My wife and I along with our seven year old son just returned from a seven night Alaska Cruise on board the Westerdam leaving from Seattle on May 14, 2011. This was our 8th cruise and third time to Alaska have previously done a two week cruise to Alaska on the Pacific Princess and another 7 day cruise last year on the Golden Princess. We really love Alaska !
We flew into Seattle direct from Edmonton, Alberta the night before embarkation and stayed near the airport at the Holiday Inn Express. Nothing remarkable about the hotel but it was clean and the service was good. A great place for a short stay before the trip. We hired a private car to take us to Pier 91 the next day and it was a flat rate of $45.00. With the three of us it was a great way to get to the pier at our leisure.
We arrived at the pier at about 1:00 p.m. and Embarkation was a bit slow compared to other cruises but I never really get to excited about the pace as the excitement of the cruise far outweighs waiting an extra 30-60 minutes to get on board. Once on the ship we were able to go straight to our rooms and we off to grab a quick bite to eat. Our luggage almost beat us to the stateroom ! They got our bags to the room in record time !
As you saw by the title of this review there were a wide range of experiences on this cruise. Some of the things were beyond the control of the ship but it just seemed they added up over the week. We still loved the location, the ports,and the wildlife. We saw an amazing number of whales from the ship this year which included numerous Orcas. That being said this was our first try with Holland America and I don't imagine we will be back with them when we compare to Princess and Celebrity.
As a cruising family we don't need all the amenities some of the other big ships offer...our son certainly likes the pools and activities available on the bigger ships, but our best cruise to date has been on the Pacific Princess to Alaska which is a smaller ship with about 600 passengers. For us it is about the whole cruise experience and the service of the crew.
As mentioned, there were things that were not the fault of the ship or the crew. Unfortunately, the Norovirus broke out on this cruise and the "situation" as it was referred to by the crew got to be a running joke with our family. Fortunately, we all stayed healthy. For the entire cruise the buffet was served by the crew. This I understand as several pairs of hands would be touching the same spoons etc..made good sense to me. It did get a little bit over the top at times though...for example. No ping pong allowed..People would have to use the same paddles. No salt or pepper on the tables during dinner, no bread baskets...How about wiping these things down after each service...sounds like they took the easy way out on some things. Now I know some people are going to say they need to do these things but everything for us seemed a little bit overdone. Lets face it how many handrails, elevator buttons etc are touched during the day...I did not see them being wiped down every few hours..
There was a fire on the ship one night in the incinerator room. Thank god they were able to get it put out quickly as there is nothing worse than a fire on a ship at sea. To say the least, this left us with a very uneasy feeling.
The previous week the captain had struck a piece of ice near Hubbard Glacier which seemed to be downplayed at the time by him as he was joking about making the news etc. Funny, my dad never found it funny when I dented the family car. I did some research on this when I got home and by some accounts they say that a 15 foot dent resulted but the damage was inspected and the ship was sea worthy. That would have been nice to know at the time.
Unfortunately, a man got very sick at sea as well and we needed to be diverted to a pilot station near Port Hardy which caused a late arrival in Victoria. This was completely understandable but I was disappointed to hear some people complaining.
As far as the service went. The Lido Buffet was always a gong show. I am sure it had something to do with not being able to serve yourself. The lines were long all the time and empty tables were like finding hidden treasure. Either we had real bad luck as we tried changing our times each day or there is a design flaw.
Also in the Lido area there was a real mixed bag when it came to service. Some people truly went out of their way to help you, others appeared to care less and were void of smiles or even pleasant conversation. One crew member handed our son a plate and said careful its hot...no kidding. Several tears later and one angry wife we finally got settled down to eat. It literally was too hot even for my wife to carry.
The dinning room service was outstanding. We had the late seating and got great service from Arif and "Uzi" our waitstaff and our wine steward Arnold was a real hit with all of us. This is the service we know and love about cruising and was the highlight on board. Also Charles and Richel in the ocean bar area were wonderful too. The food was good and very comparable to other cruise lines. NO real "WOW" moments though.
Our stateroom was good. We had a balcony cabin on deck 5. Our room attendant was very efficient and very likeable. The room was clean and had lots of storage for the three of us. The beds are simply the best of any cruise line we have been on. Warning...if you get stuck with using the sofa bed if you are a family these beds are not good. My son talked me into trading for a night...worse trade ever. Even worse than when the Oilers traded Gretzky to the Kings !
The entertainment was really good. The best was Joel Mason and his Elton John Act. This guy is very talented and his wind up show was very funny as well. He was able to interact with the cruise staff very well which made it even better. We caught a couple of the staff shows and to my surprise they were good. I not really into the singing and dancing but my wife loves it and this was one of the first times I did not complain to loudly about going. Our son liked it too. We did not take in the comedian as with some young ears this is always a risk.
My wife and I are very into fitness and were shocked that overnight early in the cruise about 7 of the 11 treadmills were suddenly out of service and stayed that way for the rest of the cruise... Are you kidding me? That goes down as an "ugly"
Now for more good...we had outstanding weather for the time of year. No rain to speak of at all. In Juneau we had great day. Went on a Whale Watching tour and once again saw lots of whales. Albeit not as many as we have the previous two times in Juneau. We got spoiled one year and saw a large group of Humpbacks bubble net feeding, so we have a high standard to meet ! We did a bit of shopping here as well. In Sitka we went on a wildlife and beach exploration tour. This was a really neat tour for a family as we got to see lots of wildlife including, whales, sea otters and eagles and had over an hour to explore a remote beach a low tide. Our son loved this ! In Ketchikan we did the Bearing Sea Crab tour and really enjoyed it as well. Everytime we go to Ketchikan I always wish we had more time, it is one of my favourite ports in Alaska. Our scenic cruising to Hubbard was amazing...I can see how the captain put the dent in the boat now as he truly does try and get you as close as possible. I saw another cruise ship leaving the bay at before we got there and I know we went a lot deeper in the bay then that ship did !
We did not use Club Hal at all for our son. He would have been part of the 3-7 year old group and the activities they offered were not attractive to him. He would have loved to go to the 8-12 group as they were doing things he loves to do, but they would not allow him to bump up a group even though he is turning eight shortly. Seems funny with so few kids on board but we never ever use the kids clubs much as we cruise as a family and want to hang out together.
Overall, I firmly believe you could sail to Alaska in a bath tub and have a great experience. For me it is all about the location and the scenery. This is what going to Alaska is about. That being said this is a cruise review and from my previous experiences with other ships this was definitely the worst ship we have been on for overall service. There are some shining stars on board as mentioned and I am completely trying to be objective enough without including such things as the fire and the norovirus when I say this. But if I had to rank the eight cruises we have taken this would be number 8. But.. if you are thinking of going to Alaska...go ! You will love it. We will keep going back but our first choice will not be HAL. I am not going to rate this cruise either very low or high because like I said....there was some good, some bad and some ugly...sprinkled with a bit of excellent.