I have a pictoral review posted on the forums page: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1885530
Holland America's process was quick and painless for getting on board. We went through security, registered and got our boarding cards very quickly. They gave us a group number for boarding. We were group 5. I liked that process because we got to take a seat and wait for our group number to be called. The folks on Princess across the room were all standing in line waiting for boarding to begin.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our rooms were ready immediately upon boarding. I don't know if this is Holland America's norm, but it wasn't the case on Norwegian when I cruised before. We were in a class D large ocean view room. The room was adequately sized, but a little cramped for 3. Mom and I took up all of the closet space (excpet for my husband's suit). Granted there were 4 life jackets, the bedding for the sofabed, and a safe in the closets. DH used the drawers at the foot of the bed and at the nightstand. Be warned: there are only 2 outlets in the room, and they are both at the desk. Bring your power strips and maybe an extension cord if you want enough plugs for all of your electronics. Mom slept on the sofa bed. I had been warned they were uncomfortable, so I brought an air matress for her. I'm glad I did or she would have been miserable during the trip.
One of the cabinets contained a minifridge stocked with minibar items. We asked our steward to have all of those things removed so we could chill the sodas and wine we brought on board. (Yes, Holland America allows you to do that.)
The food was generally good but not great. My mom, who had sailed on some higher end cruise lines and Holland America, was disappointed with the food. I think that in general the quality of food on the cruise lines has declined. If you want the amazing food that people experienced years ago, you must expect to pay for the upgraded restaurants or sail on one of the higher end lines (like Crystal or Seabourn).
The Westerdam is a very nice ship. It was built in 2004 and refurbished in 2010. The interior is well maintained. My only criticism on the cleanliness was the windows. I know it's difficult to keep windows clean at sea, but even when we were in Seattle, I did not see any window cleaning going on. Our cabin had a window, but it was filthy. Even the public rooms where we spent a great deal of time looking out at the beautiful vistas had dirty windows. This really detracted from the scenic views.
We spent a lot of time on the Lido Deck-Deck 9. It has 2 pools. The aft pool is open to the air and has a great view of the ocean. In the middle is the Lido Deck Restaurant. There are 2 sides, and with a couple of exceptions, the same menu is served on both sides. At less busy times, one side will close. The restaurant is divided into several serving stations, and I rarely found that the line was terribly long. For the first 48 hrs there is no self-service on the Lido. This is to prevent the spread of germs, but that did make the lines move a little slower. Past the Lido Restaurant was the Lido Pool. This pool is enclosed with a retractable roof. That's a great concept for an Alaska voyage.
Forward from the Lido pool was the spa. It contained the Hydrotheray pool and thermal suites. The salon and the fitness center are there too. One odd thing about the spa was that the forward elevators were in inside the entrance to the spa. As a result, when I walked out of the hydrotheray pool or the thermal suites to go to the locker room, I would pass people waiting for the elevator. It was a little weird. Mom and I signed up for the hydrotherapy and thermal suite pass for the whole cruise. It was being discounted for $299 for two. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure now it was totally worth it. There was so much to do during the cruise, we didn't use this perk every day. In the future, I think I would look into how much a day pass is and compare the cost of using it for 1 or 2 days vs. buying the pass for the whole week.
One of my favorite places to hang out was The Crow's Nest on Deck 10. You can get there using the forward elevators or by climbing the circular stairs at the Lido Pool. One part of the area is bar, another coffee shop, another internet and another library. There are floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and some comfy recliner chairs. The happy hour specials were always offered here. The first and last days of the cruise they were buy one drink get the second for $1. All of the other days it was buy one, get the second 50% off. The guitarist played here also. Good times.
We ate breakfast in the Lido every day. The omelet station was wonderful with every ingredient you could think of including shrimp. I think I only waited in line for more than 5 minutes once. There were many wonderful pastries available and fresh fruit. There was another line with eggs to order or prescrambled eggs, breakfast meats, cereals both hot and cold. I never went through that line. If I didn't have an omelet, I went to the eggs Benedict station. This was more than just eggs Benedict, though. There was crab, smoked salmon, spinach, and much more! Very yummy! There were tons of fruit juice choices. I know for sure that the OJ was fresh squeezed. I cannot be certain of the others, but they were good.
We had a wonderful time at all of our ports of call. We did not book any excursions through Holland America. Instead I did my research on the internet ahead of time. We either used local transportation/shuttles and explored things on our own or booked through outside companies.
Our 15th wedding anniversary was during the cruise. I thought it was a nice touch that the ship sent us a card on that day and delivered a cake to us at dinner. I still don't know how they knew.
