For years my husband & I have dreamed about visiting Alaska by sea. We laugh now how things fell into place to bring the dream alive within a mere 26 days. Bill bought a new old Studebaker for half of what he budgeted so with his savings, I called Alaska Cruise lines and booked a guaranteed outside balcony cabin aboard the Oosterdam's June 9 sailing.
Upon online check-in with HAL, we received our cabin assignment. 8143 was at the very rear of the ship on Navigation deck. We had a spectacular 180 degree view that truly enhanced our cruising experience. We couldn't have asked for a better cabin.
Embarkation was a breeze. We were dropped off at Pier 91 at 12:30pm and were sipping wine from the balcony of our cabin at 1:50pm. The process of embarking 1800+ passengers in a mere few hours involved what we felt was an efficient use of the Disney system of queuing. The lines moved in an orderly fashion and Bill & I were so busy talking to fellow passengers that we really didn't notice.
I specifically chose the Oosterdam over NCL, RCL, and Carnival ships because it doesn't cater to families. There were families aboard and the children seemed just as happy with the ship as we were. I should mention we didn't know there was a kids' activity center on the Observation Deck until the last day at sea. And, because the Oosterdam stopped at Sitka. I'm not sure why the other ships don't tender into the port, but I'm rather glad they don't. Sitka isn't spoiled by 5000 tourists descending upon them at one time. It's a beautiful place with the warmest of people.
Bill & I don't need much in the way of entertainment so we took great pleasure in spending our time walking the Promenade Deck, sitting outdoors by the Lido Pool, talking to fellow passengers, and viewing the coastlines of British Columbia and Alaska. So we weren't disappointed in any of the on board entertainment and activities. We didn't expect Las Vegas quality shows so weren't too critical of the entertainment.
We enjoyed the on board naturalist, Jeanette, who prepared us for what to see and do in each port. We didn't pre-purchase any shore excursions. We opted to wait until we got into port and were glad we did. Each port has a line of kiosks offering sightseeing tours. A savvy traveler can save up to half the cost by waiting. However, I can't be sure this would be good advice during Alaska's high tourist season during July & Aug. There are limited tour operators and things could be tight when there are numerous cruise ships arriving at the same time.
The ship has a Digital Workshop featuring quite a few Windows 8 computers. There are daily workshops that are very informative for the tech-interested. I learned SO much about using Windows photo programs. Techspert Rob has the patience of Job making sure everyone attending the class understands what he is explaining.
The Behind the Scenes Kitchen Tour is a must for anyone interested in how a ship can prepare 15,000+ meals per day. It was enlightening and I must say, our food throughout the week was excellent. The variety, preparation, and presentation made each meal an event. We opted for open dining and always asked for a table for 8 with the desire to meet as many people as we could. Each evening we had a different server. Each server was anxious to please and treated us with such attention. Bill & I felt the portions were perfect. We're bragging the fact that we didn't gain a single pound yet we ate well and certainly didn't go hungry!
While HAL has no control over the weather and we were certainly prepared for WET, to everyone's joy, our cruise week weather couldn't have been better for June. We had sun with 70 deg temps. The folks in Juneau were thrilled to see a break in the rain.
I am reminded the first two days at sea were a bit choppy. Bill & I invested in "Sea Bands" to ward off any signs of sea sickness and they must have worked! We heard stories of a man yelling at the clerk at The Office demanding the captain do something about the tossing of the ship. We met folks who opted to wear the patch or had gotten a shot from the ship's doctor, but we preferred staying awake to being drugged. Sea Bands can be purchased at any pharmacy, but are not available in the ship's shop.
Our cabin stewards, Handy and Amin, were so attentive.(Oh, how I miss them!)And the critters formed out of towels were such a small but anticipated delight. There was always a smile on their faces. I felt absolutely AWFUL when I broke a small table. I rested my foot on it and oops........Before I could find Handy/Amin to report & apologize, it was replaced during the short time we were out of the cabin. Like he had a 6th sense! And the lock on our cabin got stuck and was fixed by some invisible repair person.Our happiness was their first commandment.
We were also very fortunate to sail the week the Philippines celebrated their independence. Bill & I felt the pride of the Filipino crew aboard. They also gifted passengers with a small glimpse into their culture by way of a late evening show. It was obvious to us the performers were giving up their free bit of time to present the show. Again, this isn't a Vegas production, but none-the-less enjoyable!
As my mom used to say the last night of summer vacation, "All good things must come to an end." Seven days went by very quickly. There were so many things to notice and experience. What a bit of a shock to discover the beautiful parquet flooring as we were making our way down a corridor for the last time. I mean, when did they put in that floor!?
This review is more about the ship and HAL than about the ports. There is so much to see and each port has its claims to fame that can be researched in a myriad of places.
We're plotting our way back to Alaska next year. Glacier Bay, Haines, and Skagway will need to be on the ports of call. I hope a second trip doesn't mean Bill has to buy yet another Studebaker!
While there's shopping in each port, we felt as if Ketchican was all about shopping. We did get excellent bargains at Tongass Trading and found some unique stores among the norm.