Amsterdam Cruise Review by CruisinGramma: May 27, 2011 MS Amsterdam RT Seattle to Alaska
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May 27, 2011 MS Amsterdam RT Seattle to Alaska
Alaska is our favorite destination. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary...
I have visited Alaska 6 times on my own on land tours, and we went back for our sixth cruise to Alaska this time on Holland America's MS Amsterdam. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. It visited several ports that none of our cruises have ever visited - but I have been to most of them on my own at some time in the past - i.e. Anchorage, Homer, and Kodiak.
We did not check-in to the ship in Seattle until after 3:00 p.m. as friends met us at the airport and we enjoyed a glorious day in Seattle with lunch at the Space Needle. We could see all the way out to the Olympics. MS Amsterdam was in port at Pier 91 along with Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas and Celebrity Infinity was closer near downtown and Pike's Place Market.
Check-in was seemless as we were the only people in the terminal at that time. We boarded the ship and found our Deluxe Verandah cabin #6208 More - on the port side (left) aft. Our cabin had more than adequate storage space but limited closet space. The verandah was nice with a chaise lounge and a chair with a small round table. There was a fold-out couch and coffee table adjacent to the dressing table. The queen size bed took up the majority of space in the room and there was only about 18" between the end of the bed and the wall.
The bathroom was nice with tub. But personally - I would have preferred to have a shower in that space. The tub is set up about 4", so there is a definite rise to step in and out of it. If you aren't careful and forget about the extra height, you can take a good fall right into the counter and sink.
The nicest area on the ship in my opinion is the Crow's Nest - a forward lounge on the 9th deck that offers plate glass windows 180 degrees and nice chairs to enjoy the scenery without having to be on deck. There is a bar there, and music is played in the evenings. If you are up there and you happen to see something you want to photograph, it is easy access to the outside deck.
Because this was a 14-night cruise, there were four "formal" nights. I did not see any women wearing formal evening gowns and most gentlemen wore suits and ties and not tuxes. On the "formal" nights, the dining room seemed half full. All other nights were "smart casual" attire - with some people even wearing jeans - which until this cruise, I have never seen in the dining rooms at dinner.
Food was a huge disappointment throughout the ship. Our servers in the dining room were not interactive and once our food was served, they seemed to disappear. We sent several things back as they were either cooked wrong or not hot. This happened on more than one occasion. Many things lacked flavor and taste and the portions seem to have shrunk considerably. For example, on the night they offered crab legs, we were served a plate with only 4 small legs on it - hardly a full serving. It was a good thing we also asked for a side serving of the fillet mignon that night - as that helped fill the void even though it was overcooked. Desserts were common, tasteless and unexciting. It seemed that Holland America focused much more on ice cream and sorbet than on their desserts. The one night we were offered creme brulee, it was sad. I make better creme brulee! The pear in pastry was all pastry and no pear. Several nights, the "special" desserts were some sort of ice cream sundae - nothing special to me! Very disappointing.
I guess because I did not want coffee with dessert one night, the waiter assumed that I never wanted coffee. I had to ask on several occasions if I could have a cup after dinner - they never asked - they just brought coffee cups to three people at the table and did not ask if anyone else wanted anything.
Our biggest disappointment came at Pinnacle Grill where I had signed us up for an Evening at Le Cirque - a gourmet restaurant in New York. It cost an additional $39 per person and did not include soda or wine. The meal was a huge disappointment. Our first course was an extremely tart and sour pate of some sort. We each took one bite and sent it back. Oh was it bad! Our second course was a corn chowder soup. I have never had a soup served in a bowl like this. First the bowl came to the table with a few kernals of corn, some mashed mushrooms and five potato croquettes. Then the server brought a crock to the table and poured pure corn puree into the bowl. When I asked for fresh ground pepper, I was frowned at. It was "corn" alright! - but almost like creamed corn. Nothing special. Our lobster salad was served on a triangular shaped white plate with a small lobster tail in the middle with three slices of avocado, three slices of tomato, three slices of pink grapefruit and three thin round pieces of potato drizzled with a pesto vinagrette. That combined with the grapefruit was definitely tangy and odd.
The best part of dinner was our "prime rib" which was actually a huge rib eye that was filleted at our table and served. The side dish of vegetables was undercooked and the Daughne Potatoes were tasteless, dry and barely warm. The meat was tender and delicious and made up for the other part of the meal that was not so good. For dessert, I chose the creme brulee and Jim had the sorbet. Again - I make better creme brulee. The schtick for the creme brulee at Le Cirque is that the carmelization is a two part process here with two layers of brown sugar that is supposed to be flamed and carmelized. Mine was not carmelized enough and therefore I bit into pure brown sugar that was gritty and sugary. I definitely DO NOT recommend spending the money for the Le Cirque experience. I talked with several people that did say the regular Pinnacle Grill meals were good - so that would be my recommendation.
