Review of Volendam’s 7-night R/T Vancouver Alaskan cruise during the week of June 25 – July 2, 2014: Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage. Captain James Russell Dunford and Cruise Director Mark Brignone. During this cruise we saw bald eagles, a bald eagle’s nest, whales, bears, sea lions, and deer.
WEATHER: Sunny skies, pleasantly warm weather, and no rain. We brought way too many different weather clothes not knowing what to expect. So we kept sending the same items to the laundry. The retractable dome was over the Lido Deck all week except during the transit of Glacier Bay. To us the greenhouse effect felt excessively hot and uncomfortable as we walked through several times, but others were happily sunning in shorts and bathing suits.
There’s a quiet peacefulness about Alaska, with the sounds of nature gently settling upon the heart and soul to overtake the senses. Sometimes we’d just sit on our balcony and let ourselves be carried away. We took this cruise to see, experience, and feel what Alaska had to offer. This remarkable cruise encourages a return because there’s so very much there in terms of beauty and history.
We arrived early for a pre-night stay at the Pan Pacific Hotel which sits above the cruise terminal. The hotel gave us a complimentary upgrade to a large corner room on the 11th floor with floor to ceiling windows on two sides. The morning of our cruise we saw the Volendam arrive and dock just below. From the lobby, a dedicated elevator takes passengers to the check-in process and onto the ship. The entire process was effortless and proceeded quickly.
The Volendam is a mid-size intimate vessel (approximately 1450 passengers) built in 1999. A dry dock is scheduled for two weeks during December 2014; however, the ship was in good shape with just a few nicks and bruises around the edges. The theme of flowers was abundant and expressed in both décor and real bouquets throughout. The predominately Filipino/ Indonesian crew was friendly, helpful, unobtrusive, and went out of their way to remember people and make them feel welcomed. They make great ambassadors to the Holland American brand.
Our portside Neptune Suite (previously Deluxe Veranda Suite) 7020 was directly across from the Neptune Lounge. We expected a noise issue with the Lido Deck directly above, but heard only an occasional chair scrapping while on the balcony. This suite is somewhere between the pool and pool bar above. Plenty of room to spread out and relax with generous storage areas to keep everything out of sight, but easy to find. The bathroom had one full-sized sink, a small whirlpool tub/shower combination, wall units, counter top and under-counter space. Adjoining the bathroom is a 6 inch step-down to the dressing area with vanity, mirror, more storage space and a small sink. A king bed, large angled sofa, coffee table, two chairs, small fridge, safe, bar, umbrella and binoculars completed the interior space. The gigantic balcony had a dining table, four chairs, two loungers, and a small drink table. 11 ft. wide and double the length of a balcony stateroom. We took of advantage of the complimentary laundry several times and received same day service before dinner.
Our suite was directly across from the addictive Neptune Lounge (“one-stop shopping for all your cruising needs”). Operational hours were 7:00 A.M. to 8:30 P.M. We didn’t expect to use it that much, but once in we became daily regulars. They also provided continental breakfast, midday snacks, canapés, ice water, hot tea/chocolate and coffee.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT: Activities (didn’t attend) but we did see most of the main evening shows: Listen to the Music (medley of music to be found on the ship), Classique (classical music and dance from Mozart to Manilow), Droom (musical fantasy with an international song list, of the struggle between good and evil in a magical garden), and Buzz Sutherland (clean comedy) were excellent. International Illusionist Neil Croswell would be entertaining for children, which there weren’t many of on this cruise. We missed the Filipino Crew Show and Dancing with the Stars (HAL dancers and passenger finalists) to win the title of Stars at Sea Cruise Champion.
DINING & FOOD: We are a meat & potatoes couple looking for simple food simply prepared with some degree of heathy selections. The gourmet dishes presented, covered in sauces, with an assortment of many things mixed in) is not what we eat.
Lunch and dinner in the Rotterdam (main dining room) had excellent soups, salads, and desserts. Entrees were at best good, but more often poor. Breakfast everywhere was the same—98% Fat Bacon, lifeless food, hot food cold, too greasy.
We never heard of a ship without 24-hour pizza but the Volendam doesn’t have one. Didn’t matter because what they were serving at the Lido Buffet was a slice of really thick dough with a thin coat of yellow and a dot of red.
