Because we have cruised with three different lines we will try to compare and contrast when appropriate and speak to the destination stand alone.
We took a 7 day round trip from Seattle visiting Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC departing in early July.
The ship. Westerdam is a very clean and well maintained ship. Ship shape included evidence of seamanlike items as well as to interior quarters and general cleanliness. There is one theatre area for shows along with two smaller venues below for activities. The Crow's nest on deck 10 offers comfortable and relaxing viewing of the scenery, along with a weather deck above for the same. There are also sheltered areas on deck 10 with plenty of chairs and lounges, as well as plenty of thoughtfully provided blankets.
The destinations. This is an Alaska cruise and the destinations were spectacular. We were blessed with excellent weather. Keep in mind that you are travelling through areas that are primarily classified as temperate rainforests. Partly cloudy days are considered ideal weather and we had plenty of that. Being from the south, we loved the cool weather.
Juneau - We took a few minutes to stroll the town before our excursion rolled out. Once out of the cookie cutter cruise owned/affiliated tanzanite district it was a very interesting town with friendly people. We took some time to explore a beautiful old Russian Orthodox Church an walk by various government buildings and the Governor's house. The ship sponsored tour was whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier. Allen Marine did an incredible job on the whale watching. The guide was an enthusiastic marine biology major and this made it all the better. We had great luck seeing many feeding pods of humpbacks along with numerous Orcas jumping nearly in our laps it seemed. I think that even the crew was grooving on the good luck. Back on the bus, our very personable and funny guide, Phil, took us to Mendenhall for some more very incredible vistas. As a bonus, there was a bear in the tree by the visitor center. The Ranger swore up and down it was real and not a set up.
Hubbard Glacier. Awesome view. Tall as a 35 story building and the Captain took the ship up so close I was wondering if I was going to be able to lick it. OK, not quite. This is not to be missed.
Sitka. We winged it in Sitka. Visited the old Russian Orthodox Cathedral. While visiting with some locals we came across some folks from our area who had just relocated to Sitka. We were suitably jealous. This is a wonderful town that is unspoiled in many ways. Most of the shops are locally owned and are very charming. Arts, jewelry, and furs were sold along with salmon and other items. One local establishment was a Faberge outlet and sported some museum quality pieces along with some more "affordable" items. They also had a good collection of lacquered boxes and eggs in the Russian genre. Very nice. Not so amazing was that the ship somehow forgot to highlight the shopping opportunities in Sitka as opposed to the full court press in Juneau and Ketchikan.
Ketchikan. We took the ship sponsored Misty Fjords National Monument tour, by Allen Marine as in Juneau. Again, the vistas were incredible and the guide service featured local native Americans well versed in the area, cultures, and traditions. It gave added depth to our understanding of the area.
Victoria, BC. When your only disappointment is the brevity of the stop, then you know this could be a destination of its own. Butchart Gardens was an excellent tour. The beauty of the place is truly breath taking. We did not include the butterfly gardens due to time constraints. That is a good thing. We were told that the butterflies bed down at dusk and so later cruise arrivals tend to miss out. There is much to see and do in Victoria. We did not have time to go to the Empress for high teas or to the maritime and various other museums. We also noted that there is a very happening night life area and an interesting china town as well. Victoria is reachable by ferry from Seattle and is something I would like to do on its own.
Seattle - we started and stopped here arriving a day early and enjoying the Inn at the Market at Pike Place Market. We enjoyed the view of the market and nearby cruise ships from one of the Parlor Suites and this was the perfect chill out spring board to the trip. In addition to floor to ceiling windows looking out over the sound, there is a roof deck for viewing as well. One stop shopping for the Seattle experience.
Overall - I have noticed some criticism of HAL excursions, maybe from the perspective of doing a good job of communicating/promoting them. I found the excursions to be the best of the three lines I have experienced.
The stateroom. We had a VB veranda suite. Normally we do inside for nice dark sleeping but for Alaska we opted for a room with a view and are glad we did. Generous in size compared to other lines and vey clean and comfy. The stewards were the highlight of the service.
The food. Of the three lines we have taken, I would definitely place this in the top three. Lido staff service was uninspired which matched the fare. I have searched out omelette station cooks in the past to give gratuities at the end of a trip but not this time. We had the dine when you wish option and this was not quite the way it played out. It seems that they hand out buzzers to summon you back in ten to thirty minutes of so more often than seems appropriate. We opted out on that and did the Pinnacle Grill twice. The food was good there, but the breadth of selections was fairly limited and they seemed to push the wine list too hard. Word of caution - one night they did the "Le Cirque Restaurant" theme at a $39 per person surcharge - it was grossly not worth it and they were still pushing the wine hard. I gave in simply to enhance the experience. The monkeys on the plate were cute, but I would prefer a culinary delight. One last comment on food services. It was very obvious that there was a selection process based on cabin location in the main dining room for the dine when you please option. When you come in with several groups of people at the very beginning of the meal time and see folks seated in the corners or interior as opposed to a window or stern view it makes you feel pretty uncomfortable. I just don't like seeing paying customers treated like second class citizens in this way. It was very transparent. So, if you did not pay for the highest dollar cabin and you want a decent seat ask for your party of two to be seated by yourselves. You will have a decent view and will not feel dissed.
The service - Aside from the cabin stewards it was pretty uninspired. HAL is a great old line and this cannot be the way it is throughout. On this ship, at this time, it was not up to snuff.
The entertainment - There are shows and comics. The comic is OK, the Elton John Show is very good. The Piano Bar guy, Randall, is a solid entertainer. The guitar guy, Zak, in the Crows Nest was really excellent and had a fine range of music. The string quartet was uninspired and seemed incredibly bored to be there. Too bad because they seemed to be good musicians from a technical perspective.
Casino - friendly staff and talkative dealers. The casino did not ever get too crowded.
The crowd. This is not a party boat. The demographic is probably a bit more senior on average and well heeled. In fact, I noticed prunes on the fruit selection very meal. The passengers are a well behaved lot and this made for a pleasant atmosphere. The ship seems to cater to large groups as well and this cruise had a large special interest contingent. The seemed to split the passenger list into two homogenous groups without significant intermingling. It was a bit different.
Overall impression - a very fine ship, well handled, an incredible list of stops and scenery in between. The whole thing could be made better with more inspired service and elevating certain areas to where they ought to be.