At age 53, I've cruised a dozen or so times on five different lines; and logged around 80 days on Holland America Line. Usually, I cruise with my family in a suite. However, this time I was alone in an inside cabin, my only companion a rented wheelchair. An injury had aggravated a bum knee.
The reasons for my booking? A friend cruising for the first time, and an irresistible price. The same cruise and cabin on Ryndam in 2010 would cost three times what I paid. Put another way: I paid less to stay aboard for 14 days than my friend did for 7 days cruising and a flight from Anchorage. HAL gets a 5+ star rating for value.
My pre-cruise stay at Fairmont Vancouver Waterfront was booked through HAL. The room was pleasant. Baggage was picked up from inside the room, and delivered directly to my ship cabin. However, there were long hotel check in lines, and fumbled reservations for other travelers. Compared to my post cruise stay at the Pan Pacific Vancouver (the two hotels are across the street from each other) Fairmont management performed like a bad comedy team.
Embarkation was silky smooth. Cabins were available at 2:15, a bit later than usual for HAL. As noted by another reviewer, departure was delayed for latecomers stuck on a HAL bus in traffic. Vancouver is gearing up for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and road repair often equals road removal. Kudos to Captain Mark Rowden for a sensible decision that didn't inconvenience other passengers. (Day 2 was a sea day, and time sensitive passage through Seymour Narrows appeared to be unaffected.)
Ryndam was built in 1994, refurbished in 2004, and is scheduled for dry dock in early 2010. My cabin didn't show any need for that dry dock, even in the bathroom. Wost sign of wear? Caulk around the shower drain. Cabin 354 was the same size as nearby outside cabins, but with a shower instead of bathtub. This was NOT a handicapped cabin, as I booked before my injury. Happily, I managed without the wheelchair most of the time, and it folded to fit between the foot of the bed and the sofa. My cabin door was 28 steps from the wrap around promenade deck, “the biggest balcony on the ship”. I didn't have any of the lovely perks I was used to in a suite: a refrigerator, free laundry service, a concierge, etc., etc. However, the service and quality of cruise I experienced was absolutely no different!
I've read negative Ryndam reviews, and didn't experience any of the problems described: no bad smells anywhere, no Code Red (ship was immaculate), no equipment breakdowns. Wear and tear in the public rooms seemed pretty minor and normal to me. Air conditioning cooled my cabin to 68F/20C. One fellow passenger announced loudly on a shore excursion, “Royal Caribbean has much better ships!” For people who like bigger and newer, that's probably true. However, Ryndam's 1250 passenger size is very walkable...er, make that “limpable” for this cruise.
I loved the ship's terrific library, and checked out a couple brand new hardbacks I'd been planning to buy. Daily team trivia is a riot – sometimes, almost literally. Some people play for blood, not just bragging rights and “dam” ship's mugs.
I consider all mainstream cruise meals to be superior banquet food. One dinner was so-so, several were excellent, and the rest met my expectations. Special kudos to the Pinnacle specialty restaurant. Here, the food met the superior standards of good restaurants ashore, with service second to none.
In fact, service everywhere could hardly have been better. My room steward was invisible, but my cabin always immaculate. Wait staff at main seating (8 p.m.) in the dining room knew my preferences after the first night. My wine steward appeared promptly every night. I tend to avoid the Lido buffet, but had lots of help when I needed it to juggle drinks and food without a tray. HAL's smiling Filipino and Indonesian staff are always friendly, but several senior staff also went above and beyond. At a private “question and answer” session, Hotel Manager Cees Tesselaar fielded some difficult questions with candour, and promised to pass all comments on to head office in Seattle.
I was lucky to return to ports on the second leg of my trip, as the weather gave a few unwelcome surprises. A complete Alaska newbie, I would have been disappointed if I'd missed out on some things I got a second chance at. Week 1 in Ketchikan, my “cruise virgin” friend was determined to buy out the shops in her first ever port of call, and I let her drag me with her. Week 2, I made time for an incredible visit to Misty Fjords. Forest fires made me cancel a car rental/scenic driving in Haines/Skagway for week 1. (It's hard to view scenery with smoke so heavy you can't see 15 feet in front of you!) A crystal clear day and train ride on the White Pass and Yukon Railway in Week 2 made up for it. Scenic cruising of Hubbard Glacier was almost fogged out in week 1, but perfect in week 2. It was hot, clear and sunny in Juneau in week 1, with great views from the top of Mount Roberts. Week 2 found the city in more typical mist and rain - but just fine for a visit to Mendenhall Glacier. And I must be one of the few cruisers to visit charming Sitka twice in one week, and not get rained on a single drop!
I don't normally book ship's own excursions. However, a couple of my private excursion plans fell through. Allen Marine provided excellent catamaran tours for the ship in Juneau and Ketchikan, at prices very similar to private excursions. Their larger boats aren't for everyone. However, I was lucky to experience the best whale watch of the season in Juneau (orcas plus humpbacks, full breaches by both, plus bubble net feeding!)
I often prefer a visit to the piano bar, or chatting with my cruise companions in the lounge, to other late night entertainment. However, the shows and other entertainment I saw were fine: good comics and magicians, decent recent films in the cinema.
Disembarkation was “silent”, meaning passengers were expected to leave the ship at assigned times. This worked perfectly for me. My bag was waiting in Green 3 section, exactly where it was supposed to be. A porter whizzed me to the Pan Pacific hotel elevator right in Canada Place. I'd nabbed a ridiculously cheap room on Priceline. For a modest fee, I upgraded to Pacific Club concierge level, and was allowed to check in before 9 a.m. The best hotel room, service and perks, ever.
I'd expected to have to lower my standards to cruise in an inside cabin on one of Holland America's oldest ships. Instead, I had a 5 star cruise experience. Consider me a HAL cheerleader.