Our family just returned home from our 7-day roundtrip (from Seattle) Alaska trip aboard the Westerdam that called on Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, B.C.
BACKGROUND This is our second HAL cruise, first with the kids but all of us are veteran cruises. We typically cruise on Carnival and have also cruised NCL in Hawaii. On this voyage, my husband (49), our twins (6) and I (39) traveled with my sister and her family (one teenager) and the kids grandparents (60's). It was my sister's families 1st time cruising as well as my parents.
HOTEL We stayed at the Vintage Park Hotel Friday and Sat night prior to our hotel. It is a beautiful quaint hotel. The rooms are quite small but comfortable. The staff was excellent and helpful with recommendations for restaurants, touring, etc....
TRANSPORTATION From the airport we took two limos which we arranged right at the airport at the Transportation Booth. From the Hotel to the port we used taxi cabs and from the Port to the Airport on return we got a van. None of our transportation was prearranged and it worked out perfectly and ended up being cheaper than folks who had arranged things in advance.
EMBARKATION Very Smooth. We arrived about 12:30PM. We checked in at the Suite Line and the rest of the family checked in at the normal line. We all boarded at the same time immediately after going through security. We did have to track down a porter as there did not appear to be very many, but it did not take to long. Once boarded we went to the lounge had a quick snack and stored out carry-ons. We meet the rest of our party on the Lido. We toured the spa; signed up for Thermal Suite and then they were announcing all cabins were ready (I think it was about 1:45PM). I did hear some of the suite folks complain in the lounge that they did not notice anything special about their boarding, nor did we but my opinion is that if the cruiseline can board everyone the same as they suite passengers then they are doing something right!
SHIP The ship is beautiful, both inside and out. We found it easy to navigate and our room was in a perfect central location. The Kids Club in always a little more challenging to get to as you can only take a certain elevator to go up otherwise you have to walk outside, but we have found this to be similar to other ships as well. I do remember more flowers on our past HAL cruise but what we saw was nice.
THE SUITE LIFE/CABIN SERVICE Loved it! My family was in Suite 6088 and the rest were in Deluxe Balcony Cabins (6048, 6046). Our Suite was wonderful and roomy. There was so much storage space we had we had empty drawers. The balcony was superb and we utilized it often. The others were happy with their cabins, though my sister mentioned three in the cabin (2 adults, one teenager) was a bit crowed. Now that we have been in a suite it will be hard to go back to a standard balcony cabin. We took full advantage of the laundry service and had appetizers delivered most nights at 5PM. We did not utilize the Suite Lounge much as we found they did not open as early as we would have liked (we are all very early risers and were up by 6AM). Had to go to the Lido for coffee this early or room service. We stopped by and grabbed appetizers a few times on those nights we did not have them delivered, but other than that we never stayed in the lounge. Maybe if there had been windows, but who would want to when you could be looking at the beautiful scenery. The best thing about the Suite was the space to move around and the balcony. The kids loved the flowers delivered on formal night and loved the towel animals. Our steward was friendly enough. Not as chatty or as friendly has we find on carnival but the cabin was always spotless. We are fairly neat (yes, even with two kids) which he mentioned laughingly, he learned our hours and our cabin was always made up whenever we were out. We pretty much never saw him. He always kept the ice bucket full and kept our wine/champagne chilled. We did not use room service but our family did in their cabins and loved it!
We were onboard for the 173rd Airborne Reunion and had party in our suite twice prior to dinner. The staff ensured we had lots of ice and appetizers. The suite was wonderful for this and nice for get together prior to dinner.
KIDS CLUB The kids are veteran cruisers and this was their 4th cruise but 1st time with Club Hal. We utilized the club on Sea Days and at night on Port Days. After boarding we were invited to the Open House for sign-up paperwork and viewing of the club. The club opened later that night at 7PM. A schedule was delivered each night or early am for the activities scheduled for the next day. On Sea Days (1st day, Glacier Bay and Victoria in the AM) the club was open from 09:00AM-1130AM, 1:00PM-4:00PM and 7:00PM-10:00PM. They can stay after 10:00PM but there is a change of $5.00 per child. On sea days the schedule has some sort of activity scheduled each ½ hour. For example 9AM- Station Imagination, 930- Balloon Volleyball, 10AM- Tag Games, etc.... Each night for the 7PM-10PM schedule they would have some type of theme i.e. Spy Night, Camp Westerdam, PJ Party, etc..
Overall the kids liked Club Hal (not love but liked - they love carnival and loved NCL). The activities were a little boring for them, sometimes they would finish them quickly and just have them color which was ok but nothing exciting. They did like Spy Night a lot in search for the Captains Hat. The don't take them around the ship very often and the club room is not very exciting but they did take the kids to one of the shows one night and they loved that. My daughter had already just seen it w/us but wanted to go again with her friends she met at the club. We did not use the club after 10PM with the exception of one night in which we picked them up at 10:30PM. The kids love shows and went with us two nights so did not get to the club until after 8PM typically. The HAL Staff were from Canada in our kids age group. They were great with the kids but very low keyed. Not as upbeat as Carnival but efficient and friendly enough. Our daughter is very social so for her it is all about playing with other kids. My son is more interested in being entertained so he was a little bored at times. He is more of a academic and when they figured out that they were really good at getting special puzzles and making up quizzes for him. I found it nice that they did not use a one size fits all approach.
