Background Information: Last year I won $3,000 on a state lottery scratch off ticket, and immediately began searching for a cruise to spend it on. Normally I cruise by myself in an interior cabin, but this time I thought I'd treat my sister to a much deserved vacation and splurge a bit on the accommodations. Imagine my surprise when I realized that for just a few hundred dollars more than I'm used to paying for a solo inside or outside cabin, I was able to book an SB Deluxe Suite for the two of us on a 4-day Pacific Northwest itinerary on the Amsterdam out of Seattle.
Seattle Pre- and Post-Cruise: Neither of us had ever been to Seattle, so we got to play tourist. I was able to gather a lot of useful information from the West Coast Departures board here at Cruise Critic. Using Hilton Honors points, I booked a room for one night before and one night after the cruise at the Hilton Hotel at 6th and University. The Hilton was within walking distance of most of the downtown attractions and transit stations.
The morning of the cruise, we strolled through Pike Place Market and bought postcards for family and friends back home. On the way back to the hotel, we spotted the IGA Kress grocery store and each of us purchased a bottle of wine to take onboard with us. The IGA is less expensive than the specialty wine stores you find in the downtown area.
The day we returned from the cruise, we checked back into the Hilton and got rid of our suitcases, then walked down to Westlake Center to catch the Monorail to the Space Needle. After coming back to Westlake, we walked to the Transit Tunnel on Pine and caught a bus to Pioneer Square.
Taxi rides to and from Pier 91 ran us about $15 each way. If you're flying into Sea-Tac and staying at one of the downtown hotels, I recommend using the Grey Line Downtown Airporter. The shuttle costs about $25 round trip compared to $32 each way for a taxi.
Embarkation: Embarkation at Pier 91 was easy and organized. This is where we experienced our first Deluxe Suite perk - priority embarkation. Deluxe Suite passengers had their own check-in window, and we were able to bypass the lines waiting to board the ship.
Ship: This was my first time on the Amsterdam, but having previously sailed on some of HAL's R and S class ships, I was familiar with the overall layout and deck plan. Everything appeared to be spotless and in good working order.
Cabin: The first words out of my sister's mouth when we opened the door of the suite were "I can't believe how big it is"! Our SB suite was probably twice the size of our hotel room in Seattle. The bathroom was huge by cruise ship standards, with a spacious shower. We made full use of the veranda, as well as the desk, sofa, coffee table, and bar area. There was more than enough drawer and closet space for even a 7 or 10 day cruise. Having the separate dressing room was helpful when we were getting ready to go out in the morning or before dinner. One of us could be in the bathroom while the other one was getting dressed or putting on make-up. Our cabin stewards were Dudi and Harris, and both of them were friendly, helpful, and efficient.
Deluxe Suite Amenities: The concierges in the Neptune Lounge (Daphnae and Sienna) helped us with a shorex change, as well as ordering pre-dinner appetizers one night. It was nice walking down there for an early morning coffee and croissant or a quick mid-afternoon snack. Because of the short length of our cruise, we didn't take advantage of the free laundry service. The binoculars in the room were handy when we spotted a pod of whales one day within viewing distance of the ship.
Deluxe Suite passengers are supposed to get breakfast served to them in the Pinnacle Grille. I knew from a another regular poster on the Cruise Critic HAL board that on the Amsterdam, breakfast for suite passengers is in the King's Room. I called the concierge to confirm this, and she said we had our own section in the main dining room. I was confused.
So, the first morning, we went to the main dining room (Deck 5) where we could see passengers being seated. The waiter told us to go down to the lower level (Deck 4). The waiter on the lower level asked us our cabin #. He said since we were in a deluxe suite, we needed to go to the upper level! So back up the stairs we went. I think the original waiter was a bit chagrined at having banished us to the lower level.
Anyway, it was very odd that our private dining area turned out to be the upper level of the main dining room. I really don't know why they even bothered. The Pinnacle Grille (or even the King's Room) would have been a bit special, but on our sailing that particular suite perk turned out to be very ordinary. Ports and Shore Excursions: Our itinerary consisted of a day at sea, Astoria, OR, Victoria, BC, and then back to Seattle. In both Astoria and Victoria, we took HAL shore excursions.
The Historic Astoria & Fort Clatsop tour included stops at the Astoria Column, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, and Lewis & Clark's winter camp. I was very surprised at how interesting the Maritime Museum was. I had no idea how dangerous the area is where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean.