The hours of the Lido Buffet have been shortened and the lines for service at the individual stations were extremely long. There was not enough staff behind the counter to serve the food to you to make it efficient. It took over 20-25 minutes to get a sandwich from the sandwich bar! For dinner - If you do not have your plate between 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. you have very little choice of alternative options. On our return in Juneau after our shore excursion - we did not get up to the Lido until around 9:00. Our only option was the Canaletto Italian restaurant. We were not happy that the buffet line had already closed on a day we were in port until 10:00 p.m.
I think one of the nicest places on the ship is the Crow's Nest where you have a 180 degree unobstructed view of the scenery before you. We spent a lot of time here. It is a great gathering place with easy access to the outside deck if you want to photograph something.
The other location that we thoroughly enjoyed was the Exploration's Cafe/Library and Lounge. Holland America exceeds in this area that is warm and friendly. You have easy access to computers here as well as a wide choice of books and DVD's to check out. You can purchase a good cup of coffee (similar to Starbucks) and enjoy a good read - or you can enjoy putting together a jigsaw puzzle or just sit and relax in one of the comfortable recliner chairs that faces the ocean.
The entertainment onboard lacked professionalism and unfortunately the few production shows that we went to many people walked out during the performance. The singers and dancers were off key and sad.
We enjoyed the daily trivia that was offered up in the Crow's Nest and that is where we met several nice people and enjoyed sunset and happy hour. Happy Hour is between 5-6 p.m. in the Crow's Nest where they offer the second drink for $1. On several occasions there was a server that offered some delicious chicken bites as a complimentary appetizer.
There were several days that our room stewards did not make up our room until after 4:00 p.m. - which was not real pleasant. I was in the cabin several times when they finally came in and they quickly made up the bed and picked up the towels in the bath but did not even vacuum the floor. Other than the first day of embarkation when they came in and introduced ourselves, we barely saw them.
Having said all of that - as I said before, we took this cruise because of the itinerary - and it did not disappoint one bit. You have to work hard to not enjoy yourself on a cruise. Even though we were not happy with certain things - we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will go back to Alaska again and again. Holland America is the only cruise line offering the longer 14-day cruise. To us - 7-days is just not long enough! Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Cruise ships dock next to the pier in Juneau which gives easy access to the city. Juneau has an affordable city transit system offering the Glacier Express where for $7 you can ride the bus out to Mendenhall Glacier and walk around the visitor's center, climb trails and enjoy the scenic beauty of the largest glacier in city limits in the U.S. Mendenhall Glacier is definitely a must see when in Juneau.
Another nice walk around town is to visit St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church up on 5th Street, along with the Alaska State Government Building nearby. Mount Roberts tramway offers spectacular views of the Gastineau Channel from about 1,800 feet on a clear day.
One of the best excursions we ever took in Juneau was the Photo Safari by Land and Sea offered through Gastineau Guiding. Absolutely fabulous time with knowledgeable guides and gorgeous scenery and wildlife. We waw orcas and humpbacks, seals, eagles, etc. It was fantastic!
This year we chose to go on the Mendenhall River Float in the afternoon. Though it was cramped with 10 people on each raft, we had a good time. And, the wildlife did not disappoint. A bear cub and her mama were right along the riber bank as we floated by as well as a bald eagle perched on a piece of driftwood. Spectacular scenery!
One of the best known areas in Ketchikan is Creek Street. This is a delightful area of small wodden homes built on stilts over the Ketchikan Creek that were once home to the "ladies of the night" during the Gold Rush Era and now home to quaint boutiques and art galleries. Later in June, when the salmon are running, you can see them in Ketchikan Creek.
Ketchikan is home to the three largest collections of totems in Alaska. You can visit them at Totem Bight Park, Saxman Native Village and also at the Heritage Center in downtown Ketchikan. On this visit, we took the tour out to Totem Bight Park and enjoyed our walk around learning about the legends that each totem tells and the history and culture of the native Tlingits, Haidas, and Tshimshiam Indians.
As you walk through town, you will notice the rain guage on the side of the pier that indicates the number of inches of rain Ketchikan has received. It is generally over 130 inches of rain per year. There is a noce little park on your way to Creek Street that has some beautiful flower beds and park benches with the backs shaped like a whale's tale or the body of a whale, etc. There is an old clock nearby that is quite picturesque.
If you are so inclined, you can take in the Great Alaska Lumberjack Show - but I really do not recommend that.
Ketchikan is perhaps one of the best ports for buying those priceless souvenires for your trip. Tongass Trading Post is one of the largest stores and right across from the cruise ship dock with good selection and value.