My wife and I are seasoned cruisers. This was my 14th cruise, her 12th. We wanted to do something special to celebrate our 25th anniversary, and decided to return to Alaska, accompanied by her sister and her husband, who were celebrating their 35th (although they were seasoned travelers, this was their first cruise). We are simple people, who live a simple life, and have very simple needs. When it comes to cruising, these needs include good food, pleasant staff, and a good night’s sleep. In all of these areas, HAL’s msStatendam exceeded our expectations.
Although our vacation included three nights in Vancouver before the cruise, and six days in Alaska after debarking, I am going to limit my comments in this posting to the actual cruise experience itself, and save the land portion for a separate posting under the “Alaska” message boards. We considered the various Cruise Tours offered by HAL, but none of them fit our needs, so we did it ourselves, and really struck gold!
Embarkation was a piece of cake. I dropped off the other three and our luggage at Canada Place, returned the rental car, and walked four blocks to meet them. We then just walked through customs, showed our documents, and went on board. We were warmly greeted by the staff and shown to our staterooms. By the time we had enjoyed the delightful lunch and taken a quick tour of the ship, our checked luggage had already arrived and we had time to unpack before the mandatory drill.
We prefer inside staterooms near mid-ship. They did not feel cramped at all. The shower was larger than average and there was plenty of storage space. The room was quiet and well appointed. Our stateroom attendants were superb. I was pleasantly surprised by the DVD player and their system of checking out DVDs for free. Quite an impressive variety to choose from.
We have always chosen assigned seating in the dining room, but this cruise we decided the “anytime dining” option was preferable since each port had a different docking schedule. No two evenings were the same. We enjoyed the freedom to eat when we desired. We had one meal in the dining room, but chose the Lido most nights because we could eat in 30-40 minutes rather than taking an hour and a half to dine. We never tried to Pinnacle Grill or the Canaletto.
Overall, the quality and variety of food exceeded my expectations. Somewhere above RCCL and below Celebrity (in the pre-RCCL days), in my experience. The salads, beef, and soups were outstanding. I actually encountered a tasty hamburger at the Terrace Grill (a first for cruising). The ice cream and sorbets were excellent, though most of the other desserts were disappointing. I have read negative comments about the coffee in other postings, but I thought it tasted just fine. I’m used to Starbucks at home, as my son-in-law has been a Barista for years, but I found their coffee to be at least on par. My favorite meal, though, was breakfast. Cooked to order eggs or omelets, fresh-squeezed OJ. The only negative was the bread, as they seem to have no idea how to actually toast anything. I only had two mixed drinks on board, but both were excellent, and the bar staff was very friendly.
My major complaint would be with the Cruise Director staff. Their activities seemed to be more focused on the very small minority of 20-somethings on board, while ignoring the vast majority of those 45-65. The MC for nightly trivia was so self-absorbed and obnoxious that fewer people showed up each night – not a good sign. The floor shows were rather ho-hum. The comedian and magician were standard cruise fare, though entertaining. The sight lines in the “Showroom at Sea” (the main theatre) were absolutely awful. You either had to stand up or slump down to see the stage. There was no orchestra on board, but the group that played oldies and accompanied the Karaoke were quite good. I was not as impressed with the guitarist or the pianist, but the piano and violin duet were outstanding.
The ship is showing its age. Carpet on the stairways was quite worn. The seats in the Wajang Theatre, where they showed first-run movies at night and cooking demonstrations during the day, were so uncomfortable that many people got up and left. They really need to be replaced.
We did not book any excursion tours through HAL. I will discuss the ports in more detail in my posting in the “Alaska” message boards, but will outline what we did here. In Ketchikan, we took a walking tour of the area close to the ship, visited the Southeast Alaska Discover Center (well worth the $5 admission), and enjoyed the shops near the ship (free WiFi at the Salmon Landing Market). In Juneau, we rented a car and explored Mendenhall Glacier as well as visiting Chapel-by-the-Lake, the Shrine of St. Therese, and the Jensen-Olson Arboretum. We were in Skagway on July 4th. We rented a car and drove to Emerald Lake following Murphy’s Guide, then visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor’s Center. The highlight of the trip had to be our day in Glacier Bay. The weather was perfect, and we were the only cruise ship there. As we sailed out of the bay, a school of at least 20 humpback whales were having a field day between the ship and shore!
Disembarkation in Seward was a breeze. We stayed an extra day in Seward, so we were in the last group to leave the ship (about 8:30). Some in the Cruise Tour groups disembarked as early at 6:15! We had a leisurely breakfast in the Lido and were allowed to stay in our staterooms until we disembarked (a nice change from hauling your carry-ons with you to that final breakfast on board).
We chose this ship, in part, because it is a smaller ship. Having suffered through 3,000 plus megaships before, we found it a pleasant change to be able to get on and off the ship with literally no lines whatsoever, at each and every port. In fact, the longest line we stood in the whole trip was at U.S. Customs in Vancouver, and it only took a few minutes.
I had only sailed with HAL once before, many years ago when my father and I went through the Panama Canal. Most of my sailings have been with Celebrity (before they were owned by RCCL), and Royal Caribbean. When we sail again, it will be with HAL, hopefully on one of their smaller ships (and we will again choose “anytime” dining). Overall, it was a fabulous trip. More about the land portion in another post.