We selected this ship based upon the dates the family was available and ships that are more wheelchair friendly. We were traveling with an 87 year old woman who could walk short distances but needed a wheelchair most of the time. There were six people in our group in three cabins and as the group leader this was my 8th cruise.
Ship things we really liked.
Food. The main dining room food was incredible. Great selection, first time I have been offered king crab legs on a cruise. And not the little legs you see in a Las Vegas buffet but rather large legs cut in half so that you do not have to play with your food. Everything our group ate over the week was good. The weakest food items were the coffee (too strong) and the pork chops were tough. Nice touches in the small details: ice tea was brewed not instant, orange juice was fresh squeezed not concentrate.
Service. The service was first rate and we could have not have been more happy. The crew was largely Indonesian or Filipino and not the United Nations contingent I have experienced on other ships. Whether helping to push the wheelchair or knowing and making our dinner reservations, the staff was wonderful.
Handicapped cabins. The cabin featured a very large bathroom with both a tub and separate open shower in which a person could wash themselves. Note these rooms are reserved for handicapped and you must sign paperwork that at least one occupant of the room is handicapped. Being able to roll a wheelchair into the bathroom is a major luxury.
Tipping. Holland America has a very casual attitude toward tipping; take cocktails for example. You handed the server your room card and received you drink with service charged included, you did not have to sign as with other ships. Envelopes were not provided for additional tipping; I had to go to the Service Counter for envelopes.
No Art Auctions. I am tired of art auctions on other ships.
Ship things we did not like.
The layout of the ship is awkward. Lots of little public spaces making it difficult to connect with other passengers. Many long hallways in the public areas.
DEcor. The ship has a very strange dEcor. The worst was the main theatre. White leather seating and no drink holders. The piano bar was direct from 1970 but the ship is only 7 years old. I have a strong bias for Royal Caribbean who uses lots of wood in the dEcor and focuses on a nautical dEcor.
Dinner Reservation. We choose the As You Wish dining to allow more flexibility in our dinner times. Unfortunately you had to make a daily reservation and it seemed like the only two times offered were 5:15 PM and 8:00 PM.
Communication. The Explorer (daily activity sheet) was all over the place in terms of information; it was difficult to tell what the highlights of the day were. The Cruise Director announcements before the main stage shows often lacked detail (like set your clocks ahead before going to bed.)
Cabin 5001. This is a handicapped room that you may only book if a member of your party is handicapped. Larger room and large bathroom, all wheel chair accessible. The bathroom included both a tub and separate stand up shower with seat.
Cabin 5005. This is the smallest interior cabin I have ever seen. The major disadvantage to this cabin is directly over the main showroom. Expect to hear all of the music from day time rehearsals to nighttime shows.
Cabin 5013. Standard balcony cabin. Disadvantage of this room is that the thrusters are very loud when leaving ports.
Production shows lack a theme or focus and could use the help of a Master of Ceremonies. The first show Grand Tour was a loosely based tour of Northern European countries. Does ABBA's "Mamma Mia" count for Italy? The second show was listed as 50's/60's on the marquee but played little of that time era and was more a little bit county and a little bit rock and roll. The third show Stage and Screen started as a rehearsal on a soundstage but quickly dropped that premise. The performers were all strong, the concept of the shows needs help. Only the 50's/60's show featured live musicians, a nice touch on other cruise lines.
Guest talent of comedian juggler Adam Kario and Elton John tribute by Joel Mason were very entertaining.
Piano bar singer Randall was great; we sat in on several evenings at the piano bar.
There was usually a string quartet playing in a public area on the way to dinner.
Ships Activities we participated in.
Wine tasting. Not as informative as other cruise lines and stingy with a small plate of cheese in front of you.
Computer Training. Two member s of our group sat in on a computer class and actually learned some helpful shortcuts on Windows 7.
With six of us we hired a private van to take us to and from the airport. Capital Aeroporter Airport Shuttle was $100 each way plus tip. Cheaper and less stressful than the ships transfers for our party of six.
Juneau. We booked a ships shore excursion which was Allen Marine Tours Whale Watch Adventure. Their ship easily accommodated our wheelchair. We saw almost 20 humpback whales and had a wonderful trip.
Hubbard Glacier. We had done this exact same itinerary five years ago with Celebrity. On that trip the ship pulled up to Hubbard Glacier and turned in slow circles for over an hour allowing everyone to see the glacier. On this trip the ship pulled up to the glacier, did a slow U-turn and sailed away. This was the most disappointing part of the trip.
Sitka. We booked another ships shore excursion with Allen Marine Tours this time focusing on sea otters. We were also able to see a gray whale, several hump back whales as well as sea otters, seals and eagle.
Ketchikan. We had initially booked a horse drawn trolley tour of the city which was canceled (I later learned the owner was run out of town.) After doing internet research we hired Ketchikan Taxi Cab Tours and booked a three hour tour from 9:00 AM to Noon. Our driver Kat showed us much of the island during this time including waterfalls, a hike in the forest and a recreated native village. Her knowledge was incredible. Definitely recommend this.
Victoria. We booked an hour and a half carriage ride with Talley Ho Tours. Great change to see the city and our guide Kate was wonderful. The carriage was able to go anywhere and not restricted to any given route.