Ryndam Cruise Review by noid2: Beware of the Cattle Call
Beware of the Cattle Call
Being a first time cruiser we took the advice of our trusted travel agent in booking with HAL. What we didn't know was that the HAL line in general and possibly the Alaska cruises tend to lean towards an older crowd. We are in our mid 50's but felt like youngsters compaired to most of our traveling companions. However we did meet a lot of nice people. We had a deluxe veranda suite (which we loved) which allowed us many perks. Embarkation was a breeze as we had access a special line with no waitng. We boarded just after lunch and were told that our room would not be ready until 3pm. No big deal. We went to the Lido deck and was met by a perky hostess who welcomed us to the "greatest bufffet on earth". We had nothing to compare this to, but to us the buffet provided nothing special or exceptional the entire cruise.
We did the 4-day land tour (cruise tour 12) before our departure and this is where I had the most More issues. If I had it to do over agian I would fly to Fairbanks, rent a car and drive to Seward on my own schedule. The pre-arainged gold panning and riverboat tour were not bad in themselves. It was the transportation in masses that I couldn't deal with. A bus holds approximatley 60 people and there were always 3-4 HAL busses along with mass quantites of busses from the other cuise lines. Yes we felt like cattle being herded. If you like having no flexability and being herded like cattle the entire day then your gonna love this. The gold panning experinece delivered more than we expected, it was fun. However the real gold mine was in the gift shop. $80 for a locket to hold $12 worth of gold. Doesn't take an Einstein to figure this one out. The river boat ride wasn't bad except for the stop at Chena Village. A bit contrived and we had no choice as we were moved to three differnt arenas/corrals to watch presentations by local college kids.
The train ride to Denali was quite enjoyable and very senic. The train cars are very nice and you should not miss dinning in the dining car below. Quite charming. The McKinley Village Chalets, operated by Aramark (aka, the ball park consession stand people) for the park service were quaint but our unit had no heat. The day we hit Denali it warmed up to a whopping 39 degrees and snowed the night before. A complaint to the MOD provided no results. We were told that there were no other rooms available. They eventualy sent the building engineers over who said "yup your heater is not working and with the budget cuts we don't have any spares". I also got bit by bed bugs at the Chalet. Whoo Hooo. I feel like an Alaskan now! We were told that the Princess Lodge next door was quite nicer and appeared so from the outside. Eat dinner out side the park at the Fish & Chips place very good.
The next day we borded the train for the 8-hour trip to Anchorage. Again a very plesent experinece and the eight hours went by quickly. The down side of always being on moving transportation beyond your control is that when there was an animal to see if you blinked twice you missed it. They go by pretty fast at 55 mph. Get out on the platfom it will make you really feel like you are alive.
As other posters have mentioned HAL must have some special deal with Westamrk Hotels. Both the Westmark in Fairbanks and Anchorage left a lot to be desired. A notch above flee bag. Our stay in Fairbanks was for two nights. We were placed in the older 4-story building. On the second night we had no hot water. Not just cold water I mean no water at all. I call the front desk and asked for the MOD and was refered to the food and beverage manager. Apparently the no hot water thing was an epidemic that week. I build hotels for a living so I know generally how these places are plumbed. We did get an engieerr to our room rather quickly because I insisted on it. He removed the shower valve and said "nope ain't gonna work, were going to have ot move you to another room". "We've been moving people all night". After moving to the newer and taller tower we discoverd that the tower actually has very nice suite units that seem releetavly new. I don't know how these are alloted but if they try to put you in the 4-stroy building complain immediately.
On adivce of other posters we canceled the train upgrade (trust me save the money) from Anchorage to Seward. The "deluxe motor coach" leaves at 8am. For HAL passengers the train doesn't leave until noon. You will not get to the ship unitl after 6pm if you take the train. You will miss all the initial exceitment of boarding, probably miss dinner and you will not get to see Seward at all. There was plenty of scenery on the bus. We had an excellent driver who spotted some Dall sheep and pulled over for us. We had cahmpge waiting in our room and were off to a grat start.
On the advice of an experienced cruiser we booked three nights in advance for dinner at the Pinnacle Grill as soon as we boarded. You will pay and extra $20 per person to eat here but it is well worth the difference. Treat yourself. The level of food and service far exceeds the reserved dining room. I can honeslty say that the food at the Pinnacle was as good as any I've eaten. I smuggled my own wine on board in lieu of paying $40 for someting you can get at Costco for eight dollars. You will pay a coorkage fee but again the diference is well worth it. In the main dining room our wine steward was Temmy who was wonderful and our waiter was Batucher who was also wonderful. The food in the main dining room was ok but you will get tired of it unless grazing is all you care about.
As other posters and more experienced crusiers have noted the Ryndam is showing its wear and tear. The decor in the public areas was definately dated and in need of an upgarde. We headed out our first night at sea for the Hubbard Glacier followed by the Radinace of the Seas. We beat the Radiance to the Glacier but somehow they manuvered between us and the glacier and got a lot closer. They Ryndam must have been a half a mile away, whicle the Radinace came within hundred of feet of the glacier. This I did not get.
Our fist port was Sitka which was a charming town. Could have done another day here. Walked to Totem Park which was a rain forst vingnete and was beautiful. If you walk to the right side of the state park bulding they will charge you an $8 entrance fee, however we discoved as we walked out that the locals walk around the back side and pay nothing. Eat lunch at Level II. Best food in town a cut above the rest.
Next we were off to Skagway which herafter will be refered to as Skankway. There is nothing in town except jewlery shop after jewlery shop run by indians. Unfortunatley not the local indians, but by Pakistaini indians who work and rotate the cruise cricuit. Hang on to you wallet in this town. We did do the White Pass Summit Club train ride which I would recommend. Did see a bear but again at 55 mph. Champagne was a nice touch and we were poured three glasses.
Next we were off to Juneau. Juneau was a bit dissappointng as we were expecting a larger town. In regards to booking excursions I can't say it enough about not booking through the cruise line. Anything that can be booked on the cruise line can be book directly with the vendor for a lot less money. Just do a little research on this board and the internet before you go. You will get better excursions for less money. When you get to port (especially) Juneau there are plenty of vendors hawking tours in booths as soon as you get off the ship. Being novices we booked the Whale Watching Wildlife Quest with Allen Marine Tours. Nice bunch of people who run an efficient operation. Yes we saw whales but we saw more whales from the veranda of our stateroom. Eat lunch at Tracy's Crab shack (local cops eat here) or at The Hanger (upscale bar food). Both are right on the dock. I did the float plane tour with "Wings" which was worth every penny. If you are single passenger or an experineced photogrpaher ask to ride shot gun. You will have a better window.
Last port was Ketchikan, one of our favorites. Could have used another day here. Didn't get in to port until 2pm. If you do nothing else on your Alaskan Crusie you must do the Bearing Sea Crab Fisherman's Tour. It is the only excursion where we felt like got the true Alaskan experince. It was also the only tour were I felt like we weren't being fleeced and got more than we paid for. Check the board this is one you don't want to miss it.
Disembarkation was kaos. We were supposed to be getting off at 7:30 am but kept getting the run aorund. Didn't get off the ship until 8:30. Would I curise again maybe, but I would certainly cruise another line. Less
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Cabin review: SA026 Neptune Suite with Verandah