SCENIC CRUISING GLACIER BAY: It started to get cold all at once from what was a warming cool day when we first entered Glacier Bay. It became even colder in Icy Straits as we looked in wonder at the floating chunks of ice become larger and larger. Then the ship stopped. We first heard the sound and then felt the jolt of Margerie Glacier carving with a rush of water, ice, and rock crashing into the bay. Then a strangely beautiful silence, a place lacking reality. The ship stayed still for several more carvings before starting her 360 degree rotation. There was another glacier during the turn. We were envisioning the landscape to be covered in snow and ice from peak to shore. Like the ones you see in postcards and travel brochures—one continuous circle of snow and ice and more glaciers carving. Is this something you see only on PhotoShop or is there/was there a time when. As we cruised from Glacier Bay the Captain announced a whale sighting portside. About 15 minutes later there was a commotion on another balcony and we rushed out to see a playful and active whale. After the initial antics we were rewarded with the whale breaching not once but three times. You could see it very clearly without wasting time retrieving binoculars. The whale then did a playful dance, gave a final wave of the tail and disappeared leaving us speechless.
JUNEAU: MENDENHALL GLACIER & WHALE QUEST: This tour operated in reverse. It started with a scenic drive of Juneau with an informative and interesting driver. Arriving at Auke Bay we boarded a whale quest boat which would take us through Stephens Passage. The craft was heated inside, with large windows, restrooms, and a naturalist. Complimentary binoculars and route map were provided. As warm and comfortable as the interior was, we headed to the open observation deck and waited expectantly, watching in silence at the water, waiting. And then….we saw them….whales! And plenty of them with extra time on this excursion.
Mendenhall Glacier: This moving river of ice is a place of great beauty, and we felt like witnesses to some primal spot of unearthly beauty and awe. Sufficient time to tour the Visitor Center after the easy 3-minute walk to the glacier. Longer trails are available but can’t really be done within the limited time we were there. Except it was possible for a fast walker to make the 45-minute r/t trail that takes you closer to the waterfall. But check with your driver.
SKAGWAY: YUKON EXPEDITION & WHITE RAILWAY: Words cannot describe the landscape and waterscape stretching as far as the eyes could see into a semi virgin forest touched by only a few. Our motor coach traveled 2 ½ hours toward the Yukon, up the Klondike Highway and over the summit to the settlement of Carcross. The driver was very informed and highly entertaining and made us want to learn more about the Gold Rush era. Several scenic sight stops were made so people could stretch and take pictures. At Carcross we had an excellent chicken lunch with plenty of time to visit the wildlife museum and dog musher’s village. From there we had one additional 20-minute stop and then headed to Frasier B.C. In Frasier our return was via the White Pass Railway. The narrated history along the White Pass Railway is something we are going to educate ourselves more about. Quite a few landmarks documenting some of the varied and sorted history of the time. If you are returning to Skagway from Frasier sit on the right side of the train (facing toward the direction the train is traveling). Otherwise you’ll be looking at a mountain. Buses were waiting at the train exit for the return ride to Skagway.
KETCHIKAN: MISTY FJORDS BOAT & FLOATPLANE ADVENTURE: This tour operated in reverse. After a very short drive through part of this very small town we boarded our floatplane (20-minute ride). We could only imagine the endless flow of nature and life as we looked down and sometimes through the mist at the beautiful landscape and waterscapes. The plane landed on a pontoon in the middle of the water. We knew at once we were at an edge of some magical gateway. As we waited we saw our small sightseeing craft approach. The picture was eerie but beautiful, so calm, so quiet. On a similar but smaller craft as the one used on whale quest, we slipped into Misty Fjords. It was as if we had entered a pristine wilderness en-route to a mysterious island, adrift in a tranquil sea of ever-changing surprises. Tall silvery waterfalls, movement that signaled something was stirring in the water, a glimpse of something on land, a volcanic peak breaking through the water. We spent almost the entire trip on the open observation deck. Bring a jacket, gloves, and hat. This one gets cold topside once in the waterways from where we sped toward our ship. We felt as if we too were part of the mysterious landscape in some small way. Yes, we would enjoy returning to Alaska.
VANCOUVER HIGHLIGHTS: This tour was cancelled by HAL.