This cruise was purchased July 18th as a last-minute decision when inside cabins were selling for less than $300. We were assigned cabin 679 at the stern end of Main Deck 5. There are cabins below on Deck 4 and cabins above on Deck 6 so it was a quiet location except for very occasional rumblings of the stern thrusters below when docking.
Getting to Anchorage (ANC) on Air Canada's daily noon flight AC538 from Vancouver (YVR) was very easy and quick. Much to my surprise passing through US Customs and security at Vancouver airport involved identifying our luggage where they showed pictures of each bag on a screen and asked if they were ours. So I knew our bags were on the right plane.
Stayed overnight at the Inlet Tower Hotel which cost $133 /night and is close to downtown and offered free shuttle service from the airport. We were picked up at the hotel on Sunday at noon by Alaska Cruise Transfer and Tours which I booked on-line a week ahead ($54 p/p) and were taken to the ship at Seward by 4 pm after a short tour through the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Mile 79 of the Seward Highway.
Many of the passengers we talked to on the cruise had taken the Denali National Park Tour along with some very lengthy bus and train excursions. They all seemed tired and weary and glad to be finally on board. So, my recommendation is don't try to pack in too much sightseeing. Alaska will wait for you. The people all seemed extremely courteous, patient and well spoken. Everyone is pet friendly and even the Inlet Tower Hotel allowed dogs in the rooms. Flowers seem to thrive in the long summer daylight hours and are mostly grown in pots.
We took no ship excursions and simply walked around looking at flower gardens, picking and eating raspberries, thimble berries and salmon berries by the side of the roads. At Juneau we did our own short excursion to the Glacier Gardens and Rainforest by catching city bus No. 3 right by the ship dock for $2 and asking the driver to let us know where to get off. It was a twenty-five minute ride and it seemed everyone getting on and off knew each other. At the gardens we saw trees that were planted upside down with an abundance of flowers and trailing vines flowing down covering the root system. We've never seen this anywhere else. A guided tour of the temperate Tongass National Rainforest was done from a covered golf cart, so anyone with mobility issues could enjoy a visit to this botanical garden.
Basically all you need to do is wear sensible walking shoes and wear a warm jacket and have a cheap dollar store plastic poncho in your pocket. We also took binoculars for whale watching from the ship but you really don't need them. Because the rain and fog make everything unpredictable and shore tours are always available last-minute right at the dock, I would recommend that you don't pre-book any shore excursions unless you have health issues and can't hike around on your own.
As for the ship and its crew: It's definitely Five Star without being in the least bit extravagant or ostentatious. The ship was built in 1992, last refurbished in 2010 and by today's standard is small at 55,000 tons with capacity for 1,200 passengers. This cruise seemed eerily quiet and peaceful and I suspect it was nowhere near full capacity which explains why we were able to book last-minute at such a low price.
Highlights included The Neptunes - a wonderful dance combo (piano, drums and bass) playing in the Ocean Bar and a violin and piano duo in the Explorer's Lounge named Adagio. The Crow's Nest up on Deck 12 was fun and lively with club style dancing until late each night. DJ David was a lively character who played any requests (including Argentine tangos, Bollywood style music and line dances) to keep the dancers moving.
Best of all, there was no stink of smoke on the ship anywhere. This is one of our pet peeves with Caribbean cruises where smoking is allowed in casinos and some of the lounges. Also, the crew and staff were mostly Indonesian and Filipino, thoroughly professional and speaking excellent English. We enjoyed the absence of money grubbing up-selling so common on other cruise lines.
We are very low maintenance travellers who never use room service, spa services or book special restaurant dinners. We do buy cocktails and like a bottle of wine with our dinners and participate in as many of the ships activities as possible. Cruise Director Anthony and his staff were top-notch providing interesting and varied entertainment. Holland America has a Dancing with the Stars theme dance contest where you get the chance to learn a cha-cha, jive and samba routine and you may be selected to dance with one of the ship's professional dancers. Great fun for any level of dancing skills you may have.
The food was particularly well done and beautifully presented with a good menu selection offered at the buffet and in the dining room. Every dish was just the right portion and truly delicious. It's always been one of my cruise peeves to see passengers taking and wasting too much food, - something seen commonly on Caribbean cruises and other cruise line brands. A cruise is the perfect chance to try and appreciate dishes you normally don't cook for yourself. The value of the meals we enjoyed was much more than the price of our cruise including the added on tips if you were to pay for these meals in a restaurant back home. If hotdogs, hamburgers, french fries and pizza are the only things you like then you'll be happy too.
The ship's photographers were not aggressive and it was only necessary to say "No thank you" once. The pictures that they did take were very good quality though!
ITINERARY on Holland America's ms Statendam
DAY DATE PORT ARRIVE DEPART
Sun Aug 4 Anchorage (Seward), AK 8:00pm
Mon Aug 5 At Sea
Tue Aug 6 Glacier Bay (Cruising) 10:00am 7:00pm
Wed Aug 7 Haines, AK 6:30am 9:00pm
Thu Aug 8 Juneau, AK 8:00am 6:00pm
Fri Aug 9 Ketchikan, AK 11:00am 7:00pm
Sat Aug 10 Inside Passage, AK (Cruising)
Sun Aug 11 Vancouver, BC, Canada 7:00am