Westerdam Cruise Review by TJEvans72: My First Cruise - Alaska on the Westerdam
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My First Cruise - Alaska on the Westerdam
Overall the cruise was great and on my second day back I already miss that ship. This was my first cruise and I wasn't sure if I would like being stuck on the ship knowing only the family I was with and wondering if there would be anyone my age (37) on the cruise with us. It was no trouble at all meeting and talking with other friendly people. And getting away from the family was as simple as signing up for the spa pass (hiding in the sauna when needed).
That spa pass was a great idea. It was so nice to come in from the rain and cold and warm up in the sauna and heated lounge chairs. The music in the room was relaxing and the view out the window was great. I wish there were a few more services and ammenities included though. You could barely get soap out of the dispensers in the changing room shower and no moisturizer for spa guests. That seemed remiss on HAL's part.
Dining onboard was fine. Pinacle grill was nearly empty every night except the one night we More tried to go, so we never dined there. We ate nearly every dinner in the Vista dining room. Portions were perfectly sized for the four course meals they served. It was nice to know that the steak and salmon dishes were available every night. However, there were so many new options every night that it was a tough decision most of the time. None of us cared for the lunch at the vista though. If we all didn't like ruben sandwiches, we would have left that seating and found something at lido. After getting the sandwich, we wished we had gone to lido.
Lido was a disapointment overall, but there were some good things about it. They did have a lot of options to choose from, but if you are a foodie, you won't like most of them. The sandwiches are paper thin with one slice of meat per person--not my idea of luxury. The burgers were good and the taco bar had tasty chicken and lots of good fixins, so I used that as a standby. They did make eggwhite omletts, which I was happy to find. Had that most mornings. It's hard to carry hot coffee without a tray though. The coffee on lido is not worth the burns from carrying it. Most days I ended up paying for coffee in the Explorations Cafe.
Explorations, Crows Nest, Ocean Bar -- are all fun places to hang out. The views at Explorations/Crows nest are amazing and the seating is very comfortable. Two-for-one drink specials during happy hour were great and Matt the guitar player was very talented and the HAL Cats were a lot of fun too.
I went to a lot of shows onboard. The cast is very energetic and the shows were all really cute. They even performed on one of the roughest nights at sea--with the ship rolling about and scenery parts sliding around slightly. I was amazed they all remained on their feet. I appreciated that because I was sick in bed all day and was ready for some entertainment that night. We also saw Joel Mason's Elton John show and his Eagles tribute, and saw Julie Barr twice. They were both really hysterical and fun experiences. I do have to add though, that as a gay man, the cruise director's warm-ups for these shows made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Every night he would come out and tell all us guys to give the woman we were with a kiss or applaud for the woman we were with. He made it seem like it was a cruise for married people only. In my opinion that is not inclusive of everyone at the show--gay, single, whatever.
All my port reviews below will be very positive, but I am going to end this overview with one negative remark: The excursions crew onboard the ship were no help at all. They might as well not even come along. We got much better service and information from the call center before we boarded. Those people at the call center do take the trips and can answer questions. Onboard we had several poor experiences with the excursions crew. First we showed up at the desk to book an excursion for sitka, since we didn't have one planned. Even though there was only one person behind us, we were told that if we didn't know what we wanted to do, to please step aside. Well we were there to get a recommendation, not just to purchase tickets. But that was just an annoyance that we quickly resolved. The real problem was their performance at the ports--where you are likely to need them most. Alaska is a rainy place (300 days per year) and excursions get cancelled due to weather. In Juneau our 10am glacier trek was canceled and the tour company told us to try back for the 1pm excursion. We wanted to ensure our spot on that, but had a hard time finding the excursions crew. The desk is closed at every port. They don't explain why. Another tour operator told us to wait with him and he would point out the manager that was accompanying him on an excursion, and when that manager came out, she tersly told us that she had no way to help us and turned away. That experience made me aggrevated and anxious the whole day--not knowing what I could do in Juneau other than jewelry shopping (not exciting for me). Less
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Cabin review: VA8021
Furniture inside and on veranda is getting shabby.
