkation day and if we missed times for meals in the main dining room. Okay, I admit I did make a few stops specifically for scoops of rocky road in waffle cones. The first 48 hours of the cruise the buffets were not self-serve as they were trying to avoid the possibility of any viral outbreaks so everything was served by staff.
Entertainment was hit and miss. The ship's show singers and dancers were not very good. After the first welcome show we didn't attend any other shows with them. We had a magician one night and a ventriloquist/comedian another night. Both were pretty good and we enjoyed their shows. The best theatre show was the one put on by the Indonesian crew members. They showed us some of their culture, some talented song and dance performances and a little comedy, a very fun time. There were also small groups or individuals that performed in the ship's lounges. A classical duo of piano and violin was fun to listen to as we watched the ocean go by, a solo pianist in the piano bar led sing-alongs of Beatles songs one night and 60s and 70s music another. There was also a solo guitarist that played at night in the crow's nest lounge who had a pretty good set, took requests and had a lot of slightly sarcastic fun with the late night crowd. We ended up there on multiple nights. We attended a really fun karaoke night, a champagne art auction, cooking demos, small-scale drink tastings and a walkthrough of the ship's kitchens. We participated in trivia contests and I played in a Texas hold 'em tournament. We enjoyed happy hours and late night dessert showcases. We never made it to the movie screenings, computer classes or informational/educational lectures since we were busy doing other things. All-in-all we didn't feel like we were ever hurting for something fun to do.
Most everything is geared to a bit older crowd. At 51 and 45 we were below average age on the ship. Our cruise had some young couples, a small number of teenagers and very few children.
The public areas of the ship are very comfortable and generally well-appointed. The main theatre stage area seats a good number at tables in front and tiered seats behind and in the balcony, but there are several large columns that give some seats obscured views of the stage. Nearly every lounge/bar seat has an ocean view. Our favorites were the intimate piano bar and the crow's nest. The crow's nest has a bar on one side and a coffee bar on the other, a small dance floor, a large library, computer stations and lots of games, puzzles, etc. The 270 degrees of curved walls host seating with great views of the ocean. We loved sitting here with a drink or a coffee, watching the waves roll by and occasionally spotting a whale.
Onboard shopping was overpriced, as expected, but they had some really nice things, duty free shops, etc.
Our stateroom was good size, cozy but not too tight. The queen size Posturepedic pillow top bed was awesome, as good as any hotel bed I've slept on. I dread hotels because I sleep terribly in anything but my own bed at home. But even on open ocean nights with a good deal of ocean roll we fell asleep almost immediately and slept right through to the arrival of our morning room service. There is plenty of storage in the room. Our cruise was in Alaska so, of course, we brought a lot more clothing than we would on a tropical vacation. Even so, we found places for everything. There is more than enough hanging storage that can be converted to shelves and there are cubbies or drawers under beds and couches, below vanities and on open shelves. The bathroom was nothing special with a single small sink, an open shelf vanity, small shower with retracting clothesline and vacuum flush toilet similar to an airline toilet, but the room was efficiently laid out, water was hot and everything worked just as it should. Outlets are scarce so we brought a three-way splitter that allowed us to charge phones and tablets and use blow-dryers and other appliances. Our balcony was private and comfortable and even a little bigger than I had thought it would be. We spent a good deal of time sitting there or leaning on the railing when it wasn't too windy, watching the world go by. On our day in the Tracy Arm Fjord I was out there for hours.
We went once to the spa. Services are pretty pricy but if you wait a few days into the cruise they start offering special packages. My wife signed up for a "ladies night" special that included an hour of massage and an hour in the hydrotherapy pool and on the heated tile chaise lounges, so relaxing. When she signed up she asked if husbands could take advantage of the promo as well and they readily signed me up. We paid $99 each for our two hours of pampering. It was great. I've never been more relaxed.
Another reviewer complained about not having enough time in ports as if it were a surprise. The schedule of the ship stuck to the itinerary exactly. We knew going in that we weren't going to have a ton of shore time. That was fine with us since, as first time cruisers, we were fine with most of our time being onboard. Shore time IS tight on this particular cruise since it starts and ends in Seattle. They have a lot of ocean to cover in a tight time frame. You cruise the Tracy Arm Fjord, and have shore time in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan Alaska as well as Victoria, BC. Shore time was lacking in Ketchikan and Victoria at six hours each, but we still enjoyed all the wonderful towns we visited, some adventurous shore excursions and some casual shopping and dining on shore. If you want a cruise with a maximum amount of time on land, you'd be better off with one of the one-way Alaska cruises.
