· Background Information DH and I enjoy travel, and we have experienced several cruises (lines include NCL before freestyle, Carnival, Princess and HAL, including Zuiderdam, Amsterdam and Statendam). We are in the 35-45 age group, and we have no children. This cruise was our third to Alaska. This is our first 14-day cruise. This was our fourth sailing on HAL.
· Travel to Port On July 15, we flew American Airlines from RDU to SEA via STL to arrive 2 days before the cruise. On July 16, we rented a car from Avis (SeaTac) to drive to Vancouver. Thanks to a suggestion of another Cruise Critic member, we enjoyed a scenic byway (Chuckanut Drive) along the way. This was a beautiful diversion from (I-5). The border crossing was relatively painless (short wait of maybe 5-7 minutes for one or two cars ahead) with a few questions regarding our travel plans (5 minutes ourselves), but the George Massey Tunnel (on Canada's 99) was a gridlock. We sat staring at the same exit sign (Exit 28) for about 1 hour. We ended up in Vancouver's rush hour. The GPS gave weak directions as we descended along the bridge from Richmond to Vancouver, so we got a lovely tour including Gastown. Our hotel was in Yaletown, but we had a sweeping diversion to get there after missing our initial turn. On July 17, we returned the rental car (Avis is located at the Fairmont), and the shuttle driver delivered us to Canada Place.
· Hotel Info For July 15, we booked one night in SeaTac, WA at the Sleep Inn directly via internet. Hotel provides free shuttle service from the airport to the hotel and complimentary breakfast. For July 16, we booked one night in Vancouver using Priceline and won the Westin Grand on Robson (at Homer). The hotel was very nice, but we were surprised that only 2 elevators served so many floors (31…or 27 since, 4, 5, 13 and 14 seemed absent, I believe). The waits for the elevators were rather long, and we were on the 29th floor. Does Vancouver believe in AC? The room was HOT. Lots of glass and a sunny day contributed, but it took quite a while for the room to cool to acceptable levels. Also, we had booked a 'suite' per Priceline, but no suites were available upon checkin, so we had a regular room. These are the travails of internet bookings… cheaper prices = lower priority? Westin Grand was convenient to fast food (McDonald's, Burger King, Subway) and liquor/wine store next door. The hotel does offer a restaurant, Menu 39, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. A three-course dinner is $39, and a two-course dinner is $31. We also had nice views of the city but not of the ships.
· Embarkation Friday, July 17. Vancouver's Canada Place. We arrived very early (our evil plan…he, he), so we actually got in the wrong line! There was NO one in the line for checkin, but another long line was snaking its way nearby. This was actually for a group to tour the ship. After a few minutes discussion with others in line, we realized our mistake and joined the, now, few people standing in the actual checkin line. We were told checkin would begin at 11:00 am. Checkin was quick and painless. We were in Group 1 (just after the suite guests) to board. We were directed to sit in the chairs and were told that boarding would begin at 11:30. We were onboard by 11:35 am. Announcements indicated that cabins would be ready at 1:30. We headed to the Lido ahead of the crowds. A luggage check area was available by the Lido pool, but we didn't use it. We enjoy boarding early for two reasons: 1) we get a lunch included in our cruise price, and 2) we can tour the ship while most are still in the Lido to take pictures of public areas without capturing strangers. · Ship Info This was scheduled as a 14-day Glacier Discovery cruise (RT Vancouver), but it could be booked as individual legs.
The negatives: One public restroom (near the show lounge) had a repaired sink (with major caulking clearly visible in the bowl) EGADS! The crew was refinishing handrails in stairways during our cruise (scraping to bare wood to revarnish)... some might complain about the smell, but maintenance must continue. The crew was painting along the lower promenade deck one day, preventing us from being able to walk around completely on the port side... nearly ruined my cruise (you believe that, right???). You can't go to the 7th floor lower dining room on the 7th floor. You must access from 6 or 8 or use the rear elevator bank. Some find this bothersome. We don't. We try to use the stairs to offset the calories. The elevators... I had read several issues (from posters I absolutely trust, so I have no doubt true) with the elevators. On boarding day, two were out of use due to the movement of luggage (which was handled more quickly than any other cruise we have taken). On the last day, the farthest rear elevator (starboard side) delivered us to the lido for breakfast, but the doors did not open. A fellow passenger forced the doors open, and we were about 6 inches above floor level. The elevator seemed to be out of commission after that.
We did experience higher levels of warmth in Vancouver while the ship was docked. Of course, Vancouver was in the process of breaking temperature records! Once moving, the air flow improved.
