Day 1: Vancouver
We’d flown into Vancouver the day before and booked the Marriott Pinnacle hotel downtown so that it would be convenient for boarding in the morning. I slept in, but DH was up early watching the ship dock at Canada Place, and started counting the seconds until we were allowed on board.
Sometime around noon, we grabbed a taxi for the $6CAD drive to the port, and once arrived and began the trek through the somewhat confusing boarding process. I hadn’t realized that they would be boarding three ships all at once in one jumbled security line before we’d ever get to check in, and it was confusing to say the least. Additionally, we were confused with the Princess people and stopped by the Wine Dragon (for Princess), who was trying to take our 2 bottles of Tempranillo away until he noticed we were HAL passengers and waved us on.
Once through that line, it was on to Customs and Immigration, and THEN finally to the Volendam checkin line.
This should have been a breeze. We were in a Neptune Suite, and were whisked to the front of the queue. My husband, however, was getting over a cold said so on the health form, producing his antibiotics and doctor’s note clearing him for travel. This raised a red flag, however, as we both now needed to be checked out by the ship’s medical team prior to boarding. We were ushered over to a cordoned off area and left to sit there for 45 minutes, with our boarding cards kept from us. We saw 2 other groups brought into this area, but no medical team in sight. Finally, around 1:15, someone appeared, asked the same questions that we’d answered on the form, handed us our cards and let us go.
There was no examination, no special evaluation – DH decided that if he wasn’t an honest person, he’d probably have lied on the form and saved the trouble. I pointed out that’s how ships end up Code Red. Either way, we were finally through, and we made it to our cabin.
Day 2: Inside Passage
Did I say lovely weather? Strike that.
You know that feeling you get when you’re in the back seat of a car that’s driving around a sharp turn in one direction, and then it suddenly shifts into another direction? Well, the boat was doing that ALL DAY.
When we were at lunch, you could barely see past the windows due to the fog and rain. The ship was also a ghost town, presumably because of the people attempting to gain their sea legs. At one point the ship slowed down enough for us to disembark the Canadian Pilot, but it was a very harrowing thing in the choppy waters.
This was the first of the two Formal nights. There were people in all levels of dress walking around, from casual to black tie. I even saw a gentleman in a kilt. Everyone appeared to be having a good time, no matter how they were dressed, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?
Day 3: (Morning) Tracy Arm
After breakfast, it was time for the people who were heading out to Tracy Arm to head off on their excursion. The captain made an announcement, and we looked over our balcony just in time to see them dart away.
Day 3: (Afternoon) Juneau
This was the stop I was looking forward to all trip. I was going to mush sled dogs! I prebooked this online, as I’d heard it sells out. I found out that there are actually two different tours offered that do this due to the popularity. One goes to the closer Mendenhall Glacier, which is where most of the tours end up going, but as I’d booked early I was on the more exclusive “Norris Glacier” tour. It was farther away (around 25 minutes by helicopter), and the only people going there were specifically to see these sled dogs. It was very secluded, and very beautiful.
(I wish I could say the dogs themselves were beautiful, but they’re not bred for their looks. )
Once there, we were shown the dog camp, then taught how to use the sled. The dogs then ran us for 20 minutes at around 6-8mph (it was too warm for them to run much faster than that, but you definitely felt their power).
After we got back to the camp, we got to pet some of the dogs as they cooled down. It was neat watching them eating the snow and generally playing around with each other.
Back into the helicopter we trudged to head back to the ship, seeing the different glaciers of Juneau from above.
The thing that struck me about this tour was how the landscape goes instantly from white to green, once you crest a mountain. It is stunning. This tour was worth every penny of the $574 charge.
Day 4: Skagway
We arrived in around 7AM, so after having breakfast, we decided to wander around downtown Skagway. We’d been planning on walking, but as soon as we got off the boat, we were hit with a bracing wind and decided that the $2 one way shuttle charge ($5 for all day, including visits to Jewell Gardens/Cemetary) didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
It turned out that there actually wasn’t much to do in Skagway besides shop, and we’re not shoppers, so we looked around for a few minutes then went back to the ship to wait for the train.
The White Pass Summit Scenic Railroad tour is a 3 hour tour that takes you roundtrip on old train cars pulled by a steam engine through the old White Pass. The tour commentary is very interesting, and the scenery is breathtaking. I highly recommend it.
