This was the first time cruising for my 14-year-old son and me. Alaska was the dream cruise for me and I looked forward to beautiful scenery, great photo ops, relaxation, good food, and comfortable, undisturbed sleep. Everything was as I had hoped.
CABIN: I booked us for a midship, lower level, inside room. (I was worried about motion sickness, but there was no need for that, at least not on this trip I could barely tell the ship was even moving; it felt like we were on solid ground. We cruised on the east side of Vancouver Island and very much on the inside all the way up, so there was little wave action.) On arrival I was surprised to find that I had been upgraded to an outside room, still midship, lower level, just down the hall a little ways. Our baggage was rerouted to our new location. The room was clean, the cabin stewards were very friendly, helpful, and always asking if anything was needed. Because of my bad back, I was happy to see that the beds were very comfortable and I had no trouble sleeping in our quiet, comfortable room. I wasnt sure when booking how roomy our cabin would be, but found it to be quite adequate. We had our sleeping area, a lounge area, closet storage, and the bathroom. The seating area had an upholstered loveseat and single seat, a small coffee table, a desk/counter area with three dresser drawers, large wall mirror, and another small upholstered stool. There were five (possibly six, but I dont remember for sure) closets measuring about 36 wide; all but one had hanging space, of which some also had a shelf or two, upper and lower, and one was all shelves. Plenty of hangers were available. One of the closets had a safe (Im told all the cabins had a safe). While the safe was not large, I managed to fit in it the following, without cases: 11 netbook, DSLR camera, two lenses for the DSLR, camera flash, iPod Touch, 7 tablet, various small electronics, medium-size point and shoot camera, wallet, and important documents. Before arriving, I doubted that what I needed to lock up would fit, but I was able to safely fit everything I needed to. (Things that dont fit can be secured with the purser.) The closet storage was more than adequate, with room to spare . . . and we brought a LOT OF STUFF! We were even able to stow our luggage in the closets, but there was room at the foot of the bed for a couple of pieces of luggage. I left out one piece that I could lock so that I could easily and readily access certain large, expensive items such as tripod, etc.)
The very clean bathroom was much larger than I expected--room on the countertop, a shelf underneath, and three shelves in the corner medicine cabin. There was something that possibly could be used as a hair dryer in the bathroom, but it got a bit hot to hold within a few minute, so perhaps it was to dry the mirrors. A hairdryer was available in one of the dresser drawers. There was plenty of floor space to move about, hooks on which to hang robes/clothes, and a tub/shower of comfortable size. The showerhead was very nice and the water was always hot, which is saying a lot since we both tend to take long, hot showers. I suspect that there was an instant hot-water tank between the rooms, since the hot water came quickly.
NOTE ABOUT ELECTRONICS: A U.S. (110/120v) voltage hairdryer will need to be used in the seating area there are no outlets in the bathroom. And the outlet that is available only accommodates one 110v electrical item, the other is for the 220v hairdryer. You may even want to bring a small adapter because if youre plugging in an item that is boxy (plug with battery holder), it doesnt or may not fit very well because theres limited space between the bottom of the mirror and the top of the table. HAL is concerned about fire, so I think thats why the options are limited so dont plug in more than one thing at a time and ask your steward for assistance if your needs cannot be adequately met; there is probably a solution available. We were able to charge all our many electronics without issue, but we did have one that barely fit.
MEALS: We had breakfast in our room on all but two mornings. We selected our desired items from the varied menu the night prior, having to place the menu card on the door handle by a certain time (I believe it was by 1 a.m., maybe 2). On the card you select your items and a choice of several half-hour time slots when you want your breakfast delivered.
We dined two evenings, the first and last, in the main dining room on the open-seating option. We never waited more than a few minutes to be seated. The food and service was very good, and we enjoyed the quiet, comfortable dining experience in a beautiful setting.
The remainder of the time we ate in the Lido for lunch and dinner. While we enjoyed the buffet selection of foods, it was a little awkward juggling plates. No trays were available, so you had to just select a few items that would go on two plates/in bowls, go to your table and eat, or return for more plates of food and to get your non-alcoholic drinks (stewards served the alcoholic beverages). Juices were available free, but were not for the taking you had to ask for it and the dining steward would go to the kitchen to retrieve what you wanted. Tea, coffee, and water were available near the buffet area. I never saw any milk, though I think it was available, too, somewhere. If youre dining alone, though, which I sometimes did while my son was off with the teen group, leaving your plates of food on the table unattended might mean that the table will be cleared by the efficient steward staff before you return with your drink or other food. So I found it was necessary to notify the steward that I would be returning or leave some personal items at the table to make that obvious. The Lido is the preferred place to eat for the majority of passengers, so seating can be a little challenging sometimes if you dine at the busiest times when it can also be a bit noisy. So if you want a more peaceful, relaxing dining experience, I would recommend you dine in the main dining room. We ate there only two nights, with the second one being the last evening, after which I had wished I ate there more frequently for dinner. But for families and people who want to quickly grab something to eat, the Lido is the place to be!
