Understand that this is written by an airline retiree who dragged his family from Colorado to Alaska for a cruise. Since pilots are the cheapest people in the world, this "project" was something of a calling. Flying standby for your whole life may save lots of bucks, but it becomes problematic to the point of psychosis. I would not recommend this aberrant behavior to normal people, but like a boiled frog, I'd been in the pot for ~30 years. Generally, we only recognize levels of "badness" by our mode of "transportation". Looking at the loads, it appeared that they were going to be pretty full, so we started trying three days early so we wouldn't miss the cruise and be out of our investment.
Showed up at the gate for the first flight (listed as "over capacity"). Fifteen folks misconnected and we were on a nonstop to ANC. It's not supposed to work out that way, but God protects idiots and retired airline employees. Nonstop ANC flights are DEFINITELY the way to go. Nice flight and nary a bump. Sun's was still up when we got there. Hauling paxs to AK for their cruises was always fun, but I was never able to get used to summer lighting in Alaska. Just get good "blackout" curtains on your hotel room.
Quality Suites Near Convention Center (their name) shot us a good deal for the four of us. Our 10 & 12 year olds spent one whole day at the Anchorage Museum only a block away. The next few days were spent traipsing about downtown ANC, and doing a bit of shopping at the big mall just 1.5 blocks away.
We took the train to Seward. One of the nice features was that HAL had a tent right at the downtown train station. We just dropped our properly tagged carryon bags (NEVER EVER travel with checked luggage) with the HAL folks, and we got on the train sans luggage. The next time we saw our bags was in our rooms on the Ryndam. No extra charge. Pretty slick. The train ride was fun, as it was our children's first. There were some mooses (meeses sp?) along the tracks on the way down with a few black bears and some mountain sheep. After arriving in Seward we walked (again without bags) the last quarter mile to the ship.
Since we were early there were maybe 20 folks in line, so the process went quickly. I believe we had to present our passport at least four different times before we were deemed worthy to step aboard. The last 25 years have become paranoid for more than just the airline traveler. After we got back from our snack foray our bags were waiting for us. Best baggage arrangement we've ever had in some two decades of cruising.
For normal people, the food is pretty good. The rest of my family gained about 3-5 lbs. on the cruise and I will give you their analysis in a bit. I, on the other hand, exist on a fairly draconian diet. Being the Pilot/Adonis of the family, I have to make sacrifices to maintain my looks. This clouds the review somewhat, but I can't be the only one in this "boat". HAL runs their ships and kitchens on massive quantities of oil. Those waiting in the buffet lines for omelets are treated to watching their eggs cooked in what I swear must be 1/3 cup of olive oil with each dish. I am not exaggerating when I state that it could have been floating on oil. Fortunately, you can avoid this by requesting no oil, and Eggbeaters. Viola! The problem is solved, and it tastes just as good IMHO.
The dining room service is very good, but slogging through a two hour meal drove our kids nuts by the third night. We found that most of the food available in the dining room, was also available in the buffet line so that is where we took our meals in the latter days of the cruise. There is a bit more variety available in the buffet, so I was quite happy to join them. Grazing around the edges of a normal diet, I found that HAL was a bit more of a challenge than Celebrity. By the third evening all of us were pretty saturated with sodium due to the way food was prepared. Lots of decaf tea and an occasional diuretic solved the problem. Celebrity has plenty of Mediterranean food available, so I was pretty happy then. HAL doesn't provide that avenue, so pickings were far more constrained for those wishing to avoid fat, salt and cholesterol (meat). Salmon was available in abundance for the entire cruise, so I compensated happily.
My ten year old son doesn't handle meat very well either, but gorges on the shrimp that was commonly available. He did like the ice cream, but took a cue from his dad and concentrated on the low/nonfat sherbets and frozen yogurts that were commonly available in the desert bar.
My 12 year old daughter tended to chow down on just about anything, but she's a cheerleader/equestrian/proto-supermodel and burns off everything that she takes in. She tells me, "You have to work hard, to look this good". Kids! Don't you wanna' choke 'em?
My "gentle bride" is something of a carnivore, and told me that the steaks were excellent as I munched down large quantities of carrot sticks and other fibrous material. Sigh!
We don't do organized shore excursions, finding that cheap city bus service can get you to places just as easily. Ketchikan is one of those places that you can get around nicely on the bus. We went up to the fish hatchery. There's not really salmon coming up the run, so we just took what turned out to be a personalized tour by the very motivated/young female guide. Even with things as quiet as they are in early June, she made it interesting. The kids got to "pet" the starfish and anemones, but I'm afraid the sealife may have died due to their attention. I didn't want to look.
The stars of the cruise are glaciers and whales. They're more interesting from the flight levels because you can see how many of them there are along the coast, and they go way inland. I find the glaciers less interesting from the boat simply because I realize that we're just seeing a little piece of them. The Park Service provided some folks to narrate our ship tour of the bay. The main narrator was quite good, and gave a very instructive (and balanced) discussion of the dynamic glacier process that we were glimpsing. Another park employee could not stop herself from pushing the PC mantra of global warming and greenhouse gas leading to the retreat of the glaciers. The only climate problem we are currently experiencing is the political variety located in DC. Alaska is still doing very well, thank you very much. Just ask those who live there. They're not terribly worried since they realize they are as far from Washington as you can get, and still be in the US. I was just a bit disappointed to find that the discredited global warming myth was being pushed by federal employee (but why should that change just because I'm in Alaska?). Otherwise, the park service folks were quite charming and, for the most part, very instructive.
The kids club was used mostly by my son. The kid population was very low, but it's still early in the season. He liked it and hung out there half the time. My daughter did other things, but I do believe the teen club population was nearly nonexistent. I met the gals running the program. They were very nice, but I think they were looking forward to more business within the next cruise.
There was a piano player that my wife raved about. I sat in on his Beatles show. He's a good player, and he had a strong passenger following by the end of the cruise. This is a smaller ship, so everything is more manageable than the larger boats, and this includes the passengers.
Getting off the ship was a piece of cake. Since we travel standby, every minute spent at the airport means a better probability of getting to our destination on the same day. I believe we may have been tenth family going down the ramp, with our carry-on luggage. Did I say never travel with checked luggage?
There was no delay in going through customs, and we barely stopped to show our passports (just once this time). We grabbed one cab for the four of us. It came to $30. Very reasonable. 35 minutes to the airport. We were only bumped once, so we made it home non-stop on that same day. Very nice.
Had a dead battery in the parking lot, but I can blame that on the kids. A quick jump by the lot personnel, and we were off to deposit our daughter at church camp by 10 that evening up in the mountains. We slept in our own bed by midnight.
All things considered, it was a great trip. 20 years earlier the food issue wouldn't have mattered. Just because it does matter now, doesn't mean that it wasn't an acceptable cruise. Getting "geezeresque" shouldn't adversely affect our evaluation of the cruise. Shop your cruise, plan it out, and you'll have a great time on the Ryndam. I don't think you'll find a better way to view a little corner of that great state.