In Sitka, tendering was a little slower than I expected it would be. We wrote about this on our survey cards. The Ryndam was using only one side of the "B" deck's forward doors on our first trip to Sitka. The Amsterdam was using both sides, so they were moving much more quickly than we were. We had a considerable line for the return trip (and a wait of about 45 minutes). Ask Bill98006 about the scenic harbor cruise (on Tender #10). On the second trip to Sitka, we were the only ship in port. The tendering began with both port and aft, but by the afternoon, only one side was in use.
The ship offers self-serve laundry services. Regardless of any information to the contrary, there is NO laundry available on Deck A (4). Some maps still indicate this (as well as a directory near the elevators). On Main (5), the port side offered 3 machines (combo with washer on bottom and dryer on top). This is a tight fit with only 2 chairs, a table for folding, and an ironing board. On Lower Promenade (6), the starboard side offers 5 machines and more area to sit while waiting (4 or 5 chairs). For a wash, the charge is $2.00 (approx. 30 min. on cold water/normal fabric cycle), and for the dryer, the charge is $1.00 for 45 min on (I used medium heat).
· Stateroom We had originally booked an inside room (on A deck), but as prices dropped, we switched to an oceanview (824 on A deck, a category F). DH is prone to seasickness, so we strive for low locations. Our cabin was convenient to the rear elevators and staircase. Our stewards, Aan (pronounced Ah-ahn) and Rosman, were very capable. Rosman seemed more reticent than Aan to interact with us, but he was still quick with a smile and nod in greeting. I sensed that he was less comfortable with English. The bathroom had no medicine cabinet, and there was no shelf underneath the sink. DH wasn't interested in using our over-the-door shoe holder. This limited storage, so much of our "stuff" ended up in one of the top drawers of the collection of 6. There were 4 closet doors, with one containing shelves (2 available; 1 with lifejackets; 1 with card-activated safe - not code-activated). The bottom area of this closet held the laundry basket for valet service. We used it for our own dirty clothes bag. A second closet section was full-length, with a bar on the floor of it that could make it a two-level hanging system. A third offered upper hanging with a shelf (could be locked into an upward position to created full-length hanging space). The fourth offered upper hanging, and the shelf was in position to create a cubby hole for the stewards' supplies (the day coverlet, an extra blanket...). The storage stool for the desk had sheets inside. The room was very clean… yes, we looked under the bed. Neatly vacuumed; only the rolled "luggage" protective mats were stored under there. We used the underbed space to store our luggage. (Of note, during our Amsterdam cruise, we were unable to place our largest suitcase under the bed in our HA cabin, assigned due to guarantee. In this cabin, not HA, we were able to store all pieces under the bed.)
For those who are looking for the negative: Not all of the grout in my shower was the same color (implying that some repair work had been done). Three tiles on the wall under the bathroom sink were not flush with the rest of the wall. There was a small crack near the drain of the bathroom sink (probably from someone dropping a can of shaving cream) but no leak. The power button on the TV remote was uncooperative, so I had to use the actual power button on the flat panel TV.
For those interested in hooking AV equipment (game systems or video cameras) to the TV, I have small hands, and I had trouble even pressing the power button. The DVD player's back panel is easily accessible, so those connections may be an easier route.
· Dining We chose open seating. We prefer to eat early, and we have enjoyed open dining in the past (on Princess and HAL). We don't mind the 5:15 to 6:15, and we prefer a table for two. This time, however, we so enjoyed the company of our new Cruise Critic friends (and we had a very successful meet and greet), so we enjoyed eating with the larger group on several occasions. We usually do make reservations, and we usually find an area and set of servers we particularly like and stay there. This time, we didn't make a single reservation. We walked up (usually at 5:45 or 6:00 - with once or twice at 6:30) and were seated in short order… Even with a party of 9. For Master's Chef's night, there is NO open seating. The fixed times are 5:15 and 7:45 (for 5:30 and 8:00 meals). This was different than our experience on Amsterdam and Statendam, when we did not have the show but we did have the menu. We had no complaints about food. I joked that on my Statendam cruise, I had the pumpkin soup... with three toasted pumpkin seeds as garnish. This time, I got no garnish. Wow, the quality is really slipping. