My partner and I in our early 40s and both sets of parents in their early 70s flew from Atlanta to Seattle to cruise to Alaska. This was our first cruise, and I’m a picky traveler - I don't like to spend a lot of money but I always want luxury - ha! We overdid the research to select HAL and Westerdam but it was a great choice, and I would be surprised if other cruise lines offer a better experience to Alaska. We booked through Delta Cruise Vacations and got a lot of Skymiles in the process.
We opted for the "guaranteed balcony" room which means we didn't get to select the specific room number but could be anywhere on the balcony levels. It was the same price as the "window" room and a lot less expensive than picking out our balcony. One set of parents also chose the balcony and the other set of parents chose the inside room to save money. We were assigned a room on level 8 in the exact rear of the ship which apparently is not good if you are prone to sickness, but the room was larger than others and had a larger balcony that could host happy hour for six people. We had an amazing view as we left each port and beautiful views as we sailed. I really liked having a balcony. The regular balcony only holds two people. The interior room is certainly less expensive but you have no idea what is happening outside which for me is too confining. My parents spent most of their time out of their room since they didn't have a window but would opt for at least window next time.
I was very concerned about seasickness and took lots of medicines and seabands....and I needed them. The first three days were hard for me and my partner. Our room definitely was more rocky than others. The crew was very nice and showed empathy to our situation but the ship was sold out so we couldn't change rooms. Eventually the waters calmed, we got more acclimated and we started docking at ports - all which helped us enjoy the rest of the cruise. I’d probably pick the same room again just for the big balcony especially if I am traveling with others in a larger party.
We were most surprised by the food and dining experience. We just didn’t think a kitchen could accommodate fine dining for 1000 people. We thoroughly enjoyed eating in the Vista Dining for dinner. The six of us ate together most nights. We canceled our reservation at the Pinnacle Grill because we were so satisfied with the Vista and decided to spend our money on other things. The menu changed each night. The cruise had two formal nights and we were hesitant at first to book this ship because we didn’t want to have to dress up but we actually really enjoyed it. Long black skirt and a nice blouse and you are good to go.
My only negative is I had to pay for sodas (only tap water, juice and tea are covered). I bought a $20 punch card on the first day - each glass of Coke is one punch ($1) which is a half can. I pretty much only drink Coke at all three meals so we had eliminated Norwegian Cruise because they only serve Pepsi. Plus HAL lets you bring drinks onto the ship to enjoy in your room where Norwegian does not allow.
The ship was clean (I read other reviews saying it wasn’t or the crew was constantly cleaning – they indeed did clean a lot but I was rather them clean). The towel art in the room each night was a fun treat. All crew members we encountered were very polite and helpful. Other things we enjoyed on the ship were the nightly entertainment shows (not quite Broadway but better than Six Flags!), the jazz trio, the disco, reading books in the crows nest. We wanted to try the Casino but it was way too smoky (the only place on the ship where we noticed the smoke and I am very sensitive to it). I encourage travelers to read the daily ship itinerary and plan to take advantage of the classes, trivia games, entertainment, spa specials, gym, library, etc. There is so much to do; I wouldn’t mind getting on the ship and just enjoying the amenities and food for a week!
We only signed up for one excursion – the float plane in Juneau. It was around $250/pp which was a lot for a short plane ride but I admit we did see views we would not have seen otherwise and we got some good snow pictures from it. Otherwise we elected to do independent sightseeing in each port – we enjoy roaming around with map in hand and taking it all in. Glacier Bay wasn’t a port but a full day of site seeing from the ship with a park ranger. Great pictures and we saw whales. In Juneau we highly recommend spending a couple of hours in the State Museum. The Tram is another option – one couple in our party did it and got a good overview site of the town. Sitka was our favorite town. The National Park was great – the park ranger gave an interesting guided walk on the battle of Sitka. Also Castle Hill is full of history notes and good views. The Raptor Rescue Center was also a cool thing. I didn’t really want to go initially but we really liked seeing the bald eagles up close. Ketchikan is basically a tourist trap of tacky shops. Victoria is nice but we only had a few hours at night so we just walked around an art festival that happened to be taking place. In each port the ship provides a map and shopping guide with coupons – some of the vendors give away various trinkets which can make nice stocking stuffers. We were very impressed with the efficiency of unloading and loading at each port – don’t be late – you may get left behind!
We were fortunate to have great weather given it was almost the end of tourist season for Alaska. No rain. Take layers and you will be fine.
In Seattle, we highly recommend staying at the Edgewater Hotel (the only hotel on the water) and riding the “Duck” for a great tour of the whole city. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the ship (a lot less expensive than arranging through the cruise ship). We carried our bags onto and off of the ship because I thought it was going to be chaotic and would take a long to get our bags. I’m glad we did but I think it would be OK to “check” them if you don’t need the bags right away.
We thought the whole trip was fantastic and highly recommend HAL and Westerdam.