My wife and I had been to Alaska three years ago on NCL and had heard good things from member of Cruise Critic how good the HAL ships had been. So we booked directly with HAL on the Westerdam for a trip to the Hubbard Glacier, which we did not see our first trip up.
Even though we had a morning flight before the cruise, we did change our flight to stay at the Springhill Suites in Seattle (a Marriott), thus giving us a margin for flight delay (SFO does fog up) before our cruise. We recommend this option if you have the time to do so and reduce your embarkation day anxiety.
The ship decor is far more sedate than either NCL or Carnival, showing much more class and less garishness than either of these other lines.
We were really impressed by the service we were shown by everyone from the room stewards to the Lido deck. Virtually every service person we met was very thoughtful and friendly.
However, the quality of the room service whose orders seem to have sometimes been taken by those who don't speak English well or understand it as well as they should have. Ordering a club sandwich and a tuna melt should have been easier than it was. The quality of the few items we did order were good (not more than that) and showed up about 20-40 minutes after-wards. As a caution, the morning of debarkation, we were warned by the Cruise Director, Shane, not to order room service because of the delay and the poor timing of doing this when the crew is extra busy.
We visited Sitka on this; a port we had not been to prior to this. And it was, without a doubt our favorite AK port to date. Even though HAL is the only cruise-line that visits this port (& needs to tender in because there is no cruise dock), this ports small and very beautiful setting is a jewel in an overly-commercialized set of Alaska ports. This is a port for those who want to experience a real AK town and not a town whose front is just to sell Tanzanite and tourist trinkets. This town's charm and natural beauty is what will make us return again.
Note: A local told us that each year that the town argues over whether they should install a cruise dock. Apparently, they are torn over the prospect of more cruise ships (and the money they bring) and to preserve the quality of the town without a dock. So far, there is no dock and the town is an instant favorite for us.
We only did one shore excursion this trip: the Otter and Wildlife tour in Sitka. This boat tour was fun, well run, and we did see a brown bear/grizzly, Stellar Seal, Tufted Puffin, wonderful sea otters, and even some humpback whales; all this while being served local snacks and with a very professional naturalist on board.
The food preparation was much higher quality on this ship compared to either NCL or Carnival so far. Excluding the room service, we were very impressed with virtually every meal we had there. So much in fact that eating at the Lido was just as good (and more timely) than the main Vista Dining room. I even liked with the quality of even the hot dogs and pizza compared to Carnival. We can highly recommend only two desserts: the humongous apple pie that they serve next to the Lido Pool and the addictive bread pudding.
Embarkation and Disembarkation was extraordinarily fast and efficient: we were in our rooms by 11:30 on embarkation day and there was virtually no delay to leave the ship during debarkation.
We had spectacular weather at each of our ports, Juneau, Sitka, Victoria, and even Ketchikan. The weather gods must have wanted to exact a bit of revenge for these glorious days: the Hubbard was very unfortunately shrouded in thick fog, and we were unable to approach close enough to see the face of the glacier, nor hear/see any of the vaunted calving. We saw the top of the glacier (from afar) but we not able to see much more than the mountain tops that surrounded the bay.
However, this was far beyond any cruise ships control, so all in all, we enjoyed this cruise more completely than any of our last four Carnival and NCL cruises, and would gladly try again to view the Hubbard.