This was our first cruise on HAL, and first to Alaska. We went with a group of 11 friends,ages 20 to 82, most of us 55 -65. all of us new to HAL and Alaska but nearly all of us had cruised several other times. Some of us had suites & some of us had inside cabins, all of us were happy with our accommodations. The Amsterdam is a beautiful ship built in 2000. It is very clean, and the staff always looked very clean too. If you look for it, you will be able to find a scratch or dent here and there.
We stayed at the Sheraton pre-cruise and used the Holland transfers. The Sheraton is lovely and in a great location, we walked almost everywhere. If I were to do this again, I would book the hotel myself and take cabs from the airport and to the pier and save about $150 - 200. The only free wi-fi at the Sheraton is in the lobby, which I consider archaic. Our rooms were ready for early check-in. The Holland transfer from the airport was slow and awkward to get to. They mismarked two of our party as having already taken the shuttle, so that 80+ year old couple had to schlep their own luggage and pay for a taxi. Others sat on the shuttle bus for 45 minutes waiting to fill the last TWO seats before the driver would leave the airport.
That said, we fell in love with Seattle (see port review).
The weather for this cruise was darn near perfect. Sunny and mid-40's to mid-60's all but 3 days. One day at sea it rained steadily, oh well. Kodiak and Victoria had intermittent showers, nothing an occasional umbrella use couldn't handle. The two sea days had some rolling, especially at night. The rest of the time very calm & smooth sailing.
Embarkation was easy, took about 30 minutes from arrival at the pier to arrival in our cabin. Disembarkation was also easy, you can choose what time you get off the ship. We choose the last time, 9:00-9:15, waited with friends in their cabin and walked off with our luggage and were on the pier. Taxis are plentiful and quick to get,but using the shuttle took us nearly an hour to get off the pier. Taxi to the airport was $55. Shuttle was $9 pp.
Service: Apparently about 20% of the staff were new this voyage, and there were minor slips and glitches especially the first few days. The experienced staff were outstanding. Our dining room stewards were stellar. Everyone was very friendly and eager to be of help. I heard laughing and singing behind the kitchen doors and I liked it that the staff were enjoying their work. The staff seem to know when you want them and when you don't, and always wear a smile. The only really bad service was from the photo staff. Their printer went out after the first formal night, only a couple of days into the voyage, and they continued to take pictures anyway. I had a gift certificate for a photo from my travel agent and used it for the only picture of us in the gallery, and the photo staff charged us for it anyway after accepting my certificate. We were not the only ones double-charged. They were actually rude to one of my friends who tried to buy a DVD of the trip.
Dining: The MDR took forever for breakfast and lunch, we just went to the Lido, and usually sat by the pool to eat. The Lido was always crowded, and there were lines for omelettes and sandwiches. Food itself was fine, not gourmet but it is a buffet. Coffee varied from good to so-so, if you are a coffee freak then buy it from the Explorations Cafe. We had fixed seating early dinner,and ate in the MDR every night. Food was very good. Portions were smallish, and my husband ordered two entrees a couple of times. Salads were too small, soup bowls were half filled. If you order all three courses and a dessert though, you will leave satisfied. I had no complaints. Steaks at our table were not always done the way they were ordered, just ask for another one. There were always 3 or 4 fish choices, and that's what I usually ate. Lobster was offered twice, king crab once, ling cod, rockfish, halibut a couple of times and salmon every day. I had lamb a couple of times and it was excellent. Dining is meant to be a leisurely experience, plan on enjoying your dinner companions and the ambiance for an hour and a half. What's your rush? We had lunch in the Pinnacle Grill one sea day. Worth the extra money? If you like being fawned over, then yes. I thought our regular dining room servers were equal or better than the Pinnacle Grill servers. The food was about the same quality as the main dining room at their best. I ate well, often, and all I wanted & lost two pounds, probably because of all the stairs and all the walking on shore.