In Victoria we took the Short City Drive and Butchart Gardens tour. The Gardens were spectacular. Originally I had booked the Victoria Walking Tour because HAL wasn't offering any excursions to Butchart Gardens, and neither was Grey Line. When we boarded the ship, I happened to glance at the shorex order form in our cabin and noticed that tours had been added, so I had the concierge exchange the tickets for me.
I highly recommend both tours. They were interesting and informative, and it was a lot easier having someone else drive us around rather than trying to figure out on our own how to get to the various points of interest.
Activities and Entertainment: It was a good thing I brought my sister with me and we had the veranda, because there was a real lack of onboard activities and entertainment on this cruise. We spent 3 afternoons sitting on the veranda drinking wine and watching the go by. The sea day was the only day there was a good mix of onboard activities to choose from. In Astoria and Victoria, it would have been nice to have something to do on the ship when we got back from our shore excursions. There was a lot of time to kill before getting ready for dinner at 8 pm.
The first night's entertainment in the Queen's Lounge featured a ventriloquist. We didn't attend because it started before we were done with dinner. The second night was a Broadway production show with the HAL singers and dancers wearing Bob Mackie designed costumes. The costumes were gorgeous and definitely a cut above what you normally see in this type of show. Third night was another production show with the same group of singers and dancers that showcased songs from different rock eras. The last night's entertainment was a movie, which I thought was rather poor on HAL's part. With Seattle and Vancouver so close, I would have thought they could have brought in a comedian, or a piano player, or a singer to fill the bill. Rather than watch the movie, we went up to the Crow's Nest where a young woman playing a guitar was attempting to sing, but was not being very successful at it.
Service: This ship had some service issues, which I attribute to the staff not being fully engaged in what they were doing. The cruise after ours was a 69-day Asia and Australia cruise, followed by the World Voyage. It seemed as though their mental energy was directed towards preparing for what was ahead of them rather than focusing on the task at hand, which was us.
As an example, on the next to the last night, our wine steward announced that someone else would be filling in for him on the last night. The reason he gave was that he had to start working on the alcoholic beverage order for the World Cruise. His replacement on the last night told my sister he could no longer honor her wine card. I almost couldn't believe what I was hearing. My sister insisted that since she had purchased the wine card for this specific cruise and the cruise didn't end until the next day, he needed to bring her a glass a wine. In fairness to the wine steward, he said he would check with his supervisor and ended back up at our table with a glass of merlot in hand.
An incident like the one I just related has never happened to me on any my previous HAL cruises. It can be very off putting to someone new to HAL and can leave a bad first impression. There were other instances where service just wasn't up to the usual HAL standards. Taken individually they may seem insignificant, but they add up and detract from the overall cruise experience.
Food and Dining: We had late fixed seating in the upper level of the dining room and were seated at a 6-top with two married couples. They were a lot of fun and made dinnertime enjoyable and something to look forward to. I found the food to be average to good. The biggest drawback was a lack of appealing entrees on the dinner menu. With the exception of one night, when there were four entrees I was interested in, there just wasn't anything that jumped out at me. Our waiter was Aziz, who was unobtrusive with a dry sense of humor.
We ate one lunch in the Lido, which I find to be madness and mayhem since HAL did away with the trays and organized everything into individual stations. I don't like having to forage for my food.
Disembarkation: Since we weren't flying home the same day we disembarked, there was no rush to get off the ship. We hung around our cabin until a little after 9:00 am, and then walked off and picked up our luggage. My sister commented on how nice it was not to have to sit in one of the public areas for hours waiting for our luggage tag color to be called. Just like embarkation, the process was smooth and organized.
Things we didn't have/didn't get on this cruise - Master Chef's Dinner (thank God for small favors!), formal night, commemorative tiles, postcards of ship, Baked Alaska, and lobster (not even a prawn in lieu of a lobster tail). I didn't realize until I returned home that I didn't get a postcard. I keep a cruise book where I put a picture postcard of each ship along with my room key. I'm sure one of the cabin stewards or the concierge could have found one for me if I had asked.
Summary: Overall a nice, short, relaxing cruise with an interesting itinerary. You can't beat a Deluxe Suite, which, along with the ports, was the highlight of this cruise for me. Food, activities and entertainment, and the staff's full engagement were somewhat lacking.