As a first-time cruise experience this was better in every way than we had expected and, like I said, has spoiled us for any other vacation. We would definitely cruise with HAL again and we're busy recommending this cruise to friends and family, really anyone that will listen. Less
Cabin review: VC4073 Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom
Our stateroom was good size, cozy but not too tight. The queen size Posturepedic pillow top bed was awesome, as good as any hotel bed I've slept on. I dread hotels because I sleep terribly in anything but my own bed at home. But even on open ocean nights with a good deal of ocean roll we fell asleep almost immediately and slept right through to the arrival of our morning room service. There is plenty of storage in the room. Our cruise was in Alaska so, of course, we brought a lot more clothing than we would on a tropical vacation. Even so, we found places for everything. There is more than enough hanging storage that can be converted to shelves and there are cubbies or drawers under beds and couches, below vanities and on open shelves. The bathroom was nothing special with a single small sink, an open shelf vanity, small shower with retracting clothesline and vacuum flush toilet similar to an airline toilet, but the room was efficiently laid out, water was hot and everything worked just as it should. Outlets are scarce so we brought a three-way splitter that allowed us to charge phones and tablets and use blow-dryers and other appliances. Our balcony was private and comfortable and even a little bigger than I had thought it would be. We spent a good deal of time sitting there or leaning on the railing when it wasn't too windy, watching the world go by. On our day in the Tracy Arm Fjord I was out there for hours.Read All Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom (VC) Reviews >>
Port and Shore Excursions
Beautiful, blue and huge, the glacier is a must see. There is also an incredible, powerful waterfall from snowmelt runoff. We only had an hour at the site so we skipped the visitors center and took the two mile, easy hike to the base of the waterfall and got a much closer look at the grandeur of the glacier. We took a ton of photos of both attractions along with plants, insects and eagles on ice flows.
Be aware that you don't get right up to the glacier unless you do one of the expensive helicopter tours. And you can take public transportation up to the glacier if you'd rather do this on your own rather than as part of a shore excursion and you'll save quite a bit.
This tour was okay but not great. The crew were good, the boat was comfortably warm inside with the opportunity to go up-top if you chose. It was also a stable ride with none of the 100 people on our tour getting sick. The whales just didn't cooperate. We only saw two, a mother and calf the crew told us. And we didn't get very close.
After the boat, we stopped at a nice little lodge to eat. The meal was so-so except for fresh salmon grilled on arrival which was wonderful and you could have as much as you wanted.
Snorkeling in Alaska? You've got to be kidding, right, but this was pretty cool. There are no glaciers in the area and there is a warm current so it's warmer than you'd think. They provide you with a thick wetsuit complete with hood, booties and gloves. If they fit right you get a thin layer of water between you and the suit which keeps you warm. Too loose you're cold, too tight and you can't move or breath well. Make sure your suit fits and you'll love this.
This isn't like snorkeling in a tropical setting. You can't see forever and the colors aren't vivid but you swim through kelp forests and see starfish, jellyfish, crabs and sea anemones.
And people won't believe you actually snorkeled in Alaska.
Best shore excursion we took in Alaska. It was incredible. Our wonderful captain, Reilly, took us out for an exciting adventure.
You ride in a zodiac-type raft. If you don't know what that is, google it. It has an inflated three foot diameter tube around the outside and a metal floor. Each of six passengers ride on straddle seats. It's kind of like sitting on a small motorcycle or something with your feet on the deck. There is a handle to hold onto and you can sit on or stand over the seat.
You shoot over the waves at 30 miles per hour for twenty minutes out and twenty minutes back with over an hour looking at wildlife and scenery. They take you out to a beautiful island bird sanctuary where you see millions of birds. It was completely amazing. The ocean undercuts the shore to make sea caves, one of which was large enough for the captain to float us into.
We saw dozens of sea otters on a large kelp bed in addition to all of the birds. On the way back our captain spotted a whale spout about a half mile away. He expertly moved us to and parked us in the perfect spot to see the whale when it resurfaced, up close and awesome.
You get bounced around quite a lot, which we found exhilarating. But, don't take this tour if you have serious back problems or bladder issues. Otherwise, don't miss this! It is phenomenal!
We hadn't scheduled anything in Victoria since we were only in port from 6 pm to midnight. Downtown shopping, dining, etc. aren't right at the dock. We stepped off the ship and paid 10 bucks each for a round-trip to downtown. We strolled through the beautiful downtown where nearly all the bars and shops were open throughout the evening. We shopped and window shopped and then went up the street to Chinatown. We ate a really good meal at Don Chees restaurant. It was very good, especially the chow mein noodles.
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