Port and Shore Excursions
We had an awesome time at the Salmon Bake that afternoon. They had folk singers entertaining while we ate the most deliscious food. Grilled slamon over an alder wood fire, tons of sides (including deliscious baked beans with reindeer sausage).
The bus driver was very witty and we enjoyed the trip to and from the bake.
We did the rainforest canopy zipline. I never did a zipline before, but the guides totally put you at ease about being up there. It really is an adventure! Six zip lines on the trip and time in between to stand on the tree stands over the forest and take in the amazing view. If you bring a large camera, you're out of luck--can't take those with you. Pocket cameras are best for this trip. But they do take your picture on the last zip. They sell them for $20 when you get to the gift shop. Just want to say again that the guides were fantastic and tons of fun! It was a great morning.
We wished we had more time to explore Saxman Village, but we had to get back to the ship. With the few minutes remaining at port, we walked up to Creek Street, which was very picturesque. There were salmon splashing around in the stream there--exciting to see!
Dim Sum at the Jade Garden restaurant in chinatown is a unique and deliscious experience. None of us have ever had that meal before and it was a great place to do it. We loved every dish they brought to us. Each dish was only $5-6, so it's okay to taste a lot of them. Three of us completely stuffed ourselves for less than $40. If you know you are going, it's a good idea to make a reservation. We didn't mind waiting 30 minutes, but some people were annoyed in the crowded lobby of the place. Some people even agreed to share a table when a large table opened up. I just felt assured that the crowd meant that it was an exceptionally good place--and it really was.
Seattle has a free bus line for tourists. It's a green and yellow bus that looks a little like a trolly. It brought us to Pioneer square where we took the underground tour. That was incredibly interesting and you learn a lot of history about Seattle. Don't listen to people who tell you it's a difficult tour to walk. It all takes place under three different buildings right there in Pioneer Square (within a three block radius) and it's all well-maintained with walking paths constructed throughout that are like walking on deck planks. The most difficult parts are the stairs leading down and then back up the three sections of the tour--about 15 steps each).
The same company offers a 'Sub Seattle Tour' which is also incredibly valuable in terms of experience and information. They take you to so many different socio-economic neighborhoods and tell you about the history of the places and the people--how different groups came to settle in the city, from Swedish to Chinese, Japanese and African-American. The bus makes a few stops in some good places for picture-taking. One optional stop they made for us was Kurt Cobain's house and the abutting park where a bench is dedicated to him. My younger brother was very interested to see that.
If you have time in Seattle, I highly recommend both of these tours. They really are interesting and historic.
The Sea Otter Tour was amazing. The guides were incredibly knowledgeble and attentive. We saw whales, sea otters, harbor seals, bald eagles, jellyfish--all in very close proximity from the small boat we were on. It was cold out that day, but you were able to stay inside the vessel in the heat if you wanted and they had hot drinks available to warm you up if you were outside. I got tons of wildlife pictures and information that I will remember for a long time. That was a great tour crew!
Fortress of the bear is a short trip to a rehabilitation center for bear cubs. They were cute and we got a lot of pictures of them playing together. You don't get close to them though. The information about how they came to be there and why a rehab center like that one is important was the real value of the tour.
We did a lot of shopping in Sitka too. Sitka Rose Gallery and Wintersong Soap Company were my favorite. They are in the same building down Lincoln Street. I got a lot of 'made in alaska' stuff there to take back as gifts for friends and co-workers. 5-6 dollars each for little sea otter candles, soaps with alaskan themes... all great! If I were wealthy, I would have bought some of the art there too. You'll find lots of beautiful items there.
They waited for us, knowing what was going on onboard. We did the Ale Trail through Grayline. It was another fun tour. Each pub had 3-4 different beers for us to taste. One served local beers, another had their own brewery next door to the pub so we had ver local beer there. Our driver was so much fun. Very friendly. And he played the harmonica while we waited to move from one pub to another. He also pointed out sites and let us off the bus to take pictures before taking us back to the ship.