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Exceeded our expectations
My husband and I, early 40's, took our first Alaskan cruise without our children (but want to take them someday because they will love it!). This was our first HAL cruise, though we have cruised many times before. We have sailed NCL, RCCL, Carnival, and one Oceania. We have decided the HAL line is our favorite so far.
We arrived the day of the cruise but did stay one day after the cruise to explore Seattle. We stayed at the Mayflower hotel. It was perfect in regards to location to Pike Market, downtown and the Lightrail, which was only $2.75 to get us to the airport the next morning. Very easy. Nice hotel. Would stay again for sure.
This was our first time on any HAL ship. We sailed the Oosterdam. Things we loved about this ship that were different from all of the RCCL, NCL and Carnival ships we have cruised on:
1. The free Microsoft computer classes (mostly about downloading pics, making slide shows, editing pics but other topics as well). These classes More
were of excellent quality. My husband was blown away and learn a lot that will be very helpful to him. He owns his own business. The classes were not trying to sell you something like most classes do. They are for all levels. I can't say enough about them. I don't think people take full advantage of these classes because they do not realize how good they are. Get there about 15 min early because they fill up.
2. Loved the informational lectures about the ports you are going to, the history of the people that live there, info about the landscape, etc. This was such a welcome relief from the overkill of "hairy chest" contests, silly games, etc. on the other lines we have sailed. We are not stuffy people but sometimes all of that silly stuff gets old and is the same thing over and over again. It was great to have the background info about the places and people we were visiting.
3. They are not as pushy with sales of things like other ships we have been on.
4. Loved the open deck space on deck 3 that was never crowded. We spent the whole day there on Glacier Bay day. Loved the blankets and towels ready and waiting on the decks.
5. Loved the Explorers Cafe/Library. It was very large, big windows, and tons of books and magazines. This was the most well-maintained library I have ever seen. Don't bother lugging along books and magazines or travel books. They have many that you can check out.
Negative - Internet is very slow (even when using your laptop), like most cruise ships we have been on.
Food - The food was fine. It was somewhat limited in the buffet but the quality was better than other lines we have sailed.
Port & Shore Excursions - We visited Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria, and Seattle. I wrote detailed info in the "ports" section of this review.
Stateroom - We had an interior K. It was close to the elevator, which we loved. I would get an interior room again if traveling to Alaska because of the "light issue". The sun sets very late and rises about 4:00 AM in July. That would have really bothered me. We slept great in our dark room.
Dining - We did open seating since it was just my husband and I. I wouldn't do for a large group but it worked well for us. Food and service was very good.
Entertainment - Was below average but we didn't mind. We were too tired for the late night shows anyway.
Disembarkation - Very easy, friendly staff
Loved HAL and have already booked another cruise for next summer. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We loved Juneau and we had a sunny, clear day, which made it a great day. We did Mt. Roberts Tram on our own in the morning (highly recommend this only if it is a clear day because the hike is beautiful) and Whale Watching/Glacier Photo Safari with Gastineau Guiding from 2:30 - 7:30, which can only be booked with the ship. The best way I can sum up this tour is, "We had a great time in spite of our tour guide." We had one of the worse guides we have ever had on any tour (and we travel a lot). I have a point and shoot camera and not one thing was said about how to use a point and shoot (but when I called, they said that they discuss all cameras). Actually, it was as though our guide, a young guy named Kenneth, was a participant on the tour, taking his own pictures most of the time, ignoring the people on the tour. Really, it was unbelievable how little information we received from him. Now the positive about this tour: great captain on our whale watching portion; great, small boat; beautiful weather, clear and sunny; saw lots of whales, one that came within about 4 feet of our boat and saw bubbling feeding; great views of the glacier because it was a clear, sunny day (my pictures are nice but nothing special that I couldn't have done on my own). The whale watching part was great for all of the boats we saw that day in the area. All of the tour operators are in the same area and therefore, those people out there at the time were were out there on that day will probably have great reviews. It was an active day for the whales (this was mid July)!
We did a walking tour with Joe Williams of Eagle Walking tours. He has a contract with Princess but will include others on the tour if you contact him by phone or email (just Google Eagle Walking tour.) He is a native and grew up in the area. He was an excellent guide and told many stories about his childhood there. Overall, he gave meaning to a great walk through the town of Ketchikan and it ended on Creek Street, where we stayed, walked around and toured Dolly's house. Afterward, we wanted to eat at Alaskan Surf because of the great reviews. It is right on the dock. It is very much overrated in our opinion. There were 4 ships in port and they only had 2 people working, one cooking and one taking orders. The line was long and getting your food was very slow. We got it just in time to take with up back onto the ship and had to eat it on the ship. Not worth it for sure and not the best fish and chips we had on this cruise.
We had one full day in Seattle post cruise and stayed at the Mayflower since it was downtown. Pike's Market is a 10 min walk and we spent some time there. Great food! We sampled and ate at the Crumpet Shop, Jack's Fish (fresh fish), and a few other places. Best shopping place there - "Hands of the World" on the bottom level. Great, handmade items from around the world. I could have spent hours there. We did a segway tour with Magic Carpet and it was a ton of fun! This was our 2nd time on a segway and this was a much more difficult tour than our one in Cozumel but we loved it and after about 10 minutes, you get a good feel for it. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone but if you in reasonable shape and not afraid to ride it around alot of people (we rode through Pike Market!), then go for it. We loved it. We also did the Underground Tour and loved it. I was very reluctant to do this tour because I really didn't understand what it was all about but it ended up being a very informative, fun tour and we learned a lot about the history of Seattle. Our tour guide was excellent!
We also loved Sitka. The weather wasn't the best but not too bad either (gray day with some light rain). We did the morning on our own, going to the Raptor Center (very informative guides there. You join a group that comes in for a guided tour or you can do it on your own), Russian Bishops House, the Russian Church, and a few shops. I highly recommend the Russian Bishops house. They do tours every half hour. Very informative and interesting. You will gain an overall understanding of Sitka's history. Sitka was more spread out than I had imagined based on reviews I have read on CC. We ended up getting a taxi to go to the Raptor Center in order to save time and do all we wanted to do. At 1:00, we had a kayak tour with Sitka Sound. This was the first time we kayaked and it was fun but their online information is misleading. Our tour guide gave us very little info while kayaking and we only saw one sea lion, one eagle, and a few starfish. Do this tour if you want to kayak but not if you want to see wildlife or learn about the area.
Victoria is a beautiful city. We ended up taking the "Stroll through Victoria" walking tour that we booked with this ship (HAL) that day. It was with Old Victoria Walking tours and Ian Smith was our guide. There were only 12 of us in total on this tour. It was a great tour so I can't understand why there were so few people. It is a great way to learn about the area in a short time. We walked along the harbor, through an historic neighborhood, through Beacon Park (beautiful!!), then to downtown, where the tour ended and you can stay on your own to explore more (or go back to the ship with the guide). We stayed and ate at the Empress Hotel in the Bengal Restaurant/Bar, which had a jazz band that night. It is a beautiful restaurant and the fish and chips were great. We took a taxi back to the ship for $8.50 and it took about 10 minutes to get back. Taxis are waiting right in front of the hotel.