Food is available in the public areas much of the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late night snack, which included more cooked food as well as deserts! Then, of course, 24-hour room service was available, with a decent selection of foods from the room menu. We got back late one evening from our Skagway adventures, just missing dinner and so ordered room service (it arrived within 30 minutes!). This was actually quite nice since we were very tired and didnt want to have to get cleaned up and dressed for dinner.
We didnt plan to participate in formal night, but we found smart casual to be easily accommodated. If you dont wear blue jeans and just dress in slacks or colored jeans and a nice shirt or top, youll be fine. Just be respectful of the formal night atmosphere and all will be well. I wore black jeans or slacks and a nice sweater or top. I did see a few inconsiderate people who were slobbed out a bit, but I dont know if anyone spoke to them or not. The non-formal passengers ate in the Lido or their room on the two formal nights. After dinner I roamed freely in my smart casual wear inside and out on the promenade.
CHILDREN/TEEN PROGRAM: My 14-year-old son LOVED the teen program. There was a core group of about 25 teens that hung out together in The Loft where various activities and social opportunities were ongoing from about 10 a.m. until midnight or 1 a.m. He was able to come and go as he pleased. I had him check in periodically with me, and I could also call to The Loft and speak with him when I needed to do that. He loved having all that freedom and social opportunity.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We didnt sign up for any, and just roamed the streets of Juneau and Ketchikan. In Juneau we also took the Blue Bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. (Pick-up point is right off the docks and the price was $8/person each way.) If you take the city bus, its a little cheaper, but it involves a bit of a walk uphill to the visitor center area I believe its a half mile.) It was a rainy day and a bit chilly bring a warm coat to the glacier where its much colder than in town. In Skagway we rented a car and drove up into the Yukon. A smart move on our part we had considered taking the steam train ride up and bus tour back, but on our port day the fog was very thick from just outside of town and all the way up to where the train turns around. We would have seen nothing and wasted a lot of money. Instead, we drove on in our rental car and then broke out of the fog into some very beautiful scenery and had a great day with many photo ops. We even had the delightful experience of seeing a brown black bear and got some nice photos of him.
ENTERTAINMENT: I didnt participate in much of it, but there wasnt all that much offered anyway, unlike what other cruise lines seem to offer. However, it worked for me because I wasnt interested in much of that anyway. I went on the cruise to primarily see the beautiful Inside Passage and experience some relaxation and good food. I also like the small ship size which meant lots of elbow room and getting closer to the glaciers than other cruise ships can. My expectations were met. But if you want a lot of onboard entertainment, HAL is probably not your best choice.
EMBARKATION: Quite a breeze once we got through the long security lines. Do check your large luggage and only bring on a small piece with you through the check-in. I think it took us about 45 minutes from arrival to get on the ship.
DISEMBARKATION: Impressively well organized. Luggage that you want taken off the ship for you needs to be placed outside your room in the hallway no later than midnight. You fill out a form many days prior answering questions relating to your post cruise plans. You have several options for getting off the ship: carry all your own luggage unaided and get off on the first time slot; select from several time slots to disembark if youre traveling independently; or the cruise will make arrangements for those who have post-cruise plans and are meeting tours or have a scheduled flight time. We were traveling independently, chose a time of 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. We are given colored tags for our luggage and a corresponding group number; on the morning of departure our color and group number was called when it was time to leave the ship. I expected chaos in the luggage area not so in Vancouver B.C. It was well organized and took us about two minutes to locate our luggage and be on our way through Customs, which was a fast experience, too. Then off to the shuttle to the hotel to pick up our car which we left at the hotel for free parking as part of our cruise-and-stay special.
SUMMARY: I was very satisfied with the cruise experience with Holland America. I do have a standard of expectations and found nothing of any consequence to complain about or regret. All staff were very friendly and helpful, always asking if you need help with anything. The ship was very clean. Theres a 48-hour period in the beginning when only staff handles/serves food to help prevent the spreading of any diseases that anyone may have brought onboard. After a few days sailing, the entire ship is again thoroughly disinfected/cleaned. There are lots of places about the ship to sit and relax, read, look out the window or sit on deck to watch the beautiful scenery go by. I expected the outside deck area to be crowded and difficult to get a good spot to take pictures, but that was not the case. There was only one day for a short period of time when it was a little crowded along the rail, and that was when we spotted a large group of whales when entering Glacier Bay. Even then it was only two deep on the one side and everyone was very considerate and exchanged places with each other so everyone had opportunity to see and take pictures. Great job HAL!!!