We had a wonderful cruise on the Volendam. June 19, - 26, 2013. This was a 7 day return Vancouver cruise. I had read many reviews and received a lot information and help from the HAL forum on CC. Thank you to all.
My husband and I are Seniors (we like to think young in heart and mind!). We have cruised many, many times, 3rd with HAL. Also, NCL, Celebrity, Costa and other small cruise lines.
Flew Air Canada from our home city of Toronto to Vancouver morning of the cruise. Arrived 9:30 a.m. in Vancouver and took the Skytrain from the airport to Canada Place. Very easy and seniors get a fare break.
Stopped in to a B.C. liquor store just kitty-corner from the exit of the Skytrain for a couple of bottles of wine for the cabin.
Pulled our suitcases to Canada Place (about 3 blocks). No problem.
Dropped off luggage at appropriate area (clearly marked). Walked right up to the check in. Took only a few minutes. Then we did have to wait because it was early (before 11:00 a.m.). There are rows of chairs set up and it is all very orderly. Water is available and, I think I saw lemonade, but no coffee or tea. Waited at the most ½ hour. They only let on a row or so at a time so when you go to board, there is no backup. Walked on and allowed to go right to our cabin.
We had a AA category cabin , number 7081, 3 cabins from the rear. Lovely cabin, well kept, bed very comfortable with 3 pillows, soft, medium and firm for each person. Bathroom good size with small bathtub and good shower. Balcony was much bigger than the other 2 we have had. One chair, one lounge and a small table. Enough room for a couple more chairs so if you have friends with you, a great place to sit. We thoroughly enjoyed the balcony and because the weather was really good, we used it a lot. Never smelled smoke at any time on the balcony. Pleasant and considerate neighbours both sides.
A note to say that we were Starboard side and I would recommend Starboard for this cruise because we were dockside 2 out of the 3 ports.
Wanted to go to the main dining room for lunch but it was only open for a travel agent group so had to go to the Lido. Not too crowded since we were probably in the first 100 or so to board. Can’t remember food – nothing special.
Mandatory lifeboat drill was done fairly smoothly and as soon as it was over, I made a run for the Crow’s Nest to get a couple of the comfy lounge chairs for Sail Away. Sailed on time and it was a lovely view.
Weather was good.
So, on our way and following are some of our thoughts and hints on the trip.
We ate almost all meals in the main D.R. I found the food good and my husband thought most were very good. Have had better and certainly have had worse on a cruise. We were on Any Time dining and usually went during the busiest time but nevertheless always got a table for 2 with no hassle. Each meal we were asked if we would share and when we said that we would prefer to eat alone, there was never a problem. We were seated promptly except for one evening, asked to wait over to the side for about 5-10 minutes and a second time, we were given a pager and told it would be about ½ hour. We went to the Ocean Bar and upon showing the bar attendant the pager, we each received a free glass of sparkling wine. Quite nice and since my DH does not drink sparkling wine, I got both!
Dinners took about 1 hour or perhaps slightly more so did not drag out. We did not usually get the best tables. We were mainly seated by a serving station. Did not really bother us and became a bit of a running joke with us (which serving station will we be seated at tonight?).
We did not eat in Pinnacle or Canneletto.
Waiters were pleasant and mainly efficient. Not the happy, talkative type that we have had on some of our other cruises, but certainly pleasant. Always received what we ordered.
Ordered room service one morning. It was delivered at the appropriate time with exactly what I ordered. However, although the coffee was excellent (SO much better than the Lido where the coffee is dreadfully weak), the scrambled eggs were cold and unappetizing, toast was barely toasted and cold, sliced bananas turning brown, strawberries fine. I did not repeat the room service breakfast experience. If I order it again, will stick with cold cereal.
Service in the bars (mainly Crow’s Nest – love it!) was excellent. We enjoyed Happy Hour every late afternoon/evening. It was not offered on the first night. Never a problem having to wait. Staff came around asking shortly after we sat down and drinks were delivered promptly. However, if you declined, no problem. The Lemon Drop Martinis were as good as I remembered from other HAL cruises. The house chardonnay was quite acceptable and I sometimes carried my second drink to the MDR if I hadn’t finished it. Hot appetizers were served each evening (not sure of first night). Quite nice. This is a very good perk on HAL.
We did not attend the Mariner’s Brunch. We did plan to go but it was at 11:00 a.m. and the timing was not good. Too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. Read the menu here on CC and the regular dining room menu was much better.
