Summary: Last Alaska cruise of the season out of Seattle dodged Pacific storms with great success, altered an itinerary and still packed a great experience into the mix. Embarkation/Disembarkation a breeze. Ship was in good repair. Cabin was well maintained and serviced. MDR dinners were excellent (and came hot every time). Entertainment ranged from outstanding to dreadful. Ships crew were, in general, there to please. Overall rating 4.75 out of 5 stars for this trip. End Summary
We consider ourselves experienced cruisers, know what we like and what we don't. We don't expect 100% success, as we realize that Murphy's Laws have never been repealed and things just go wrong on occasion. We have a few nits and picks.
We are resident in Woodinville WA - about 30 miles from the Seattle Pier 91. We were dropped off at the Holland American pier which was being shared by the Golden Princess. We arrived at approximately 1130 and were through security, check-in, boarding photos and in our stateroom by 1215. We attended the Mariner Lunch in the MDR and walked the ship to see what was open, closed or under repair prior to the muster drill. Muster drill was painless, though we all waited a good bit in the chilled air for those few passengers who couldn't manage to make it to the drill).
We learned our itinerary was being turned upside down and sideways due to a number of severe weather systems in the North East Pacific - the port of Sitka was dropped, Ketchikan moved to the forefront, Juneau to follow, with Tracy Arm after Juneau followed by a full day vice evening in Victoria. The route to Alaska took the Canadian and American inside passages, which offered up smooth sailing the entire way to Alaska. (Note: Those who cruise out of Vancouver see the Canadian inside passage each trip, Seattle heads out to the Pacific and on the other side of Vancouver Island). The scenery spectacular - whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions abound - it was truly like being in the midst of a National Geographic photo shoot.
On board entertainment: The ship had two groups of Hal Cats and a couple of singers - they were good, enjoyable and played a variety of music. The hidden gem was the guitar soloist in the Crows Nest - Matt Bauer - he had a wide repertoire and was most engaging. He teamed up and did a "crooner" show with the Hal Cat's in the Queens Lounge and was great - imo - he belonged in the Ocean Bar each night vice hidden away in the Crows Nest. The piano bar had a gent who relied on his computer synthesizer to make the music and then he would riff and sing along - not to our liking, but perhaps others enjoyed synthesized music more than we did. The night club/disco music was very contemporary and targeting the under 30 patrons - after the shows were concluded the entertainers would congregate and that was the passenger's que to depart. Shows - we attended one, and enjoyed all aspects. It was well put together. The Juneau sail-away party advertised never materialized - we laughed at being the only attendees with the bar crew - no entertainment staff showed up - at 48F it was a bit chilly ;-)
Dining: We took all our dinners in the Main Dining room - Sentana/Putu took care of us each night. We made a point the first night - we like our hot dishes hot (not warm) - we expressed our willingness to be served last to have the meal hot. We had every dish served at the appropriate temperature the remainder of the week. We expressed our appreciation to the staff and to Sentana/Putu who took such great care of us. Wine Steward - Jerry - unpretentious and knowledgeable - we look forward to engaging him again on future cruises.
Room Service: Too slow to take orders and too slow to deliver - 20-30 min holds for the order and 30-45 min waits for the food. See below for recommendations to Holland America.
Room; As advertised - bed was firm (which is to our liking) adequate storage, great room service from Bidu/Agi who took care of our every need, much in an anticipatory manner. With four days at sea, the room was used more than most cruises and we spent a good deal of time on the balcony enjoying the views.
Neptune Lounge: The concierge duo was excellent, the engagement as expected. Special callout to Hoda, who noted we infrequently used the lounge, but went out of her way to ensure our needs (if any) were met. We saw others using the lounge as a gathering place, and quiet place to sit and read.
The ports of call and highlights:
Ketchikan: Small town of 8,000 - we walked to the Totem Pole museum and enjoyed the history within. We walked back and at the Creek Street bridge noticed the salmon running so thick you could walk across the creek on them. We walked the obligatory Creek Street, and then along the waterfront.
Juneau: Bigger town of 33,000 - we took the Roberts Tram and enjoyed both the ride and the information at the various centers at the top. Following the Tram, we walked Juneau, and enjoyed it. All tourist stores were liquidating product and we learned, for many, that day was their last day of work as the Oosterdam was the last ship of the 2013 Season. We did not take a float-plane tour, those with whom we spoke and who did take the tour loved it. We observed that walking down to the Seaplane area was a breeze and one could make their own arrangements
Tracey Arm - we got pretty darn close and heard and saw the calving of the glacier. We now understood where the term "ice blue" originated. This was the highlight of the trip.
Victoria - very nice quaint town, with a lot of history. We had intended to go to the gardens, but the torrential rain dissuaded us, instead we walked about the downtown until we tired of the downpour.
RECOMMENDATIONS for HAL - all of which are nits and picks:
Increase your print size: The demographic is 50+ for HAL - most of us after about age 45 are carrying readers - when the print is so small on the TV or print material (read menus) - it makes it difficult for us.
Literally missing the boat re interactive technology: The TV could and should be used to interact with your guests.
A - Room Service - obviate the 20-30 min wait to get an order taker - by allowing the guest to order from the interactive TV - order accuracy improves and the line gets the order efficiently.
B - Monitor spending - ability to view the expenses on a continuous basis
C - Shore Excursions - show your guest a preview of the excursion and then allow them to order it right then and there.
D - Personalized schedule - sign up for events on board and have it show on the screen
E - TV Guide - have it default to current time and then allow the guest to step forward. Ability to hit an info button to know what is being broadcasted would be basic.
F - Cell at sea and Internet at sea - time to review who your service provider is - it was down more than up and when the Captain has to come on to make an announcement - it clearly is service provider and not shipboard error.
Northern Lights Disco - perhaps cater to the passengers vice crew with music selection (at least before midnight when most of us over 50 are looking for pumpkins)