The cabin: 7055, a DD partial ocean-view. The window looked directly astern over a small public deck. I thought it had an awkward layout, half the sofa was in a narrow alcove that made it unusable. It was only a few steps away from the door (marked emergency exit but we used it anyway) to a deck overlooking the wake, large enough for 6 or 8 deck chairs. The outside stairs to the pool/lido deck minimally blocked our window. The window was large and had one-way glass so we had perfect privacy. We didn't use the deck much, it was too cool on sea days for deck sitting, but it was lovely to stand there out of the wind and watch the wake. Not many people seemed to use it, but a couple of smokers found it and they were out there much of the time, so I tended to not go out there. The cabin is under the outdoor pool, and the noise from the pool pumps was constant and loud. It was very steady, and soon became a background white noise. Once or twice we had noise at night when the furniture around the pool was being moved. The cabin was very clean and comfortable, more storage than we needed and a roomier shower than I've had on other lines. Shower gel, hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower cap, and lotion all supplied, also two hairdryers. There was only ONE electrical outlet in the cabin, at the desk. A 4 space power strip was supplied. No outlets in the bathroom.
Ship highpoints: The library! A great space, very quiet and well appointed. Lots of books available for loan. The piano bar! We ended up here most nights, Roy from South Africa is very talented. The Crows Nest! Too noisy for me at night, but a great place for daytime relaxation. The art! Scattered around the ship, every once in a while I would come across something new. Very good pieces.
The entertainment: The ship's company of singers and dancers were very talented, but their costumes and staging was dated. After the first couple of performances, we missed the others. There were some very good performers brought in for one night only, they were all excellent. Especially enjoyed the comedian Lee Baylis. The crew shows were the best, but they didn't start until 11 at night. Many people did not stay up for them, which is too bad. Well worth waiting for.
The itinerary: This was our first trip to Alaska, so I have nothing to compare it to. But I thought the mix of Sea days/short port days/long port days was very good. Plenty of time to relax, not so much that you got bored, the time in most ports was just about right. I will do port reviews, but there were a couple that are not in the port list so will review them here.
Homer: Weather was 50 F and partly cloudy, no wind to speak of. DH went fishing for halibut, caught his 2 halibut limit and a ling cod. Used the ship's excursion and was very pleased with the guide. The 65-70 lbs of hanging weight came to 22 lbs of fillets shipped home, cost $168 for processing & shipping frozen. Arrived in fine shape, we had some for dinner last night. Yum! I went with the rest of our group on a private excursion with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. They picked us up at the dock, sent us across the bay on a water taxi to their field station where we went tide pooling, walking on nature trails around the peninsula, and visited the station itself. They supplied waterproof boots and a light snack. Our naturalist guide, Howard, was wonderful, very knowledgeable, personable and enthusiastic. We saw and touched all kinds of sea stars, anemones, sea cucumbers, crabs, mussels,butter clams, so much more. This is a strenuous clamber-about, and a couple of the older people had a difficult time with some of the slippery rocks and steep gangways. We were their first cruise ship tour group - guinea pigs! Two thumbs up for this excursion, it's tied for my favorite excursion with whale watching in Juneau. Highly recommend. http://akcoastalstdies.org They got us back to the spit with time for a little shopping if you wanted. I thought the spit looked very tourist-trappy, we just went back to the ship.
Kodiak: Weather @ 42 F high, drizzly and foggy. We went on a private expedition with Dake of Memory Makers. Dake is cheerful, knowledgeable, down to earth and friendly. Going on a tour with him felt like being shown around by an old friend you haven't seen in years. Very comfortable older GMC van, only room for 6 people at a time so his tours are all very personal. He's a photographer and will customize tours for photogs. Highly recommend. Kodiak Island is gorgeous, rugged, feels like the end of the earth. There are TONS of bald eagles, we do not see any bears. The fog limits us some. There is only one kind of tree on Kodiak Island, the Sitka Spruce. The forests are all spruce and moss, and have an eerie feel like a fairy tale. Not the kind with happy endings, the scary kind. This is a real fishing town, not very tourist friendly. You have to walk about 15-20 minutes to town from the dock, it's mostly level but I don't think a wheelchair could do it. Have a beer in Henry's Restaurant, shop at the craft sale at the Native Center.
Scenic cruising: Inside passage beautiful, hard to find a place next to a window. People tended to camp out for the day in a favorite spot. Tracey Arm was breathtaking, we did not get to the Sawyer Glaciers because of ice, but were very satisfied with the time spent there. We viewed from a friend's suite balcony, starboard and very forward, and had perfect views of one side going in and the other going out. Hubbard Glacier was another highpoint of the trip, we viewed from the same friend's balcony. Saw calving 10 or 12 times, nothing huge but impressive to us. Heard the crash of ice into the water, and did you know glaciers have a smell to them? Like ice too long in the freezer. Sipped cocoa and marveled, took lots of photos and got giddy with the gorgeousness. Wonderful day.