Westerdam, Holland America cruise to Alaska: Seattle, Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria, Canada. Avg speed 15-20 knots. Total distance 2072 nautical miles. (1NM=1.15 mile)
Our cruise rating for the Westerdam is Excellent for the following reasons: Great itinerary, organized, knowledgeable personnel, easy no-wait tendering, eat when you wish, huge variety of tours, classic style of cruising, and 24 hour room service.
I would not recommend this cruise for children. Most of them looked quite bored and we saw them running around in circles on deck 10 and the Lido pool with their parents watching so "they could burn off some energy."
The food was excellent. We also were able to have a table for two anytime we asked. It was fun to see different sections of the dining room, and to be served efficiently without a lot of chitchat. Unless you really wanted to talk with any of the ship's staff, they took care of business quickly and quietly.
This was our first cruise on Holland America (HAL). We left Phoenix for Seattle on US Air and arrived in plenty of time to reach the ship. HAL representatives seamlessly made our transfer to the Westerdam, which was docked about half an hour from SEATAC. Check in was no more than 10 minutes total time. A small disappointment was that we were surprised there wasn't a welcome aboard champagne or orange juice. Immediately we were directed to the Lido deck for a buffet lunch. Our 5th floor cabin at the back side of the ship was ready for us a little after 2 p.m. so we were able to enjoy the sunshine and views on our HUGE extended veranda before the 3 p.m. safety drill.
About the veranda: We were at the back of the ship on the 5th floor. Our 10 x 13 ft veranda was covered so we could have sun if we wanted it near the clear glass railing, or shade back towards the door. We noticed others with balconies on the sides of the ship or below us were unable to use their balconies as much as we did. Also, there were two lounge chairs, two regular chairs and two tables on our veranda, with room to spare. Being at the back of the ship, we had no wind even when the ship was moving. Lying in the sun, wearing a swimsuit while cruising into Glacier Bay was quite a treat! Small icebergs were floating around us and we were surrounded by snow capped mountains. It was gorgeous and a highlight of the trip. Be sure to bring binoculars to see the whales and dolphins.
About the cabin: There was a mail slot outside of the cabin for our " on-board mail" that was so much nicer than how other cruise lines just slide the paper under the door. The bathroom had a shower/tub combo and was quite large. I particularly liked the magnifying mirror and hairdryer. We seldom saw our cabin attendants, but the room was always perfect. They even kept our fruit bowl filled. There was a DVD player in the room and I brought 4 movies, but we did not have time to watch any of them. The weather was too nice to stay indoors. The mattress and linens were excellent quality. And of course we had towel animals each night that caused us to smile as we fell into our plush bed.
Alcoholic drinks: Another great feature about HAL is that you are allowed to bring wine on board to consume in your cabin. Don't even think about trying that on Celebrity or some other cruise lines!! When we wanted beer or wine on board, it was easy and fast to order, but they were not constantly asking if we wanted a drink. Plus there was a nice selection of liquor, soft drinks, etc. in the cabin refrigerator.
About the food: The ship had As you Wish open seating so we could eat when we wanted in the dining room between approximately 6 and 9 pm and were always able to have a table for two. We have never had that on any Viking River, Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, or Disney cruise and LOVE it. The Lido buffet was also available, but we did not use it very often. We usually had room service in the morning, lunch and dinner in the dining room, and room service in the afternoon. Room service was usually 45 minutes or longer after calling, but the food was hot and good when it arrived. In the morning they were exactly at the time we requested the night before. We were planning to use the fee added Pinnacle Restaurant, but the food was so good and varied in the dining room, we decided against it. The Dessert night buffet was very pretty and elegant. They put so much work into it and there was so much food. It was sad to see so much thrown into the garbage at the end.
About the entertainment: The shows were generally well done and easy to find seats. Most of the entertainment was geared toward an older crowd and the jokes, etc. mostly were directed at seniors. Delisco's singing and dancing was my favorite. Mike Robinson, the ventriloquist, was particularly boring with jokes in poor taste. The kids we did see at the shows looked pretty bored. The piano bar was usually quite busy with Nathan Temby encouraging participation. The Ocean Bar had a variety of musical entertainment each day with lots of windows to see outside. We enjoyed the music by Charlie and the HALCats, the Adagio Strings (fantastic!) musicians, and the singers and dancers in the shows. In the Crow's Nest there was Ian Cooney, guitar. We didn't spend much time in the Crow's Nest since we had a much better view from our cabin and it was always hot and crowded up there. Also in the Crow's Nest was a book exchange. I brought four books to it, but there were only a few to choose from. I left for a few minutes and when I returned, all the ones I had dropped off were gone, but no new ones were there to replace them. There are two pools available at no charge. One for adults is at the back of the ship and the covered one inside usually was busier with kids, etc. The pool at the back was warmer than the covered one, and I liked that it was not crowded. While in the hot tub at the back, I saw two bald eagles flying near the ship and landed in a tree on shore. The hot tubs were very clean and the showers were conveniently located to use before entering the pools.
