This is our first cruise so I will primarily focus on the things that a first time cruiser can contribute. Our party of 6 (1 senior, 2 adults and 3 kids) booked three verandah stateroom on deck 4 (Upper Promenade). They were far forward (4001, 4003 and 4004) and similar except in one respect. Cabin 4001 was quite a bit noisier than the other cabins as it was right next to a forward crew area. Additionally, the balcony did not have a forward awning to break the wind. That was good for the view and not so great for comfort. Also, we did not find out until late in the cruise that the balconies of adjacent rooms could be opened. That would have been nice to know. The reason we found out about this was because the lock on our stateroom broke such that we were unable to open our stateroom on the last full day of the cruise. We had been having periodic issues with our keycards to all the staterooms but this was a real inconvenience on our last day. This was the only aspect of the cruise that was not well handled by Holland America and, coincidentally, occurred right after we finished the guest satisfaction survey. Key problems seemed to be a recurring problem with a number of passengers on the ship.
The primary reason we picked this cruise over other options on Princess and HAL was the opportunity to visit both Tracy Arm and Glacier Bay as well as see the inside passage via Vancouver. In hindsight, we certainly would not have wanted to miss any of these aspects. The service call at Tracy Arm where we directly boarded the catamaran to Tracy Arm went smoothly. When we boarded the catamaran it was raining and foggy. If we could have cancelled the trip I would have strongly considered doing so since it looked like we were not going to be able to see anything. Good thing I didn't because the scenery was nothing short of incredible. Once we got back into the arm where it narrows we were greeted with more waterfalls than I can remember falling off sheer granite cliffs into a milky green bay full of colorful icebergs. For Lord of the Rings fans it looked a lot like Rivendell. The small catamaran maneuvered right next to a number of waterfalls allowing numerous picture taking opportunities. At the end of the fjord, we turned up toward Sawyer Glacier (South Sawyer was too icy) and pulled fairly close to this beautiful tidewater gem. There was some calving and still numerous waterfalls coming off the steep granite walls. The comparison John Muir made to Yosemite is quite apt. Upon returning to meet the cruise ship in Juneau we grabbed a quick bite and grabbed a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier with a stop at the fish hatchery. It was fun and beautiful but a little overpriced.
The next day found us in Skagway where we rented a van from Avis and drove to Emerald Lake in the Yukon. This was a nice drive and a nice day with a mix of sun and a little rain. The kids enjoyed our stop at Caribou Crossing and the sand dunes at Carcross.
The next day in Glacier Bay was the highlight in a trip with a lot of highlights. We lucked out and had beautiful weather which undoubtedly greatly added to the experience. I awoke at 5:45 to experience the whole thing. The scenery was so unbelievably beautiful that tears came to my eyes on several occasions. Admittedly, I am more of a sucker for scenery than most but suffice it to say it could not have been more spectacular to my eye. The unbelievable colors, tidewater glaciers, high glaciated mountains and wildlife combined into a feast for the eyes. Kudos go to the captain for taking us up John Hopkins Inlet in addition to Tarr Inlet with Marjorie Glacier because it was wonderful. I do not believe the Princess ship that visited Glacier Bay that day made it up Johns Hopkins Inlet so big kudos to HAL (and Captain Turner). Most of the whales were concentrated near the beginning of the bay and there were numerous pods of humpbacks feeding, breaching, etc. as we left. We then headed out to open ocean around Prince of Wales Island to head to Ketchikan. The scenery heading out to the open ocean was also quite a site.
The next day found us in Ketchikan where we had chartered a boat for an afternoon of Salmon fishing. We all had great fun with Jordan Box of Jordan Box’s Fishing Adventures. He picked us right up from the dock, was great with the kids, and worked hard to help us catch fish. We caught quite a few Salmon (kept 9, released or lost at least that many) and a few rockfish in our 4 hour charter. I have been fishing in Ketchikan previously so this was the shore excursion of choice for us.
On board, I will politely say that we do not see eye to eye with many of the styling choices in the interior of the ship. The Lido restaurant was particularly bad and a place where we ended up spending a lot of time. The long cramped stateroom hallways were a bit of a downer and it seemed like the carpet didn’t match the walls, which didn’t match the faux artwork etc. I guess our taste is more sedate (boring) but we really enjoyed all the outdoor areas and the Crow’s Nest/Explorations Café.
The staff was, almost without exception, wonderful and friendly but we are not high maintenance people. Our room steward in particular stood out as did a number of the wait staff. We had open seating for dinner and ate in the Vista Dining Room most nights. The only time we experienced any wait at all was the last night when they told us to come back ½ hour later and sit with the late seating upstairs. I know Holland America has a good reputation for food but it was better than I expected—often really good, sometimes excellent. It has to be hard serving that many people at the same time but they pulled it off about as well as could be expected.
We enjoyed the two shows we attended (comedian and magician) and took in a few movies in the screening room. My youngest enjoyed the kids club the few times he attended. My older two kids were a little too shy to fully embrace the teen’s club and only went a time or two. We spent a lot of time on the sports deck which seemed to be badly in need of a little maintenance on the netting, equipment as well as some new balls. It seems like HAL could spring for a few more family/kid friendly facilities (i.e. foosball tables, more ping pong tables, video game machines that do not require you to be in the kid’s club etc.).
Overall, we had a great time and very pleased with the choices we made. I was a reluctant cruiser as I don’t like to be around a lot of people but that rarely proved to be much of a problem. I am sure we will cruise again in the future and would definitely give HAL strong consideration.