I joined up for the 3 Mixology classes and they were great. The bartender. Jerry, who runs it is excellent and makes the experience a lot of fun. There are funny toasts and songs for each drink. Each person gets to mix, shake and serve at least one drink at some point during the 3 classes. You can attend 1, 2 or all 3 of the classes. I got a good deal by going to the Complimentary Champagne Reception at 3:00 p.m. first day. It is really a sales event but the sparkling wine (not champagne) was free and I got the 3 classes for $30.00. Not a lot of alcohol but worthwhile experience. Received a PhD Diploma in Mixology at the end because I attended all 3 classes. Otherwise, you receive a BA or a Masters Diploma. See what I mean – silly but fun!
Second Day sailing the Inside Passage was beautiful. Sat for hours in the comfy lounges in the Crow’s Nest (no need to buy a drink).
Third Day sailing into Juneau was spectacular! Again, sat for the whole morning in the Crow’s Nest.
After docking, we bought tickets for the shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier. Wanted to buy one way ticket because there are 2 companies and you are slotted in to the one company if you buy return. This was told to me by fellow CC members. However, when purchasing the tickets, we were told that you cannot buy the return ticket on the bus so bought the return ticket at the booth also. Think we were lied to but it worked out fine.
As others have said, the walk to and from Nugget Falls is about 45 minutes. Easy walk and quite nice. We spent about 2 hours all together at the site because, of course, you want to look around. It was very warm and sunny. I believe the Glacier has receded badly and so I found it not as spectacular as it probably was in years past. Still, well worth the $16.00 per person for the shuttle.
As recommended by many people, we went to Tracy’s Crab Shack which was just by where our ship docked (We could look down on it from our balcony). Thoroughly enjoyed their Crab Chowder. Large Crab Chowder (we shared), one House Chardonnay and one Alaskan Amber was $25.00. Be careful, at first they charged me for a regular Chardonnay when I had asked for House Chardonnay. A little expensive as a predinner snack, but the whole day had been a good inexpensive experience for an Alaskan port.
In Skagway, we had arranged a bus tour with Chillkoot Tours. Highly recommended. We much preferred the van to the big busses we saw which were from the cruise lines. Our driver, Mike, was informative and a lot of fun. Day started out cloudy and cool but quickly turned out to be sunny and warm. Drove to the Yukon and saw spectacular scenery. At the end of the tour, Mike let us off in town and we walked back to the ship (easy 20 minute walk). Really enjoyed our day.
Glacier Bay day again started out cloudy with very low clouds. However, again it cleared and was lovely. The starboard propeller broke down in the morning and although the Captain stopped the ship a few times to have the engineer try to fix the problem, we did have to sail Glacier Bay with only one propeller so it was slow. We were assured that there was no safety issue and no problem steering so we continued on. Beautiful scenery but we did have less time at Margerie Glacier because we had to get out of Glacier Bay to let the Amsterdam get in. Captain stopped ship again as soon as we were clear of the ice and this time it was fixed so we were on schedule the rest of the cruise. Did not see pea soup being served. Perhaps we were inside when it was being served. The line for the salmon bake was ridiculous so we skipped that.
Crows Nest was busy on Glacier Bay day but we got 1 lounge and 1 chair by the forward window.
Weather in Ketchikan was hot and sunny. We used the internet at the Crew Services office - $2.00 for one half hour. Took the venicular railroad up to Cape Fox Lodge, looked at the totem poles on their property and then walked down to Creek Street, looking for salmon in the creek (none – too early in the season) looked in a few of the shops and back to ship for lunch and afternoon. Good day.
Last full day in Inside Passage was again lovely scenery with good weather.
During the cruise we saw many whale spouts with some fins (is that called breaching), dolphins, seals, sea otters (so cute!). Did not see any land animals in Alaska although we saw deer, moose, 1 juvenile grizzly and coyotes in Interior British Columbia while visiting family.
Arrival in Vancouver - on time. We chose the last disembarkation time (9:00-9:30 a.m.) and all went smoothly. We were in the last group and again took the Skytrain to the car rental agency on South Marine Drive and continued our vacation with a week in Interior BC with my sister and family.
Entertainment was really not up to other cruise lines. Comedienne, Julie Barr, was very good. One evening she did shows at the regular time and another evening did a 11:00 p.m. R-rated show. Really, really funny. Magician, Greg Gleason, put on a very good show and one afternoon did a Memory Seminar which was interesting. One of the two production shows, Rocking Roadhouse, was good but the other one (something with Mounties, etc.) was very amateurish. The last evening was the finals for Dancing With the Stars. Also, each show was only 45-50 minutes tops. Evening entertainment is not a strong point for HAL. We were fine but if that is important to you, it will be a disappointment.
The ports were all better than we expected. The weather was wonderful. Ship was (mainly) great. Would return to Alaska!