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.) Even on Master Chef's night (when I didn't enjoy the Wild Mushroom Strudel on the Statendam), I enjoyed the Whole Roasted Tenderloin of Beef on Ryndam. On the first Master Chef's night, DH was not feeling well enough to join us for dinner (due to mal de mer), so he missed the festivities. I enjoyed the evening with zumaqueen and her party (thank you for looking out for me!). I did find the entertainment to interfere with conversation, having to stop when the next song began. I did note that the area seemed more deserted than on other evenings… 1) Master Chef's Night dance and hoopla; 2) limited menu with lots of mushrooms in the dishes, 3) last evening of cruise with folks packing and/or avoiding extra tipping. There was only one night when we felt the dining room service was a bit too slow. We were a party of 5 at a table for 6, and it took much longer than usual to complete the meal. Usually, we were finished by 7:30 - and once while a table for 2, DH and I were able to enjoy the 7:00 show after dinner, yet, we didn't feel rushed. Once, while seated at an oval table for 8, we were told that the next party, who had reserved the table for the later seating, was waiting (while we had enjoyed discussing our previous travels among the tablemates, including our CC 5 and 2 ladies in a party of 2). We certainly were done with our meal - and coffee service. During the second Master Chef's night of our journey, we had booked (online) the Pinnacle Grill at 6:00 pm. Wow. I had the, Dungeness Crab cakes and Steak Diane… divine. DH had the Caesar Salad (prepared tableside to the diner's requests) and the 10 oz filet mignon with garlic butter. He had the vanilla soufflé, and I had the chocolate soufflé. We had never dined in Pinnacle, and from descriptions on the HAL board were afraid it would not be worth the time or expense. A fellow CC'er claimed after this meal that the Ryndam's Pinnacle is the best she has ever experienced. (That means an 'uh-oh' for our future sailings.) We (the CC'ers) requested the dining room menus from the Beverage Manager, since he was our main contact on this ship. On the final sea day, Room Service called to verify that I was in my cabin to receive them. I will type up the contents and post.
· Activities We were able to attend team trivia on several occasions during the first week, but somehow, our schedule didn't coincide with these events much during the second week. I attended the towel animal folding session, an afternoon concert by pianist Garin Bader, and a presentation on Alaska's native cultures by Travel Guide Moses Wassilie on the afternoon of 7/23, after leaving Hubbard Glacier. The seas were quite active, so DH was down for the count in the cabin. On the final day, we ventured into the Crow's Nest during a dance lesson (Mark, the lead singer/dancer, accompanied by Ashton (sp?) who was also a singer and a very good dancer in the production shows) incorporating several steps to the Jacksons' "Blame It on the Boogie." We watched "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" in the Wayang Theater. On both Juneau days, the CD arranged for a local family to perform in the Vermeer Lounge during our port stop. We also saw/heard this family at the top of the Mount Roberts Tramway in the entrance to the gift shop. They were quite talented.
Activities offered we did not attend (numerous): culinary events in Wayang Theater/Culinary Arts Center, sporting events (including dam dollars awards) such as ping pong and bocce ball, the On Deck for the Cure Walk, numerous movies in Wayang Theater, the napkin folding lesson, the ice carving demonstration.
· Entertainment Production Shows: "Let Me Entertain You" was an introductory show on the first evening. The CD, Matt Allen, served as the MC for several games ('Stack That Plate,' 'Hit That Ball,' and 'Make That Bed') with audience members. I had never seen this routine, and it was entertaining and fun. The Explorations Staff was also introduced: The Techspert, The Travel Guide, The Party Planner, The DJ/Sports Guy. (This show repeated on 7/24 for the newly arriving guests, but we did not attend.) "Hits of Broadway" (repeated on the southbound voyage) "Club Nevada" - variety of songs from famous Vegas acts. *of note, in the past, we have learned to bring ear plugs due to the overly loud volume during production numbers. We were pleasantly surprised on the Ryndam. We wrote a comment card to the sound technician and to thank the singers for singing, not screaming.
The comedians, in my opinion, were a bit weak, but others were quoting those same lame jokes later in the cruise, so others obviously enjoyed it. (Maybe I just spend too much time on the internet, so I had read/heard most of one guy's material.) The first comedian, some said, was a bit mean. His comedy was very much based on stereotypes and ridicule. The second (a comedian/juggler) had a very slow delivery.
The Indonesian Crew Show was entertaining, but scheduled later in the evening. In this port intensive cruise, I was about to drop. (I bought a sleep shirt: beaver with coffee mug captioned "Dam Tired.")
· Service I ran out of thank you cards based on our experiences with the crew. Everyone was delightful, helpful, conscientious, professional... what more can I say? We had contact with the Hotel Manager, the Beverage Manager, Assistant Beverage Manager and the Cruise Director through our meet and greets... all wonderful, friendly, informative, accommodating... The bar servers and wine stewards were available, but we found them very gracious and respectful when we said 'no, thank you.' I also wrote several comment cards to commend specific crew members for a job well done.