One of our favorite organized activities was Martini Madness at the Atrium Bar. Henry was the main bartender for this event. He was engaging, entertaining, and just plain fun. The plan was for 3 martini samples for $3 each. Henry was generous with his pours and frequently refilled folks' glasses with his "left-overs." He also mixed a "bonus" martini with all of the left-overs that was pretty good. $9 wasn't a bad price for quite a bit of drink and even more fun and laughter. I just wish we had discovered this event earlier in the cruise. It was offered each evening, and Henry developed quite a following.
I enjoyed all of our ports of call. My only complaint is that our time in each was too short. We arrived late in the day in Juneau and Victoria, and many things of interest were closed.
Disembarkation was easy and painless. We put our luggage out the night before. We had plenty of time to eat breakfast and then walk out at our assigned time. It was a much better experience than I remember on Norwegian where we did the early disembarkation carrying all of our luggage.
There are 2 bus services in Juneau that provide a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier. The cost is $16 round trip. You can buy tickets from the representative selling tickets at the various booths as you get off the ship. We purchased our tickets and had a nice narrated drive in an old school bus to the national park. There is no admission fee for the glacier itself, but it costs $3/pp to enter the visitor's center. The visitor's center has a video and some displays. As with all national parks, seniors get in free with their Golden Pass. We walked down to the lake and the waterfall. It was a nice, flat trail and an easy walk. We took the shuttle back to downtown Juneau and did some shopping. I wish we had waited until Ketchikan or Sitka to buy souvenirs for the kids. There was more variety and the prices were a little better. I had wanted to go to the Alaska State Museum and the Capitol Building which has a free tour, but there was very little time before they closed.
We arrived at Ketchikan at 7am. We had booked a salmon fishing excursion independently. We paid $150 pp for a 3 hour trip. The captain was a bit salty, but extremely helpful. There were 6 of us on the boat. We only went out about 4 miles from the cruise ship, but that was all we needed. We caught 3 silver salmon and countless pinks. We shipped home 23 lbs. of salmon. I was reminded of the Master Card commercial: $150 for the trip, $20 for the license, $15 for the tip, $180 for processing and shipping, the experience? Priceless. We got back to the dock around 11:30 and still had time to look around Ketchikan as all aboard time was 1pm. Ketchikan is a very walkable town. We walked over to Creek Street and looked at all the salmon swimming up stream. You could see them jumping in the water, but they weren't as dense as I expected. Creek St. is full of quaint little shops, and we enjoyed window shopping. There are also several souvenier shops along the street right by the dock.
We had a very short time in Seattle and didn't get to visit as much as I would have liked. We did go to Pike Place Market. We had some snacks and a beer sampler at Pike Brewing Company, at seafood chowder at Pike Place Chowder, watched fish flying through the air at Pike Place Fish Market, marveled at all of the flower arrangements on flower row, and generally enjoyed ourselves.
Mom and I then caught the monorail to Seattle Center. We had tickets to see Chihuly's Art and Glass Exhibit. It was $19/pp and well worth it. Words cannot describe! Check out the video for how amazing this exhibit is. Take your earphones and smart phone as there is a free audio tour available on their website.
We used the lightrail service from our hotel at the airport to downtown. It was easy and not very expensive.
Sitka is a tender port. What's nice is that it only has 1 ship at a time and doesn't feel as touristy as some of the other ports. The Visitor's Shuttle starts running at 9a. For $10/pp you get a ticket to get on and off all day. The shuttle makes several stops throught the town and runs every 30 min.
Our first stop was the Raptor Center. This is a nonprofit rehab facility for birds of prey. They take in sick and injured birds from all over the country, but specialize in eagles, ravens and owls. They have a vet clinic, a rehab area for birds that are about to be released to the wild, and several habitat areas for birds whose injuries do not allow them to return to the wild. It was quite interesting to see the birds up close. The grounds are also beautiful with wooded forest, trails, and Indian River running through it. It's $19/pp and I think highly worth it.
Our next stop was Totem Park or properly known as the Sitka National Historic Park. This is a national park and admission is free. There is a video and exhibits on the Tlinglit people. There are also lots of trails with recreations of totem poles. An audio tour is available via telephone. The number is posted on the totem poles. It was very scenic and educational at the same time.
I had booked a tour of Buchart Gardens with CVS tours. It included the bus from the pier and the admission into the gardens for $55/pp. Compare this to the $85 the cruise line wanted for the same trip. The only difference between this tour and the one sponsored by the cruise line, was that we had to take a bus to downtown and then change buses at the Empress Hotel. It was very simple, and we got to look at the Inner Harbour for a few minutes while we waited for the bus.
The gardens were amazing! I'm not even sure that pictures do it justice. Because we arrived in Victoria so late in the day, we didn't really have any other choice for when to see the gardens. We were there for about 2.5-3 hours, and it was barely enough time. I could have stayed longer. We were back on the ship in plenty of time for sail away.