Things on board that we avoided: The rip-off art auctions, bingo, shopping arcade, napkin/towel folding class/ cooking classes, movies, library book rentals, and the shore excursion briefings were pretty boring.
Things we did not like about the cruise: no shuttle bus in Victoria to the town and no free wireless on board the ship. My husband likes the sushi on Celebrity better. The Royal Dutch tea was not what we expected and was a waste of time. We thought they would describe what it was and how it is usually done. It ended up just standing in line to get a small snack and a metal pot of tea.
About Alaska: We saw whales, dolphins, lots of bald eagles, seals (or sea lionsnot sure which is up there) and starfish etc. in an aquarium in Sitka. Very enjoyable trip and the ship was fabulous. The highlight was Glacier Bay. We had such great weather at all times that made it so enjoyable from our veranda cabin.
Glacier Bay (62 degrees) was our favorite spot even though it is mostly "watching ice melt." And seeing ice chunks floating in the water. The colors of the glaciers, sky, and sea are amazing. We briefly went to the front of the ship and couldn't believe the crowds of people trying to look at the glaciers, particularly Margerie Glacier. The majority of the day was spent on our own veranda with perfect quiet and serenity around us. Only two cruise ships are allowed each day.
Juneau (68 degrees) is quite compact and easy to walk by the shops, even with 5 cruise ships in port! We immediately went to the Red Dog Saloon before the crowds of people converged on it and also went into the Alaska Hotel & Bar. We toured the Alaska State Capital Building, St. Nicholas Russian Church, and walked by the governor's mansion with the totem pole in front of it. (Governor Palin was not there, and usually isn't.) The tram is very expensive. We were sitting on our veranda when Mark saw a woman on the walkway by the ship throw her purse out as far as possible into the water and then crawl over the fence to jump in, trying to commit suicide. A guard ran when he saw her and grabbed her before she could jump. Thank goodness!
Sitka (51 degrees) is a tiny, pretty town with lots of Native Americans living there. After a delightfully short and easy tender ride, we walked up to the Castle Rock for great views of the harbor and town. It is a very short walk and not a strenuous uphill climb. Later, we walked about a mile to the National Park and met two people from the area. The man was Tlingit (kling-kit) and the woman was ½ Eskimo. Her father was Anglo and when she was 4 years old her mother died. Her father left her in the orphanage. We thoroughly enjoyed their stories of growing up in the area attending the orphanage school and how the natives were not allowed to own property until fairly recently. They offered to drive us around their town, but although we appreciated their offer, we declined. He told us about how he was a commercial fisherman when he was younger and pointed out the types of boats he was on. After we left them we continued to the small salmon hatchery and aquarium. It was fun watching the local kids helping to take care of the sea anemones, starfish, etc.
Ketchikan (68 degrees) was an easy town to walk around and to see things on your own. There were lots to choose from, but we chose to just enjoy the walking and scenery. The funicular to Cape Fox Lodge was only $2 per person for all day and gave a nice view of the harbor. We also had a beer with a view at the top. We rode it twice so we could walk down the Married Men's Trail; see the fish ladder and the salmon, and the fun walk through a rain forest back to the town. The creek side walk is particularly pretty. There were lots of shops throughout the trip, but we typically avoid them.
In Victoria (71 degrees) we chose to skip Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle since we had just been there a month earlier. We were disappointed that the ship did not offer a shuttle bus to the city. We got off the ship about 6:30 p.m. in Victoria and walked about 10 minutes to Fisherman's Wharf to take the little water taxi across to the main town. Barb's Fish and Chips is right there, too, if you are in the mood for good food. The water taxi was $4 Canadian per person one way and dropped us off by the draw bridge so we could go to Swan's brewery.
After Swan's, we walked near China Town and went to a few more pubs on Government St. before ending our walking tour at the rooftop bar of the historic Strathcona Hotel and Restaurant. It was a younger crowd, but a fun place to have a drink and something to eat before heading back to the ship. On the way back we took photos of the Empress and other buildings lit up at night. After reaching the ship, we walked out on the breakwater and took photos of the ship's lights. The breakwater does not have railings, so we were careful when walking out on it.
We loved the debarkation. Easy and stress free. We stayed in our cabin until we left the ship at the arranged time. Very organized and efficient as compared to other cruise lines. HAL has a baggage express system that allows your luggage to go to the airlines automatically. I am so glad I did not choose that option. On the way to the airport we received a recorded phone call that US air had cancelled our return flight, and in fact the plane was still in Phoenix. (Hope those people weren't planning to get on a ship that day!) The only recourse was to spend the night in Seattle. We still had our luggage with us, so it was easy for us to stay overnight. Unfortunately, some other people on our flight had checked their luggage through HAL. I know in the future I will plan to come in a day early for a cruise!