· Disembarkation We were assigned Black 5 for disembarkation from 8:15-8:30. The gangway area was uncrowded, and while sad, the process was painless. We had purchased fudge in Skagway (using the $2 savings from the coupon book), and I did claim "food" on my customs form. The agent asked, "What is this product you are taking from the ship?" I responded, "Fudge from Skagway," and opened the top of the bag to show the package. "No problem," he answered, and he made a mark on our customs form to send us on our way. (I mention this experience to answer the question we encountered on an earlier cruise. We nearly made ourselves sick during a cruise to consume as much of the fudge as possible when the port shopping ambassador informed us that we could not take fudge onshore upon returning to Seattle. Admittedly, this was Vancouver, but I would think the USA/Canada question would be tougher than the Alaska/Seattle question.)
· Meet and Greet Experiences DH and I were the organizers for our meet and greet. We had a pretty active roll call (with more posts and more views than any other on the Ryndam's list). We had set up a new email account for members to contact us off the board with personal information (such as real names, cabin assignments and hometowns). I contacted Karla Camp (based on information gleaned from CC), and she confirmed our M&G dates, one for NB and one for SB. I shared info with the group via the roll call, but I also emailed everyone the confirmation paperwork. Some others joined later, so they may not have received that part from me. Upon boarding, I took a list of our group members to the front desk for the attention of the beverage manager. At the bottom of the list, I identified ourselves as the contact for the group. I also listed the date, time and location offered by Ms. Camp and requested that I be notified of any change. In my cabin, I had a note from the Beverage Manager confirming our plans. He called me as well, offering any help or assistance. I had prepared invitations using PrintShop on my home computer (leaving my cabin number blank in case of changes). I filled in the invites (with CC members' names and cabin numbers) to deliver during Friday afternoon in time for folks to plan for our first meet and greet on Saturday afternoon. Three group members had not received cabin assignments, and Nhadj gladly accepted the challenge to have those three delivered. DH and I made the rounds delivering the others ourselves. We had a message upon returning to the cabin… Nhadj informed us that those three were not in the records, but it was possible they had not yet checked in. DH lost a little trust in me and assumed I had mixed up the weeks… nope. We had an informal get together in the Ocean Bar, and we met several CC friends there. All groups were represented at our meet and greet on Saturday, July 18 in the Explorer's Lounge at the official meet and greet. The beverage manager Nigel Thomas was supervising the refreshments (coffee, tea, water, cookies). The area was roped off with "Private Party" signs. Hotel Manager Cees Tessalaar, Crew Purser Ioana Cheregi, Guest Relations Manager Liesbeth Soors and Cruise Director Matt Allen entertained our questions for almost an hour. I had nametags for our CC members and some blanks for any surprises (and for those who joined a little later in the planning). Some CC'ers joined the meeting a little later, so I eased around the room continuing to distribute name tags. Another passenger moved closer to our group to hear the ongoing conversation. We discussed matters of the new ships, the Veendam redesign (and the fact that those changes will not be happening to the Ryndam… therefore, the planned drydock will be shorter than originally scheduled… this from the HotMan and the CD). Several members asked questions about the future of the company relating to megaships, and we were glad to hear that the Eurodam's Signature class (and the new build Nieuw Amsterdam) are the biggest planned. I had brought small gifts for our CC members and guests from the officers and crew. I distributed those before folks could slip away. A whale sighting disrupted the seated event, and it quickly became a standing-room-only event. This developed a more casual atmosphere, and the CC'ers stayed to talk with one another after our scheduled hour. Middle-aged Mom had brought along some gifts to share, but in the excitement of the group, the talk, the whale… they didn't get distributed. I asked Matt (the CD) if he could arrange a room for us for later in the cruise. He was very willing to help. I specified that we would not need any type of refreshments, yet he insisted. My only reason for approaching him was to be assured that any area we selected to meet would actually be available at that time, so by allowing him to put us on the schedule, I guaranteed us a space. I purchased postcards from the boutique on board to create invitations to inform everyone of the date/time of our second meeting for the northbound cruise. While not everyone could join us, it was nice to get together and discuss our experiences. For the southbound leg, I completed the invitations (the PrintShop version I had prepared at home), and DH and I delivered to the "B2B" folks' cabins. The new arrivals' invitations were delivered to the front office since I would be away on an excursion for the turnaround day (Friday, July 24). For the second meet and greet, we adjusted the time due to our scheduled Hubbard Glacier Viewing. The invitations reflected the change, and I wrote a note and placed it on the refreshments table in case anyone wandered in at our originally scheduled time. Still, only the "old" folks from the northbound leg joined us. I was looking forward to meeting the new faces from our southbound roll call, but we were a bit later at the Glacier than expected, so maybe they were otherwise involved. I wrote them a note saying we were sorry we missed them, and we hoped to encounter them elsewhere during the cruise.
