We flew into Vancouver a few days early. We stayed at the Renaissance Vancouver Harborside Hotel,which we liked very much.It is only a few blocks from where you get on the ship. Had an ocean view that was really a nice view of the harbor. There is a building in front of the hotel that blocked part of the view, but we still really enjoyed it. The pool here is open 24 hours! So nice not to rush back early to use the pool. The staff here is very nice. We took the Hop on Hop Off Bus, which was just ok,it took us to the sights, but the prerecorded commentary was nothing special. We got off at Granville Island to the market for lunch. Grabbed some deli type food and ate outside. We were wishing we could take some of the beautiful produce from the market with us! We also stopped at Gastown to shop a bit in the souvenier stores. The next day we grabbed the hop on bus (we had a two day special) and went to the Aquarium in Stanley Park. It was a nice Aquarium and I am glad that we took the time to go as the information I learned about the artic animals was a nice tie in to the Alaska trip. About noon it became very crowded,so we left.Getting the Hop on bus back to our hotel was a lengthy process, about 1 and 1/2 hours. We grabbed a cab to Canada Place,where the ship was docked, from the hotel. This is a short walk, but not so fun with luggage. Cab was $5.00-no need to buy a transfer.Cab airport to hotel was $30 to $35.00.
AT THE VOLENDAM- we got there at 2 pm and just walked right through, no lines, no waiting. We had a large inside on the Veranda deck. It was spacious, with ample storage space for two or more. Our stewards were great. We brought on 4 bottles of wine in our carry ons with no problem, but they are going to change that for 2014, so you can only bring one each. The boat was nice. They closed the cover over the pool area in the center so people could swim all through the trip even though it was too cool to swim on the outside deck pool.
THE FOOD: Holland America offers a huge variety of food for breakfast and lunch at the Lido and we ate there most days. The food is a bit bland,but overall good. Dinner was another story. Dinners were really repetitive with the same menu (mostly) in the dining room as in the Lido, and very limited. Stuffy,formal food. Always steak, salmon and chicken, just a hunk of protein,not creative, little variety. In fact if you like salmon, this is the ship for you- every day had at least two salmon offerings. One day they had a salmon bake on the deck (I wouldn't bother to take an excursion to the salmon bake-you will have more than enough on board)that same night there were two salmon entrees in addition to the salmon entree on the every day menu. These were all just hunks of salmon with sauces. The service in the dining room was attentive but so slow. We ate in the Lido a lot of nights because we didn't want to get out of really casual clothes and into "smart casual" or take the time to sit for 2 hours at dinner. I wore less of my "smart casual" clothes than I expected. We only went to the dining room on the two formal nights and once for the mariners brunch. The dinner service in the Lido was a surprise. Long lines. You had to stand in the whole long line to get anything and since there are no trays you had to go back more than once to get everything. They are closing off half the Lido at dinner and reserving it for staff. We could barely find a seat on the guests side. The tables weren't being cleared and we finally pushed used dishes to the edge of a table and sat down. No one offered us a beverage at all. Surprisingly poor situation, and I hope Holland America fixes it!
ENTERTAINMENT: Bleh! All the movies were involving Alaska, and mostly B level stuff. The song and dance revue at the start of the cruise was really, really bad. The magician was good and I would go to that. Usually I don't care about the entertainment but this trip has a lot of days at sea, and we were hard pressed to find something to do. Did one culinary show which was pretty lame as well.
SCENIC CRUISING: We spent a day in Glacier Bay and another in the Inside Passage. Both were wonderful. We sat at the Crow's Nest for Glacier Bay and had a great view. They served pea soup which was surprisingly good, and had park rangers on board to narrate. Our Captain got close to the glaciers and turned the boat so everyone got a great view. It was a very nice day. The Inside Passage was also just lovely. Starting in the afternoon until the sun set, we were sitting on the open rear deck watching the scenery. At different times during the cruise we also saw whales and porpoises.
DISEMBARKING:The end went very smoothly. It took a bit of time, but it moved along well. We returned to the Renaissance for overnight. They had a room ready for us at 9 AM! We took the subway (a 10 minute walk from the hotel) and then walked 20 minutes to reach Van Duesen Botanical Garden, which was awesome. We spent several hours there and just loved it.