Day 5: Glacier Bay
The next morning, the Park Rangers were let aboard sometime before we awakened. We'd decided to order room service and hang out in the cabin all day, and were greeted with beautiful views of Glacier Bay park all day, with narration from the Park Rangers coming through the TV. At one point before the ship was scheduled to turn around DH said he wanted to go to the bow and get some different view of the ship turning.
He was in the process of standing up when a klaxon sounded. I didn't think anything of it at first, because one had gone off at the same time every day of the cruise for a fire drill. This was different, however, as it appeared there was an electrical fire on Deck 8, forward, in the spa. They needed people to evacuate the spa, the front of the Lido, and the Crows Nest immediately.
Now, under "normal" circumstances, the Crows Nest on a sea day is the place to be. During Glacier Bay day, it was PACKED. I would imagine there was quite an operation to get people out of there.
I didn't hear anyone complain about this afterwards, however, and it was roughly an hour before the fire (for there actually was one) was put out and the smoke was all cleared. Once that happened, we completed the turn and sailed on our way. This was all handled quickly, professionally and efficiently by the crew.
This was the second formal night, and people seemed to be "more" formally dressed this time.
Day 6: Ketchikan, AK
My husband booked a shore excursion to go Halibut fishing, which he says is the highlight of his trip. He caught many, many fish. He said that Alaska is now his favorite place to fish.
He caught: 2 Halibut (he threw one back, under Alaskan law)
One person that went out even got a Salmon.
All of it was filleted, flash frozen, and will be arriving to our home via overnight shipping next Tuesday.
The caveats are that you have to have a US address if you want to keep the fish. If you are a foreigner (Canadian or otherwise), you can go fishing but you cannot send it home without having alternate arrangements.
My day was entirely less interesting. Having no particular plans, I merely walked around the town, saw the shops and the old town, and then went back on the ship. There are some beautiful furs and pelts to be had here if you are into that, and the totems are nice if you have the decorating scheme for it. My house is modern and there's nothing rustic about it, so no totems for me unfortunately.
This was also Le Cirque night at the Pinnacle Grill. We opted to dine there. The staff was all questions for us as we've been to the real Le Cirque and they wanted to know how their version compares.
I learned from my grandmother that when someone asks you a question like that - the only way to answer it is politely.
Lets take it for granted that a restaurant that charges $250 a person (without wine) and buys fresh ingredients *daily* from the best sources in New York and Las Vegas cannot possibly be replicated on a ship that gets its stock replenished once a week.
Now, say that the menu is "inspired by Le Cirque", and that the staff will do their best to give you the experience of the treatment of that restaurant, for the bargain basement price of $49pp, and you'll have a better idea of what that is.
That said, I found HAL's Le Cirque at the Pinnacle Grill to be worth the money spent. When asked what my husband's favorite dish at the real Le Cirque was (we weren't complaining, we were happy with the menu presented, it was only a query from an inquisitive restaurant manager), darned if the restaurant manager didn't go to see if they couldn't find the ingredients to make it for him. We assured him that they didn't have them on the ship before he even went to try, but that didn't deter him.
This is Holland America at its finest.
When I overheard someone complaining the next morning about how the Le Cirque wasn't actually Le Cirque, and the steak wasn't worth the $250 name, it was all DH could do to hold me down to keep me from throttling the guy.
If you pay $50 and expect $250, yes, you'll be disappointed. I found the service to be worth every penny.
Days 7/8: Return to Vancouver
The Mariner's brunch was on the last day of the cruise. We spent the day packing to go home and watching the world go by.
On the last morning, the sun was up early again and we woke up around 5:30AM to watch the boat arrive into the Vancouver area. It was a beautiful morning, not too much fog, and we were able to see the mountains and the bridge on the way in.
There appeared to be some issues when we docked, however, and everything was delayed by around 45 minutes-1 hour.
At 9:45, we were off the ship and boarded a bus and were headed on our way through a quite enjoyable quick tour of Vancouver, that led us around Stanley Park, Gastown and Chinatown, then on to the airport.
Once at the airport, we learned from the bus driver that you cannot check bags more than 3 hours before your flight. It was just about noon, and our flight didn't leave until 6:30pm. We decided to check in for the flight anyway and deal with the bags later.
At checkin, we were told it was actually *5* hours prior, not 3. If we came back at 1:30 they would be able to take our bags. That worked for us fine. We head over to get lunch, then when we were done, we dropped off our bags and headed through Customs/Immigration to wait for our flight.
And that takes me to the end of my journey.