Background. Family has taken five previous cruises (twice to Alaska on NCL and Carnival, Panama Canal on Disney, Mexican Riviera on Princess, and Caribbean on Disney), and this Holland America cruise was the best. Considering everything, would rate Carnival as o.k., NCL and Princess as good, Disney as better, and HAL as best.
- excellent service, every staff person made it their goal to make you happy
- great itinerary (Seattle, Ketchikan, Tracy Arm, Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, Hubbard Glacier, Sitka, Victoria)
- nearly a full day (8hrs plus) at every port
- food was very good to excellent throughout the cruise
- real ice cream (Ben & Jerry quality) and fresh cookies available most hours
- the ship never "felt" crowded, very different from other cruise lines
- never hounded to purchase anything, but staff were always there if you wanted something (drinks, photos, etc.)
- fitness center was very nice, up to date, and never crowded
- the staff didn't "expect" tips, and were very gracious when received
- entertainment was adequate (very good 4 nights, o.k. the other nights)
- tender service (two ports) was a little slower than experience on other cruise lines
Ship. The Amsterdam was a very nice ship, a little older, but well cared for, and had no problems at all. Plenty of open areas, and numerous places with beautiful views (including the bow of the ship). Two pools, one in a large window enclosed area where the roof opened when appropriate; along with all the other normal cruise stuff (basket ball court, smash ball tennis court, deck chess, shuffle board, etc.). The crew is what made the ship though; in every location they went out of their way to do whatever they could to make you happy and satisfied.
Activities. Plenty of activities, presented every day in the "Explorer" with a tear off schedule that you could easily take with you. My wife loved all the cooking related educational type activities and the kitchen tours. Many of the activities were educational in nature, but there were plenty of others just for fun (like the beer tasting that I thoroughly enjoyed).
Service. It was GREAT, I can't say enough about the consistent excellent service provided. The room stewards were excellent, wait staff (early dining, assigned table, same waiters every night) were excellent, and like I said before everyone went out of their way to take good care of you.
Port & Shore Excursions. Very good itinerary, we took the following excursions, most booked outside of Holland America directly with the tour operator.
Ketchikan - Misty Fjords Floatplane (SeaWind Aviation), was good, very well organized, and did everything as expected.
Juneau - Glacier Dog Sled Adventure (ERA Helicopters), excellent, helicopter to glacier, intro to musher and dogs, quick lesson, then out mushing. Everyone got a turn to control the sled, small groups (normally four to a group), our family had one sled and musher to ourselves with 11 dogs doing the work. Surprising how much power they have. Highly recommended.
Icy Strait Point - whale watching and ZipRider (booked through Holland America). Both excursions were good. ZipRider was fast, but up the hill, a mile long zip ride down (~1 minute), very fast and exciting. Whale watching was very good, boat was about half capacity, extremely close to whales. Crew is smart; they can't power to within 100 yards of the whales, but they anticipate where the whales are going, move the boat their, and the whales come up right beside you (in our case less than 10 yards on multiple occasions). They are so close that the blow is very loud and startles you at times (even when you are expecting it). A very good location where the humpback whales feed, and just hang around this one location; we powered there, and stayed there the whole time, saw 30-40 whales up close and personal. Recommended.
Anchorage - Redoubt Bay Bear Viewing (Rust's Flying Service). Excellent, highly recommended. Float plan to Redoubt Bay, lunch, then on to pontoon boats for bear viewing. Again, they know what you are there for, took us to a salmon staging area (getting ready to swim upstream), and we just watched the wild bears (black and brown) come down to the little bay, wade in the water for salmon, get the salmon in their mouth, get out of the water, eat the fish, and go back for more until they were full. It was amazing, watching the bears. At first I was nervous being so close (less than 10 yards from the wild bears) even though we were in the boat, but the bears just ignored us and went about getting their food.
Victoria - Grand City Drive & Empress High Tea. My wife and daughter enjoyed and recommend this excursion; fun to do at least one time.
Stateroom. Our staterooms, one for the boys and one for the girls (ocean view on deck 2) were fine and met our needs. Plenty of room and storage space, bathroom was nice, good water pressure and no problems with the toilet, showers, sinks, etc. Showers have three dispensers (soap, shampoo, and conditioner) and the products were all of good quality (per my wife), along with the bar soaps and lotion on the sink. The room stewards made the staterooms magical though. They (two) would visit our cabins three times a day, always noticing when we were and weren't there (only once in 14 days did they knock when anyone was in the room). They would make up the room when we went to breakfast, check it just after lunch, and then turn down the sheets at night. Each visit they would replenish everything, and straighten up (my son tends to be a slob, and they even kept his things looking nice and neat). They truly went above and beyond the call of duty.
Dining. The food was very good to excellent, and the wait staff were truly excellent. We had a fixed dining time and table, the waiters quickly learned what we liked and anticipated our requests. We had early dining, and we never had to wait long for anything (well, almost never, one time we waited ~15 minutes for our dinner entree, never did know what happened, but the waiters were apologetic and the food was good when it finally came). We ate a sit down breakfast most every morning in the main dining room, buffet lunch by the pool, and assigned dinner. Overall very happy and satisfied with the quality of food and excellent service. Portions seemed to be smaller than on other cruises, but that is a good thing, as you could always get more (which we did a few times with dessert).
Kids and I really enjoyed the ice cream and cookie bar (again, real ice cream), and my wife enjoyed the fresh squeezed orange juice every morning, and thought the soups throughout the cruise were the best she ever had. We all had pea soup on the glacier viewing days, it was really good (my kids typically dislike soup, but the even enjoyed it).
Kid's Clubs. My daughter (age=10) really enjoyed herself at Club HAL, staff were excellent, comparable to the Disney cruise, and they always had something going on. My son on the other hand (age=12, a couple of weeks shy of age=13) did not like it. Problem was the age grouping, age 10-12, so he was in the same age group as my daughter; thought he was "too old" to be with the kids. I felt for him, but nothing to be done. However, we ended up doing more things together (ping pong, chess, board games, etc.), so that was a plus as far as that goes.
Entertainment. Not quite up to other cruises, but not a big deal to me, still enjoyed the performances most evenings. Four nights were very good, the others were o.k., and one was not very good at all. They had a new movie showing every day throughout the day, and showed it on TV the next day. Also had performances in the various lounges (Crow's Nest had the best).
Embarkation/Disembarkation. Holland America has embarkation/disembarkation down to a science, very fast getting on and off the ship. We were on the ship and our stateroom was ready around noon when boarding (luggage wasn't there until ~1pm); and when leaving, waited for last call to disembark (had a little time to kill before our flight home, and would rather spend it on the ship than at the airport). Walked straight off with our luggage, no waiting at all.
Bottom Line. Excellent cruise, very happy with Holland America and out visit to Alaska.