One thing I found annoying is that the club was not open during the hours of the Mariners Lunch or Suite event. While we could have taken the kids with us, I would think most people would prefer not to and it would have been nice if the hours of those events could have corresponded with Club Hal Hours. We did not attend either and were asked later as to why.
Other family note- we were asked our opinion numerous times about their Kids Programs, Family Events, Food, etc.... They indicated that they really want to make HAL more Family Friendly in Alaska in particular but other markets as well. One staff person indicated that families are spending more money in excursions, onboard, etc.... so we were asked over and over again what we liked, did not like and so on.
Our nephew (16) liked the teen program. He participated in most events and made a lot of friends. He loved the freedom to come and go and liked the game room).
DINING We had traditional early seating at 5:45PM. I wish it could have been a little later as we were always rushing to get there on time (usually got there at 6PM) but the late seating would have been too late. We had a table for 10 (our family) and took turns by the window. Nice table in terms of a view but round tables are better for visiting. We saw so many whales one night it was hard to stop watching them and eat. The food was wonderful in the dining room. There were always a lot of choices for everyone. Our kids eat off of the regular menu but there were kid's menus available. The loved formal night and loved dressing up! We tend to always dress up when we go out to dinner and wore tuxes and gowns on formal night (including the kids) and in general most others around us were dressed up as well. My son loves his tux and all of the attention he gets when he wears it and my daughter loves fancy dresses! My husband and father rented tuxes through the cruiseline and it was super easy and convenient and my brother in law wore his full dress uniform. The service was efficient. Not overly friendly but no complaints. Timing was good and we made the 7:00PM show a couple of times. We ate at the Lido and Pool for lunch a number of times. The salad bar is nice and the kids loved the taco bar. We typically asked the staff what they recommend that day and usually what they suggested was great! The ice cream is yummy but the deserts in the Lido are not as good as they look in general. We ate at the Lido once for dinner one night because we could not get the kids out of the pool and the food was good as well, though much nicer to eat in the dining room. Breakfast was good, lot's of choices if you eat a lot at breakfast. What they did not have you could ask for and they would find it. I saw one man request Crab Benedict daily and they made it. My kids love lox and devoured them daily! The desert buffet was impressive to look at but we did not try anything.
Our wine steward was great! We brought a lot of wine onboard. We were charged a corkage about every other night when at dinner for the bottles we brought.
ENTERTAINMENT/ONBOARD LIFE/SPA We enjoyed the shows in general. We loved the dueling pianos and the illusionist was good! The Westerdam Dancers/Singers did a nice job and were entertaining. The kids loved the costumes! My brother-in-law participated in some of the ships activities (bingo, guess that song) and had fun. Defiantly not the same number of activities as in warmer destination cities. The Crows Nest is lovely! The view, the service and the piano players were great! Loved the coffee shop, internet area and the kids loves the puzzles. My son did puzzles with a number of "older folks" and while I was concerned he was getting in their way, they loved it as did he!
The kids loved the Lido pool and swam every day. The water was cold the first day and then warmed up with the warm sun. They had other kids to play with and my daughter is on a swim team so she was happy she could continue to swim each day.
I was disappointed with the Thermal Suite! It was nice, but we did not get to use it as much as we would have liked. I had to use it during the hours of Club Hal and it was fairly crowed for a private limited lounge. Some people saved seats which was annoying and others fell asleep and never got off! You would basically have to hover right over them to use a lounge. Of which I did not do, so I sometimes did not get a chance to use it before having to pick up the kids. I would not purchase it again unless they could figure out a better method. They sent a note to all users limiting the time to 20 mins but it did not work.
Spa - I had one massage while on board which was heavenly! They arranged it to be in the room which was wonderful! I had the balcony door propped open and you could hear the waves and get fresh air. Much better than those I have had at the actual spa. It was great to slip into my spa tub after and just relax! The gym was fine for a week.
General Something for everyone!! That is the best thing about this cruise. The kids were happy and the grandparents were as well. They loved socializing, they loved the thermal spa and spent more time in it as they hovered!! They (and hubby) also spent a lot of time in the casino and had a grand time! They enjoyed the shows, walked the ship and just had a blast. They are booking there next one!!
GLACIER BAY The bay was beautiful! Watching the ice fall was amazing, while at first it was crowed on deck, it cleared out and it was so nice. The weather was in the high 60's low 70's so it was actually hot. We watched the scenery from our balcony, the deck and finally from the hot tubs. It was amazing to sit in the spa, with the whole Lido roof open and watch glaciers go by. We actually got tan!! The kids spent the day at the pool, watching the glaciers and having a blast.
The ranger that boarded started out in Club Hal which was great. She gave a talk to the kids, taught them all about wild life and brought a lot of stuff onboard for them to look at. My son was fascinated and she was great with the kids.