· Port & Shore Excursions/Itinerary Vancouver no excursions and, sadly, too little time to explore. We had hoped to find some reasonably-priced Olympic logo attire (no time to look), and we wanted to see Stanley Park. Due to rush hour delays and diversion tour (due to wrong turn), we didn't get over to the Park.
Ketchikan - first time on foot; second time - Through our roll call, we had scheduled an independent cab tour with middle-aged mom. Ketchikan Cab Tour with Dave Freeman along with other CC'ers. Hot day without AC in the minivan (keep in mind, Alaska isn't accustomed to 85 degree days).
Haines - no excursion for us. We just wandered through the very small town. Many enjoyed the bus shuttle. Some visited the small brewery.
Juneau - We were hoping to enjoy Mount Roberts, and our decision was solely based on weather, so we did not book this ahead of time. Visit 1, no dice. Low cloud deck. Visit 2: beautiful, bright, sunny, hot, sunscreen? The ticket price has increased. The TourSaver book offers a 2 for 1 coupon labeled $24.95, but the price is now $27.00. The coupon was still accepted for the second fare.
Sitka - no excursion. Explored on foot. From O'Connell Bridge Dock on first visit, we climbed the stairs to Castle Hill. We found a friendlier access on our way down. For those who are mobility-challenged, there is a ramp easily accessible from the O'Connell Bridge side. Then we walked through the Sitka National Historical Park to the Alaska Raptor Center (2 for 1 coupon in TourSaver Book for $12.00 adult admission). After touring the center, we ventured the paths outside the center in the natural habitat area - to the creek and waterfall. Beautiful area. Quiet. Bear country. The tender back to the ship was rocky. One passenger was a hazard to others as he attempted to wait for his wife. The up and down movement of the tender made On the second visit, we tendered to the Centennial Center (Crescent Harbor Dock), but we walked back toward the O'Connell Bridge to explore the Russian Blockhouse area, the cemetery area (with the Princess's and the Priest's graves). We ventured to Swan Lake Park. We went back to the Sitka National Historical Park to get my National Parks Passport stamped (I adjusted the date to reflect both visits…). Revisit to a previous find to pick up geocoin.
Hubbard Glacier - Visit one was cloudy… even raining quite steadily at one point. Little ice in the water, but several instances of calving (small scale but several). Visit two had blue skies, bright sun, lots of ice in the water … with seals and otters. Fewer but bigger, some really impressive calving. On both days, the National Park Ranger offered to stamp the National Parks Passports, but people were bringing their official identification passports. He cannot stamp these, but he won't stop you from doing it yourself. The National Park Passport book is a souvenir available from National Park gift shops.
Seward (to Anchorage) - We had read information about the beautiful scenery on the path to Anchorage, so we booked the ship's excursion (in-transit) to Anchorage which allowed us to enjoy the motorcoach ride to Anchorage and the train ride back to Seward. A lunch voucher was included with the excursion. The motorcoach ride up was during low tide in Turnagin Arm. We didn't have much time in Anchorage (10:10 - 12:45 including time for lunch at Solstice Bar & Grill). We ate lunch, visited three souvenir shops and sought 4/found 3 caches. The transfer from the Egan Center to the train station via motorcoach was scheduled for 1:00. The train's departure was scheduled for 2:00. We had an unscheduled encountered with a crazy driver (a minivan passed to stopped vehicles at a railroad crossinggates downand hit the 4th car of our train. No injuries (except maybe the driver's insurance rating?), but this delayed our trip. Turnagin Arm was moving toward low tide. Fabulous scenery... DH's camera's memory card filled and the other one with us was the wrong type (boo). We arrived late, but the ship was waiting for us. Others had to check-in, but we showed picture ID and ship's card to reboard.
Skagway - We had visited Skagway before and were unable to ride the train due to a sell out (in June 2007). We were eager to do this trip, so we booked it through the ship. The trip was foggy, but there were moments of breathtaking beauty. The camera's batteries were dying (what is this, a pattern of camera problems?). We rode the bus back from Frasier, BC and stopped by Liarsville for some entertainment, gold panning, cookies and hot cider. (Still had time in port for a little more shopping... including FUDGE.)
(These ports are not listed in order... based on the repeated stops.)
· Summary We truly loved the ship. We had wonderful experiences with crew, and we loved the food. Entertainment was good, not great, but the CD Matt Allen was the most personable we have ever encountered in our cruising experiences. While HAL may not be our next trip (due to a FCC on Princess), it certainly remains on our list of preferred lines.