I have never cruised before but my wife and I wanted to visit the inside passage of Alaska and this is really the only way to do it.
Not being cruisers, we normally like to road trip, we went in very green and opted for an interior stateroom. Big mistake it was small, and to be honest it felt a little like a prison cell. Based on this we requested an upgrade and after 24 hours and two requests we were given an outer cabin with a balcony which gave a completely different meaning to cruising. So I guess our first lesson was do not try and do this type of travel on the cheap. I must say that as expected it did come at a cost but well worth it.
We were travelling from the UK for three weeks and I did not want to lumber myself with suits for formal dining. I contacted Holland America to get a definition re formal dining dress. They informed me that the Lido restaurant (buffet style) required formal trousers and collared shirts for evening wear as did the Vista Restaurant on five nights the other two nights would be suit collar and tie. Based on this I just packed formal trousers and shirts with collars. When we got on board the dress wear for the Lido was very casual at all times and therefore we elected for the Vista Restaurant waiter service. Even on the full formal evenings people were being allowed in long sleeve shirts and ties. No jacket required. So I just bought a $10 tie on the ship. We were allocated a table along with six other guests and we were very lucky that we all got on very well and enjoyed each others company.
The ship itself looked a little tired in places but was comfortable. As I say this was our first cruise so I cannot compare it with other companies but speaking to other more seasoned cruisers most were giving the impression that whilst they were happy with their lot there are better deals and companies out there.
The staff were pleasant and very helpful especially the cabin and restaurant staff. The cruise offered varying sort of entertainment from nightly shows, and various types of music in a number of bars that you could dance or listen to. If you want to lose your shirt there is also a casino. There were also a number of interesting lectures regarding Alaska itself which gave a lot of background information on the State. Our main preference was to sit in the library area by the Crows Nest bar with a glass of wine. There is a coffee bar in this area which serves the best coffee on the ship but at a cost.
The actual journey through the inside passage is to be recommended and the scenery spectacular. The three scheduled stops are small towns that lean more to the tourist and I would recommend that if you visit Alaska you should try and also travel inland by either car or train. The tours we elected for were worth the money and well organised.
The one thing we did like about cruising was the fact that you went to bed and you woke up at your next destination and someone else has done the work to get you there. I must admit I personally found the last day in the open sea as a bit of a bore as you can only walk around a ship so many times and that is why I would not consider too many cruises in the future.
With regard to the additional charges in respect of fixed rate gratuities and service charge I find these a little expensive but I cannot criticise Holland America too much on this as they all lines seem to charge similar fees. I note that people are not happy that they do not receive their final bill until they are just about to leave the ship, I got a copy of our up to date expenses the night before we left to give us time to study any discrepancies.
This cruise served our purpose and Holland America was a good foundation for future cruises if we should take one. We felt we learnt the pit falls quickly and there are many but all in all an enjoyable experience.