PORTS: JUNEAU The kids, my mom and me booked the helicopter/dog sledding tour through Temco. Once in a life time experience. We loved it so much! The kids loved the dogs, the helicopter, the glacier, everything! My son and I sat in front with the pilot and he loved it! We even saw mountain goats on the way. The dog camp was amazing! Our guide was so good with the kids, they let us drive the sled, showed the kids how to say all of the commands and let them play a bit with the dogs. Our diver/guide is training for the 2010 Iditarod and told the kids all about it and how they train. The scenery is indescribable and it was so frustrating trying to even get it in a picture. After our sled ride, our guide let the kids see and pet the puppies they had. The weather was perfect (actually on the warm side).
After the tour we went back to town and went on the Mt. Roberts Tram. Fun ride and the view is incredible. We hiked a little and had snacks (restaurant was very slow but the view was nice). The film they show in interesting and all of the guides/employees answered any/all questions and taught the kids to say tribal words. The gal running the tram on the way back down sang the kids a tribal song which was neat. We walked around Port a bit and then went back onboard the ship. The kids of course wanted to swim again!
My husband has a friend who lives in Juneau who chartered a boat and took him and my father-in-law fishing for the day. They saw tons of whales, had a great time and toured the beautiful area. Juneau appears to be a small town and everyone knows everyone. So they also took along a couple of locals who owned a sea plane business. They learned so much about the area. They also flew helicopter simulators when they returned and had dinner with the locals. What a day!
SITKA We pulled open the curtains and saw 10 bald eagles when we arrived sitting outside on a tree. Amazing! We toured SITKA on our own and found it easy to do so. We started out at walking towards the National Park. Along the way we viewed the Bishops House and the Salmon Hatchery. The guide at the Hatchery let the kids feed a huge king crab that they have in a tank. Never seen one so big! Once at the National Park the Park Rangers took the kids, gave them badges, books, told them all about the area and made them Official Jr. Rangers. We then toured around the visitors center - we had a National Park Pass as my dad is a Vet so we did not have to pay anything. One of the artists who carves the totems was working on one outside in the back and he showed the kids how to do it. The freshly carved wood smells wonderful. We then walked through the park - we walked the whole thing which is quite a hike but very beautiful. Parks go by the bay and just to smell the trees and the ocean is so nice. After the park we took a taxi to the Raven Center. Very heart lifting place to see how they try and help the birds. The kids loved seeing them up close. Took a cab back and walked around the rest of town. Had a late lunch at a Mexican Restaurant at the recommendation of the cab driver. The fish tacos were yummy. Lastly we went to the ......... dance. It was a nice show though my son feel asleep (poor little guys was pooped!).
KETCHIKAN We booked a tour through Sea Wind Aviation. We had a private tour the kids, hubby and grandparents. We flew over Misty Fjord - the weather was perfect as it was "misty" but we could see all of the waterfalls perfectly. We saw a mama bear and her cub along the way and our pilot circled so we could watch. We saw a lovely lake and our pilot landed so we could take some pictures and stretch. We pulled up to a little dock in the middle of the lake and tied up for a little while. We saw a beaver stick his head out to watch us. We then boarded the plane again and flew to another lake. We landed and pulled into a beach where we had rented a Park Cabin (gives you the right to go to shore). We had a little picnic, threw some polls in the water and fished a little and just explored. It was magical. We were the only ones on the lake and it was like glass. The weather was perfect (jackets not needed just sweatshirts) and the loons sung to us! But it had to end and we boarded the plane again and flew back to port. We had about ½ hour and did some shopping at an art gallery which happened to have an original water color of a float plane on a lake! What a great souvenir.
VICTORIA We look a cab to town and explored the hotel, so pretty! We then watched a number of street performers which the kids loved and then took a horse drawn carriage tour. After we pub hopped and explored some more. Wished for more time in Victoria. Easy city to do on your own!
NOTE- we did not book any excursions through the ship and never do though my sister and her family did. It therefore made it interesting to compare.
DISEMBARKATION Had a leisurely breakfast on the balcony. My parents came to our cabin that morning and we all enjoyed sipping champagne out of the balcony while watching the port activities (the kids watched TV - a treat for them) sadly wishing we were boarding not leaving. At around 9:45AM we headed off. No line, no people in fact most had already gotten off. Our luggage was right in front of us when we walked off and a porter grabbed out bags and got us in a van to the airport.
SUMMARY Wonderful Cruise, great weather, no rain! Some foggy, misty days but two sunny days. The sea was very rough on Day 1 due to some high winds. I heard lot's of folk's onboard say they got sick but we were all fine.
I think I like warm weather cruises better and I feel like I get more relaxation, but Alaska was so wonderful. I just now need a vacation due to our vacation.
The HAL staff was very nice and professional though not as open and friendly as Carnival. The Captain was out an about a lot and willing to answer questions and pose for pictures.
The kids club is better on Carnival but we signed up for another HAL cruise using the $100 deposit deal and are looking forward to our next one.
We have done many excursions throughout the years from dolphins to stingrays, to tubing to ziplines but nothing compares to the excursions in Alaska. It is such a beautiful, magical State -- something we will never forgot and hope to return to again soon!